REALISING THE LENGTHS TO WHICH A RABBIT WILL GO
Charleston shows Raffles something which shocks him beyond measure. Raffles being Raffles, cannot simply let things be; he has to find out why. His discovery leads to a friendship being regained and taken to new levels.
A first time story.
Written: December 2013. Word count: 40,520.
I had just finished bathing and shaving when I heard the front door knocker. I was a little surprised as I wasn't expecting a visitor; I was even more surprised when it was knocked a second time letting me know who was outside. Charlie and I were due to meet at our club in just over an hour's time, so why was he knocking at my front door.
I quickly donned my dressing gown and hurried through my rooms to pull open the door. "Hello, Charlie," I said, frowning a little as I stared at him. He was dressed for dinner, so again I wondered why he was here at my rooms. "Is something the matter? Are you unwell?" I asked.
He shook his head. "Hello, A. J. I'm fine, thank you. As for something being the matter, well," he paused and glanced away from me. "May I come in?"
I shook myself and took a step back. "Of course."
Charlie came in and closed the door behind him; he put his hat down on the sideboard but kept his overcoat on as he gazed at me. Just for a moment I felt his gaze linger on me, wandering down and up my body in a way it hadn't done since more than a year ago and I wondered if . . . I shook myself; of course he wouldn't be here for that. Well, not unless I had finally got my dearest wish and he had ended his relationship with Allen Armstrong and even then I would have been stunned if he had come to my rooms to -
"Come though to the sitting room and have a drink and a Sullivan, Charlie," I said, turning on my heel and going through into the room where I poured us both a drink and took the cigarette box from the table.
I handed him a glass of whisky and soda and offered him the cigarette box. "Thank you," he took the glass and a cigarette and before I could pick the matches up, he took a box from his pocket and struck one, offering it to me first.
We stood for several long moments in silence just smoking and sipping our drinks from time to time. Charlie was staring at me, but for once I was completely unable to read what he was thinking or what he wanted. I had always been able to read Charlie. Over the years we had known one another, firstly as school boys and once we had come down from university as adults, I could not recall a time when I had no idea what Charlie was thinking; or what he might want from me.
Finally, after we had stood for two or three minutes in silence, I threw the remainder of my cigarette into the fire and turned around. "I must go and dress," I said.
"I'll come with you, if you don't mind," he added quickly.
I stopped and turned back around and stared at him; again, just for a moment or two, his gaze flickered away from mine. "Of course I don't mind," I said, keeping my tone light. "Nor do I mind," I added swiftly, "if you bring your cigarette and drink with you. In fact, if you wish to, please go aheado help yourself to another drink." I noticed he had emptied his glass whereas I had merely drunk only half of mine.
Rather than leave him to pour another drink and then follow me to my bedroom (he knew where it was) something made me stand and wait for him to refill his glass before with him slightly behind me I led the way to my bedroom.
Once there I untied the sash of my dressing gown, removed it and dropped it onto the bed before going to the dresser to fetch underwear and a shirt. It didn't bother me in the slightest that Charlie was in the room with me, I believe he had seen my unclothed more than any wife (should I ever take one which in truth I knew I never would) might see me. In fact I was quite certain that was the case. To my faint surprise during the time it had taken me to remove my dressing gown and cross to the dresser, Charlie had removed his overcoat and dropped it onto a chair.
I pulled my drawers on, buttoned them up and arranged myself a little as Charlie stood and quite deliberately watched me. Again I began to wonder if he wished us to regain the relationship we had had whilst at school and had experienced on and off, up until a year ago, as adults. If he did, why was I bothering to dress?
I paused, about to put my shirt on, and said quietly, "Forgive me for asking, Charlie, but do you really wish me to continue to dress?"
Charlie started and widened his eyes. "What? A. J.! What do you think I came here for?" To my surprise his cheeks coloured slightly.
I shrugged and continued to dress, pulling on my shirt, affixing the collar and adding shirt studs before I buttoned the rest of the shirt up and went back to the dresser to choose a pair of cufflinks. "Well," I said, my gaze never leaving his face. "Given you have not said why you have come to my rooms when we were due to meet at our club in about an hour, and given that you have been behaving somewhat out of character, shall we say, to be honest I wasn't certain. I apologise if I have offended or upset you."
The next moment Charlie was in front of me and his hand was cupping the back of my neck as he shook his head. "You never need to apologise to me, A. J., and you neither offended nor upset me. It is I who should apologise for - Well, for behaving as you say somewhat out of character."
I touched his arm. "As you said, Charlie, you have no need to apologise to me. When have we ever needed to do that with one another?"
He smiled at me. "Never," he said softly.
I smiled at him. "Exactly." We stood for a moment in silence just gazing at one another before I patted his arm and moved to one side. "Well, are you going to tell me why you are here - not that I have any objections, as I am sure you know - rather than meeting me as planned at the club? I ask again, is there anything amiss?"
He sighed softly and gave a quick shake of his head and then said somewhat ambiguously, "No - at least not with me."
For a moment I was almost disappointed; so he hadn't come here to tell me he and Armstrong were no longer involved. "Then with whom is something amiss?" I asked, as I went to the wardrobe to fetch my dining suit.
"May I?" he asked, taking out his cigarette case.
I frowned. "Of course, Charlie." He gave me a faint smile and held the case out to me as he raised an eyebrow.
I nodded. "Thank you. Light it for me, please." I stepped into my trousers, pulled them up and buttoned them before I pulled my braces into place and put my waistcoat on. "Well?" I asked, taking the cigarette from Charlie and taking a deep drag before resting it in the ashtray which stood atop of the dresser and putting my watch into my waistcoat pocket. "I believe you were about to tell me what is, and with whom it is, amiss.
For a moment he just stared at me and then to my surprise he strode to where he had left his overcoat and pulled something from his pocket. He stood just holding the item in his hands as he stared at me. He seemed to be considering what to do or say next. I decided not to press him again and instead brushed my hair and tied my bowtie.
Finally he spoke. "Armstrong gave me these," he said, holding out what I now saw were photographs.
I frowned. "You know I'm not interested in that kind of photograph, Charlie." I kept my tone low and non-judgemental. The fact that he liked, enjoyed I presumed, looking at such photographs, was one of the two things I simply did not understand about Charlie.
He nodded. "I know, A. J. But I really do think you should see these." He came towards me and held them out.
I hesitated. I really had no desire to look at naked men; why bother? After all if I wished to cast my eyes on a naked young man, I would rather it was the real thing, not some studio photograph. However, the look Charlie was giving me made me realise he desperately wanted me to look at them - whilst at the same time not wishing me to do so.
"Very well." I took them from his hand and glanced down at them. They were like any other erotic photograph featuring one or more young men I had come across over the years. So why was Charlie so insistent that I look at these?
I was about to ask Charlie that very thing when I looked down at the young man again. I gasped aloud, glanced at Charlie before hastily looking back down at the photographs, my gaze falling on the face of the young man. "No!" I cried, shaking my head. "No!" I repeated as I stared down into the young man's face.
I looked at Charlie. "It can't be," I whispered, shaking my head in denial of what I so clearly saw. "He wouldn't. He couldn't. Charlie, tell me . . . Charlie?" I pleaded with him.
He closed the small gap between us and put his arms around me, holding me in a loose embrace. "I'm sorry, A. J.," he whispered, and for a fleeting second I felt him kiss the top of my head. "I'm so sorry, but it is he, A. J. It really is Harry Manders. I asked Armstrong," he added quickly.
I shook my head again and pulled away from him, my gaze once more falling onto first the face and then the body of . . . Of . . . Of Bunny. "No," I said again, aware that I was still denying not what I saw but what Charlie had confirmed. "Why?" I asked, finally looking up at Charlie. "Why, Charlie?"
He shifted slightly. "Now that, A. J., I'm afraid I do not know. Armstrong," he paused; he was under no illusions as to exactly what I thought about Armstrong and I knew it troubled him that I could not at the very least be civil to and about the man. That I might like him was impossible, however, Charlie did expect better of me. And for Charlie's sake I wished I could be a better man in this respect. However, I neither liked nor trusted Allen Armstrong In fact I despised him both for the person he was and for the fact that he had put Charlie and I very slightly at odds with one another.
"Armstrong," Charlie repeated, "either didn't know or wasn't prepared to tell me. He didn't really want to tell me his name; however, I . . . I insisted. I persuaded him to," he added.
I closed my mind to any thoughts as to what form Charlie's persuasion may have taken. "I still don't believe it," I said. "Armstrong is lying to you!" I spoke harshly and regretted it the moment I had said the words.
Charlie stiffened, moved away from me and turned his back. He stood for a moment or two and I saw what I had seen fewer than a handful of times in all the years since I had first met Charlie: him trying to contain his temper. I was under no illusions that should he choose to, Charlie could hurt me and hurt me badly. He always had been a few inches taller than me and quite a lot stronger. I had never once got the better of him during all the times we had wrestled whilst at school.
After what seemed like several minutes at the very least, I saw Charlie's body relax, I watched his shoulders slump and I heard him sigh as he turned back around and looked at me. "Why would he lie to me, A. J.?" he said quietly. As he stared at me, he made no attempt to hide the pain from his eyes.
I had to let it go; I wasn't about to lose Charlie over some - "I apologise, Charlie," I said, taking a step or two towards him. "I did not mean to offend you - and this time I know I did. It is just that I was so . . ." I trailed off, glanced down at the photos I still held, shrugged and looked back at him.
He sighed and his face and eyes softened. "Oh, A. J.," he murmured, closing the gap between us and once more pulling me into his arms. This time he pulled me somewhat nearer to him and tightened his arms around me. "I understand," he said softly. He didn't; he couldn't; but I let it go and slipped my arms around him.
"I am sorry," I said again. And I was; I was sorry for hurting him; for offending him. I wasn't sorry for insinuating Armstrong by saying outright that I believed him to be a liar. However, I was sorry for hurting my best friend; the man I loved more than I loved anyone.
"I know," he said, and to my surprise I again felt him lightly kiss my head. I believe he did know; I believe he knew exactly for what I was apologising. As I continued to hold him and let him hold me, I suddenly found myself desperate to entice him into my bed. I wanted his hands on me; I wanted his mouth on mine; I wanted - I needed - him inside me doing what he had always done so very well.
I felt quite certain I could persuade him to forget Armstrong for one evening; to forget him and just to lose himself in me and make love with me as we had done so many times. However, even as I began to plan my first move, I knew I wouldn't; I couldn't. I loved him; I cared about him too much to do that to him. I knew if he did give in and come to my bed that whilst he would enjoy it very much, whilst he would get as much pleasure from it as I would, that once it was over he would hate himself - and quite possibly hate me. I was not going to risk that.
Thus, I moved back a little and he loosened his embrace as he stared down at me. "Let us go and dine," I said firmly.
He blinked; his surprise evident, as was a faint touch of colour to his cheeks. "Are you quite certain? We could stay here and -" he stopped speaking abruptly and then said swiftly, "Send down for something from the kitchens."
I smiled. "I believe dining out would be -" I gazed at him. Now I was able to read him and I read a single word in his steady gaze. 'Safer'. I gave a half nod and pulled back further until I was out of his arms.
I strode across the room to where my dining coat still hung on the hanger. I was about to take it off the hanger and put it on when I realised I was still holding the photographs. Against my conscious will I felt my gaze fall on them again. I swallowed hard. "May I . . . May I . . . May I keep them?" I asked my tone flat.
He nodded and picked up what remained of his cigarette and took a deep drag. "Of course."
"Thank you." I returned to my bed and quickly put them into the drawer of the bedside table, before returning to put on my dining coat. "Let us go," I said, smiling at him. I didnít wait for him to put out his cigarette, as well as the one he had lit for me which I had abandoned. Instead I simply strode through my rooms into the sitting room where I poured myself a small whisky which I drank, without soda, in one swallow.
The next moment Charlie was at my side and he put down the glass he had taken into my bedroom with him. He pulled his overcoat on and followed me out into the hall where I donned by overcoat, picked up my hat and stick and smiled at him.
Once we were outside in the street, Charlie offered me his arm. I took it and we walked along talking about his hospital and my law practice until we reached out club where we dined well.
TWO DAYS LATER
I reached my destination and hesitated for a moment or two as I once again gave thought to what I was doing. Charlie would be very unhappy if he knew I was here; he would be very unhappy indeed. Maybe I should just return to my office and forget the whole thing; it wasn't as if it was any of my business after all, was it?
Bunny was now a grown man; an adult; if he wished to pose for erotic photographs, it was his business, not mine. He was no longer the small, easily upset and scared, young even for his age, oh, so innocent boy I had met on that September afternoon all those years ago. He was quite capable of taking care of himself; he didn't need me to do it. It really was none of my business; he could do what he wanted to; I had given up any rights I had to him when I had walked away from him without looking back. I no longer had any say in what he did; I was no longer the person who protected him, cared about him and possessed him. I would return to my office and get on with my work.
My decision made I walked into the photographic studio and waited until Armstrong turned around. He looked surprised to see me and not overly pleased. He disliked me about as much as I disliked him; he maybe disliked me even more than I disliked him because he knew that if Charlie bent to the will of anyone it was to mine.
"Raffles," he said, wiping his hands on a piece of cloth and coming over to stand in front of me. He didn't offer me his hand and I did not offer him mine.
I nodded. "Armstrong."
We stood and stared at one another for several long seconds, each of us was clearly summing the other one up. Finally, it was he who broke the silence. "I never expected to see you here," he said, "at least not unless Charleston was with you."
I shrugged. "I never expected to be here."
He gave me a very faint half smile and nodded. "In that case I assume you aren't after having your photograph taken. I do a very nice line in family photographs."
"I've seen some of the photographs you take."
He shrugged as he clearly understood to what photographs I referred. "You can't make a business out of that kind of photograph alone. Most of my work is," he paused, shrugged again and said, "photographs in which people keep their clothes on."
"I'm not here to discus the morals or otherwise of some of the photographs you take. There is clearly a market for them and everyone has a right to their own preferences."
"Well, what are you here for?"
I paused; I could still just leave and forget the whole thing. Yes, he would, no doubt, tell Charlie I had been there, but I was sure I could persuade Charlie that I had simply been looking for a studio photograph to be taken. "You have a new - Model do you call them?"
He nodded. "Yes."
I took a deep breath, mentally crossed my fingers and said, "Harry Manders."
I didn't like the way his eyes narrowed as he stared at me nor the look of anger that crossed his face. "So Charleston talked, did he?" The tone of his voice was not a pleasant one and not for the first time I wondered just what Charlie saw in the man. I also found myself having to prevent myself from shivering as I realised I felt a little afeared for Charlie's safety.
"Of course not," I said firmly. "I recognised him."
I nodded. "Yes."
He stared at me and narrowed his eyes; again I did not like the look that was on his face. "So Charleston didn't tell you who he is?"
"No. He merely showed me the photograph and -"
"Why would he do that?"
I mentally crossed my fingers again and said in what I hoped was a casual tone, "Oh, he often shows me the photographs you give him." I hoped and prayed Charlie had never told Armstrong that was not the case.
"Does he now?" Armstrong's tone was a little less harsh and his angry expression had faded somewhat.
"Yes. He does. You are a very skilled photographer." Probably for the first time since I had gone into his studio, I spoke the truth. I may not like the man (and that was putting it mildly) but I could recognise and respect talent when I saw it. Allen Armstrong was a very talented photographer; a very talented one indeed.
The surprise was evident on his face and to my surprise he actually coloured just a little as he said, "Thank you, Raffles." I gave him a brief nod. "So what exactly is it you want? If Manders, interests you, shall we say, I can made certain you receive copies of any photograph I take of him. A number of the gentlemen I provide photographs for prefer me to do that rather than them coming here. Of course there's a fee for the service, but I presume that is of no concern to you."
I nodded. "Not at all and I would appreciate you doing that." I took out my card and handed it to him; it was the one that had both my home and my office address on it.
He studied it for a moment. "Where would you prefer the photographs to be sent?"
"The Albany," I said swiftly. My clerk opened all of my post and I certainly did not want him seeing erotic photographs - well knowing that I was receiving them.
He nodded, went to his desk and made a note in a book and put my card down. "Manders is due to come here again in a few days," he said. "You'll get your photographs a few days later."
I nodded. "Thank you." I hesitated; I could still simply walk away and not say anything further. However, I stayed.
"Is there something else I can do for you, Raffles?"
I swallowed and said in what I hoped was a nonchalant tone, "I wonder if it would be possible for you to give me Manders's address?"
His eyes narrowed again and he strode towards me. "What kind of service exactly do you think I provide, Raffles?" He snarled the words at me. "I'm not a pimp, you know."
"I never said you were, nor did I, for a moment, think you were. I merely wish to become reacquaintanced with Manders, that is all. I apologise if I gave you the wrong impression and if I have offended you in any way."
He glowered at me for several seconds before saying, his tone cold, "Apology accepted. However, no, I will not give you Manders's address. The models I use trust me to respect their privacy."
I almost laughed at his words - that last thing young men (or women) who posed for erotic photographs had was privacy. "And there is nothing I can say to change your mind?"
"Very well, I shall bid you good day."
"Do you still want photographs of Manders?"
No, I didn't. "Yes, of course I do."
He nodded. "Right. You'll get your first ones by the end of the week."
"Thank you." I hesitated for a second, no more, before I turned on my heel and left the studio. Once outside I lit a Sullivan and took a deep drag and then a second before I began to make my way back to my offices.
A WEEK LATER
I was reading a file in preparation for my first client of the afternoon when there was a discreet knock at my door. I looked up as Digby, my exceptionally good clerk, came in. "Excuse me, Mr. Raffles," he said, his tone as ever respectful. "I do apologise for interrupting you.
I decided it would be prudent not to tell him I welcomed any interruption due to the file I had been reading was incredibly tedious and that I really had no great desire to continue to act for the client. "That's quite all right, Digby," I said smiling at him. "What may I do for you?"
For a moment he was silent and I saw his look become a little troubled. "There is a," he paused for a moment before saying, "gentleman to see you."
I waited for him to tell me the name of the said gentleman, however, none was forthcoming. "And does this gentleman have a name?"
"I am quite sure he does, sir. However, he chose not to tell me what it was. Instead he said," once more Digby fell silent; once more he looked a little uncomfortable.
"Yes, Digby," I said in an encouraging tone. "What did the gentleman say?"
"He said." Now Digby looked around my office as I found myself becoming more and more intrigued and the tediousness of the file fled from my mind. "He said it concerned . . . A pet rabbit. I do apologise, Mr. Raffles, but that is all the gentleman would say. And he is a gentleman, sir."
I was silent for a moment as I sat and digested what Digby had told me. So Bunny had found his way to me - was I surprised? In truth I wasn't; if I was honest I had been expecting him for a few days now. To my surprise I found myself just a little anxious at the prospect of coming face to face with the man to whom I had said goodbye some ten years ago.
"Shall I tell him you are busy, Mr. Raffles?"
I shook my head. "No, Digby. I will see the gentleman."
Digby gave me a look that was tinged with disapproval, before saying flatly, "Very well, Mr. Raffles." He turned and left my office.
A short time later he once again knocked on my door and opened it. "Mr. - The gentleman to see you, Mr. Raffles."
I stood up and stared at Bunny who met my stare and held it unblinkingly. "Thank you, Digby," I heard myself say. "That will be all."
"Very good, Mr. Raffles." Digby's tone told me 'very good' was the last thing he thought it was. A moment later I heard the door being closed.
Bunny and I continued to stare at one another in silence. In the short time he had been in front of me, I had watched a myriad of emotions, strong emotions, pass over his face. I saw the love he had had for me when he had been thirteen and I eighteen; I saw the sorrow that had been on his face and in his eyes as I had held him in my arms, kissed his head, said goodbye and walked away from him. I saw what for a moment I believed was dislike, certainly disappointment and pain. I wasn't certain what my own face was showing; I hoped it wasn't betraying the fact that I wanted nothing more than to stride across my office, take him into my arms and never let him go.
We couldn't go on standing there staring at one another in silence for ever, and as it was my office in which we stood, I felt I had to be the one to break it. "Good morning," I paused for a fraction of a second before I added softly, "Bunny?" I made the name a question and asked the same question in my eyes.
Just for a moment I thought he was going to tell me that name was no longer appropriate; that I should call him 'Manders'. However, after a second or two I saw his eyes soften a little and heard a faint sigh as he nodded once. "Hello, Raffles," he said and smiled at me. It wasn't the full Bunny smile he had bestowed on me during our two years at school, but it did finally look a little friendly.
I did move towards him, but rather than pull him into my arms I held my hand out to him and when he took it I put my other one around his and clasped his hand between both of mine. "It is good to see you again, my rabbit." The term came automatically and again I glanced at him, waiting to see if he was going to object to the possessive term that really was no longer an appropriate one - if it ever had been.
