The White Rat – Chapter Twenty-Four

In this chapter we’ll go back to Cheltenham and watch Jordan and his friends attempting to persuade Dhif to change his mind about David. And Dhif has something else to think about, too: we’re also going to see what happens when he finally surrenders to his inner desires and invites Paul Southgate over for a visit.


Brahim Dhif went back to school on the morning of Wednesday July 6th feeling thoroughly satisfied with the way his visit to his cousin’s palace had gone: he’d dealt with the obnoxious Rat in a way that was entirely fitting. Of course, he’d left himself the possibility of changing his mind, but he didn’t think it was remotely likely that he’d use it.

Now, though, he had something else to deal with. As he’d told David, he had been struggling for weeks against his feelings for Paul Southgate, and nothing he had tried had managed to distract him from them for any length of time. He’d come to the conclusion that only submitting to his desires could possibly solve the problem, even though he recognised that this might bring with it feelings of guilt… so as soon as he got to his form room that morning he went and sat next to Southgate.

Hello,” said Southgate, pleasantly surprised: Brahim had apparently been trying to avoid him for the whole of the summer term. “Did you have a nice holiday?”

Yes, thanks. Actually it was fun. Look, Paul… are you doing anything at the weekend?”

I don’t think so. Why?”

Well… do you want to come over to my house?”

Wow, yes! Thanks, Brahim… what are we going to do?”

What would you like to do?”

Well…” Paul blushed: he knew what he would like to do, but he couldn’t believe that was what Brahim was thinking about. “I don’t mind. It’ll just be nice if we can do stuff together.”

Okay. Do you know where I live?”

Paul didn’t, so Dhif gave him the address and told him to come round at any time after nine o’clock, which Paul agreed enthusiastically to do.

At lunchtime Dhif was leaning on a wall in the yard when he was surprised to be approached by a couple of first-year boys. He recognised Jordan Fielding, of course, and he wasn’t pleased to see him: he really didn’t want a reminder of what had happened that evening at the end of the Spring Term.

What do you want?” he asked, in an unfriendly voice.

We want to know if you know why Villiers-Gore hasn’t been in school since last Tuesday,” Jordan said.

How the hell would I know? If I never see that bastard again it’ll be too soon.”

Yes, but… well, the last time I saw him he was getting into a car with you.”

Oh,” said Dhif, who hadn’t realised that anyone had seen him lifting the Rat from the street. “Well, okay, yes, I did talk to him last week. Why do you care?”

Because… well, he’s my friend, and I’m worried about him.”

And he’s my brother’s friend, too… sort of,” added Julian, who of course was the other first-year. “And he’s worried about him, too.”

Worried? About the Rat? I’d have thought everyone would just be happy that the bastard’s not around any more.”

He’s not… well, okay, I suppose he was a bit of a bastard, especially to you. But he’s still my friend,” said Jordan. “Look, I know Blackman said you could punish him, and after what he did… okay, what we did to you last term, I suppose that’s fair enough. So it’s okay if you’ve taken him somewhere to teach him a lesson – though really it was me who… well, you know. Anyway, I just want to know when he’s coming back.”

He isn’t. Look, Fielding, nobody wants him here, except you two, apparently. This will be a much better school without him. So I’ve fixed it so he won’t come back.”

Oh, God… you don’t mean… you haven’t… killed him, have you?”

No, of course not,” said Dhif, though he supposed it was quite possible that Ali would do the world that favour at some point.

Oh. For a moment I was worried there… but, look, you have to let him come back to school. People are worried about him.”

What, two first years are worried, and that’s supposed to persuade me to inflict his disgusting personality on the whole school again?”

It’s not just us. Quite a few people are worried.”

Crap! Everyone hates him – at least, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t, apart from you two.”

I think he’s changed,” said Julian. “I mean, you’re right, he used to be a total bastard, always sneaking around Garrett and trying to get kids into trouble, and sneering about people who live on council estates… but he’s not like that any more. I’ve seen him lots of times, and he really likes my brother, even though we live where we do. And a lot of other kids on the estate seem to have started liking him, too.”

Oh, come on! Do you really expect me to believe that people like that actually like that snooty, superior bastard? Pull the other one!”

It’s true. If you want I can probably get some of them to meet you and tell you so themselves.”

You’re bluffing!”

I’m not! It’s true!”

Okay, prove it. I’m willing to bet you can’t find five people apart from you two who have a single good thing to say about Villiers-Gore.”

Okay, but if we can, you have to arrange to get him home, alright?” said Jordan.

No! I don’t want him back – he’s a complete shit!”

No, he isn’t. Okay, ten people, then.”

Dhif stared at him. He couldn’t believe for a moment that these two kids could find anyone to speak up for the Rat, never mind ten people.

