Nifty grows on one, like an addiction. Once you're used to posting, you sort of need to keep doing it. And my need has been growing for a while. You'll find me under prolific authors, though I've not submitted anything to Nifty in a long while. It's not that I haven't wanted to; it's because I've not written erotica for several years now (of course, I read it greedily on Nifty). With carpal tunnel constricting the time I could write, I had to decide if I wanted to write gay erotica when the paying market for it was shrinking or expand into mainstream -- both gay-related and heterosexual.
Below is the first chapter of FLIGHT AT PEENEMŰNDE from my Britain On The Cusp series. It's a gay romance as well as a historical thriller set in theyear before WWII began. I'll be posting a new chapter every week or so, if enough of you like it.
Please let me what you think at Vichowel at aol.com.
The copyright to FLIGHT AT PEENEMÜNDE belongs to me. It cannot appear in any medium without my express permission.
I won't tell you that you must be 16-18 to read this. You should be legally an adult to visit Nifty; but this particular story is one you could share with your mother without blushing too much.
I was only slightly late as I took the stairs two at a time. I reached the great hall, ready to break into a mad dash for the car. Miss Murray was waiting for me, however -- just as she always had when I was a young lad and had done something wrong. Standing before the study. I slowed down and approached her. At least, she wasn't tapping her foot at me.
"Sir, Lord Molloy is telephoning from London," the housekeeper told me, concern covering her face like a mask. "He's holding for you."
I glanced towards the study, half-expecting to see my old school chum standing in the doorway and grinning at me.
I wondered what Molloy could want. I'd not seen him since his marriage almost five years ago. I knew he'd gone with the Foreign Office. I'd wondered several times recently what he might know since the Anschluß mess in Vienna had got the Government upset.
"Thank you, Miss Murray," I told her and entered the study. "Max, how are you, old lad?" I asked as I brought the instrument to my ear, forcing the meeting with my managers from my mind for the moment.
"Fair, Petersholme." There was a short pause that threatened to become uncomfortable. "Robbie, how do you feel about helping His Majesty's Government?" he asked finally
I stared at the instrument in my hand. I had no clue what the man could possibly be talking about. Molloy had always had the cheeky knack of coming out of the blue on a man. "Crown and country, that's always been the Petersholme motto. It still is," I told him. "Are you asking me to join the Army?"
Molloy chuckled in London. "Nothing so drastic. We here at the Foreign Office may, however, have need to call upon you come autumn. We'll chat then."
"Max, what is this about?" I demanded. My old school chum very obviously was playing games with me, and I did not like it.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss it at present, Petersholme. We're making contingency plans, that's all. I'll write to you when things are a bit more settled and we can talk about this. Enjoy your summer, Robbie."
"Max!" I yelped.
"You're so impatient, old lad. I have a meeting with the Minister -- the fate of the Empire, you know..." I sensed his chuckle, though there was no sound. "We'll have a nice long chat in the autumn, I promise." He rang off then and I was left staring at the telephone in my hand.
I was damned late as I reached the doors.
I saw the Bentley standing in the drive as I stepped outside and smiled as I started for it. More and more, I was coming to think that Miss Murray thought of everything, even having her employer's car brought up even before he had left his rooms.
"Morning, my Lord," a young voice greeted me as I neared the car -- a young American voice. The incongruity of an American on the grounds of Bellingham Hall stopped me instantly.
I spotted the barrow parked beside the topiary that edged the drive to the roadway. My gaze followed a line of spilt straw and muck from the barrow and was staring at the spread buttocks of a lad I didn't know. He was kneeling before the hedge and watching me from over his shoulder. His blue trousers seemed unnaturally tight across his backside.
My eyes widened as I recognised the things. These were those denim fabrications from America. Levi -- something, I remembered then, from San Francisco in California. The American company's agent who had come by the tractor factory last month called them blue jeans. Trousers designed by an American Jew for American cowboys. They fitted the lad like a second skin across the backside.
Such things would never become popular in England, I knew. They were simply impractical -- and the English had always proved to be a sensible, practical people. The Italians with their bald Duce, however -- and half the males thinking themselves gigolos-in-waiting...
I placed the lad then. Miss Murray's nephew. Barry was his name. From America. He was enrolled at university in London for the autumn term.
