Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Lewis VI

Six Excerpts from the Autobiography of Jonathan Spenser
Nexis Pas
Brighton, 2008

© 2008 by the author.

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The events depicted in this story did not happen and are not based on my life. Please do not confuse me with my characters.

This one is for Murphy.

Part VI

– 15 —

And what happened later? As I said at the beginning, we have more or less lived happily ever after. Harry—everyone knows how successful he has been. And roses crown his head. And me, I gradually gained a reputation. The productions I was asked to direct grew more and more important. Eventually I was opening new productions on the West End instead of organizing revivals in the provinces. And Lewis—well, he’s been the big surprise, hasn’t he? But, then, I wouldn’t have been asked to write this memoir if I weren’t associated with Lewis. Both Harry and I are known in our respective circles, but the wider world finds it easy to ignore us. But not Lewis. And all because he tried to reconcile me and mother.


‘Hello, you are Jonathan. I recognise you from the picture.’ A very blond young man was sitting on a chair beside the fireplace in the living room. He leaped up as I entered. He spoke with a slight accent.

‘And you are?’ I had just returned from shopping and had my hands full of packages. I hadn’t expected to find someone waiting for me, and I was startled enough by the strange voice to drop one of the bags I was holding. I didn’t know what annoyed me more—to have my identity confirmed by a stranger (did he think I was in doubt?) or to find another of Lewis’s strays invading our living room.

The young man hastened to relieve me of my burdens. ‘I am Helmut, Helmut Albrecht. We have spoken on the phone. I am your mother’s assistant. Where should I put these?’ He held the bags up.

‘Oh, yes, of course. I should have recognised your voice. Put them anywhere. I’ll take care of them later. Has something happened to mother?’ I gave myself points for at least remembering to enquire for once.

‘No, no, she is fine. You are not to worry. She wants to meet your . . . friend the singer. She was free today and had me drive her down today just to meet him. But your other . . . friend, he says that this Harry is not here. He won’t be back until this evening. So he is making us all to eat, and we are staying the night.’

‘And where are Lewis and mother?’

‘They are upstairs watching that show, Belsize Terrace. Your mother cannot watch it always because she is out of the country so much. But your . . . friend, he has the videotapes of all the shows, and he and your mother are watching them. He is showing her the episodes she missed.’

‘Mother watches Belsize Terrace?’ That came as a total surprise to me.

‘It is her favourite, I am thinking.’

‘I didn’t know that.’ Lewis’s devotion to the show was total. He had videotapes of most of the episodes, and he even belonged to clubs that discussed every detail of the show at length. ‘I take it you are not a fan either.’

‘No, when Lou-eess asked your mother if she wanted to see shows that she had missed, she said yes, and they both went upstairs, almost running. I excused myself and am reading.’ Hel­mut’s almost impeccable English faltered with he pronounced Lewis’s name. He positively hissed. Apparently Lou-eess had not made a great impression on Helmut, but Helmut may have misjudged the nature of Lewis’s interest in my mother. Whatever Lewis was doing, he was not suborning her affections, whatever those might be, for Helmut.

‘I have no interest in the Terrace either, but as you have seen Lewis does. I had better go upstairs and say hello to mother. If they plan to continue watching the show, I will come back shortly. We can go to a pub if you want a drink.’

I trudged up the stairs. The news that mother was anxious to meet Harry worried me. I wondered how she had found out that Harry and I were living together. At that time, it still wasn’t generally known. And I also wondered what Lewis was doing. He needed very little time to charm anyone when he wanted to, although obviously he hadn’t expended any effort on Helmut.

‘Dorothy is so noble. She suffers so much because of that awful bastard Harold. And her children! That Jack couldn’t be worse. And Eve is a tramp. Dorothy deserves better. But she never lets herself become discouraged.’ As I came through the door my mother was nodding in agreement with Lewis’s assessment of Dorothy and the proximate causes of her manifold woes.

‘And that Viviane. The way she treats her sister.’ Mother was equally indignant on Dorothy’s behalf.

‘Mother, this is a surprise.’ Both of them turned around at the interruption.

‘Jonathan, my dearest child.’ (Incorrect use of the superlative, Mother, thought I. I am your only child. None other to compare me with.) Mother held out a hand toward me. I stepped forward and lightly and briefly clasped her hand. ‘Your darling friend Lewis is helping me catch up with all the episodes of the Terrace that I missed while I was travelling. The dear man has tapes of all the shows.’

Lewis glowered at me. ‘You should have let your mother know that I have tapes of all the episodes since October 1983. I could have arranged to send her copies so that she keep up with the Terrace while she was overseas.’ I had evidently violated some canon of filiality in regard to the Terrace.

‘I didn’t know that mother watched the Terrace, Lewis. We don’t share information about our viewing habits. I am so sorry, Mother. Had I known of your addiction, I would have arranged for Lewis to be your supplier.’

Mother gave Lewis one of those ‘you see what I have to put up with’ glances. ‘You are also guilty of hiding Mr Castlemain. I am here to meet him.’

‘I’m sure that Harry will be honoured, Mother. Now if the two of you want to go back to viewing the Terrace, I will take Helmut out for a drink. He is languishing downstairs at loose ends. A rather poor use to make of such a beautiful young man. I gather that you have invited mother and Helmut for dinner, Lewis. What time should we return?’

When Helmut and I arrived back just before 8:00, we found Harry and my mother seated across from each other at the dining table. An elaborate service was laid out, and Lewis had produced flowers from somewhere. A dozen carnations floated in a crystal bowl in the centre of the table. From the kitchen came sounds of cooking. Lewis was in his element. Harry was being worshipful, which must have flattered mother. We came in on a discussion of the roles Harry was learning, and mother was advising him with much vehemence and certainty to do the opposite of what all of his teachers and his agent were telling him to do.

Lewis came bustling in, holding a tureen of soup. ‘Ah, you are just in time. We were about to start without you. Sit down. Jonathan between your mother and Harry. Helmut, please sit here. We haven’t had a chance to talk yet, and I want to get to know you.’ Lewis sat the tureen on the table and began ladling it into bowls. How he had found time to cook at all, let alone soup and what smelled like roast chicken, was beyond me. By then I had had many opportunities to watch him cook, and I knew it was never less than an elaborate undertaking.

Poor Helmut and Harry. Neither of them stood a chance. Helmut received the full blazing force of Lewis’s charm. By the time Helmut left the next morning, he and Lewis were fast friends. And poor Harry. Mother was trying to interest him in a production of Lucia at Covent Garden three years hence. She wanted Harry to sing the role of Edgardo. After much badgering, Harry agreed that he would talk to his agent and begin learning the role. Mother, in turn, promised to demand that Covent Garden engage Harry for Edgardo. For the most part, I was left out of both conversations. Occasionally one of the participants would appeal to me for a supporting comment.

Later, after Lewis had cleared the table, and we were finishing the wine, mother and Lewis returned to the subject of Belsize Terrace. I don’t remember which of them first voiced the wish to appear on the show, but both of them quickly took it up enthusiastically. Mother, to Lewis’s delight, knew the producers. ‘I’m sure I could arrange for both of us to watch a taping. Maybe we could even appear on it, if only as extras in the Captain’s Arms.’ She named the local of the residents of the Terrace. ‘You would have to join the actor’s union, Lewis, but that’s quickly done. Oh, this will be such fun.’

Several weeks later, Lewis travelled to London to appear in an episode of the show. Mother played a minor royal who descended on the Terrace to open a community hall. Lewis was her driver and bodyguard. He wore a black chauffeur’s outfit which fit him much more closely than anyone’s comfort would allow. It also did nothing to hide his considerable physical assets (later that year he won the great arses of England award). After mother had launched the hall in proper form, there was a scene in which the cast stood around drinking tea and eating sandwiches in the hall. Mother was surrounded by the principal female characters and chatting knowledgeably in an impossibly astringent accent about juvenile delinquency and the importance of sports in building character. The camera slowly drew back to take in the crowd. Lewis was standing by the refreshments table surveying the scene. Jack, the long-suffering Dorothy’s ne’er-do-well son, approached him. Jack and Lewis exchanged a smouldering glance. Nothing was said, but it was apparent that an agreement had been reached between the two young men. And that was the start of Lewis’s acting career. He became Jack’s male bit on the side. Lewis was competing with several nubile nymphs for Jack’s attention, and he seemed to be winning the battle until an unfortunate accident on the M1 rendered him incapable of satisfying Jack’s needs. There was a poignant scene at the hospital as Lewis’s character realised that Jack was throwing him over for a muscular nurse.

Lewis loved it. He loved to be recognised on the street as Alan Horsley. The fan magazines praised him for his acting, and he was a hero in the gay pubs for playing an openly gay character with dignity and realism instead of offering yet another caricature. When Jack abandoned him in the hospital, Lewis thought that was the end of his acting days. He had a good laugh about it and went back to his job and his life with us.

It might have ended there, except that Mother persuaded a colleague of her agent to take an interest in Lewis’s career. Lewis was sent to an acting coach. A few minor appearances on television and in films followed. But it wasn’t until Paul Norman cast him in A Silence in the Eye that his career took off. Lewis’s rendering of a psychopathic contract killer was widely praised.

You may remember that in the opening scene, as the title and the names of the actors scroll up one side of the screen, two important-looking men—businessmen perhaps or high-level civil servants or maybe even politicians, we are never told—are walking along a busy street. The camera catches sight of Lewis’s face over their shoulders, his eyes focussing on them intently. Several other pedestrians separate the two men from the watcher. Gradually Lewis moves forward, his eyes occupying more and more of the screen, until he is standing directly behind the two men as they wait at a street corner for the light to change. Lewis never blinks. When the light changes and the men begin to cross the street, his eyes stare emotionlessly for a second at back of the head of one of the men. A startled look appears on the man’s face. His companion is so intent on what he is saying that he doesn’t notice immediately that the other man has tumbled to the street. By the time he reacts and realises that the man is dead, Lewis had stepped around them and continued on his way, as have a dozen other pedestrians.

Over the years Lewis and I have lived together, I have become familiar with that look. Occasionally I glance up to find Lewis looking at me with that same emotionless stare, as if he were wondering who I am or why I am there in the room with him. When he realises that I am looking at him, he smiles, but there is always a gap between the gaze and the smile. For a few seconds, the two never seem to connect. And then the smile reaches his eyes.

Lewis was hailed for his ability to lose himself in the role. ‘Immensely charming and quite insouciantly deadly’ was one critic’s assessment. The critics were under the misprision that he was acting. When I attended the premiere of the film, I came away with a new respect for Norman. He saw through Lewis’s genial façade to the inner assassin.


And so, our little ménage has continued. Lewis wasn’t successful in reconciling Mother and me completely. There’s too much history there even for him to overcome. But he and Harry became the sons she never had, and I became their tolerated friend. Harry sang several duets with her at her farewell concert, and she and Lewis and the cast of Belsize Terrace did a reprise of their famous appearance on the show to the affectionate laughter and applause of the audience. I stayed backstage and helped manage the traffic flow. My most important job was to make sure that Mother was deluged with flowers at the end.

Of course, I shall have to omit these chapters from the published account of my life. I wrote them to put the events straight in my mind. But I will press the delete key on the files when I am finished. I shall have to write another account of our relationship—a somewhat more fictional account, one that omits a great many episodes.

As my editor reminds me frequently, the public doesn’t want to read the maunderings of a neurotic man (she never uses the word ‘neurotic’, but it is obvious that is what she means). Readers, she assures me, want amusing stories about my parents and Harry and the other actors, singers, and musicians I have known, and about Lewis, particularly about Lewis. ‘A few of these revelations about your life,’ she explained in an email, ‘will add a bit of depth to the account, but only if they are widely separated by scintillating anecdotes about the famous people you have associated with. That’s what will sell books.’ And so, I will continue to write the parallel account I have been composing—the amusing, scintillating fairy tale about life in a magical kingdom governed by wise and loving royal parents and two prince charmings who wander into the castle’s garden and befriend a minor character who lives there with his cat.

