The Flower Duet
The Calloways moved into our neighbourhood over a weekend in April. We sat on my front fence, watching them come and go, in and out, to and from the large green removalist van parked in their driveway. Mrs Calloway wore a floral apron. Mr Calloway was wearing a knitted cardigan and a bow tie. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case. They might as well have bought a house on the corner of Boring Close and Conservative Avenue. Their two boys were our age. Or near enough. Not that that mattered, really. New faces are always more interesting. All the other families in our street had younger children. The Calloways had just tipped the balance a little more in our favour.
“New fish,” I said.
“Big fish,” said my best friend, Peter.
“Is our little pond large enough?”
“The minnows will just have to make room.”
I asked him if he thought they might join in our games.
He shrugged and said, “There’s only one way to find out. Let’s go ask them.”
So, we did.
Their names were Luke and Liam. Luke was the older. Sensible haircut. Plaid shirt buttoned to the collar and tucked into iron-creased jeans. Sensible shoes. He looked genuinely disappointed when he shook his head and said, “Can’t come now. We have to help our parents unpack and - ”
“Tomorrow, then?” Asked Peter, hopefully.
“What this?” Said their father from the hallway. “Making new friends already?”
Luke introduced us. “This is Peter and - ”
Mr Calloway shook our hands, smiling. “The Kings of Narnia. Come out of the closet, have you?”
“It’s Edmund, dear,” called an unseen Mrs Calloway from somewhere inside the deepest darkest heart of their California Bungalow.
“In the books. It’s Peter and Edmund. Not Edward.”
It was Liam who saved us from any further embarrassment by dropping a box of kitchen utensils on his foot. Hopping up and down and swearing under his breath.
“Tomorrow,” said Luke. “For sure.”
There was a special needs school run by the church just a fifteen minute bike ride down the coast road. The kids there were a rag-tag bunch, most of them had trouble spelling their own names, but like the saying goes: Brains and beauty are handed out on alternate days. The trick is to be there for both.
We straddled our bikes near a gap in the chain-link fence, keeping a weather eye out for any of the Brothers.
“There’s Miles,” I said, pointing him out on the other side of the playing fields.
One of the little-uns chased a ball close enough for us to get his attention.
As little-uns go, he had more sense then most, looking around to make sure no one was watching before coming any nearer.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Do you know a boy called Miles? He’d be in sixth form?”
“Always wears a red jacket,” said Peter.
The little-un’s face lit up. “Sure. I know him!”
“Can you give him a message for us? Tell him Peter and Edward are here?”
He nodded and ran off, taking his ball with him.
Squeezing through the gap in the fence, Miles followed us further into the roadside fringe of Oleanders.
“Sorright?” He saluted.
“Sorright.” We replied.
Peter handed over a packet of cigarettes.
Miles slipped them into a shirt pocket.
“Would you mind,” I asked, “if we double-bunked?”
“Maybe,” said Miles, suspiciously. “What do I have to do?”
“Peter on the bottom. You in the middle. Me on top.”
“So, I’m the bunk?”
Miles shrugged. “Whatever.”
“Sous le dome epais.”
“Ou le blanc jasmin.”
“A la rose s’assemble.”
“Sur la rive en fleurs!”
“What the fuck?” That was Miles.
“It’s opera,” I said. “I’m singing.”
I heard Peter snigger.
“Under a dome of white jasmine.”
“With the roses entwined together.”
“On a river bank covered with flowers."
"Laughing in the morning.”
“Gently floating on it’s charming risings.”
“On the river’s current.”
“On the shining waves.”
“One hand reaches.”
My fingers found Peter.
“Where the spring sleeps.”
“And the birds, the birds sing.”
Peter said, “That’s not a bird.”
“A cock is a bird,” I quipped. “And cocks of a feather, flock together.”
“You got any fags?” He asked.
“Only the two at home.”
His laughter surprised me. I didn’t think someone in his situation, and with his history, still could. It was nice to know he hadn’t forgotten how.
I told him to look in the glove compartment.
“Found some. But it’s nearly a full pack.”
“That’s okay. Keep it. I’m trying to quit.”
“No shit? Thanks!” He lit one and inhaled. “Mr Puller? Can I ask you something?”
“Why’d you call your kid Peter?”
“My wife insisted. It was her father’s name. If I’d known she’d pack her bags one day and walk out on us - on him - the way she did, I wouldn’t have given in to her so easily.”
