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Rigby Taylor

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  1. Chapter 26

    And you could not have given me a greater compliment - thanks.
  2. Chapter 26

    Mmmm... the slippery slope you reckon? But please don't blame me, I only write what pops into my head - where it comes from I've no idea.
  3. Chapter 26

    The headmaster’s house was set back from the road in a fenced off piece of the school grounds. Low hedges and a nearby street lamp meant that anyone at the door would be visible from the road, so he had to be quick. Fortunately, there was little traffic. A light went on in what he supposed must be the lounge. Robert crossed the road swiftly, glided up the path, and knocked firmly. The hall light was switched on and the door opened just wide enough for Mr Nikelseer to identify his visitor. Spending the afternoon at home had not been a good idea. Writing letters had not stopped the headmaster brooding on the evils of the world, and he was furious that his evening should be disturbed by this personification of depravity. Before he could slam the door, Robert slithered through, kicked it shut and, filled with dread and sharp fears of what would happen if he failed, grovelled at his headmaster’s feet. ‘Sir! Sir! Have compassion! I’ve been in torment since you spoke those words to me this morning. I’ve prayed all day for guidance, and… and... I think the Lord has spoken to me!’ The final half-dozen words burst forth in a rush of confusion, embarrassment and hope. Mr Nikelseer stepped back to avoid contact with this disciple of the city of Sodom, for whom even the Lord God could find no mercy. Had he been able, he would have turned his supplicant into a pillar of salt on the spot, but not knowing the trick he did the next best thing. Making the sign of the cross with the index fingers of both hands, he shouted, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’ Hysterical laughter threatened to burst through Robert's self control. His mental state was as fragile as the headmaster’s. He raised stricken eyes to his persecutor, chillingly aware that his last cards were being played. ‘You have breached my sanctuary!’ Nikelseer hissed. ‘Leave instantly, or I will call the police!’ Fear of failure set Robert pleading anew until, angered beyond bearing, Mr Nikelseer backed towards his study. ‘You have been warned,’ he intoned from the doorway. ‘The law knows how to treat godless perverts!’ With appalling clarity Robert envisaged a future of public notoriety, ridicule, harassment and loneliness. He was going to lose Bart! The flimsy filaments of hope, love and fear with which we weave our natures, stretched, spun themselves into a cord as cold and hard as life itself, and Robert bowed his head. He had offered the enemy a chance. The offer had been rejected. The old man had sealed his own fate. The headmaster waited anxiously for a few seconds, then, deciding it was safe, turned and entered his study. Robert, eyes blank, face expressionless, leaped silently to his feet. Before Mr Nikelseer could reach the telephone, a sock filled with small lead sinkers thudded into his skull behind the ear. Robert caught the falling body and carried it back to the entrance, where he let it fall roughly to the floor. He took a new pair of rubber gloves from his pocket and put them on, before grasping the old man under the arms and dragging him into the study. Leaving the body in the centre of the room, he removed from his pack a large plastic bag and three strips of rubber cut from a discarded inner tube. He dealt a second, firmer blow with the lead-filled sock, placed the plastic bag over the old man’s head and secured the opening round his neck with one of the rubber ties. With the others, he fastened the arms to the body and the legs together. Turning to the desk, he grimaced with satisfaction. The computer was the same as his father’s, and equally old, although the printer was different. He switched on and unpacked. A glance over his shoulder showed spasmodic twitching of his victim’s head and a convulsive shuddering of the thorax, but little other movement. The plastic bag was already fogged and starting to cling to the face. The computer wasn’t connected to either the Internet or a fax, so there was no password to worry about. He brought up the Letters file and was presented with more than a hundred titles, organised alphabetically with the date appended: ‘Aust. Prof. Assoc. 23.9.98’, through to ‘Yeller’s Motors, and the previous day’s date. Robert scanned random letters. All seemed to be personal and all were dated. A second date, not always the same, had been added at the bottom of each letter, presumably to indicate when the letter had been printed and posted. He checked a letter with the prefix Ed Dept. and that day’s date. It described in detail what the headmaster had seen in Bart’s office that morning, demanded immediate expulsion for him, and termination of employment for Bart. Robert felt sick. There was no date at the end, so he took a chance that it hadn’t been actioned and deleted the text, replacing it with a prepared letter from his USB stick. He printed this, dated the computer copy at the bottom to indicate it had been printed, then signed the printed letter with a practised flourish. Taking care not to make any creases, he pressed the letter against the fingers of the still warm, but by now dead man on the floor behind him. He then placed it in the desk drawer on top of everything else as though intending to post it in the morning. There were letters to the editors of newspapers on aspects of morality; memoranda about Bible class activities, and dozens of letters to A Osbairne about the church. The last letter in that file was a copy of the letter to the Education Department. This also had no date at the bottom, so Robert deleted it. There were no letters labelled Lance, but that omission was soon rectified. Robert had the seven dates he needed in front of him. It was a simple matter to choose existing letters, check they had actually been created on the date required, rename, delete the text, and replace it with another of the prepared letters from his memory stick. By the time he was finished he had seven letters labelled Lance, followed by the date they had ostensibly first been written, printed and sent. One, dated eleven months earlier, commenced, ‘Dear Boy’, and congratulated Lance on his success with the Bible class. The next, dated during the second term of the present year, praised Lance’s playground attempts to physically dissuade boys who demonstrated “unnatural tendencies”. The third, dated four days after Murray’s death, included these sentences: You have demonstrated remarkable leadership over this latest problem. I have offered up prayers for the lad’s eternal soul, but remain concerned for your safety. Rest assured that the two sinners of whom we spoke will not be permitted to judge you. Their own judgement-day is nigh. Robert would have preferred to date it two days earlier, but there had been no suitable letter to replace. The fourth letter, dated two days following Bart’s near fall to oblivion, admitted to a certain sadness that a permanent solution to the problem had not been achieved, but commended the skill and planning involved. The fifth lamented the loss of a perfectly good cricket shed, but ended philosophically with the cliché about God moving in mysterious ways, and was dated the last day of the previous school term. The sixth, dated in the middle of the school holidays, suggested that attempts to achieve their mutual goal could not rely on mere chance. Such things as brakes failing were likely to create suspicion. There was a terse, badgering tone emerging, suggesting that Lance was failing in his duties. While composing the letters, Robert had conjured up a picture of the headmaster; recalling conversations, turns of phrase, the letter written to his parents, and harangues from the stage at assembly. Imagining he was the headmaster, he had then simply written without thinking, letting the words tumble forth. The note Robert had delivered to Lance earlier that afternoon was very simple, merely demanding that he visit the headmaster at eight-thirty p.m. exactly, neither earlier nor later, to discuss what were described vaguely as new and possibly dangerous developments. It had ended with an injunction to destroy the letter immediately by burning, and to speak to no one about it. Luckily, the headmaster had composed a complaining letter to his bank the previous evening, so this was deleted and replaced with the “original” of the letter given to Lance. It was very different, however, from the one dropped on his doormat. A smile of satisfaction flickered as Robert gazed up at a faded print of Christ Triumphant hanging above the desk. He adjusted a sentence, re-read the letter, and checked it carefully: Dear Boy, Something of the utmost importance has occurred! God spoke to me whilst I was conducting my morning devotions. I was kneeling before the image of Christ Triumphant, when loud music welled within my head and I heard the voice of God praising the work both you and I are doing. There was more music, and wondrous lights poured over my study, bathing everything in the aura of perfection. The voice spoke again, urging me to tell the world of our great deeds and noble self-sacrifice. You must visit me tonight at eight o’clock precisely. Be neither early nor late. We will discuss together how best to inform the world proudly and at once of our fight against the devil in our midst. I am filled with joy and anticipation, Yours in God’s Judgement, Having minutely re-checked this final letter for errors, Robert inserted the correct date at the top, and typed that day’s date at the bottom to indicate it had been printed and delivered. After re-sorting the files into alphabetical order, saving everything to the hard-drive and emptying the ‘recycle bin’, he searched around on the desk, in the drawers and the cupboard underneath before he discovered a box containing a CD neatly labelled “Back up - Letters”. He inserted it, set it going, checked his list, and hoped he had thought of everything. It was now fifteen minutes to eight, exactly ninety minutes since he had knocked at the headmaster’s front door. Time was getting tight. The computer had to be shut down before eight o’clock because someone was sure to check on when the files had last been modified. As soon as the Back up was completed, Robert turned off the computer, unplugged the keyboard, carried it across to the dead man and pressed cool and rapidly stiffening fingers onto the keys before returning it to the desk and re-connecting. There was no time to think about what had been done, simply an overwhelming urgency to ensure that every possible eventuality had been anticipated. He re-packed everything, double checked that nothing remained to show he had been there, turned off the study lights, turned on the reading lamp and television in the lounge, left the front door ajar, then exited by the back door, making certain the lock caught as he closed it. He then vaulted the back fence, ran across the darkened school grounds to the corner of the street where there was a public telephone, and dialled 000. While waiting for his call to be put through to the police, he recalled Warren Pinot’s lazy, educated voice and slightly bewildered way of not seeing what was obvious to everyone else. By the time an efficient voice announced, ‘Police,’ he was ready. It was eight twenty-five. ‘I think I want to report an assault.’ ‘Do you or don’t you?’ ‘I do... I…I think.’ ‘Give me the details. Speak clearly, I am recording this conversation.’ ‘Goodness. Well, let me see. I must be precise, yes. Well, I was driving through Toowong this evening at about eight o’clock and managed to lose myself. I stopped to check my map and glanced at the house over the road. As I did so, a thin young chap parked his car, walked up to the door, knocked, and when an old man opened it, the fellow stepped inside and hit him on the head! I was dumbfounded. As I watched, he dragged the body out of the way and kicked the door shut. When I finally discovered where I was, it was quite stupid really, I was only one street away from where I usually drive, but you know how it is?’ ‘No, sir, I do not!’ an irritated voice interrupted. ‘Please stick to your story.’ ‘Yes, yes, sorry. Now, where was I? Oh yes, when I got home my wife insisted I ring and tell you. I hope I haven’t waited too long?’ ‘Where exactly was this, sir?’ ‘I don’t know the name of the street, but it was an old, two-storeyed, mock-Tudor style house in the grounds of a school in a similar style.’ Robert’s voice had gathered an involuntary but useful edge of hysteria. ‘Does that help?’ ‘Yes. I know the place. Your name, sir?’ ‘Oh, goodness me! I don’t want to get involved, I mean, there’s my wife and children to consid...’ ‘Your name, sir?’ ‘Oh, heavens! No.... I couldn’t.... The papers, my job...no.’ Robert replaced the receiver, left the telephone box and concealed himself behind a stone wall in the shadows of an overhanging tree, just in time to see Lance stop his car in front of the house and saunter up the path. He left the scene quickly. No point in tempting the Gods. He was no Icarus. A three-minute run brought him to the station. Suddenly ravenous, he used the wait to grab a couple of sandwiches and a can of drink. He took the train to Central and changed into his school uniform in the toilets, dumping the rubber gloves, CD and the train ticket in separate rubbish bins as he raced for the cinema – the same one he and Bart had gone to four days previously. It already seemed an aeon ago. It was just on nine o’clock. A paperback-reading ticket-seller absentmindedly sold him a ticket. He entered the darkened, half empty auditorium and waited for his breathing to return to normal. As soon as he was certain he didn’t look as though he had been running a marathon, he went out and knocked on the door labelled Manager. ‘Come in,’ called a pleasant voice belonging to an overweight young man. ‘Gosh! Are you the manager?’ asked a wide-eyed Robert. ‘Assistant - a title to compensate for the low wages. Maybe some day. Cheap security guard is a more accurate description. What can I do for you?’ Robert’s plans had run out. All he knew was his presence at the movie had to be noticed and remembered. The Assistant Manager smiled affably, allowing his eyes to stray to his visitor’s taut crotch, where they tarried. Suddenly Robert knew what to do. He smiled shyly, then hesitatingly said, ‘Actually, I have a bad headache, and I wondered if you had anything for it? I wouldn’t have dared come in here normally, but before the show I saw you in the foyer, and you smiled at me and I thought you looked really nice, so that’s why…’ his voice trailed off as his host’s smile turned to puzzlement. ‘I don’t remem…’ he began, then stopped as another thought visibly entered his head. Robert’s face fell. He blushed and stuttered, ‘Oh, I’m…I’m sorry. I feel so stupid. I…I thought you were looking at me… and…’ He bit his lip and stopped talking. The assistant manager’s face cleared, he hit his head lightly with the heel of his hand and showered a dazzling smile over his tightly trousered guest. ‘Of course I remember! Sorry! My mind was miles away, I wasn’t concentrating. Yes…yes. How could I forget? Here, sit down. I’m sure we’ve got aspirin somewhere.’ He searched in a cupboard, produced a first-aid box, dispensed two tablets, filled a tumbler from the sink in the attached washroom and presented it to Robert, who downed pills and water gratefully. They chatted amiably for a few minutes, Robert mentioning how silly he felt in his school uniform. In return, he received fulsome compliments on its snug fit and, as he was leaving, a pat on the bum and an offer of a drink after the show – or any time he was passing. Returning to the auditorium, he forced himself to stay awake and recall the short films before the interval, that he’d seen with Bart, as well as the feature. A train from Central, followed by a fast jog, got him home just on eleven o’clock. He entered his side door, secreted the pack under the bed, and went through to the lounge where his parents and Bart were waiting, anxious but doing their best not to show it. ‘Not waiting up for me, I hope? That’s why I left the note telling you I was going to town to the flicks, so you wouldn’t worry. Bart! What’re you doing here? I told Mum to ring and tell you.’ Bart didn’t trust himself to speak. He had been physically sick earlier in the evening with the fear that Robert had done something irrevocable. He made do with a worried frown and a shake of the head. ‘We didn’t get home in time to ring him.’ Monique was terse. ‘Bart was here waiting for us when we arrived back at four o’clock!’ ‘We have been very upset!’ Sanjay came as close as he ever had to sounding really angry. ‘Bart told us you had a run-in with the headmaster and that you had skipped school. We thought you might have done something silly.’ ‘Hardly! As Bart said, we’ve done nothing wrong. I was suddenly sick of the whole stupidity and felt like being on my own for a bit. Sorry if I worried you. It was selfish of me.’ He sat down beside Bart, who still had not trusted himself to say anything, and snuggled up. ‘Forgive me?’ He looked so innocent and appealing, all Bart could do was laugh nervously, try not to cry, give him an affectionate squeeze, and say, ‘Of course, silly. I’m a worrier.’ ‘I wandered around town, saw lots of miserable looking people and realised my own lot wasn’t so bad. Went to a boring movie, caught the train home, and here I am. What’d the cops say about the video?’ ‘I didn’t take it in.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Not without you.’ ‘Sorry. I wasn’t up to a cross-examination after Nikelseer’s ear bashing. Tomorrow?’ Robert’s tired, easy smile calmed their fears. ‘Sure. Tomorrow.’ ‘Thanks for worrying about me.’ Monique and Sanjay went to bed. The lost sheep had returned. All was well. Because it was so late, Bart stayed the night. ‘What did you tell Mum and Dad about this morning?’ Robert asked casually as soon as the light was out. ‘I didn’t mention our argument, just said Nikelseer caught us having a bit of a cuddle and lost his cool. I told them everything he said, though. That’s why we were so anxious. No one should have that sort of shit thrown at them.’ ‘I want you to promise me something.’ ‘What?’ ‘Promise first!’ ‘I promise.’ ‘No matter who asks, or how many times they ask you, never, ever tell them what Nikelseer saw us doing in your office, and never, ever repeat what he said to us - the threats he made!’ ‘That’s easy. I promise again.’ Silence. ‘Wild horses wouldn’t drag it out of me, so stop worrying!’ Robert continued to worry and, despite his exhaustion, found sleep elusive. Lance had parked his car, stomped irritably up the path and pressed the bell. He was sick of the greasy old fart expecting him to come running every time he had another inspiration about bloody God and sin. It was all he ever talked about. But things were getting serious. His father had been ignoring him totally since he stuffed up at Vaselly’s. He’d been a hundred percent certain that was going to work. He also didn’t trust Nigel and Ernest, even though they’d promised to deliver. Fat lot of good that’d be anyway. Despite hours of thinking he had no plans for Saturday. His mind was a blank. He couldn’t even get a good night’s kip any more. Nightmares about getting raped by huge bastards in prison had him waking in cold sweats. Because that was where he was heading if he didn’t get shot of Vaselly and Brown-eye! He shook off his fears, wondering why he’d been summoned to the Holy Presence. Must be something serious. He brightened. Maybe Nikelseer would have an idea. There was no answer to his ring, so he hammered on the door. It swung open. The old fool’s probably draining his brain, and left it open for me, he thought as he let himself into the hallway and slammed the door behind him. He went into the lounge, dumped his jacket over a chair and sat watching television for a minute before he realised the old man was either having a very long piss, or had gone out. He went to the foot of the stairs and called up before noticing there were no lights on. Perhaps the silly old fool had gone out for a stroll and that’s why the door was open. He went out and looked up and down the street. No one. Leaving the door ajar in case Nikelseer came back, he poked his head into the ground-floor rooms. Kitchen, dining room, toilet, laundry and… switching on the study light he at first didn’t notice the body on the floor, almost tripping over it. When he saw what it was, he gave a grunt of surprise followed by a vicious smile as he knelt down, lifted the edge of the plastic bag to check it really was the headmaster, and felt the wrist to see if there was a pulse. ‘Well, well,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Someone’s done me a favour. I wonder who and why?’ The smile was wiped as quickly as it had appeared. ‘Christ! I’d better fucking disappear. This looks like a set-up.’ He raced out to the car and was a couple of blocks away before he thought of his jacket. A panic stricken U turn caused an oncoming car to throw out all the anchors and skid wildly before righting itself and driving on. Lance jammed on his brakes and sagged over the wheel, shaking uncontrollably. A fucking cop car! Why hadn’t it stopped him? ‘Because it was going to Nikelseer’s, that’s why,’ a voice whispered in his head. Whimpering with terror, Lance drove unsteadily home. If he’d known where his father was he’d have called and begged him to come home. With a shudder of revulsion he realised he had shat himself, so tossed his jeans in the washing machine, cleaned himself up and downed a couple of slugs of whisky. Thus fortified, he was glad his father wasn’t there. He’d only start asking questions and nagging him. Probably wouldn’t even believe him. Anyway, his jacket didn’t prove anything. He could have left it there the previous day. Yeah. That’s what he’d say. The headmaster had invited him round yesterday to check he was OK after Brown-eye had beaten him up for no reason. Lance warmed to his plan. He’d say the headmaster was going to expel the prissy black queer today. Let him crawl out of that one. Arnold Osbairne arrived home angry. He didn’t realise he was angry because he’d been in that state for so long he’d forgotten what it was like to exist in any other. Lance’s car was parked in the centre of the drive, so he had to scrape his own on the bushes to get to the garage. The sooner that fuckwit kid got out of his life the better. He let himself in through the back door and, without turning on the laundry light, removed his clothes. He was a fastidious man who could not bear to wear anything more than once. Each night he would put everything washable in the washing machine, walk naked to his bathroom, shower, and don fresh pyjamas. It had become his only pleasurable ritual. He lifted the lid and threw everything in before registering the smell. He turned on the light, lifted out his clothing, and discovered Lance’s soiled jeans. They were inside out and some of the muck had stained his shirt. ‘By Christ but I hate that bastard,’ he hissed through his teeth, picking up the jeans, stomping along the hallway, throwing open Lances door, switching on the light and slamming the stinking mess into his sleeping son’s face. ‘You fucking little snot-nosed bastard,’ he seethed, holding the jeans firmly against the gagging mouth. Lance was petrified. He had no idea what was happening. Imagined it was the police, a gang of queers seeking retribution, Murray’s ghost. With a supreme effort he dragged the suffocating cloth off his face, grabbed a lung-full of air and let loose with a scream of such terror that his father leapt back in alarm. Lance sat up, white with shock, eyes distended in fear. ‘Dad! What’re you doing? Why?’ His father was repelled. This shit-smeared runt couldn’t be his. He had hated him since his wife returned from the hospital and transferred her affections to her newborn pup. He wanted to strangle the scrawny, screaming little creep. Instead, he turned on his heel and went to shower off his disgust.
  4. Chapter 25