Well… look, I did say to my… to the person who’s, er, looking after him, that if I wanted him back I’d contact him within two weeks,” he said. “If he doesn’t hear from me within two weeks I’ve told him we’ll never want the Rat back at all, and he can deal with him however he wants. So… if you really think he’s not the shit I think he is, I’ll make you a deal: find twenty people to tell me so, and I’ll get him back straight away.”

Twenty!” cried Jordan, dismayed: that would be next to impossible, he thought. But Julian wasn’t so sure.

Okay,” he said, “it’s a deal. But most of them aren’t at this school, so can you come to our place to meet them? On Saturday, say?”

I’m busy on Saturday. But I’ll come on Sunday, if you really think I won’t be wasting my time. Where do you live?”

Julian gave him his address and they arranged to meet on Sunday afternoon at half past two.

So where is he, then?” Jordan asked.

I’m not telling you that, and nobody else knows, either: not even my dad knows about it. Because you’re not going to find anything like twenty people to stick up for him, and I want him to stay right where he is for the rest of his life – or at least until I’ve left school. After that I won’t care. But without me you’ll never find out where he is.”

I could go to the police,” said Jordan.

And tell them what, exactly? That you saw him with me on Tuesday? Well, I’d admit that – we were talking about his punishment, and I said he wouldn’t have to do one after all. Then my friend dropped him off in the town centre to catch his bus home, and I don’t know what happened after that – and nobody can prove otherwise, trust me. No, Fielding, the only way you’ll ever see him again is if you can convince me I was wrong about him. And I’m ready to bet you can’t do that.”

Sunday afternoon, then” said Julian, and he led Jordan away.

Christ, Stagg, we’ll never find twenty people to say something nice about him!” protested Jordan, once they were out of earshot of Dhif.

I think we can. I’ve got lots of friends on the estate, and I reckon quite a few will stick up for him.”

Well, I’m glad you have, because I don’t think any of my friends will speak up for him,” said Jordan. And that was true: there was no reason for any of his friends to stick their necks out. He thought Jeremy and Charlie would probably invent something if he asked them to, but it wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny, because neither of them knew Villiers-Gore at all. He could probably blackmail Baxter-Cauldwell into saying something nice, too, but as far as he knew the two boys had never even spoken to each other. Garrett might be prepared to speak up, though – and maybe even Blackman, because, after all, Villiers-Gore had accepted his punishments without complaint.

Who else? Larkin – definitely not, and he didn’t think even offering Larkin his freedom would persuade him: after all, term was nearly over, and in any case Larkin‘s problems came more from his brother than from Jordan these days. John Baker? Well, maybe – after all, he wouldn’t have met Nigel if he hadn’t been punished by V-G first… What about Sherwood and McMillan – would they testify that V-G had taken his punishment honourably? And maybe even Osterley would be prepared to do that… But even if all of these – Garrett, Blackman, Sherwood, McMillan, Osterley… and even Baker, though that would be stretching it a bit – were prepared to get on parade, that still left them a long way short. He hoped Stagg was not exaggerating when he said he knew some people who would also speak out…

He asked Stagg to talk to Sherwood and McMillan, who were after all in his form, and decided himself that he would try to talk to Osterley.

You want me to do what?” asked Osterley, staring at him. Jordan had found him in the yard, talking to Little Collins as usual. “You want me to say what a brilliant, shining example of humanity Villiers-Gore is? Are you insane?”

No, I just thought you might be prepared to say that he did your punishments properly without trying to get out of it, that’s all.”

Oh. Okay, I suppose that’s not exactly the same thing, is it? Well… yes, I’d have to admit he did. And to be honest that did surprise me – I thought he’d try to get out of it, but he went along with everything I told him to do. Even Bertie would accept that – wouldn’t you, Bertie? And he hates the Rat’s guts. But why do you care?”

Well… Dhif’s had him kidnapped, or something, and he won’t bring him back unless I can prove that not everyone hates him. And I thought that if you said he did everything you told him to without arguing it might help to show that he really was sorry for all the bad stuff he did to you. So… do you think you could?”

But what if we don’t want him back?” said Little Collins. “What if we think the school is better off without him?”

That’s what Dhif thinks, too… but don’t you think Villiers-Gore might have changed? I’m sure he realises that what he did to you was wrong…”

Well, he did say that,” admitted Osterley. “And it was after his punishment ended, too, so he wasn’t just trying to get out of it. I mean, he was almost human that last time he spoke to us, wasn’t he, Bertie?”

Almost,” said Little Collins. “It still doesn’t make up for what he put you through, though.”

I know. But I think he knew that, too. So, what happens if you can’t convince Dhif the Rat is a saint?”

