Two's Company

Short Story

Michael Gouda

"I love you, Peter," I whispered into the back of a head with a mass of black curls lying on the pillow next to me.

I thought he was asleep but his head turned, eyelids fluttered open revealing grey/blue eyes. His mouth moved.

"That's easy to say," he said.

"On the contrary," I said. "It's very difficult to say – and mean it."

He turned over so that we were pressed together, lips. chest, loins, thighs. I could feel the sudden hardening of his prick against mine. I wanted him to come, to watch his head thrown back, exposing his beautiful, beautiful throat, to see his mouth open, his face suddenly become ugly as the orgasm took him and then, afterwards, grow beautiful again as he smiled at me and murmur my name, 'Kevin'.

But I knew we couldn't. As he moved the bed creaked. Anything rhythmic would make a corresponding complaint – and Peter wasn't exactly a quiet cummer.

And next door, in the living room, sleeping probably not very comfortably on the sofa, I'd had to do it myself once, so I knew, was our guest. Our straight guest, Peter's cousin, Douglas.

Of course he knew we were gay, knew we were lovers. Why else would we live together, share the same double bed? But knowing the fact and hearing the rhythmic pounding of our bed springs, the jarring of our bed frame, and moreover the cry of orgasmic release as Peter came was not the same thing as 'knowing',

That was rubbing his face in it, almost forcing him to participate, and that neither of us really wanted. Thank Heavens Douglas was only staying until the weekend. He'd have a job by then. He'd have a room, of sorts, of his own by then. Or so he said.

Trouble was, Peter was too generous with our flat. No that wasn't fair. We'd discussed it together and I'd agreed that it was the least we could do. Gently I held Peter's cock, hard in my hand, gently I rubbed it. The bed squeaked in protest. I stopped, groaned and whispered, "We'll find some other time."

Peter kissed me, pushing his tongue and I opened to his intrusion. Our tongues entwined. Juices exchanged. We forced our groins together, as close as possible without being actually inside each other, though that's where I'd have liked to be. The bed, traitor, groaned.

We gave up and I got up.

To get to the kitchen we have to walk through the living room. Wearing a T-shirt and Y-fronts (I normally don't wear anything but after all we did have a visitor) I opened the door and peered in. The curtains were drawn but in the half light, I could make out the shape on the sofa wrapped in a blanket which covered most of him except for the top of his head. Tight, dark curls, but as unlike my Peter's as possible.

"Wakey, wakey, Doug," I said cruelly. "Your morning call. Do you want tea or coffee?"

There was no response and for a moment I pondered the thought that Peter and I could probably have had our morning love-fest without disturbing our visitor. Still it was too late for regret now. I went through towards the door to the kitchen. Half way there I paused. There was something unnaturally still about Doug's position on the couch.

"Douglas," I said.

Again there was no movement. I went closer. Some sort of stain was on the blanket, dark against the light material. A feeling of dread grabbed hold of me, like a hand clutching my chest. I lifted the corner of the blanket, revealing his naked body. Blood seeped out from a wound in his chest. I thought he was dead but saw that there was slight up and down movement of the chest, each one pumping out another pulse of blood. Somewhere I had read that after death the body doesn't bleed any more.

"Peter," I shouted. "Come here."

His voice came back from our room. "You come here. I've got something for you."

"Don't arse about. Douglas is hurt."

The telephone was on the coffee table, a step from the couch. I picked up the receiver and pressed the buttons, 999.

Almost immediately a woman's voice answered. "Emergency service. Which service do you require."

"Ambulance. There's a guy bleeding to death here."

Everything seemed to go slowly, so slowly. Our address given, she repeating it and getting it wrong. Probably my fault as I was gabbling almost hysterically. Peter joined me, staring down.

"Jesus," he said. He looked at me with frightened eyes.

"What shall I do?" I asked the woman on the phone.

"Try to stop the bleeding," she said. "Put a pad over the wound. Something clean."

I ran into the bedroom and opened one of the drawers. Handkerchiefs and underwear. Nothing big enough to make a pad. I pulled open another, spilling the contents on the floor. Shirts. That would make one. I grabbed a white one and hurried back. Peter was still standing there, looking down.

"Put some clothes on," I said.

"You're not dressed."

"At least I'm not naked."

I folded the shirt into a wad and placed it on the wound, pressing down. Douglas groaned but his eyes didn't open.

"Get dressed," I said. "And bring me a pair of jeans."

Peter scuttled back into the bedroom.

Time passed slowly. I didn't know how hard to press. I didn't know how long the ambulance would be. Peter came back in wearing a jumper, jeans and a pair of trainers. I noticed he wasn't wearing socks.

"Where's my jeans?" I asked.

"Sorry," he said and went back. I heard him mutter, "Christ."

At last in the distance I heard the siren. Coming closer and eventually stopping in the road outside. "Quick, Open the front door."

Peter seemed in a complete daze but he did as I asked. There was a brief conversation and then two paramedics came in. I was still pressing down on the wound and still hadn't managed to put on my jeans.

It was a relief giving way to the professionals who put on a real pad, tutted a bit, did things with blood pressure and took him towards the door on a stretcher. "Are you all right?" asked one to me, pointing to the blood on my T-shirt.

"It's his," I said.

"You realise we'll have to inform the police."

"Of course, though we've no idea what happened."

They left, the siren starting again as soon as the ambulance moved off.

Much too late I pulled on my jeans. We went into the kitchen and I made coffee, hot and strong and sweet.

"What do we tell the police?" asked Peter, his face still pale, his curls forming a dark aureole around his long face.

"Tell them? Why the truth. We don't know what happened. He wasn't home when we went to bed. We didn't hear him come in."

"But us. In the same bed."

"It's not breaking the law. We're both of age."

"But he's only eighteen."

"We haven't done anything wrong." I touched his neck then, feeling him shiver, took hold of him, wrapping him in my arms, kissing him.

"What happened to Douglas?" he asked

"I don't know. The police will find out."

Mentioning the police didn't make it any easier, so I repeated "We've done nothing wrong."

Nevertheless when the doorbell suddenly rang, strident and insistent, we both jumped.

"I'll let them in," I said. "They'll sort it out."

But there was only one police constable on the doorstep in uniform. He looked young and had an embryonic moustache as if he was trying to make himself appear more mature.

"Good morning, sir," he said. "We had a call from the hospital paramedics, about a man who's been wounded. Can you let me have some details?"

I asked him in, introduced myself, Kevin Clarke, and my friend, Peter Curtis.

"And the man?"

"He's my cousin," said Peter. "Douglas Patterson. But we don't know anything about it, the wounding I mean."

I explained why he was living – staying with us – because he was looking for a job in London. His parents, Peter's aunt and uncle, lived in the West Country, in Cheltenham and Douglas had decided on journalism as his chosen profession. He'd spent a year working on a local paper but decided that he wanted more – a real newspaper, he called it. He'd got some interviews, sent examples of his work to various publications and was hoping to be offered a job. In fact he said he'd been more or less promised one.

"And last night?" asked the policeman.