He was silent for a moment before he smiled again and said quietly, "I find it surprises me somewhat to say that it is good to see you again as well, Raffles."
Despite the softness in his voice, in his eyes and in his smile, his words cut into me, hurting me in a way words had never hurt me and for a moment I didn't quite know what to say. In the end I fell back onto my manners. "I was just about to have a cup of coffee and a Sullivan, would you like to join me? Oh, do say you will, Bunny. Please," I heard myself add.
He went on staring at me before he carefully extracted his hand (I confess I had quite forgotten I was still clasping it) from mine, put his hat down onto my desk, looked at me and spoke. His tone was now flat and just a little hard. "I would like that, Raffles. However," he held up a hand, "I believe you should hear what I have to say first. You may no longer wish to take coffee with me."
I swallowed and moved to my desk where I picked up the cigarette box and held it out to him. "At least have a cigarette."
He hesitated for a moment or two, before taking one. "Thank you." He waited as I took one for myself and struck a match, holding it for him to light his Sullivan first, before bending my own head over it.
I waved to the chair in front of my desk. "Do sit down."
"Thank you. I think I'll stand for now."
"As you wish." I was aware that the height difference between us was still as it had been when we had been at school, if not a little more. He was not tall for a man, just as he hadn't been tall for a boy, thus, I sat on the edge of my desk. For a short time we just smoked our cigarettes; I waited for him to speak, after all he was the one who had come to see me and clearly had a reason for doing so - a reason I could guess.
"Do you know why I'm here?" he said, finally breaking the silence.
I met his gaze and gave a half nod. "I believe I can guess," I replied.
He stared at me; for a moment his gaze became a little hard and then to my surprise, he shook his head. "Damn you, Raffles," he said, his tone however belied his words.
He gave me a rueful look and sighed. "I came here determined to be angry with you for - Well, for . . ."
"Presuming I still had the right to interfere, shall we say? Although I would prefer to say 'show my concern'?"
He nodded. "Yes. I'm not your fag any longer, Raffles."
I smiled. "Yes, Bunny. I am aware of that."
"And to be honest, Raffles, you did rather give up any rights you had over me when you," he paused for a moment and I watched him swallow hard. A look of determination came over his face and he said softly but flatly, "Walked away from me." He met my gaze and held it.
"Well, my rabbit," I said, after I had taken a deep drag of my cigarette, "I can quite see how you might feel that way. However, on the day we met, the day I," I paused for a second and took another drag of my Sullivan, "took you as mine, I made you a promise. Do you remember what that promise was?"
He nodded. "Yes, Raffles, of course I do."
I smiled and managed to prevent myself from saying what a good boy he was. Even though he had said he did remember and I was certain he did, I still said, "I promised to take care of you and to protect you from harm. I do not recall putting any kind of time limitation on that vow. Do you remember me doing thus, Bunny?"
He sighed and shook his head. "No, Raffles. You didn't. However - Look, Raffles, strangely enough I find I do appreciate your . . . Concern for my welfare. However, I assure you it is misplaced. I don't need you to take care of me; I don't need you to -"
"Worry?" I said quietly.
He shrugged. "If you wish to call it that."
"Bunny, what you are doing is -"
"My choice." He spoke firmly. "It's my choice, Raffles. Mine. I am not thirteen or even fourteen any longer. I am a young man of twenty-five; I am able to make my own decisions."
I sighed and put my cigarette out. "Yes, I am aware of that, Bunny. But why ma- Why are you doing what you are doing? Do you need money, my rabbit? Because if you do you only need to -"
"No, Raffles! I don't need money. I have quite enough - I don't need money," he repeated. "That is not why I am doing what I am doing."
I held his gaze for a moment before saying softly, "Then why are you doing it, Bunny?"
He was silent and once more a slightly hard look crossed his face and when he spoke his tone was again soft yet flat. "It really isn't any of your business. I'm sorry, Raffles, there was a time I never believed I would say such a thing, but . . . It isn't anything to do with you."
He was correct; of course he was. Just as he was right that in all honesty I had given up any rights to him when I had walked away from him and never once wrote to him. However, just because he was correct, it didn't mean I had to like the fact.
Nonetheless, I sighed softly and said just as softly, "I know. And if I . . . If I caused you any embarrassment or problems with Armstrong then I apologise."
To my faint surprise he smiled at me and when he spoke his tone was light and with a hint of humour in it. "So does the apology not apply if I tell you that you caused me neither problems nor embarrassment with Armstrong?"
For a moment I just stared at him; my rabbit really had changed; really had grown up - just as he should have done, so why was I just a little saddened to learn that fact? I then laughed softly and said, "No, my rabbit, I offer you an unconditional apology. I was incorrect in what I did; I do indeed have no rights to you any longer."
"Thank you, Raffles," he said and then sighed and gave me a rueful look. "Although given how gracious you have been, please allow me to say that I confess I was, I am, more than a little touched by the fact that you do still," he swallowed hard. "Do still care about me," he said softly.
I didn't know what to say; what could I say? Thus, I changed the subject. "Will you take coffee with me now?" I asked.
He smiled and sat down. "Yes, please."
"Good." I picked up the telephone and asked Digby to bring coffee for two as with my other hand I once again offered him the cigarette box.
It didn't take Digby long to arrive with the tray of coffee and china and as he put it down on my desk, I got the impression he had already prepared everything and had been merely waiting for me to ring him.
"Thank you, Digby," I said, already picking up the coffee pot.
"Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. Raffles?" he asked, and I knew he was enquiring as to whether he should open a file on Bunny.
I shook my head. "Not at the moment, Digby. Mr. Manders," I nodded at Bunny, "is an old school friend of mine. I don't believe he has need of a solicitor at this moment, do you, Bunny?"
Bunny quickly shook his head. "No, Raffles. But when I do - if I do," he corrected quickly, "I'll know where to come."
Digby nodded. "Very well, sir," he said and left my office as quietly as he had arrived.
I handed Bunny a cup and pushed the sugar bowl towards him. "Well," I said, taking a sip of the rather excellent coffee - I hoped the day would never come when Digby abandoned me; I wasn't sure I would ever find a clerk as good as he to replace him. "I must just say again it really is so good to see you, my rabbit. Maybe we could dine together some evening."
Bunny nodded. "I would rather like that, Raffles." I didn't press him for an evening; I decided to wait until he suggested something. However, I was fairly confident I knew my rabbit well enough to know he hadn't said what he had said simply to be polite. "And it is good to see you again - even if the way we became reacquainted was rather . . ." he shrugged and fell silent.
He smiled and nodded. "Yes. I confess that when Armstrong told me you had been enquiring about me I was . . . Well, I was more than a little surprised."
"Were you, my rabbit?"
"Yes! I never thought you were the kind of man who -" He bit his lip and fell silent as his cheeks flushed a little.
"I'm not," I said softly. "At least not often; I have, of course, over time seen other such photographs."
He flushed a little more and glanced away from me. Once again I wondered quite why, given how shy he still seemed to be, he was posing for erotic photographs. "I imagine you have," he murmured, "whereas I -" He fell silent and continued to stare at the floor.
I found myself wondering quite how much champagne it would take before he would be willing to tell me exactly why he was doing as he was doing. I was more than a little shocked at myself for thinking such a thing. However, not shocked enough to rule it out; like it or not I was more than a little concerned about my rabbit - and not just because I did not trust Armstrong. The boy I had known would never, never, do what the man the boy had became was doing.
He looked up and met my gaze. "Raffles?"
"Yes, my rabbit?"
"May I ask you . . . May I ask, given what you said about not usually - you know. How you . . . How you came across the photographs," he finally said.
I stared at him for a moment suddenly not unsure as to what to say. Finally I said, "I shall answer your question, Bunny. However, before I do, please allow me to say quite honestly that whilst I do not make a habit of viewing such photographs, I do not believe there is anything wrong, anything immoral, anything unpleasant in doing so. I would never condemn a gentleman who does enjoy looking at such photographs - never, Bunny, do you understand me?"
"Yes, Raffles, of course I do - and I never thought you would."
"Nor," I added swiftly, "do I condone those who pose for such photographs." I stared at him and willed him to believe me.
He swallowed, flushed again and murmured softly, "Thank you." Just as I was about to speak he said quickly, "I do have a reason, Raffles. However, I'm afraid I am unable to tell you what it is. But it is a - I do have a reason."
I put my hand over his and squeezed it. "I am quite certain you do, my rabbit, and I shall respect your privacy and not ask you what the reason is. All I will say that if you do ever wish to tell me, I give you my word I shall not be upset or angry or disgusted by your reason. Do you understand?"
He nodded and gave me a small smile. "Yes, Raffles. Thank you. And I hope -"
He fell silent and I did not push him. Instead, after offering him the box of cigarettes, I lit another Sullivan and said quietly, "Charlie. Charlie is how I came across the photographs of you."
I really wasn't surprised by the look of astonishment, even a hint of shock, which crossed his face as he stared at me. "Charleston?" he whispered, and then to my surprise his cheeks paled. He swallowed and looked away from me; I believe he even trembled a little.
"My rabbit?" I once again covered his hand with mine. "What is the matter, Bunny? Come along, do tell me."
Slowly he lifted his head and looked at me. I was saddened to see how aghast he looked. "Charleston knows I have . . . Charleston knows," he repeated.
"Well, yes, Bunny. However, I assure you he doesn't think any less of you."
"How can you say that?" Bunny still sounded devastated.
"Well, my rabbit, I know Charlie. Do not forget I have known him since we were seven. I know how he thinks; I know what troubles him and I give you my word you posing for photographs - photographs, do not forget, which Charlie likes to look at - will not trouble him. So stop worrying, Bunny. Now drink your coffee." Part of me was somewhat bemused by the fact that he seemed less bothered by what I might think of him being an erotic photograph model, than what Charlie might think.
"I didn't think . . . I imagined . . . I didn't believe that anyone I knew would . . . Oh, Raffles." He sounded so young, so lost and so unhappy that I really had to stop myself from getting up from my desk, going to him and taking him into my arms. I almost asked him why, if it troubled him so much, had he done what he had done. However, I kept my word; I had told him I would not ask him why and I would stick to my vow.
He drank his coffee quickly, put his cigarette out and stood up. "I really do need to go, Raffles. I have . . . There's something I have to do. It really has been so good to see you again and I would like to dine with you one evening. Maybe one night next week?"
I had stood up when he had and now smiled at him. "I would like that very much, Bunny. Would Wednesday suit you?"
He thought for a moment and then smiled and nodded. "Wednesday would be perfect, thank you."
"I suggest we dine at my club, if you would like that; or the Savoy if you would prefer."
He picked his hat up from my desk and smiled. "Whichever you would prefer, Raffles. I'll be happy just to -" He fell silent and his cheeks became a little red.
Given he had come to my office to tell me how angry he was with me and to tell me to keep out of his life, I was very reassured by how clearly he was no longer angry. Indeed he made it quite clear he wanted nothing more than to regain our friendship.
"If you really do not mind, then let us say my club, this time," I added and his smile increased. I told him the name of it. "Shall we meet at eight?" He nodded. "And in the meantime, if you need or wish for whatever reason to get in touch with me you can always contact me here or at the Albany." I handed him the same card as I had given Armstrong, the card with both my office and home address and telephone numbers.
He took it, glanced at it and put it carefully into his card case. "Thank you." He hesitated for no more than a second or two, before he took out a card of his own and handed it to me. I glanced at it to see he lived in a flat in Mount Street.
I put the card down onto my desk and moved from behind it and held out my hand to Bunny. "Until next week, my rabbit," I said softly.
He took my hand in his. "Until next week, Raffles," he murmured as he gazed at me and I saw a hint of the adoration he had had for me when we had been at school together.
I put one hand on his shoulder and squeezed it as I gazed fondly down at him. I am not entirely certain how it happened, whether I had without consciously intending to do so, tugged him a little nearer to me or if he had moved, but somehow the handshake and shoulder clasp changed and he was in my arms in a loose embrace and his head was against my shoulder, just as it had been many times at school.
I held him, tightening my embrace just a little until he lifted his head and gazed up at me. I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from making a noise at the look on his face. I had seen love on his face when he had looked at me during our time at school, but that had been the love of a rather young boy; this was the love of a young man. I found I desperately wished to pull him nearer to me and to kiss him and to go on kissing him and -
However, I could not; I would not; I must not. Had we been in my rooms at the Albany, I truly believe I would have kissed him. However, even though I am occasionally fool-hardy and take a few more risks then I should take, especially given my profession, I knew that to kiss him with Digby just outside the door would be beyond any degree of fool-hardiness even I had ever committed.
Thus, after holding him for a moment or two longer, I reluctantly took my arms from around him and pushed my hands into my pockets as I gazed at him. "It really is good to see you again, my rabbit," I said yet again.
He smiled at me. "I'm so glad I came here, even if I had -" He stopped and flushed slightly. I merely shook my head and then did what I had wanted to do from the moment he had appeared. I took one hand from my pocket and brushed his hair back from his forehead; a gesture I had made on an almost daily basis during the two years he had belonged to me.
We couldn't go on just standing there in my office simply gazing at one another. Thus, it was with reluctance that I let my hand fall from his head, where I had tangled his soft locks around my fingers and I moved to the door. "Goodbye for now, Bunny," I said, my hand on the doorknob, "and I meant what I said. If you do wish or need anything, please do not hesitate to contact me. Will you give me your word, that you will do that?"
He smiled and nodded. "Yes, Raffles, I promise I shall. And now I really must go. I am looking forward to next week very much indeed."
"As am I, my rabbit." And with those words I opened the door and ushered him out. Less than a second after my door had opened Digby was on his feet and was escorting Bunny to the front door. I stood and watched him walk away from me before I returned to my office and returned to reading the, what had become even more so, tedious file.
THREE DAYS LATER
I returned home to find a package from Armstrong waiting for me and to my surprise I actually found myself more than a little eager to open it. I took it through into the dining room, pausing for long enough to pour myself a small whisky and soda, where I put it down on my desk and opened it.
A day or two after I had first paid a visit to Armstrong I had contracted him again and told him that as well as sending me photographs of Bunny, I would like him to also send me a selection of photographs of some of his other models - and he had done so. I slid the photographs out onto my desk and looked at them; my gaze came to rest first of all on the photographs of my rabbit. I picked the first one up and studied it carefully as I sipped my whisky.
My gaze lingered for quite some time on his face as I paid attention to where he was looking, to how his hair framed his face, to the faint almost nervous smile that touched his lips before I let my gaze wander further down the photograph until it came to rest on his lower body. I swallowed hard and took another sip of whisky and tried to ignore the fact that my body had begin to react slightly to what I was looking at - something that had never happened before on the few occasions I had seen such photographs.
Against my conscious will I found myself lightly running my finger over the photograph before I put it down on the desk and laid the set of four of him out side by side and I once again studied them. In the first photograph he was quite soft and in the fourth he was clearly more than a little aroused; I found myself wondering quite how he had got into that state. Had he touched himself or had -
I pushed that thought from my mind. The idea what my rabbit would pose naked for photographs still stunned me, shocked me actually; thus the idea that he would let anyone else touch him was quite beyond anything I wished to consider. Well, unless it was me touching him, something I wanted to do rather badly.
I sighed, emptied my glass, put the photographs of Bunny to one side and looked far more quickly and clinically through the selection of other photographs Armstrong had sent me. Once again I had to admit that he was an excellent photographer; he had a way of capturing his models that made them look almost alive; there skin looked warm.
Some of the photographs were far more explicit than others; some were of single models, other of pairs, a few contained three or more models. One photograph showed two young men embracing; another of the same two young men kissing; another, again of the same two young men, actually touching one another in a very intimate way.
I am far from being innocent, nor does being unclothed in front of other people trouble me - it never has done - I am unbothered by anything of a sexual nature. However, as I stood and looked at the two men who had their hands around one another's hardness I had to admit nothing on earth would make me do such a thing in front of a camera. Indeed, I was as certain as I could be that, unless I had a very, very, very good reason, I would not even be prepared to pose naked - which once again led me to wonder quite how Bunny could do such a thing.
As I continued to look at the photographs, comparing the other young men to my rabbit, I noticed there was one thing in particular which stood out. Apart from in the photographs where the young men were looking at one another, all of them looked directly at the camera, staring at the photographer. Bunny, however, did not look directly at the camera; his gaze was slightly off-centre as if he was looking at someone or something else, and his gaze made me believe he was thinking of someone else.
His photographs, even the one in which he was clearly aroused, showed a level of innocence that none of the other young men displayed, and the protectiveness I had always felt for him and my desire to keep him safe from harm flared up as I stared at them. I wanted to take him away from Armstrong, to prevent him from posing for any more photographs; I wanted no eyes other than mine to see him naked; I wanted . . . I wanted him as mine; I wished to keep him safe and to keep him by my side. I wanted to demand he tell me why he was doing what he was doing. I wanted to demand he stop posing for such photographs. I wanted to own him as I had once done - he was mine; he had been mine from the day we had first met and I never should have let him go.
I sighed and pushed the photographs of the other young men back into the envelope in which they had arrived and took the photographs of Bunny though to my bedroom where I carefully put them into the drawer in my bedside table along with the ones Charlie had given me. As I put them away, I told myself once again that Bunny was an adult; he wasn't my fag any longer. I didn't own him; I had no rights over him at all; no right to tell him what he could or could not do. I had let him go and I could not change that. All I could do now was to keep silent until he chose to tell me why he was doing what he was doing and wait for him to come into my arms and let me love him as I wished to do. That he would one day become mine, was something about which I had no doubt; no doubt at all.
I was due to dine with Charlie, thus after letting my gaze linger for a moment or two on Bunny's photographs before I closed the drawer of my bedside table, I went into the bathroom to draw a bath before returning to my bedroom where I undressed before going back to the bathroom to bathe and shave. As I bathed, I thought about my rabbit and quite how long I would have to wait until he told me why he was allowing himself to be photographed as he was, and how long before I could claim him as mine. That he wanted to become mine again, I was of no doubt, no doubt at all. It was just a matter of time; I would have to be patient - something I was quite good at.
I was just tying my bow tie when I heard my front door knocker. Still tying the tie I hurried through my rooms, into the hall and opened the front door. "Parker!" I exclaimed as I looked at him. "Is something amiss?"
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Mr. Raffles, but there's a gent downstairs asking to see you."
"And does this gentleman have a name?"
Parker frowned and made a soft noise under his breath before saying, "I'm sure he does, sir. But he wouldn't tell me what it was. I told him that Mr. Raffles won't see no one without knowing who he was."
I smiled. "And pray did the said gentleman inform you that he wished to see me in respect of a pet rabbit?"
Parker looked surprised as he stared at me. "Yes, sir. He did."
I laughed softly. "The gentleman's name, Parker, is Mr. Manders, Mr. Harry Manders. We are old friends, we were at school together." Again a hint of surprise crossed Parker's face, which didn't really surprise me. Bunny had always looked a few years younger than his actual age, part of it was to do with his slight build and height, but part of it was also his naivety and innocent look. Thus, it would be presumed the age difference between us was too great for us to have been at school together.
Parker was far too fine a porter, however, to actually express his surprise and simply said, "Were you, Mr. Raffles?"
"Yes, and that is from where the pet rabbit reference comes. It is a kind of joke, you could say, between us."
"That's nice, sir," Parker said after a moment or two. I had to prevent myself from laughing at his look and tone, both of which told me that 'nice' was the last thing he though it was and that he was wondering why we couldn't be more like the gentlemen we were meant to be.
"Please show Mr. Manders up, Parker."
"Very well, Mr. Raffles." Parker turned to go.
"Oh, and, Parker?"
"Yes, Mr. Raffles?"
"Please pay particular attention to Mr. Manders as I believe he will be visiting me here again."
Parker frowned just a little as he said, "I always pay attention to your visitors, Mr. Raffles, sir."
Oh, dear, I had offended him. I hastened to try to put things right. "I know you do, Parker, you do an excellent job. It is just that - well, Mr. Manders is . . . Well, he's a particularly close friend of mine and I - I apologise for any offence I may have caused."
"You didn't, sir, but thank you. I'll fetch Mr. Manders for you, sir." And after touching his hat slightly, a clearly mollified Parker descended the stairs.
As I waited for Bunny I glanced at my watch. I would have to leave my rooms within the next forty minutes or so unless I wished to be late for my dinner with Charlie. I wondered, given we had arranged to dine in a few days time, what Bunny wanted, and whether I should ring Charlie and tell him I could not dine with him after all. However, I decided to wait and see quite what Bunny wanted before I did that.
At that moment Parker appeared with Bunny. "Mr. Manders, sir," he said, stressing Bunny's name just a little.