Another consideration that will prevent me from revealing too much is the question of my culpability in Peter’s death. I seem to remember reading that there is no statute of limitations on murder. I’m not sure if that applies to an accomplice after the fact as well. It’s not an enquiry one can make of a lawyer or the police without raising questions about the reasons for asking it. I consulted Wikipedia, but it was uninformative on the matter. I suppose I could pretend it is background information for a play I am considering, but the police can be so suspicious. I could also tempt my editor with the revelation that Lewis apparently murdered Peter. That tale would help sales enormously, and I’m sure the publisher would consult a great many lawyers before it allowed the story to be published. That would answer the question of my criminal status, if any. But if I told her and even if the story weren’t published in the book, it would become gossip and eventually become known. Somehow I don’t think Lewis would find that amusing. Nor would I. And I am far more devoted to Lewis, and quite honestly to the comfortable life the three of us lead, than to an abstract issue of justice for Peter or sales for this book. So I will keep my suspicions to myself.

Then, too, I’ve never known if Lewis really murdered Peter. I think he did, but I’m not sure. I imagine he acted to preserve the life he was making for himself. Perhaps he wanted to protect me and Harry. It likely was some combination of those and other reasons. At some point, the truth of the matter ceased to concern me much, except as an unsolved mystery, a subject for curiosity. I sit at the table with him, eating one of his memorable meals, watching him entertain our guests, making everyone laugh and feel good about themselves. I watch him sleep, his chest rising and falling with his breath—the proverbial sleep of the innocent. He sits beside me and holds my hand chatting with delight about his days. I have seen him bound down our steps to welcome Harry back after one of his many absences and enfold Harry triumphantly in his arms, screeching ‘Siamo amore’ in that awful voice of his. Because we are Love. Love. We are love. Does he believe that?

I love Lewis. I truly do. It is less difficult to love a murderer than one might imagine. Time and custom have quelled any moral qualms I may have had, not that I ever had many of those. I like to think that Lewis did whatever he did for the three of us. It is flattering to believe that. How many people can boast to themselves that their lover killed someone to preserve their relationship?

Harry loves Lewis and me. He is the apex of our triangle.

And Lewis loves Harry. I don’t know how he regards me. Harry and I may have begun as Lewis’s ‘pension plan’, as Peter put it so long ago. I know Lewis didn’t love me when he brought the three of us together. Oh, he liked me, and he could tolerate me. But he didn’t love me. He may have said he did, but at best he found me useful. He had fallen in love with Harry, and he needed help in retaining Harry’s affections, and I supplied that. I was his backup singer, the supporting actor to his leading man.

Lewis is a great actor. I don’t think Harry has ever suspected just how great an actor Lewis is. I knew he was acting, and for me the act was enough. He was my pension plan too.

But if you act the part and play the role long enough and say the lines over and over, the role becomes your truth. Perhaps he loves me now.

And that's the end of this story. If you have any comments, I would love to read them. Please send them to


I will be away for two weeks and then will resume work on The Designated Listener.


Saturday, 15 March 2008

Lewis V

The four previous parts are below.

Six Excerpts from the Autobiography of Jonathan Spenser

Nexis Pas

Brighton, 2008

© 2008 by the author.

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The events depicted in this story did not happen and are not based on my life. Please do not confuse me with my characters.

This one is for Murphy.

Part V

– 12 —

Lewis’s call did nothing to allay my fears. It simply added another layer to them. Each time he told me not to worry, it made me worry all the more. I couldn’t imagine what arguments he could use to persuade Peter to leave us alone. In fact, I was sure that any such appeal would let Peter know that he had found a target and make him want to hit it again and again. On the other hand, I found myself hoping against all reason that Lewis had indeed found a way to neutralise Peter.

The rehearsals went badly that day, and I’m afraid I wasn’t much help to the cast. I was far too distracted. Finally about 2:00, I called a halt and suggested that we all take the weekend off and start afresh on Monday. That won a round of applause, and the theatre emptied quickly. Because I got an earlier start than I had anticipated, I was able to make it to Edinburgh before 9:00. I was so exhausted that I fell right asleep and, to my surprise, didn’t wake up until almost 8:00 the next morning.

To my surprise, the meetings in Edinburgh went well. I think I was just relieved to put more distance between myself and Peter. Just being so far away made it easier for me to relax. Peter couldn’t find me. I also managed to dispose of the remains of the videotape. I had cut it up into even finer pieces and distributed it among several bags. A single bag went into the hotel wastebaskets in Birmingham and Edinburgh and the litter bins at the theatre, three petrol stations, and the places I stopped along the road. Disposing of the tape did not dispose of my anxieties, however. I was growing used to them, but still the thought of Peter’s threats were enough to make my stomach clench. The closer I got to Birmingham on Sunday, the stronger my fears grew. I had managed to escape them for a while, but they were waiting for my return.

As I was checking back into the hotel in Birmingham, the desk clerk handed me four message slips. Two were from the stage manager, one was from Harry with a number that I recognised as the phone in his flat, and the last one was from a Detective Inspector Geoff Harnesby. The number was for the Brighton area. The stage manager tended to be rendered overwrought by trifles, and I wasn’t particularly concerned about his calls. Harry should still have been in Norfolk—he had planned to return on Thursday or Friday—and I suspected something had gone wrong. I had no idea why a detective inspector was trying to reach me, but I didn’t like the sound of that.

The clerk obviously was most interested in the last message and drew my attention to it. ‘The inspector was most insistent that you call him back as soon as you arrived.’ The clerk must have hungered for the days when all calls would have been routed through the hotel operator, and he could have listened in.

I tried to look nonchalant, as if calls from the police were a daily occurrence in my life. ‘Did he mention what this was about?’ The clerk shook his head no. I wondered if he had asked. ‘Well, I will call him later. I had best find something to eat before the restaurants close.’

‘He was particularly anxious that you should ring him tonight.’

‘Oh, I will. Geoff tends to be imperious, and I wouldn’t want to anger him. The last time I did, he handcuffed me to the bedposts and used me mercilessly.’ I leered lasciviously at the clerk. ‘It was great fun.’ The clerk drew back and pursed his lips in disdain. He reached the conclusion I had hoped for. Being in the theatre and from Brighton made it easy to deflect his interest from my potential wrongdoings to a gay tryst.

I rang Harry first. His hello sounded dejected. I tried a bravado I didn’t quite feel. ‘Am I speaking to the Harry Castlemain, rising star of the opera world and world-renowned pleasurer of felines?’

‘Oh, Jonathan. You’re back.’ The relief in his voice was palpable, and also very flattering. At least someone I loved and admired, loved and admired me as well. In my mind’s eye, I could see Harry standing there on the other end, holding the phone to his ear, looking slightly frayed and rumpled. With his free hand, he pushed the hair off his forehead.

‘Yes, I am back.’ I struggled to find words to begin. Finally I decided to confront whatever was bothering him. ‘Harry, I suppose we could enquire about our respective trips and make polite conversation, but somehow I don’t think that’s why you called, is it? You’re back in Brighton, and I’m guessing that means that things didn’t go well with the parents.’

‘They weren’t happy. Not happy at all. They tried to be polite and supportive, but I could see that they were very disappointed in me. We couldn’t find anything to say to one another, and so I left. Two days of silence and not talking were enough. I think they were relieved that I was going. They can ignore the “problem” now and pretend I hadn’t spoken.’

‘Perhaps they just need a little time to get used to the idea. No. I’m sorry. That’s all wrong. You don’t need false reassurances and sympathy.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with false reassurances and sympathy. I’ll take them any day over the guilt I’ve been feeling for the past few days. I feel like I’ve done something terribly wrong and deserve to be punished. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have disturbed you with my problems, Jonathan. I just didn’t have anyone to talk with. I can’t stand being in this room by myself and I don’t want to go out and face other people.’

‘Harry, the last thing you should do is to feel that you have to punish yourself for being gay. There are plenty of people willing to do that already. And you do have someone to talk with. Two people as a matter of fact. And your problems are not a disturbance. They are our problems too. We all knew it wasn’t going to be an easy conversation.’

There was a choking sound at the other end of the line. After a brief silence, Jonathan spoke again. ‘If I had said, “Mom, Dad, I’ve met this wonderful woman, and we want to move in together”, they would have been so happy. But when I said, “Mom, Dad, I met these two wonderful men, and we’re going to live together”, my mom started crying and my dad scolded me for upsetting her. Why does it have to make such a difference that we’re gay? And why do I feel that I’m the one who’s done something really horrible?’

‘It’s never easy, Jonathan. We’re never what our parents want us to be. What did Lewis say?’

‘I can’t find Lewis. No one has seen him for days.’

‘He called me on Friday. He was going to spend the weekend at his parents. You could try calling them. His father must be in the directory—all doctors have a listing. Roland Quinn, I’m sure it’s Roland. Does that sound right? But there can’t be more than one Doctor Quinn in Shalford. Just ask for Doctor Quinn’s number. Lewis is only an hour’s drive away, Harry. He must be going to work tomorrow. He’ll have to return tonight.’

‘I’ll try. It’s good to hear your voice, to talk with you. I feel better just hearing you.’ There was a sniffle on Harry’s end of the line.

‘It makes me feel good to hear you say that.’ Harry and I were whispering. No one could have heard us, but we both wanted, needed, intimacy at that moment. I felt as if we were standing together, our foreheads pressed together and our arms around each other. The elations and illusions of love. ‘Harry, have you called your parents since you got back?’

‘No. I thought about it, but I keep putting it off.’

‘I think you should. Of course, it’s easy for me to say that because I won’t be making the call, but I think you should tell them that you love them. Just that. Concentrate on what’s essential and valuable and let the rest go for now.’

Harry and I continued to talk for another fifteen minutes. We didn’t really say much of any importance. But the subject matter of the conversation held little significance. What was important was that we were having the conversation. That Harry had someone to talk to about his problems and that I had someone who trusted me with his problems. Before we rang off, he promised me that he would try Lewis at his parents’ home and then call his parents.

Harry’s troubles had pushed the thought of the other phonecalls out of my mind for a few minutes. I shuffled the other three slips of paper around on the desk that held the phone, arranging them in triangles and then aligning them up in neat rows as I pondered what to do. Finally I decided I had best call DI Harnesby before I ate. My stomach would be in better shape if I knew what he wanted. My call to the number listed on the message form connected to a constable at a switchboard in some office in the Sussex Police. Harnesby was not there, but the constable took my name and number and told me that she would contact Harnesby and he would ring me. I told her I could only wait for half an hour and then had to go out to eat. That didn’t go over well, but she said she would relay the message. My phone rang only a couple minutes later.

The voice on the other end was very hoarse. ‘Mr Spenser? This is Detective Inspector Harnesby of the Sussex Fire Investigation Squad.’

‘Oh my god. Has something happened to my house? My cat . . .’

‘No, no. Mr Spenser. As far as I know, your house is fine. And your cat. I’m sorry to interrupt your weekend, but we needed some information on Peter Framingham, and we were told . . .’

‘Peter? I don’t understand. Has something happened to Peter?’

‘Haven’t you seen the news reports?’

‘No, I’ve been travelling. I haven’t read a paper or even watched the television news.’

‘I’m sorry to tell you this, Mr Spenser, but there was a fire at Mr Framingham’s house last Thursday night. It was almost completely destroyed. I’m afraid that Mr Framingham was killed. The fire started late at night. By the time someone saw it and called it in and the fire brigade arrived, the house was already largely destroyed.’

I started retching. The bile rose into my throat. A picture of Peter burning leaped into my mind.

‘Mr Spenser. I just have a few questions. I know this is a difficult moment for you, but we need information about the contents of Mr Framingham’s house, and you were identified to us as a friend of Mr Framingham’s and someone likely to be familiar with his house. We were given your name by one of his colleagues, a Mr Leonard Barkin.’ The inspector continued calmly on, even though the sounds of my gagging must have been audible to him. ‘It won’t take but a few moments of your time, and it is important that we have this information quickly. I realise that this is a bad time for you. If it’s any consolation, Mr Framingham would have been overcome by the smoke and died of that quickly. He would have been unconscious soon after the fire started. Do you need a few moments? I can ring back.’

‘You said fire investigation. Did someone set the fire?’

‘You mustn’t leap to conclusions, Mr Spenser. We gather information on all fires that involve deaths. We are simply trying to determine why the fire appears to have developed so quickly. It appears to have started in a room between the sitting room and the kitchen. Can you tell us what Mr Framingham used that room for and what it held?’

I had to force myself to calm down. ‘It’s his home office. He owns an animation and film processing company. But you probably already know that.’ I tried to think. I knew the room the inspector was referring to. I had been in it many times. But at the moment, I couldn’t call any mental pictures of it to mind.