I don’t know, but it must be bad – I mean, he must be locked up somewhere, or something. And he said that unless he speaks to whoever’s holding him within two weeks he’s never going to let Villiers-Gore go. And I’m afraid that… well, the only way you can be sure that someone can’t escape is to kill them, isn’t it?”

Don’t be stupid,” said Little Collins. “This is England, not the USSR. You can’t just keep someone locked up indefinitely, and you certainly can’t go about killing people – the police aren’t stupid.”

I know, but… look, Osterley, please will you say that to Dhif – about Villiers-Gore taking his punishment like a man? Please? I know Collins is probably right, but still…”

Well, you can count me out,” said Little Collins. “I’m never going to say anything nice about that bastard.”

I’m not asking you, I’m asking Osterley – and he’s the one Villiers-Gore actually hurt. I don’t want you to lie, or anything; I just want you to tell Dhif that he accepted his punishment honourably.”

Well… okay, I suppose I can do that. And really, Bertie, you ought to be grateful to him, too, because we’re only friends because of what the Rat did. And having a friend like you pretty much balances out every piece of bad stuff the Rat put me through.”

Little Collins blushed and looked away. “Do you really mean that?” he asked.

You know I do. And I’d go through it all again to stay friends with you.”

Okay,” interrupted Jordan, a bit embarrassed by this, “so you’ll speak to him, then?”

Yes, okay. It won’t exactly be a glowing testimonial to the Rat’s saintly qualities, but I will tell him about being straight about the punishments.”

Thanks, Osterley – I really appreciate it, and I know V-G… Villiers-Gore will, too.”

Saturday morning came around, and Brahim Dhif was waiting nervously for Paul Southgate to arrive. He wondered if it would be possible for the two of them just to be normal friends, to play together, to listen to music together and stuff like that. But he didn’t think it would: after all, he knew he could hardly even look at Paul without thinking about him naked, and he was virtually certain that Paul felt the same way. Even if they tried to keep things normal, he was sure that wouldn’t last for long.

He wondered how the Rat was doing. He’d enjoyed watching the little racist bastard being whipped and fucked, and he hoped that he was undergoing more of the same at this very moment. He’d been a bit surprised to get a couple of testimonials from other kids at school – no doubt Fielding and the other one were desperately trying to dredge up twenty people who would be prepared to say something half decent about the Rat. He’d been particularly surprised when Ian Osterley, who he knew had been put through hell by the Rat, asked to speak to him, and he’d been absolutely astonished when Osterley said he thought the Rat had changed.

He took every punishment I gave him without arguing, even when I literally made him puke up, and still came back for more. I think he was really genuinely sorry about what he did to me,” Osterley had said. “I mean, obviously he was an utter bastard to set me up like he did in the first place, but… I don’t know… somehow by the start of half term it was like a different kid. I’m not saying I like him, or anything, but I do think you should know that he was sorry for what he did. And I guess that makes him at least on the road to being a decent person.”

I hate him,” Little Collins, who had been with Osterley, had said. “I saw what he did to Ian, and I saw how he tried to set you up too, remember? I think he was a total shit. But… what Ian says is true: he took his punishment without complaining, so at least he had the guts to face up to what he’d done. Personally I wouldn’t care at all if I never saw him again, but, still, Ian reckons I should be prepared to admit that maybe he was honest enough to admit he’d been a bastard. So I’m doing that.”

Which was hardly a cast-iron recommendation, but Dhif had to admit that it did count as speaking out on the Rat’s behalf, just about. Of course, they’d never find twenty people prepared to say even that much, but he supposed he had to count that as two. And later that day Daniel Pope had come and said much the same thing: that he respected the Rat for accepting his punishments without trying to wriggle out of them.

Virtually every boy in the class got to do stuff to him, but he never once complained,” Pope had said. “And the last time, when me and Matt Wordsworth took him to the music block, he even joined in with the game. I could never have done any of the stuff we made him do, so I reckon that makes him pretty brave. So personally I reckon the old Rat’s okay.”

And that was a higher level of approval than Osterley’s, and when Sherwood and McMillan put their oars in and said that they, too, had been impressed by the way Villiers-Gore had kept trying to get round the assault course even when a whole load of boys were chucking stuff at him and trying to make him fail, Dhif was starting to wonder if maybe he had missed something. But nobody else had said anything, so that only made seven, including Fielding and Stagg. He didn’t think that there was the remotest chance of them finding another thirteen boys to sing the Rat’s praises.

And then the doorbell rang, and he simply put the Rat out of his mind: there were much more important things to think about now…

Hi, Brahim!” said Paul, with a huge smile. “I’m not too early, am I?”

No, I’ve been waiting for you. Come in.”

He led Paul up to his bedroom, and Paul sat on the bed and bounced up and down. “So, what are we going to do?”

Well,” said Brahim, carefully, “what sort of music do you like?”

I dunno – pretty much anything. Got any Queen?”