Miss Murray had requested that I take him on for the summer whilst most of the regular estate workers would be involved in farming and the grounds keeper had been quite pleased at having a helper. Petersholme's interests may well have become predominantly industrial in father's hands but this lingering economic depression had taught me the value of my agricultural roots.
I was supposed to be at the tractor factory in Coventry at this very moment, hearing my managers' reports. I was thirty minutes late already, assuming I drove like the wind and didn't find myself stuck behind some lorry. Of course, I understood that my managers would wait patiently. After all, I was Petersholme. But that sort of thinking had allowed both the Germans and the Americans to develop their industrial base well beyond England's. Either we English learnt to do business by the clock or we would continue to fall behind.
"It looks good, Barry," I told him and pivoted to resume my rush to the motorcar.
* * *
Damn these monthly meetings with my managers! Finances, profits and losses, sales figures, costs -- they had all come to dominate my days and far too many of my nights. I had become more than simply overworked. I had become a blasted automaton. I allowed myself to wonder what it would be like not to think of tractors, fertilisers, and farm production every waking moment. I was twenty-six years of age, still a young man, and I had not looked once to my own pleasure since father's death.
I switched on the car wireless. The Teddy Wilson orchestra was playing Melancholy Baby and I felt myself relaxing as Ella Fitzgerald began to sing as I neared Bellingham Hall that afternoon on my return from the factory. It was an indulgence, my having a wireless in the car; but it was one I had allowed myself when I bought the Bentley.
The white foam of May bushes in bloom separated my pastures from the narrow paved roadway up from the village. I even slowed down to a comfortable speed now that I had no need to rush. I thought that I loved England most in the late spring when everything was so green and alive. Even the depression that had held the civilised world the past nine years could be forgotten, when I was here at what was the heart of all that Petersholme had become. The depression and that damned mad Austrian who ruled in Berlin -- why couldn't things be sensible in the world as they were on my estate?
I pulled to the side of the roadway and stepped up to the stile between the May bushes. Only the day before, my farm manager had told me five of my best cows had recently calved and that they were in this field. I wanted to see the wee things with my own eyes, now that I knew the Petersholme factories continued to thrive.
As I stepped up to the stile, a cock pheasant ran from the May bush, raising his wings as he did so. I stood still and watched as he puffed up his breast in challenge. When I still did nothing, he began to hobble as if he were crippled, trying to pull me after him. I knew then that his mate and her nest were nearby and smiled at his effort to perform his duty.
Across the field, a spindly-legged bullock wobbled to its mother and began to suckle. I saw instantly that he was a sturdy little thing. Yes, the spring had definitely been a good one. Bellingham Hall would win several blue ribbons come autumn.
Back in the car, my mind eased back to what I had learned from my managers' reports. The Petersholme factories were still solvent, and I had yet to lay off one employee in my two years at the helm.
Only last week, another of Josef Stalin's commissars had placed an order for a thousand tractors and paid in advance -- in pounds sterling. A nice cash sum -- the plants would be operating in the black at least into next year. That had been the best piece of news to come out of our meeting.
I thought that, to celebrate, Cook might well serve up something a bit special and wondered idly what had been slaughtered recently.
I smiled. Aunt Alice would know. The old girl, however, loathed it when I didn't like her menus. She absolutely hated it if I changed one for any reason. Still -- I thought that being successfully solvent required a bit of celebration. I nodded and was quite sure Cousin Elizabeth would be happy with my intention. Perhaps if I suggested a party Aunt Alice might not fuss too much about changing the evening's menu.
Of course, I knew what the Russians intended with their purchase. Their lads out on those endless steppes would steal the design and, next year, the Bolshie would be making another line of tractors that looked just like Petersholmes. They had done it twice now with our designs.
But, to my mind, duty to one's dependants overrode even solid business considerations -- and there was still a depression strangling Britain. I was responsible for paying my lads, for keeping them from the dole queues. They were good men. If it took Bolshie orders to keep them employed ... Petersholme managers be damned; I didn't care if the Russians duplicated our old designs. Not enough to lay off good men. Not for a principle I had no way of defending.
The War Office had also visited. My man at the factory said it appeared to be only a routine inspection -- to see what we could do.