‘Mr Spenser?’

‘I’m sorry, Inspector. I’m just finding it hard to gather my thoughts.’ I swallowed several times to rid my throat of the taste of the bile that risen into it. ‘The room has video equipment—recorders, an editing machine. Peter likes to work at home at night. He evidently often stayed up late working. He once told me it was much quieter there than at the office, and he could think better out in the country.’

‘One wall appears to have held bookshelves.’ The inspector’s voice was much calmer than mine. I suppose he needed certain bits of information, and ignoring my hysterics must have seemed the best way to deal with them.

‘Yes. But not books. That’s where he stored his videotapes and films. He had a large collection. His own work. Things he recorded off the television. Tapes he bought. Films. There must have been hundreds of them.’ Including Peter’s special collection of tapes of me and others, although I didn’t tell the inspector that.

‘Did Mr Framingham drink?’

‘He usually had a glass or two of whiskey after dinner.’

‘Did he ever drink more than that?’

‘Not often. He wasn’t a heavy drinker. He could sip a glass of whiskey for a couple of hours.’

‘And he smoked.’

‘Yes, constantly. I guess you could say that he was a chain smoker.’

‘One of his assistants—’ There was a rustling of papers in the background. ‘A Miss Elliott—told us that she occasionally found cigarettes smouldering in wastebaskets at work where Mr Framingham had dumped them. Once, I understand, it was necessary to use a fire extinguisher to put a blaze out. Did you ever see anything like that?’

‘Not personally. He told me about the fire in the wastebasket, though. He thought it a good joke on himself. He usually just threw his cigarettes in the fireplace.’

‘Did he stub them out before he threw them in?’

‘Not completely. Peter can be an impatient man. At most he might crush the end a bit on the ashtray and then just toss it toward the fireplace. Sometimes he missed. The flooring in front of the fireplace apron had several burn marks on it.’

‘His office had no fireplace. How did he dispose of his cigarettes there?’

‘I don’t know, Inspector. I never observed him working in his office. He did have ashtrays throughout the house. They were always full.’

‘Where was the wastebasket in his office?’

‘I wouldn’t know that, Inspector. I seldom went into that room. Maybe four or five times in the years I’ve known Peter. There never was any reason for me to go in there.’

‘Do he use drugs or medications?’

‘Drugs, no. I’m certain about that. He had bad allergies and took a prescription medicine for them.’

‘Would you know his doctor’s name?’

‘Not his name. He went to a doctor in Brighton, I know. He had the prescriptions filled at a Boots down the street from his office. We stopped in there once so that he could refill one.’

That was the last of the inspector’s questions. He rang off after again offering his condolences. My appetite had vanished. I turned off the lights in the room and sat beside the window, watching the traffic in the street below.

I could see Peter working at the table in his office, as I had seen him do so many times. His attention focussed on the television screen in front of him, making notes on a pad of yellow paper. Occasionally lifting the ever-present glass of whiskey and drinking from it. The constant puffing on cigarettes, the air in the room filled with currents of drifting blue-grey smoke. The wastebasket that stood in the corner next to the drapes and the shelves filled with videotapes and films. He goes to stub out his cigarette and discovers the ashtray is full. With a gesture of impatience, he empties the ashtray in the wastebasket and returns his attention to the screen and his work. As usual, the wastebasket is filled with sheets of paper he has wadded up and scraps of video film.

Peter is so intent on his work that he doesn’t notice the first puffs of smoke and then the flames rising from the wastebasket. The noise of the video covers the crackling. It isn’t until the curtains catch on fire that he becomes aware of the fire. He starts up in a panic and catches foot on a leg of the table or stumbles over a crumpled up rug. He trips and strikes his head on the edge of the table, knocking himself out. By this time the tapes on the shelves have begun to burn, and the unconscious Peter is overcome by the fumes.

His converted farmhouse is hidden behind a row of tall shrubberies. It is late at night. No one is using the road. The nearest house is half a mile away, its occupants asleep behind closed and locked windows, oblivious to everything. No one notices the fire until the house is ablaze and the flames are visible over the top of the hedgerows. The fire brigade doesn’t arrive for another twenty–thirty minutes. By that time, it is too late. Peter is dead and his house is destroyed, along with whatever evidence he had of my indiscretions.

I barely registered the car lights on the streets below. I was sickened more by the terror of burning to death than by the fact that it was Peter who had died. I kept seeing the flames mounting around me, surrounding me, the heat and the smoke choking me, making it impossible to breathe, and the flames moving ever closer to me. I put no trust in the inspector’s confident assertion that it was an easy death. It was a horror, far from the painless lapse into sleep that we all hope for. To see death coming and to know that it would be agony, not a few seconds of some sharp stabbing pain as one’s heart spasmed, followed by an unfamiliar silence, the first time in one’s life that the sound of the heart beating wasn’t part of the background noise, and then the dizziness and the oblivion as oxygen ceased to flow to the brain.

But for Peter, I felt no great regret. I did not wish him the death he had, but I was not so much of a hypocrite as to pretend that I felt a great loss. Our association, for that is all that it was, was more a matter of convenience to both of us. There was no attachment other than a vague sense that each of us supplied the other with services and opportunities he enjoyed. Perhaps my tears were for him, perhaps they were just a release of the emotions that had been gnawing at me for several days. Perhaps they were just an expression of the relief I felt that we were no longer in any danger from Peter. His carelessness—the arrogant assumption that nothing would ever happen to him, that a lit cigarette tossed into a basket full of paper and celluloid fragments wouldn’t start a fire—had resulted in his death. He and his tapes were gone. And I was free. We were free. Lewis and Harry and I were free. Peter couldn’t harm me, couldn’t harm us any more.

I suppose that seems callous. Well, it is. Horror mingled with relief. Frightened and happy and nauseous at the same time.

– 13 —

The next morning, I hunted up all the papers I could find in the hotel and the theatre. The first reports had only brief accounts of the fire and withheld the identity of the dead man until his family had been notified. The Sunday paper carried only a notice giving Peter’s name. It wasn’t until Wednesday that a fuller account appeared. The coroner and the police had reconstructed a course of events similar to the one I had imagined. One thing surprised me, however. The coroner had been able to determine that Peter had ingested a substantial amount of Quinalbarbitone as well as enough alcohol to be legally drunk; he concluded that Peter’s reactions would have been impaired when the fire started and surmised that he would have been confused and disoriented and unable to comprehend the danger and escape. The news that Peter had been drinking didn’t surprise me, but I was astonished to learn that he had taken a sedative. When I told the inspector that Peter never used drugs, I thought I was telling the truth. Peter was the type to make others take sedatives. I would never have guessed him to be the type to need a sleeping pill. Besides he knew the dangers of drugs. If he had taken a sleeping pill, he wouldn’t have been drinking.

I stayed in Birmingham until the following Sunday. The rehearsals went well, and the show opened on Thursday night to an appreciative audience and generally good reviews. I worked with the cast on a few problems on Friday and Saturday. The performance Saturday night was sold out, and ticket sales were strong for the run of the play. My role was finished. I packed up on Sunday and drove back—to an empty house. Lewis had resurfaced the previous Monday and had talked Harry into visiting first Harry’s parents on Saturday and then Lewis’s parents on Sunday. It was decided—well, really Lewis decided—that one lover at a time would be less stressful on the parents. I would be introduced into the equation at a later time. I’m also quite sure that Lewis felt he would be the best person of the three of us to deal with Harry’s parents.

The air in the house was stale and cold. Murphy must have heard my car. He met me at the front door and wrapped himself around my ankles before I even got the door shut. His friendly greeting was brief. It was quickly followed by querulous complaints of my perfidy in leaving him to the indifferent care of others.

Dealing with him and unpacking and going through the mail took me the better part of an hour. The tape on my answering machine was full, and I sat down with a tablet of paper and began jotting down notes and numbers. I had to replay several of the messages to get all the information. Most of the callers hemmed and hawed their way through the message and then speeded up just as they began reciting their phone number. My machine prefaced each message with the date and time. On the Thursday evening of the previous week at 6:38, I had received a chilling message.

‘Jonathan, my long-silent friend. You’ve been out of touch. It’s very rude of you not to keep your old friends apprised of these new developments in your life. Luckily Lewis has better manners. He called me to thank me for my wedding present to the three of you. He tells me that you are out of town. You probably missed receiving your copy of the tape I prepared for you and Lewis and your lovely new friend Harry. It’s a pity, because I know you would have enjoyed it. Lewis enjoyed it so much that he wants to see more. He’s coming over tonight to talk with me. Such a thoughtful young man you’ve found for yourself. He’s even bringing food. A nice spicy curry he made all by himself. Just for me. You know how much I like curry. He even offered to bring a bottle of my favourite whiskey. It will probably put me in such a generous mood that I will share the highlights of your performances with him. Give him pointers on how best to handle you, how to get the most out of you, how to whip you into shape, as it were. Ah, if you were there, you would probably say, “as you wish.” Well, I do wish. I feel so privileged at being able to help your relationship along and get it started on a proper footing. Well, a bientôt. I’m sure we’ll be talking soon.’

As soon as I realised I was listening to Peter’s voice, I dropped the pad of paper and the pen and cringed back against the opposite wall of the hall. The tape continued on to the next message and then the next as I stared at the machine. Innocuous and now-unimportant messages from friends and colleagues interspersed with recorded sales pitches droned on, one after the other until the tape wound down. I barely listened to them as the import of Peter’s message sank in. He had called the night he died. Lewis had visited him that night, bearing gifts. One of the hot curries Peter loved. A bottle of his favourite whiskey.

I had almost forgotten Lewis’s call on Friday morning to assure me that he had taken care of everything. Now it took on a sinister meaning. I stared at the answering machine as if it were an enemy and then frantically pushed the combination of buttons that erased the entire tape and rewound it to the beginning. A moment’s thought convinced me that even that wasn’t enough. I tore the cassette out of the machine and pulled the tape out, snapping it apart and jerking it free of the housing. I frantically rooted through the drawer underneath the phone searching for the replacement cassette I thought I had tossed in there. It wasn’t until I found it and put it into the machine and closed the cover that I began to feel safe. I gathered up the old tape and thrust it into my briefcase. I would destroy it later. I had to make sure that no one ever found this proof of Lewis’s guilt. I had to make sure that no one ever suspected Lewis.

I tried to remember if I had ever told Lewis about Peter’s habit of tossing lighted cigarettes into a wastebasket or the incidents of the fires he had started at work. Lewis’s curry could explain the drugs in Peter’s system. Lewis had made an extra-hot curry, the way Peter liked them, and used the taste to mask the flavour of the drug. He may even made a milder one for himself or told Peter that he had already eaten. He probably had some scheme to steal the tapes of me and destroy them after Peter had fallen asleep, not realising that Peter had hundreds of tapes in his office and finding all those of me would take hours. Lewis sees the wastebasket and he remembers the story of the fires Peter has started. He sees an opportunity to rid us of the blackmailer for good by using Peter’s carelessness to hide his arson. It is short work to create a flammable collection of paper and video scraps. He drags Peter into the office and arranges him next to his work table, as if he had fallen off his chair. Perhaps he even sits Peter in the chair and then topples it to the floor so that Peter falls naturally. He places the bottle of whiskey on the table, with the glass beside it. He dumps the contents of the ashtray on Peter’s work table into the basket and positions the now-empty ashtray next to the bottle.

Lewis gathers up the remains of the dinner he has brought and takes it to his car. He returns to the house and opens several windows on Peter’s ground floor. Finally, when he has prepared the scene to his satisfaction, he lights a cigarette and tosses it into the wastebasket. Or maybe he just drops a lighted match into the basket. It takes him only a few seconds to reach the front door and close it and get into his car. Even before he starts his car, the first flames are escaping the basket and rising up the curtain. The burning curtain stirs in the draught from the window, and the flames touch the wall of tapes, quickly spreading until the entire bookcase is afire. Lewis heads sedately north, continuing on to his parents’ house in Shalford, twenty miles further on. He arrives about 11:30, apologising for the lateness of the hour. He stopped to see a friend and wasn’t watching the time. Sorry about the smell of smoke. The friend is a fiend about smoking. Doesn’t the smell get in one’s clothes? I’ll have to wash these tomorrow to get rid of it.