“Bit rough, I reckon, getting stuck with a name like Peter Puller.”
“Maybe. But you can’t say it doesn’t suit him.”
There was that laugh again.
It made what I was about to ask all the more difficult.
“You know Edward’s in trouble.”
“There’s a way to make it go away. But we need your help.”
“There are men. Powerful men. Men who can make this disappear. One man in particular. But he’s not going to do it out of the goodness of his heart, if you see what I mean. So we need to make it worthwhile for him. An incentive.”
“What do I have to do?”
“There’s a party. This weekend. You’d be required to entertain the guests. You won’t be the only one.”
“How do I get there? To this party?”
“A car will come and collect you.”
“Do the Brothers know?”
“You won’t just be helping us, Miles. You’ll be helping yourself. What would you say if I said I could get you out of Kimble Grange?”
The telephone rang. My mother had answered it before I could get there.
“It’s Peter,” she said, holding up a manicured hand with her thumb and fingers extended; meaning I only had five minutes. I didn’t exactly snatch the receiver from her, but I did grasp it firmly, in case she changed her mind.
“How’s life in solitary?” He asked.
“A living hell,” I replied. “But at least they’re feeding me.”
“Allowed out yet?”
“Still in lock-down. You?”
“I saw Mr Calloway this morning.”
“He shook his newspaper at me.”
“I felt like a puppy that had piddled on the carpet.”
“Was it loaded?”
“Only with the weekend lifestyle supplement.”
“So, he was armed and dangerous.”
“Any sign of Luke or Liam?”
“What their parents don’t know won’t hurt us”
“You’ve seen them?”
“When they can sneak out.”
“I’m meeting them tomorrow. At the log fort. Can you come?”
“I can try.”
EXCERPT FROM THE WAITANGI DAILY MAIL
Police confirmed yesterday that the body of a young male has been recovered from a dam near the town of Fataroa. The body is believed to be that of sixteen year old Miles Faulkner, who was reported as missing from the Kimble Grange Secondary College by the Brothers of St Pious. Investigating Officer, Detective Sergeant Ronald Merrydew, says the boy’s death is being treated as suspicious. A source close to the investigation has also revealed that there was evidence of sexual assault. Police are warning parents to be vigilant. There are no leads, as yet, to the identity of the killer or killers.
He mowed lawns in our neighbourhood for money. I think he charged something like five dollars, front and back.
Edward called it slave wages.
I said if slaves were paid wages, they wouldn’t be slaves, they’d be servants. Edward called it a minor technicality. Neither here nor there.
He asked Declan if he wanted to double his money.
“More,” said Edward. “You could make ten times that much, with a lot less effort.”
“You know where Peter lives, right?”
“There’s a shed in the backyard. You can let yourself in through the side gate. If you go there now, Peter’s dad will be there. Don’t tell him we sent you. Just say you’re expanding your business. Ask him if he has any odd jobs he wants you to do.”
We watched from across the road. Ten minutes. Twenty. Declan doesn’t come out.
“What the hell are they doing in there?”
“What do you think, Peter?”
The next day we rode our bikes past Declan’s house. His dad was washing their car in the driveway. We stopped and said hi. Chatted for a bit. We made sure Declan saw us.
He caught up with us a few minutes later.
“What were you talking to my dad about?”
“Oh, nothing much,” said Edward. “Just stuff.”
“You uhm - You didn’t - ”
“We might have mentioned it.”
’Of course not.”
“Do you think we should?” I asked Edward.
“A good father would want to know.”
I’d always wondered what a deer in the headlights looked like. Now I knew.
“Please! You can’t!”
“Why?” Asked Edward, innocently. “You only pulled weeds, right?”
“Please don’t tell him. He’ll kill me!”
“Do you know the old rope-swing over the river?” I said.
“Yeah? Everybody does. So?”
“There’s a path,” said Edward. “Follow it. You’ll see a log fort. It’s ours. Be there tomorrow morning.”
“You guys built that? It’s cool.”
“It’s our club-house.” I said. “You really didn’t know?”
Declan shook his head. “Uh-uh. What do you do there?”
Edward flicked his lit cigarette at Declan’s feet. “We pull weeds.”