Chamberlain with all his great promises early in the spring -- "the Germans will behave themselves now," he'd promised us only two months ago in Parliament after His Majesty's Government acquiesced to the German Anschluß with Austria. The German eagle gobbling up the Austrian bird in one bite was a more fitting description of what had happened. And there were still only the six divisions in the Local Defence Force that Stanley Baldwin had left us last year. His Majesty's Government had not yet asked for a larger military budget.
The Premier thought Hitler would take England seriously? Neville Chamberlain's concept of foreign policy was to give whole countries away if we didn't trade with them. Appease always. Tory thinking appeared to be spend nothing and we won't have to tax highly. Low taxes would start business right back up.
It had been two years now since I had given my maiden speech in the Lords, we still were in a damned depression, and the war clouds over the continent were even more threatening.
Perhaps, though, the Premier was finally perking up. Hitler goose-stepping through Vienna and beginning to threaten the Sudetenland were enough to wake even the dead.
Petersholme could convert to war materials fast enough and there were so many young chaps out of work in Coventry alone that we could be up to speed in no time. His Majesty's cheques would always be honoured at Petersholme. Definitely. Even lovingly.
I turned the Bentley into the estate at almost three o'clock and pulled to a stop on the gravelled drive. The pale ochre, three-story facade of Bellingham Hall spread out in the distance before me and my heart gladdened at the knowledge that I was again home.
Young Barry was on top of the ladder fiercely cleaning the heraldic wrought iron above the gateway. His shirt lay on the ground beneath him.
Those ghastly blue jeans of the lad's! He may as well have had his naked arse sticking out as he leant to scrub the topmost bar. There was not one damned thing left to the imagination!
Miss Murray's nephew or not, this lad needed to learn to behave as a civilised Englishman if he wanted to work in this country. He definitely did not need to appear to be some rentboy selling his bottom on a side street in King's Cross. Even those cheeky sods didn't advertise themselves like this.
"I say, Barry!" I called up to him through the open roof of the car.
He started and lost his footing. My eyes widened and I was opening the door to get to him as he sought to regain his balance, though I knew he would have already toppled before I could reach him.
The lad proved to be agile, however. He grabbed the wrought iron to steady himself. I heard metal grate against metal as the wrought iron took more of his weight and cringed. He reached down to the top of the ladder and, as soon as his grip was secure, released the top of the gateway. I breathed a sigh of relief.
He had gained the ground and was wiping sweat from his face with a bare arm as I rounded the boot of the car. "Are you all right, lad?" I demanded as I reached him. "You gave me quite a fright."
He grinned, looking for all the world like an imp. "I think so, Lord Petersholme." He looked down his body and chuckled. "No bones broken at least."
"You need to be more careful."
"I thought I was." He grinned. "But you caught me by surprise there." He glanced back at the gateway and its top border. "Then I almost fell."
I stared at him. I slowly decided he wasn't forgetting his place or even being rude. He simply didn't know how to speak to a gentleman. I wondered how I had been so blind as to have allowed his aunt to convince me to take this American lad on as summer labour.
I looked him up and down, inspecting for harm -- as any gentleman would feel the need to do.
The American was medium height, the top of his head perhaps coming up to my chin. His ginger hair accentuated a pale creamy complexion and Irish freckles and made for an exceptionally handsome lad. His chest was wide and smooth, his stomach was tight and slim. A thin, dark red line of hair marched from his navel to inside his denim trousers.
My cheeks flushing, I looked back into his face.
"You really must wear more sensible trousers to work in, lad," I stammered. "And a shirt. Englishmen do not go about exposing themselves like that."
I circled the bonnet of the motorcar quickly and collapsed into the driver's seat, forcing myself to become calm again. "Do a good job, lad," I called to him as I turned on the ignition.
* * *
Aunt Alice sat at the other end of the table from me with Cousin Elizabeth between us. The roast pork was perfect and I intended to tell Cook that as soon as I left the table. Aunt Alice was frowning. We'd been due for cottage pie, and my aunt was such a creature of habit.