    It gets darker.
  5. Chapter 25

    Mr Nikelseer supported himself against the wall outside Bart’s office. Knives stabbed through the base of his skull. Panic clutched at his throat. Swallowing became difficult, breathing ragged. Had his whole life been a mistake? Sanity teetered on the abyss - such questions must never be asked. Surely he had been virtuous? Doubt gnawed at his belly. His life had been a beacon of righteousness - hadn’t it? Shame, that murky, quicksand emotion, enveloped him in dread, preventing rational thought. He wanted to scream to his god, ‘Why? How could you let me? How many other errors have I made in your name? Instead, the tremulous bundle of indecision and fear cowering before unanswerable questions, whimpered, ‘Almighty God. Forgive me for I have sinned.’ The previous afternoon, angered by his deputy’s decision to let Karim off the hook, the headmaster had paid Lance a visit to offer both commiseration and support. The Osbairne front door was unlocked so he let himself in. He had never visited Lance’s bedroom and, unwilling to call out, stood quietly to get his bearings. A cry of pain followed by grunts set his pulses racing and he hurried along the hallway to a partially opened door where he stopped to catch his breath, fearful of what he might see. It was a large, dimly lit room with a television flickering in front of the curtained window, and a bed facing it. Lance was stretched over the bed, propped up on pillows watching a video. No one else was in the room - the cries were coming from the screen. The headmaster stared, but had no idea what he was looking at. Then, like a stab to the heart, understanding. As the camera zoomed out, two violently copulating bodies were joined by a third. Mr Nikelseer reeled, clinging to the door for support. He risked a glance around the room. Heavy Metal posters, centre-fold girls, knives, a black doll hung by its hair, a life-sized pneumatic woman suspended from the ceiling, gaping mouth and vagina leering derisively and… Ian averted his eyes from Lance’s jerking fist. He gagged, withdrew, and shuffled back the way he had come. The night had been a torment. He had prowled the house in search of relief, crawled in agony to the bathroom, held his head under the cold tap. Doubts still shredded his soul and through the gaping wounds he saw the truth about his relationship with Lance. At least Vaselly and Karim liked and respected each other. At least they were… what? They were… friends! Seeking forgiveness, desperate for human company, the Headmaster fidgeted outside the office. Vaselly would understand because he also had befriended a pupil. Vaselly would understand and forgive him. Forgiveness and absolution. The idea obsessed him. By dint of thought processes as obscure as the faith he followed, his young PE teacher had become the sole possible dispenser of atonement. With the master key he let himself into the office. Sunlight streamed in the windows and hurt his eyes. Staggering through the archway to the relative darkness of the sick bay, he sagged onto the bed and fell into nervous sleep. Concentration had been impossible during the first three periods. Robert pretended to listen and make notes while sifting and re-sifting through the evidence in an effort to accept the family’s decision. By interval, his head refused to function further until he had confronted Bart one last time in an effort to delay the visit to the police. They had to play Lance at his own game and lay a counter-trap. Bart had also endured a sleepless night. Robert’s obvious and nagging disappointment at the decision to involve the police was beginning to annoy him. It was all very well for a student to think of playing cops and robbers, but a teacher had to maintain at least a facade of respectability. At some stage they would have to go to the cops, and then what an idiot he’d look – even if everything turned out OK. However, he couldn’t imagine it would. How could they even contemplate trapping Lance? They hadn’t the faintest idea what he was planning. He might have nets suspended from the ceiling and canisters of poison gas for all they knew. The return to school had reignited Bart’s tensions. His day was one of constant nervous apprehension, fear of harassment and anxiety that someone would guess he was gay. He was tired from lack of sleep, tired of… everything. It was getting too much. Maybe the costs of a relationship outweighed the benefits. Maybe short-term liaisons were best after all. Why chain yourself to someone else’s problems when your own are more than enough? He reached his office, took out his key, and bumped into Robert. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ he whispered angrily. ‘I thought we’d agreed to avoid each other at school?’ ‘This is serious. I’ve been thinking all night and have a sure-fire way to get that creep. I’m convinced we can get irrefutable evidence against Lance if we wait till after Saturday before going to the cops.’ ‘For Christ’s sake give it a rest! We’ve been through this over and over, so cut it out!’ Bart’s whisper had become sharp and agitated. ‘There’s no need to shout, I’m only...’ ‘Shut up and get inside.’ Bart shoved Robert roughly into his office and closed the door. ‘You’re determined to put us in the shit! Why do you have to play at cops and robbers? I’m sick of your puerile approach to what you don’t seem to realise is a bloody serious problem!’ ‘I do, but...’ ‘If you go ahead with what I reckon you’re planning, you’re sinking as low as Lance. You’ll be nothing but a vigilante – taking the law into your own hands. That’s not how our civilisation works.’ ‘It hasn’t worked for us!’ ‘It will. We have to trust it. It’s the only protection we have.’ Bart dropped his hands in despair and stood back, too exhausted to argue. Robert stared out the window. Out there were thousands and thousands of people who hated him simply for what he was. It was too much. Much too much for one person to fight. As the realisation sank in, a burden slipped from his shoulders, his brain cleared and, overwhelmed at the sense of release, he sighed and turned back to Bart. ‘You’re right,’ he admitted softly. ‘It would be stupid. Not only stupid, but a waste of energy. As you said, prejudice is like the Hydra. For every bigot countered, two spring forth.’ The sense of release at having sloughed off responsibility for bringing Lance to justice, rendered him weightless. His spirits soared and drifted into an equally treacherous realm - euphoria. Everything was going to be all right. They had weathered this last hurdle. Nothing could separate them now. As though in a dream, tears of liberation streaming down his cheeks, he wrapped his arms around the man he loved more than anything else in the world. Sleep slipped away and the headmaster opened his eyes to the sound of whispers. It took a second to focus, but when he did, recent resolution took flight. Illuminated by sunlight streaming through the windows, his PE teacher wrapped his arms around a student, kissed him gently and said, ‘I love you.’ Pain ripped a gash through the headmaster’s skull, annihilating thought. Revulsion surged. He grabbed a hockey stick from a pile against the wall, lurched through to the office and swung it with all his force. His victims recoiled in shock. Bart wrenched the weapon from the old man’s grasp. ‘You stupid old fool!’ he snarled. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ Nikelseer sank to his knees, raised eyes to heaven and spat curses with such venom that his listeners were silenced. ‘Oh Lord! This day have I seen the abomination of the devil! Cursed be this man! May every parish in the land know of his iniquity, and let there be no escape! His shame shall be burnt into his soul and his degradation shall cause God-fearing men to know the moral depths to which this land has sunk!’ Robert felt the beginnings of an hysterical laugh. The headmaster’s eyes watered, his flesh was grey and the tendons on his neck knotted. ‘Robert Karim’s youth, oh Lord, is no mitigation. Despite Your warnings he has deliberately defiled the temple of his eternal soul. He is as rotten carrion. A leper!’ The school bell was ringing to mark the end of break. Laughing, chattering children could be heard entering the gymnasium as the world continued on its confusing way. Robert’s had stopped. Bart looked at the hysterical old man - mauve lips flecked with spittle, veins standing out on stringy neck, watery eyes staring straight ahead - and was repelled. ‘You asinine, little shit,’ he said softly. ‘Get out!’ ‘The authorities will be informed,’ spat the old man. Bart grasped the headmaster by the neck and thrust him out the door, slamming it behind him. Nerves, shyness, fear, shock, and the utter absurdity of the situation set him shaking. He drew a deep breath, turned Robert to face him, and said as lightly as he could, ‘I was sick of teaching anyway. Can you go back to your old school?’ He tried a smile. Robert stood absolutely still, only his jaw twitched slightly. He swallowed. His breathing was shallow. ‘Robert? The man’s mad. He’s lost the plot. Nothing will happen. Snap out of it. Everything’s going to be fine. We’ll just continue as normal. Wait for me in the van after school. OK?’ Robert continued to stare straight ahead. ‘Robert? Robert!’ Bart shook him hard. ‘Snap out of it. Everything’s fine. The bloke’s a nutter, he can’t do anything. As soon as it’s all made clear to the authorities, nothing’ll happen. Everyone knows he’s a goof-ball.’ Robert shook his head as though to clear it, but refused to look at Bart. A door had slammed shut somewhere in his head. It was imperative to shut such madness out. His voice had a far-away sound. ‘Yeah… yeah… See you later.’ Mr Nikelseer made his way slowly to the office. ‘I am not feeling well,’ he announced, grey face and vacant look confirming the statement. ‘I am going home.’ The secretary couldn’t believe her luck. ‘No worries. We’re not expecting any disasters. You just toddle off and put your feet up.’ She received a glower for the insubordination. A small price to pay for a peaceful afternoon. Outside the gym, Robert stood absolutely still, his brain refusing to send instructions. After a few minutes he drifted out the gates and down the road in the direction of home. He had no plan, no thoughts, no ideas. He reached a small park and sat on a bench in the shade. Ants worked unseen up and down the trunk, a bird shrilled unheard on the branch above, a woman and two toddlers played on the swings. He sat. Heavy, unfeeling, dead. No one took any notice. It was getting on for lunchtime and children’s voices could be heard advancing down the street from the day-care centre. Robert gave a small shudder, hugged himself and growled through his teeth, ‘I will never let Bart suffer. I will not live my life like a hunted criminal, pretending to be what I’m not, to like what others like.’ He thrust his head between his knees and tore at his hair, finding solace in the physical pain. He dug his nails into his scalp. A trickle of blood ran down his forehead. He bit violently on the fleshy part of his hand until the skin punctured, leaving blue marks tinged with white, seeping dark red drops. He raised his eyes and became aware of a child staring at him. ‘Fuck off!’ he hissed with such intensity that the kid took off like a lizard. Then he grabbed his bag and ran without stopping until he collapsed, exhausted, onto his bed. His parents were out and the house was empty. Slowly, swirling grey chaos shrank to one blindingly focussed idea. He leapt up, showered and inspected the damage, applied disinfectant and was satisfied that nothing showed. Seating himself at the computer in his father’s office, he concentrated for two hours, made a print-out, which he signed, copied everything onto a memory stick, then deleted all record of his work from the hard drive. At a quarter to three he stowed some gear in a backpack, put on his school uniform, propped a note on the dining room table, and left the house. A fast jog brought him to Lance’s street only minutes before the kids who lived in the area would arrive. Keeping his head down, he ran to the front door, placed an envelope addressed to Lance prominently on the doormat, knocked loudly, then raced back to stand behind a tree on the other side of the road. Bikes and shouting kids tore past, but no Lance. He had to be there! Robert was on the point of going back to give the door another hammering when it opened, Lance peered out, picked up the letter and retreated into the gloom. Next stop, the station and a single ticket to Roma Street. He spoke for a few minutes to the ticket seller, asking her about train times, and at his destination chatted briefly to the collector, before carefully tucking the cancelled ticket into his wallet. In the toilets, he changed from school uniform into a dark-blue tracksuit, re-packed everything and jogged back to Toowong along the riverside path. Having a few minutes to spare, he rested at the top of the hill beside the monument where the woman had abused him. It meant nothing to him now, and he was amazed at the strength of feeling the incident had aroused at the time. So much of real significance had happened in the intervening three months. He had grown up, learned what he wanted, and the importance of protecting and guarding what he valued. He was learning to say ‘fuck-you’ to the world before it fucked him. The words of Patrick Henry flashed through his head, and he paraphrased them to suit his mission. Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of secrecy, denial and fear? Forbid it all ye Gods! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me the freedom to be myself, or give me death. It was six-fifteen and almost dark by the time he arrived at his destination. Although he had eaten nothing since breakfast and slept very little the night before, he felt neither hunger nor weariness - rather a heightened sense of perception - an alertness combined with a feverish determination to end the nightmare - to confront the devil within and force him to submit - or be damned in the process.
  6. Chapter 24

    Yes, but he's clever too - surely clever beats cunning?
  7. Chapter 24

    Indeed he had... But who from? The cops or Robert?
  8. Chapter 24

    Living is one long moral dilemma, don't you think? re: your Saint Sebastian and the other one... We had a life sized statue of Discobolus in the front entrance of the school - a very secular establishment. Visitors were faced with a muscular torso and a satisfying fig leaf. Those approaching from the corridor could gaze in awe on a perfect set of buttocks.
  9. Chapter 23

    What can I say? Such praise overwhelms me. Gosh! Are you a seer, WildcatLes? I wonder if you are right? Surely Robert would never stoop to forgery? Unthinkable. Believe me, the pleasure of writing is all mine. Thanks for appreciating it.
  10. Chapter 24

