Freddy was dressing a bit better.
That was the first thing Hector noticed when he came to the door, after being advised who the visitor was. Not exactly bespoke, mind you, but at the very least made to measure. The clothing looked like Freddy had actually put some thought into what he wore, rather than merely tossing something on because propriety demanded it. Good for him. Maybe Freddy was growing up after all.
Now he’d taken the improved tailoring into account, Hector could trouble himself to wonder what the hell Freddy was doing here. No doubt he should be quite gruff and intimidating; possibly threaten to run his unwelcome visitor off the grounds.
“Good to see you, Freddy.”
He blinked into the sunlight waiting to see if Freddy would come back with one of his trademark brush-offs, throwing Hector’s welcome back in his face.
“You too, Hector.”
Hector looked carefully for a sign of the old contempt. Maybe Freddy was just getting better at hiding it.
“Shall we have tea?”
Freddy nodded enthusiastically.
“Is Marnie around?” he asked peering right and left as he followed Hector into the house.
“I expect she’s about somewhere. Good thing her parents are on holiday in the Lake District or you’d never have made it to the door. We’ll have tea in my study.”
He caught the smirk on Freddy’s face. Only Freddy Lyons could make him feel self-conscious about something as natural as tea in the study. The attire might have improved, but his manners were still atrocious.
“So what have you been up to you lately, Hector?”
Hector shrugged. “Bit of this. Bit of that. I’ve taken up freelance writing, actually. Sold a few pieces to Country Life and Parade.”
“Fancying yourself a real journalist then, are you?”
That was the old Freddy.
A more honest answer might have been that he’d been drinking too much and living off his wife’s money, but why give Freddy even more fodder to fit him into his preconceptions about the “privileged class?”
Hector busied himself with a sip of tea and a bite of sandwich before replying.
“I suppose it’ll have to do. I’ve got a job for three of us. Real news. Real reporting. Action. Danger. The chance to make a difference. You keen on that?”
He was starting to wish he’d followed his first instincts about having Freddy ejected. Of course he was keen. He was going absolutely mad missing the excitement of working in television and especially his brief moment of glory as presenter of The Hour, but he was also wary. He’d come close to losing everything for that glory. Besides, Freddy had said “the three of us.” That meant Bel. He knew that ship had sailed while he stood helplessly on the dock, but even the idea of seeing her again made his heart beat faster.
“I don’t know, Freddy. Do you really think my meagre skills are up to it?”
Hector wasn’t above reminding Freddy of the various jibes and insults that the self-important Mr. Lyons had been willing to launch in his direction whether he knew Hector was listening or not.
Freddy methodically stubbed out his cigarette, shaking his head.
“We were a good team, Hector.”
He was so damned sincere that Hector almost hated to splash the cold water of reality in his face.
“Such a good team that you and Bel practically got yourselves black-listed from broadcasting.”
He watched as Freddie leaned back in his chair with his trademarked insouciance.
“No practically about it, mate. Neither of us can show our faces within ten miles of a BBC camera.”
“Then who’s paying for the suits.”
Freddie shot a glare in Hector’s direction before recovering his composure.
“Can’t go near a camera, but there’s always microphones. Local radio. Leeds, Bradford, Manchester,” he enunciated bitterly. “Met your old boss. Hugh still speaks highly of you.”
“And Bel?” he asked, lowering his voice slightly.
“Exiled to the colonies. CBS affiliate in Houston, Texas.”
“How on earth?”
“Her mum, oddly enough. Dear Verda can’t hold on to a man, but she never really lets go either. She rang up some chap with a ranch and the next thing you know Bel’s gone to work covering oil wells and stampedes and whatever else they’ve got over there. She says it’s rather like being in Cornwall with much bigger hats.”
Hector couldn’t keep from smiling at the idea of Bel contending with a bunch of loutish American cowboys. His own poor showing at their first meeting must have been absolute courtly manners compared to that lot.
“Just as well really. She needed some time away from…”
Freddy trailed off, leave Hector to decide whether it was Freddy or himself that Bel was anxious to distance herself. Maybe the whole Suez mess itself. It wasn’t something that was even discussed in polite company any more.
“What’s the job?” he asked, in spite of himself.
“You know Lix is pretty much the only one who came out of the whole fiasco standing tall?”
“Good for her. She saw the big story coming while the rest of us were looking everywhere else.”
“Exactly. Eden’s gone. McCain’s probably lurking somewhere in the sewers under the House of Lords. Clarence has crept off into early retirement.” Hector noticed a slight grimace at the mention of Clarence’s name, but wasn’t surprised. The Hour had left a lot of bad blood in its wake.