Or perhaps Lewis only drugged Peter. When Lewis understands that his scheme is hopeless, he leaves. Peter doesn’t realise how much Quinalbarbitone he has been fed. He pours his usual after-dinner drink and starts working on a project in his office. His wits are befuddled, and he half-grinds a cigarette out and throws the stub in the wastebasket.

I couldn’t even let Lewis know what I suspected. If he hadn’t killed Peter, then the knowledge that I thought he had would end our relationship. And he would take Harry with him. He couldn’t continue to live with a person who thought he was a murderer. But if he had murdered Peter and was aware that I knew he had, then it would mean that I had condoned it and become his partner in the act. He might welcome our partnership at first, but over time the knowledge would become burdensome. If he grew tired of me, he couldn’t leave because I knew too much. He might even regard me as a threat. If he killed once, he could kill again.

I admit that my thoughts weren’t rational. I’m not at my best when I’m under stress. I tend to panic and imagine the worst. And I had no time to gather my thoughts that night. I was about to leave the house and dispose of the message tape when the front door opened and Lewis and Harry rushed in. They were both giddy with excitement and loud and effusive in greeting me. They were so happy that I don’t think they noticed I held back. The two of them dragged me to the sofa. Harry sat down beside me and leaned against me, his head on my shoulder, one of his legs crossed over mine. Lewis stood behind me and put his hands around my neck. He began massaging the back of my neck with his thumbs.

‘Lewis,’ said Harry, ‘is great. Stupendous. Amazing. Wonderful.’

‘You forgot charming,’ said Lewis.

‘And so modest,’ said Harry.

‘Indeed I am. I never boast of my accomplishments. I have no need to do so. Where others might see a problem, I find an opportunity. I am Lewis the Magnificent.’ Lewis let go of my neck long enough to pound his chest and bellow.

‘And what did Lewis do to deserve these praises?’ I tried to join in the conversation.

‘You should have seen him, Jonathan. Half an hour after my parents meet him, my dad is inviting him to step down to the pub to meet his mates. My mum is asking him what he eats for breakfast. They love him. They haven’t been so happy with me since I won the scholarship to music school. Mum even introduced Lewis to the people in the shops as her son’s boyfriend. “You know, like Malcolm and Dewey,” she says, just in case they didn’t understand what she meant by “boyfriend”.’

‘Who are Malcolm and Dewey?’

‘You’ll have to forgive him, Harry. He is one of the three people in England who doesn’t watch the Terrace.’ Lewis bent over and spoke into my ear. ‘That’s what makes you so endearing. You’re such an odd duck, queer even.’ Lewis licked my ear noisily. ‘And speaking of queer, do you realize that we have been separated almost two weeks? That’s two whole weeks without sex. We’re young, we’re male, we’re gay. Do we want sex?’ Lewis was shouting and pummelling the air.

‘Yes!’ He and Harry shouted. The two of them leaped up and started up the stairs, Harry in the lead. After the first few steps, Lewis realised I wasn’t following them. He told Harry to go ahead and then turned back to me.

‘It’s Peter. I can’t.’ I couldn’t go to bed with Lewis, with a murderer. I didn’t want his hands touching me.

‘Forget Peter. He’s dead. And don’t say anything to Harry. You’re not going to spoil his happiness today. Let him have that. We’ll talk about this later. If you can’t be happy, then fake it. You direct actors. Surely you know how to give a good performance. Now come along.’ Lewis pulled me to my feet.

Lewis couldn’t have known it, but he was talking to me in the same way my parents did when they wanted me to do something I didn’t want to. Fake it. If you aren’t happy to see your grandmother, pretend that you are. Fake it. Act as if you were feeling what you were supposed to feel and soon you would feel what you were supposed to feel. Play the role and you will become the role.

Lewis must have realised that I didn’t want him close to me. He put Harry between us and made sure that we focussed all our attention on him. Harry was so ecstatic that I don’t think he noticed that Lewis and I weren’t really interacting. Harry eventually fell asleep between the two of us. Even in the darkened room, I could see that Lewis’s eyes were open and that he was watching me. He reached across Harry’s body and traced a short line across my chest with the tip of one of his fingers. Then he pulled his hand back and let it rest on Harry’s stomach.

Sometime during the night, both Harry and I rolled over so that our backs were toward each other. I woke up in the dark. Lewis had moved around to my side of the bed and was facing me across the pillow. He had placed his hands on my chest and was stroking my nipples lightly. When he saw that I was awake, he placed a finger across his lips and motioned for me to be quiet. Then he continued stroking me. He was very gentle but persistent. When I made no move to stop him, he moved in closer and took my bottom lip between his lips and kissed it, softly. He was like a shadow whispering against my body. He licked my lips and then inserted the tip of his tongue between them, let it glide back and forth between them, each time a little deeper, until he had insinuated it deep into my mouth. As he did so, he pressed the tips of his fingers into my flesh, harder and harder. Invading me. Taking me over. Until I relaxed and he entered me. He was so quiet and tender. Our joining didn’t disturb Harry’s sleep at all. I don’t think Lewis had an orgasm. That wasn’t the point he was making. It wasn’t about sex. It wasn’t about fucking. It wasn’t about being the top or the bottom. It was about being one person. He pushed himself up into the bed a bit and then kissed me on the tip of the nose and then the forehead. Then he spoke for the first time. He lowered his lips to my ear and said. ‘Us.’

And that was when I decided. I couldn’t live without Lewis and Harry. Whatever Lewis may have done and whatever role he may have played in Peter’s death, it didn’t matter. Us. Lewis and Harry and me. And me. I wouldn’t have to be alone again. I would risk being happy. And me. ‘And’ is such a beautiful word.

– 14 —

Lewis would allude to Peter only once again. Several days after the three of us were reunited, I was sitting at my office table marking up a script. Harry had gone to London for the day for his lessons with Marta. Lewis brought me a cup of coffee and sat it down beside me on the table. He stood behind me and placed his hands around my neck in what was becoming a familiar gesture. He began massaging the back of my neck with his thumbs. His fingers grasped the sides of my neck firmly. He bent over and kissed the top of my head.

‘You destroyed the tape?’

I didn’t have to ask which tape. I hadn’t told Lewis about the message Peter had left on my answering machine. ‘Yes, I cut it up into pieces and put them in several different bags and left the bags in different bins along the road between Birmingham and Edinburgh. I couldn’t find any means of burning the pieces. I couldn’t just light a fire along the road or in the hotel.’

‘The other copies are gone. We won’t have to worry about them.’

‘Lewis, did you . . . ?’ I couldn’t bring myself to voice my suspicions.

‘I did what needed to be done. And you are not to talk about it again. This is the only conversation we are ever going to have about it.’

‘Lewis, I am sorry.’

‘I know you are, Jonathan. But it mustn’t happen again. You are not to get involved with anyone else. You have to put all that behind you. And Harry is never to find out about this. If you feel a need for that sort of thing, then you come to me and we will discuss it. I won’t hurt you, but we will talk about it and get you past it. Promise me that you will do that for Harry and me.’

I nodded my acquiescence, and Lewis hugged me tightly and kissed the top of my head again.

‘We can make a very pleasant life for the three of us. I can help you and Harry. I’m much more realistic than either of you, and I don’t have any qualms about doing what has to be done. So if you have problems, you come to me and talk about them, and we’ll work it out. That’s what a relationship is, Jonathan. People trusting each other and doing things together to make their lives better. You’ve just got to learn to trust me. I’m not going to hurt you. I promise you that. I’ve never going to hurt you. And I can do all the things that will make us all comfortable so that you and Harry can concentrate on your work. We’ll be happy together, the three of us. You just have to learn how to be happy, Jonathan.’

And with that we put Peter behind us. Whatever had happened, whatever Lewis had done, we tacitly agreed that we would never speak of it.

Lewis changed the subject to other matters. He had arranged for hotel rooms for the three of us and for Harry’s parents in London for Harry’s first appearance in Mahler’s Eighth. Harry had said he would be too wound up to eat before the concert. Lewis had decided that we would take Harry’s parents to a restaurant. It would be an opportunity for them to meet me. But we had to find a place that was special so that it would be a memorable occasion, but not so formal that Harry’s parents would feel uncomfortable. What did I think about Luciana’s? Italian would be good. Not too strange but different enough to strike them as unusual and a way to celebrate Harry’s success. Had I ever eaten there? Would real Italian food be too weird for Harry’s parents? His mother was really a plain English cook, probably hadn’t looked at her copy of Elizabeth David since she got it as a wedding present. But we had to have more than fish and chips or beef with Yorkshire pudding and two veg. And what should we do after the concert? What did the soloists usually do? Would there be a party? Or did everyone just go home? And what did people wear to the symphony? Did everyone wear dinner jackets like in the movies?

In the years that followed, I would come to recognise this as Lewis’s method of talking about a serious matter. The discussion of the major topic was buried in mundane planning for other events—We did have to face up to the fact that Murphy was getting old and might have to be put down soon. It would kinder than letting him suffer further. And, by the way, would I be able to take two weeks off in June? Harry was free then, and the three of us should take a vacation. Lewis had always wanted to visit Bermuda. Had I ever been? And what did I think of it? Or, shouldn’t we replace the drapes on the ground floor? The present ones were getting so old and dusty. And, by the way, you really should see a doctor about that mole on your back. You shouldn’t let things like that go too long. My father will look at it when he’s here this weekend. And let’s go to a movie tonight.

That day, after Lewis had finished alluding to Peter, he pulled up a chair beside me and took my hands in his as he planned our activities for Harry’s concert. Harry’s parents had already acquiesced in whatever plans Lewis would make. At Lewis’s urging, Harry had taken to calling his parents frequently. Sometimes Lewis would pick up the other phone and a three-way conversation would occur. As far as I could judge from the parts of the conversations I overheard, Lewis was quickly becoming a great favourite of Harry’s parents and been accepted as part of their family. Matters had progressed to the point that Lewis was exchanging family gossip with Harry’s mother and trading tips about the sales at Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s that week. The conversation switched to sports when Harry’s father came on the line.

I had already been coached on possible topics of conversation for my first meeting with Harry’s parents. Lewis thought they would like to hear gossip about the actors and singers I knew. Shakespeare and opera and literature and the other things that occupied my time were not suitable subjects. I mustn’t overawe them with my education. Did I know anything about birds? Harry’s father was an ardent birder. I could ask him about that. They, too, liked cats. Murphy should be good for a story or two. Oh, and we should be careful not to discuss the more intimate details of our life together. Three blokes sharing a house, mates, chums, but certainly not gay lovers. We had to give Harry’s parents time to adjust to the relationship. Once they saw how good we all were together, they would come around. But, for now, we didn’t want to rub their noses in it.

Lewis is so beautiful. I don’t mean in looks, although he is handsome. He sat there that afternoon chatting me up and bringing me around to his point of view. He was excited and vibrant and happy. I felt happy just to be sitting beside him, and more alive. He is so alive and it spills over onto those around him. You know, it isn’t the sex that has kept us together, although that is terrific. It’s the quiet moments when you walk into a room, and one of your lovers looks up and smiles and holds out his hand. It’s when you’ve lived with someone long enough to tell when he needs an arm around his shoulders and a few words of comfort.

With Lewis’s help, I did make a favourable impression on Harry’s parents. I’ve never achieved the level of intimacy with them that Lewis has, but then he tends to be better at making friends than I. Harry was a success. His voice soared that night. His parents and Lewis were so proud. They couldn’t stop smiling. They stood backstage after the concert watching people congratulate Harry. Esterhazy’s voice broke and faltered a bit when he thanked Harry. Harry introduced his parents and Lewis and me to him. Esterhazy assured Harry’s parents that their son had a splendid career ahead of him. Lewis got a raised eyebrow.

When Harry told Esterhazy who my parents were, I was singled out as a person he could talk to. Several others who were backstage recognised me or soon learned who I was, and I was surrounded by people wanting to talk about mother or reminisce about my father. I became separated from Lewis and Castlemains. The people who were talking with me were buoyed up by excitement over the concert and were chattering away. The various conversations around me didn’t require much of my attention. I watched Lewis and Harry. Lewis contrived to protect Harry’s parents against the crowd around Harry, yet at the same time let them share in Harry’s success.