    Sanjay had, as usual, been right. In the bustle of a new term only Marcia remembered to say anything, and that was when they were alone in the common room, having arrived first at interval. ‘Robert! You look great. Have you completely recovered?’ ‘Sure, it was nothing. A bit of smoke inhalation. Had a good holiday?’ And that was that. Everyone recounted the bits of their holidays they hoped would impress, and commiserated at returning to school. Lance slouched in and Robert’s heart lurched. There was something different about him; a new malevolence. Distracted, Robert forgot to close his bag and his books tumbled everywhere, making him the last to leave the room. As he went out the door someone shoved him hard between the shoulder blades. He dropped his bag, tripped on it and fell onto hands and knees in the corridor, aware of someone standing directly above and behind. ‘So, Brown-eye, your big nose led you into trouble last term. Got your fingers burnt,’ Lance sniggered unattractively. ‘And how’s lover-boy Vaselly?’ Robert’s flesh crept and stomach knotted. He jerked upright, jamming the point of his right elbow back and up into the soft flesh under Lance’s rib cage, following it up with a quick left-handed jab to the same spot. With stunning abruptness, Lance dropped to the floor, gagging and gasping for breath. His diaphragm had gone into spasm. Students ran up and stood round in confusion. ‘What happened?’ ‘No idea. He suddenly dropped, and started choking.’ Lance’s face was bluely mauve. While someone raced to the sickbay, Robert fought with himself, surrendered, rolled the enemy onto his back, pressed his thin shanks as hard as he could into his belly, then released them suddenly, repeating this several times until, with a shuddering of breath, a fit of coughing and gasps and heaves of his puny chest, Lance’s colour gradually returned. By the time the nurse arrived, he was propped up against the wall breathing thinly. Everyone reckoned he’d had a fit. Perhaps he was an undiagnosed epileptic. He was taken home and his father informed. ‘A pity,’ said Charlie Kosich. ‘If you hadn’t known what to do he might have karked it. Not so quick with the heroics next time.’ Robert smiled, inwardly cursing his cowardice. ‘Welcome back, everyone.’ Mr Rands, obviously happy to be back at school, projected a slide onto the screen. ‘Genre is the term used to describe works that depict the daily lives of an artist’s contemporary citizens, but it doesn’t mean there’s no deeper significance. All art, to be worthy of the name, deals with more than superficial appearances; otherwise it’s merely illustration or decoration. This is Breughel’s Fall of Icarus. Who’s first? In turn, each student pointed out something in the painting. It delighted their teacher when pupils observed things that he himself hadn’t noticed, drew attention to similarities and differences with other works, or noted an unusual bit of iconography that the texts didn’t mention. Before long the elegant furrows created by the plough-boy in his scarlet shirt and grey tunic, the sheep and shepherd on the cliff top, the fisherman, the ruined castle on the rock in the extraordinarily turquoise sea, the square-rigged sailing ships, the distant cities, delicate trees and white mountains had been admired and noted. ‘What’s the significance of the title?’ someone asked. ‘Yeah, who and where’s Icarus?’ ‘Icarus was the son of Daedalus, a Greek inventor. They were both on Crete at the time of the earthquake that destroyed the Minoan civilisation. Daedalus made wings of wax and feathers so they could fly from the upheavals. He warned his son to keep with him and not to fly too high, but Icarus tried to fly up to Apollo, the Sun god. The wax on his wings melted and he fell into the sea and drowned. Those tiny things splashing between the rear of the ship and the shore, are his legs.’ Mr Rands indicated with a pointer. ‘Anyone care to interpret?’ Not surprisingly, there were no takers. Their Art-History teacher was the first person to pose such metaphysical questions as, why are we here? How should we live? Can we tell right from wrong? He was also astute enough not to pressure them into answering questions before they were ready. ‘By setting the scene in the sixteenth century, Breughel was telling his audience that the messages behind the myths of ancient Greece were still relevant. By reducing Icarus to a pair of vainly kicking legs, he suggests the insignificance of individuals in the ‘great scheme’. In addition, Icarus had dared to approach, to know the Gods. The price for such conceit was his life. Pride comes before a fall. Beware of entertaining too high an opinion of yourself.’ ‘Don’t bite off more than you can chew?’ called a voice from the back. ‘Certainly.’ Soon everyone had found something with which to identify - even if it was merely the pleasure of a panoramic view of the sea from cliff-tops - and the painting became part of themselves; never to be forgotten. Robert sat through the discussion with increasing disquiet. Bart’s car, Hyacinth - named after the murdered lover of Apollo – had been destroyed. Icarus was destroyed by Apollo, and Apollo was one of Robert’s foundation cards when Susie read the Tarot. Was he getting a bit up himself and next in line for destruction? He mentally shook himself. This was ridiculous! He had never been superstitious and wasn’t about to start! Just before lunch, Robert was summoned to the headmaster’s study. He presumed the time had come to test his story about the cricket shed. The guidance counsellor and deputy-headmaster were already there, uncomfortable in the leather-padded seats. Mr Pinot indicated to Robert that he should stand by the door. Mr Nikelseer sat wordlessly at his desk throughout the interview, as though barely interested in the proceedings. The deputy studied Robert with overt curiosity. Looks the sporty rather than the studious type. Not bad looking - bet he has to fight off the girls. Can’t see why Ian’s so against him. The Deputy knew he stood a good chance of taking over the headmastership when Mr Nikelseer retired, so it was in his interests to keep the school running as smoothly as possible. He was keeping his fingers crossed that the headmaster would simply go quietly balmy in his office without any fireworks. He cleared his throat. ‘Robert, you have impressed your teachers with your attitude and application to work. Unfortunately, two problems have reared their heads.’ Robert blinked. Two problems? He began to sweat. ‘First, the business of the cricket shed last term.’ The deputy sat back, folded his arms and gazed equably at Robert. ‘Tell us what happened.’ Mouth dry, but ready for the question, Robert stated his case. ‘That agrees with what Mr Boreham said. A brave and quick-thinking response. Don’t you agree, Headmaster?’ The headmaster’s head was at that moment buried in a folder of notes, but Mr Pinot nodded and affably mumbled his assent. He had an extraordinarily soft spot for young Karim. ‘Now to the second matter. Let’s hope we can dispose of that as easily. According to Lance Osbairne, you attacked him in the corridor this morning after interval, nearly killing him with a punch to the stomach that stopped his breathing. This charge, if proven, could lead to prosecution unless you can satisfy us that the allegations are untrue.’ As he hadn’t given the morning’s incident a second thought, it wasn’t difficult to inject an authentic note of incredulity. ‘But, Sir! I was the one who saved his life! I’d dropped my bag outside the common room door and bent to pick it up. Not realising Lance was behind me, I stood up, swung round and rammed my elbow into him.’ He gave a demonstration. ‘It gave him a pretty good thump, but blokes often get winded on the sports field. I knew what to do, and when he recovered so quickly I forgot all about it.’ His honest frown of perplexity convinced the deputy. The headmaster gave a short ‘harrumph’. Mr Pinot cleared his throat. ‘According to witnesses…’ Robert’s heart lurched, surely there weren’t any! ‘…there was speculation about an epileptic fit. Why didn’t you contradict them?’ ‘I thought they must be true! I assumed my smack in the guts set it off. As I said, it didn’t seem that much of a whack to me. It certainly wouldn’t have floored any of my friends.’ ‘Isn’t Lance a friend?’ Pinot asked with alacrity. Robert made a transparent attempt to keep his face empty of emotion and his voice level. ‘Lance has spat on my books, called me an interfering black bastard, and given me the nick-name, Brown-eye.’ The deputy failed to conceal his smile. ‘I have no reason to like him, but I would never endanger my reputation by picking a fight with him.’ It had been a calculated gamble, admitting his dislike, but he had read both the deputy and the guidance counsellor correctly. They sat back, nodding in satisfaction. ‘Thank you, Robert. You have been most forthright. In my opinion, the matter should not be taken any further. Do you agree, Headmaster?’ The response was a strangulated gurgle accompanied by an irritated shuffling of papers. That afternoon Robert kept his head down and his brain busy. It was now more important than ever to retain his reputation for diligence and hard work. He still hadn’t thought of a way to find out more about Nigel and Ernest, but he was certain they’d desert Lance if they could. After school, hoping Ralf might be able to give him a few ideas, he knocked at the storeroom door. The memory of Murray made him feel sick and a tic twitched at his lip. The door was locked and he was about to turn away when two shapes flickered at the edge of vision. He swung around, back to the door, fists ready to slam into anything that threatened. ‘Hey, hey! Cool it.’ The boys cringed as though already hit. ‘’We just wanted a word.’ ‘Who the hell are you?’ As the meeting was too good to be true, it was probably a trap. ‘I’m Nigel, he’s Ernest.’ ‘Oh yeah, Lance’s little drudges. Go and lick your master’s boots.’ ‘There’s no need to be like that.’ Nigel’s voice easily developed a whine. ‘We’re on your side. We want to make you an offer.’ ‘What? An insecticide cocktail?’ Robert sneered at their suddenly white faces. ‘Look, you little maggots, I know all about you both, and you haven’t got away with anything! Even a couple of dingbats like you must have heard about the long arm of the law. And don’t think Lance is going to shelter you, because he’s up to his neck in so much shit he’ll soon be as brown as me.’ Their grey expressions were like applause to an actor. Robert turned away with a snort of disgust. ‘Hello, goodbye... losers.’ ‘Wait! Hang on! You haven’t heard what we’ve got to say!’ There was an edge of panic to the words as Ernest tugged at Robert’s sleeve. He swung round in genuine revulsion, lashing at the offending hand. ‘Keep your filthy, murdering mitts off me!’ They shrank back in alarm at the almost hysterical outburst, Ernest nursing his bruised hand in shock. Robert took a deep breath and made an effort to appear indifferent. ‘If you seriously want to talk, come to the weight-lifting room tomorrow morning at half-past eight. I’ll open the windows on to the soccer fields so you can get in without anyone seeing. No one’s going to know I’ve been talking to scum like you. And no smart-arsed tricks!’ He turned away in disgust. ‘Promise you won’t do anything till we’ve talked?’ Ernest entreated. Robert nodded briefly without turning his head - mainly to conceal a twitching mouth and brimming eyes. Sanjay and Monique congratulated Robert on his success with the interview that afternoon, but cautioned against further attacks on Lance. If he did it again, Lance might be seen as a martyr and Robert an aggressor. After discussing the following morning’s meeting with Nigel and Ernest, Robert rang Bart to get his approval for the plan, to see if he could think of any improvements, and to ensure he would be behind the door of the weightlifting room. At eight-thirty, Robert opened the frosted glass windows. Huddled beneath as though they had been there all night, were the two young reprobates. With an intensity that surprised himself, Robert realised he hated them. Up till then he had considered himself cool, able to take things as they came. He was discovering that there are some problems in life, which, unless tackled head on, corrode the soul. The boys climbed in and looked nervously around as though expecting a trap. Robert closed the window. ‘Go on, check everywhere. Look for hidden wires, cords, microphones, cameras. I don’t trust you, I don’t expect you to trust me.’ They gazed vaguely around, but had no idea what to look for. This wasn’t like films and videos, it was both too ordinary and too unreal. Robert manoeuvred them until they perched side by side on a weights-bar suspended across a couple of supports, facing the windows. ‘OK. What have you got to say?’ He sounded conciliatory to give them hope and loosen tongues. Ernest caught him off balance by talking about something else. ‘Didn’t think you’d smoke. Thought you were the sporty type.’ ‘Just shows you don’t know everything, doesn’t it?’ Robert replied testily, giving the cigarette packet in his breast pocket a light pat and adjusting it slightly. Not trusting himself to speak further, he waited while they exchanged nods, whispers and nudges. ‘Yeah... well…’ Nigel cleared his throat. ‘We’ve had it up to here with Lance. He’s way over the top. We didn’t mind bashing up a few kids for kicks. He gave us uppers, and money and stuff.’ Robert nodded, keeping himself very still. ‘Well, you’re right,’ Nigel continued, his whine gaining in prominence along with his confidence. ‘We thought it was just a joke. Lance told us it’d only make him feel a bit sick. Honest he did! He swore it! But he must’ve known all the time, and when Murray started twisting, chundering and bubbling out of his mouth, I wanted to throw up. I’ve had bloody nightmares about it.’ He stopped talking and bit his lip. ‘My heart bleeds.’ Nigel stared at Robert intently. ‘Do you know what Lance did? I tell you man he’s some sick dork, he dropped his trou and stood there flogging away at his fucking dick and grinning like a mad-man.’ He nodded urgently at Robert’s look of disbelief. ‘It was fucking disgusting!’ He swallowed quickly before continuing. ‘I said to myself then that I didn’t want anything else to do with the prick, but when I told him, he threatened he’d tell the cops it was us who poisoned the kid, and we’d get life. Because it was us who held him down and forced him to drink the stuff. But we didn’t know it was poisonous - and now we wish we hadn’t’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because it’s got us in so much shit.’ ‘So then you went with Lance to Mr Vaselly’s?’ He paused to observe the effect. ‘Catching flies?’ he asked as their mouths gaped. ‘No way!’ ‘The old woman who chased you away knocked someone’s hat off, and reckons she could identify one of you.’ ‘No way! Don’t even know where Vaselly lives.’ ‘I don’t believe you.’ ‘It’d be some of his queer-bashing mates. No! Really! It wasn’t us!’ The boy’s obvious sincerity and alarm began to edge out Robert’s certainty. ‘But you knew about it?’ ‘Honest! No! All he said was that you and Vaselly were going to get what was coming to you.’ Robert thought for a bit. ‘And the shed?’ ‘Nothing to do with us, honest. We had no idea you were in there till Lance told us. You really pissed him off by not getting incinerated.’ They giggled stupidly. ‘Sawing through brake pipes?’ They looked mystified. ‘I know nothing about no brakes.’ ‘What the hell are you here for then? Piss off.’ ‘To tell you what Lance is planning so you can get him off our backs.’ ‘Lance can cut you into small pieces as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t even mind watching.’ ‘If you promise to keep us out of it, we’ll tell you what he’s gunna do.’ ‘You’re not in a position to ask favours. So far you’ve told me nothing I didn’t already know.’ Ernest’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper and he looked around nervously. ‘He’ll kill us if he finds out we’ve warned you. Promise you won’t tell him?’ Robert nodded. ‘He said he’d let us off the hook if we did one last thing. Get you and Vaselly together. We thought that if we told you, you could trap him and we could pin everything on him.’ His voice trailed away. ‘It sounds a bit arty farty now I’ve said it. Shit, I don’t know what to do.’ ‘When did he tell you this?’ ‘We went round to see him at lunchtime. There’s nothing wrong with the skinny shit. But he’s not coming back to school for a couple of days. He feels an arsehole because everybody knows about you beating him up. Christ he hates you!’ ‘Where does he want to meet us?’ ‘His place. He told us to tell you he’d be out of town on Saturday morning, and we know where he keeps his drugs and… and everything else he’s done, in a secret church-place in their lounge. And we would show it to you.’ ‘I know about his father’s chapel. What time are we supposed to be there?’ ‘Half past ten.’ ‘Half past ten, next Saturday morning, at Lance’s house,’ Robert repeated carefully. Both boys nodded apprehensively. ‘Fine.’ Robert pulled a face as though he was considering something carefully, nodded, smiled to himself and continued, ‘Tell Lance we swallowed your story and will be there. You wait there for us. We might come, but I’m not promising anything. If we get what we want, we’ll forget about your part in Murray’s murder. But it’s a big if! Now piss off.’ The assembly bell sent the boys scurrying out the window, and Robert to the top of the steps where he handed his cigarette packet to Bart. ‘Did you hear everything?’ ‘Too much noise from upstairs.’ ‘They unburdened their souls. It was perfect! Hang on to this and come round for dinner tonight so we can look at it. See you.’ The picture was sharp and the sound clear. The tiny video camera had worked even better than expected. ‘That’s certainly incriminating,’ muttered Bart. ‘It’s under-age testimony from two kids who have everything to gain and nothing to lose from perjury.’ ‘It’s better than nothing, Sanni. We have something to show the police at last. You’ve been very resourceful, Robert.’ ‘But I promised the kids I wouldn’t tell the cops yet.’ Robert’s top lip twitched. His voice was pitched low – aggressive. ‘And how about that meeting next Saturday?’ ‘There’s no way I’m letting you go to the Osbairne’s on Saturday, my son!’ Sanjay was blunt. ‘The way you’re feeling at the moment, it will be Lance that gets murdered this time! And where will that leave you? No one is suggesting he doesn’t deserve a swift trip to the nether world, but it isn’t worth your freedom for the next twenty years. If you can’t think of yourself, think of Bart!’ Robert looked at Bart, who smiled and ruffled his hair. ‘Good advice I reckon. I’m not interested in being a martyr to the cause. Remember we decided last term to be victors, not victims?’ ‘I haven’t forgotten, but I made a promise. We aren’t stupid. If we go, we can trap him. As Dad said, the tape isn’t proof.’ ‘Get real! We’ll go to the police and hand over this video. End of story!’ ‘Bart’s right. We are not equipped either mentally or physically to be righters of wrong. The police are.’ After a heated discussion in which Robert was out-gunned three to one, it was decided that Bart and Robert would take the video to the police directly after school the following day. Robert tossed on his bed. It was insane. It was capitulation. An affront to his masculinity. He desperately needed retribution. Pride demanded that he defend himself, not run to others. Hadn’t he suffered enough? His brain went over and over Murray’s torment and death, the murder attempt on Bart, his own near death in the fire, the tampered brakes and Hazel’s horrifying experience. Despite the video, they had nothing! Nothing to positively incriminate Lance. It wasn’t good enough! He got up, paced nervously around the room, wrote letters and notes to himself, and turned plans and ideas over and over in his head until they were lodged like permanent recordings. When he could flick his mind from idea to idea and plan to plan, he gave a frown of exhaustion and slipped into sleep.
  11. Chapter 23