“Lix has friends at CBC. She’s managed to get us a job on their foreign desk. They want to post a team in Southeast Asia. The French are out of Vietnam, but the Yanks are coming. Something’s bound to blow up there. I told them we’d be better in Berlin. Either way, we get a posting and return to broadcasting in triumph. That’s the bait, anyway.”
Tempting. Very, tempting, not that he’d come out and admit it.
“And what exactly is the trap we need to walk into to take the bait.”
Freddy sighed and looked down into what was probably an empty cup of tea.
“Try not to say no immediately. It’s almost embarrassing.”
“Sports desk,” Hector reminded him, if only to coax Freddy toward the point.
“Right. Well, the assignment is to hang around Shepperton Studios for a few days and cover the filming of a movie. We’re supposed to do interviews, take pictures, and generally cobble together something deemed to be of interest to the audience back in Toronto.”
Hector shook his head, half in disgust, half disbelief.
“I know. I know. Demeaning is what it is, but Lix says it’s a one-time thing. Just to prove we can behave ourselves.” It took a good few seconds of awkward silence before Freddy was forced to add, “That I can behave myself.”
“So my role in this undertaking is to be sort of a nanny then?”
Freddy shook his head.
“No, that’s Bel’s job. Although presumably you still have your head-boy bullying skills well-honed. We need your face on-camera to conduct the interviews. Who knows? You might be discovered. Maybe you’ll be the next Dirk Bogarde.”
Freddy appeared to be doing his best to hide the lingering resentment about the original choice to make Hector the presenter of the Hour based on his looks. His best wasn’t nearly enough, but Hector knew there was no point discussing it, any more than there was in telling Freddy he’d always found him rather attractive.
He did have to say something, however.
“Exactly what film would we be ‘reporting’ on?”
Freddy consulted his notebook, squinting as though he couldn’t believe what was written there.
“Expresso Bongo,” he said, with a shrug. “Adaptation of a West End hit, starring Laurence Harvey and…”
“Darling, you must go!” Marnie exclaimed, bursting in, after standing outside the door listening for who knew how long. He’d always thought she might make a good spy, aside from her extraordinary ability to hear exactly what she wanted to, no matter what was actually being said. “Don’t you remember? We saw the show last year at the Saville Theatre. You said Paul Scofield was marvelous.”
He honestly didn’t remember.
“It was the musical we saw that wasn’t My Fair Lady.”
“Of course. But I couldn’t leave you here by yourself…”
“Don’t be silly. I’ll be fine. As long as you promise to bring me back an autograph from that darling boy.”
Hector was starting to feel at bit annoyed at his wife’s unseemly gushing.
“What boy?” Freddy interjected, with a sneer, “Laurence Harvey?”
“No,” Marnie shot back, as though speaking to a particularly dense child. “Cliff Richard.”
Hector stared at Marnie and then at Freddy, who shrugged as he stood up and brushed a few crumbs onto the floor. The dog would like that, Hector thought, trying not to flinch too obviously.
“Well, that’s settled then,” Freddy announced. “I’ll head out to Heathrow to see if that package has arrived safely.”
Freddy’s attempt at subtlety was so bad that even Marnie was moved to roll her eyes.
“Oh, honestly Freddy! We’re all adults here. I promise my head will not explode if you say the name Bel Rawley.”
Freddy looked to Hector for affirmation. Hector shrugged. He personally would have bet on the explosion, but there seemed to be a number of things he didn’t know about Marnie.
“Her flight’s due in at six. I’ll pick her up and then come collect you. Can you be ready by nine?”
“So soon?” he asked. Somehow he’d imagined there’d be more time to prepare, or possibly find a way out.
“Come on, Hector. It’s a few days in Surrey, not the road to bloody Mandalay.”
“Yes, fine. I’ll be ready.”
“I’ll help you pack, darling,” Marnie volunteered. “I trust your guest can see himself out.”
“Of course. Lovely to see you again, Mrs. Madden.”
Considering Freddy’s reverse snobbery, he certainly had upper class hypocrisy down to a fine art. Maybe he’d picked it up during his time staying with Lord Elms’ family.
Hector went up the stairs to his bedroom with Marnie following closely behind. He felt they should at least talk about this but he found himself tongue-tied, wishing Freddy were there with a list of questions. He lit a cigarette while Marnie busied herself taking clothing out of various wardrobes and drawers and laying them on the bed.
“Your suitcase is in the downstairs hall cupboard. I’ll have Jeremy bring it up.”
“Marnie, are you sure you don’t mind? You have to believe my relationship with Bel is going to be purely professional. You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”
“I know that dear," she replied, before heading towards the door, presumably to have the suitcase brought up.