As it happened Brahim had a copy of A Night at the Opera, so he put it on his record player and then sat in his chair across the room from Paul and they listened together. And when the fourth track (‘You’re my best friend’) started he was desperately conscious of Paul looking at him and singing along, and he couldn’t help catching his eye and smiling. And later, on Side Two, came ‘Love of my Life’, and something similar happened there, too. And then, fortunately, came the massive single Bohemian Rhapsody, which gave them both a chance to get up, sing along and air-guitar their way through from the middle section to the end, and that managed to dissipate the worst of the hormones that were flying about. Or, at least, Brahim thought it had. Except…

Brahim,” said Paul, quietly, as Brahim was putting the album back into its sleeve, “I think… that is, I reckon maybe… see, ever since… well, you know, what happened last term… I mean, I just can’t stop thinking about… well, I mean…”

And what do you think about it?” asked Brahim, equally quietly, putting the album back in the rack.

I don’t know… look, I like us being friends, okay, and I don’t want to mess that up. Except… sometimes, when I look at you… I just wish…”

What?” said Brahim, turning to face him.

I… I really wish… I mean, I know it’s wrong, but still…”

You wish we could do it again?”

Yes,” mumbled Paul, looking at the floor. “I’m sorry, Brahim…. I suppose I’d better go.”


Huh? Well, I thought… I thought you’d want me to.”

Why would I want that? You’ve only been here an hour.”

But… aren’t you mad at me?”

Of course not. Come here.”

Slowly Paul walked across the room towards him, his face a picture of confusion. And Brahim went to meet him, and when they reached each other Brahim put his arms round him and hugged him.

But… didn’t you say this was… you know, against your religion?” asked Paul, somehow restraining himself from returning the hug. “I don’t want you to do anything you’re not allowed.”

I don’t care if it’s allowed or not, I just want to do it – as long as you do, that is?”

Oh, God, of course I do!” cried Paul, hugging Brahim hard. “I’ve wanted to hold you like this again ever since… you know, then.”

So have I. I’ve been trying so hard not to give in, but… shit, Paul, I don’t care any more. I just want to be with you, and hold you, and… and even kiss you.”


Really.” And to prove it, he did. And Paul didn’t object in the slightest, just returning the kiss happily.

Brahim pulled away after a few seconds. “So, do you think we ought to get undressed?” he asked.

I’d like that… nobody is likely to walk in on us, though, are they?”

No, my parents are out shopping. But I’ll lock the bedroom door if you like, just to make sure.”

So he did that, and then he began to undress, and Paul stared at him, before starting almost mechanically to take his own clothes off.

I can’t believe this is happening,” he said. “I’ve dreamed about this… God, I don’t know how many times. But if this is a dream too, I really don’t want to wake up.”

It isn’t a dream. So, let’s start out the way he made us… I mean, like we were that evening: I’ll lie on the bed, and you come and lie on top of me, and then… well, let’s just start like that.”

And he removed his pants and lay down on his back, and Paul threw his own pants off, revealing that he was very hard, and came and positioned himself on top.

Brahim put his arms around him and held him gently, and then started to stroke the other boy’s back and bottom, making Paul purr like a happy kitten. He nuzzled against Brahim’s cheek, and Brahim turned his head and kissed him gently.

Okay, Paul,” he said, quietly, “from now on it’s up to you: we’ll do whatever you want us to. Show me what’s been happening in those dreams you mentioned.”

What, anything?”

Anything at all. I just want to make you happy.”

Crumbs, I’d be happy just lying here like this all morning… but… well, perhaps we could try some other stuff later. Like maybe you’ll let me rub your thing again until your sperm comes out. I liked doing that. And… well, maybe you could do it to me this time, too.”

Okay. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to put it in my mouth again instead, though?”

What, you mean you’d actually let me do that? God, Brahim, I thought you’d hate that.”

I’d do anything to make you happy, Paul. Okay, that first time I didn’t want to do it, but that was before I knew what it was like – and obviously I hated having to do it with people watching. But this time we’re on our own, so if you want me to do that again, I will.”

So it doesn’t taste bad?”

No, not at all. I thought it would, but it doesn’t.”

Oh. Then… maybe I should try doing it to you, too.”

Really? I mean, don’t forget that when I get excited, stuff comes out, and I don’t know whether that tastes bad or not.”

There’s only one way to find out,” said Paul, grinning at him. And he wriggled down the bed until his head was in the right place.

You’ve got some proper hair coming, you know,” he commented. “And I think it’s bigger now, too… okay, let’s try this. When you did it to me you sort of did this,” and he took Brahim’s erection into his mouth and started to suck on it, moving his lips slowly up and down the shaft. And it felt good…

Hold on a moment,” said Brahim. “I want to try something. Come back here and lie beside me…. Right, now if I turn round like this…”

He lay down head to toe with Paul. “…then I can do it to you at the same time as you do it to me. Let’s see if that works.”