    Alone in his darkening house, Ian Nikelseer watched the sunset drape his school in spurious Gothic splendour. In twelve hours the final term of his career as a headmaster would commence. In twelve weeks he would leave this home of twenty-two years. The thought brought comfort. His brain, that finely tuned instrument with which he had attempted to subdue an errant world, had begun playing tricks. An incessant whirling of images and thoughts had brought him to the edge of exhaustion. He wondered if, after years of railing against iniquity, his mind had at last revolted and was vomiting back every loathsome thing it had been forced to think about over the years. The same topics and problems presented themselves again and again without solution. His energy was gone. Hands, brain and body trembled. Twelve weeks. Could he last? He no longer understood his pupils, his teachers, his fellow men - if he ever had. Sex, nothing but sex. The world’s obsession caused his heart to shrivel. Where was love? His mother had taught him love. Until his eighth birthday and the bizarre accident that killed his father, he was deeply loved by both parents. A birthday-treat speedboat ride up the river ended abruptly when a loose sheet of iron from a passing barge sliced through his father’s neck. It seemed an eternity before the boatman glanced back and noticed the blood-drenched boy and headless man. In front of an altar built by his father as a protest at the mainstream churches’ loss of direction, young Ian had knelt beside his mother for endless hours of prayer. An elaborately framed photograph of his father became an icon of purity that convinced him he was responsible for his father’s death, by having pleaded for the ride on the river. He knew, in the innermost reaches of his soul, that selfish pandering to earthly desires deserves severe punishment. His penance was life-long guilt. His mother’s frequent reminders that he was now the man of the house on whom she depended, became the boulder of Sisyphus. She took him to her bed to comfort both his nightmares and her loss. She was a fragile, bird-like woman and they would sit together on the verandah for hours listening to songs of faith while browsing through their favourite book, Christian Saints and Martyrs - Illustrated. Each time they contemplated returning to separate sleeping arrangements, one or the other would have a relapse of nightmares. Secure in God’s command to love one another, their mutual comforting continued. Nightmares about his headless father became enmeshed with the stoning of Stephen, Lucy plucking out her eyes, Sebastian perforated by arrows, Catherine broken on cart-wheels, young men and women torn to shreds and eaten alive in arenas, nails driven through hands and other such tortures. Perhaps because of this, the young lad developed an almost hysterical dread of his fellow humans, so his mother took him to school and collected him each day. He made no real friends, being happy to be alone with her the rest of the time. Childhood fears matured at university into a paranoia that, together with reclusive belligerence, earned him no friends and few acquaintances apart from fellow devotees of Old Testament dogma. Adulthood usually slips a protective layer around adolescent psyches, enabling us to go out into the world, earn a living, and compete. Irrational fears are submerged in the hurly-burly of life. Ian was no exception and learned to assert himself, achieve promotion and become a Head of Department, even though he was still living at home, sleeping in his mother’s bed and relying on her to give his life meaning. She remained the only person he felt he could trust in the world, and by continuing to reinforce his belief in the innate cruelty and sinfulness of humankind, she prevented him from making friends who might have taught him otherwise. Together they closed their minds to the truth and planted problems for the future. At the age of forty, Ian had discovered he needed a wife to gain further promotion. With his mother’s blessing he married, and not long after became headmaster of his present school. Before their engagement both he and his bride, a homely and somewhat excitable spinster several years his senior, had agreed that at their time of life they did not want children. However, after only two weeks he became sickened by his wife’s demands for consummation. The only Christian purpose for sexual intercourse is procreation, Ian had insisted. His wife’s reproachful silences became reproachful words, then anger, then violence. In moments of hysteria she would shout that his devotion to his mother was incestuous. His soul petrified. They slept in separate rooms, meeting only for meals. Within six months Mrs Nikelseer had become severely depressed, refused to go out, to meet people or to shoulder her responsibilities as headmaster’s wife. School matters began to occupy more of Ian’s time as he sought to avoid her eyes - dark-ringed wells of reproach that trailed him throughout the house, accompanied by a refrain of grief. ‘Why did you marry me? Why did I waste myself on you? What have I done to deserve this treatment? Am I not a woman with a woman’s needs? Your mother has stolen the love that should be mine!’ When this failed to elicit a response she would wail wordlessly, squatting hunched on the floor, knees clutched to her chest, swaying backwards and forwards. When her husband tried to stop her she responded by throwing herself around, rolling under the furniture, beating her fists on the walls and knocking over ornaments, all the time crying and shouting that it was she who should receive his love. In vain had he expostulated, described the sort of love and respect a wife owed her husband, and explained the abhorrence God felt for those who committed lustful acts. One morning as he was about to descend the stairs on his way to school, she emerged, naked, from her bedroom. Dancing jerkily on her toes and singing in a high-pitched monotone, she pushed past him and sank to her knees on the stairs, preventing his descent. Clinging to his thighs, she pleaded with him to treat her like a woman. He averted his head and held his briefcase above his head so as not to contaminate either it or his hands. As she fumbled with his trouser fastenings, a spasm of disgust overtook him and he thrust her violently from him, and fled. The cleaning lady found the body at the foot of the stairs. The coroner’s verdict was that she had been about to dress, hurried to answer the telephone, which was downstairs, and slipped. The headmaster was praised for the strength of character he displayed when informed of his loss. His mother moved in as house-keeper, and Ian found himself possessed of a new, over-riding goal: to rid the world of the evils of sexual lust – the greatest single character-destroying force. It was now five years since Ian’s mother had been admitted to a nursing centre where she died. His adult protective layer had grown perilously thin, childhood phobias were returning and malignant evil raised its hideous head everywhere he looked. The world had emptied of both love and meaning. All that remained was an obsessive desire to be a perfect servant of God. His thoughts turned with gratitude to young Lance, who alone had stayed the course and taken up the sword of righteousness. It was a shame the Bible-class had dwindled, however, better one worthy warrior for God than a dozen half-hearted drones. He shook his head impatiently to curb the doubts tugging at his conscience. If he, in all those years of patience and persuading had made no impact on the minds and souls of those in his care, if their hearts remained as lecherous and libidinous as ever, then the time had come for the Wrath of God to be unleashed. An unsettling image of Murray Corso flickered across his mind. He quickly suppressed it. Corruption had to be weeded out and Lance had promised to assist. His fervour for the crusade had perhaps been marred by youthful zeal, but at heart he was a good boy. After all, Christ had whipped the traders from the temple. Lance would learn restraint, and Ian would continue to guide him along the path of righteousness. He dragged himself upstairs and knelt for two hours in front of the photograph of his father, ending with a fervent prayer for the eternal souls of Vaselly and his catamite, before collapsing onto the empty bed. A short way across town, Lance too was infected with the reflective urge. He had lost the services of Mandy, Janice wasn’t so keen on screwing any more, and recent rumblings of mutiny from Nigel and Ernest were beginning to irritate. They had refused to go with him the other night and hadn’t come to his house when he’d left a message. If they didn’t want a reminder that he had them by the balls, then they’d better shape up. He tossed a well-thumbed history of torture onto the floor. Even the graphic descriptions and photographs weren’t having the same effect as they used to. He lay back on the bed. His only real problem was bloody Vaselly and his black boyfriend. He was now certain, from what Brown-eye had said in the common room, that they knew he’d been trying to blackmail Pinot and had organised the snuffing of Corso. It was only a matter of time before they convinced the police. He fucking well had to get rid of them. He had checked the papers every day for accidents – but nothing. They obviously hadn’t used the car. He’d have to wait till they returned from wherever fags went for their holidays. He smiled as an image of two bodies trapped in a mangled wreck, blood oozing from cuts and wounds, danced before his eyes. If that didn’t work, he had to think of something foolproof. No more leaving things to chance. Nikelseer was becoming a menace too. He was so far round the twist that he’d soon give the game away. Thank Christ there was only one more term of the slimy old shit. Maybe he should dump Janice. He wasn’t getting it up so easily with her any more. For no obvious reason, his mind drifted back to his mother. He hardly recollected her as anything other than a weepy, bottle-of-brandy-a-day drunk. Ever since he could remember, his parents had shouted and abused each other at the tops of their voices, and then his father would beat the crap out of her. He recalled the night before his fourteenth birthday. Shouts and cries had been going on for ages and then the house echoed with the thwacks and whimpers of his mother’s punishment. He had crept down the passage to their bedroom. The door stood open—usually it was shut against prying eyes - and watched silently. His