Hector knew he should be grateful and just let things be, but he couldn’t resist asking.
Marnie turned around and gave him her sweetest, and yet most poisonous, smile.
“I can’t imagine she’d have any interest in you, now that she knows what a coward you are. “
“This is the life, isn’t it Hector? Has anyone waved a contract at you yet? I hear James Mason is getting a bit long in the tooth.”
James Mason had long since decamped for Hollywood, a fact of which Hector suspected Freddy was well aware.
There was no doubt that compared to the frantic pace of making live television, the business of filming a movie was rather placid. The shooting started at an ungodly hour of the morning, but there were frequent breaks for tea and things often came to a halt for no apparent reason whatsoever.
Even the actors playing the minor roles seemed to be well-treated and the actual stars were cosseted and had their every whim catered to.
Hector had noticed that Freddy was mostly succeeding in his efforts to keep his temper and the crueler side of his wit under control. Perhaps a few years in the wilderness had taught him the necessity of not stabbing his co-workers in the back, no matter what he thought of them personally.
The first morning he had provided Hector with a well-researched list of questions to ask Cliff Richard. He’d also saved Hector the indignity of making a certain request by explaining to Cliff that his “Auntie Marnie” was mad for his music and would he please sign an autograph for the old darling. Cliff had provided a picture of himself with an expression that he jokingly called his “Moody Elvis” look, and signed it to Marnie with a flourish. At least Hector would be able to go home a hero on that score.
Cliff proceeded to answer all of Hector’s questions, most amiably and also quite predictably.
Yes, his real name was Harry Webb and he was born in India. Yes, he was influenced by Elvis Presley. Yes, he liked making movies, but he also loved playing live music, as well as making records. Yes, he was looking forward to touring North America and (with a nod to the CBC) getting to meet his Canadian fans. Yes, it was hard to believe that only two years before he’d been a Credit Control Clerk (which he was happy to point out meant he was really a teaboy) and now he was a chart-topping rock and roll star. No (for a change) he had no idea how long it would last, but he intended to make the most out of it while he could.
Unfortunately, for the possibility of actually finding anything resembling news in this interview, “making the most out of it” consisted of buying himself a gray Sunbeam Alpine with red leather seats and getting his parents a house in Winchmore Hill.
If there were any vices or peccadilloes to be discovered, Cliff, even at his young age, was cagey enough not to reveal them to Hector, Freddy and a CBC cameraman named Andre, who appeared to be bored witless by the whole thing. Hector could hardly blame him.
Freddy managed to stay outwardly calm even if he could see his future as a foreign correspondent being crushed under a mountain of pop star platitudes. The real venom only came out whenever he found Bel and Hector together, as they were right now, sharing a perfectly professional cup of tea.
Hector had meant what he said to Marnie, at least as far as it went. He had been a coward. He’d let Bel down horribly all in the name of saving his marriage, his reputation and his professional future. He needed to make it up to her somehow, even if it meant going through this particular farce. If a posting in the middle of some international intrigue was her heart’s desire he’d find a way to get it for her, while behaving completely honourably.
If only she didn’t look even more beautiful than he remembered after three years of trying to forget her. Bel’s time away had given her a more confident stride and slightly shorter, but completely fetching, hair-do. Or maybe the colour was lighter. He couldn’t say what it was, but he couldn’t take his eyes off her.
Perhaps she was just being polite, but Hector didn’t feel any of the animosity he’d expected and so richly deserved. She’d greeted him with a warm “Hello, Hector,” and a perfunctory kiss on the cheek, but just that touch had brought back the old chemistry, at least as far as he was concerned. There was so much he still didn’t understand about Bel, including her attachment to Freddy, but Hector wasn’t a fool. He had figured out that Freddy would always come first. For that reason alone he bit back about ninety percent of the replies that came to mind and settled on something he considered relatively tame.
“Don’t worry, Freddy. If this doesn’t work out, I’m sure you can learn to play one of those guitars. I hear it drives the women wild and it can’t be all that difficult.”
“Oi! It’s not all that easy, I’ll have you know. Takes at least two hours and a Bert Weedon handbook.”
Hector looked to his left and found himself face to face with a young man wearing the largest glasses he’d ever seen. It was almost impossible not to think of an owl, although he did eventually recognize the speaker as one of the musicians who’d been miming the playing of the instruments behind Cliff to a pre-recorded instrumental track to a scene that had been filmed the previous day.
“Sorry,” he apologised, holding out his hand. “Hector Madden, and you are?”
“Hank Marvin,” he replied with a firm shake.