Harry knew that he had done well, but he couldn’t let himself believe in his success too much. He was critical of himself. He had entered just a bit flat there. He hadn’t shaded that note right. But he didn’t want to leave the hall either. It was as if his triumph might fade when he left. So would stood there as the crowd of his admirers thinned, but a few hung on. There are always a few who never want to leave every time Harry performs. He always is surrounded by admirers and well-wishers and people who want just to be near that voice.

Finally Lewis and Harry’s father went to find us a taxi to take us back to our hotel. Harry walked over to me. ‘It went well, didn’t it?’ He smiled at me shyly and took me by the hand. A dozen people noticed that gesture. Neither Harry nor I cared. We might as well have been the only two people standing there. I drew him in and hugged him tightly.

‘What can I say?’ I feigned indifference. ‘You were ok.’

‘Just ok? Is that the best you can do?’

‘What about stupendous. A new star in the firmament. An angel come to earth to share his heavenly voice with us.’

‘Are you jealous?’

‘Sure. Now you’ll get all the guys.’

‘We’ve got Lewis already. He’s more than either of us can handle.’

‘He’s going to manage both of us, you know. We should send Lewis to agent school. We he graduates, we can fire our current agents and let him run our careers.’

‘I did well?’
‘Yes, you did well.’

‘It means more when you say it. The others, I don’t care about.’ My world compressed to a very small area. It was as if a spotlight had narrowed in on the two of us.

‘You don’t think I’m partial in my opinions? I am, you know.’

‘Yes, I know. But you wouldn’t lie to me. Neither you nor Lewis ever lies to me. It’s just that Lewis doesn’t understand music and you do. He’s just reacting to the excitement and all the noise around us. But you know.’

‘You were perfect. Just perfect. If I had been alone, listening to a recording, I would have been in tears over the sheer absolute beauty of it. You’re that good.’ Harry’s smile was just for me. I had never been near that much intense happiness before. I’ve never seen it again. I suppose such triumphs come only once. It isn’t that Harry has gotten used to the accolades. He still receives them with surprise and wonder that he occasions them. But none of the subsequent applause has ever brought him as much joy.

‘We’d better go now. Lewis and your father must have found us a taxi by now. You need to take something for your throat and rest your voice.’ I put my arm around Harry’s shoulder and ushered him and his mother outside. Just as we stepped out the door, a taxi drove up and Lewis jumped out to hold the door open for us. Lewis’s timing is always impeccable.

That night is still the benchmark performance of Mahler’s Eighth for everyone who heard it. Esterhazy arranged for Harry to repeat the performance in Vienna the next season, and they recorded it that winter. It launched Harry’s career.

The words the reviewers used to describe Harry’s voice that night have been repeated over and over. Everyone remarks on how warm his voice is, how rich. How well he projects—his piano notes as audible as the forte fortissimo ones. How accurate his pitch and timing are. And above all, how intelligently and vibrantly he sings. How intensely human his voice is. Some singers never do more than sing the notes. They practice all day, and then they get up in front of an audience and they practice some more. Harry is different. He takes risks. He gives everything. Harry sings the music. That’s what he’s learned from Lewis.

Some people mistakenly credit me with helping him achieve all those qualities. They’re wrong. I may have helped here and there with the technique, but it was Lewis who gave, who gives, Harry what he needs to be a singer.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Lewis IV


Six Excerpts from the Autobiography of Jonathan Spenser

Nexis Pas
Brighton, 2008

© 2008 by the author.

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The events depicted in this story did not happen and are not based on my life. Please do not confuse me with my characters.

This one is for Murphy.

Part IV

– 10 —

The jungle was very hot. Thick vines hung from the trees and wrapped me in their humid embrace. Murphy was purring. What was Murphy doing in the jungle? Why was he purring? That was the dream.

‘Oh good, you’re awake. I hope we didn’t wake you up. We’ve been trying to be very quiet, but your cat started making a lot of noise so we had to let it in.’ I was lying on my side in my bed and Lewis’s face was two inches from mine. He was stretched out beside me, his naked body against mine. Someone else was lying behind me, and his body (it was definitely a he), also nude, was pressed tightly against mine. Murphy was perched on my shoulder, purring loudly because the person behind me was petting him. There seemed to be an impossible number of limbs circling over my body. That was the reality.

‘Lewis, what are you doing here?’ I tried to push myself up, but Lewis held on even more tightly and Murphy protested at the disturbance.

‘We rang you several times but there was no answer, and your machine wasn’t on. So we got worried that something had happened to you. That you had done something foolish. We came by to check. Do you know that you left your front door unlocked? I didn’t even have to use my key. Anyone could have walked in and murdered you in your sleep.’

‘Who is we? And what do you mean by “done something foolish”? What did you think I was going to do?’

‘We is me—Harry.’ A hand squeezed my shoulder and Harry kissed the back of my neck. The identification was unnecessary since his voice gave him away. I groaned. I tried to shrink down under the covers, but I wasn’t able to move far. In any case, they were already under the covers.

‘Harry told me what happened, and we were worried that you might . . . do something foolish.’

‘What? That I might try to get a good night’s sleep?’

‘Lewis was very angry with me when he found out what I did yesterday. He insisted that I call you and apologise for my behaviour. And then when you didn’t answer, we got worried that you might have . . . fallen down the stairs and broken your neck or worse. And Murphy wouldn’t have been able to call 999 for help.’ Harry’s petting of Murphy was beginning to involve a lot of touching of my body.

‘Murphy knows how to dial 999. It’s explaining whether it’s a medical or a police emergency that gives him trouble. The operators can’t understand him when he speaks Miao­wese.’ Lewis giggled nervously in my face.

‘Very funny, Lewis. As you can see, the only thing I am suffering from is a surfeit of visitors. Once you saw that I was fine, why did you stay?’

‘Well, Harry and I had a long talk last night, and we discovered that one of the things we have in common is that we both like you a lot. And then Harry told me he had tried to rape you yesterday afternoon—’

Harry and I both spoke at once. ‘Lewis, he didn’t try to rape me.’

‘Lewis, I just tried to kiss Jonathan. There wasn’t any rape.’

‘Well Jonathan was trying to defend our friendship. At least he knows what loyalty means.’ Lewis raised himself up and glared at Harry over my shoulder.

I did not want to be in the middle of a lovers’ quarrel. ‘Lewis, Harry, listen to me. I’m not going to be forced into being noble. I like both of you. I could like either or both of you much more than I do, especially if I were not sharing a bed with you. At the moment, however, I would prefer to contemplate such a relationship in the abstract and not in the flesh. Peter broke up with me last evening. He was very emotional and nasty. I didn’t want to talk with anyone or see anyone after he left. I turned the phone off. I forgot to lock the door. I went to bed and fell asleep. End of story. Now that you have the information you came for, you can leave!’

‘You broke up with Peter? That’s good. I like Peter and all, but I’ve never liked the way he treats you. I never said anything, because I thought that was what you wanted.’

‘Thank you, Lewis, for that encouraging expression of concern. Now, if you don’t mind, could the two of you let me go back to sleep? And lock the door as you leave.’

‘Don’t be angry, Jonathan. And did you mean it when you said you could love both of us?’ Harry sounded very hopeful.

‘I didn’t use the word “love,” Harry. I said “like”.’

‘But you meant “love”. This is just perfect.’ Lewis gave me a satisfied smirk. I had never noticed before how the skin around his eyes wrinkled when he smirked. He was beginning to grow old. ‘Lewis, I am not even going to ask what you mean by that. Now, if the two of you would get dressed and leave, that would be perfect.’ My shouts alarmed Murphy and he leaped off me and tore out of the room. ‘Murphy will show you out.’

‘But we brought breakfast.’

‘This is an intervention.’

‘I’ll eat the breakfast when I get up, and what the hell is an intervention? No, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. Just leave.’ I shut my eyes and willed both of them to be gone.

‘But I have to cook the breakfast. You don’t know how.’

‘Then I’ll make my usual two slices of toast. I can manage a toaster. One slice of bread in each slot. Push the lever down. Wait until toast pops up. Remove. Eat.’

‘An intervention is when people see one of their friends becoming a danger to himself. So they get together and intervene to save him.’

‘Harry and I were talking, and we realised this is all my fault. You were so upset about my dating Harry that you’ve become . . . disturbed.’

‘Lewis, not everything that happens is your fault. And you might as well know the truth now rather than later. I’ve fallen for Harry. Yes, for Harry. I’m in love with that silver voice. The throbbing of his Adam’s apple when he sings. The sinews distending along his throat when he hits that high B flat. I want to bathe in that luxuriant sound. Resonate with his passion. IS THAT CLEAR ENOUGH? You’re old news. The greasy paper wrapped around yesterday’s chips. I’ve tossed you over. Discarded you. Shown you the door. Punched your ticket. So you can leave now. Oh, and take Harry with you. And will the two of you stop holding me so tight! I can’t breathe and it’s hot.’

‘Then Harry can love both of us, and I can love both of you, and you will learn to love both of us.’

‘It’s rather late in the day for you to declare your love, Lewis. You had years to do so and didn’t. Don’t start pretending now.’

‘Calm down, Jonathan. Lewis is just trying for a bit of comic relief.’ Harry backed away a bit and then put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me onto my back so that we could see each other. ‘Listen to me. I know I frightened you. I came on too strong. I’m sorry. But we, Lewis and me, we want to start over with you.’

‘No, it’s out of the question. I’m not even going to discuss this. Tell me, what do you think of Tottenham’s chances this Saturday? I want to place a bet today. The odds are 10–4 for a Manchester United win, but the Spurs have improved so much in the past few games that I’m thinking maybe they can pull off a win against United.’

‘Jonathan, you are not interested in football. And Tottenham isn’t playing United this weekend. You’re just mentioning names you’ve heard. You don’t know what you’re talking about. And stop trying to change the subject.’

‘I don’t want to talk about this. Let me up.’ I began to struggle out of their arms.

‘This is why we’re worried, Jonathan. Calm down. Talk to us. We’ll let go if you promise to talk with us.’

‘Lewis, a few weeks ago, you told me that you couldn’t love me, that you couldn’t be what I want you to be, whatever the hell that might mean. And now you lying here in my bed, trying to convince me that I should love not only you but Harry as well.’

‘Yes. Well, I can’t be what you want me to be. I’ve known that since that day I took you up to meet my family. You’re just going to have to be satisfied with me. The real me, and not some character out of a movie you saw once. We take a walk in the woods. I’m expecting a romantic discussion. But you spend half an hour telling me how I remind you of a young Paul Deveraux in Ciao, Cardiff. How the hell do you think that made me feel? I’m standing right there in front of you, and you tell me you I resemble somebody else. I don’t even like Paul Deveraux. What was I supposed to think, that you were complimenting me? You know, when you’re not trying to fit us all into the mould of some actor you’ve seen in some play or movie, you can be a nice guy, a really super guy in fact. You’re kind. You’re considerate. You’re a great talker. You’re funny. And you’re sexy. But just stop pretending I’m somebody else. Just let me be me, Lewis Quinn. Why the hell can’t I be enough for you? I realise you had an unhappy childhood, and I’m sorry your parents were so nasty to you, but that’s no reason for you to romanticise my family and make it into something it isn’t. The only place it’s all happy families is in your imagination. I had the same problems with my family that any child does. I can’t take the responsibility of being who you want me to be. You’ll have to take me as I am.’

Both Harry and I shrunk back from Lewis’s tirade. During his outburst, he had put a hand on my chest with his fingers splayed out and was pushing down on me, as if to pin me in place. I had never seen an angry Lewis before. Before that moment, if anyone had asked, I would have said that he was incapable of anger. I certainly wouldn’t have thought he had been harbouring so much resentment against my behaviour. I shifted a bit closer to him and put my hand over his. I began tracing each finger with my index finger. Up along the outside edge and around the curve at the top and then down to the webbing between the fingers. I didn’t know what to say. I felt curiously happy and numb and alarmed all at the same time.

He laced his fingers with mine and buried his face against my neck. He was much calmer when he spoke. ‘Jonathan, just give us a chance. We can make you happy. You and Harry will have your music to share, and I’ll try to learn enough to appreciate it. I know it won’t ever mean as much to me as it does to you, but I will love both of you enough to try. I really will. And neither of you is very practical, and I can contribute that. It won’t take us long to find out if this will work, Jonathan. Just let us have a few weeks. Please.’