"He went out," said Peter. "Didn't say where he was going. We didn't even hear him come back."

"I found him this morning, bleeding," I said. "Phoned for an ambulance."

"Where was he?"

"On the sofa," I said pointing. "He was covered by a blanket. I noticed the stain. The paramedics took it away."

"And you two? Where were you?"

"In there," I said, indicating our bedroom.

The constable looked in, took in the fact there was just one bed, and nodded. The covers had been thrown back when Peter had come out to see what I was calling about. Thank Heaven there were no incriminatory stains on the sheets. His expression didn't change. It was impossible to know what he felt, whether he approved or disapproved, but I could hear him reporting to his superiors. 'A couple of shirt-lifters, sir. Fucking each other while the cousin, a boy of eighteen was murdered in the next room'.

"If you wouldn't mind," he said. "I'd like you to come down to the station and make a statement. It's a formality, that's all, just routine."

They'd sent the office boy. Now he wanted to hand it over to the boss. But we could hardly object without appearing suspicious. I kept telling myself, 'We have nothing to hide'.

"Just let me change my T-shirt," I said "I got some of Douglas' blood on me when I was staunching the wound."

"That's all right, sir. Just leave the old one here. I expect the CID will want to have a look-around later."

I could see his point. Until Douglas could say what had happened, if he ever did, this was an unexplained attack and of course the only people who had been around were Peter and me. It didn't make me feel any better of course and Peter looked really rather ill.

On the way out I touched his arm. "There'll be no problem," I said. "It'll all be sorted out soon." I hope I sounded optimistic and reassuring though I didn't feel particularly so.

I'd been to the police station before, of course. When Peter had been kidnapped in the great Canaletto mystery. Entering it again didn't give me much of a good feeling. The entrance lobby was just as unwelcoming. The constable asked us to wait for a while and we sat on the benches in silence for what seemed a long time.

When he returned he asked us to come with him. It almost seemed like déjà vu as we followed the constable through the door beside the counter, along the corridor and towards the office that I knew belonged to Detective Inspector Simpson. I remembered the name plate on the door, black paint on a piece of brown wood. The only difference was that, this time, Peter was with me,

D.I. Simpson was, as I remembered him, in his forties, hair greying and his chin a trifle jowelly. He was dressed in the same dark blue suit with a brighter blue tie fastening his white shirt, or perhaps he had more than one similar suit and tie for his 'office wear'. He looked very serious though his tone when he spoke was polite.

"Mr Clarke and Mr Curtis," he said as we entered, "this is a strange affair. It seems that you are destined to be connected with crimes."

I wasn't sure whether he was making a joke or not so I said nothing.

"Now," he continued,"You won't object if the constable takes notes, I assume. He says that you didn't hear Douglas Patterson come in last night. Nor – and this seems most odd – did you hear any sounds even though he was stabbed in the chest."

"That's right," said Peter.

"Perhaps you can tell me the exact sequence of events from the last time you saw Douglas alive."

"He was going out yesterday evening," I said. "He said he didn't want any food, as he'd be eating out. He didn't say where he was going or with whom."

"What time was this?" asked Simpson.

I had no real idea but Peter said, "About seven o'clock."

"Was this usual?"

"Him going out on his own? Of course. We didn't do much together. He was just staying with us until he got his job and somewhere permanent to live."

"So he went out at seven. What did you do?"

"Had something to eat. Cleaned up a bit – Douglas wasn't exactly a tidy person. Watched the telly. I think that's all."

"Made love," I added, more out of an urge to shock than of real necessity. Simpson was treating us as suspects, as I supposed he had to, though I didn't like the idea. "Then went to bed."

"In that order?" he asked, obviously not shocked at all. "Most people do it the other way round."

"We tend to do it whenever the spirit moves us," said Peter, "or perhaps I should say, the flesh moves us. Last night it was on the sofa, or at least it started on the sofa and ended up on the rug in front of the fire."

"Quite so. This would be the sofa where Douglas slept and where you found him this morning? Could you just tell me what happened."

"I got up," I said. "Was going to the kitchen to make us some tea, but of course I had to go through the living room. I spoke to Douglas,can't remember what I said, probably asked him if he wanted a cup. He didn't reply. Then I noticed he seemed unnaturally still and saw the stain. Uncovered him and saw the wound. Phoned for an ambulance."

"What did you do while you were waiting?"

"The woman on the emergency line told me to cover the wound and try to stop the bleeding, which I did. The ambulance arrived an they took him off to the hospital. Then your policeman arrived."

"What do you think could have happened?" asked Simpson.

I didn't say anything. I didn't want Peter to speak either but he did. "He could have been stabbed outside, staggered in and collapsed on the sofa."

"Without calling for help? Anyway he was stabbed in the room," I said. "For one thing he was naked. He'd hardly take off his clothes if he'd been stabbed. And then I noticed the cut was through the blanket. He'd been stabbed on the sofa. What I don't understand is why he didn't cry out. Surely we'd have heard him if he had."

"There's another thing to be explained," said Simpson. "I spoke to the hospital before you came along. He's . . ."

"How is he?" interrupted Peter.

"Luckily the blade or whatever was used, missed his heart by a fraction. He's lost a lot of blood but they're pumping that into him and they think he'll make a good recovery. But he's still unconscious which is worrying and there's another thing . . ." He paused.

We waited.

"He's had anal sex. The semen is there."

"That can't be right," Peter said. "Douglas is straight. Straighter than straight. He wouldn't have allowed anyone to . . ." He paused and then finished, "to fuck him."

"I'm sure you realise that we have to eliminate both of you from this. After all two gays and a straight and then the straight has anal sex, before – I assume it was before – being stabbed."

Peter looked at me.

"We've nothing to hide," I said.

They took swabs from inside our mouths for DNA analysis. And then we were driven home.

Outside the flat was a blue Cortina. As we arrived a familiar figure got out from the other car. It was my old 'friend' Detective Sergeant Wallace. Or rather he was my friend, Ross's, friend. Ross is an incredible guy. He seems to know everything, know everyone and get news before anyone else. He also has an extreme proclivity for 'rough' trade with which he is incredibly successful. I knew from previous experience that Sergeant Wallace, a burly man who looked anything but gay, was one of these. He had another younger man with him, Detective Constable Hunter, dark and morose looking.

D.S. Wallace was, however, with his 'official' hat on, though actually in civvies and hatless. He nodded to me and said he'd been delegated to look over the flat. There wasn't much to see in fact. He took my bloody T-shirt and bagged it. He inspected the living room, examining the sofa, noticing, as he did so, that a chair had been pushed out of place as the sitting side was against the bookcase and the wrong way round. The rug in front of the fire was also rumpled.

I explained the struggle which Peter and I had had in our lovemaking and he nodded, though I noticed the D.C. made an entry in his notebook.

Douglas's discarded clothes, designer stuff mostly lay in a pile on the floor beside the sofa. They included jeans, underwear, a sweater, socks and trainers. Wallace instructed his D.C. to bag these also. "Is there anything else?" he asked.