Oh, you’re in the Shadows,” Bel said, surprising Hector, although there was no reason he should be surprised by Bel being well-prepared for her assignment or knowing a thing or two about the current music. Hector’s own musical tastes ran to jazz, but he did have to admit that this rock and roll stuff was more than just a fad.
Hank nodded, clearly pleased to be recognised.
“We’re in the film to jump about a bit, even if we're getting not much money and absolutely no credit. Where Cliff goes, we goes. Very biblical. I think Jet’s around here somewhere chatting up the script girl.”
“Not all that biblical then,” Freddy pointed out.
“Some’s in it for the money; some’s in it for other things,” Hank replied.
“And what are you in it for, Mr. Marvin,” Bel said leaning forward, showing just a hint of cleavage, Hector noted. He pulled his own gaze away long enough to follow Hank’s. Hank appeared to be both a man and a gentleman. He looked, but only briefly.
“Getting out of Newcastle’s a start.”
“I’d imagine,” Hector said, not sure where the conversation should go from there. Hank peered at him, and Hector could see the exact moment of recognition.
“I know you! You were on that show, The Hour. That was great stuff. Too bad they pulled the plug just when everything was starting to get interesting. Used to gather round a little telly in the dressing room and watch it before we went on at the 2i’s in Soho.”
Hector caught himself smiling and a glimpse told him that Bel and Freddy were doing the same, although trying not to be too obvious. The whole thing had ended in disaster, but as Freddy had said, they’d been a good team and The Hour had been something to be proud of, although certain people, Marnie included, might never see it that way.
“Yes. We all worked on The Hour,” he replied, and Hank Marvin looked at all three of them with a certain awe that Hector had to admit was rather gratifying.
“So tell me, Hank,” Freddy said, leaning forward conspiratorially. It didn’t have quite the same effect as when Bel did it, but Hector still found himself being drawn in. “You got any idea how we get a few minutes with Laurence Harvey? We’re supposed to be producing a story, and to be honest your friend Cliff’s a little, well how shall I put it, dull as dishwater. Or is he? Anything there besides just being a nice boy with a good head of hair?”
“You won’t hear me saying a word against him.”
“Course not. So how about Mr. Harvey?”
“I’ve heard he’s from Lithuania,” Hank offered.
“I’ve heard he’s Jewish,” Bel commented.
“I’ve heard he’s queer,” said Freddy, “but none of that is any help unless he’ll talk to us on camera, which he won’t. His manager says he’s too busy.”
“Yeah, he does pretty much keep himself to himself don’t he? Doesn’t even come out for lunch.”
Freddy muttered something profane under his breath, causing Hank to give him a slightly scandalised look in return.
“Sorry,” he apologised, yet again. Hector couldn’t resist a certain smug pleasure at the sight of Freddy being shamed into politeness. “It’s just that we’re going to go back to our employers empty-handed, and that’s a problem for all of us, especially Bel here.” Bel took the opportunity to flash her most sympathetic smile in the young man’s direction. He blinked once or twice behind those giant lenses.
“Sorry to hear that. Tell you what, though, there is something a bit dodgy going on around here.”
“Besides gossip and bad language?”
Apparently Freddy could only be polite for so long.
“See that fellow over there?” he said, attempting to indicate without actually turning his head or pointing.”
“If you’re talking about Monsieur Scarface with the dirty fingernails, I’m afraid that’s Andre, our cameraman,” Freddy replied. “He claims to have been a member of La Resistance and to have shagged Josephine Baker.”
Hank grimaced, but seemed willing to be let that one go.
“No, the one who looks like he’s selling rude post-cards out of his rain coat.”
“Oh, him,” said Freddy dismissively. “I thought he was an extra in one of the street scenes.
“He is, but they’re not shooting those scenes today. It’s all the interior stuff with Herbert’s family. Didn’t you look at the call sheet?”
"You’re here,” Bel noted, not unkindly.
“Yeah, but I ain’t in costume, am I?”
He had a point.
“All right, then” Freddy said, rising to the scent of a genuine news story. “What do you think our spivvy friend is up to?”
The otherwise loquacious Mr. Marvin suddenly grew reticent. He looked down and breathed a deep sigh.
“Look, I know that in show business, well, people do a lot of things and you know what Jesus said about judging not, and all that.”
Hector felt himself growing impatient and could only imagine that Freddy must be ready to jump out of his skin.
“Yes, we get it. You’re a good Christian. High Church and all that,” Freddy snapped.
“Jehovah’s Witness, actually, but that’s not really the point.“
“What, exactly is the point?” Hector asked, trying to hide his annoyance.
“It’s drugs, Mr. Madden. That fellow came up to Cliff in the loo and asked if he wanted any hashish. Said he could get pills, cocaine, or anything else.”