I’d been let off with a warning. No charges were laid against me. Partly because of my age. And partly because the Brothers had stood piously resolute in their saint-like determination to deflect any and all unwanted attention away from Kimble Grange. Away from Jonah. And especially away from what had happened to Miles.
“It isn’t what you know,” said Peter’s father, “but who you play golf with.”
“It’s not like you to brag,” I teased him.
“I think I prefer you without the prison pallor,” he sniped, surveying my milk-white skin with a grimace of disapproval.
“This is the first time I’ve been out of the house in eight weeks,” I said. “What do you expect?”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re a total, unmitigated prick?”
“Frequently. And you’re an ungrateful whelp.”
“Oh, James,” I simpered, falsetto. “You always say the nicest things.”
“Why is the window blocked out? If the paper wasn’t there, I could see my house.”
“Huh? Oh! You mean - "
“I can’t imagine either of your parents looking favourably on what we’re doing.”
“They’re so square.”
His underpants had red fire-engines on them. I thought they were cute, and said so. He smiled. Maybe they were his favourite pair.
I’m flying. Next thing I know someone has picked me up and carried me into their house. I’m bleeding all over the furniture. It looks expensive. There’s a whole wall full of books behind a desk. I’ve never seen so many ’cept in a library one time. The desk is like something I only ever saw in a movie. Some kind of dark wood. Solid. Heavy. Polished. There’s this dude. He’s old enough to be my dad. He looks normal. But smart. Shirt and tie smart. Suit trousers. Lace up black shoes. There’s a first-aid kit open on the floor next to him. He’s holding a towel to my head. I don’t think you’ll need stitches he says. How many fingers? I tell him two. And now? Three I say. He asks me what day it is and I say it’s Saturday. Can you tell me your name? There’s blood on the towel. Blood on his shirt. Matthew. My name is Matthew Kelly and I live at 47 Pine Drive. 07695503. He tells me he’s Richard and I want to say Dick but I know it’s wrong. Even if his bow tie makes him look like one. Then he says Does it hurt anywhere else? He’s looking at my crotch and when I look down I’m holding my plums and I didn’t even know it.
A little dude comes in. Richard asks him to help me with my shoes and pants. The kid says Is he ok Dad? I think so says Richard. It looks worse than it really is. Little dude tells me Luke put your bike in our garage and I say thanks. Richard turns his head and sort of nods at a framed photo on the wall of two boys. Richard says Luke is our oldest and this is Liam. I say Bro. We bump knuckles. I’m wondering where their mum is. I don’t want her to see me with my junk out. Richard checks me over like he knows what he’s doing. It’s weird but ok. He has kind eyes. Doesn’t touch me any more than he needs to. You have a nasty gash on your thigh he tells me. And a bruise on your ankle you’ll feel tomorrow. The cut here he says and points to his right temple is minor so a butterfly dressing should do. You’re lucky you were wearing a helmet or. Or what he doesn’t say. You might be concussed. I know what that is. I tell him I’m a hard nut to crack and he laughs. Never the less he says. Who even says that? Never the less he says I think it would be better if you stayed here. Where I can keep an eye on you. It hurts too much to argue so I say ok. I like Richard. He’s one of the white hats. I can tell.
Luke and Liam take me to the bathroom and watch me piss. Luke says they’re supposed to check to see if I have blood in my urine. I don’t. Liam goes to tell their dad Richard and Luke turns the shower on. Liam comes back and they help me out of my clothes. It’s no different than showering in front of other guys at school or after footy. Luke’s about my age. A bit of a dork but not a total dweeb. Little dude is cool as. We bump knuckles again. I say Preciate you looking out for me Bro and he says Sorright. I slip and hit my shoulder on the wall and next thing I know they’re there holding me up. Their clothes getting wet. Liam looks at Luke and says Fuck this. He strips off his wet things. They both do. I tell them it’s ok. That I can manage by myself. But Luke says We’re staying. He says their dad won’t be too happy if I fall and break my neck. Again it’s no different than the male nurse washing me when I was in hospital with my appendix in a little glass jar next to my bed. They soap me all over and rinse me off and even rub me dry with a couple of towels. Then Luke runs out and comes back with clean clothes for me to wear. He says he thinks his will fit me but his dad has some if they don’t. I tell him I don’t look good in a bow tie and Liam cracks up. I’m liking the little guy more and more.