Peter pointed to a suitcase in the corner of the room. Here were more of Douglas's clothes, mostly dirty and awaiting a visit to the launderette. They took those as well.

At last we were left alone.

And were able to discuss the situation.

The only thing we could think of was that Douglas had brought someone home, someone who had raped him then stuck a knife into him.

The only thing that didn't make sense was that we had heard nothing. Surely Douglas wouldn't have remained silent while an alien cock had been forced up his arse – and then a knife stuck into him. People just didn't not make a noise in such circumstances. The whole thing made no sense.

Then the awful truth struck us. To people like D.I. Simpson it would have made perfect sense for us, if we had wished to, to hold him down, rape him, perhaps gagging him beforehand and then stab him to stop him telling.

On the other hand, as I pointed out, if that had been the scenario, why would I have phoned for an ambulance in the morning.

"Unless," suggested Peter, not very helpfully, "we had thought he was already dead."

"It's a nightmare," I said.

The telephone rang.

It was Ross.

"Heard you've got a bit of a problem," he said.

I knew there'd be no point in asking but I said it anyway. "How did you know?"

"The word goes round," he said vaguely and I knew I'd get no more on that account.

"I think we're suspects, both for raping him and also for plunging a knife into his chest." My words were meant to be jocular but underneath was a certain anxiety which Ross no doubt realised.

"How is he?" asked Ross. At least there were some things he didn't know.

"D.I. Simpson said he was still unconscious but they thought he'd be all right. They've given him lots of transfusions."

There was a pause from the other end. Peter brought me a cup of coffee and I kissed him on the neck as he put it down.

"I wonder . . ." said Ross.


"I'll have a word with my friend, Wallace."

"You've just missed him. He was here taking samples and making notes."

"The number of samples he's given me."

"I don't wish to know that," I said.

"OK. I'll be in touch. Stay loose."

"What's that meant to mean?" I asked but he'd rung off.

The day had started traumatically but life, as they say, has to go on. Peter went to the art shop he owns in the High Street and no doubt fiddled with hopeful artists' daubs and fooled the public into thinking they were masterpieces. Peter has great charm and a supreme power of persuasion. He can talk me into doing practically anything.

I went to work, librarian in the local library, and excused myself saying there'd been a sudden accident in the family, which was almost true.

Peter and I had arranged to meet after my day was over. The hospital, a huge Palladian style building with pillared portico and a clutter of other buildings of more modern design, behind with signs saying things like Orthotics, Neutropaenic Unit, Maxillofacial and other incomprehensible medical conditions.

I have always hated the smell, the look of hospitals. Outsides were bad enough, rows of windows behind which people were sick and probably dying. Inside, all antiseptic and white paint. Staff moving around purposely on errands of dire horror or carrying vessels which probably contained body parts or worse.

The receptionist, though, who saw us was plump and sympathetic. She looked Douglas up on a computer screen. "You won't be able to see him," she said. "He's under constant supervision and you're not close relatives. The last report on him was that he's stable."

"He's my cousin," explained Peter.

The woman nodded sympathetically. "You can go and see the ward sister," she said, "though I doubt she'll be able to tell you much more at the moment. De Montfort ward." She pointed to a sign which showed the way. "Just follow the green arrows."

We ran along corridors. It seemed a long, long way but eventually we came to a pair of swing doors and a sign over them which read, 'De Montfort Ward'. In a little room to the right there was a card which could be slipped in and out. It read: Sister Yvonne Grant.

I knocked and a woman in nurse's uniform, brisk, efficient-looking asked us what we wanted.

"Douglas Patterson is my cousin," said Peter.

"His parents are with him at the moment," she said. She pointed across the ward where there was another room and a window in the wall. We peered through the window. Douglas lay in the bed, his chest enveloped in a bandage. His face looked much younger than his eighteen years. His eyes were closed and around the right one spread an ugly dark bruise. Tubes came from his nose and arm and a drip stand stood beside him. A green blip on a VDU screen traced out the spidery green evidence of Douglas' life. As each one progressed across there was a 'ping' audible even to us outside.

The two adults sitting beside the bed were of course Peter's aunt and uncle, she white, he black. I could see how Douglas had taken more after his father though there was something of his mother – perhaps around the mouth.

"Can we go in, sister?" asked Peter.

"I don't think he needs any more visitors at the moment," she said.

Peter knocked on the window and the two adults looked up. The woman said something to the man and he got up and came out. He looked if anything angry and his first words confirmed this.

"What have you two bastards done to him?" he said.

The sister looked anxious. "Mr Patterson," she said. "Please."

He paid her no attention. "My son's a good boy, a straight boy. He comes up and stays with you two and look at him now."

Peter tried to say something. "We've done nothing. We don't know – " but was cut off.

"If he dies, I'll kill you, both of you. Fucking queers."

Sister Grant said, "Douglas is not going to die. We've replaced the blood he's lost. Soon he'll come round, I'm sure. You must talk to the doctor, and please don't make a scene." She turned to us. "Perhaps it would be better if you left."

Mr Patterson, growled something which sounded like, 'Bloody poufs' but was interrupted by a call from inside the ward. His wife was bending over the bed.

Mr Patterson and the sister went in hurriedly while we stayed looking on from the doorway. It seemed that Douglas' eyes had fluttered open, that he had said something, was trying to sit up. The sister tried to restrain him but when he was insistent, propped him up with the pillows. From the door we could see he looked bewildered but recognised his parents.

"Mum, Dad," he said. "What are you doing here?" His voice was weak but quite clear. "Where am I?" Then, as if suddenly realising, "My chest hurts."

"It's all right, darling," said Mrs Patterson. "You've had an accident. You're in hospital, but everything is going to be all right."

"Can you tell us what happened, son," said his father.

"What's happened?" asked Douglas.

"Who did it?"

"Who did what?"

Mr Patterson pointed to us at the door. "Did they do it?"

Douglas' eyes peered, focused and recognised. "Hi," he said. "Do what? They haven't done anything to me."

I could see things were becoming complicated. "Let's go," I suggested. Peter agreed.

Once out of he hospital, I phoned Ross. I could hear his phone ringing but he didn't answer. Usually if he was out he'd switch on his answer phone but I assumed he must have forgotten. Then, just as I was about to ring off, the receiver was lifted – or at least it sounded as if it was knocked off.

"Ross," I said. "Kevin here."

There was a noise from the other end – a sort of rhythmic grunting,

"Ross?" I said doubtfully.

"Ugh . . . busy . . .ugh . . . at . . . ugh . . . moment." A pause, then, in a rush. "I'll get back. . . ugh . . . to you . . . ugh." The receiver was replaced.

"He's occupied," I told Peter.

"Perhaps we could do the same," said Peter.

"Finish what we hardly started this morning."

But it was not to be. And that was mainly our fault.

There was food enough at the flat but no wine, so we called into the Fag and Fishmonger, our local pub, to buy a bottle. Expensive way of buying wine but who cares. The Fag and Fishmonger wasn't gay, in spite of its name, but it was crowded. Some people we knew by sight, and others by name. Some offered us drinks but we said we weren't stopping.