It was hard not to laugh at the idea of the squeaky-clean Cliff doing any such thing, although Hector knew enough about the dirty secrets of high society to realise that nothing was impossible.
Hank smiled a toothy grin.
“Yeah, I know. Cliff was just stunned; wasn’t even sure what the bloke was on about until he told me. He’s honestly never even tried a regular cigarette, much less smoked anything stronger, but not everybody’s like that. The human body is a temple, but man is weak, you know? It’s hard for some people to resist temptation. People like Mr. Harvey, for instance.”
Or any number of others, with Lords and Ladies in front of their names, Hector thought. In his circles the inebriation was usually just the result of too many gin and tonics, but not always.
“Have you told anyone else?” Bel asked. Hector caught her exchanging one of those looks with Freddy that always made him feel like an outsider.
“I asked Cliff if he’d say something to Mr. Guest, but he’s not one to make waves, and I’m barely allowed to speak to anyone except the make-up man and the choreographer, and for all I know, they’re on the customer list. I’m still not sure I should even tell you, but it is illegal. My first skiffle group had a banjo player who said he needed the dexies to play fast enough. He ended up doing some robbery just to get the money and he got sent down for two years.
“That’s a shame,” said Freddy, sympathetically. Any interest he might have in the actual filming seemed to have evaporated. It was hard to argue the point. The action on the set involved a bunch of squabbling and conniving in a one-family flat. The whole thing looked utterly drab; hardly entertainment at all. “Bel, see if you can give Andre the word. I’m going to try and get the pharmacist somewhere a bit more private, but I’ll want some pictures if we can get them without spooking him.”
Hector watched as Bel made her way over to the corner where Andre was smoking his ever-present du Mauriers and whispered something in his ear. Just the sight of that purposeful stride made him grip his tea cup that much tighter.
“Down, tiger. We’ve got work to do.”
“Shut up, Freddy,” he snapped, and it felt quite delicious to say the words out loud.
“You made that bed, Hector,” said Freddy, almost sadly.
Bel came back and gave Freddy a nod.
“Get ready to move,” Freddy whispered. “Tea time’s over.”
“You’re on,” Bel said to Freddy upon her return,
It was only when Hector saw Freddy approach the suspected narcotics dealer that the gravity of the situation hit home. Once again Freddy and Bel were about to rush into something headlong without thinking it through. Who was to say the scoundrel wouldn’t have a weapon? Or might just be handy with his fists if he felt threatened. Freddy might have the upper hand in a battle of wits, but Hector doubted he could even throw a solid punch.
Hector put down his tea and stood up, mentally preparing for battle. He may not have been as fit as he’d been during his days in the Guards, but he still got plenty of exercise walking the grounds. If it came to a fight, he was sure he could hold his own.
As always, Freddy’s attempt at subterfuge left much to be desired. He looked less like grown man attempting to procure illegal drugs than an awkward schoolboy asking for his first dance at a holiday party, although if were a girl, Hector thought he might find himself enchanted by gauche, young Frederick.
Whatever he was doing, he’d certainly managed to get the suspect’s attention. They walked off the soundstage together. Andre gave them a good lead and then took off in pursuit. No way to carry the full tripod, of course, but maybe some still photographs would do the trick.
“Come on, let’s go,” he said taking Bel’s hand for an unguarded second, feeling the adrenaline of pursuit rushing through his veins.
He was interrupted by a chipper, “Good luck,” from Hank, causing Bel to pull away, reminding him that there was a different kind of chase afoot. The trail led across what felt like miles of sound stages, through the massive cafeteria where the lunches were served. From the far end he could see Freddy talking to the man in a very animated fashion which Hector assume was designed to distract him from the encroaching presence of Andre. Bel signalled that they should wait and Hector was grateful for the chance to catch his breath.
Maybe Andre had been in the French Resistance. He certainly managed to move silently enough so that when the prey pulled a glassine envelope out of his coat, he was completely stunned by the loud pop and flash of a camera going off, at which point things went completely pear-shaped.
The cretin let out a few choice words that would have made Hank blush fulsomely and proceeded to attack Freddy with what looked to be a fierce upper-cut before taking off towards the kitchens with Andre hot on his heels.
“Oh my god! Freddy!” Bel called out and rushed over to where Freddy had gone in a heap. “Are you all right? Hector help me!”
Hector and Bel helped Freddy to his feet. He was wobbly, but insisted they go on.
“Isn’t the picture enough?”
“Not nearly,” Freddy insisted, “I want to interrogate the bastard. Let’s go.”