I smiled. "Thank you, Parker."
"It's my pleasure, Mr. Raffles." He nodded at me and then at Bunny, before turning around and going back down the stairs.
"Hello, Bunny," I said, holding out my hand to him He hurried towards me and took my hand. As he did, I put my other hand on his shoulder and squeezed it.
"Hello, Raffles," he looked a little flushed. "I am very sorry to disturb you. I could have rung you, but . . . Well, I didn't like to . . ."
"You are not disturbing me, my rabbit," I hastened to assure him. "Come along inside and I'll pour you a whisky and soda and we have a Sullivan."
"Thank you, Raffles, I would like that."
"That's my good boy." The words left my lips before I really thought about them. I wondered if I should apologise or say something. However, the gentle smile and faint look of pleasure which crossed Bunny's face, stopped me from doing so.
We sat on the sofa sipping whisky and soda and smoking Sullivans as I just gazed at Bunny and again wondered for how long I would have to be patient. "Well, my rabbit," I said softly, "it's not that I have any objections to you just dropping by, I do not. You are more than welcome here at any time - any time at all, Bunny. However, may I ask if this is just a social call or is there something specific you wish to tell me or discuss with me or . . . ?"
"I'm sorry, Raffles, I should have rung you first, I'm sure you're dining out, are you not?"
"Well, yes. I am. I'm due to dine with Charlie, but - Oh, I know, why do you not join us? I know Charlie would be delighted to see you again and -" I came to an abrupt halt as he shook his head, widened his eyes and looked almost afeared. "Is something the matter, my rabbit?" I asked, putting my hand on his knee. "Do you not wish to see Charlie?"
"No! I mean yes. I mean . . . Oh, Raffles." He fell silent and glanced away from me; his cheeks were now very red.
"What is it, my dear Bunny? Come along, you know you can tell me anything, do you not?"
He sighed softly and finally looked up at me. "Yes, Raffles," he said, his voice little more than a whisper. "I know it's foolish but - I would like to see Charleston very much indeed, really I would. I would love to dine with both of you. However, I cannot."
"Ah, you have other plans? Well, that doesn't matter, we can arrange another evening when -"
"No!" He cried and I widened my eyes. "No," he repeated a little more softly. "No, Raffles, it is not that. I have no dinner plans for tonight."
"Than what is it, my rabbit?" He sighed, once more looked away from me, this time lowering his head so that his hair fell around his face, I fought an instinctual urge to put my fingers under his chin, push his head up and brush his hair from his face - something I had done on many occasions during our school days. However, I prevented myself from doing thus and waited for him to speak again.
"It is foolish."
"So you have already said." I kept my tone low. "Why don't you tell me what is foolish."
He sighed again and raised his head. "I do wish to see Charleston," he said again. "Please believe me, Raffles; I would like nothing more than to spend the evening with you and Charleston. Well, that is apart from -" He came to an abrupt halt and once more lowered his head, but not before I had seen quite how red his cheeks had become. "I can't dine with Charleston," he said softly. "I just can't, Raffles. Not knowing that he . . . That he . . . Raffles?" He once more looked at me, his gaze now pleading with me to understand and suddenly I did.
"Ah," I said, moving towards him a little and putting my arm around his shoulders. "The photographs?"
He nodded and bit his lip. "I couldnít sit at the same table as Charleston knowing he had . . . Knowing he had seen that kind of photograph of me. I couldn't, Raffles. I just couldn't. It would be too . . ."
"Charlie wouldn't make any mention of what he had seen, Bunny, nor would he make you feel uncomfortable."
"I know he wouldn't. But I would know and . . . I am sorry, Raffles. Maybe at some point in the future when - Well, maybe we could all dine together then. But I can't join you tonight." He stared into my eyes, once more pleading with me to understand.
I squeezed his shoulder and took my arm from around him. "It's all right, my rabbit, I do understand. Now why don't you just tell me why you came to see me?"
He hesitated for a moment or two and I could see he was gathering up his pluck, something of which he had a considerable amount - more than he believed himself to have. "May I ask a somewhat, no a very, personal question, Raffles?"
"Of course you may, Bunny."
He paused for a further moment. "The thing is, Raffles, it's not about you."
I frowned. "Go on?"
"Before I do, let me promise you that I do have a good reason, a very good reason, for asking. I just can't . . ."
"Tell me what it is at the moment?"
He nodded. "I will tell you, Raffles. Maybe next week, when you and I dine together; maybe I can tell you then."
"You do still wish to dine with me?"
"Of course I do! Why would you think I wouldn't? Do you not wish to dine with me?" he asked quickly.
I once more put my hand on his knee. "Of course I do, you silly rabbit. I am looking forward to it. It is just that given your reason for not wishing to dine with Charlie, well . . ." I gave a small shrug.
For a second or two he frowned and then I saw understanding cross his face. "Oh, it's quite different with you!" he cried.
"Is it now?" He nodded and flushed just a little; I decided not to push him as to quite why I having seen erotic photographs of him was different from Charlie having seen erotic photographs of him. "I'm glad to hear that. Well, then, ask your question."
He hesitated for a moment before taking out his cigarette case which he managed to fumble and drop before he could open it. I bent to pick it up and put it down on the table and reached for my cigarette box and offered it to him. He took a Sullivan and accepted a light from me and began to smoke the cigarette, holding the smoke in his mouth for longer than he had hitherto done.
"It's about Charleston," he said finally, his gaze flashing onto my face and away again before he looked back at me.
"Is it?" He nodded. "What exactly do you wish to ask me about Charlie?"
He swallowed hard, took another deep drag of his cigarette and said, "Are he and . . . Are he and Armstrong . . . Friends?" he finally managed.
I held his gaze and smoked silently for a moment as I considered my answer. I wasn't all together certain it was my place to tell Bunny what apart from Charlie and Armstrong I alone knew. However, I had trusted my rabbit when we had been at school together, in one way I had trusted him more than I had trusted Charlie. Thus, I believed not only did he have a good reason for asking, he had no intention of causing trouble for Charlie.
"Yes," I said softly. "They are - in a relationship."
Clearly he heard something in my tone or saw something in my expression because he said, "You don't like him, do you? Armstrong, I mean."
I shook my head. "No, Bunny. I do not like him; I do not like him at all. I really cannot understand what Charlie sees in him nor why he -" I fell silent.
Bunny nodded as if confirming what he already had known. "Are they meant to be . . . Are they . . . Their relationship, is it . . . Do they . . . With anyone else?" he finally managed.
I frowned and narrowed my eyes slightly. "Charlie believes they only see one another. Why do you ask?"
"Because Armstrong isn't . . . I saw him, Raffles. I saw him with two of his other male models."
I widened my eyes. "Did you now, Bunny? What exactly did you see?"
His cheeks turned quite red and he stubbed out his half smoked Sullivan and without asking, took another one from the box. "Have you seen the most recent photographs of me?"
I nodded. "Yes." I spoke softly and held his gaze.
He nodded. "Well, you'll have seen I was . . . I . . . It was me, Raffles. I - You know."
"Yes, my rabbit, I know."
"Well not all of his models do. Some . . . Well, some touch one another, but others . . . Others Armstrong . . . He gets them like that, Raffles."
I bit the inside of my lip and counted to five under my breath and told myself to remain calm. "Well, maybe it's just that the other young men are . . ." I trailed off, unable, unwilling, to make any kind of excuse, which we both knew would be a foolish one.
However, Bunny shook his head as if I had continued. "He didn't just touch them, Raffles, he kissed them and the way he touched them - it wasn't just to . . . It wasn't just for the photographs." He paused; I waited. "And there's something else." He glanced away from me again.
"And that is?"
"I . . . I was looking around Armstrong's office last night and -"
"What were you doing -" I fell silent and shook my head. "I apologise, my rabbit, do go on."
"I found some things. Handcuffs and . . ." He trailed off and shrugged. "Raffles, I think you should -"
The sound of the phone ringing silenced him. I frowned as I stood up and hurried from the room to answer it. Somewhat coincidentally, it turned out to be Charlie who apologised and said he had only just got home from his hospital and thus would be late for our dinner. I assured him it was of no concern, that I would ring the club and alter the time of our reservation and suggested I go to Charlie's home rather than meeting him at the club. If he thought my suggestion was strange, he didn't say so. Instead he said he would be quite happy for me to do that, and that he would leave the door unlocked so I could go straight in.
I returned to the sitting room to find Bunny pacing. "Look, Raffles," he said, as soon as I appeared. "I shouldn't have said anything. It really isn't any of my business and maybe I did misinterpret Armstrong's behaviour. Maybe he was just . . . You know. If he has Charleston, why would he . . . Can you just forget what I said?"
I held his stare as I lit another Sullivan and poured another small drink for Bunny which I handed to him. "I could, Bunny. However, Charlie is my friend; I am very fond of him and I have no intention of merely standing by and seeing someone hurt him."
"But what if I was wrong, Raffles? What if -"
"What about the handcuffs and other things?"
"Props?" Bunny's voice was somewhat higher than usual and he looked concerned.
I put my hand on his shoulder. "Do not worry so, my rabbit. I shall not in any way let Charlie know from where my information came - indeed I shall not let him know I have any information at all."
Bunny sighed. "I still shouldn't have said anything. It really isn't any of my business."
I put my other hand on his other shoulder and gazed down at him. "You did the right thing, really you did. Now be a good boy and finish your drink. That was Charlie on the phone, he is running somewhat late and I said I would go around to his house before we dined. You are still welcome to join us, if you wish to do so."
Bunny obediently emptied his glass and smiled a little even as he shook his head. "No, thank you. Raffles. As I said I would like to, but . . . I'll just go and let you finish getting dressed."
"Wait a moment or two, that's all it will take me to finish dressing, then we can walk a little way together. If you would like that?"
He smiled at me, a genuine smile of pleasure and he nodded. "Yes, please, Raffles, I would indeed like that." Yes, he would be mine; he would soon be mine. Just for a moment I considered pulling him into my arms and kissing him - but if I did that, I would not be dining with Charlie.
I offered him my arm once we had left the Albany and we walked along arm in arm for ten minutes or so until we parted, I to go to Charlie's home, Bunny to do whatever it was he had planned to do. I deliberately did not ask. "Until Wednesday," I said, gazing down at him and fighting the urge to push back the few locks of his hair which had fallen from beneath his hat from his forehead. Instead I put a hand on his shoulder.
He smiled up at me. "Until Wednesday."
"But once again, if you have any need or desire to see or talk to me before then . . . Well, do not hesitate to call on me again, at home or at my offices or ring me."
He smiled. "I'll do that, Raffles."
"Good boy," I murmured.
He smiled again. "I hope you and Charleston have a nice evening."
"Thank you, Bunny. We usually do." My hand still rested on his shoulder and I squeezed it slightly, "Bunny?"
"Do take care, my rabbit. Please."
He flushed a little. "I will, Raffles."
Knowing I really couldn't delay us parting any longer, I took my hand from his shoulder and moved back from him a little. "Goodnight, Bunny."
We stood and gazed at one another for at least another minute before I turned on my heel and strode off in the direction in which Charlie had his house.
I reached Charlie's house outside which I hesitated for a moment before opening the door and letting myself in. Charlie's butler would not approve, but he had got used to his master over the years. Hat in hand I strode towards Charlie's study where, if he wasn't still bathing or dressing, he would almost certainly be.
I tapped on the door waited for a moment or two, before opening the door and looking inside; no one was there, there wasn't even a lamp on. Thus, I closed the door and made my way towards Charlie's bedroom. The door was closed so I once again tapped on it, waited for a short time before I opened the door. I went inside and closed the door behind me as I glanced around the room.
It like the study was empty. I thought I could hear a faint noise coming from the bathroom; however, I hesitated before I went to see if Charlie was still bathing. I hadn't given any thought to quite what I might say to Charlie. I was rather determined that he would not be seeing Armstrong again, at least not alone or for any reason that wasn't professional. However, how I was going to achieve my aim was something about which I was not entirely certain.
I could hardly tell Charlie what Bunny had told me, as Charlie would insist on knowing quite how Bunny had discovered what he had found and would have dismissed what he had seen Armstrong doing to some of his models as being nothing more than professional. I knew Charlie; I knew him very well indeed and whilst he is a very accommodating man (just as he had been a very accommodating boy) he can be remarkably stubborn over certain things.
Before I could make a decision other than 'see how things go' the door between the bedroom and bathroom was fully opened and Charlie, dressed in his dressing gown, which he was still tying, came into the room. "A. J.!" he cried upon seeing me; he smiled as he hurried across the room to where I stood.
I studied him and to my eyes he did not look himself. He was, especially given he had been bathing, somewhat paler than he normally was, his eyes looked dull and were hollow and dark and to my horror he seemed to be limping just a little.
He reached me and to my surprise took my face between his hands. "Oh, A. J.," he murmured, "it is good to see you."
I don't know quite what made me glance from his face to his wrists but I did and could not prevent myself from gasping at the signs of bruising on both wrists, which were revelled as the sleeves of his dressing gown fell back a little.
"Charlie?" I caught his hands as he tried to lower them. I spoke softly and stared at him, silently asking the same question. He met my gaze, held it for a moment, before glancing away from me and swallowing hard. He had answered my question and I had to clamp down on my sudden desire to go and find Armstrong and show him just what happened to people who hurt those about whom I cared; those whom I loved.
I was about to speak when he looked back at me again; now that he was nearer to me, I saw that the spark that was usually in his eyes was missing and he was pleading with me. I sighed softly, took his right wrist (which was bruised more severely than his left) between both of my hands and held it gently.
"Do I presume you were attempting to restrain one of your patients?" I asked the question quietly and saw the look of relief flash through Charlie's eyes.
"Yes," he said; his tone was as soft as mine as his eyes asked for forgiveness for his lie.
I nodded and ran my fingers gently over the bruises and realised that some of them were in fact more like cuts that hadn't quite broken the skin. "Would you like me to put a bandage on your wrist, Charlie?"
He swallowed as he stared at me. "Thank you. A. J."
"Oh, Charlie," I murmured. "I -"
To my surprise he mouth covered mine, silencing me. I was untroubled by the fact he was kissing me, it wasn't the first time we had kissed not by some time. I was, however, a little surprised. Nonetheless, as he deepened the kiss somewhat and moved a little nearer to me, I put my arms around him and pulled him even nearer. If this was what Charlie needed from me; this was what I would happily and willingly give him. I parted my mouth for him and pulled him just a little nearer as I began to move my hands over his back.
To my surprise he made a noise of what was clear pain and pulled away from me, holding onto my arm as he trembled slightly and blinked hard. I waited until the slight trembling had stopped and the intense paleness that had appeared on his face had lessened a little before I said, my tone gentle but nonetheless unwavering, "Take your dressing gown off, Charlie."
Just for a moment I thought he would refuse. However, after a second or two of just staring at me he held my gaze, fumbled with the sash, undid it and took it off, dropping it onto the floor. I glanced down at him, idly noticing that he was slightly hard the result, I assumed, from our kiss. However, I also noticed a degree of swelling that had nothing to do with us kissing.
"Turn around," I said, in the same quiet, unwavering tone.
Charlie swallowed hard and glanced away from me once more before he turned slowly around. I bit my lip and once more thought of all the things I would like to do to Armstrong as I stared at Charlie's back. Armstrong clearly had known what he was doing, had known how harsh he could be, as all but one of the welts that were on Charlie's back although red, ugly, raised and no doubt sore were dry. One, however, oozed a little blood. As I looked at them I thought about what to say. I knew what I wanted to say, but I truly did not think that would help Charlie.
Thus, instead I asked simply, "Have you seen a doctor?"
He made a noise in his throat before saying, his tone flat, "How could I?"
Of course he couldn't; I could quite understand that. "Where to you keep your ointment?" was all I asked.
He turned back around and gave me a look that told me how grateful he was. "In the bathroom cupboard.
I nodded. "Wait here - and do not get dressed."
"A. J.," he caught my hand.
"Wait here, Charlie," I said, cupping his cheek with my free hand. "I'll be but a moment or two."
I returned quickly with a bowl of warm water, a sponge, a jar of ointment and several towels. I spread the towels over Charlie's bed before removing my dining coat and cuff links and turning back my cuffs. "Get on the bed, Charlie, and lay face down." I then added swiftly, after once again glancing down to his lower body, "If you won't be too uncomfortable."
Charlie smiled at me. "I'll be all right," he said, and did as I bade him do.
I waited until he had shifted around a little and then settled down with his head turned to one side before I got onto the bed and knelt down next to him. I gently sponged the blood from the wound which was still oozing a little before I began to rub ointment over the welts. At one point Charlie made a soft noise of what I believed to be pleasure, as my fingers in effect caressed his back. I wasn't a doctor, thus I expected my touch was more personal and less professional, plus, given our history I wasn't altogether surprised by Charlie's reaction.
"You must tell me if I hurt you, Charlie."
He still had his head on one side and I met his gaze. "You would never hurt me, A. J.," he said quietly.
For a moment I just rested my hands on his back and stared at him. The idea of anyone hurting Charlie enraged me. The idea that anyone would or could hurt him was alien to me - he was the nicest, kindest, most gentle man I knew. I gave him a smile before I returned to ensuring the ointment was well rubbed in.
I dipped my hands in the bowl of water and then wiped them on the towel I hadn't spread across the bed as I pondered quite how to ask my next question. Finally, I said, "Is there anywhere else you would like me to rub some ointment?"
Charlie hesitated for a moment before saying, "I can manage, A. J." However, his tone belied the look in his eyes. "Besides you don't want to - You're not a doctor."
I sighed softly. "No, I'm not. However, you are my best friend, so let us not talk about me not wanting to. I'm quite happy to do anything for you, Charlie." Besides it wouldn't be the first time I had touched him there. "Just try to relax and promise me you will tell me if I hurt you."
"Thank you, A. J.," he said and nodded. I waited until he settled down again and began to breathe steadily before I put some ointment on the first two fingers of my right hand. I parted his buttocks with my left hand and glanced down; again I had to bite my lip this time to stop myself from beginning to tremble with rage.
I sat unmoving for a short time until I knew I could touch him without letting him know I was trembling and also with any risk of hurting him. I had had my fingers on that particular part of his body on many occasions to give him pleasure and to prepare him for my body on the odd occasion I had buggered him.
Thus, touching him to care for him, to help heal him troubled me not the slightest - all the did trouble me was that Armstrong had done what he had done and that somewhat worryingly Charlie hadn't appeared to try to stop him. Charlie was strong, stronger even than I, thus the idea that he had not fought worried me. For a moment made me wonder quite what kind of sex Charlie enjoyed - at least what kind he enjoyed when not with me. I told myself that he must have struggled, that he must have tried to stop Armstrong, but had been unable to due to the handcuffs. Of course Charlie would have fought Armstrong. Of course he would have.
Over the years we had known one another as school boys we had learnt to communicate silently and on more than one occasion it appeared we were able to read one another's mind - of course the latter simply wasn't true, people couldn't read minds. However, when Charlie spoke, his voice low, flat and with a hint of an apology in, I began to wonder if mind reading was possible.
"It's very hard to really fight someone when you have been restrained, especially when the restraints are tight enough to cause you pain." It was the first time either of us had even alluded to what had been done to him.
I paused my ministrations, my fingers still resting on the very intimate part of his body, as I wondered quite what to say. In the end I settled for, "Rather than dining out, why do we not return to the Albany and have something sent up from the kitchens? Then you can spend the night with me. No," I said swiftly. "No, Charlie. I will not be argued with. You are not spending the night alone."
Even though I had spoke firmly in a tone Charlie would recognise as the one no one argued with; I still half expected him to disagree with me. However, after a short silence he said, "Thank you, A. J., I would like to do that."
"Good. Now, how does it feel?"
"Better, thank you."
"Good." I slid my fingers out from between his buttocks and again dipped them into the bowl of water, washing them thoroughly before I again dried them. "I'll take things back to the bathroom whilst you dress." I got off the bed and took the bowl with me into the bathroom before returning for the towels. The pot of ointment I put next to my cuff links; that I would take back to the Albany with us.
We enjoyed a quiet dinner, accompanied by a bottle of fine wine and followed by coffee, which I made, whisky and soda and Sullivans. We talked as we normally did of our practices, the balls, dinners and house parties we attended - not that Charlie attended many, his hospital kept him far busier than my legal practice kept me - cricket, our school days and mutual acquaintances.
I wasn't surprised when Charlie brought the conversation around to Bunny and I admitted I had seen him and that we were due to dine together in a few days time. I also told him, after thinking about it for a moment or two, that I had in fact invited Bunny to dine with us, and told Charlie his reason for refusing.
Charlie frowned as he lit our cigarettes. "But I am not troubled by the fact he has posed for erotic photographs - surprised, yes, but troubled not. I certainly do not think any less of him."