Cool!” said Paul. And, yes, it seemed to work really well: having Paul working on his erection while he sucked on Paul’s seemed to Brahim to be a great idea. Paul’s hard organ didn’t seem to have got any bigger, even though Paul was thirteen now: it was still only about three and a half inches long, and there was still no hair. But Brahim didn’t mind that: it still felt, as he had said back in April, warm, alive and interesting, and somehow having it in his mouth made the sensations in his own penis feel even better.

They sucked away at each other for a while, and then Brahim took Paul's out of his mouth long enough to warn his friend that his climax was approaching. Paul didn't say anything or stop what he was doing: instead he took longer strokes, squeezing a little harder with his lips. And Brahim couldn't hold it back any longer... and Paul kept going even after Brahim started to ejaculate, and in fact didn't take the erection out of his mouth until he was sure it was over.

It tastes nice,” he said, before Brahim could ask. “Sort of tangy. Did it feel good?”

Yes, it was brilliant,” said Brahim, though, as he had feared, now that the orgasm was over he was starting to feel weird about it: this was the point at which he started to feel bad about himself. But he had promised himself to see this through, and Paul was his friend, and still needed an orgasm of his own; and so somehow Brahim forced himself to start sucking again. It took a while, but eventually, just as had happened after the Prefects' Meal, Paul slipped over the edge and experienced a brilliant orgasm of his own.

God, Brahim, that was... well, special. Thanks – you're amazing!” And he reversed his position so that they were head to head once more and hugged Brahim hard.

Brahim had slightly recovered from his own post-orgasm low, and so he was able to return the hug, and they lay quietly with their arms around each other for a few minutes. Then Paul sat up.

What shall we do now?” he asked, reaching for his pants. “Got any good games, or shall we listen to some more music, or what?”

We could go into town for a bit.”

No, I'd sooner we just stayed here – I really like us being alone together. That way I can kiss you whenever I feel like it.” And to prove it he gave Brahim a quick kiss on the cheek.

Brahim was still feeling a bit ambivalent about the sex, but Paul looked so happy, and so beautiful, that he couldn't resist pulling him into an embrace and kissing him once more. Then he broke free, got dressed and went across the room to his record collection.

Come and see what you want to listen to,” he invited.

Okay. And then maybe a bit later on we can get undressed again. I like seeing you undressed.”

Brahim didn't answer that.

They chose a couple of records, put them on the record player and lay down next to each other on the bed to listen. They started out lying on their backs, but before too long Paul rolled over onto his side and put his arm round Brahim's waist, and so Brahim rolled over to face him.

Paul smiled happily. “I never dared to dream we'd end up like this,” he said. 'I thought I couldn't be that lucky. I'm really glad I was wrong.... look, Brahim – when the first-year boy... you know, when he did it to you – did it really hurt? I mean, I know you told me afterwards that it didn't, but... well, I'd like to know for sure.”

Only when it first went in. Like I said, after that it was okay.”

Good. So... would you like to do it to me a bit later on?”

Brahim stared at him: he hadn't really expected Paul to suggest this. Maybe the other way around, but not with him as the active partner.

Well... is that really what you want? I mean, wouldn't you rather do it to me?”

Paul shook his head. “You're the grown up one,” he said. “And, to be honest, I don't think mine is big enough yet. But yours certainly is. And I really like the idea of us being properly joined together like that.”

Brahim thought about it. “Okay,” he said, finally. “But we'd better wait for a bit – I'm not sure if I'm ready to do it again quite yet.”

That's okay,” said Paul. “It's nice just being here together – isn't it?”

And Brahim looked into his eyes and was lost again.

Yes,” he agreed. “It is.”

So they listened to another album, and then Brahim asked, “Are you sure about this?”

Oh, yes.” And Paul began to get undressed again, but when Brahim started to take his clothes off, Paul stopped him.

Wait,” he said. “You're going to need something to help you do it. The first-year boy used Vaseline – have you got any?”

So Brahim went and looked in the bathroom and came back with a small jar of Vaseline from the medicine cupboard.

Brilliant,” said Paul. “Okay, I'm ready,” and he lay face down on the bed with his bum in the air.

Brahim finished taking his clothes off and rubbed some Vaseline onto himself, and started to get into position... and stopped.

Turn over,” he said.


I want to see if we can do it with you lying on your back, because that way I'll be able to look at you while we're doing it.”

I'd like that. Do you think it'll work, though?”

I don't know. Let's try.”

So Paul lay on his back with his bum at the edge of the bed and raised his legs, holding himself behind the knees to keep his legs out of Brahim's way. And in this position Brahim could see perfectly where he wanted to go, and was able to line up and push. Paul gave a gasp, and Brahim at once drew back.