The kitchen let out onto the vast landscape surrounding the studios. It was a harsh day and Hector regretted that he’d undertaken this endeavour without his Burberry. There was quite a bit of ground to cover and Hector could instantly see that Bel’s shoes were hardly designed for cross-country tracking.
Freddy, despite the blood flowing from his lip, was the fastest, and he’d soon covered most of the distance to Andre. Hector, chagrinned at idea of being shown up by that damned piker, did his best to pick up his own speed, running flat out at an absolute sprint into the wind. Just when he thought he was making progress, he felt a burning in his calves, followed by a heaviness in his upper arms and lightness at the back of his head.
“Damn!” he grunted, feeling as though he might be sick. The dizziness was overwhelming, driving him to his knees, with blood pounding in his head and an awful taste in his mouth.
Bel had a hand on his back, he could feel that much, and Hector sensed that maybe there was more to the touch besides fear and concern. He could hear her screaming, but she sounded very far away, even though he knew she was right there.
He wanted to tell Bel to keep going, but he couldn’t form the words in his head, much less get sounds out his mouth. Nothing felt real, certainly not the sight of Freddy tackling the hapless criminal to the ground and Andre delivering a rather vicious looking kick to the head, followed by a series of flashes.
After that there were police whistles and sirens and a good deal of “what’s all this then?” and “Are you all right, sir?” The last thing he felt was having his shirt opened and something horribly cold being pressed against his chest. The last thing he heard was Bel’s voice saying, “It’s all right, darling. You can sleep now.”
So he did.
He woke up with an erection.
Nothing wrong with that, he thought, fighting his way back to consciousness. Sign of a healthy adult male, although apparently not as healthy as he’d thought. As he shook off layers of slumber, the ache in his knees reasserted itself. Good to know the old fellow was still able to stand up for himself, under the circumstances. He tried to reach down and shake hands with the devil, as it were, only to realise he wasn’t alone.
He was lying on his side, and his prick was warmly nestled against a rather inviting arse-crack. Good enough, then. Bel must have chosen to share his bed, even if it was only out of sympathy. He thought he smelled a hint of her perfume. Except he vividly remembered the curve of Bel’s hip against his hand and this bum was considerably bonier. And speaking of “bones.”
“Good lord,” he exclaimed hoarsely, as the full picture made itself known.
“Hello, Hector,” said Freddy, in his typical smug tone, pushing himself backwards slightly, no doubt knowing damn well the effect he was having.
“Good morning, darling. Although it’s closer to tea time,” said a low, throaty voice near his ear. At least he was sure it wasn’t Marnie. That was very definitely Bel’s scent, both her perfume and otherwise. He took her presence as confirmation that he could consider himself forgiven.
He supposed he should demand some sort of explanation, and announce quite emphatically that he wasn’t that sort at all. He could tell Freddy to get the hell out, but then Bel would probably leave too. Regardless of what he might say, his body was betraying the truth. He wanted both of them and it seemed they wanted him too.
Assuming he was well enough.
“Did I have a heart attack?” he asked. His father had died of one at nearly the age Hector was now.
Bel kissed his forehead and Freddy took his hand, moving it down to properly enfold Freddy’s cock, which lengthened into his grasp. Freddy’s shuddering groan was rather deliciously desperate sounding.
“Angina, according to the doctor. He said you need to take better care of yourself. There are some nitroglycerin pills in your jacket. Are you feeling all right? Would you like us to leave?” Her breath was warm against his face and her voice was teasing.
“I’d say all the important parts are in working order. Are you both all right with this? he asked, still wondering exactly how the three of them had come to be here, in what he guessed was his bed at the small inn where they were staying during their assignment. He was meant to be taking care of them, not dragging them into a ménage a trois.
“Oh for god’s sake, Hector,” said Freddy, managing to sound both aroused and aggrieved at the same time. “Do you want me to put on one of Bel’s scarves again?”
So Freddy had noticed his reaction that night. And didn’t seem to mind. At least not right now. Then it was down to him to make a decision. He could still stop this. Insist that Freddy and Bel come to their senses and leave his room immediately. That would be the decent thing to do.
Sod the decent thing.
Hector squeezed Freddy’s cock more firmly and leaned his head back so Bel could kiss him fully on the lips. He told himself he wasn’t like Adam Le Ray. He’d never deliberately sought this out, and he had no intention of actually buggering Freddy, even if there were room in the bed for that. It was amazing enough that no one had fallen out yet.
He kept rubbing himself against Freddy’s arse, while Freddy frantically thrust into Hector’s fist. Bel kept up a steady stream of deliciously lewd encouragement, along with biting and nibbling at his neck and even flicking at his nipples with her fingernails. He lost himself in pure sensuality, forgetting all the possible consequences.