My bike’s a mess. I’m not going anywhere on it soon. Richard say he can’t in good conscience take me home to an empty house. I’m not out of the woods yet. I tell him I’m ok and I can take care of myself. I don’t need my useless fat bitch of a mother to wipe my arse for me. He says I’m welcome to stay and the way he says it and the way he looks at me I know he means it. He cares what happens to me. Actually honestly genuinely cares. And for the first time in my life I feel like I matter. I want to hug him but I don’t. I want to say something but I can’t think of the right words. Anything I say will just sound. So anyway Susan comes in. Mrs Calloway. And she says she’s made up the bed in the spare room for me or there’s a trundle in the upstairs linen press if I’d rather bunk in with the boys. And I swear she doesn’t bat an eyelid. But she must know. She can’t not know. Richard thinks it’s an excellent idea. They’ve taken a shine to you he says. I’m thinking you ain’t whistling dixie brother. But all I say is I don’t want to be any trouble. It’s no trouble says Susan. The more the merrier. Is she serious?
What’s wrong with these people? Why are they so fucking nice?
I heard the door close quietly and looked up from the chair in my study to see Peter standing there, chewing his bottom lip, his hands clasping and unclasping at his sides. He wiped them on the legs of his denims.
“Are you mad at me?”
“Why would I be?”
He shrugged. Fidgeted. Avoided making eye contact.
“You have a voice, Peter. Use it.”
“I don’t know. I thought - ”
“All boys experiment,” I told him. “It’s a part of growing up.”
“So, it’s okay?”
“If your friends are okay with it.”
“What you do in the privacy of your bedroom is your business.”
The tension flowed visibly from his body as he slouched into the other chair.
I closed the book in my lap and reached for my cigarettes. “Smoke?”
“No, thank you.”
“It’s nearly the end of term,” I said. “Do you and Edward have any plans for the holidays?”
“We thought we’d hang out here.”
“Under my feet?”
“Edward has a tent. We thought, maybe, we’d camp out in his backyard.”
“It’s not exactly roughing it, is it? Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Another shrug. It was a habit he’d picked up lately. I let it pass.
“What if we rent a beach house?” I said. “You can still sleep in the tent, but there’ll be beds if you decide you’re not suited for the great outdoors.”
He pricked up his ears.
“Seriously? It won’t be a working holiday, will it? I mean, you’ll do stuff with us, won’t you?”
“I didn’t think you’d want your old dad spoiling your fun.”
He came around behind my chair and draped his arms over my shoulders, leaning in to kiss my cheek.
“You’re not old.”
The game had been Peter’s idea. His way of pushing the boundaries, I suppose. Seeing how relaxed I really was about his and Edward’s promiscuousness. In the twenty or so minutes of Q and A, I’d learned more about their ‘club’ than I ever would have imagined. But then, neither had it been a one way street. There were more than enough skeletons in my own closet to rattle sufficient bones.
“Truth,” I said.
“Have you ever fucked, or been fucked by another guy?”
“Does your mother know you use such language?”
“My mother doesn’t know shit from shoe-polish. Answer the question.”
“I did have an older cousin who - ”
“What was his name?”
“Is not in the rules,” I said.
“Screw the rules. Tell us.”
“Do I know him?” Asked Peter.
“His name is Jonathon. When he was younger, everyone called him Jonty. And, no, Peter. You haven’t had the pleasure.”
Edward wanted details.
“How much older?”
“Just older. Does it matter?”
Edward bought pizza and we shared it, tossing our crusts to the crowding, clamouring seagulls. The first thing that caught my eye was a bright orange bucket and spade. The second thing was his head of blonde curls. A scattering of freckles, like shells washed up on the shore. His dimples and gap-toothed smile when I asked him his name.
“Like the dog?” Edward asked.
Edward to me: “Do you think Benji would like a bone?”
We took a hand each and led him into the dunes.
When we brought him back to the beach, some hours later, the tide had come in and swept his bucket and spade away.
I was surprised when James telephoned me.
“Peter would like to meet you.”
“My son, Peter.”
“Hmm. An unfortunate name. What on earth were you thinking?”
“Only slightly more so than Jonathon.”
“Am I expected to pay for the pleasure?”
“The tickets have been paid for.”
“His friend Edward is coming with him.”
“What, exactly, am I being lumped with?”
“Peter is a lamb. Edward might need a tighter rein.”
“Have them phone the house from the airport when they arrive. I’ll arrange for a driver to pick them up.”