It's okay, we don't have to do this,” he said.

I want to,” said Paul. “I'll try to relax a bit more. Try again.”

And this time it worked, and once his knob was past the threshold the rest of his shaft was able to slide slowly in without too much difficulty.

Okay?” he asked.

I'm not sure – it feels a bit strange. Try moving.”

So Brahim started to rock carefully back and forwards, and he couldn't believe how amazing it felt: the warmth and pressure were like nothing he had imagined. And Paul seemed to be enjoying it, too.

Oh, God, that's incredible, Brahim,” he gasped. “Something's happening inside me... please don't stop...”

Brahim didn't want to stop, and the look on Paul's face made this feel even better. He went on moving, aware that it wouldn't take long for him to climax if he kept going like this. But in the event, Paul got there first, gasping and bucking and clamping down so hard on Brahim's penis that it made him cry out. And half a dozen more thrusts were enough to bring on his own orgasm, and he felt his seed pulsing out of him into his friend.

Finally it was over, and he sank far enough forward to be able to kiss Paul gently without disengaging first.

This was a brilliant idea,” said Paul. “If we do it like this we can kiss while you're still inside. God, Brahim, you have no idea how wonderful that felt! I mean, okay, it feels a little bit sore now, but even so, while it was happening I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.”

That was a line of thinking Brahim definitely didn't want to consider, especially in his post-coital state. He pulled out and glanced down at himself, and the residue smeared on his softening penis didn't make him feel any better, either.

Come on,” he said, standing up. “We'd better get cleaned up before my parents come home.”

He led Paul through to the bathroom and wiped himself down and then stood at the wash-basin washing his genitals for a couple of minutes, while Paul wiped his bottom and then sat on the edge of the bath and waited.

We'd better get dressed,” said Brahim, once he was finally sure he was clean.

They went back to the bedroom and got dressed, and Brahim opened the window and sprayed some deodorant about the room to help dispose of any lingering smell.

Brahim,” said Paul, once they were dressed, “are you okay? I mean, you've gone all quiet.”

I'm okay,” said Brahim, looking at his face and managing a smile. “I just feel a bit strange, that's all. It's not like you do that for the first time every day, is it?”

I suppose not. But I'm really glad we did it today, anyway. This has been about the best morning of my life, ever. It's weird, Brahim, but I reckon we ought to go and find the Rat on Monday morning and thank him, because we'd never have found out about any of this without him. Okay, I know he wasn't trying to teach us something good, but even so, without him I wouldn't have found out how much I l...”

He broke off, looking embarrassed.

What?” said Brahim.


Go on, what were you going to say?”

How much I... I love you,” whispered Paul.

And now Brahim knew he was lost, because he could never say anything to hurt this beautiful boy.

I love you, too,” he said, putting the final seal on the destruction of his hopes of Paradise.

You do? Really?”

Yes. Come here.” And Brahim hugged him and kissed him, feeling ecstatically happy and bereft at the same time.

So, shall we go and surprise the Rat on Monday?” Paul asked.

He's away from school at the moment,” Brahim told him. “I don't think he's coming back, either.”

Pity. I'd have liked to thank him for bringing us together. Oh, well...”

And after Paul had gone home Brahim wondered if he ought to count that as someone speaking up for the Rat or not. Probably not, he thought: after all, Paul acknowledges that the Rat wasn't trying to be kind or helpful to either of us...

With Paul gone he was left alone with his thoughts, and to say they were mixed would be an understatement: he knew that he would want to go on doing stuff like that with Paul, even though he knew it was wrong: sharing his body with that beautiful boy was something he wanted to do over and over again. He found it hard to understand how such beautiful feelings could be wrong, but he knew that they were: he knew that sex was supposed to be used only for the creation of children, not for pleasure. But sharing something beautiful and making someone else happy – why was that so wicked?

It took him a long time to get to sleep that evening.

The following afternoon he rode his bike round to Stagg's house. He didn't know the estate where Stagg lived and he got lost a couple of times, but he found the right road in the end. Stagg and Fielding met him at the door and took him to another house a short distance away.

This is where Villiers-Gore's housekeeper lives,” Stagg explained. “She and her family are living at Villiers-Gore's house at the moment because his mother is away in London, so we've got this place to ourselves for the afternoon. Now, if you'd like to come through here into the living room... I've arranged for everyone to come round here this afternoon to tell you all about what Villiers-Gore is really like. Have a seat, and I'll start sending them in. Mind you keep count!”

So Brahim, who still couldn't believe there could possibly be thirteen kids on this estate that would be prepared to stick their necks out for the Rat, parked himself in an armchair and waited. And the first four kids came in and began the demolition job on Brahim's opinion of the Rat.