Then a short, rather plump guy with the unlikely name of Curtis Pigg came up. "Pigg by name and pig by looks," Peter had once unkindly remarked but the poor chap had certain porcine characteristics, his skin had a pink quality and his nose was snub so that the nostrils appeared pronouncedly. I believe he was some sort of writer though I didn't know what sort of things he wrote.

"Douglas not with you?" he asked. The question was superfluous as it was obvious he was not.

We didn't explain his absence.

"Saw him last night," he said. Now that was interesting. "I promised to try to get him a contact with one of the major dailies." He reached into his wallet and found a scrap of paper. "And this guy wants him to get in touch. Give this to him when you see him," he said. on it were scrawled a name and a phone number. I put it in my jacket pocket.

"Was he here long last night? "I asked casually.

"No," said Pigg. ""He went off to a club with someone. Older guy. Bit shifty looking but that's what you find with reporters. I think he was a reporter."

"Douglas would go anywhere with a journalist," said Peter. "Did he say where they were going?"

"Checking up on him?" asked Pigg.

"Well, we feel vaguely responsible."

"'Scribblers', I think they said. Noted hangout for hacks. It's just off Old Compton Street, I think."

Clutching our bottle, we went out.

The evening was drawing in. Already the sky was more grey than blue and the streetlights were popping on one by one, or suddenly whole streets of them. Our nearest tube station was Chalk Farm and that was only seven stops on the West End branch of the Northern Line to Leicester Square, the nearest stop for Old Compton Street.

"What do you think?" I asked Peter. "Home or see what we can find out about 'Scribblers'?" Personally I was drawn to 'home' but thought I ought to leave the decision to Peter. After all Douglas was his cousin.

I could see, from the pensive frown on his forehead, that Peter was similarly divided but when he said "Shall we try to contact Ross again?" that decided me.

"Let's do something on our own for once," I said and we bought tickets for the West End.

Old Compton Street is probably the centre of the Soho gay community. Prince Edward Theatre is located on the street. Until 2004, the long-running production of Mamma Mia!, a musical based upon the songs of ABBA, which has a cult status amongst gay men, was showing at the theatre. When Mamma Mia! moved to larger premises in another part of the west end, a production of Mary Poppins moved in, which has an even more camp following.

One notable pub on the street is the Admiral Duncan pub, which in 1999 was the site of a nail bomb attack which killed three people (ironically they were all straight) and injured over a hundred.

"You don't think 'Scribblers' is a gay club," I said on the journey.

"Douglas is straight."

"I know, but considering what happened, the rape and everything . . ."

"Douglas wouldn't know that it's such a gay area," said Peter.

The West End was bouncing, but then it would be at the start of the weekend. Crowds in Leicester Square, laughing, queuing up for cinemas or just walking around looking at the lights. Up Charing Cross Road, across Shaftsbury Avenue to Cambridge Circus, left into Old Compton Street. And here we were reminded of our separate gay single existences before we settled down to married bliss together. Gays, single, in couples or in raucous groups greeted each other. Nostalgia personified.

We had no idea where the 'Scribbles' club was so we stopped a pair of guys and asked. We must have been obvious because we were immediately warned that 'Scribbles' wasn't gay. I muttered something about journalism and we were pointed in the right direction. "If you don't find anything interesting there," one of them said. "See us at 'Brownies', on the corner over there. We'll be there until midnight. Bye, dolls."

"Could be the best offer we have all night," said Peter.

"You haven't heard mine yet," I said.

We found 'Scribbles' identified by a small brass plate against a door in an unprepossessing brick-built building with nothing special to distinguish it. It certainly didn't look very exciting. We looked at each other, shrugged and I pushed at the door. It didn't open. There was a bell push and a speaking grid.

"Nothing ventured," I said, and pressed the bell.

A growly voice which sounded as if it belonged to a muscle-bound bouncer said, "Members only. What is your membership number?"

"We're not members but we'd like to be."

"This is for journalists only," said the voice. "Do you have your NUJ cards?"

"NUJ?" I whispered to Peter.

"National Union of Journalists," said Peter. "Say we've left them at home."

I did but it was no use. Politely but firmly we were told that no NUJ card, no entry.

"What a waste of time and effort," said Peter as we tramped back, "when we could have been . . ." He was interrupted by my mobile going off.

It was Ross, recovered, apparently, from whatever energetic activity he had been indulging in previously.

"Where are you?" he asked. "I phoned home but you're either in bed fornicating or out. Anyway you're not answering."

I explained about 'Scribbles', and about Douglas coming round in hospital but being unable to remember anything of what happened.

"That confirms it. Date rape. I'll explain when I see you."

"Complete waste of time coming here," I said.

"Just hang on. I'm sure I've got a card for 'Scribbles'. I'll meet you there."

"Are you sure you can manage it?" I knew how sometimes Ross's 'encounters' left him a trifle immobile. "Was it Wallace?"

"That was earlier when I suggested he get the hospital to check for toxins. The last one was a little electrician with the most huge todger you've ever seen. I'm surprised he doesn't fall over when he has an erection. Anyway hang around somewhere. There's clubs you can go to to wait."

I marvelled at his stamina. "Find us in 'Brownies'. We've already made a contact there."

"Hm. You want to watch yourself in that club. Young lads can get themselves into serious trouble in a place like that."

"Young lads! We're twenty-seven and twenty-nine, for God's sake. And you're a fine one to talk about getting into trouble. The risks you take."

I got no answer; he'd rung off.

"'Brownies'," I said to Peter.

The club was one of those multicoloured lights places, host to a mix of young and old, beauties and beasts, males and females with a couple of straight people thrown in just to confuse us! The music tended to be recent popular type stuff with some old classics included now and again. It cost us a couple of quid each to get in.

The club had two bars and we found our 'friends' propping up one of them. They squealed when they saw us, out of excitement I assumed, though it might have been from horror. They bought us a couple of beers, the prices weren't as outrageous as I expected, this being London and the West End. Brian and Eddie, they were called (the guys, not the beers), or it might have been Eddie and Brian. They were almost interchangeable, both bleached blond with pouting mouths lightly touched with lipstick. But they were friendly enough.

Gossip came quickly. Robbie Williams was expected here that evening, but then he'd been expected every Friday for the last however many weeks and had never turned up. Once Kylie Minogue appeared; that was true – everyone said so though no one had actually personally seen her, but they knew a friend who had.

Eventually the conversation turned to us. What did we want to go to 'Scribblers' for, apparently a deadly dull, straight sort of place only frequented by straight trolls.

We explained about Douglas being attacked and that we were trying to follow the apparent route he had taken the night before. They found that interesting. Who was Douglas?

"My cousin," said Peter.

"There was a Duggie in here last night," said Eddie (or possibly Brian), "But it couldn't have been your cousin. He was black."

"And gorgeous," added the other.

"My cousin's black," said Peter. "My uncle's from Kenya. But Douglas wouldn't have been here. He's straight."