"I know you don't, Charlie, and I told him thus, and I believe he knows that too. However, he is clearly deeply embarrassed and troubled by the fact that you know what he has done and have seen him . . ."
"So have you."
I nodded and took a deep drag on my Sullivan. "I know; However, apparently that seems to trouble him somewhat less than knowing you have seen him."
"I suppose that shouldn't surprise me." Charlie gave me a faint smile and a somewhat knowing look, which I pointedly ignored. "Has he told you why he allowed such photographs to be taken? Is it to do with money? Because if it is, well you know I would be quite happy to assist him."
"As would I. However, he has assured me that he doesn't need money."
"But if it's not for the need of money then why would he, why would the Harry Manders we both knew at school, the boy who - Oh, I don't need to tell you, do I?" I shook my head, even though it had been a purely rhetorical question. "Why is he doing it, A. J.?"
I sighed. "That, Charlie, I do not know. He has promised me there is a reason, one which he will tell me about when we dine together."
Suddenly Charlie took my arm. "Do you know if he's due to pose for Armstrong again?"
I slowly shook my head. "No. I don't. Why?"
"Because if he is, then . . . A. J., you have to stop him. You don't want to let him near that - Just promise me you'll stop him."
I sighed. "Oh, Charlie. I can't promise that; he isn't my fag any longer; I can't make him do anything. I will, however, endeavour to find out if he is due to pose again and I give you my word I will do my best to stop him."
Charlie gripped my arm even more tightly. "Don't let him go there alone, A. J., Manders is - Just donít let him, A. J."
I squeezed Charlie's hand before putting my hand on his cheek and gazing into his eyes. "Allen Armstrong will not hurt Bunny, Charlie. Unlike -" I stopped speaking and we once more had a silent conversation during which I made it clear I knew exactly who had done what had been done to Charlie, and I gave him my word Armstrong would never get another chance to hurt him.
"Thank you, A. J.," Charlie touched my arm.
I smiled and nodded. "I believe it's time we went to bed," I said. "And no, you are not going to sleep on the sofa. My bed is, as I'm sure you remember, quite big enough for two men to share." I wondered if he would object or at least try to.
However, he simply took my hand and said again, "Thank you, A. J.," before he lightly brushed his lips over mine, kissing me gently for a moment or two. I returned the kiss, also keeping it gentle and hoped he was getting as much comfort as I was.
THE NEXT MORNING
The sound of the telephone awoke both of us. Charlie glanced around him as if wondering for a second where he was. When he realised he was in my bed, in my rooms, thus the call wasn't someone in need of his services, he laid back down as I got out of bed and put my dressing gown on. A quick glance at my watch told me it was well before eight o'clock, thus somewhat early, one would think, for someone to ring me.
Nonetheless, ringing me they were. I hurried from the bedroom, through the dining and sitting rooms and into the hallway where I picked up the phone. "Yes?"
"Is that Mr. Raffles?"
I had a vague feeling I recognised the voice; however, I could not place it immediately. "Yes. I am Raffles." A moment later I realised why I had recognised the voice and surprise raced through me as the person ringing me identified himself.
"It is Tyburn, Mr. Raffles; Dr. Charleston's butler. I am sorry to disturb you so early, sir. However, may I enquire as to whether Dr. Charleston is with you, sir?" There was something in Tyburn's voice which surprised me. He sounded almost flustered and concerned - things I had never heard in his voice before. The idea that anything could fluster Tyburn was to my mind a preposterous one; however, flustered was certainly how he sounded.
For a moment I just stared at the phone, wondering quite why the estimable Tyburn would be ringing me to enquire about the whereabouts of his master. "Why, yes, Tyburn," I said, "as a matter of fact, Dr. Charleston is with me."
I heard a sigh of relief and my surprise deepened; I frowned as I realised I too was starting to feel somewhat concerned. Tyburn's next words didn't help allay my concern. "Oh, thank goodness for that," he said, his relief clear. Then he asked, "Is he quite all right, sir?"
"Why, yes, Tyburn; he is quite well."
"I am relieved to hear that, Mr. Raffles, sir."
Now I was really getting concerned and slightly irritated. "Were you not expecting him to be well?"
"Well, sir. It's just - Forgive me, Mr. Raffles, but I would rather not discuss the matter over the telephone. Would it be possible for you to ask Dr. Charleston if he could return home, please, sir?"
I frowned. "Is someone unwell, Tyburn? Do you need a doctor?"
"No, sir. It's not that. Please, sir, forgive me, but it really is imperative that Dr. Charleston returns home. And," he said quickly, "if you would accompany him, sir, assuming you have the time, I believe it would be for the best."
There are few people I allow to get away without telling me everything I wished to know, to get away without answering my questions. Tyburn was one of those people; I knew how much Charlie relied on him and I knew Tyburn's dedication to Charlie and his respect for Charlie was absolute. For him to ring me to enquire as to the whereabouts of his master and refuse to answer my question was quite out of character, thus I decided to do as he wished.
"Very well, Tyburn," I said. "Dr. Charleston and I will be with you as soon as possible."
"Thank you, Mr. Raffles, sir. And again I do apologise, sir, for waking you so early and for - For not . . ." The fact he could not even complete the sentence told me quite how difficult it had been for him not to answer my question.
"It's of no matter, Tyburn," I said. "We shall be with you shortly." And with those words I hung the phone up and made my way back into the bedroom.
I paused in the doorway and just stood and stared for a moment at Charlie. It had many months since he had been in my bed, indeed it had been just over a year - since he had met Armstrong - and it pleased me to see him there once again. There had been a time when I had believed that Charlie and I could be forever. However, I believe we both realised that whilst we loved one another deeply and always would, what we had was not forever in the way I could envisage forever with my rabbit. At least I believed I had believed that.
Loving Charlie, making love with Charlie was easy, safe, better than it had ever been with anyone else, and in one way I suspected it would always be the best. However, the idea of waking up with him every day was if not wrong then not quite right. Or had that been simply something I had told myself? It was rather irrelevant now, given Bunny's reappearance in my life. Charlie and I would have made one another happy, we would have been content together - but Bunny was . . .
Suddenly Charlie turned his head and saw me standing in the doorway just gazing at him. He frowned a little and raised an eyebrow as he sat up. "Is something wrong, A. J.?"
I paused for a moment before saying, "I'm not quite sure, Charlie."
"What do you mean? Is it something to do with the phone call?"
I crossed to the bed, sat down and took his hand. "Yes. It was Tyburn."
"Tyburn?" The surprise on his face was echoed in his look.
I nodded. "Yes. He rang to ascertain if you were here and seemed very relieved to learn that you were not only here with me, but quite safe."
Charlie frowned. "What? A. J., forgive me, but you aren't exactly making sense."
I smiled. "I am quite aware of that, Charlie. However, Tyburn wasn't exactly making sense either."
"Is he unwell?" Charlie pushed the covers back quickly.
I shook my head. "No and nor is anyone else - he assured me of that. However, he did ask if I would ask you to return home as soon as possible and also asked me if I would accompany you."
"He did not wish to tell me over the phone. He was clearly concerned about you Charlie, until I assured him you were with me he sounded almost - well, flustered."
"Flustered? Tyburn? Oh, no, A. J., you must be wrong. Nothing, nothing at all flusters Tyburn - you know that."
"I do. However, something has. So I believe we should bathe and dress and go to your home as quickly as we can."
"I'll bathe later," Charlie said getting out of bed and starting to unbutton his pyjama jacket.
"No, Charlie," I said firmly, standing up and moving towards the bathroom. "You will bathe now and you will allow me to put some more ointment on your back. Then we will dress and go to your home."
"But, A. J. -"
"Charlie; no one is ill, no one is in need of your doctoring services. The extra twenty minutes or so that it will take us to bathe will not cause any problems. However, I will concede partly; you may bathe, whilst I wash."
"No, you can bathe, I'll -"
"You're my guest."
He stared wide-eyed at me. "Since when did I become a guest, A. J.?"
I shook my head and laughed at myself. "Good point. However, we will do it my way. Now come along," and with that, I retuned to his side, took his arm and pulled him gently towards the bathroom. He must have been willing to go with me, because he could have stood firm at any time and refused - he is quite a lot stronger than I am.
Charlie bathed as I had a through wash at the sink. As I washed I realised the last time I had shared a bathroom with anyone had been back when Charlie and I had been school boys. We both shaved, Charlie frowning at my razor and muttering about 'fools who still use cut throat razors' before I insisted upon applying some more ointment to his back and intimate area.
Finally, some three quarters of an hour after Tyburn had rung me, we were dressed and in a cab on our way to Charlie's home. I for one wondered quite what we were going to find when we got there; quite what had flustered Tyburn to the extent he had been flustered?
A minute or two after reaching Charlie's house we, along with Tyburn, were standing in Charlie's bedroom staring at Charlie's bed and I knew exactly why Tyburn had been flustered. Charlie was gripping my arm so tightly I knew I would bruise visibly, as well as trembling as he stared wide-eyed and unblinking at the bed.
I swallowed hard and forced the thought from my head as to what I might be staring at now had I not insisted Charlie had returned home with me. I swallowed again and turned to look at Tyburn who looked almost as pale as Charlie looked, and as pale as I imagined I looked. "Please fetch some brandy for Dr. Charleston, Tyburn," I said.
"Yes, Mr. Raffles." Tyburn hurried away.
Once he had gone, unable to bear the tightness of Charlie's grip any longer (I was already aware I was beginning to lose sensation in my arm), I began to carefully pry Charlie's fingers open. After a moment or two of in effect fighting me, Charlie seemed to become aware of what I was doing and with obvious reluctance he loosened his grip. I immediately took his hand between both of mine and began to rub it - he was quite chilled.
He hadn't spoken since we had gone into his bedroom and now he looked at me with horror in his gaze. "A. J.," he whispered, beginning to tremble again. "If you hadn't -"
"Hush, Charlie," I murmured, letting of his hand with one of mine and putting my arm around him. "Hush. It's all right." It wasn't, but what else could I say?
Tyburn returned with a decanter and two glasses, both of which already had brandy in them. "Thank you, Tyburn," I said, letting go of Charlie's hand and taking one of the glasses from the tray and handing it to him. "Drink it, Charlie. Drink all of it." I spoke firmly.
After hesitating for a moment, Charlie took the glass in both hands and guided it to his mouth where he swallowed the full amount in two gulps. His hands were, I noticed, still shaking. I put his empty glass back onto the tray and picked the other one up; before nine o'clock in the morning was far too early for me to ever drink, but in all honesty, I needed the brandy. As Charlie had done I emptied the glass in two swallows and put the glass back onto the tray.
As I put it back down I looked at Tyburn to see he was still as pale as he had been and I could see as he held the tray that his hands were far from steady. I swiftly took the stopper out of the decanter, poured some into the glass I had just put down, turned it around and handed it to Tyburn. "Drink it, Tyburn," I ordered.
He stared at me, glanced at Charlie who had once again returned to staring at the bed, before adjusting the tray so that it rested against his body, thus allowing him to hold it with one hand. He took the glass from my hand and put it to his mouth. "Thank you, sir," he murmured, before emptying the glass and putting it back down onto the tray.
I nodded. "Has anyone else been in the room?"
He shook his head. "No, sir. I felt it better that no one other than I should have to do so."
"Should I," Tyburn hesitated, looked at Charlie before looking back at me and saying in a flat tone, "ring the police, sir?"
Yes, of course he should. I was, however, quite certain that Charlie would not wish him to do so. I glanced at Charlie, but he was still staring at the bed; I needed to get him out of the room, away from the bullet holes in the mattress and have a conversation with him. And if I was honest, I needed to get away from the sight that could have so easily included the man I had loved since we had been school boys together.
The idea that Charlie, dear, kind, caring, gentle Charlie, my best friend, the finest man I had ever known might now be lying dead chilled me, and I gave serious consideration to pouring myself another brandy. However, I knew Tyburn would be shocked if I used the glass from which he had drunk and only a little less shocked if I had taken the glass from which Charlie had drunk.
Thus, instead I said flatly, "Not at the moment, Tyburn."
"I understand, sir." The look he gave me made me wonder quite how much he 'understood'. He had to know of his master's preferences; I knew Armstrong had visited Charlie's home on more than one occasion. And I was quite certain he knew that Charlie and I from time to time had shared a bed and not in the way we had shared it the previous evening. That was the reason I presumed he had rung me; wel,l for that reason and the fact he certainly knew I was Charlie's best friend.
Then something else came to me. "Tyburn?"
"Yes, Mr. Raffles?"
"Did you ring anyone else this morning before you rang me?"
For a moment his almost bland butler's look faded and he looked somewhat startled and disturbed that I would ask him such a foolish question. Then the look vanished and he was once again the highly professional, unflappable butler. "No, Mr. Raffles, sir. Of course I did not. There is no one other than you, sir, I would even considering ringing."
"Thank you, Tyburn." So he hadn't considered ringing Armstrong? That was a fact I found to be very interesting. Even had he not known Armstrong's telephone number, he could have asked the exchange to connect him. I had no doubts that Tyburn knew both where Armstrong lived and worked. A good servant always knows things that, if one stopped to think about it, one would wish they did not know - and Tyburn was a very good servant.
"Is there anything else I can do for you at the moment, Mr. Raffles?"
"No, thank you, Tyburn. Dr. Charleston and I shall go to his study for a while."
"Very good, sir." Tyburn moved to one side as I adjusted the grip I still had on Charlie.
"Come along, Charlie," I said gently, but once again in my 'I will not be argued with' tone. "Let us go to your study."
"Would you like some coffee, sir?"
"Thank you, Tyburn. Coffee would be very nice."
"Very good, sir."
By virtue of using all my strength, I managed to persuade Charlie to start walking and then something else came to me. "Tyburn?"
"Yes, Mr. Raffles?"
"I would be obliged if you could arrange for locksmith to come here today - today, Tyburn - and change all of the locks. Will you be able to do that?"
"Of course, sir. I shall arrange it immediately."
"Good man. Now do come along, Charlie." This time I didn't stop walking until we were inside Charlie's study and both of my arms were around him as I held him against me.
Twenty minutes or so later, Charlie and I sat in the comfortable chairs in Charlie's study, drinking coffee and smoking Sullivans. When he had brought the coffee, Tyburn has also brought the brandy decanter with him and I had added, ignoring his rather half-hearted objections, a splash of it to the coffee I poured for Charlie.
I put my cigarette out, looked at Charlie and said softly, "You know you really should ring the police, Charlie."
Charlie stared at me his eyes slightly wide. "And say what, exactly, A. J.? How about my ex-lover - my male ex-lover - tried to murder me because I had the audacity to end our relationship after he had handcuffed me, used a whip on me and -" He came to an abrupt halt, stood up and strode across the study; he stopped next to his desk which he leant on with one hand and stood, his back towards me, trembling slightly.
As soon as he had stood up and strode away from me I too had risen and I now went to where he stood, his head slightly bowed and put my arm around him. "I'm sorry, Charlie," I murmured, "I didn't mean to -"
"I know, A. J." His voice was soft and he turned around within my arm and moved nearer to me as I put my other arm around him. "And you're quite right, of course you are. I should ring the police, but you tell me what I would say. Can you?"
I sighed and shook my head. "No, Charlie. No, I can't. You're correct you can't tell them."
"Not unless you want to see me in gaol. I assume you don't want that, do you?" I was rather relieved to hear a touch of humour in his voice as he said the final words.
I smiled. "What do you think?"
"That I should have listened to you." All hints of humour had fled from Charlie's voice and his expression was once again grim. It also contained the hint of something I had seen in his gaze before. Believe me had I thought for one moment that kissing Charlie, touching him and making love to him would have helped, I would have done so without hesitation. However, I truly, from years of knowing him, did not believe it would help him.
"About what?" I asked instead, touching his cheek.
He shrugged. "Armstrong."
"Well, Charlie, I didn't exactly say anything, did I?"
He shrugged again and managed a faint smile. "No, but you made your feelings about him quite, quite clear. You never trusted him, did you?"
I sighed. "No."
"Well, then - as I said, I should have listened to you." Then under my gaze he paled and once more trembled a little. "Oh, A. J., if I hadn't listened to you last night. If I hadn't let you -"
"Hush." I couldn't bear to hear him say the word. "Don't, Charlie. Try not to think about it. Come along, have another brandy." And with that, I led him back to where the decanter stood and poured him another small brandy.
He shook his head. "I can't go to the hospital smelling of alcohol, A. J." However, the look on his face rather belied his words.
"You are not going to the hospital today, Charlie." I spoke firmly.
"I cannot not go, A. J., I -"
"You are not going to the hospital today, Charlie," I repeated. "You are coming back to the Albany with me. No, I will not argue with you. You will do as I say. I'm afraid I'll have to leave you for a short time as I have a client I simply cannot put off. But you will be safe there and you can stay with me for a few days." He shook his head. "Charlie . . . !"
"No. I mean, yes, I will do as you say. I will come back with you now. But I can't stay with you, A. J."
"You only have one bedroom."
I shrugged. "That's of no matter."
"No. I'll go to a hotel for a few days."
I decided not to argue any further; Charlie would not be going to a hotel of that I was quite determined. However, maybe he did have a point; I wasn't troubled, but when it came down to it, I had less to lose than Charlie. I believed my fellow solicitors would be more likely to turn a blind eye to one of their own being a homosexual. However, Charlie's fellow doctors, or the Board at least, most certainly would not. And that was without the small matter or possible police involvement. Not that I thought for a moment that anyone at the Albany would take it upon himself to cause trouble, but given how uneasy Charlie was over what had happened, I had no wish to upset him further. No, I would have to think of something else.
The Albany had a set of rooms which was kept furnished and used from time to time by the owners and their families. I happened to know were currently unoccupied and I decided I would ask Parker if Charlie could occupy them for a few days. I wanted to keep Charlie if not quite under my constant sight, then at least nearby me.
"That's settled then," I said, pulling out my watch and glancing at it. I hated to say so, but we really did need to leave Charlie's home in the next twenty minutes or so, in order for me to get back to the Albany, get Charlie settled into my rooms and talk to Parker, all before I went to my practice. "I'll go and have a word with Tyburn and ask him to pack a bag for you for a few days."
"Very well, A. J." Charlie sounded suddenly very tired and drained and looked paler than I liked. He settled back in his chair and closed his eyes.
I went out into the hall and almost ran into Tyburn. "Ah, Tyburn. I wonder if you would be kind enough to pack a bag for Dr. Charleston, please. I am taking him back to the Albany with me for a few days - I think it would be better for him to get out of his house."
"I have already taken the liberty of doing that thing, Mr. Raffles, and of ordering a cab for you. It will be here in ten minutes."
"It is my pleasure, sir. And if you don't think it is out of place for me to say, I do believe you are correct about the doctor needing to get away from here for a few days."
"I don't think it's out of place at all. Now if anyone calls and asks for Dr. Charleston, I would rather you said nothing about his whereabouts or even his health."
"I understand, sir." Tyburn paused for a moment before saying quietly, "Does that apply to Mr. Armstrong, sir?"
"It applies to him most of all!"
"I understand, Mr. Raffles." For a moment I again wondered quite how much Tyburn knew - but then again maybe I didn't wish to know.
"Good man. May I use the telephone, Tyburn? I wish to call Dr. Charleston's hospital and let matron know he won't be going there today." I could have gone back to Charlie's study and made the call from there, but I wanted to give Charlie a few more moments of peace.
"Of course, sir. There's one in the hall." He turned and I followed him.
"Thank you, Tyburn." Tyburn inclined his head and went away. I made the call, telling matron simply that Charlie was unwell, and asking her to ensure that if anyone rang or even called at the hospital asking to speak to him or see him that the person was simply to be told that he was unavailable - nothing more.
Matron is not a fan of mine, which is putting it mildly; thus even so she agreed, she did so in such a way that put me in my place. To my surprise, or maybe not given she must be aware that I care for her as little as she cares for me, she didn't enquire as to the nature of Charlie's illness, merely saying she hoped he recovered soon.
Some forty minutes later I was in another cab on my way to my offices. I had left Charlie in my rooms with instructions to lock and bolt the door after me and to call down to the kitchens should he want anything and not to answer the phone should it ring. Even though I was sure he felt I was being somewhat overly-dramatic and worrying more than I should, he did not argue with me. I left him with two of the morning papers before going to talk to Parker. Within a minute or two of explaining, without actually going into any details, Parker had agreed that Charlie could occupy the set of furnished rooms for a few days.
My client was, as always, not only on time, but a little early, thus I had no more than a minute or two to prepare myself. We dealt with his business and I assured him I would draw up the necessary paperwork and he would be able to sign it the day after tomorrow. I also once again reminded him he still had yet to make a will and he really should do so - given the complexities of what he had to leave and his family situation.