Edward’s jaw came unhinged.
Our driver chuckled. “That’s just the guests’ residence.”
He carried our bags inside, and I made sure he heard my, “Thank you.”
I’d seen smaller mountains.
“Call me Doop.”
“Du Plessis. But Doop will do.”
Edward ran to the floor to ceiling glass wall that overlooked the pool. “Fuck me! You need to see this, Peter!”
“Can we go swimming?” I asked our mountain.
“You’ll find everything you need in your rooms,” he said. “Ring the bell if you get hungry. The staff know you’re here.”
“We have staff?”
“Mister Jonathan will be home this evening. He’ll see you then.”
Sometimes we went to them. Mostly they came to us. We never saw any money change hands, Edward or I, but the bank accounts cousin Jonathan opened in our names kept growing and growing. I remember Edward remarking upon it.
“You’d think we were the only two living, breathing boys on the planet.”
“Cheap and cheerful,” I quipped. “That’s us.”
“Speak for yourself. I’m worth every penny.”
It was Du Plessis who told us to pack our bags. “You’re going home,” he said.
The world, it seemed, had tired of our youthful charms.
Kitchen. Table. Father. Coffee. Morning paper. It was definitely my house.
I think I might have groaned when I sat down. From behind the open Waitangi Daily Mail came, “Awake, are we?”
“I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
“Did you miss me?”
“No. Why? Have you been somewhere?”
“Funny. I’ll put it away in my pocket and laugh at it later.”
Dad folded the paper and looked at me. He was actually smiling. Maybe it wasn’t the right house after all.
“Yes,” I missed you,” he said. “Very much. I love you.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Why do you love me?”
“You’re my son.”
“Isn’t a reason. Not by itself.”
“You remind me of your mother. I loved her, Peter. I still do.”
“That wasn’t her last night. That was me.”
“How was Durban?”
“Thought it might be. What do you think of apartheid?”
“It will if your cousin Jonathon has anything to do with it.”
I reached across the table for the paper. “Anything?”
“Another lad has gone missing from Kimble. It’s becoming a habit with them.”
“Really? Does it say who?”
There was a photograph. It was Jonah.
My Uncle David told me to sit down.
“I need you to be quiet and listen. I’ll answer any questions you have afterwards, if I can. And then Detective Senior Sergeant Merrydew will want to talk to you."
"Your father has been charged with the abduction, rape, and murder of Jonah Waitihi. He has also been charged with procuring a person for the purposes of prostitution, one Miles Faulkner. And as an accessory in interfering with the body of a deceased person, Miles. Other charges are expected to be laid. The police found camera equipment, negatives, and photographs of a number of boys. Including you, Peter.”
Another pause. I waited.
“Has your father ever told you about his childhood? Our cousin Jonathon? He has? Right. Well. When he was twelve, your father skipped school to go to the cinema. He met a man there who took him back to his apartment and kept him against his will for three days. On the fourth day your father turned up on our doorstep. Needless to say our parents were relieved to have him home and, to all appearances, relatively unharmed. He claimed to have no recollection of where he’d been, who he’d been with, what had happened over the period he’d been missing, or what had been done to him. Our parents didn’t push for fear of traumatizing him further. It was never discussed, but swept under the carpet, and as far as our parents were concerned, forgotten. He seemed to grow out of it. Or, at least, I thought so. He met your mother at university and they were married. She was good for him. He settled. Passed the bar and made a successful life for himself. He was devastated when your mother left him. I can’t imagine why she did. She must have had her reasons. In time your father adjusted. Life for the two of you moved on. You seemed happy. Normal. Brighter than average. Certainly not anxious or withdrawn. If I’d thought for one moment your father was - ”
I went to live with my Uncle David and Aunt Margaret.
Edward and I drifted apart.
I hardly ever saw Mrs Weston after Edward vanished. Mr Weston would speak to me sometimes. He wasn’t a young man even then, but the loss of his only son aged him by ten years in the long months of quiet desperation. The not knowing. The waiting.
Miles had died by ‘misadventure’. So the coroner ruled. The detectives investigating could only surmise that a person, or persons, unknown had moved Miles’ body some time after death, but without a witness, or witnesses, or any real evidence, the case was filed, boxed, and shelved as unsolved.
The man who’d asked my father to ‘arrange something suitable’ later retired from public office claiming ill health.