He's kind,” said Pete. “When we were doing our initiation at cub camp I was really scared. I was crying when he untied me, but he said I shouldn't be scared and that it would be okay because he knew which way to go, and that made me feel a lot better.”

He's brave, too,” said Jason. “There was this really dark wood, and I was scared to go in, but he just picked up Tommy and asked me to do the same for Pete. It's like he never doubted that I would be able to follow him, and it made me feel braver. I couldn't have gone in there without him going first.”

And he's honest,” said Tommy. “He told everyone it was me found the first arrow, but we'd never even have got over the first gate if he hadn't led us. And when we were going through the dark wood he carried me, and I clung really tight to him 'cos I was scared, but he never complained.”

He's a really good leader,” said Chris, the blues' sixer. “Me and Alex could hear them talking, and he got everyone moving even though I'm pretty sure he was as scared as the others. And going through that wood was amazing – we'd laid the course in daylight on the Sunday afternoon, and we didn't realise how dark it would be in the wood at night. But he led them straight in. I'm pretty sure I couldn't have done that if I'd been naked like he was. And Alex would tell you the same thing, but he's in bed with chicken-pox so he couldn't come today.”

I can't count him, then, thought Brahim to himself, wondering if this lot were really talking about the same boy.

Next up were the Red Six.

We teased him really badly when he first joined, 'cos Joe told us he hated council estate kids,” said Benedict. “We beat him up and made him strip all the time, so we could laugh at him – he's got a really tiny willy, see. But he never lost his temper with us, and he did all the bad stuff we told him to without complaining. And then at camp he showed us all he could be brave, too – I think Chris and the others already told you about the initiation trail. And since then he's been like a friend – he's joined in everything and helped to make the Reds the best six.”

He's a weed,” said George. “I can beat him up, and I'm only eight. But he never turned nasty or anything, and even after I'd made him look silly by making him submit he was still nice to me. And, like Benny says, after camp he was a proper Red, and... well, I reckon he's my friend now.”

I agree with George and Benny,” said Mike.

Me, too,” said Flip. “I reckon Gerbil's nice.”

I was pretty nasty to him,” said Roger. “I went on stripping him and making fun of his little knob longer than any of the others. But when I did something stupid and got hurt he was kind to me and tried to make me feel better. It made me feel sort of sorry for bullying him, to be honest. I think he's pretty decent.”

Five of them went out, leaving the one who hadn't spoken yet, and a girl and a boy came in to join him.

My name's Tim Devlin,” said the older boy. “Our mum is Gerbil's housekeeper – this is our house. When we first met him he was a total bastard – he was rude to us and called us names and acted all high and mighty, and we hated him. But then his mum got a job in London and we moved into his house so my mum could look after him, and that gave us a chance to get our own back. And, boy, did we: we beat him and stripped him and took all his stuff and made him sleep in the attic, and we treated him like he was younger than Joe and forced him to go to bed really early. It was fun, and when he tried to get out of it it got even better, ‘cos we could punish him worse and worse.

But after a bit he seemed to learn his lesson. He stopped arguing and just did what we told him, and even though we went on treating him like shit – a lot worse than the way he had us, if I'm honest – for a while longer he just sort of knuckled down and took it. And you could tell that after a while he stopped hating us and started treating us with respect. He changed, and he was a lot nicer after that.”

The first time he saw me he was really rude and stroppy,” said Molly, “but by the time he went away he was completely different: he let me bathe him without trying to get out of it, and he never moaned about having to wear just a pair of shorts at weekends. And he got really polite, too. He's okay now.”

He really hated me at first because I was in charge of his punishments, and I used to beat him really badly,” said Joe. “And I forced him to come to cubs, too – can you imagine how bad it was for a boy who's nearly fifteen to have to play with a load of eight and nine-year-olds, and get stripped and beaten up by them? But pretty soon after he joined the cubs he was joining in properly, even when we still did bad stuff to him. And he stuck up for Roger, even though Roger had bullied him loads. Now he's like a proper brother to me, or a friend. I miss him, and I want him back.”

That's only twelve,” said Brahim as the Devlins filed out: Stagg and Fielding had stayed in the room with him throughout the testimony of the others.

We've got one more,” Stagg told him. “You haven't met my brother yet.”

And Michael’s testimony was short and to the point.

He’s my friend,” he said. “He’s kind, and he’s gentle, and I love him. Please bring him back.”