He had left my office promising, as he always did, to think about the will and to make an appointment for the following week for me to take instructions. He wouldn't - however, I could hardly tie him to the chair and force him to do so. Thus, I merely nodded, said I would look forward to seeing him next week and watched him leave my office.
I rather liked him and not just because he brought me a lot of business - both personally and through recommendation. However, he did also irritate me somewhat when it came to his lack of a will - as I could foresee all kinds of complications arising if he were to suddenly die. Actually, given I also knew his opinion of some of his family members, I could foresee all kinds of complications arising if he did make a will.
I was just completing the notes of our meeting and putting together the paperwork for Digby to prepare prior to my client returning to sign them, when I heard voices outside my door.
"I am sorry, Mr. Manders," I heard Digby say. "However, Mr. Raffles is not available. If you wish to make an appointment -"
"I don't want to make an appointment; I have to see Raffles now!"
"I am sorry, Mr. Manders, that really isn't -"
"Look will you just get out of my way!"
"No, Mr. Manders. I will not do that."
I stood up and hurried towards the door and opened it. Digby was standing in front of Bunny, his arms folded and matching any move Bunny made. Bunny's face was somewhat red and he was glaring at Digby in a way I had never seen him glare at anyone. From the way Digby stood upright and taut I could see he was not at all happy.
"It's all right, Digby," I said quickly, as Bunny opened his mouth again. "I will see Mr. Manders."
"Raffles!" Bunny cried, hurrying around Digby who stood still as he looked at me - his displeasure was clear. "Oh, Raffles. I am sorry to disturb you, but I simply have to see you." And then he frowned and said, "Why are you at work?"
I blinked and forwent asking him if he didn't expect to find me here, why he had come to my office. Instead I managed to mutter, "Um," I hesitated for a moment and then took his arm and guided him into my office. I gave Digby what I hoped was a placating smile - he didn't look very placated. I sighed softly; he would get over it. He had done in the past.
I firmly closed the door behind me and stared at Bunny. "Well, my rabbit, to what do I owe the -"
"Why are you at work, Raffles? How can you be here?" Bunny's voice was raised and I had no doubt it would carry to where Digby sat.
"Bunny, Bunny, do calm down, my dear rabbit. Why would I not be here?"
"What? Because of Charleston! Raffles, he's your best friend; you love him and yet . . . And yet . . . You're here! Why, Raffles. Why?" His voice had got louder and louder and he was pacing around my office. Again I forwent enquiring as to why he had come to my offices if he had expected me not to be here. He was clearly agitated and upset and people rarely think clearly when they are like that.
"I don't -"
"How can you, Raffles?"
"Well! Aren't you going to answer me?"
I was temped to tell him that if he actually stopped shouting at me for a moment or two. I might be able to answer him. However, I knew as soon as I began to speak, he would simply once more begin to shout at me. Thus, I decided upon another way of silencing him. I swiftly caught his arm as he paced by me, turned him, pushed him fairly gently but also firmly back against my office door, lowered my head and put my mouth on his and began to kiss him.
For a moment I felt his surprise, shock even and I felt him struggle; however, a second or so later he made a soft noise in his throat and began to kiss me back. I didn't let the kiss go on for too long, I knew Digby was still outside the door. I just kept kissing him until I felt fairly confident he would have lost his desire to shout at me the moment I took my mouth from his.
Thus, when I finally did take my mouth from his and straighten up, he merely smiled at me and gazed at me with a depth of love I truly believe I had never seen before. I took advantage of his compliance and took his hand in mine, led him across the room to a chair and gentle pushed him down into it. I then dropped to my heels in front of him, took his hand in mine and said quietly, "Now, Bunny, be a good boy and tell me, calmly now, why you are here; why you believe I shouldn't be at work, and quite how Charlie comes into matters?"
"What?" He blinked as he gazed at me and I was somewhat bemused to see my kiss had had an even greater affect on him than I had thought it would. "Oh, yes. Oh, Raffles. Is it true? Please tell me it isn't true." His tone was heavy with anguish.
"Is what true, my rabbit?" I asked softly, brushing his hair from his forehead.
"That Charleston is . . . That Charleston is . . . That Charleston is dead."
I started slightly. "Who told you such a thing?"
"Is it true?"
"No. No, my dear little rabbit, I promise you it isn't true. I ask again, who told you such a thing?"
"Armstrong? He told you Charlie was dead?"
Bunny nodded. "Yes. It was about an hour ago - I would have got here sooner, but . . . Well, I felt . . . I felt I couldn't just leave him. I know he's . . . Well, maybe not as Charleston thought he was. But . . . Even so. I -"
"It's all right, Bunny, I understand. You are such a good and caring rabbit." Now I stood up, sat on the edge of my desk and put my arm around his shoulders. "Now, do start from the beginning, there's my good boy." I winced silently at my tone; I really must remember he wasn't my thirteen year old fag any longer. He may be some five years younger than me, but 'boy' really wasn't an appropriate term to use any longer. Although most people would say 'Bunny' and 'my rabbit' were not exactly appropriate terms.
"I went to see Armstrong. He had said he might wish to - Anyway, when I arrived he said he couldn't take photographs today or for the next few days because he had just received news that Charleston had been shot by an intruder last night and was . . . And was dead. Raffles?"
"Charlie is alive and well, Bunny," well he was alive, "and currently in my rooms at the Albany."
"Are you sure?" Bunny still looked less than happy.
"Yes, my rabbit, quite sure. Now did Armstrong say how he came by this news?"
Bunny nodded. "Yes. He said he had rung Charleston's home to speak to him and the butler or someone had told him the news."
"He's lying," I said flatly.
"But why, Raffles? Why would he lie?"
I stood up, went to where my coat hung and took out my flask. I handed it to Bunny and encouraged him to drink some. When he had taken a deep swallow, I told him. However, I did not tell him quite everything; telling him about what Armstrong had done to Charlie was not my story to tell.
He stared at me as if not certain whether to believe me or not. I could understand his look; I'm not entirely certain I would have believed me. "But where was Charleston last night?"
I answered without really thinking about it. "He spent the night with me."
Bunny gasped and stared wide-eyed at me as the colour began to drain from his face. "But . . . But I thought . . . I . . . Raffles! How could you? How could you k-"
Swiftly I put my hand over his mouth. "Don't forget the estimable Digby is outside, my rabbit. I assure you Charlie did not spend the night with me in the way you may be thinking. Yes, he shared my bed, but that is all." Carefully I removed my hand from his mouth.
"Oh," he said, flushing slightly. "I am sorry, Raffles. It's just that . . . Well, you know." He flushed a little more.
I slipped my hand into his hair. "I know, my dear Bunny," I murmured.
For a moment we just sat there, his hair tangled around my fingers, he gazing at me, me wishing nothing more than to take him home with me now and - But given I had been the one to insist Charlie return to the Albany with me, I could hardly be the one to tell him he had to go to his temporary rooms straight away.
I sighed softly. "I hate to say this, my rabbit, but I really do have to go home. I promised Charlie I wouldn't be too long; I fear if I am too long, he might decide to venture out of my rooms, and as persuasive as Parker can be, I can't quite see him being able to insist on Charlie staying inside the Albany if Charlie really wishes to leave."
"I understand, Raffles."
"Look why don't you come home with me? Charlie would really like to see you. I know what you said, but you also know Charlie doesn't think any less of you, do you not?" After a moment, Bunny nodded once slowly. "He won't even mention the photographs, Bunny. Please come back with me."
"I would like to, Raffles, really I would. However, there is something I have to do."
I frowned. "May I ask what it is?"
He sighed. "I'd really rather you didn't."
I stared at him and sighed myself. "Very well, my rabbit." I slid my hand from his hair and stood up. "But will you at least consider dining with Charlie and me tonight? At the Albany," I added. "The chef is really excellent; I can promise you a jolly good meal. Please," I said quietly.
He swallowed and glanced away from me. I fully expected him to refuse. However, he looked back at me smiled a little shyly and said, "I would like that, Raffles. I would like that a lot. What time shall I arrive?"
"Any time you like."
"Oh, very well. We shall dine at eight, so seven thirty or seven. The time really doesn't matter; just be there, Bunny."
"I shall." He smiled, stood up and held out his hand to me.
I took it between both of mine and squeezed it as I gazed down into his eyes. "I shall look forward to seeing you later, my rabbit," I said softly.
He smiled and flushed just a little; I think he read more in my gaze that I had been aware I was showing. "I shall look forward to it too, Raffles."
I finished off what I had been doing when Bunny had arrived, donned my coat, picked up my hat and left my office. Digby was somewhat cool with me, in his professional clerk employee way of course. However, he left me in no doubt that he did not approve of me permitting people merely to turn up at my office and be given access to me without first making an appointment; nor did he approve of me leaving early. Nonetheless, despite his disapproval I knew when I returned to the office after the weekend the work I had left for him would all be done and the matter of Bunny just arriving and me leaving early would be forgotten.
Thus, I bid him good afternoon; told him he might leave and close up the practice for the day as soon as he had completely the work I had left him; wished him a good weekend and left. I took a cab back to the Albany where Parker handed me the keys for the furnished room.
"Thank you, Parker; it really is very kind of you to allow Dr. Charleston to stay in the rooms for a few days."
"You're welcome, Mr. Raffles. It's always a pleasure to do something to help you, sir. You're a real gent."
I smiled at him. "Thank you. Dr. Charleston and I will dine in my rooms tonight and we will be joined by Mr. Manders."
"Your friend from school, sir?"
I nodded. I wasn't surprised Parker had remembered who Bunny was; he really was a terrible good and conscientious porter. "That's right, Parker."
"I'll send him straight up, Mr. Raffles."
"Thank you." I nodded to him and went up the stairs and to my rooms where I knocked in the way Charlie and I used to knock on one another's study doors when we had been in the sixth form.
I was reassured to hear the bolt being pulled back and the lock being opened. "Hello, Charlie," I said, smiling at him as I studied him. To my eyes he looked somewhat better than when I had left him; he wasn't as pale as he had been, the hint of a tremble had gone and he looked somewhat more relaxed. "How are you?" I asked, closing the door behind me, dropping the latch and taking off my coat.
"Better, thank you, A. J.," he said, confirming my thoughts. "I am glad I let you persuade me not to go to the hospital, but to come here. Thank you." He took my arm and went into my sitting room where I was pleased to see he had lit a fire.
"You're most welcome, Charlie. Now allow me to pour you a drink, take a Sullivan from the box, sit down and let me tell you what I have learnt."
Charlie did as I bid him and settled back into the arm chair in which he had been sitting and listened and I told him about Bunny's visit to me.
Charlie stared at me. "He had the nerve to tell Manders I was dead?"
I nodded. "Yes. Poor Bunny was quite upset by the time he arrived at my offices. He, of course, believed Armstrong." Charlie muttered something under his breath about Armstrong and I politely pretended I hadn't caught his words. "In light of that, Charlie, I suggest that you allow me to ring matron and inform her you will be taking several days away from the hospital - no, Charlie, let me finish - and that you remain here at the Albany whilst I give though to quite what we are doing to do to Armstrong."
Charlie stared at me. "A. J., I appreciate your caring, but why shouldn't I go to the hospital?"
"Because Armstrong believes you to be dead and that can only be for one reason. I just need to figure out how we can use that to our advantage."
"Even if you can think of something, A. J., I cannot go to the police and accuse him of trying to kill me, not without explanation which will only lead to me being goaled. You know that."
"I don't necessarily think it has to be a police matter."
Charlie leant forward and put his hand on my knee. "And I will not permit you to do anything that might endanger you or get you into trouble."
I covered his hand with mine and squeezed it. "I assure you, Charlie, I have no intention of thus doing. Please allow me a few days, if I cannot think of anything in that time then you must of course return to your normal life. Look," I said, when he still looked sceptical, "when did you last take a few days off from the hospital?"
Charlie glanced away from me for a moment than then sighed. "Very well, A. J., I shall do as you wish." His words in effect answered my question for me. "However, I cannot stay here in your rooms, it really wouldn't be right."
"You don't have to. I have arranged for you to spend a few days in the set of furnished rooms the Albany keeps for the owners and their families. I checked with Parker and none of them are due to pay a visit, so there won't be any trouble."
"Are these rooms usually available for people to just occupy?"
I shrugged. "No. But Parker is very fond of me."
Charlie shook his head in his fond way and smiled. "I doubt there are many people who aren't," he said.
I shrugged. "We can both name two, can we not?" I didn't wait for him to reply. "Oh, I should have said, Bunny is going to join us for dinner here tonight."
"Oh, that's really good news. I'm so pleased. It really will be good to see him again." Charlie's tone and the look on his face confirmed his words. Then he smiled at me and said, "It's a jolly good job I refused to stay overnight in your room."
"Charlie!" To my surprise I actually felt my cheeks become a little warm as he looked at me, his look leaving me in no doubt as to what he meant.
He smiled and took my hand. "I'm glad, A. J.," he said quietly.
"Of course, I am. I'm very fond of Manders."
For a moment we sat in silence just looking at one another. There was a look on Charlie's face I couldn't quite identify and a question in his eyes I couldn't quite read. It was as if he wished to say something, but didn't quite know how to - which given how close we were and for how long we had been friends, surprised me.
Finally I said quietly, "What is it, Charlie?"
The next second I was surprised to an even greater extent, when I found myself pulled to me feet and into Charlie's arms and his mouth was on mine kissing me with an abandoned passion. For a moment I did nothing other than let him kiss me, but then instinct, as well as the fact that I wanted it (Charlie does kiss extremely well) kicked in and I began to kiss him back.
I'm not sure how long the intensely passionate and somewhat dangerous, it could be said, kiss went on for, but finally, after several small breaks to allow us to breathe in much needed oxygen, Charlie took his mouth from mine, loosened the embrace and looked at me. He appeared just a little wary and apprehensive.
I stared back at him and smiled as I put my hand on his cheek. "Please don't get me wrong, Charlie," I said softly. "I do not object to what just happened, but may I ask why you kissed me?"
He glanced away from for a short time before looking back at me. "Because it will be the last time I ever kiss you and I wanted . . ." He shrugged as I raised an eyebrow. "You're not a saint, A. J., but I know you, remember; once you take Manders as yours, you will be faithful to him for as long as he wants you, will you not?"
I nodded slowly. "Yes, Charlie. Yes, I will. Is it that obvious?"
Charlie shrugged again. "Quite possibly only to me given how well, how intimately, I know you and how I saw you and Manders interact for two years. I do believe he captured your heart, A. J., from the moment you first met him, even if you didn't realise it. The rest of the school thought it was Manders who was the devoted one, the one with the pash, the one who adored you, loved you, worshiped you - and he was. However, I believe I alone knew the devotion and adoration went both ways. No one possesses someone in the way you possessed Manders if they don't care and care deeply."
I stared at Charlie and swallowed hard. I couldn't argue with him; what he said was quite true - even if, as he said, I hadn't realised it whilst we had been school boys. Or rather, I hadn't been prepared to admit quite how important Bunny had been to me; quite how deeply I adored him.
I thought about what Charlie said, how he had been quite correct when he had said I would never kiss him or anyone else for as long as Bunny wanted me - well not once I had reclaimed my rabbit as my own. I thought about it and I wasn't proud to hear myself say, "Come to bed with me, Charlie."
He looked somewhat shocked. "What? No, A. J. No. Kissing is one thing, but -"
"Why would it be any different? You and I both know that not all men who bed other men actually kiss." Charlie frowned. "Please, Charlie. As you said, once I take Bunny to my bed, that will be it and I want - Look, I'm not proud of this, but I want to experience it one more time."
Charlie's frown deepened as he stared at me and I saw understanding come to him. "Oh," he said quietly. "But surely Manders would want to," I shook my head and he widened his eyes slightly. "How can you possible know, A. J., he's not the boy your protected and possessed at school."
I shrugged. "I just know. So, will you?"
Charlie sighed. "Even if I wanted to, A. J., I'm afraid my answer has to be no."
"And do you want to?"
Charlie glanced away from me as a faint flush touched his cheeks. "I always thought that one day, well I did before Manders reappeared, that you and I would . . . It seemed logical, even though I know for you something would always have been missing. However, I thought what we had shared, how close we were, how much we loved and cared for one another, that it would ultimately have been enough. Did you ever think that?"
I stared at him; again he had answered my question without actually doing thus in so many words. As I stared at him I suddenly realised the truth. I took his hand and squeezed it. "Yes, Charlie, I did - and you're right ultimately it would have been."
We stood in silence again until Charlie sighed and said, "I can't give you what you want, A. J. You see, it would hurt me too much. Even washing is painful," he added softly. He stared at me and I understood what he meant.
I took his other hand. "Are you sure you shouldn't consult another doctor, Charlie?"
He shook his head. "No. It's not permanent, A. J. It will just take some time." I opened my mouth to say something, but Charlie's mouth on mine, kissing me this time far more gently than the previous kiss had been, silenced me.
LATER THAT EVENING
Charlie and I sat in my sitting room sipping sherry, smoking Sullivans and waiting for Bunny to arrive. I had, at Charlie's insistence, taken him to the rooms he would be occupying for a few days once we had had tea, and he had returned some half an hour ago, when I had once again insisted he allow me to rub some ointment into his injuries. He hadn't objected; he had merely sighed softly before going through into my bedroom and removing his clothes. We had said nothing more about the kiss, about what I had asked for, nor about what Charlie had said about what he had always thought would happen.
Charlie declared himself to be very happy with the rooms, going so far as to say he would be very happy to spend a few days in them. I was relieved; not that I expected them to be anything other than comfortable, but it was good to know.
It was nearer to seven thirty than to seven, and I was beginning to fear that Bunny may have changed his mind and felt too embarrassed to dine with Charlie. However, just as I reached for another Sullivan the door knocker sounded. I don't quite know what my face betrayed as I stood up and turned to leave the room but the look Charlie gave me told me my pleasure and relief had been more than obvious.
I strode into the hall and pulled open the front door and gazed down at my rabbit. "Bunny!" I cried putting one hand on his shoulder and taking his hand in mine. "It is good to see you. Do come in." I didn't quite pull him inside.
He beamed up at me. "It's good to see you too, Raffles."
I gazed down at him and for a moment I nearly gave into my sudden nearly overwhelming desire to kiss him. However, given I wasn't entirely certain whether I would be able to stop at a mere kiss; I instead just pulled him into an embrace. After all, Charlie may be quite aware of what would be more than likely to happen later that evening, but it was hardly fair on him to deprive him of his dinner.
Bunny, for a moment, rested his head against my shoulder, as he had done during out school days and I, as I had done on more than one occasion, lightly kissed the top of his head, before encouraging him to raise his head. "Do come along, my rabbit," I said, helping him off with his overcoat and taking his hat from his hand, "and say hello to Charlie. He's really looking forward to seeing you."
Bunny looked up at me. "Is he?" I didn't reply, I simply put my arm around his shoulders, a position it had occupied whenever we had walked together during our time together at school, and led him into the sitting room.
Charlie rose immediately and came towards us with his hand held out. "Yes, Manders," he said, taking Bunny's hand and shaking it before he clasped it with his other hand as well. "I am indeed delighted to see you, really delighted."
Bunny flushed a little and then beamed at Charlie. "Thank you, Charleston and I am jolly pleased to see you too."
"Good." Charlie let go of Bunny's hand and instead put his arms around him and embraced him for a moment or two. I was pleased to see that although Bunny hesitated for a second he did put his arms around Charlie, thus completing the embrace.
"Well," I said, once Charlie had ceased to embrace Bunny. "Do sit down, Bunny, take a cigarette and let me pour you a drink and then you can tell us -"
I turned to look at Charlie. "Yes, Charlie?"
"I do think poor Manders might appreciate dinner before you," he paused, picked up the cigarette box and offered it to Bunny, before smiling a little and saying, "interrogate him."
"I wasnít going to interrogate Bunny, Charlie. What do you think I am?"
"A solicitor," Charlie said and smiled. "You'll get used to it in time, Manders - I have - just as I hope you will get used to me trying to doctor you any time you have even the slightest head-ache. I'm afraid it's what we both do, is it not, A. J.?"
I laughed and Charlie and Bunny joined in. "I am a little afraid to confess, Bunny," I said, handing Bunny a glass of sherry, "that Charlie is essentially correct. I apologise; Charlie is quite right, dinner first." I paused, glanced at Charlie, lightly moistened my upper lip, before looking back at Bunny and saying lightly, "Interrogation later."
Once again we all laughed. I was delighted to see that whatever unease Bunny may have felt about coming face to face with Charlie knowing, as he did, that Charlie had seen him naked in the photographs, seemed to have vanished as soon as he had taken Charlie's hand. And if Charlie had been at all uneasy at seeing Bunny again, with Bunny knowing Charlie enjoyed looking at erotic photographs of young men, that too had vanished. It would certainly make for a much more pleasant evening.