Kimble Grange is still open. There are rumours, there are always rumours, but that’s all they are, and all they’ll ever be, I guess.
The town of Fataroa is only a half-hour bike ride away. I go there sometimes just to sit on the edge of the dam and think. I always leave a flower.
One day, years later, I received a card in the mail. It wasn’t signed. There were no identifying postage marks. No stamp. It simply read: No pearl is perfect. They all have their flaws. Their faults. But that shouldn’t make them less precious.
I visit the Cs when I can but I don’t get a lot of leave. The army’s my family now. I’m being transferred to a Special Forces unit. Black Ops. Anti-terrorist. Everybody has something they’re good at. Everybody has a place. I found mine. Richard slams the paper down hard enough to rattle his cup of tea in its saucer and for him that’s really saying something. It’s true he says. What is asks Susan. Oh no she says. I reach across and read the article. Members of what is believed to be an international paedophile cult who call themselves the Eternal Brotherhood were arrested yesterday in dawn raids across the country by New Zealand police. There’s no mention of that bastard Puller but there wouldn’t be would there? He’s in it though. I know he is. Up to his bloody neck and no mistake. Ten years. Ten fucking years. The whole trial was a cock up from the start. The Calloways wouldn’t let Luke or Liam testify and fair enough ’cause nobody needs to go through that but when the Connicks pulled their kids out too. Flush! Down the bloody toilet. Total waste of time. Then the prosecution fuck up the murder case to boot and they might as well have said piss off mate you’re free to go. Ten fucking years for killing a kid. It’s a joke. A sick joke. They should’ve hung the bastard.
I meet my mate Benj down the pub and I say remember telling me what happened to you when you were a kid and he says what about it. I ask him if there’s anything he hasn’t told me. Like what he says. Did one of them talk like his shit didn’t stink? Now you mention it says Benj Yeah. A right tosser. They both were. I say somebody should do something about it and Benj says we’ve been through this. I’m not reporting it he says. It’s dead and buried far as I’m concerned and it’s gonna stay that way. I don’t mean the law I tell him. We could do it. Just you and me. I know he gets my meaning ’cause he looks at me over his beer and shakes his head. Not worth it he says. Not now. Just forget I ever said anything. I know who they are, I say. And I know how to find them.
The two boys who turned up unexpectedly on my doorstep could only have been Edward’s. The resemblance was uncanny. It was as if Edward had found a way to clone his teenage self; twice.
“Are you our Uncle Peter?” Asked the Edward on the left.
“Course he is,” said the Edward on the right. “Don’t you remember the photo Pere Jonty showed us? It’s him. He’s just older.”
“A lot older!”
“Don’t be rude.”
“I’m not. I’m simply making an observation.”
The taxi parked across the street told me they hadn’t just magically appeared out of nowhere, or I might have thought I was delusional, dreaming.
The driver crossed the road with a nondescript, somewhat knocked about, suitcase in each hand and set them down on the front path. Both Edwards said thank you, and Edward on the left palmed him what looked like a hundred dollar note saying, “Keep the change.”
The driver looked from the note in his hand to the Edwards, to me, and back to his tip. “Yous takin’ the piss?”
“Isn’t it enough?” Asked Edward (Left).
“Oh, it’s enough, mate. Too bloody right it’s enough!”
He was positively beaming when he shook their hands.
“You got yourself a pair a good-uns,” he told me. “Polite. No trouble. Not like some.”
I smiled and nodded, and we all three waved as he drove away.
“I guess you’d better come in.”
There names were Nathaniel (Nate) and Zachariah (Zach), and despite what I’d thought originally, and in my defense understandably, they weren’t twins, Nate being a year older. Their father, they assured me, was still very much alive and living with their Cuban mother in Belize.
“And Pere Jonty?” I asked. “How is he?”
“He’s well,” replied Nate. “He retired to Juan-les-Pin.”
“It’s in France,” said Zach.
“Yes, I know. I’ve been there. It’s beautiful.”
“We’ve heard a lot about Bondi,” said Nate. “Can we see it?”
“Is that okay?”
I shrugged. There was no reason why not. “Sure. But let’s put your bags away first.”
“How on earth did you find me?” I asked.
“We gave the cab driver your address.”
“Well, yes.” I laughed. “But how did you know where I lived?”
“Pere Jonty,” said Zach.