"This one certainly wasn't," said Brian (or Eddie). "To my certain knowledge as he proved in the restroom. What a dick! Delicious." He sighed in remembrance and licked his lips.

"Slut," said his companion. "You'd suck off anyone."

"I have my standards."

"Length being all of them."

"And width."

This didn't seem to be getting us anywhere so I asked one if he wanted to dance. Peter took the other. As we ground our pelvises together more or less in time to the music, my partner asked if Peter and I were a couple.

"Yes," I said. "For three years – and faithful."

My partner sighed gustily into my ear. "Still," he said, "at least I've got some reaction." It was true; our gyrations had produced a pretty hard erection in my trousers. "I suppose you don't fancy a trip to the boys' room."

"Sorry," I said.

As the music ended we went back to the bar and I bought a round of drinks. We were about to get on the dance floor again, having swapped partners when Ross arrived.

I saw his tall, thin figure making its way through the crowd, his long, thin face topped with short blond hair. His lips, which were wide and full, were smiling.

"Hi, Brian. Hi, Eddie," he said, probably to the right ones. How did he know them? They weren't his type at all. "I hope you haven't been corrupting my boys."

"No such luck," said the one who had danced with me.

"Right," said Ross to us. "Time to go to 'Scribbles'."

"You won't face much temptation there."

"It's information we're after."

This time there was no problem about getting in. Ross just announced a rather complicated number and was immediately greeted by a welcome. "Mr Ross, Haven't seen you for a long time."

"I have two guests," said Ross.

"That will be perfectly all right, sir." The man who met us looked exactly what we expected from the sound of his voice, big, broad-shouldered and muscled. "If you wouldn't mind signing your guests in," he said indicating a leather-bound book on the counter.

Ross scribbled his name in the 'Members' column and then stood back to allow Peter and me to write out names in the 'Guests', together with our address. "Check yesterday and see if Douglas's name is there and who signed him in," said Ross to me while he took the bouncer aside and seemed to be chatting pleasantly to him, as if they were old friends. Perhaps they were. He looked big and butch enough to be on Ross's list of preferred sex partners.

I shuddered at the thought but did as he said, turning the page back to the day before. There it was. Douglas Patterson and the member's name, Max Verhoest

"And look," said Peter, "Verhoest is in tonight as well."

We went in. This club couldn't have been more different from 'Brownies', It was rather like my idea of one of the old-fashioned men only clubs, with leather armchairs scattered around the floor, a snooker table at one end and a bar at the other. Several men were lined up at the bar, others dozed in armchairs. There was no music and the heavy smell of cigar smoke filled the air. Perhaps younger journalists came in later; at the moment the club looked positively geriatric. Dressed as we were casually, I felt a little ill at ease. Peter looked uncomfortable though it didn't seem to bother Ross at all. We told him about what we had found in the Members' book.

Ross ordered drinks at the bar – twice the price at 'Brownies' and less than half the fun. "Is Max Verhoest in tonight?" he asked the barman casually.

"I'm not sure, sir," said the barman diplomatically but one of the members sitting alongside us obviously overheard and called out, "Max, You've got some visitors."

A hand appeared from the back of one of the chairs and waved itself. "Here," said a voice.

We moved towards the chair clutching our drinks.

Max Verhoest was middle-aged, red-faced, grey hair in a fringe round his bald spot. He was clutching a glass of whisky. He didn't seem alarmed at the arrival of three strangers, just interested – perhaps the result of a journalist's enquiring mind.

Ross introduced himself and us and Max indicated we sit down in some adjacent leather chairs. They grasped us comfortably.

"What can I do for you?" he asked.

We let Ross take the initiative. "You were with a young man, named Douglas Patterson, last night." I was a statement rather than a question.

Max nodded. "That's true. Why?"

"The lad was attacked last night, stabbed. We're trying to trace his movements."

Max gave us a shrewd look. "You're not the police. You don't look like the police."

Peter shook his head. "He's my cousin," he said. "I want to find out what happened. The police don't seem all that interested. Perhaps because he's not that badly hurt."

This was a bit unfair on the police who, after all, were doing their best, but it did give an excuse for our own investigations.

Max sipped his whisky. "He contacted me to see if there was a place on the newspaper. I'm news editor for the Daily Press. I wanted to see him informally so I invited him here. I thought him a nice boy, enthusiastic, possibly with talent but at the moment there were no vacancies."

"How did he take that?" asked Ross.

For a moment Max looked a bit uncomfortable. "Not very well, but then suddenly he changed and I realised that Douglas was coming on to me. You know, half glances, almost flirtatious."

"Can't be," said Peter. "Douglas is straight."

"You've got it wrong," says Max. "Straight like a corkscrew. He was trying to seduce me into giving him a job."

"I don't believe it," said Peter, but it seemed to me that Max was telling the truth, at least as he saw it.

"When he realised that he'd got the wrong kind of man, he changed again, and was back to his first polite character. Thanked me for trying to help. Asked if I'd keep him in mind if a vacancy occurred."

"So what did you do?"

"Do? I didn't do anything. You can't blame a guy for trying. I'll maybe get in touch if a vacancy turns up. I think he's got talent."

"And that was it?" I said.

"Sure. He finished his drink, said 'thank you' and left."

"What time was this, Mr Verhoest?" asked Ross.

"About ten thirty I guess."

"And what did you do?"

"I stayed on, had a game of snooker with some of the blokes and left when they chucked me out around midnight."

"What do we do now?" I asked, once we were outside.

"If Max is right about Douglas . . ."

"I don't believe him," said Peter.

"It sounded as if he was telling the truth," I said. "And there's what we were told about the guy in 'Brownies'."

Ross looked interested, so I told him what Brian (or Eddie) had said about a black guy called Duggie.

"It could be our Duggie has hidden depths. Perhaps a return visit to 'Brownies' is indicated."

In and out of clubs like yo-yos. There was only one of our friends at the bar and he gave a squeal as we went in.

"Where's Brian?" asked Ross. So this one must be Eddie.

"The slut's off sucking cock somewhere."

"Tell us a bit more about the Duggie you 'met' last night. Or was that Brian?"

Eddie at least had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "That was me, though Brian would have obliged if given the chance."

"I'm sure," said Ross. "What time did this Duggie come in?"

"Just after we arrived and that was about half past ten." Soon after Max had told us 'Douglas' left Scribbles.

"Can you describe him?" asked Peter.

"Black, handsome, lovely cock."

"Anything else?"

His forehead creased in concentration, then it suddenly cleared. He smiled. "Uncut."

Ross sighed. "That's hardly distinctive. Anything that doesn't apply to probably more than half the guys in this club?"

"I haven't got that far yet."

"We're wasting our time here."

We turned to go but as we did so Eddie said," Wait a moment. There was one thing. He had this gap in his eyebrow."

We looked back. Eddie was touching his right eyebrow, in the middle.

"That's Douglas," said Peter.

It was. I remembered it now.

"What was it?" asked Ross. "A fashion statement?"

"No," said Peter. "He got cut fooling around with a knife when we were young. There was so much blood. We thought he'd lost his eye."