SOME TIME LATER
Dinner had been, as I had known it would be, excellent and we once more sat in the sitting room smoking Sullivans and drinking whisky and soda. Charlie occupied the arm chair, whilst Bunny and I sat at either end of the sofa.
We talked for a few minutes about nothing in particular before I put down my glass and turned to Bunny. "Well, my rabbit," I said softly, trying hard to ensure I didn't sound as if I was about to interrogate him. "Do you wish to tell us your story?"
Before Bunny could speak, Charlie did. "If you'd rather I left, Manders, please do not hesitate to say so. I'll be more than happy to return to the rooms A. J. has arranged for me."
"No!" Bunny cried quickly, looking from me to Charlie. "No, Charleston. I am quite happy to tell you both the story."
"Good boy," I said softly. "Well, then, why don't you begin with exactly why you have been posing for erotic photographs?" Charlie gave me a look which I pointedly ignored, instead I looked at Bunny.
Bunny swallowed, took another sip of his drink and said quietly, "Ollie. Ollie is the reason I ended up posing for erotic photographs."
"Ollie?" I said, even though there was something about the name that was familiar.
"Oliver Urquhart," Charlie said. "Harry's best friend at school." There was something in Charlie's tone that made me glance at him, rather than at Bunny.
"Oh, yes," I said. "I remember." I turned my attention from Charlie and once more looked at Bunny and raised an eyebrow encouraging him to continue.
"Well," Bunny said, emptying his glass. I stood up and brought the decanter and soda siphon back to the table. I poured whisky into all of our glasses and then added soda, before once more offering the box of Sullivans around. "Thank you." Bunny smiled at me and took another sip.
"Ollie and I kept in touch once we had left the school." He was looking at me as he spoke and against my will I felt a chill pass through me. I was sure he didn't mean anything in what he had said, indeed his tone had been quite normal, but for a moment a flash of guilt and regret passed through me. "And he - Oh I had better go back a little."
"Take your time, Bunny." I touched his thigh and he smiled at me.
"You see when we were at school there was something I never told you, Raffles, or you Charleston, he added quickly glancing at Charlie. "I didn't tell you because Ollie asked me not to and I promised him I wouldn't. I'm sorry," he added, as if we had suddenly all been transported back to our school days.
"You have no need to apologise, Bunny. You promised your best friend you wouldn't tell anyone and you didn't."
Bunny gave me a faint smile. "Ollie is the nephew of and heir to Lord Catterfield. In fact his uncle brought him up, his parents having been killed in an accident when Ollie was only five. Lord Catterfield never married, hence why Ollie is his heir - his father was Lord Catterfield's younger brother. Lord Catterfield isn't terribly elderly; however, he has recently been told he has very little time to live. His doctor told him, but he still seems in good health, so I -" Bunny's gaze moved from me to look at Charlie.
"Doctors do make mistakes, Harry," Charlie said, in answer to whatever question Bunny was asking him. "Just as everyone does - thus it is quite possible that Lord Catterfield has been misdiagnosed. Do you know what the doctor claimed he was suffering from?"
Bunny shook his head. "No, Charleston, I'm sorry. Ollie did mention it - but . . . I cannot remember. Charleston, couldn't you . . . Well, you know?"
"Go and see Lord Catterfield?" Charlie spoke gently.
"Well, Manders, I really could only do that if Lord Catterfield invited me and asked me to give him a second opinion. It would be very bad form and unprofessional for me to invite myself and offer my opinion - I'm sure you understand."
Bunny sighed. "Yes. It's just - Well, I trust you and Ollie trusts you."
Charlie frowned a little. "Does Urquhart even know I'm a doctor?"
"Well, he doesn't know, but we both knew you intended to become a doctor. Oh," he said suddenly, "I'm afraid I told Ollie that was what you intended to do - was I wrong to do so?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, of course not, Manders. I merely wondered - But it's of no matter. Do go on with your story."
Bunny nodded and took another sip from his drink. "Well, when Ollie learnt his uncle was dying he invited me to go and stay with them for a while. When I was there, he confessed to me and to his uncle that when he had been eighteen and spent a few months in London he had posed for some photographs."
"The same kind of photographs you posed for?"
Bunny looked at me and nodded. "Yes. And it was also Armstrong for whom he posed. Ollie was terribly worried that Armstrong might -" He looked at Charleston and said softly, "I'm sorry, Charleston." Charlie merely gave Bunny an encouraging smile. "Well, that Armstrong might . . . That he might . . ."
"Try to blackmail Urquhart?" It was Charlie who spoke.
Bunny nodded and bit his lip. "Yes. His uncle wasn't at all concerned; he took the view that all young men do foolish things and if any of the photographs should turn up, that Ollie should just laugh them off. After all, his uncle told him, if other people didn't want to look at them, then photographers would not take such photographs of young men like Ollie. Oh, I'm sorry," he said again, covering his mouth with his hand as he looked aghast at Charlie.
Charlie merely smiled and leant forward to touch Bunny's hand. "You really do not need to apologise, Manders. Lord Catterfield is quite correct in what he said."
Bunny swallowed. "Thank you, Charleston." He glanced at me and I smiled encouragingly at him. "Ollie did believe his uncle, but he was still worried and I . . . I was worried about Ollie and so I decided to try to help. I told Ollie that I would return to London and -" He paused, reached for his glass and drained it. I poured him a little more and he smiled his thanks. "I said I would go and see Armstrong and offer to pose for him and then I would be able, at least I hoped I would, to look around and see if I could find anything - photographs or plates," he added.
I put my hand on his knee. "That was a very brave and caring thing for you to do, Bunny."
He looked at me and flushed a little. "Ollie's my friend," he said simply. "And you and Charleston would have done the same thing for one another, wouldn't you?"
I glanced at Charlie even though I had no need to do so. "Well, yes, my rabbit, of course we would. However, neither Charlie nor I were ever," I paused and glanced at Charlie again.
"I think what A. J. is trying to say, Harry, is that we were both used, partly to us playing cricket as we did, to being unclothed in front of other people and that it has never troubled us. Thus, we would not have felt the same embarrassment was you must have felt when you . . . When you did what you did. A. J. was quite correct; it was a terribly brave and caring thing for you to do for Urquhart."
Bunny swallowed hard. "Thank you," he said softly, looking from Charleston to me. "Thank you," he repeated.
"You are quite welcome, Bunny. Now is there anything else you would like to tell us."
"A little - if you don't mind."
"Of course we donít." Charlie smiled at Bunny.
"Whilst I was posing for Armstrong, as well as having the opportunity to look around I spoke to some of his other models and discovered that he only kept the plates of such photographs for six months."
"I could have told you that," Charlie said. I looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Armstrong told me. He was taking a risk himself taking the photographs, especially some of the more - intimate, shall we say? Thus, he didn't want to have evidence in his studio. He printed off only half a dozen or so more than he had orders for, and made certain everything was destroyed at the end of each six months. And before you ask, A. J., why I didn't tell you, why should I? You had no interest in such photographs and you weren't . . ." He just shrugged.
"Did it never bother you?" I heard myself ask.
"Did what never bother me?"
"Armstrong taking such photographs; seeing young men unclothed."
Charlie stared at me. "It's hardly relevant now, is it? However, no; he was a professional and it wasn't as if I never saw a naked person during my days, was it?" Charlie's tone was rather flat and crisp and for a moment his look was a little hard. I feared I had overstepped the boundaries of our friendship.
"I'm sorry, Charlie," I murmured.
The look faded and he touched my knee. "Donít be, A. J." He smiled at me. "It's of no matter."
Bunny sighed. "I should have told you sooner, Raffles, why I was in London and why I was - allowing Armstrong to take photographs of me. If I had told you sooner then you would have told Charleston and he . . ." he shrugged.
"It's of no matter, my rabbit. Really it isn't."
Bunny gave me a partial smile and sipped his drink. Then he froze and stared at me, "Did you tell Charleston about . . . About what I found - you know the . . ." He flushed slightly.
I glanced at Charlie and silently let him know to what Bunny was referring.
Charlie drained his glass and without even waiting for me to offer, poured himself a little more whisky and drank it without adding soda. "Yes, Manders," he said, his tone once again flat and crisp, "I am quite aware of Armstrong's - toys, shall we say."
Bunny looked from Charleston to me and for a moment frowned and then the meaning of Charlie's words clearly came to him. "Oh," he said softly and a distraught look passed over his face. "If only I had found them before - I could have -"
"Don't upset yourself, Harry," Charlie said, looking directly at Bunny. "I assure you I was aware of them before you went to model for Armstrong."
"Charlie," I whispered. "Oh, Charlie. I -"
He shook his head. "I would rather just forget the whole thing, A. J."
We sat in silence, both Charlie and Bunny were staring at me but even I didn't quite know what to say next and then to my surprise Bunny jumped to his feet. "Oh, I almost forgot." And before either Charlie or I could say anything he hurried out of the room. I glanced at Charlie and stood up myself, prepared to follow him and prevent him from leaving - because that was suddenly what I believed, what I feared, he might do.
However, before I reached the door he was back. He was carrying something in his hands, holding it very carefully in a handkerchief. He hurried over to me and turned back the handkerchief. I gasped as I saw what he was holding. He held it out to me and I automatically took it.
"Bunny?" I asked as Charlie stood up and came to stand with us and stared down at the revolver Bunny had given me.
"I found it in Armstrong's desk," Bunny said. "That's what I went to do this afternoon. At least I went to try; I wasn't certain I would be able to. But when I got there Armstrong was in his studio and he was rather well, drunk. He was talking about Charleston and he said . . . He said . . . He said he had made the biggest mistake of his life, and he was so sorry. I, well, I'm afraid I poured him another drink, said something about having left my stick when I had been there earlier, and left him drinking the whisky I had poured him and I went to his office where I found the gun. It's empty," he said. "I checked. I was careful, Raffles, I picked it up with my handkerchief and wrapped it up carefully."
He looked from me to Charlie, back at me, back at Charlie before he finally looked back at me. "Raffles?" he said quietly, a hint of concern in his voice. "Did I do something wrong? Are you angry with me?"
I shook myself and looked at Bunny. "No, my rabbit, of course I am not angry with you. In fact I am anything but angry with you. Bunny, you are -"
"The bravest young man I have ever known," Charlie said, speaking for us both as he put his hand on Bunny's shoulder and squeezed it.
Bunny's cheeks became very red as he looked at Charlie. "Thank you, Charleston." He stammered the words out. "But really I didn't do anything."
"My rabbit," Bunny turned to look at me and the adoration that shone in his eyes made me swallow very hard. "You did everything. Charlie is quite correct; you really are the bravest young man I know. Truly, Bunny, I know of no one who would have done what you did - and all because of friendship. There was no self-gain in what you did, you did it all for someone else."
Bunny's cheeks grew even redder and he bit his lower lip before he began to fidget a little as he looked away from both Charlie and I, staring down at the floor. I recognised the signs and knew what was coming next. For once I decided not to tell him he didn't, and instead said, "The bathroom is through my bedroom, Bunny." I pointed in the direction of the dining room, which he would have to go through. He blushed a little more, glanced at Charlie and me before he hurried off.
Charlie and I stood together and watched him go. "He really isn't the rabbit he was at school," Charlie said. "What he did . . ."
"He always had more pluck than most people thought," I said softly, as I wrapped the gun back up.
"What are you going to do with that?"
"I haven't quite decided yet."
"A. J." Charlie came nearer to me and stared directly at me.
"Just trust me, Charlie," I said, putting the gun down on the sideboard and taking Charlie's hand between both of mine as I met and held his gaze.
After a short time, Charlie sighed and smiled. "I always have; I'm not about to stop now."
"Dear Charlie," I murmured, touching his cheek, for a second or two he lent his face against my hand before he moved away and turned towards the door as Bunny reappeared.
I held out my hand and Bunny came to join us and we sat back down and I poured whisky into the three glasses and offered the cigarette box to Charlie and Bunny. For the next ten minutes or so we sat and drank and smoked and talked of our school days.
Charlie drained his glass, put his Sullivan out and stood up. "I'll say goodnight to you and Manders, A. J."
Both Bunny and I stood up. "Are you certain, Charlie?"
He nodded. "Yes, I'm a little tired."
I looked at him and saw he wasn't being untruthful. "Very well. I'll walk with you to your rooms."
"There's really no need, A. J. I'm quite -"
"I'll walk with you to your rooms."
Charlie sighed softly, but also smiled. "Thank you, A. J." He turned to Bunny and held out his hand. "Goodnight, Manders, it really was a pleasure to see you again and . . . Thank you really doesn't seem adequate, but - Thank you, Harry." Bunny took Charlie's hand as his cheeks again became a little flushed as he smiled at Charlie.
"You are very welcome, Charleston. Goodnight, and I hope you sleep well and it was lovely to see you again too."
"I imagine I'll see you tomorrow," Charlie said, finally letting go of Bunny's hand.
Bunny flushed even more and looked at me. "I should go as -"
"No. Stay and have another drink, my rabbit. Please," I added.
"Yes, say, Manders. It isn't late; I wouldn't be leaving myself other than I am a little tired. Stay and keep A. J. company for a little longer."
Bunny smiled. "Very well, I would like to."
I squeezed his shoulder. "That's my good boy. I'll be but a moment, Bunny. Do help yourself to another Sullivan whilst I've gone."
Bunny smiled. "Thank you, Raffles."
I put my arm through Charlie's and turned towards the door. However, to my surprise Charlie hesitated and turned back to Bunny. "Manders?"
"Out of interest, you know how one is always interested in news of boys with whom one was at school." I raised an eyebrow and stared at Charlie; for him to become quite so proper, and it had to be said almost stilted, told me he was a little uneasy in what he was about to ask Bunny. "Is Urquhart married or affianced?"
Bunny shook his head. "No." He thought for a moment and then said, "Indeed I have never heard him talk about a young lady."
Charlie nodded. "Thank you, Manders. Well, do come along, A. J." And he began to walk towards the door; as my arm was still through his I had no choice but to go with him.
I opened the front door and then closed it behind us. "Out of interest?" I said softly, looking at him.
He met my gaze and held it. "Yes."
I said nothing more; I merely smiled at him and tightened the grip I had on his arm. The set of rooms he had been given was on the floor above mine and several sets of rooms to the right. It was I who took the key from Charlie's hand when we reached the front door, I who unlocked it and I who went in first.
Charlie followed in and stood in the doorway to the sitting room as I did a hasty yet thorough search of the rooms. "Armstrong believes me to be dead," Charlie said quietly. "And as far as I know no one else wishes to . . ."
"I know," I went to his side and gave him a rueful look. "It's just . . ." I fell silent and stared at Charlie doing as we had so often done: saying things without words. "Sleep well, Charlie," I murmured after a short time and I put my hand on his shoulder. "And if you need or want - Well, you know."
He smiled and touched my cheek. "I know, A. J. Now go back to Manders, before he decides you've abandoned him and goes home."
I smiled, touched his hand and went to the front door. "Make certain you -"
"Lock it and bolt it, yes, A. J. Tell me, was your mothering mode always this extreme?"
I laughed softly. "Sleep well," I repeated and closed the door behind me. I stood and waited until I heard Charlie lock and bolt it before, hands in my pockets, I strode back to my own rooms. Once inside I locked the door behind me, turned out the hall lights and went back into the sitting room.
As I closed the door behind me Bunny stood up and smiled at me. "Hello, Raffles."
"Hello, my rabbit. Did you not want a cigarette?"
He shook his head. "Not at the moment, thank you."
"Well, do let me give you a little more whisky."
He again shook his head. "No, thank you. Not at the moment."
I frowned a little and raised an eyebrow as I looked at him; I wondered if he was about to tell me he had decided to go home after all. "Well, what does my rabbit want?"
It appeared as if I had asked exactly the correct question. He smiled and his gaze never leaving mine he made his way towards me. The next moment to my surprise I found myself pushed against the sitting room door and Bunny's mouth was on mine as he slipped his arms around my neck and pressed his body against mine.
For a fraction of a second surprise, surprise that my rabbit would make such a bold move, would be the one to initiate the kiss, made me freeze. However, the surprise quickly vanished and I put my arms around him, pulled him even closer to me (Digby was not outside this door) and met and returned the kiss.
As one of my hands moved from holding him possessively up into his hair which I tangled around my fingers, I felt his mouth part just a little under mine and the next moment his tongue gently and with more than a degree of uncertainty touched my lower lip. Somewhat intrigued I obligingly parted my lips for him and his tongue again gently and uncertainly slid into my mouth as he pressed his lower body hard against mine.
I realised as he pressed against me that he was very aroused, more so than I was - but then his kiss had told me quite clearly this was the first time he had been intimate with anyone. As I encouraged him even nearer to me, my body decided it didn't wish to be outdone and, far more quickly than it normally did from what was actually, despite his tongue being in my mouth, a rather chaste kiss, it hardened until it matched Bunny's own arousal.
He made a noise of what was obvious and sheer pleasure as he moved against me slightly. "Raffles," he murmured taking his mouth from mine and gazing at me with even more adoration and love than I had ever seen on his face. I also saw what I had never seen on his face, intense desire and need.
I took a deep breath before I returned my mouth to his and still kissing him I carefully manoeuvred him across the room to the sofa and guided him down onto it. I followed him down so that we were lying in one another's arms, lips pressed against one another, kissing with far more passion than before, our lower bodies still hard against one another.
I moved back just a little to enable me to take my hand from his hair and slide it down his body and across his hip until it covered his hardness. "Raffles!" he cried, as I cupped him through the heavy material of his trousers.
"Yes, my rabbit?"
"Touch me, please."
"I am." I smiled.
He didn't quite glare at me, but it was enough to make me laugh lightly before I once again put my mouth back on his and did as he bid me do. My experienced fingers made very short work of unbuttoning his trousers and drawers and barely any time passed before I carefully, making sure his trousers didn't brush against him, tugged his more than a little warm, rather damp and very flesh out. I glanced down at him and definitely approved of what I saw, before I closed my hand around him and began to stroke him.
I gripped him somewhat less tightly than I had gripped a man before and my strokes were not as quick as they would normally be. I knew this was the first time anyone other than he had touched himself and knew from experience (even if it was from a considerable number of years ago) that touching yourself and being touched by someone else was quite different, especially when it was one's first time, and I did not wish to hurt him or indeed scare him. I believed I could do both if I did not take care.
It was less than a minute from the moment I had pulled him from his trousers before he gasped, tightened his grip on me even more (his fingers dug into my arm so tightly for a moment they actually hurt me) pushed up into my hand, cried my name and made my hand very wet and sticky. As his release filled my hand and dripped onto his trousers I idly wondered quite when he had touched himself last - other than when he had done thus for the photograph for which he had posed.
"Oh, Raffles," he murmured, as I managed to extract my handkerchief from my pocket and wipe my hand, his softening flesh and his trousers. "That was - I love you so, Raffles."
I smiled at him and dropped the handkerchief onto the floor. "And I my very own, beloved, dearest Bunny, love you."
"Do you?" To my disappointment he sounded surprised.
"Yes, of course I do, my rabbit."
He sighed. "I am yours, am I not?"
"Oh, yes, Bunny. And you are mine - for as long as you want me."
He beamed up at me. "Do you mean that?"
I nodded. "Yes," I said seriously. "Now as we have momentarily paused, what say you we retire to my bedroom? I assure you as enjoyable as you found that, you will find it even more enjoyable when we are both unclothed and in bed. Would my rabbit like that?"
He smiled. "Yes, please, Raffles." However, before I could move, he once more pulled my head down and kissed me.
With one thing and another it was some fifteen minutes later before I finally had him in my bedroom. I began to undress him; I started with his bowtie untying it and undoing his collar button so that I could put my mouth onto his neck and lick the hollow before I sucked the soft skin into my mouth.
As I removed each item of clothing and uncovered pale, soft flesh, I had to put my mouth on his skin, licking, kissing, sucking and even running my teeth gently over it. Bunny's moans and whimpers and the other soft noises he made, as well as the way he murmured my name from time to time, told me quite how much he was enjoying it.
When I had him completely unclothed I put my hands on his shoulders and moved as far away as I could whilst still remaining in contact with him as I looked down and up his body. I let my hands drop from his shoulders and took a few steps further away and really looked at him. I could quite see why Armstrong had been prepared to photograph him.
"You really are beautiful, Bunny," I murmured. "You are a pleasure to look at." His cheeks flushed and he looked down at the ground as he whispered his stammering thanks. Rather than detract from how he looked, the movement made him even more attractive.
I brushed his hair from his forehead and said softly, "You make a very lovely model, my rabbit."