He made it sound as if locating someone his Pere had lost touch with, more than a decade earlier, was as easy as throwing a dart at a map of the world and saying, “There.”
“Do you live with Jonty?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” said Nate.
“When we’re not with our parents,” said Zach. “Or at school.”
I showed the boys around and let them choose a bedroom each. Nate picked the one next to mine, and Zach took the one opposite because it had glass sliding doors that opened onto the pool deck. They weren’t overly impressed by Bondi. I suppose it paled in comparison to the French Riviera, or the tropical turquoise waters of Belize. I treated them to hamburgers - with pineapple and beetroot - and the obligatory chocolate milkshakes, and they wolfed them down like any boys their age would.
“What does your father do?” I asked, getting raised eyebrows in reply. “For a living.”
“International trading,” Nate told me.
“Gold,” said Zach. “Diamonds. Pearls.”
The inference wasn’t lost on me. Somehow Edward’s involvement in human trafficking - young boys, I naturally assumed - didn’t shock me as much as perhaps it should have. Nor did the fact that, after the trial, he would have sought out the one person with whom his past wasn’t going to be an issue.
Back at the house, they wanted to swim in the pool. I’d always been told as a child not to go in the water after eating. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now.
“Did you pack your togs?” I asked.
They both looked perplexed.
“What are togs?” Asked Zach.
“Your bathers,” I said. “Trunks. Swimsuits.”
“Do we need them?” Said Nate.
“Well, no. Nobody’s going to see you.”
They probably swam naked all the time when they were staying with Jonathon. Edward and I had, when we were in Durban. It was de rigueur.
“I’ll get you some towels,” I said.
It was Nate, standing beside my bed.
“Can we sleep with you tonight?”
“We?” I asked.
“Me and Zach. We were talking about it. I told him I wanted to ask you first.”
“Sure. Why not?” It was becoming my answer to everything. “Go and get your brother.”
“Can we use your shower?”
“You have your - Yes. Sure.”
They played around in there for almost an hour. I didn’t want to spoil their fun, so I read and waited. The shower was turned off, and I heard teeth being brushed, rinsing and spitting, then what I could have sworn were two horses pissing in the bowl at the same time, and the toilet being flushed. Finally the boys came out. They stood and looked at me until I put my book down on the bedside table. Neither boy seem to mind that I was naked. Pere Jonty’s influence again, no doubt. I wondered what else they’d be comfortable with. Had he been intimate with them? Had Edward? Someone else? More than the one someone? Were they sexually active with each other? Friends? Schoolmates? They’d been in the shower, together, longer than soaping, rinsing, and towelling off would normally take. What had they they doing in there? I was imagining the possibilities when I fell asleep.
I opened my eyes to see a gun in my face. Zach and Nate were sitting up, huddled together, in my bed beside me, terrified. Muzzle flash. Where Nate’s head had been was a splatter of blood. Before Zach could open his mouth to scream I heard/saw another shot.
I started to say, “What the - ”
Jonah won’t stop crying.
I pick up a rock and hit him with it.
I don’t stop.
My doorbell rang. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I answered it.
“I’m Kip Marshall.”
“You know my dad. Knew my dad.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, “but you need to leave before - ”
The door was three-quarters closed when he said, “Please!”
“You have a pool?”
“It came with the house.”
He stood staring out of the window at it. What is it with boys and water?
“Christopher,” he said, still distracted by the sunlit, shimmering blue. “But nobody calls me that. Unless I’m in trouble.”
“You can’t tell anyone you’ve been here - With me.”
“Is it because - ”
“I need you to promise.”
“Cross my heart.”
I pointed to a chair. “Sit.”
I took the chair next to his. “When did you lose your father?”
“Almost a year ago,” he replied.
“Can I ask how?”
“It was cancer.”
“Why are you here?”
“He kept a journal. I found it."
“You’re in it.”
“When you say - ”
“You and the others.”
“But mostly you.”
“Call me James.”
“There is no - ”
“Can I go swimming?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
There is a man standing at the end of the bed. Seeing Kip stir, his mouth assumes the shape of a smile, but it never reaches his eyes. They remain as cold and lifeless as a shark’s.
“James!” Says Kip, shaking the sleeping man beside him.
James sits up, runs a hand through his thinning blonde hair, pinches the bridge of his nose, rubs the sleep from his eyes, and finally, quietly, regards the man standing at the end of the bed.