"Without an actual photo," said Ross, "that about confirms it." He went back to Eddie. "What happened to Duggie last night, after you . . .?"

". . . gave him a blow job in the bog," said Peter bitterly. It was as if he felt let down by Douglas's turning out to be gay, perhaps because he had lied to him.

"He was a real goer. Half an hour later and he was looking for more. I saw him with some other guys but I didn't see him leave."

"What about Brian? Did he see him go?"

"What about me?" said a voice and Brian appeared at out elbows looking slightly dishevelled, though somewhat smug.

"Ah, you're back," said his friend. "Had a nice time?" There was a tinge of envy in his question.

"Tell you later."

"They wanted to know if you saw that black guy leave. You remember, Duggie."

"Oh yes. But you remember him better."

"Very tasty," said Eddie.

"He was a bit of a tart, so no doubt you got on well. Yes, I did see him go. He went off with some guy, I didn't know."

"That must be an unusual event," said Brian caustically. Clearly these two had a friendly – or perhaps not too friendly – rivalry as regards their sexual partners.

"Could you describe the guy he went off with?" asked Ross.

"Bit taller than Duggie, black hair cut short, nice bum."

"Nothing more about his face?" Peter asked.

"I only saw him from the back."

"But you are sure they went out together?"

"Quite sure. He had his arm round Duggie's shoulders."

Night time now though plenty of people still around and of course the lights making it bright. I turned wearily towards the Underground station.

"I've brought the car," said Ross, which was a great relief.

We picked it up. Peter sat in the back and I wanted to join him but Ross told me to sit in the passenger seat in the front.

Ross put the car into gear and we drove off, overtaking a bus in a rather desperate manoeuvre round Cambridge Circus. I remembered something Ross had said. "What about this date rape thing you mentioned."

"It's what you said about Douglas not making any noise. It sounded as if he could have been unconscious or at least drugged. The fact that, when he came round, he couldn't remember what had happened, almost confirmed this. Trouble with these drugs is that they disappear quite quickly from the body, some within forty-eight hours, so I thought Douglas ought to be checked."

"How did you manage that?" I asked, not expecting a real explanation, but I was wrong.

"I suggested to Wallace that the police ask for forensic toxicology to test Douglas, and he thought it was a good idea."

Not for the first time I realised how good it was that Ross was on our side. He seemed to have influence everywhere.

"What are these drugs?" asked Peter from the back seat.

"There are three main ones which can be used, mixed with drinks and they are. Rohypnol, sometimes called Ruffles, though they all have plenty of street names, GHB, known as Easy Lay, and Ketamine, otherwise Special K."

I nearly asked Ross how he knew all this but I knew it wouldn't be much use so instead I asked, "Are they easily obtainable?"

"Legally? Well, Rohypnol can be prescribed as a sleeping pill, GHB can be made by anyone competent in chemistry and Ketamine is used to sedate horses."

"So," I said, "we're looking for a doctor, a chemist or a vet."

"No," said Peter, "we're looking for a tall bloke with short black hair and a nice arse."

It had been a long, long, wearisome day and we were pleased to get back to the flat. I was still promising myself a little dalliance with Peter as I brushed my teeth and prepared for bed.

Peter lay on his side, right hand under his cheek, lashes dark against his skin. His lips were pressed together as if his dreams needed concentration. A curl of his hair reached round to his mouth and when I brushed it off, he stirred but didn't wake. Sometimes he said he was going to have it all cut off but I told him that, if he did, I would leave him immediately. "I have other accomplishments," he had said – which I knew only too well. But if he cut his hair short, his ears stuck out which he said made him look like a dork.

"Peter," I said gently, but he didn't stir. I climbed in beside him and realised how tired I was. Tomorrow morning would do just as well and this time there wouldn't be an audience in the next room.

* * * * * *

The days passed. We were cleared through our DNA typing of being Douglas' abuser, as of course we must be. Douglas recovered from his wound, but without regaining his memory of what had happened. His parents wanted him to go back to stay with them for some R & R but he refused and was still on our sofa. We'd offered him our double bed, saying we were quite happy to camp out on makeshift beds in the living room, but he'd refused.

We'd also delayed our suspicions (certainty) that he was as queer as a chocolate teapot though it was obvious that we'd have to talk about it to him soon.

Peter and I hadn't chosen our Chalk Farm flat for its space and number of rooms – it was mainly because it was all we could afford – and therefore there were only two rooms we could use – bedroom and living room – if we wanted 'to be alone'. With another person around, we could either crouch over the cooker or squat on the loo to get away from everyone. Not I hasten to say that Peter and I were going through any kind of crisis, but we'd got used to living as a twosome. The arrival, and now seemingly indeterminate stay of a third, added to pressures. To be honest I would be glad when Douglas had gone.

Douglas was good; he knew he was the outsider, but the job he had been promised had fallen through, the one-room bedsit had also disappeared. He wanted to move but was still rather weak and, to be honest, we'd told him he wasn't to think of moving until he was perfectly fit again and things were more settled. And that included the discovery of whoever had tried to kill him – for that was obviously what it was.

One afternoon, when Ross was round, we decided that it was the right time to pursue enquiries. The police didn't seem to have made any more progress. Douglas hadn't remembered anything more about that fatal evening and the doctors seemed to think it was unlikely that he would. That's the way these date rape drugs work – and it had been confirmed that he had been given a dose of gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB).

We'd had a good meal, cooked by Peter who had excelled himself with a heavily red wine-laced beef bourguignon, followed by chocolate pudding. Either he was hiding his light very much under a bushel or he'd bought it already prepared from the French restaurant round the corner and heated it in the microwave.

We sat round afterwards, comfortably full, drinking wine, while Ross regaled us with some anecdotes of his adventures with blue-collar workers of his acquaintance.

"I don't believe half of your stories," said Peter.

"Well, tell us some of yours," said Ross.

"Certainly not. Mine are all to do with Kevin here, and I wouldn't want to embarrass him."

I wanted to tell Peter how much I loved him but it was neither the time nor the place.

Ross turned to Douglas. "What about you?"

"Mine are scarcely up to your standard," said Douglas. "Anyway my mother always says that it's wrong to tell tales about my girlfriends."

"So, what about your boyfriends?"

I could tell that that had struck home. Though Douglas was too dark to show the redness of a blush, his face did darken and he looked extremely uncomfortable.

"I don't know what you mean."

"Come on, Duggie. We know of your adventures in 'Brownies', how you came on to Max Verhoest to get a job. There's nothing wrong in admitting you're gay. To us at least."

Conflicting emotions battled in Douglas' head. His fists clenched in his lap, the one round his wine glass I was afraid might break the stem.

Ross went on. "We've got to know everything if we're going to catch the bastard who attacked you. Surely you can see that."

"I don't want my father to know. You know how he hates queers. If it comes out, I don't know what he'll do, what it'll do to him."

"We're not going to tell him," said Peter, and I nodded in agreement.

"Just tell us who you left 'Brownies' with on that Friday night."

