Lanyon gave one of his queer, Etruscan smiles. ‘I used to wish I had a friend like Brook. But I shouldn’t have bolted from him. Or strung him along.’
‘Please don’t be difficult, my dear.’
‘Aren’t you inventing scruples where there needn’t be any? You want me, and you’re not getting what you need at home. If he doesn’t want—he can hardly resent—’
‘Oh, shut up, do,’ Frank said warmly. ‘You’re talking like a tart. Don’t you ever think about what you want?’ He paused, thinking perhaps he’d been too harsh. ‘If the answer really is a middle-aged minor authority on Asclepian inscription at Pergamon with an incipient paunch and a game leg—motorbike crash, by the way, though it was during the war—then I take it all back, of course.’
Lanyon tilted his head and sneered in a brash, exhibiting manner, ‘I’ll fucking well make you take it back.’ A disinterested twentieth of Frank’s mind revised his schedule for the boy’s metamorphosis from counterfeit into genuine rent by about six weeks; to mild self-disgust, he found it joining with the other nineteen parts in excitement. Lanyon darted towards him; Frank, who had the advantage in weight, sobriety and experience, only just managed to deflect the embrace. Fencer, he remembered. He seized Lanyon’s lapel and flung him back to arm’s length.
‘Listen to me, Lanyon. What you were accused of being at school, or play-acted at with that shit Mansel, I am in fact. I won’t spare you and I won’t pay—’ the Shakespearean sense of the verb struck him through all the turbulence of desire and he fought a rising bleb of mirth, snapping, ‘I mean, I’m damned if I’ll make a whore of a gentleman. Now tell me again to take it back. Or go to bed. On your own.’
Frank saw he had shocked him out of his pose, though not his defiance—the suspicion was to come to him, gibbering and chittering, in the early, wakeful hours of several subsequent mornings that he had conjured from his own concupiscence the glint of arousal in the boy’s pale blue eye, that Lanyon was so hungry for affection that he was prepared to endure any prelude to it.
‘Take—take it back. Please, Maddox.’
Frank released him. ‘Very well. My bedroom is the one on the right. There’s a small sofa in there: go and get yourself over the arm of it.’ He forgave himself the touch of personation in his crisp, prefectly tone, for it was mirrored and more in the boy’s elaborately casual rise and faggish saunter.
Frank knew he must have slept, because thin, grey, urban light was visible at the join of the curtains and their edges. Knowing from long experience that sleep was as little to be commanded as the sea by Canute, he rolled out of bed and put on his dressing-gown and slippers. Lanyon—Frank had, at some tender stage of the night, felt moved to use his Christian name, but choked on the vulgar pronunciation with which the boy had been introduced, while sensing that the one which he should naturally have employed was nonetheless not quite proper to its addressee. He remembered a transaction, unlike this unequivocally commercial, during which he had offered a word of compliment on the man’s name, only to receive the rather Heraclitean response: Your name is what you’re called, sir.
Lanyon, then—lay on his back, his arm curled about nothing, snoring softly. His fine hair was charmingly disordered, and despite the open mouth his face communicated a proud serenity. Frank felt a sentimental impulse to watch him sleep, but concluding it faintly sinister, hobbled towards the door, leaving him to the repose due to valour and sacrifice. The boy would rise as stiff as a soldier who had spent the night in roadside dust after battle—he was not well-fleshed and it formed no part of Frank’s pleasure to give quarter.
It had been a night to furnish matter for self-reproach and self-abuse for months to come. Frank waddled into the galley kitchen and made coffee, which he did Turkish-fashion on the gas ring. He was under no illusions about why he had chosen the racquet-handle: Lanyon was, in point of stature and colouring, a fairly close simulacrum of David at fifteen. The howling, airless void of self-loathing would yawn in due course, but for now Frank thought as Augustine, not yet. Older and more resilient than David had been then, but poorly nourished and insufficiently rested, Lanyon took seven before he was reduced to the state of reeling pallor that was Frank’s perverse and wrenching joy. He brought him round with caresses and kisses, at first infinitely gentle, becoming by degrees more unrestrained until the boy was himself adamant and urgent. Frank cradled him in his lap to fuck him, thinking of an interesting red-figure krater he’d seen in Cyprus, and tossed him off with his hand after. The period of recuperation pertaining to Nineteen being about an eighth of that of even a tolerably vigorous and infrequently exercised Forty-Three, it was a procedure he was obliged to repeat with his mouth while he mustered his own energies. But before Lanyon fell asleep in his arms Frank had again beaten (four cuts) and buggered him (impersonally, over the footboard of the bed).
He decanted the bituminous contents of the saucepan into a cup and shuffled into the drawing room, dimly aware that guilt had taken possession of some corner of his consciousness and was beginning to worry it, as a neglected, ill-trained puppy might a dangling counterpane. He deflected it with thoughts of how he might help the boy: his income could easily absorb a furnished room at a pound or two a week—he realised what he was proposing and bile leapt burning up his gorge. He sipped the heavily sugared tar as if to suppress it. Frank’s social contacts had been essentially conventional for many years; he could think of no-one who might be both willing and able to help. The superficial eccentricity of the guests at Nell Crayshaw’s parties was no good at all; what was needed was a more profound irregularity, that of the businessmen fixers who enclosed their many aberrations within unassailable carapaces of pinstripe. He knew no-one like that. No, he knew one.
That one was no doubt a man of extraordinary fortitude—how many queers in a thousand would have had the courage to follow through as Hall had done? And yet he found him heavy and tedious, like double helpings of the English puddings his mother abominated. Frank thought Hall's companion—a rough, lively working man—easier to get on with, and tried hard not to reflect upon why that was. David, with his jovial forgiveness of absurdity, was deeply fond of Hall, and on speaking of him always sighed and said if only one could write his story and have it published. Frank replied you might, if you made him a woman, to which David laughed heartily, Good God, my dear, Hutch’s would never take it. I’d land them with the obscenity trial of the century!
Frank went to the desk—a communal property—and burrowed in the drawers. He had never really understood what Hall did, exactly: it seemed to involve much going up and down in the earth, and some of it perhaps took place at the outer bounds of legality; but he certainly knew many men in shipping firms, and his world was greased by mutual favour. He retrieved a dusty index book, at least six or seven years old, bound in black cloth, and turned to H. The address, the only one of several not struck through, was in Malta. What were the chances? Next to nil, but what else or more could he do?
From somewhere unsettlingly close, attenuated and pristine and hazardous, a cockcrow sounded. Who the bloody hell keeps chickens in SW3? Frank thought, and reflecting that though he'd never had much to do with them, the district was probably seething with homespun, yoghourt-guzzling autarkic types, reached for writing-paper and ink.