“Nice company you keep,” says the man.
“Why are you here?” Asks James.
“Can’t I visit an old friend?”
Outside - under a vine covered loggia - James and the man sit, poolside, at a wrought iron table. James is wearing a white towelling bathrobe. The man ashes his cigarette. His gaze drifts languidly over the pool and its surrounds, never pausing to focus, like ripples in the water. James smooths a fold in his robe. Kip stands behind James’ chair. The man ashes his cigarette. He turns his attention to Kip.
“And who is this?”
“This is Christopher,” replies James. “Kip - Stephen Marshall’s son.”
The man inspects the gold banded filter of his cigarette. He gives no indication of recognizing the name.
“Stephen passed away,” says James. “Cancer.”
The man exhales fragrant smoke from his nostrils. James reties the terry towelling belt of his robe. Kip shifts his weight to his other foot. The man ashes his cigarette.
James says, “Are you here for Matthew Kelly?”
The man closes his eyes, as if the morning sun filtering through the leaf shaded loggia is suddenly too bright.
“Having eyes only for their sufferings,” the man quotes, “not for their misdeeds.”
“Don Quixote,” says Kip, who has read Cervantes for an English assignment at school.
The man flicks the gold banded filter of his cigarette. “Brains and beauty.”
“Many were the offences to be undone, the wrongs to be rectified, the grievances to be redressed, the abuses to be corrected, and the debts to be satisfied.” Kip has the man’s attention. He almost wishes he didn’t.
“There is no recollection which time does not put an end to,” the man says, “and no pain which death does not remove.”
James has curled an arm around Kip’s waist, a hand rests on the boy’s hip. Kip feels emboldened.
The man grinds his cigarette under a boot heel. Lights another. He flicks an eyebrow at Kip. “The most perceptive character in a play is the fool.”
James stiffens in his chair. “Unnecessary.”
For the first time the man actually looks at James as if he’s really there. But then the false smile returns. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?”
“This,” says James, “is Edward Weston.”
James asks, "How?"
Edward looks at the boy and James motions for Kip to leave them.
"There are ways," Edward says. "But you know that."
"Have you heard from Jonathon?"
"Not since - "
"I thought my boys would be safe with Peter."
"After they were extradited we arranged a transfer to a different prison due to over population. Kelly and Miller and four guards in two cars. The guards were ours. Send the boy home. Check your e-mail."
Rising from his seat, Edward kisses James on the cheek, briefly waves to Kip who is sprawled on the living room sofa in front of the television, and leaves via a side gate.
It's a link to a site on the dark web. A video. Two men sit facing each other, secured to metal chairs that are bolted to a concrete floor. The two figures are lit by spotlights suspended directly above them. Both men are naked. On the floor between them is a mesh cage. Inside the cage is a writhing tumult of black fur. Cut to a close-up of Kelly's face. It's barely recognizable. Bruised and swollen. The ears, nose, and lips have been sliced off. The camera pans down to his genitals. The charred stump of what's left of his penis is nailed to the top of a long, narrow, rectangular wooden box. The box must have an opening at that end because it fits snugly over Kelly's scrotum. The camera follows the length of the rectangular box to where it's fixed to the cage. The cage is full of rats. The image blurs. Focuses. Miller's bruised and mutilated face. There's no wooden box, but electrically wired alligator clips bite into the loose skin of his scrotum. Miller's face again. A black gloved hand forces a metal ring between his lipless teeth. An orange nylon strap tied to the metal ring travels up to an unlit and unseen ceiling or rafter, and then down, to where the other end of the strap is threaded and tied through a hole in a timber board that seals off the opposite end of the rectangular box. On the floor next to the bolted metal chair Miller is secured to is a car battery. An alligator clip is connected to one of the battery's two terminals. A black gloved hand holds the other clip. The camera pans back to a wide shot. A hulking figure dressed completely in black, military style fatigues crouches over the car battery with his broad back to the camera. His face is hidden, but James would know that man mountain anywhere. It's Du Plessis. Blue sparks. Miller's body jolts. He throws his unrestrained head back, pulling the orange strap tied to the metal ring clenched between his teeth taut. The board is raised. Movement inside the mesh cage. Nothing. Several seconds of silence. Then Kelly's screaming echoes inside the unlit and unseen building.
The video still has another twenty-three minutes of running time when James closes the browser. He's seen enough.