His head came up swiftly. "Raffles! Are you saying . . . Are you trying to tell me you wish me to go on . . . You know. Raffles?"
"What? Oh, no, my rabbit. No. Please do not think that. I assure you I do not wish anyone but I to see you unclothed. And," I said, moving back towards him a little and running my fingertips over his lower body a few times until it began to harden just a little. "I certainly do not wish anyone other than me to see you like that."
Slightly aroused as he was, with his pale skin, his long blond hair, the faint flush on his cheeks and the way he was quivering just a little, he was one of the most erotic things I had ever seen - and he was all mine.
"No one ever will, Raffles," he murmured, and then added a little sadly, "Well apart from those gentlemen who . . ."
Ah, yes, the photographs. Now seemed as good a time as any to ask him something. "My rabbit?" I put my arms around him and held him in a loose embrace.
"Would you mind terribly if I kept the photographs I have of you?" Bunny stared at me; he looked more than a little surprised. I went on. "I know I don't need the photographs when I have you. However, I find that I really would like to keep them - they are incredibly good. Would my rabbit mind?"
He gulped and glanced down, letting his hair cover his face. I expected him to say he did mind and if he did, then I would destroy them in the morning. However, he raised his head and I saw a faint smile on his lips. "Actually, Raffles, I wouldn't mind. It would actually be rather . . . Well, I would take it as a compliment."
I smiled and brushed my lips over his. "Good. That's settled. Now why do you not lie down on the bed and watch me undress?"
He beamed. "Yes, please."
"That's my good rabbit." I pulled the covers back and waited for him to settle down, sprawled over my bed, as I began to swiftly undress myself. I have never been remotely troubled by being naked in front of others, nor of being looked at. However, to my surprise I felt my cheeks become just a little warm as I realised quite how intently and with how much desire and pleasure Bunny was staring at me. Indeed his stare alone was enough to make me harden more than a little.
The first shards of dawn were beginning to penetrate my bedroom before I finally kissed Bunny one more time and allowed him to go to sleep. As I held him in my arms and gazed at him I knew for certain I would not let him go again; he would be mine until death parted us. I was already making plans to talk to Parker about the likelihood of there being a set of rooms with two bedrooms, as I did not like the idea of my rabbit being in his flat whilst I occupied my rooms here.
At a little after eight, I left Bunny sleeping and went into the bathroom to bathe. I returned to the bedroom to dress to find Bunny still sleeping. Once I had dressed, I brushed his hair from his forehead and left him to sleep before I went along to the rooms Charlie was occupying and invited him to join me for breakfast.
It was after ten and Charlie and I had breakfasted (neither of us had felt like more than toast and coffee) and were now sitting in my sitting room smoking, drinking coffee and reading the morning papers, before Bunny, dressed, bathed and shaved (I had heard signs of movement coming from the bedroom and bathroom) appeared in the sitting room.
"Good morning, my rabbit," I said, standing up and holding my hand out to him. "I trust you slept well."
Bunny hurried over to me and smiled. "Yes, thank you, Raffles," he declared, as he gazed at me and touched my face. For a moment I believed he had not seen Charlie; indeed this was confirmed when after watching us for a moment or two a fond look on his face, Charlie spoke.
"Good morning, Manders."
To my amusement and Charlie's given the twinkle in his eyes, Bunny started, turned around and stared at Charlie. "Char . . . Charles. . . Charleston," he managed, stumbling over the syllables. "I didn't . . . I . . . Raffles?" He looked away from Charlie and back to me and I saw his cheeks begin to flush and he looked a little alarmed.
I smiled in a reassuring way at him and put my hand on his cheek. "Do not look so troubled, my rabbit."
He glanced at Charlie again and then back at me "But -" He fell silent as I simply stared at him. I saw understanding dawn on his face and he flushed again, bit his lower lip and nodded.
"Good boy. Now would you like breakfast or would you prefer to wait until luncheon?"
"Oh, whatever you and Charleston want to do," my ever obliging rabbit said.
"Charlie and I have already had breakfast; although given we didn't have a great deal, I for one would be more than happy with a fairly early lunch. Charlie?"
Charlie nodded. "Yes. However, perhaps I should return to my rooms and leave you and Manders -"
"No, please don't," Bunny said turning to Charlie. "I'm sorry, Charleston, I did not return your greeting. Good morning, it is good to see you and I would really like you to stay."
Charlie smiled and then glanced at me and raised an eyebrow; I smiled back and nodded. "I would like that, Manders," he said. "Now do allow me to at least pour you a cup of coffee."
"Thank you," Bunny said and sat down.
We sat and talked and drank coffee for about half an hour before Bunny looked at me. "Actually, Raffles, would you mind if I returned to my flat - just for a short time. I really would like to change out of my evening clothes."
I quite understood. "Of course not, my rabbit. If you like and if Charlie doesn't mind, I shall walk back with you."
Bunny smiled. "Yes, please," he said.
I glanced at Charlie. "You're quite welcome to stay in my rooms, Charlie. It does seem rather foolish to return to yours given we are all going to lunch here together."
Charlie sighed. "I don't suppose you would permit me to accompany you? I really would like some fresh air, A. J."
I went to Charlie and put my hand on his shoulder. "Humour me, Charlie," I said quietly, "Please. Just a few more days and then -"
"If the plans I have for Monday come to fruition, then you may return to your hospital and home and do whatsoever you like on Tuesday."
Charlie and I stared at one another for a moment or two, before Charlie sighed and said, "Very well, A. J.; I shall allow you to keep me under lock and key until Tuesday."
I laughed softly and squeezed his shoulder. "Is it really that bad?" I was smiling, but for a moment I was a little concerned.
He put his hand over mine and shook his head. "No, A. J., it isn't, really it isn't. Perhaps whilst you are out you could get me some more cigarettes, please."
"I have plenty here."
"I'm sure you have. However, I only have a few left and as pleasant, well more than pleasant, the rooms I am occupying are, I am getting a little bored. The choice of reading material is really not to my taste - thus, cigarettes help alleviate the boredom somewhat."
"Have a look through my books whilst Bunny and I are out and take anything you want back to your rooms." I waved my hand in the direction of the two tall bookcases. "I believe we do have a similar taste in literature."
"Thank you, A. J."
I smiled and turned to Bunny. "Well, my rabbit, are you ready?"
Bunny nodded. "Yes, Raffles."
"Good. Well, let us go and get you changed."
The remainder of the weekend went by very pleasantly. When we returned to Bunny's flat so that he could change out of his evening clothes, I suggested he packed a small bag and brought it back to the Albany, so that he didn't need to return again to change. He had hesitated for only a moment or two before smiling and agreeing.
To my slight amusement he forbade me to accompany him into his bedroom; he insisted I wait in his sitting room whilst he changed. When I had enquired as to why he was suddenly shy about me seeing him undressed (especially after all we had done the previous evening) he had flushed and said that was exactly why I could not go with him. If I was in his bedroom with him, he was certain it would be mid-afternoon at least before Charlie got his luncheon.
I had laughed but agreed with him; he was quite correct if I had gone into his bedroom with him and watched him undress I would not have been able to have kept my mouth and hands off of him. I believe Charlie had given thought to that possibility as when we returned, well within the hour, to my rooms he actually looked more than a little surprised, albeit pleased, to see us.
The three of us had meals together in my rooms and Charlie spent some time, especially after dinner, drinking, smoking and talking with us before he returned to the rooms he was occupying. Once he had left us in the evening, Bunny and I retired to my bed where I continued educating my rabbit in the art of lovemaking - he really was a very fine student and a fast learning one.
An hour or so after we had dined on Sunday evening, Bunny went off to the bathroom and Charlie turned to me. "What are your plans for tomorrow, A. J.?"
I took a moment to light a Sullivan before I looked at Charlie. He had the right to know, even though I believed he would not be entirely happy. "Firstly, well after I have rung Digby and informed him I will not be going into the office until the afternoon at the earliest - something of which he will not approve - I am going to see a good acquaintance of mine."
"I do sometimes think Digby and matron are related," Charlie said and laughed.
I laughed as well. "I do know what you mean, Charlie. However, do not forget that despite him disapproving of certain things, Digby does like me - the same cannot be said of matron."
Charlie conceded the point. "And may I ask who this good acquaintance of yours is?"
I hesitated, then sighed and said quietly, "Inspector Mackenzie of Scotland Yard."
Charlie stared at me in horror. "A. J., have you lost your mind?" He sounded a little angry.
I hastened to calm and reassure him. "No, Charlie. I have not. Look, I do not intend to actually tell him anything, well, not in any detail. I merely wish him to confirm a couple of things after which," I paused, moistened my lips and said, "I shall go and see Armstrong."
"A. -" Charlie fell silent as Bunny returned.
Bunny clearly picked up on the slight tension in the room as he looked from me to Charlie and back again. "Is anything wrong?" he asked softly.
I smiled at him. "No, my rabbit." I glanced at Charlie.
After a moment, Charlie sighed and looked a Bunny. "No, Manders. It's nothing." However, he stood up abruptly. "I believe I shall return to my rooms for the night," he said.
Bunny bit his bottom lip and looked at me. It was quite clear he knew something was at least slightly amiss and knowing my rabbit as I knew him, I was quite certain he would think it was something he had done. "I could go home," he said suddenly.
I was about to speak. However, Charlie beat me to it. He turned and went to where Bunny stood and put his hands on Bunny's shoulders. "No, Manders. Neither Raffles nor I want you to do that."
Bunny glanced at me and I nodded before he looked back at Charlie. "If you're certain," he said.
Charlie nodded. "Yes, I'm quite certain. I'll see you in the morning, Manders." He squeezed Bunny's shoulder before he turned to me. As he looked at me the somewhat hard look he had had in his eyes since I had told him of my plans for the morrow faded and he sighed softly as he said, "Walk with me back to my rooms, A. J." It was a peace offering; his tone and the look on his face told me that.
I smiled and nodded. "I won't be long, my rabbit," I said. "Do help yourself to whatever you want whilst I am gone." Bunny nodded and as Charlie and I left I was rather relieved to see him cross to the whisky decanter.
Once we were outside my flat, Charlie slipped his arm through mine. "Just promise me one thing, A. J.," he said, pausing and turning me around.
"If I can, Charlie, you know I will."
He nodded. "Be careful. Do not do anything - I was going to say foolish. However, to my mind you going to Scotland Yard and to see Armstrong could easily be seen as being 'foolish'. Thus, just promise me you will take care, great care. I have no desire to lose you and nor has Manders. If you won't take care for me, take care for Harry. You can't sweep him back into your life and your arms one day and then . . . Leave him again the next."
I swallowed hard as I saw the deep affection in Charlie's gaze; an affection that whilst deeper for me, was also for Bunny. "I promise you, Charlie, I will take care - I will take great care. I have no need to fear Armstrong."
"That's what worries me," Charlie said, but his tone was light.
We parted at his rooms with me once more instructing him to lock and bolt the door before I returned to Bunny who was waiting for me a look of eager anticipation on his face and a look in his eyes that had me swallowing hard and plucking the cigarette from his mouth a second before I plundered it with mine.
"I should like to see Inspector Mackenzie, please," I said to the young constable who was on desk duty just inside Scotland Yard's impressive buildings.
He swallowed as he appraised me. I knew, if only by sight, some of the constables and sergeants at the Yard, although I was more familiar with the more senior officers and in particular Inspector Mackenzie whose path had crossed with mine - professionally - on several occasions. However, I did not know the constable who stood before me.
"I don't know if he's free, sir. It being Monday morning."
I nodded. "Well, perhaps you would at least enquire as to whether he can spare me twenty minutes or so. My name is Raffles, Arthur Raffles."
He frowned a little and stared hard at me. "The cricketer?" His tone was suddenly one of awe.
I hid a smile. "Yes. In fact," I said, as suddenly inspiration hit me, "I am playing a county match the weekend after next. If you are not on duty I shall let you have a couple of tickets - you could bring a friend."
His eyes widened. "Really, sir?"
I nodded and smiled. "Yes, really." I took out my notebook and pushed it across the desk towards him. "Just write your name and address down and I shall arrange for them to be sent to you."
He stared at me and his cheeks became somewhat red as he carefully and fairly slowly wrote his name and address. "Thank you, Mr. Raffles, sir. I'll bring me dad; he's always wanted to see you play. If that's okay with you, sir."
"Of course it is," I glanced down at the page he had written on, "Jones."
His grin increased as did the colour on his cheeks. "I'll see if Inspector Mackenzie will see you, sir." He reached for the phone and I moved away from the desk a little and studied the pamphlets on the wall.
Ten minutes later I was sitting opposite Mackenzie, a cup of what I had to admit was very good coffee in front of me; both Mackenzie and I had Sullivans in our hands.
"Well, Mr. Raffles," he said, sipping his coffee. "What can I do for you?"
I took a drag of my Sullivan and looked at him. "Well, Inspector, it is a little delicate, shall we say. I need to ask you something and I'm afraid I cannot really tell you why I need to know - at least not in any great detail. And I am not certain, given those restrictions, you will feel able to answer my queries."
He stared at me for a moment and said, "Why dinna you ask me what you want to know and we'll take it from there?"
"Very well, Inspector. You see it concerns a friend of mine; a very good friend of mine."
"Does it now, sir?" The tone of his voice, together with the way he was looking at me, made it quite clear he didn't believe me. He thought I was merely using 'a friend' when I really meant me.
"Actually, yes, Inspector," I said lightly."
"Well, go on; do tell me about your," he paused, gave me a knowing look, before saying firmly, "friend."
I suddenly wasn't certain what to say. I took another drag of my Sullivan, held the smoke in my lungs for a moment or two before exhaling. "Let us say, hypothetically speaking, that my friend had been the victim of an attempt on his life."
"I would hope your friend would have reported it to the police."
"Yes. I'm sure you would. However, there are reasons, my good Inspector, why my friend could not report this attempt."
"This hypothetical attempt?" Mackenzie's steady gaze held mine.
"Yes. Yes, of course."
"And what might these reasons be?"
"Ah, well, you see . . ."
"You canna tell me."
I forwent telling him I could tell him and instead said, "If I did, I believe you may well be compelled to," I paused, "arrest my friend."
"Your friend is a criminal?" Mackenzie sounded more than surprised. "Well, now, Mr. Raffles, that does surprise me."
"No. No, Inspector. He is not a criminal. It is just - Look, I believe you personally would not wish to arrest him. However, you are duty bound my certain matters pertaining to the law, are you not? No matter what your personal feelings might be."
He narrowed his eyes as he looked at me. "Aye, Mr. Raffles," he finally said, and gave me a half nod. "That I am. Very well, I'll accept your word that your friend has not broken the law in a way that would trouble me, but that he canna report the attempt - I apologise the hypothetical attempt - on his life. What is it you wish to ask me?"
"I know there has been some work, some developments on fingerprints and the identification thereof."
"Aye, sir, that there has."
"Is it yet possible to match a set of prints to a particular person?"
"Well, now, Mr. Raffles, that isna a question I can give you an easy answer to."
I wasn't surprised. However, even so I was a little disappointed. "Is it not?"
"No, sir. You see, whilst we can technically do that - at least to a degree - there is no way such evidence could, at this time, be used to secure a conviction."
I nodded. "But it could be done? Unofficially, shall we say?"
He frowned. "I dinna like the term 'unofficially', Mr. Raffles."
I hastened to correct myself. "Do forgive me, Inspector, I used the incorrect term. I merely meant that someone could mention to the hypothetical would be murderer that it would be possible, if one had a sample of his fingerprints and the gun he used in the attempt - the hypothetical attempt - to match the fingerprints on the gun to his?"
Mackenzie stared at me in silence; he was clearly appraising me. "Aye, Mr. Raffles, someone could indeed mention that fact with the certainty that this hypothetical would be murderer might well believe the person."
I nodded. "Thank you."
He stared at me. "Aye," he said; I could see he wasn't completely happy - and I could understand why. I knew that he didn't, not for a second, believe in my hypothetical would be murderer. However, he respected me enough and knew that I respected him enough to be prepared to indulge me - at least for now. "Is there anything else you want to ask me, Mr. Raffles? I do have police work I need to be getting on with."
"Just a few more minutes, if you'll permit it, Inspector."
"Aye, Mr. Raffles I can spare you a few more minutes."
"Are you yet able to match bullets to the specific gun from which they were fired?"
He studied me for a moment. "If you had the bullets and the gun, which I presume were used by the hypothetical would be murderer, then the best we could would be to match the bullets with the make of gun. We couldna say it was the exact gun. And even then it wouldna be without doubt. Doubt a good solicitor or barrister could exploit. But again I'm sure it could be mentioned by someone to the would be murderer who might well believe the person telling him."
"Thank you, Inspector Mackenzie." I stood up and held out my hand. After a fleeting second he rose to his feet and took my hand. "You have been very helpful."
"Me? I've done nothing, Mr. Raffles," he said. "I believe you came to see me about the next Police Widows and Orphans Fund charity cricket match you're kindly playing in, dinna you?"
I met his gaze and nodded. "Indeed, Inspector Mackenzie. That is why I came to see you."
"I'll say good-day to you, Mr. Raffles, sir." Finally, he let go of my hand.
"Thank you, Inspector Mackenzie." I picked up my hat and stick and turned towards the door.
I held his gaze and nodded. "I always am, Inspector. Whilst it is of course possible to twist one's ankle or catch a ball badly, I have yet to suffer a serious injury whilst on the cricket field."
"I'm glad to hear it."
I nodded and turned around. Once more he spoke my name. "Mr. Raffles?"
"If your," he paused for a moment and then said quietly, "friend, ever does feel he needs the services of the police, you can assure him that not everything he would say to me would need to be - passed on, shall we say?"
I silently held his steady gaze for a moment and then nodded. "Thank you, Inspector," I said again. "I shall be certain to tell my friend that."
"Very good. Good morning to you. Mr. Raffles, and once more, do take care."
"I shall, Inspector. I shall." With that I strode towards the door, opened it and left his office; I knew his gaze had been firmly on me and that he almost certainly stood and stared at the closed door for several seconds after I had left his office.
I had got what I had gone to Scotland Yard for; indeed I had got more than I dared to hope for and more than I had expected. Now all I had to do was to keep my word to Charlie and to Mackenzie.
I hailed a cab and asked the driver to take me to where Armstrong had his studio.
I asked the driver to drop me a short distance from Armstrong's studio and walked the last few yards. It was locked and the blinds were drawn; however, some instinct I could not explain made me quite certain Armstrong was inside. Thus, I rapped on the door and waited; after a minute had gone by and he had not appeared I rapped on the door again, and again and a fourth time.
Finally he appeared and opened the door. "I'm - Raffles!" His surprised at seeing me was clear.
"Good morning, Armstrong." I kept my tone neutral. I needed to get inside and thus did not wish to let my anger at what he had done show - at least not yet. "May I come in?"
"I'm not open for business."
I shrugged. "I haven't come to see you on business."
"Well, why are you here?" He glared at me.
I sighed. "I assure you that you do not wish me to answer that question here on the street. I do suggest you invite me in and we can at least pretend to be civil."
He glared at me and then shrugged and moved away from the door. "Come in."
"Thank you." I did so and it was I who shut the door, locked it and pulled the blind back down. "We do not wish to be disturbed," I said, when he raised an eyebrow.
He shrugged again. "Come with me." He walked off. I hesitated for no more than a second before I followed him to what I assumed to be his office. There was an open and half empty bottle of whisky on the desk and a glass with the remains of what I presumed to be whisky next to it. In the ashtray a cigarette burnt.
He picked up the bottle and poured some more into the glass, hesitated for a moment, before taking another glass from the table behind it and looking at me. I shook my head. "No, thank you. It's a little early for me."
He stared at me before sitting on the edge of his desk. "I always thought you were a cold-hearted bastard, Raffles. Now I know."
"I'm not certain I know what you mean."
He glared at me and stood up. "Charleston," he said. "I thought he was meant to be your best friend; he certainly talked about you enough. It was Raffles this and Raffles that."
I nodded. "Yes, Charlie is indeed my best friend."
"Than why aren't you - is? Did you say he 'is' your best friend?"
I nodded. "Yes."
He gave me a strange look and actually took a step backward. "Then you're not only a cold-hearted bastard; you're a bloody weird cold-hearted bastard."
"Yes. Go and take your weirdness elsewhere. I don't want to talk to you any longer."
"Maybe you don't. However, I intend to talk to you."
He stared at me and took a swallow from his glass. "Go ahead then; talk to me. I guess it might be the quickest way to get rid of you."
"Before I tell you why I came to see you, may I ask why you believe me to be weird?"
He gave me another strange look and then sighed. "I guess it takes different people different ways." He actually sounded sympathetic.