‘Lewis, dear heart, would you make Harry and me breakfast? I think we could discuss this better if we weren’t in bed pressed together.’

‘What’s wrong with being pressed together?’

‘Well, for one thing, both of your cocks are resting on my hips and that’s very distracting. And there are some discussions you should have with your clothes on.’

Lewis looked at me sceptically. But he knew that he had gained a victory. He stared at me for a few seconds more and then looked at Harry. When Harry nodded his head yes, Lewis sighed theatrically and tossed the covers off the three of us. ‘One thing you’re going to have to agree to is to heat this bloody mausoleum.’ He rolled over and out of bed and began pulling his clothes on. ‘Half the rooms in this house could serve as walk-in refrigerators.’

Over the next several hours, we had a long discussion, sometimes heated. Harry must have felt that he had been appointed peacekeeper at first. Lewis and I had a lot of history to get through and reinterpret. ‘I can’t believe that you would remember a thing like that. What ever gave you the idea that Michael was anything more than a friend? If I spent more time with him that with you that evening, it was because you were gossiping with Carter’ was a typical exchange. But eventually we worked our way up to the few weeks preceding this discussion, and Harry began to play a larger role, not the least because he had begun to see that Lewis had manoeuvred the two of us into the present situation. Lewis didn’t even bother to deny it.

‘Of course, I planned it. I knew right away that the two of you would like each other, and I like both of you, so why not? It will make all of us happy. It’s the perfect solution for all of us.’

And then he grinned at both of us, his head turning from me to Harry and then back again. Lewis was very pleased with himself. He even had concocted a list of rules for us. Until we knew how things would work out in practice, sex had to involve all three of us together. Except for brief moments, pairings weren’t allowed. He would do the cooking. We would continue to leave in separate places until we knew that all three of us could live together, and then we would consider moving into my house (both Lewis and Harry had small flats), but only if I agreed to let Lewis redecorate. There were further discussions of some of these points—Harry and I readily agreed to let Lewis do the cooking. Harry and I did get Lewis to agree to allow Harry to rehearse with me after promising that we would not do anything more than that. ‘Kissing on the piano bench’ was out.

And that was the beginning of the most joyous month of my life. Oh, I’ve been happy since, but it’s been a quieter happiness. I don’t think that there has ever been another period in my life that generated so many memories, scenes that I revisit when I want to feel good and remind myself that it’s ok to be happy, as Lewis once put it to me.

It wasn’t that everything was suddenly perfect, that we shared one kiss and suddenly the angelic choirs were singing and we rode off into a sunset golden with happiness. Lewis didn’t suddenly develop into a singer and a music lover. There were lots of problems and arguments and heated discussions. Even the simplest things like who got to be the first to shave and shower in the morning and who had to wait for the water to reheat had to be worked out.

And I still had my demons to confront. It was hard giving up familiar worries and substituting new anxieties about this queer relationship. I was sure that each argument would be the last. That Lewis and Harry would storm out of the house, leaving me alone again. Or that I would look up from my work one afternoon to find one of them standing there telling me that it wasn’t working out and that he was leaving. I alternated between Lewis and Harry as the deserter. Our growing familiarity made me worry even more. Something unexpected had happened in my life, something wonderful and marvellous and incredible, and I knew for certain that the gods would pull the carpet out from beneath my feet and send me tumbling down into hell again. The closer we grew, the more anxious I became that it might end. Lewis remarked several years later that I like to imagine the worst as a means of forestalling it. Whatever happens, it won’t be as awful as I had imagined, and then I can feel relieved that things didn’t turn out as badly as I had anticipated. Perhaps he’s right. He usually is.


It took me several months to get used to all three of us being together in bed. At first, I found it too hot, and there never seemed to be enough room. Someone’s elbow was always jammed into one’s side, or there was an arm beneath one’s body that was beginning to make one’s back ache. Lewis would eventually solve the problem by finding someone to construct a frame that held two king-size mattresses. It’s strange because over time we have become used to being close, and even with all the extra width, we often end up lying right next to one another.

Some time in those first weeks together, however, I woke up in the middle of the night and felt stifled by being so close to Lewis and Harry. I eased myself out of bed without waking either of them and went downstairs. I got a glass of water and wandered around the rooms on the ground floor looking at them. It was odd how quickly they had ceased to be mine alone. The two of them hadn’t moved in yet, but possessions of theirs had taken root in my house. Lewis’s briefcase sat on the floor of the entrance hallway beside the stairs. Their coats were hanging next to mine on the row of pegs in the hall. Lewis had draped his hat over mine. Harry’s music books and a couple of CDs that he had brought over to listen to lay on the seat of a chair where he had left them when we went to bed. Even Murphy had quickly grown accustomed to having three people in his house.

I wandered around in the grey light for about half an hour before climbing the stairs to the second floor again. When I walked into the bedroom, Lewis was lying on his back with Harry’s face resting on his shoulder and his chest across Lewis’s torso. One of Lewis’s hands lay on the back of Harry’s neck. The two of them were sleeping so peacefully. I sat down in the chair next to the bed and watched them for a long time. At one point, Harry’s eyes drifted open, and he saw me sitting there. He smiled sleepily. His arm was stretched out across the bed, and his fingers briefly beckoned at me before his eyes closed again and he fell back asleep. After a while, I became sleepy again and got into bed.

The next day, I was sitting on the sofa reading. Lewis passed behind me, and as he did so, he reached out and squeezed my shoulder. ‘You were watching us last night.’

I turned my head and smiled at him. ‘Mmm. I thought you were asleep. I was trying to be quiet.’

He stood behind me and put his arms over my shoulders and crossed them in front of my neck. He nuzzled the top of my head, burrowing his lips down through the hair until he could kiss my scalp. ‘I felt you leave and then later I heard you come back. You sat there for an hour or so looking at me and Harry.’

‘You should have said something.’

‘No, that’s precisely what I shouldn’t have done. Are we getting too much in your hair?’ He giggled when he said that and kissed the top of my head again, burying his nose in my hair.

‘I don’t know. I suppose I should say no, that I love having you and Harry here, but it all seems to be happening so fast. I haven’t had time to adjust yet. Well, I suppose the two of you haven’t had time yet either.’

‘But we tend to be more in your space than in ours. It must feel as if we invaded. We shall have to figure out a way of giving each of us some privacy. I can get away to the office, but you work here, and Harry will probably begin to work here too if we move in. We will have to think about this.’

‘I like the sound of that. Not the space problem or the privacy thing. I mean I like the sound of the future tense. “We shall, we will.” I’ve never had a future with anyone before. I like the idea of planning a future together.’ Lewis laughed, hugged me again, and then continued on his way. I sat there overcome by happiness.


Or there was the time we were lying in late one Saturday morning. The rain was beating against the windows. It sounded as if occasionally there were gusts of sleet against the house. We were too comfortable to get up, especially me, since it was my turn to be in the middle. There is much to be said for being surrounded by male flesh. Finally Lewis groaned and pushed himself up far enough to be able to pull a curtain back and look out. The grey light that came into the room around the edges of the curtain hardly cut through the darkness. ‘I should get breakfast started. What would you like this morning?’

‘You know what I like, not for today but some Saturday, I mean.’ Both Lewis and I turned to look at Harry. ‘During the winter, my mum used to boil extra potatoes on Friday night. Then on Saturday morning she would get up and fry up some bacon. Then in the fat she would cook onions. You’d wake up in the morning to the smell of frying bacon and frying onions. Then she would slice the potatoes and add them and cook them slowly until they were all brown and crisp. It was wonderful. The smell just went through the entire house, and when you woke up, you could lie there in bed for a while, just knowing that breakfast would be good and the whole day would be good because it had started out special. And I could snuggle down into the covers and listen to the sounds coming up from the kitchen, the radio with the news and the pans grating against the stove and the thunks of dishes being put on the table. Oh, and the smell of coffee. And when I came downstairs, Dad would be sitting at the table reading the newspaper. Even the dog would be waiting beside the table, hoping that someone would feed him a piece of bacon or that he would get the scrapings from the pan. That breakfast always make me think of home.’

‘Oh, I love that. My mother made that occasionally. Then she would make lots of toast, and fry eggs until the white was just cooked and the yellow was still runny. She would put your eggs on top of your potatoes, and when you broke the yolk, it ran all over the potatoes. I wish you hadn’t mentioned that. Now I’m hungry for that. I don’t have the stuff to make that this morning. I’ll do it tomorrow.’ Lewis looked very excited at the prospect.

‘You’re joking, right? No one actually eats that much grease and starch and food for breakfast, do they?’

Both of them stared at me. ‘But it’s great,’ said Harry.

‘It’s wonderful,’ said Lewis.

‘You’re always on about healthy food. How could you eat something like that? All that cholesterol and fat. It sounds awful.’

‘Well you wouldn’t want it every day, but now and then it’s a treat. Wait until tomorrow. You’ll like it.’

‘I think I’ll just have my two slices of toast.’

‘We have so much to teach him. This is going to take much more time than I anticipated.’

‘He had a deprived childhood. For years, the nurse brought him two slices of toast each morning and a carton of orange juice with a straw.’

‘There is much to be said for toast and orange juice in cartons.’

‘Oh, we have our work cut out for us. It’s going to take the rest of our lives to train him up right.’ Lewis sighed with contentment and smiled at the both of us.

‘Lewis, you don’t have to start breakfast right away, do you?’

‘No, Harry, it can wait.’

‘Oh good, because, you know, since we’re all awake and here together, I thought maybe we could . . .’ Harry left his thought dangling. He pushed the covers down exposing my chest. ‘I like Jonathan’s chest better now that his hair is starting to grow back, don’t you?’

‘Mmmm, his hair is so soft and silky. As long as it doesn’t cover his nipples, it will be fine. They’re so easy to lick and suck when there’s no hair.’ Lewis hummed as he began doing just that.

‘And Jonathan has one for each of us. It’s very convenient.’ Harry joined him in humming.

‘Ohhmmmm.’ The last part of Harry’s remark was drowned out by my moan of pleasure as the two of them began licking me. ‘I’ll keep the hair around my nipples trimmed, ounh . . . I promise.’

We’ve done a lot of humming over the years. Even Lewis found that he can produce a decent hum, usually wobbling between the G and the F sharp above middle C, perhaps closer to the F sharp, although the pitch occasionally rockets upward toward the D just above high C. He’s a tenor when he’s in bed, although his ‘street’ voice tends more toward the baritone. As a singer, Harry is, of course, a tenor, but as a lover he has a range of several octaves, from basso profundo to countertenor in altissime. Someday I will write a quartet for three voices and bed springs. It will be centred around Harry’s bedroom burlesque of ‘Nessun dorma’. Night tends to dissolve when he’s around, the stars traverse their courses quickly, and he does rather triumph at dawn. But then the same is true of Lewis. And of me.


That month seems to have been filled with rain, at least in my memories. It didn’t matter. Nature wasn’t mirroring our mood. I was returning to my house late one afternoon, walking through a heavy, cold rain with my umbrella up. I was clutching my briefcase to my chest to keep it dry. The wind was blowing in sharp gusts, catching the leading edge of the umbrella and lifting it up. It was a constant struggle to keep it over my head and prevent it from being sprung upwards. The gutters and the pavements were filled with water. My shoes and socks and the bottoms of my trousers were soaked. With each step, my feet squeezed more water into my shoes. I was surrounded by rain. It poured off the umbrella on all sides. I was keeping my head down and had the umbrella pulled low. I didn’t see the other person until I was about three feet from him. I jumped to the side to avoid a collision and started apologising. The other person did the same.

It was Harry. Both of us laughed. I lifted my umbrella and looked around. We were the only two people on the street. The day was so dark that the streetlights had already come on. ‘It could be the end of the world. We’re the only men left on earth. Everyone else has disappeared. Been sucked into the vacuum. What will we do now?’

‘Sing. I will sing for you, you, the only other man left in the world. A rain song.’ Harry closed his umbrella. He was soaked in a minute, the rain running down his face and flattening his hair to his forehead. And he stood there in the rain and threw open his arms and sang. At full volume, his voice cascading up and down, over the full extent of his range. ‘Perché sei amore. Soltanto tu. Soltanto tu. Weil du Liebe bist. Nur du. Nur du. Parce que tu es amour. Seulement tu. Seulement tu.’ And he twirled around and started walking away, backwards, singing for me. ‘Because you are love. Only you. Only you.’