Douglas had obviously made his decision because he said, "That's what I can't remember. I can remember the 'Scribbles' club and Max, then going to 'Brownies' and a blond guy I met."

"That was Eddie," I said. Saving Douglas' embarrassment I didn't mention what the two of them had done. "His friend, Brian, saw you leaving the club with another guy."

Douglas shook his head. "I can't remember."

"Think. Think. Brian described him as a bit taller than you, with short dark hair."

"And a . . ." started Peter but I stopped him with a look.

Douglas shook his head. "I can almost see someone, but it's not clear, and I don't remember anything more until waking up in the hospital."

I sighed.

Ross said, "We've got to think what he did to you, what his motivation was. First he drugged you, then presumably he took you back here, Did you have a key?"

Douglas looked nonplussed but Peter said, "Of course you did. You always had a key."

"Right," continued Ross. "Somewhere along the way he gives you a drink. It couldn't have been at the club or you'd have been unconscious when you got back and carrying you in would have made a hell of a noise. So, in the car, I guess there was a car, he gives you another drink, from a bottle or something, spiked of course. You're whoosy, so he gets you in. Perhaps he didn't even know there wee two other guys in the next room. He strips you, fucks you and then stabs you. What does that tell us?"

"He fancies you or he'd hardly fuck you, but then he hates you, so he tries to kill you," said Peter. "That doesn't make sense."

"It does if you're someone who was rejected by Douglas, someone who lusts after him but knows he'll never be accepted voluntarily. So he drugs him, fucks him and then stabs him. If I can't have you, then no one else will."

I stared at Ross. It sounded unbelievable that someone could behave in this way but there was a certain logic. Clearly Douglas, from his behaviour in 'Brownies' wasn't on the look out for any permanent relationship. He'd take his pick and if someone didn't appeal, he'd say 'No'. "Can you think of anyone like that?" I asked him.

He looked a bit shifty. "Well. there have been guys I'd said 'No' to. Most just accepted it but there were others who made a bit of a scene."

"To the extent of threatening you?" asked Ross.

"One or two. But I never took them seriously."

'One or two'! Douglas was a bit of a dark horse indeed. And we'd thought he was such an innocent, straight guy who might have been upset if our bed springs creaked a little.

"I can't remember their names."

"That guy we meet in the pub sometimes, Curtis Pigg," said Peter. "He seemed interested in your whereabouts. Could he have been one of those?

"He's not tall and dark," I said, "he's short and pink and fat."

"Ah, but we don't know for sure that the guy whom Brain saw going out with Douglas is the one?"

Suddenly I remembered something. The mention of Curtis Pigg had reminded me of something I'd failed to do. I went into the bedroom, found the jacket I'd been wearing on that evening and rummaged in the pockets. The piece of paper with a name and telephone number was still there, crumpled but readable.

I took it back. Peter was pouring more vino. "Do you know someone called Clive Parker?" I asked Douglas.

He thought for a while, then nodded. "The name's familiar. Guy I met some time back probably," he said.

"What does he look like?"

"I don't know. Tall, dark, a bit of a pest."

"A pest?" Ross said sharply.

"Yes. If this was the guy, he kept on following me about, but I wasn't interested – not after the first time. Too clingy, if you know what I mean."

"Sounds the ideal candidate. See he still wants you to get in touch. He'd written his telephone number."

"But," I said, "that's not right. By the time Pigg gave me this, Douglas had already been attacked."

"And how long had Pigg been carrying it round with him?"

I shrugged.

"Say it was a week before, or even a couple of days. Then this Clive meets Douglas in 'Brownies' by chance, gives him a dose of GHB in the club and takes him out."

"Wouldn't he have been unconscious long before they got back here?"

"Not if he just gave him a small dose in the club, then a larger one in the car."

"Do you remember any of this?" I asked Douglas.

He shook his head.

"Still we've got his number," said Peter.

"We need his address," I said. "If we phone him, and he is the guy we'll just warn him off."

"What about a trap?" said Ross suddenly. "Does he know Douglas isn't dead? Well perhaps, but if Douglas could convince him that his memory is coming back. He could mention things like the club, and being given a drink, and even someone attacking him. What would Clive do, if he was the man?"

"Try to finish what he didn't do before," I suggested.

"Exactly. And if we keep you under our protection all the time, and this Clive makes a move, we've got him."

"If . . . If . . . If . . ."

"Have you got a better plan?"

"Yes, tell Wallace and get him to find out the address, search his house and see if there are any clues – like a chemist's laboratory."

"There's lots of things Wallace will do for me," said Ross, "but he has to keep within the law. He wouldn't be able to get a search warrant on the sort of evidence we've got. We'll have to play it on our own."

I looked at Douglas. He was sitting in an armchair, his legs tucked under him. Not surprisingly he wasn't all that enthusiastic using the sofa. His face was still drawn and had a slightly grey tinge to it; he had after all been very ill. He looked older than his eighteen years.

"What do you think, Doug? It's really up to you to decide."

"I'm up for it," said Douglas without hesitation. "What shall I say to him?"

"Play innocent. You mustn't give the impression that we suspect him of anything. Obviously you can tell him you've been attacked but you don't know who did it. You're just ringing because he asked you to."

"Wait a minute," said Peter, rummaging on the shelf under the table. He found and pulled out the telephone directory. "Just a chance," he said and searched through the pages. "Yes, here it is, Parker C. Check the number." He read it out. "Is it the same one?"

Douglas looked at the paper and nodded.

"We know his address."

"Shall I ring now?"

Looking a bit strained, Douglas punched the numbers into the phone. He waited and we waited. We could hear the ringing tones, muted and distant from where we sat around him. Then they cut off and a voice answered, the words indistinguishable.

"Hi, Clive. Douglas here – Douglas Patterson. Sorry I haven't been in touch but I've had a bit of an accident. Been in hospital for a while." A pause. "Actually I was attacked, no, not mugged. It was in the flat where I live." Another pause. "Yes, much better. Thing is I can't remember what happened though bits do keep coming back." Another pause. "Yes, of course I'd like to see you again." A pause. "This evening. You come here. We'll think of something."

He was sweating slightly as he put down the receiver, beads of perspiration along his hairline. "He's coming here," he said. "What do I do when he arrives?"

"We'll all be here," I said. "There's no need to worry. We'll find out what really happened."

"In the meantime," said Ross. "I'd like to go to his house. Look it over. We may be able to find out something."

"All of us?" asked Peter.

"No, we don't want him recognising Douglas. You stay here and Peter can stay with you. Kevin and I will go."

It seemed that Ross was taking charge but I was prepared to put up with this. After all he knew things that I didn't, even if sometimes – no, make that most times – I didn't know how he did it.

The address was somewhere at the back of Camden Town, slightly away from the markets which now sprawl everywhere, no longer just food and vegetables but offering any possible article which could take your fancy. Clive's road was a side road off the main highway but even here we could still hear the muted roar of vendors shouting their wares and prospective buyers arguing for bargains. His flat was in one of those tall Victorian buildings which still exist in many parts of London, once tall and elegant but now looking slightly run down. There was a vertical row of bell pushes each with a slip giving a name. On the ground floor was one which indicated clearly Clive Parker.