By now Brahim was completely shell-shocked: he couldn’t believe anyone could change as completely as the Rat seemed to have done over such a short period: the boy these people had been talking about bore no resemblance to the arrogant racist who had tried to get him expelled because of the colour of his skin. But nor could he believe that the witnesses had been inventing their stories: he could hear the honesty in their voices. And if the Rat had changed to the extent that a boy from a council house could say that he loved him…

Okay,” he said, standing up. “You’ve convinced me I was wrong. It’s hard to believe, but it looks as if a lot has happened since the end of the spring term, and I didn’t see it… it’s just… well, he was such a bastard before. But if you really believe he’s changed as much as that, then he shouldn’t be punished any more. As soon as I get home I’ll call the people who are holding him and get him brought back here.”

Promise?” said Michael.

I promise.”

They went outside. The cubs had gone, but the three Devlin children were waiting in front of the house.

He’s going to bring him back,” Julian told them, and all three broke into smiles, and Joe shouted “Yes!!” and jumped into the air. And that convinced Brahim he was doing the right thing: he would call Ali as soon as he got home and arrange for the Rat to be flown home.

He got on his bike. “As soon as I get home,” he said, again, and swung his bike into the road.

You’re going the wrong way!” Julian shouted after him.

What?” Brahim looked back over his shoulder.

I said, you’re going the wrong way – this is a one way street!”

Huh?” Brahim looked to his front again, but before he could stop a battered white Transit van came around the corner, travelling rather faster than was safe, and Brahim rode straight into the front of it. He was hurled over the handlebars, smashed into the van’s windscreen and landed on the road in a heap.

The boys ran towards him, while the van driver, a young man in his late teens, got out of the van, took one look and was noisily sick in the gutter.

Someone go and call for an ambulance,” said Michael, kneeling down beside Brahim and looking at the blood in dismay.

Tim ran and banged on the door of the nearest house and got the woman inside to call for an ambulance, and for the police – something would have to be done about moving the van, whose driver looked in no condition to drive it, even if the windscreen hadn’t been broken.

Fortunately it only took the ambulance five minutes to get there, though the look on the crew’s faces when they examined Brahim suggested that he was in a bad way. They loaded him onto the ambulance and drove off with the siren wailing.

I’m going to head for the hospital,” said Michael. “But I don’t know what we can do about David if he… you know.”

He ran back to his house and got his bike, and he and Jordan pedalled their way to the General Hospital. It was a couple of miles away, but it only took them ten minutes to get there. But of course nobody would tell them anything when they arrived, and they had to sit in a waiting room for ages.

Eventually a man came to join them who looked so like Brahim that he could only be his father. Michael introduced himself and said he was a friend of Brahim, and that they had witnessed the accident – and “Have they told you how he is, please?”

Mr Dhif shook his head. “They’re still working on him. He’s still alive, but that’s all they’ve told me. So – what happened, exactly?”

So Michael explained the circumstances of the accident – at least, he described how Brahim had collided with the van, but not the meeting they had had with him first. But Jordan was thinking about that, and so he asked if the Dhifs had any relatives anywhere else in the country.

Mr Dhif shook his head. “It’s only me, my wife and Brahim,” he said. “There’s nobody else.”

And that left the boys with no leads as to where David might be.

Mrs Dhif arrived a little later, and then the parents were called through to talk to a doctor. And a few minutes later Mr Dhif came back.

I want to thank you for coming,” he said, “but you should go home now. There’s nothing you can do here.”

How is he?” asked Michael.

He’s… well, he’s alive. But he’s got a broken skull, and he’s in intensive care, and they don’t know if… look, you should go home. I need to be with my wife.”

Okay, Sir. But… here’s my phone number,” said Michael, scribbling it on the back of one of the magazines in the waiting room, tearing it off and handing it to Mr Dhif. “Please can you call me as soon as you have any news? We’d really appreciate it.”

Michael and Jordan cycled back to Michael’s house, rather more slowly. There didn’t seem to be anything they could do but to wait and hope that Brahim made a proper recovery, as they had no way of guessing where he might have stashed David – the lack of relatives in the country meant that there was no obvious place to look. It never for a moment occurred to them that David might have been taken abroad.

And on the Tuesday morning at break Michael came and found Jordan.

Mr Dhif called me last night,” he said. “Dhif’s alive, and he’s stable. But he’s in a coma, and nobody knows how long it’ll be before he wakes up. If he ever does, that is. So there’s nothing we can do. We’ll just have to wait and hope David’s okay, and that he can hang on until Dhif recovers. But… I’m scared, Jordan. I hope nothing happens to him.”

I’m sure he’ll be okay,” said Jordan. “It’s like Collins said: this is England. Nothing too awful can really happen to him here…”


So that would seem to be the end of the rescue attempt. And that means that, unless Dhif wakes up and does the right thing, David is now entirely on his own…

What, you thought it was going to be that easy? It's never that easy! Of course, if you want to comment on what happened in this chapter, then is the address for you.

Copyright 2009: all rights reserved Please do not reprint, repost or otherwise reproduce this or any part of it anywhere without my written permission.

David Clarke