I forced myself away from the simple pleasure of enjoying good food and met my aunt's gaze. I sipped at my wine, brought my napkin up to wipe my lips, and gave her my undivided attention. Alice Adshead was a horse-faced woman -- what a gentleman in public would call strong-featured. Her black hair had developed threads of grey and was pulled back in a severe bun. She was not a totally unattractive woman, however, and, for the life of me, I couldn't understand why she insisted on being so funereal even twenty years after my uncle died in the influenza epidemic that presaged the end of the Great War.
"Yes, Aunt Alice." She appeared even grimmer than usual. The mouthful of pork I had just swallowed seemed to want to hang at the very back of my throat.
She smiled tightly. "I heard from the Viscountess D'Archer in today's post."
I immediately thought of the Viscount, remembering he'd got into a pit of a pickle recently, chasing that young vice girl through several blocks of King's Cross trying to retrieve his trousers from her. As I'd heard it, he did regain his trousers but the girl absconded with his wallet. As he was nearly fifty, I would have thought the Viscount would have learned to select the place of his trysts so that he could control the action. But, then, some men were more than a bit stupid.
"I say, how are the D'Archers these days?" I asked, deciding it would probably not be a good idea to repeat my gossip about the Viscount.
Alice's lip trembled. "The Countess mentioned that her youngest brother-in-law is back from India -- on rotation or something military."
"Louis? What rank is he these days, Aunt? Captain?"
"He is a Major, Robert." She gazed at me almost pityingly. To Alice Adshead, her nephew was abysmally ignorant of gossip and remained that way despite her best efforts. "I'm sure the Viscount would have mentioned it to you at one of the meetings of the Lords you've attended this past year."
"My goodness, time does fly," I offered breezily in my defence. "What is Louis now, thirty or so?"
"Thirty-five. He's in England to find himself a wife."
I knew then exactly where this conversation was going. Aunt Alice had been on a two-year quest through our sort to find Elizabeth a husband. It surprised me a bit to realise she wasn't still insisting on a hereditary title. Louis wasn't a bad sort at all from what I remembered of him, and he was younger than most that Aunt Alice had offered up as possible matches for Eliza.
I glanced towards Elizabeth. She was vainly attempting to ignore us by keeping her attention attached to the piece of pork that had been on her plate since Alice started in on the d'Archers. I wondered if that meant her interest had finally been piqued.
My cousin was more than slightly strange about the idea of marriage. She was eighteen now and quite pretty. A lovely girl all in all -- nice figure, English complexion, and quite clever. Yet, she'd shown no interest in any of the potential suitors Aunt Alice had found. What else was a young girl supposed to do, if not become married and establish her own household? I had Aunt Alice's insistence on that fact of life.
I drank the rest of the wine in my glass, making no pretence at sipping it. I poured more from the carafe beside my plate and took a deep breath. There were definitely times I wished that father were still alive and making decisions, especially the family ones. "What do you think, Eliza? Should Aunt Alice reply to the Viscountess?"
"Robert, I wish..." My favourite cousin sighed then and forced a smile to her lips as she faced me. I took note that there was no smile to her eyes at all. "I think I would prefer not to marry a military man, Robert."
"Fiddlesticks!" Aunt Alice growled, firmly placing her napkin beside her plate. "Louis D'Archer attended Sandhurst, girl. His future is assured. A good life defending King and country, a good stipend, and a sizeable income the man receives from his holdings here in England. A future, good bloodlines for your children, an income -- what else can any woman ask for?"
"There's going to be war, Aunt Alice. A very bad war from what I see in the papers. I'd quite like to grow to love my husband before I lose him on a battlefield."
"Dash!" Aunt Alice groaned, rolling her eyes and pushing from the table. Standing up, she fixed me with her gaze. "Robert, are you going to do your duty for this family?" she demanded, ignoring poor Elizabeth. It was as if the girl weren't even at table with us. "You have supported this child's resistance continuously. It is because of you that she has rejected every title that has been in the offing. Your father would have given her to a proper gentleman two years ago."
She sighed, I thought a bit too melodramatically. "I'm forced to go to younger brothers and sons to stay within our sort. If Elizabeth continues to reject perfectly good men, she'll end up like her mother -- with a man in the trades, or worse!" Alice Adshead rose, pushing back her chair, and marched from the dining room.