His body tensed as he matched his own rhythm to Freddy’s, and he felt the most delicious rush as a shiver went through his whole being. His release came out in a muffled moan against Freddy’s sweaty neck. Not surprisingly, Freddy came loudly and in a messy gush in Hector’s hand, and Hector couldn’t help enjoying the feeling of power he had at that moment, even as he struggled to get his own breath back.
Freddy was saying something. Couldn’t he just shut up for a change?
“What?” Hector demanded.
“Bit of attention for the lady,” Freddy repeated, indicating Bel.
Oh. He’d nearly forgotten her. How utterly rude.
There was a somewhat awkward shuffling of positions on that ridiculous bed, so that Bel was fully stretched out on the bed and Freddy moved his way down her body and between her legs with both gusto and familiarity.
Hector found himself transfixed and slightly embarrassed. He considered himself a man of the world, but he’d never been in this kind of situation before. Watching Freddy use his mouth to please Bel so thoroughly made him feel more like a pervert than having it off with Freddy had. Bel reached for his hands and he contributed what he could by caressing her breast and daring to pinch her nipples. The response was so gratifying that he increased the pressure, unable to take his eyes off her face. Freddy did something that caused her to grab his hands again and squeeze tightly as her whole body seemed to convulse and spasm, her eyes shut tightly and a full-blown scream filling the room.
If Marnie burst through the door and caught him in flagrante delicto, it would still have been worth it. At least she was bothering to knock…what on earth?
“How long has that infernal knocking been going on?” he asked.
“What knocking?” said Freddy, who looked a bit dazed himself. “Oh, that knocking.”
Even Bel had sat up and got a worried expression on her face.
“It’s your room,” Bel whispered, as though she hadn’t just been screaming loudly enough to be heard three counties over.
“Hold on,” Hector called out, “I’m not decent. “ Freddy couldn’t seem to hold in a snort and Bel actually smacked him. Hector got up and found his robe. “Who is it?” he said, feeling like a character in some ridiculous bedroom farce.
He opened the door a crack to find Andre standing there, looking as implacably disgusted as ever, complete with cigarette between his lips.
“Are you well?”
“Well, enough. You were magnificent yesterday. I’m sorry I was too…that I couldn’t keep up.”
Andre put up a hand to stop him and more or less walked into the room where Bel and Freddy were both running around in a state of profound dishabille. Bel was attempting to get her brassiere on, while simultaneously combing her hair and Freddy had nothing on but his pants. It was the first time he’d seen a genuine smile on Andre’s face.
“Sorry to have broken in on your….”
“Yes, Andre what is it?”
“It’s Monsieur Harvey.”
“What?” Freddy burst out, pulling on a pair of trousers. Only he seemed to be putting them on backwards. “Laurence Harvey is here?”
“He’s having tea downstairs, but he wants to see you. All of you. And me.”
“Good lord!!” Bel exclaimed, “We caught his dealer and now…”
“Now he wants to talk,” said Freddy.
Hector was still confused.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s time to go work,” Freddy replied. “We’ve got ourselves an interview.”
It felt odd to be back at the Alexandra Palace, odder still to be waiting outside Lix’s office waiting for a verdict on his future, while sitting between Bel and Freddy. Freddy still had a hint of a cut on his lip and a bruise on his cheekbone. Hector had a bottle of nitroglycerine and instructions to put it under his tongue should he start to experience the angina symptoms again. Bel was…still stunning, and at the moment, her face completely unreadable. None of them had any idea what Lix’s contacts at the CBC thought of their “achievement.”
They’d certainly come back with something, Hector thought. In return for not telling exactly what they’d found out from a certain Benny “The Doctor” Carpenter, they’d got nearly ninety minutes of Laurence Harvey. Hector had still been a bit flustered when they came down to the kitchen where Andre already had his camera set up. Luckily Mr. Harvey was in an extremely talkative mood, starting with the “ghastly misunderstanding” that had kept him from talking to them earlier. Apparently his agent thought they were with one of those “dreadful tabloids,” rather than the esteemed Canadian Broadcasting Company.
With that out of the way, he’d proceeded to address some of the rumours about himself. Yes, he was Lithuanian, although he’d actually grown up in South Africa. Yes, his family was Jewish, although he declined to state exactly what his own beliefs might be. and There was no way Hector had any intention of pressing him on that, no matter what kind of gesticulations Freddy might be making on the other side of the camera. The topic of Mr. Harvey’s homosexuality wasn’t brought up, although Hector had seen Pantomime Dames who acted less camp., The tone got even more catty when something stronger than Darjeeling was added to the cup from a silver flask that the actor just happened to have brought around.