I rushed to catch up with him and pulled him under my umbrella. He put an arm around my shoulder and continued singing, more softly. ‘Because you are love. Only you. Only you.’

‘You’re going to catch your death of cold. And your voice. You shouldn’t be singing outside in this rain and the cold. You’ll damage your voice.’ I was laughing so hard from happiness that I could barely speak, my words so far from my real thoughts that they had no meaning. I wanted Harry to sing, to sing for me, to go on singing forever and ever.

Harry turned to face me and folded me into an embrace. My briefcase and the handle of the umbrella were caught between us. He pressed up against me and held me tighter, still singing. ‘Soltanto tu, soltanto tu, soltanto tu. Only you. You will keep me dry and warm and safe. Soltanto tu. And Lewis. And me. Perché siamo amore. Because we are love.’ He took the umbrella from me and closed it. Then he kissed me. The water cascaded down the two of us, entering our mouths. A baptism in a cold February rain off the Channel. He grabbed me by the hand, and the two of us ran back to my house, our house. We stumbled up the steps. I was trying to find the key in my wet pocket and open the door. I could hardly get my hand in the pocket because my trousers were so wet. Harry stood there on the steps, facing the street, and sang for the entire neigh­bourhood. ‘Because we are love. Love. We are love.’ I finally got the door open and turned around to pull Harry in. He chose that moment for a grand crescendo of sound. ‘Perché siamo amore. Amore. Siamo amore.’ Several of the neigh­bours stood at their windows, watching him and listening to him singing. ‘We are love.’ He ended on a ringing high note at full volume.

I dragged him into the entranceway and closed the door. Harry threw open the inner door with an imperious gesture and strode into the hall as if commandeering the most important stage in the world. Lewis came rushing out from the kitchen, a white towel wrapped around his waist and holding a spoon. Harry grabbed Lewis and me and with his arms around our shoulders continued singing. ‘Because we are love. Love. We are love.’

An uncertain smile played about Lewis’s lips. He didn’t know what had occasioned this outburst. I’ve never seen him look so nonplussed. Lewis hadn’t yet become accustomed to people expressing their emotions by singing. From his point of view, it must have seemed as if two demented men had burst into his clean hallway and were dripping water over the rug. ‘The two of you need to get out of those wet clothes and take a hot shower. Put on some dry clothes, and I’ll fix you a hot toddy to warm you up.’

‘Because we are love, Lewis. Love. We are love.’ Harry never stopped singing. He began undressing, draping each sodden garment around Lewis as he removed it, until Lewis was almost as wet as the two of us. Then he undressed me. Lewis was disappearing under a pile of clothes. Finally Harry stopped singing. ‘Ok, Lewis’s plan is for Jonathan and me to take a hot shower. Excellent thinking, Lewis, most excellent. But I don’t see why we should get dressed again, since we are going to get in bed. You, Lewis, are overdressed for the occasion. And you should get out of those wet clothes before you catch pneumonia.’ Harry took me by the hand and led me up the stairs. ‘Because we are love. Love. We are love.’ Harry has always been better at handling Lewis than I have.


After that, the neighbours couldn’t help but notice that I was no longer living alone. Mrs Lavesly, who had occupied the house next door for over sixty years, stopped me in the street a few days later. She spoke so tremulously that I had to bend over to hear her. We stood so close that the netting on her hat brushed my face two or three times. ‘Mr Spenser, I am so glad to see some life around your house again. It’s hasn’t been as lively since your father died. And the music—that Harry—he certainly has a beautiful voice. And Lewis is such a pleasant young man. He helped me carry my packages from the shops the other day. He and I had a nice chat over a cup of tea. Such a polite young man. He even replaced the light bulbs in the hallway for me. The ceiling is so high there, well, you know, it’s just like your father’s hallway, and I’m not steady enough any more to climb up a stepladder. I didn’t even have to ask. Lewis saw that the bulbs had burned out and asked me if he could change them for me. ’

‘Lewis is very helpful. He enjoys it so much. You mustn’t hesitate to ask him for help if you have anything that needs doing.’ That, I thought—mistakenly as it turned out—would discourage Lewis from fraternising with the neighbours. ‘But I hope you weren’t disturbed by our resident singer’s concert during the rain two days ago. He was just very happy. I’m afraid he tends to express himself in song.’

‘Of course, he is happy, Mr Spenser. He has you and Lewis. Lewis told me all about it. I’m sure you’ll all be very happy together. I had a cousin who lived with his special friend for almost fifty years. I always enjoyed visiting with them so much. They were such amusing people. And rather naughty. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to know what they were talking about sometimes. And now Kilsyth Terrace has you and your friends. We’re all looking forward so much to visits from Lewis and Harry’s fellow musicians. It used to be so exciting when your father had his colleagues over. I could leave the windows open and hear those wonderful free concerts. Your father even invited me over every time Dame Edith Preston visited. He knew she was my favourite singer. Of course, I didn’t want to intrude. I know that must get tiring for people in the public view all the time. So I would just sit there quietly and listen while she sang. She even spoke with me a few times. Dame Edith was such a nice person. Not at all what I expected an opera singer to be like. She was from Bradford, you know, and she was just like an ordinary person. She told me she got so tired sometimes of being on the stage and just wanted to put her feet up and have a cup of tea and a good gossip with the neighbours. Lewis has already told me that he will arrange for Harry to give a recital for everyone on the terrace.’ Mrs Lavesly beamed shyly at me.

‘I’m sure Lewis is looking forward to it as well. I know he doesn’t like to brag about his abilities, but he is a terrific cook. I’m certain he will prepare something very special for Harry’s recital for the neighbours. Be sure to let him know your favourites.’ I was hoping that she and the other neighbours would give Lewis a long list of foods to fix—preferably something incredibly complicated.

‘No, he didn’t tell me that, Mr Spenser. Well, one wouldn’t expect a gentleman like Lewis to boast.’

I nodded my agreement and reached for my hat to doff it as I took my leave. I wasn’t wearing a hat, but it seemed the right gesture for that conversation. Lewis had been busier that I thought. In the four years that I had lived in the house, that was the longest conversation with Mrs Lavesly that I ever had.


And then there was the time I was working in the room that I used as my office before Lewis and Harry moved in. It was directly over the living room. The room didn’t have a fireplace, and in the 1890s, when the house had been built it would have had no direct source of heat. The builders had installed a metal grate in the floor just above the fireplace in the living room to allow some heat into the room. But even with the fire lit in the living room and the grate open, the room was never warm—during the winter I always wore a sweater and heavy socks when I worked in that room. It also meant that any conversation in the living room was audible in the room.

Harry was sitting before the fire in the room below me. From time to time, I could hear him turn a sheet in the newspaper he was reading. I wasn’t paying much attention. At first I didn’t even register the sound of the front door opening and closing except as background noise.

‘Hello. What are you doing here by yourself? Where’s Jonathan?’

‘He’s upstairs working. How did your day go?’

‘It went. That’s about the best you can say for it.’ There was a sound of kissing. ‘Mmm. It’s much better now. I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine. Do you want some?’

‘No, I’m fine.’

‘What’s the matter?’

‘Nothing. Why did you say that?’

‘Something’s the matter. You look so downhearted.’

‘It’s nothing, Lewis, just nerves. Go get your glass of wine. Maybe Jonathan would like one. You should go upstairs and say hello to him.’

‘I will in a while. Right now, I’m going to sit beside you. I just had a frightening encounter, and I need you to give me a hug. To protect me and chase away the demon.’

‘Oh my god, Lewis, what happened?’

Lewis’s voiced quavered in dramatic tones of fear. ‘I came home, opened the door, walked into our living room, and discovered that some alien had taken over my lover’s body and mind. The brave Mr Harry Castlemain has gone missing. I shall call the police and report this abduction.’

Harry chuckled. I smiled to myself.

‘Now tell me. What’s behind all of this? Are you worried about this concert?’

‘Yes, a bit. Well, more than a bit. The closer the day comes, the worse my fears become. I don’t know whatever possessed me to think I could get up in front of one of the most sophisticated audiences in the world and sing one of the most difficult pieces of music ever written.’

‘I do. You wanted to torture me. You wanted to make me purchase a suit of evening clothes and then sit through an interminable bout of screeching and screaming in foreign languages nobody understands and pretend to enjoy it. And not just me. Jonathan too. Well, Jonathan likes that sort of thing. It’s this plot between the two of you. Me and all your relatives and all the citizens of Burnham-by-the-Sea and Burnham Undermere and Really Soggy Burnham in the Marshes and Upper Burnham and Lower Burnham and Burnham Market and Burnham the Birthplace of Nelson will have to endure this evening of Art and Music so that you and Jonathan can have a giggle about how you’re pulling the wool over our eyes and you’re really an awful singer with no talent who’s out to steal our hearts and take them back to Arcturus Three, where you and all the other Arcturians shall feast on our flesh. And it’s all so unnecessary. You don’t need to sing to steal my heart. You’ve already stolen it. And I don’t want it back.’

‘Not ever? A heart can be useful sometimes.’

‘That is true. It makes a great gift.’

‘A bit messy.’

‘Hmmm.’ There was a long pause in the conversation. ‘Hmmm. Such nice lips. It must be all that singing you do. Makes them so firm and flexible. So tell me about your fears. Did something happen today?’

‘I had a dream last night. I was standing in front of the audience, and it came time for me to sing my first solo and no sound would come out. And I’m afraid that will happen. Or the sound will be so horrible that everyone will start laughing.’

‘Ah ha, the Loueeeee Quinn school of singing. You owe this all to me. I knew I would be a good influence on you. You see how smart you were to take up with me. Were you naked? That would give your performance a lot of interest. No one would notice that you weren’t singing if you were naked.’

‘I will suggest that to Esterhazy.’

‘What makes you think he will listen to an incompetent wretch like you? You’re going to maul his Mahler. He will skewer you through the throat with that little pointer stick thingy he waves about.’

‘No, he won’t. I’m going to be terrific. Stunning! Superb! Wow-wow-wow-wow-wow-wish, unbelievable-ish!’

‘Yes, you are.’

‘Yes, I am. For you. And for my parents and relatives. And for all the inhabitants of Burnham-by-the-Sea, etc.’

‘But you forgot the most important person.’

‘Oh, and for Jonathan, too.’

‘No, not Jonathan.’

‘Then who?’

‘Harry Castlemain. No matter how well you sing, it’s not going to matter if Harry isn’t satisfied.’

There was a very long pause this time. Eventually Harry spoke very quietly. ‘I love you.’

‘I know. And your love’s the only important thing in my life.’ There was another long pause before Lewis spoke again. ‘Are you warm enough sitting here?’ Lewis sighed heavily. ‘I am going to tackle Jonathan soon about modernising the heating system in this place. It’s on my list, my long list, of things to talk with him about.’

That night, I asked Lewis to help me move the contents of my office to the room on the third floor that my father had used as his office. I told him that he needed an office for himself and that I wanted a place closer to the piano. And besides climbing all those stairs would be good exercise, and I needed exercise more than he did. In truth, I didn’t want to be in a position to eavesdrop on the two of them ever again or to overhear confidences. Magicians should be able to conceal how they work their magic from the rest of us—otherwise it wouldn’t be magic—and lovers deserve their privacy. And there were things I didn’t want to know.


I don’t mean to give the impression that all was immediately well. That one kiss from Lewis swept me off my lily pad and changed me into a fairy tale prince charming. Prince Charming was Lewis’s role, after all. And Harry was the boy who found the magic ring and the pot of gold and the singing harp at the top of the beanstalk, and the lamp with the genie and an endless supply of wishes, and the bowl of oatmeal that was just right. I was, well I was the little boy sitting in the garden with his cat, reading his book of fairy tales and dreaming that maybe one day Prince Charming would show up on my doorstep. But for now the garden was sunny and warm, it was green and all the flowers were in bloom, and the cat was purring in contentment. And I was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, at least one Prince Charming had already shown up and to hope that Lewis and Harry and I would pull this off.

It meant different things to the three of us, of course. Harry was happy and hence satisfied. Lewis was satisfied and hence happy. And I, well, I was beginning to understand that it was all right to be happy.