Tears were in Eliza's eyes when I turned to look at her again. "Dear Cousin, explain to me why my Aunt insists on starting these little skirmishes when I'm trying to enjoy my dinner?" I asked in hopes of causing Eliza to laugh, rather than cry. I grabbed my glass again.
She giggled. "She does that, doesn't she, Robert? This always comes up at dinner."
I smiled back. "But never when cottage pie is on the menu. It's only when it's something I like to eat." I chuckled and Eliza giggled again. "If I take you down to London next month will you at least consider Louis D'Archer?"
"London? When, Robert?"
"After this bash Aunt Alice has us putting on -- what? -- three weeks from now?"
"Not really." Her face flushed ever so slightly as she smiled. "But I would love to go to London -- even in the summer. I'll find what's playing at all the theatres for us."
"You'll at least put your thinking cap on, Cousin," I told her, forcing myself to sound cross. "I shan't appease you and get nothing in return. I'm not Chamberlain, you know."
"I'll think about it, Robert. Perhaps..." She glanced down at her hands. "Perhaps, I'll just surrender and accept a woman's duty." She looked back at me then, defiantly. "And when, Robert, are you going to think of your duty to Petersholme?" I stared at her in surprise. "That's when I'll think seriously about it, Robert -- when you do."
"Eliza, I'm not sure..." I paused, unsure of myself suddenly. That damned American this morning bent over and stretching the blue denim covering his arse came to mind.
Fortunately for my presence of mind, my cousin did not pick up the level of doubt that I was sure had been in my voice. Perhaps she suspected a feint on my part similar to those of Aunt Alice and merely avoided allowing me to open up.
"Will it be horrible and ghastly, Robert?" she asked, changing the subject entirely. "This war, when it comes?"
I gazed at her and smiled. Such sweet, innocent naïveté so artfully blended with a steely resolution. "We'll take a thrashing, Eliza. A hard one, I suspect. Chamberlain's nearly assured us of that -- holding the local defence down to nothing after Baldwin took it there and denying us a real air force. Letting our factories go idle whilst Germany builds up. But we have the empire to fall back on; Germany only has itself. Strength and right will win out in the end."
"We'll win then?"
"How can we not?" I growled, staring at her in surprise at her doubt. "England is, Eliza. We simply are, no matter how abnormal things become around us." I sat up straighter. "The world needs England to keep things sane when it goes insane. It simply would be impossible for us to go under."
"You think I'm right to hold out against Louis D'Archer then, Robert?"
I shut my eyes and counted to five. Aunt Alice had better be in her rooms. "Probably. It could become a bit nasty before we can pull the empire in and set up properly."
She nodded. "Then, we must dance away the night at this party of Aunt Alice's. And we must go up to London. I won't hear of an excuse, Robert. We're going to enjoy what's left of this peace before it's gone and Chaos roams the world as if there were no England."
Eliza studied me in silence for the longest time. She brought her hand from her lap and placed it on mine. "Robert, you're young and quite handsome."
"Me?" I blushed.
"You. Blond, tall, quite well-built. A nice smile, a beautiful, intelligent mind, gentle and loving -- yes, what any intelligent woman would want in a man. Quite handsome. But, if England must go to war?"
I understood immediately where she was leading us. "Dear Cousin, we are not going to bleed ourselves white again. The French can stop the Germans with their Maginot Line there at the Rhine. There will be no Somme where England lost a generation of young men. I'll still be alive and well when it's over."
"But if you're not? What about Aunt Alice? What about Petersholme?"
I grinned. I didn't feel light-hearted but I knew I needed to appear to be so to Eliza. "Are you suggesting I adopt some bright, handsome lad whom you could then marry? Should I dip down into the trades so that you would have a lad you could lead around by the..." I managed to stop before I actually said the word 'bollocks'. I could not imagine having nearly committed such a faux paux. "By the nose," I finished, blushing fiercely.
Damn! It was time I remembered Elizabeth was a woman and a lady of my household at that. She was not Molloy or von Kys, and I was no longer a carefree student, able to excuse boorish behaviour. There was a distance that had to be maintained -- or I lessened her as a woman.
Her fingers gripped mine tightly. Her eyes held mine. "Robert, promise me that you'll be here for me when this thing with Germany is over. I don't think I could survive if I didn't have you ready to pick me up if I should fall."