Laurence had opinions on the state of the British film industry (pathetic), British Politics (he appeared to lean Labour, with a hefty dose of Trotsky-ism) and his fellow actors, whose manhood or femininity he seemed to feel free to impugn as though there no camera running at all. Dirk Bogarde, David Niven, Flora Robson, and Jean Kent were all thoroughly slandered as deviants, sell-outs or harridans before a messenger arrived to say that Mr. Harvey was required back on the set.
Hector had felt in deep need of a stiff drink himself by that time. Surely the whole thing was thoroughly actionable and would never see the light of day. Perhaps that was the exact idea.
Then there was Mr. Carpenter himself, currently in custody and “cooperating with the authorities,” which no doubt meant an interrogation far stronger than that which had been doled out on the grass by Freddy and Andre. Carpenter was quite the character and Interpol had taken over the case, since the hashish he was selling didn’t grow in Scunthorpe. Instead of being hailed as heroes, saving the flower of England from the evils of narcotics, it was implied that Hector, Bel and Freddy had nearly mucked up a months-long Scotland Yard investigation into allegations of drug use in the film industry.
The crowning indignity was having to tell Marnie about his medical condition. She shrieked and called for the family doctor who said about what was expected regarding cigarettes and perhaps a few less Sunday dinners. She did coo over her autographed photo, giving Cliff a place of honour on the mantle, displacing her own mother. Mummy’s photo ended up being shunted to the library, where it was unlikely Marnie would ever see it again. It did seem that Hector would avoid the invalid’s home for a few more years. Whether he’d be insurable to run around conducting interviews farther afield than Blackpool was anybody’s guess.
Of course the burning question of the day was whether anyone would be interested in having him do so. He let his hand fall just subtlety enough to barely touch Bel’s on one side and his leg brushed Freddy’s on the other. Whatever was to come they would face it together.
Lix came out of her office, with a half smoked cigarette in one hand and sheaf of papers that appeared to be telegrams in the other. She took a drag and let out a sigh, shaking her head.
“You’ve certainly made a muddle of things, haven’t you children?”
Hector looked up, ready to take his medicine, probably a thorough scolding and a second banishment from the hallowed halls of broadcast journalism.
Then he noticed just the hint of a smile in her eyes followed by an amused smirk. Bel must have seen it too because she turn to Hector with a relieved smile and Freddy relaxed into his usual slouch.
“Well, the Canadians want nothing to do with the lot of you. They’ve even sacked Andre.”
“Is that the good news or the bad news,” asked Freddy. Hector could sense that Bel was trying to smother a chuckle.
“That remains to be seen doesn’t it? The BBC has agreed to hire you all back, and they’ve offered Andre a contract as well. Not sure if that’s for his photography or his off-camera interrogation skills.”
Freddy was out of his seat like a big Labrador, trying to smother Lix in some kind of embrace, which she expertly fended off with the lit end of her fag, instantly putting Freddy back on guard.
“What it is Lix? When do we leave for Port Au Prince or Saigon or Budapest? I’m sure my passport’s good and Hector’s had all his shots.”
Hector shot a glare in Freddy’s direction, not terribly keen to have anything discussed that even vaguely related to his health.
“Oh, you’re going somewhere all right. I’m just not sure you’re to like it. Believe it or not, our dear Auntie Beeb is determined to reach out to a younger audience. The upper echelon took a look at your interview with Cliff Richard and determined that you are their best bet to cover popular culture for the teen-age set.”
“Lix, no,” groaned Bel in what Hector assumed was only partially faux disgust and Freddy looked like he was ready to do one of his famous walk-outs.
“Take it or leave it,” Lix replied, putting her hands up.
“We’ll take it,” said Hector abruptly. “We’ll be together right?” Freddy, Bel and Lix all looked at him questioningly, “working together, I mean,” he amended, even though that’s exactly what he didn’t mean. What he’d found in that crowded bed in Surrey wasn’t something he was willing to lose again.
Bel and Freddy exchanged a look and then nodded.
Lix cocked her head to the side and looked at them all-too-knowingly for Hector’s taste.
“I do hope you all know what you’re doing. You won’t survive another scandal, any of you. And you’ll need those passports. You’re going to Germany.”
“Why on earth?” Hector wondered out loud. “I know they’re allies now and all, but what could they possibly have over there that young people would be interested in?”
Lix held up her stack of telegrams.
“They’ve had, for the past two years, one very specific young man, stationed at Friedberg who I’ve gotten advance word is going to be discharged in the next week. When he is, you will be there, along with Andre to interview him for the BBC.”
Even Freddy looked perplexed and Lix let out another sigh.
“Go and get me Elvis Presley.”