mother was bent over the end of the bed, head thrust under a pillow, hands stretched out in front and tied with panty-hose to the headboard. Red hand-marks glowed on white thighs and buttocks. Her skin was still twitching from recent slaps. His father, also naked, white feet and bum conspicuous in the dim light, stood behind her fondling his erection. He looked up casually at his wide-eyed son, transfixed in the doorway. Turning back to his wife, he landed her a resounding smack with the flat of his hand on an already livid weal, then, with a strange, almost calculating smile, slowly inserted himself. As passion overtook self-control his buttocks pounded, heaved and clenched in random spasms. Lance was ecstatic. He had never seen anything so arousing. Porn videos were nothing compared to reality! His father withdrew, wiped himself on the sheet, then wandered over to his son and closed the door in his face without looking at him. Lance crept back to his room to indulge in fantasies of his own. The episode had never been mentioned, however a conspiratorial bond developed, and one evening about six months later he was taken to an expensive prostitute’s apartment where they shared both whips and girl. This was the first time they had done anything as father and son that Lance could remember. It was enormously successful and similar visits continued on a regular basis for two and a half years. When the Scotch bitch arrived on the scene it had stopped, and nearly eight months had passed since they had gone whoring. Maybe now she’d gone things would return to normal. Normal. One man’s normal is another man’s perversion, and, although Lance was unaware of it, past pleasures were history thanks to Senior Constable Ponto’s social conscience. Being a family man with teen-age children of his own, he considered it his duty to warn parents if their offspring appeared to be slipping off the rails. His unofficial visit to Arnold Osbairne’s office after the attack on Bart, and again after Sanjay’s suggestion that Lance was possibly involved in the shed-burning, had poisoned any budding paternal feeling. Lance’s father promised himself there and then that he had lied for his son for the last time. His conscience was clear. The instructions to the boy had been precise - give the poofters a warning. Nothing too violent and at all costs avoid suspicion. Arnold hadn’t bothered to tell his son about the police visits. As far as he was concerned the kid had blown his chances. He was eighteen, a skinny runt, and from now on could bloody well stand on his own two feet. Lance had tried going to prostitutes on his own, but discovered he needed another bloke to be watching. It was a painful admission, but that was why he needed those zombies with him when screwing Janice. The only thing that could arouse him at the moment was constructing fantasies about slowly killing Vaselly and his cock-sucking mate. He spent hours wanking to variations on the theme, impatient to witness the real thing. Watching that little poofter writhe as the poison burned his gullet had been excellent, but this was going to be perfect! He smiled as a new idea surfaced. There were twelve weeks left to complete his plans. He now hoped the brakes wouldn’t kill the bastards; he wanted to be there. That would be really orgasmic. Nigel was at Ernest’s place. He spent most of his time there now. His parents had kicked him out of the house when they found a plastic bag of dope and a packet of pills. They wanted no trouble with the police. Every evening he’d say a polite goodnight to Ernest’s Mum and Dad, go out the front door then sneak back and into Ernest’s sleep-out, a converted shed in the back garden. Ernest always kept his door locked, so there would be time for Nigel to crawl under the bed in the unlikely event that his parents paid him a visit. While Ernest was having breakfast, Nigel would scarper and wait in the park down the road, eating the food they had plundered the night before. At the moment they were both fully occupied fighting interstellar battles with computer-generated aliens. There was no room in their thoughts for anything else. Ralf had invited a woman to share his evening. On the previous three Saturday mornings they had swapped jokes and a chat in the supermarket and Ralf had toyed with the idea of putting on the hard word. She was about his age, laughed a lot, took nothing too seriously, and had leapt into bed at the first tentative suggestion. He usually preferred to have to work a bit harder than that for his fun, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. She knew what she was doing, did it with style, and it had been great. He’d even enjoyed the stream of jokes. With a slight shock of self-discovery, he realised that he probably approached sex too seriously. He would definitely invite her again. She didn’t stay the night, her teen-age children wouldn’t approve. Monique, Sanjay and Robert were on the patio enjoying the peace. They had finished telling everything about their holidays and lapsed into silence. Sanjay stroked Monique’s neck and leaned over to kiss her cheek. Robert was feeling nervous about returning to school. ‘I haven’t seen anyone since being locked in that shed. I hope they don’t ask too many stupid questions tomorrow.’ ‘Just tell them exactly what we decided. You saw the smoke, rushed into the shed to make sure no one was trapped, tripped and knocked yourself out. End of story. However,’ Sanjay continued, ‘I’ll be very surprised if anyone remembers. Nine-day-wonders and all that.’ ‘I hope so.’ Robert gave a sigh. ‘It’s going to be hard not seeing Bart every day in the gym. And at night,’ he added shyly. ‘It will be as hard for him,’ Monique observed. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘He’s as much in love with you, as you are with him.’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘He never takes his eyes off you, listens to everything you say, follows you around, laughs at all your jokes, sighs and looks goofy. The usual signs. You’ve got them too.’ ‘How embarrassing!’ ‘Why? What I don’t understand is why you don’t touch each other more. We’re always touching each other aren’t we, Sanni?’ She turned and stroked Sanjay’s arm, taking his hand in hers and running a row of kisses up his arm. ‘Can’t keep my hands off. Quenches my lusts till we’re alone.’ ‘But - you’d be repelled! Everyone hates queers. We’ve got to hide it as much as we can.’ ‘Not here you don’t!’ Sanjay sounded curt. ‘We love you more than anything in the world. Your gayness is just one of the hundreds of things that makes you special.’ He looked across to check that Robert was paying attention. ‘After years of careful observation, I’ve realised that those couples who unconsciously touch, caress, cast loving-glances and say affectionate things to each other, are the ones who continue to love and find each other attractive. I’m not talking about heavy petting and deep sensual kisses in front of others. That would be embarrassing no matter who was doing it and is mere exhibitionism.’ Monique took up the baton. ‘When we lived with Grandma for a year, when we first married, it was terrible! She discouraged any show of affection. We nearly divorced with the tension of having to pretend we weren’t dying to kiss and hug all the time.’ She leaned over and placed her hand on Robert’s head, gently ruffling his hair. ‘If you had a girlfriend and were as reserved with her as you are with Bart, I’d worry that you were gay. Now I worry you’re not!’ She laughed easily. ‘We’ll start to think you don’t trust us if you don’t act naturally in front of us. If you feel like touching each other, cuddling, saying nice things, even kissing, do so without embarrassment.’ ‘Your mother’s right, as usual.’ A lump filled Robert’s throat. He got up to fetch a tumbler of water from the kitchen and rinsed his eyes. When he had himself under control he returned and said huskily, ‘No one could have said anything nicer. But you see, since that first time you accepted me… when Bart was here, we…we haven’t ever talked about it, and I imagined it was only the idea you could tolerate. I was frightened you’d be disgusted if we actually did anything in front of you. There’s so much hatred out there you start to feel poisoned by it.’ ‘Surely not. People are quite accepting now.’ ‘Where’ve you been? All the kids at school hate queers and so do most of the teachers – it’s the worst insult you can throw at someone. Gays are beaten up in the streets all the time. Even in their houses. How about those politicians and religious nutters who are always trying to make out we are a threat to families.’ Monique sat beside Robert on the couch and put her arms around him. ‘Poor darling – but at least some laws have changed. Things are slowly improving.’ ‘You’ll cope. But why aren’t you with Bart tonight?’ Sanjay’s question sounded like an accusation. ‘Because we thought that, as we wouldn’t be seeing each other till next Saturday, we should get used to it.’ ‘Masochists as well? Is everything ready for school tomorrow?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why don’t you give him a ring and see if he’d like you to go over for a while? It’s only seven o’clock. You can have the car. Go on!’ he added at Robert’s hesitation. ‘Hi, it’s me... Genghis Khan! Who the hell do you think? Are you busy?… Can I come over for a bit?’ He looked to where his parents were gazing out into the evening, and whispered bravely, just loud enough for them to hear, ‘I love you too.’ chap 23.doc
  12. Chapter 22

    Thanks for the advice - Cia has been onto it for me. Now that's an idea - use the camera.... I wonder...
  13. Chapter 22

    And it gets grippinger and dramaticer and nastier and dangerouser. Will our heroes survive?
  14. Chapter 22

    Thanks. I enjoy a bit of irony. Yes, I made a glitch somehow and stuffed up the Gay Authors' uploading system - at least for me. I think it might have something to do with the fact that we have the slowest internet speeds on the planet and I am the most impatient person... I hope it is now fixed... We'll know when I post Chapter 23 in a few hours time. Back in the 50's the Sunshine Coast and Noosa, [I live in the hinterland] were laid back, with simple holiday homes, fishing jetties, no roads to speak of, wonderful wetlands.... delightful paradise. Now .... Ah, it's too depressing.
  15. Chapter 22

    Thank you NoSkis. I'm so glad you're following as the paths get even shadowier [that word looks odd] and more devious...

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