– 11 —

Our idyll lasted a few days over three weeks. Harry had to go to London to rehearse. After he finished, he was going on to Norfolk to talk with his parents. He had decided it was time for that ‘Mom, Dad, you’re never going to have grandchildren’ talk. He and Lewis even practiced it, Lewis giving him pointers from his experiences with his parents.

‘Mum, Dad, I’ve got something important to tell you. I know it’s not what you would choose for me, but it’s what I am, and I love you so much that I don’t want to go on deceiving you.’

‘Right, that’s a good start. Make sure they have something to drink. Your parents drink, don’t they?’

‘Dad drinks beer. Mum has a gin and tonic when she’s down at the pub.’

‘Good. Stop at a store and buy beer and gin so that you don’t have to go out to a pub. You can’t have a discussion like this when they’re surrounded by the neighbours.’

‘No, none of the Lord Nelsons would be a good place for this discussion.’

‘The Lord Nelsons?’

‘Every pub in the Burnhams is named after Nelson.’

‘Oh, ok. Anyway, back to your parents. After I got mine all primed, I just went ahead and told them. It turned out they already knew, which was something of an anticlimax. Mother just told me to be careful. And Dad said he hoped I remembered always to use precautions, that they loved me too much to lose me.’

‘I don’t think my parents suspect I’m gay. Mum will cry, and I’ll be lucky if Dad doesn’t start in about “no son of mine”. And then when I tell them I’ve met the two wonderful men and am going to move in with them, he’ll explode and march out. Probably run off to the Lord Nelson, leaving me and my Mum there trying to talk.’

‘Should I come up?’

‘Not right away, Lewis. It would be better to hold off on that for a while until they get used to the idea.’

Lewis turned to me. ‘How did your parents react when you told them.’

‘I never told my father directly. Nothing was ever said, but he knew. I’m sure he knew. I think he even tried to introduce me to what he considered a promising candidate for son-in-law. I did tell mother. Since one of the few things she and I share is an appreciation of handsome young men, I thought it only fair to warn her that if I brought a young man home, he was mine. She was not to chase him.’

Both Lewis and Harry looked startled by that announcement. They still hadn’t gotten used to the venom with which I regarded my mother. Lewis looked at me rather speculatively. I have come to recognise that as his ‘here is another problem for me to solve’ look. At the time, I misinterpreted it and thought it simply curiosity.

I also had to leave, in my case for two week’s worth of final rehearsals and the opening of A Coward’s Noël in Birmingham. I wouldn’t even be able to come back on the weekend. Since I was already almost a third of the way north, I had decided long before to drive up to Edinburgh on Friday and had made arrangements to spend the weekend there to discuss my next job. I left the same day as Harry, the Tuesday of that week, but later, since I had to wait for a delivery. I was expecting a videotape with auditions by various singers for the Edinburgh production of Coward. I was on the phone with Lewis when the postman knocked at the door. I had to put the phone down to answer the door and sign for the packages.

‘I’m sorry, Lewis. The packages came. They sent two videotapes. I thought they said there was only one. I hope the second one is short. I had to arrange with the hotel to put a video recorder in my room, but they can only let me have it Thursday night. It’s been reserved the other nights. Some sort of sales convention, I gather. Listen, I’d better get going. I want to miss the heavy traffic outside London during the rush. I’ll call. Every night. Lewis, ah, I’m sorry to leave you alone. I love you. I’ll miss you. I’ll be back as soon as I can. You and Harry don’t have to honour your pledge not to have sex without me. We’ll survive that. Just don’t enjoy it too much, ok?’

‘We shall be miserable without you. We shall do nothing but complain about your desertion.’

‘I should go, Lewis.’

‘Yes, you should, Jonathan. Mr Atkinson is beginning to look pointedly at the clock. I had better get back to work. Take care. Drive carefully.’

The trip went fairly smoothly until just past Bunbury. The M40 slowed to a halt there for about an hour. Then just as suddenly traffic opened up and I was able to get to my hotel in Birmingham. But because of the delay it was already after 8:00. I tried calling Lewis but there was no answer. I called Harry in London, and we chatted for a bit. He hadn’t been able to reach Lewis either. We joked about what our partner was up to. I think both of us were still at the stage in the relationship when we weren’t quite sure it would last and were using jokes to cover up our anxieties about it.

Harry was incredibly chuffed about the rehearsals for Mahler’s Eighth. Esterhazy had come over for two days to work with him and the other soloists and with the chorus. Harry wouldn’t repeat what Esterhazy had said about him, but I could tell the remarks had left him elated. We lingered over the conversation long after we had given each an account of our activities since our last meeting. This preceded the widespread adoption of mobile phones by several years, and I had made the call from my hotel room. Finally Harry laughed and said that he would close by quoting his mother’s usual sign-off: ‘Well, we had better ring off. This is costing you money.’ Even so, it took another five minutes for us to say good-bye. It would be the last time we could talk for several days. Harry was taking the train to King’s Lynn after rehearsals finished the next day to visit his parents, and I would busy with my own rehearsals and then watching the videotapes of the Edinburgh auditions. I tried to reach Lewis again, but he still wasn’t answering. I left a message on his machine, and then went out to find something to eat. There was no message from him when I returned about 11:00, and so I went to bed. Nor was I able to reach him on Wednesday evening. I began to wonder if something had happened. I called Christopher and Bobbie, but neither of them had seen or heard from Lewis.

The rehearsals Thursday took longer than I had expected, and then I went out for drinks and dinner with the stage manager and several of the actors and crew. I didn’t get back to the hotel until 9:00 or so. Lewis had phoned the hotel earlier that day and left a message for me. It made no sense to me: ‘I’m taking care of things. Don’t worry. I’ll be out of touch for a few days. Call me on Sunday night after you get back from Edinburgh.’ I shrugged it off as Lewis’s attempt to be dramatic. I was too tired to pay much attention to it or give it much weight.

The hotel had attached the video tape player to the television set in my room, and I spent the next hour watching the auditions and making notes on the performers. When I pulled the mailer with the second tape out of my briefcase, I noticed that there was no return address on the package but that it had been posted in Brighton. I almost didn’t open it then. I wanted to go right to sleep, but decided I had better open the package and make sure that it wasn’t work and something that I had to look at while I had the use of the video recorder.

There was no letter with the tape, but it had a typed label reading ‘Jonathan’s Greatest Hits’. I was more curious about it than alarmed. The mysterious label did get my attention, which I suppose was what it was intended to do. I popped it into the machine and pressed the play button. It began with a series of professionally produced title cards: Jonathan’s Greatest Hits, Starring Jonathan Spencer, With Special Guest Appearances by Lewis Quinn and Harry Castlemain. The screen went black for several seconds. The only sound was a rhythmic tapping sound. My initial thought that Lewis and Harry had put together a tape of themselves for me. I was rather touched by their thoughtfulness.

All of that turned to despair when the first scene slowly faded into view. I was lying naked, face down, on the bed in Peter’s playroom, shackled to the bedposts at my wrists and ankles. Peter was not visible, but a riding crop slashed across my buttocks every few seconds. This was followed by a paddle and then a whip. There were no sounds other than the sound of my flesh being struck and my moans. I fastforwarded through the succeeding scenes, all of which featured me being beaten or used by Peter. The last scene was the most shocking. It had been taped in my bedroom. Lewis, Harry, and I were making love. The lighting and sound were poor but there was no doubt that it was the three of us. I had no idea when or how Peter had gained access to my bedroom to install the cameras. There definitely was more than one camera, since the shots were taken from different angles.

At the end, Peter appeared on the tape for the first time. He was seated in an armchair in his sitting room, smoking a cigarette and sipping a glass of whiskey. His legs were crossed and throughout his subsequent speech, he kept moving the leg that lay atop the other, swinging the calf and foot in a short arc up and down. A half-empty bottle of whiskey stood on the table beside the chair, and a fire was burning in the fireplace. The flickering of the flames lent an uneven texture to the light. Flares of red and orange and blue lit up the glass Peter was holding. ‘Jonathan, I do hope you enjoyed the tape. Frankly I’ve been very disappointed with your behaviour. I had expected you to contact me. Perhaps your new chums have been keeping you so busy that you haven’t had a moment to spare to keep me informed about your doings. I have had to resort to these dramatic means of getting your attention.

‘Fortunately I long ago took steps to ensure that I would be able to keep myself informed about your activities. I may have misled you during our last conversation into thinking that I needed to install the cameras. As you can see, the cameras were already installed. I simply had to wait for a night when the three of you were together in your house. It was rather cold in the van, waiting for you to turn out the lights and go upstairs to bed. But things soon heated up. It’s obvious the three of you are getting to know one another quite well.

‘I thought I should do my part and help Harry and Lewis become better acquainted with you. I sent each of them a copy of this tape too. I wonder what the two of them will think of you now. Well I had better let you go. I’m sure you and Lewis and Harry have lots to talk about now. And there’s no need to thank me, Jonathan. Knowing that I have contributed to your relationship is reward enough for me. Be seeing you. Oh, and don’t try to remove the cameras. That will just make me angry, and I might have to take further steps.’

I ripped the cassette out of the machine and broke it open. I tore the tape out and threw it into the bin. Then I realised that wasn’t safe or wise. I pulled it out and began hacking away at it with the small pair of scissors in my shaving kit. I attacked it in a frenzy and kept chopping at it until it was reduced to a pile of shreds. I stuffed those into plastic bags for separate disposal. It was only after I had finished that I allowed myself to feel any emotion. And then I got sick.

When I was cleaning myself up, I suddenly thought of Lewis’s mysterious message and understood what it meant. Harry, of course, would not have received the tape because he was away from his flat, but Lewis had received it the same day I had and had probably watched it that night. That was why I had been unable to reach him.

I reached for the phone and tried ringing Lewis again. Again there was no answer, and I left a message pleading with him to call me back. I could hear the agony in my voice, and certainly it would be apparent to Lewis as well when he listened to my message. I even thought about trying to reach Lewis at work, although his office had been closed for hours. I didn’t want to try any of our mutual friends for fear of alerting them that something was wrong. Finally I turned out all the lights and sat there sleepless. My life was in shreds. Lewis was so disgusted with me that he had run off. Or maybe he was sitting in his rooms listening to my voice leaving messages and then erasing them to rid his life of me. He had probably already reached Harry and told him about the tape. An endless fugue of despair played in my mind.

I finally fell asleep about 4:00. The phone rang at 6:00. I was still sitting in the chair wearing the same clothes I had on the night before. I almost did not answer the phone. I thought it would be Peter calling to crow about his victory. But it was Lewis. He began in midstream.

‘Jonathan, you are not to worry. I have taken care of everything.’

‘Lewis, where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you.’

‘It’s ok, Jonathan. I’m at my parents. I’m calling from a box down the road. You’re not to worry any more.’

‘When you say that, it makes me worry all the more. What are you talking about?’

‘The tape from Peter. I know you got a copy—Peter said so on the tape. I’ve taken care of it. It won’t be a problem any more.’

‘How? What did you do?’

‘Don’t worry about it. I took the tape Peter sent to Harry too, and I’ve destroyed it and the one I got. You must promise me never to mention this to Harry.’

‘I’ve no intention of mentioning it to anyone.’

‘Good. Did you get rid of the one you got?’

‘I cut it to pieces. I haven’t figured out how to get rid of them yet.’

‘It’s best to burn it. You must find some way to burn it.’

‘But Peter can just make more copies.’

‘No, he won’t be doing that. Listen to me, Jonathan. You must follow your original plans for today. Go to your rehearsals and then leave for Edinburgh. Return to Birmingham on Sunday evening as you planned and then check back into the hotel. Call me at my flat then. I’ll be back there by Sunday evening.’

‘Lewis, what have you done?’

‘I solved our problem. That’s my contribution to the relationship, our relationship, yours, mine, and Harry’s. I solve problems. Just remember. Harry loves you. He needs you. We both need you. Don’t worry about Murphy. Before I left, I asked Anne Lavesly to feed him. Now you mustn’t call anyone again. I’ve spoken to Christopher and told him I had to make an emergency trip home. I couldn’t reach you or Harry before I left. That’s the story. This is the first time I could get away to call you. I don’t think anyone will ask. But that’s the story if they do.’

‘Lewis, tell me what you’ve done.’

‘Don’t worry. I’ve got to go now. Don’t forget to burn the tape.’ And then he hung up.