"What do we do now?" I asked.

"Ring the bell," said Ross.

"And when he answers?"

"I'll think of something." And I knew he would. Ross had an incredible talent of merging chameleon like into some sort of persona or other, whatever was called for, and I'd just have to follow his example. He'd probably say that we were Jehovah Witnesses, though how anyone would believe that when we weren't even wearing suits I don't know.

I pressed the button and heard the bell shrill inside. Something about the hollowness of the noise made me think there was no one in which was stupid really but I did feel a twinge of apprehension. There was no sound from inside and Ross motioned me to try again. Still no answer.

"Let's try round the back," he said.

I'd noticed an arched entrance over a narrow alleyway to the side of the house which, we found, led to the back gardens. There was a small gate which gave entrance to Parker's garden which was weedy and overgrown with nettles and docks. The only flowers seemed to be the ubiquitous dandelions which pushed their bright yellow heads towards the sunlight. The garden was of course overlooked by neighbouring houses and the two floors above Parker's flat but, as far as we could see, there were no alarmed faces peering out preparatory to an anxious call to the police.

There were two windows on the ground floor and we were able to look into what was obviously a living room which looked as ordinary as possible, sofa, armchair, a TV, some pictures on the wall. The other one was obviously a kitchen and again I could see nothing other than what you'd expect, but Ross was a more acute spotter.

"Look over there," he said.

On the work surface beside a gas cooker were objects which scarcely belonged to a normal kitchen. There were racks of test tubes, a bunsen burner, some vials of liquid and an oddly shaped glass object which the word 'pipette' inexplicably came into my head.

"I wish we could get a sample of those," Ross said but even he wasn't brazen enough to break in and steal.

"Come on," I said, "Let's not push our luck. Let's get out before we're discovered."

"I wonder why he's not at home," said Ross. "How long ago was it since Douglas phoned him?"

"Half an hour, three-quarters."

Ross nodded. "Why would he rush out?"

"Might have been anything. Went to the market," I said. "Bought some flowers to take round to Douglas this evening," I added facetiously.

I looked at his face, uncharacteristically serious. "What's the matter?"

"What a bloody fool I am," he said. "If he was suspicious, he could have gone round early to catch Douglas unawares. And we're not bloody there."

"Peter is."

"But we're not," Ross repeated. "Got your mobile?"

I nodded.

"Give them a ring."

We were back in the alley now and I punched in the number of the house phone. It rang and rang but no one answered. I tried Peter's mobile. Again it rang and then suddenly went quiet. It had been switched off. "Something's wrong." I said.

"Too bloody right," said Ross and ran into the street.

Though it was only one stop on the tube, Ross hailed a taxi which, mirabile dictu, stopped. Ross gave the address, and then added, "Quick as you like, mate."

He'd obviously struck just the right note as, instead of the driver complaining, 'I always go as quick as I can' and then taking the long way round the back streets and via Cornwall, he said "Righto, guv," and set off through the traffic at what I found was an alarming rate.

We squealed to a halt outside our block of flats and Ross leapt out leaving me to settle up with the driver – and give him a substantial tip, which was obviously more than he expected because he said, "Thank you, guv," without a trace of sarcasm.

We debated what to do. I was all for rushing in wielding shillelaghs and knobkerries and rescue our friends smiting CP hip and thigh but Ross advised caution. We climbed the steps as quietly as stairs, which creak and groan at every step, allow and listened outside the door. We could hear nothing.

Coming from Camden Town, it had seemed an adventure, a rescue attempt but the very lack of sound from behind that door now seemed very menacing. Had Clive Parker actually got in? Had he managed to catch Peter and Douglas unawares? What could he have done to them? I thought of the way Douglas had been callously stabbed. This was no 'adventure'. My lover might have been . . . I pushed the thought away before I'd actually thought it.

Ross gestured to the door. "Open it," he whispered, "as quietly as you can."

Sounds magnify when you're tense. The tiny scrape of key against lock sounded loud, the turning and the way the tumblers moved a deafening roar. I prayed that the door itself wouldn't squeak as it opened. We stood on the threshold looking up the tiny entrance hall with doors to the left, the kitchen, and to the right, the living room and further on the bedroom. Both were shut.

From behind the living room door, though, a voice was speaking quietly. As we crept closer, though we could not make out the words, the tone was splenetic and menacing. Then, suddenly, the voice was raised and to me it was oddly familiar though I knew I'd never met the man before.

"Not so high and mighty are we now, Duggie boy?" A pause and then, "I'm sorry, Peter, you were the wrong person in the wrong place."

At the sound of my lover's name, I knew I had to go in, whatever the cost. I glanced back at Ross standing just behind me and then grabbed at the door knob.

I felt rather than heard Ross say, "No. Wait!" But I was past waiting. I threw open the door. In the instant before anyone moved, I took in Peter and Douglas, sitting still and quiet on the sofa and a figure standing in front of them, his back to me. I noticed that it wasn't a tall, dark-haired man but one that was short and fat with fair, rather lank hair, long at the back.

He turned and I recognised him. "Curtis Pigg," I said. I nearly took a step forward but stopped when I saw he had a knife in his hand. He waved it menacingly. But, of course, he was at a disadvantage. He had Ross and me in front of him and Peter and Douglas behind.

I saw Peter stand, pick up the coffee table by one of its legs, turn it over, raise it high above him and bring it down hard on the back of Curtis' head.

Curtis fell like a felled ox – or rather like a stuck pig.

"Jesus," said Douglas, "you arrived just in time."

"Have I killed him?" asked Peter.

"I hope so," said Douglas.

"I don't understand," I said. "We thought it would be Clive Parker."

"It is," said Peter. "That's his other name, the one he writes under."

I looked at Douglas. "But, you said he was tall and dark."

"I mixed him up with someone else."

"Hadn't we better get him an ambulance?" asked Ross, "or at least phone the police?"

So, all was revealed, mostly through Curtis' own admission, as he had boasted to Douglas and Peter before we'd arrived. There had never been the tall, dark haired man that Douglas had left 'Brownies' with, or at least he wasn't the man who had come home with him to fuck and stab him.

Douglas had gone to the Fag and Fishmonger and there met Curtis. There, he had been drugged and brought home. The DNA was to prove that Curtis Pigg/Clive Parker was the assailant. He even had the same knife he had used before.

And the motive? Just as we had expected – at least we got something right – Douglas had rejected him and it had been a sort of revenge. If I can't have you, then no one else will. I found it almost too difficult to comprehend such depth of feeling but then I thought of Peter and what I would feel if he ever rejected me and chose someone else.

I shuddered at the thought.

So, to sum up, Douglas found his job – Max Verhoest turned up trumps and got himself somewhere to live. Ross of course pursued his old life of picking up unsuitable sex partners and regaling us with his adventures. Peter and I were at last left alone. And we were happy.

As they say, 'Two's Company'.


© Michael Gouda 2007

Date started: Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Date Finished: Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Words: 11,870

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