Once again he stared at me and a frown creased his forehead. "Death," he said softly.
It was the opening I needed. "And who exactly is dead?"
He shook his head and looked at me as if I he believed me to be somewhat insane. Then he sighed and said quietly, "Charleston of course."
I shook my head. "No, he isn't. I assure you Charlie is quite alive. I left him less than an hour ago."
The shock that appeared on his face was real - no one was that good an actor. "He can't be. I sh- Someone broke into his house four nights ago and shot him. He's dead. I don't know what dam game you're playing, Raffles. But I'd be obliged if you would go and play it elsewhere and leave me to -" He fell silent and swallowed the rest of the whisky.
I studied him and for a moment I actually felt myself believing that he was genuinely upset; that he was grieving for the man he had believed he had killed. Was it possible that he had loved Charlie? Was it possible he regretted what he had tried to do? Was it possible his signs of grief were genuine?
Actually, it didn't matter if they were or rather I didn't care if they were. All I cared about was dealing with what I had gone to his studio to deal with. "What makes you so certain Charlie was shot and killed?"
"His fancy butler - I don't know his name - told me."
"Did he now?" I was very interested in what Armstrong would say next.
He nodded. "Yes. I rang Charleston to make dinner arrangements and whatever his name is -"
"Tyburn," I said softly.
"That's it. Well, Tyburn answered and told me the dreadful news."
I held his gaze unblinkingly until he blinked, looked away and reached for the whisky bottle - I made no attempt to stop him. "If I were to tell you that I could prove you did not ring Charlie's house, what would you say?"
"What?" He widened his eyes and stared at me. I could almost hear him thinking. "Oh, God, no. What am I saying? I'm sorry, Raffles. It's just been so much of a shock - I'm getting things mixed up. No, of course I didn't ring Charleston; it was Tyburn who rang me. You see he knew Charleston and I were close friends and he wanted to let me know. Yes, that's it: he rang me." He took a deep swallow of the whisky and tried, but failed, to hide the faint tremble in his hand.
Against my will I almost had to admire him; he sounded quite believable. However, I knew the truth. I shook my head. "No," I said, my voice like ice. "No, Tyburn did not ring you to tell you."
"He did! How dare you stand here in my office and call me a liar? Get out now. I don't care what you came here for. Just get out."
"No. No, I don't believe so. You see, Armstrong, the night you broke into Charlie's home and emptied your gun into his bed - not him - he was with me. He spent the night in my rooms. In my bed," I added softly.
Armstrong slammed the glass down onto his desk and came towards me. I hadn't really given any conscious thought to it before, but as he moved nearer and nearer to me I realised he was actually an inch or two taller than Charlie - thus several inches taller than I was - and I had every reason to believe he was strong.
Nonetheless I stood my ground as he came towards me and met his furious stare. "I assure you," I said flatly, "that several people, including a Scotland Yard Inspector, know that I am here."
He stopped, clenched and unclenched his fists a few times before saying, "So Charleston lied to me? I might have known given how often he talked about you." His voice was hard as was his look.
Suddenly despite everything I couldnít let him think that Charlie had been unfaithful to him. "No," I said. "Charlie didn't lie to you. Whilst you were assisting, shall we say, some of your models, Charlie never did anything with anyone else."
Apart from a slight flush he ignored my not so veiled comment and said, "You said he was in your bed."
I nodded. "He was. However, you have my word we did nothing but sleep. I just wasn't going to let him stay at his house - not once I had discovered what you had done to him."
"I don't know what you mean!"
"Oh, I think you do. In fact I am quite certain you know just what I mean."
He glanced away from me. "I may have gone a little too far," he said, his voice low and flat. "But that was no reason for him to -" He fell silent.
"End your relationship?" He glared at me and gave what I took to be a half nod. "Well, most people would say that trying to kill him because he ended your relationship was going too far."
"I didn't try to kill him. I don't know what you're talking about, Raffles. However, you had better be careful. I know the law."
"So do I. In case you hadn't forgotten I am a solicitor."
"I am not going to stand here and allow you to accuse me of trying to kill Charleston."
I shrugged. "Why not? We both know you did."
"Now listen to me -"
"I don't know if you are aware of how much development there has been in the study of fingerprints."
"Fingerprints. It is now possible to be able to identify a person from his or her fingerprints."
He stared at me and smiled. "Even if that was true and I'm not saying it is," he paused. He spoke firmly, but I heard a faint hint of hesitation in his tone. "Well, of course my fingerprints will be in places in Charleston's bedroom - and other places of his house. I used to visit him, remember?"
I shrugged. "That's as maybe. However, I wasn't talking about fingerprints in Charlie's bedroom."
He frowned. "Well, where then?"
I put my hand into my overcoat pocket and pulled out the gun Bunny had taken from Armstrong's desk drawer. It was still wrapped in the handkerchief and I unfolded part of it, ensuring my hand did not touch the gun. "This," I said softly. "It is yours I believe."
"What?" He came nearer to me.
This time I did take a step back. "Now then. No touching. Just answer the question; is this your gun?"
I saw him swiftly consider his options. He moistened his lips and moved to his desk. "It's the same make as mine," he said. "But that doesn't mean it is mine. Mine is here." He opened the top drawer and reached inside. He frowned, looked away from me and began to search in the drawer.
A moment later he slammed it shut and one after the other opened, searched and shut the other five drawers. His face had paled, his eyes were wide, he was perspiring and for the first time he actually looked a little afeared. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and whilst I stood and watched, he hurried around his office, pulling open drawers, sweeping things from shelves and getting more and more desperate.
Finally, he stopped and let his head fall forward a little before he raised it again, turned around and looked at me. "It isn't here," he said. "It must have been stolen. That's it, it was stolen and that was the gun the person who tried to kill Charleston used. He must have wanted to implicate me!"
I nodded. "That's a jolly good try, Armstrong. I'm almost impressed. However, I assure that was not the case. This gun only came into my possession the day after you had emptied the bullets into Charlie's bed - and it was liberated, shall we say, from your desk."
"All right. All right. Let's say it is mine."
"Let us indeed say that."
"Well, of course my fingerprints are going to be on it. It's my gun."
"Yes! Of course it is. And my fingerprints are naturally going to be on it."
"Indeed they are - given it's your gun."
"So all that talk about fingerprints and being able to identify someone was a waste of time."
"Not exactly. You see, as well as advances being made in the study of fingerprints, they have also been made in the study of being able to match bullets to gun from which they were fired."
His confidence had begun to return, as had the colour to his cheeks. However, now both faded away as he stared at me. "You're lying."
I shrugged. "Why would I?"
"Because you've never liked me. You hated the fact that Charleston liked me; that we were involved. You were jealous, that's what it was. You wanted Charleston and he chose me - and now you're trying to make out that I tried to kill him. Well, Raffles, it won't work. I didn't try to kill him. I lov-"
I stared at him. "Actually," I heard myself say, "to my surprise I find I believe you insofar as your feelings for Charlie go. However, that doesn't alter the fact that you tried to kill him - and I can prove it. I have the bullets from his bed; the gun which you have admitted it yours; your fingerprints are on the gun and no-one else's are on top of yours; and finally it will be possible to prove the bullets that were in Charlie's bed were fired from this gun." I mentally crossed my fingers; I wondered if I had gone too far - surely he wouldn't believe me. And yet . . .
Still staring at me, his face ashen, his limbs beginning to tremble, he fumbled his way around his desk until he got to his chair which he pulled out and sank down into. He put his head in his hand. "Oh, my God," he murmured. "Oh, my God. Oh, my dear God. What am I -"
Then his head shot up, the colour began to return to his face and he stood up. "Even if you are correct, Raffles -"
"Which I am."
He glared at me. "Even if you are correct, what are you going to do? You can't go to the police, can you and tell them what you know. Well, not unless you want your best friend to be imprisoned, which I'm assuming you don't."
I shook my head. "No, I do not wish to see Charlie imprisoned."
"Well, then there's nothing you can do."
"Well, now, you see the Scotland Yard Inspector I mentioned a short time ago is a good man and whilst he naturally obeys and follows the law, he is also of the view that certain things that are illegal should not be so. I have no doubt whatsoever that he would be able to make a case that would not involve anyone else having to know the true nature of your relationship with Charlie."
Once again he paled and gripped his desk with both hand. "You . . . You . . . You mean it, don't you?"
I nodded. "Yes." I folded the handkerchief back over the gun and put it back into my pocket. I took out my cigarette case and selected and lit a Sullivan. "However," I said, extinguishing the match and moving towards the desk to drop it into the ashtray. "I am prepared to make a bargain with you."
"What kind of bargain?" He looked sceptical.
"You leave London - today - and you never return. Go to Manchester or Birmingham or Scotland, go aboard even. I don't care where you go as long as you leave London. Leave, never return and never - never - try to contact Charlie."
"And if I do that?"
I shrugged. "I shall return to my office rather than to Scotland Yard."
"And what will I do if I leave London?"
I shook my head and took a drag from my cigarette. "Armstrong, you and I have never liked one another and I have never trusted you. However, I do believe in giving credit where credit is due. You are a good, no actually you are an excellent photographer. You cannot tell me that you could not simply set up another studio in another city or country? And I'm sure you have plenty of examples of your work to take with you - maybe not your erotic work. However, I am quite certain you'll have examples of what I am sure makes up the majority of your work. Can you deny that?"
He stared at me and slowly shook his head. "No, I can't. You're right I could set up somewhere else, very easily. But unlike you and Charleston, I don't have thousands in the bank. I'd need to sell this place in order to start again."
"How much do you want for it?" He stared at me, shrugged and told me.
I nodded. "Ring your solicitor - do it now whilst I am still here - and tell him to get the paperwork prepared. Tell him to do it today; tell him it is an emergency, that you have to leave London due to a serious family matter. Tell him to whom you are selling your studio and have his clerk send the papers to my clerk. The money will be in your bank by the end of today."
He blinked. "You'll buy it?"
I nodded. "Yes."
"Just like that? Don't you want to get it valued?"
I shrugged. "No. Look, Armstrong, I don't actually care if it's worth half of what you told me you want for it, or even a quarter. I have one desire and that is for you to leave London. Do it today and I promise you that you will have the money to start again wheresoever you wish. And if you need money for the train fare just say and I -"
"No! I have money. Just because I don't have the kind of money you and Charleston have, I have enough. I can purchase train tickets, pay hotel bills and - I just didn't have enough until I sold this place to start again somewhere else."
"Well, now you do. So? Do we have a deal?"
He stared at me and I knew I had won. He had believed me; about the fingerprint identification, about it being possible to match bullets to a particular gun and about Mackenzie being able to turn a blind eye to Charlie being a homosexual. He believed it all. I had won. He would go and Charlie would be safe.
He nodded as his shoulder dropped. I had defeated him; utterly and totally. He was a beaten man. "Yes." His tone was flat.
"Good. Well, ring your solicitor now." I picked up the receiver and handed it to him.
He hesitated for a second before I heard him ask the operator to connect him to the firm of solicitors who were actually in the street next to where I had my offices. He told the story as I had told it to him; thanked the person and replaced the receiver. "The papers will be in your office in two hours," he said.
"Good." I stood for a moment and appraised him. He truly was beaten; I had beaten him; I had won. He had lost everything and I felt - I felt nothing. "I won't say it's been a pleasure. However, I will wish you all the best for the future. I am quite certain it won't be long before you'll have a good business and once again be able to persuade young men to take their clothes off for you."
"There's a good market."
"I know. You would hardly take the risk if there wasn't."
"You hate me, don't you?"
I stared at him. "I despise what you did to Charlie. I don't particularly like you. I certainly never trusted you. But hate? No, Armstrong; I don't hate you. You see," I said, at the look of surprise which appeared on his face, "I don't care enough about you to hate you. Now I shall say good-day and goodbye to you. Rest assured I shall visit your flat later today, just to ensure you have indeed left London."
He stared at me. "I'll be gone. You have my word. I'm many things, Raffles, but I'm not a liar. Well," he said swiftly, "I'm not lying now. I will leave London. I won't ever return and I won't," he swallowed hard. "I won't ever try to contact Charleston."
I held his gaze. "Make quite sure you don't." I turned.
"Tell Charleston . . . Tell Charleston . . . Tell him I'm -"
"I have no intention of telling Charlie anything from you." This time I did not stop. This time I kept walking, out of his office, through his studio to the front door where I unlocked the door and let myself out into the street where I took a deep breath and for a moment leant against the wall as I realised I was trembling a little.
I stood for a moment or two, gathering myself together before I took out and lit another Sullivan and hailed a cab to take me back to the Albany.
I let myself into my rooms, paused long enough to put down my hat and stick before I strode into the sitting room.
"Raffles!" Bunny cried, jumping to his feet and hurrying over to me. To my faint surprise he flung himself into my arms and clung to me - as he had done during our time at school. "Oh, Raffles," he murmured, his head on my shoulder. "You're safe."
I glanced at Charlie who had stood up when I had gone into the room. "What?" he demanded. "Did you think I was going to lie to him?" He swallowed and went on. "You know, A. J., he's not your thirteen year old fag any longer. He's a mature young man; you don't actually have to try to protect him all the time." Actually, I did - but that was hardly the point.
His tone was harsher than I had ever heard it and the look he was giving me was one I had never dreamt I would see on Charlie's face - at least not when he was looking at me. For a moment I felt a wave of anger begin to rise in me. Didnít he know what I had done for him? What danger I had put myself in just to help him?
And then my mind took me back to one day at school when I had seen that very same look on Charlie's face and heard the harsh tone. The day I had indeed put myself into grave danger and I realised. He wasn't angry with me; he had just been so worried, so afeared Armstrong would harm me.
"Charlie," I murmured. I took one arm from around Bunny and held it out to him and I stared at him.
He stood for a moment and I saw him swallow hard before he came to me, took my hand for a moment before letting me put my arm around him.
The three of us stood for a minute or two just holding onto one another. I thought Bunny might be crying a little and certainly Charlie's eyes looked somewhat misty, and I knew quite how much I had worried the two dearest people in the world to me.
Finally, I gently broke the embrace and pushed Bunny away from me a little. Without even thinking about it, I handed him my handkerchief, whilst Charlie turned his back on me for a moment and I saw him compose himself.
"I am sorry for worrying you both," I said. "However, it was worth it."
"Was it?" Charlie turned back to me."
I smiled. "Oh, yes," I said. "Let me pour some drinks, help yourselves to Sullivans, sit down and I shall tell you everything."
And I did. I told them about my visit firstly to Mackenzie and then to Armstrong. I told them everything - well almost. I didn't tell Charlie that I believed Armstrong was sorry and regretted deeply what he had done, and that I was certain he had actually loved Charlie. That I kept to myself; everything else I told them.
When I finished speaking we all sat in silence. Bunny kept looking from Charlie to me and back again. Charlie hadn't taken his eyes off of me since I had begun my story and had appeared to hardly blink.
"Thank you, A. J.," he said, his tone extremely formal. "It sounds quite inadequate, but - Thank you." He stood up and came to where I sat. I stood up and he pulled me into his arms and held me tightly. "Thank you," he murmured again, his lips close to my ear. He held me for a moment or too longer before he let his arms fall from around me.
I took his hand. "You are quite welcome, Charlie. You would have done the same for me."
He nodded. "Yes, I would have done. However, I do not believe you would ever be quite so - foolish as to get yourself into such circumstances."
I shrugged. "None of us know exactly what we would do when we - When we care for someone." I couldn't bring myself to say 'love'. I know Charlie had at least believed he had loved Armstrong, but I still couldn't, wouldn't, admit it.
He smiled at me. "Well," he said. "Does that mean I can have my life back?"
I laughed. "I thought you said it hadn't been that bad."
"It hasn't. Actually, I have enjoyed spending the last few days with you and with Manders," he turned and smiled at Bunny. "But I will also be more than happy to return to my hospital and my home and dine out again. As good as the chef is here, and he is excellent, I am looking forward to - Well, just doing the things I was used to doing."
I smiled. "I understand, Charlie."
"And I shall of course insist upon paying you what you paid Armstrong for his studio."
I shook my head and held his gaze as I said, "You may insist all you like, Charlie. However, it will be to no avail. So why not spare us both the bother of an argument you know you will not win."
"A. J. -" He fell silent as he stared at me. Then he sighed. "Very well then. But I am buying both of you dinner tonight."
"That I will not argue with. And now, as much as I hate to do so, I really do need to go to my office. I rather fear if I do not show up at all, that Digby will leave me."
"Do you really have to go this very minute, Raffles?"
I glanced at Bunny. "Well, my rabbit. I -" I feel silent at the look on his face. "I must leave within half an hour," I said. Bunny smiled.
"And I," Charlie said, swiftly draining his glass and heading towards the door, "must return to my rooms and pack and also ring matron and tell her I shall be returning to the hospital tomorrow."
"Yes, A. J.?"
"By all means ring matron, but do one last thing for me, please."
He sighed and then shrugged. "Very well, A. J., I'll remain here at the Albany for tonight. I shall make a reservation for tonight. Eight o'clock and I'll call for you both at seven." And with that, Charlie turned and left the room and seconds later I heard the front door open and close.
The second after we had heard the front door being closed Bunny was in my arms, his mouth on mine, his body pressed closely against mine as he held onto me as if he truly feared I might vanish or be stolen from him.
The desperation in his kiss was clear and as I pulled him impossibly closer to me and tangled my fingers in his hair I regretted leaving my rooms before he had awoken, simply so that I could avoid telling him what I was doing.
Charlie was correct; he wasn't thirteen any longer; he wasn't my fag; he was indeed a mature young man who had proved quite how mature he was by what he had done for Urquhart and for Charlie. He was the mature young man whom I loved and adored; the mature young man of whom I had once again taken possession and whilst I would still protect him, I should also trust him and respect him as an adult. I did both trust and respect him, but I perhaps needed to show it a little more.
Just as I was giving serious consideration to telling him I had changed my mind and that I wouldn't go to my practice (I could get Digby to send the papers pertaining to the sale and purchase of Armstrong's studio to me here with a messenger boy) and Digby could leave if he so desired, Bunny gentled the kiss and took his mouth from mine and even moved away from me.
His lips were swollen; his cheeks were flushed; his hair was a mess; his eyes were shining and dark with passion and his lower body would have left no one in any doubt as to what he had been doing. Never had I desired anyone more than I desired him. I made a soft noise in my throat and took a step towards him.
To my surprise, he retreated from me and held up his hands. "Go to work, Raffles. Go now!" He took another step from me.
I moistened my lips and considered simply ignoring him; I knew that it would take me mere seconds, if that, to persuade him into my arms and bed. However, I reminded myself I had declared, albeit silently, that I would show him more respect.
Thus, I stayed where I was and nodded. "Very well, Bunny. I shall go to the office - if my rabbit is quite certain."
He swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes. I am."
His tone was firm; his eyes told a slightly different story. I let my gaze wander down his body. "Are you really certain, Bunny?"
His cheeks flushed a little more. "Yes!"
"That must be rather uncomfortable."
He shrugged. "If I ignore it, it will go away. Or," he said suddenly and to my surprise a speculative look appeared on his face. "Well, there are other ways, are there not?"
"Bunny!" I felt my eyes widen as he actually laughed at the astonishment in my tone. "You wouldn't, would you?"
He let his gaze travel up and down my body and said, his tone low, "That will give you something to think about this afternoon, will it not?" And with those words, he turned and hurried from the sitting room to the dining room closing the door behind him.
I stood for a moment before sighing; now I was the one who had been beaten. However, it was with a smile on my face, a light heart and a sense of anticipation as to quite what I could do to and with Bunny once we had returned after dining with Charlie, that I left my rooms. I hailed a cab and arrived at my offices to find Digby waiting with the paperwork in relation to my purchase of Armstrong's studio.
Digby seemed somewhat bemused and indeed confused as to why I had purchased a photographic studio. I told him it was a simple business matter and that I would be looking to sell it again in due course. I believe he feared I may be suffering from some kind of mental illness as he became very conciliatory and spoke softly, somewhat slowly and more than a little reassuringly to me all afternoon.
When I left my offices, I was as good as my word and did pay a visit to the place I knew Armstrong had a flat. I was reassured to learn that he had indeed packed up, paid a month's rent rather than give notice, and had left in a cab which had taken him to the station.
Dinner with Charlie and Bunny was excellent in terms of food, wine and company. As I sat and watched and listened to Charlie, I realised even I had not known quite how much he had suffered as a result of what Armstrong had done to him and had attempted to do to him. He was far more relaxed and far more like the boy I had known for so many years than the man I had known for the last year or so.
Towards the end of the evening, Charlie and I waited for Bunny to return from the lavatory. It had been the first time we had been alone since I had returned to the Albany after visiting Mackenzie and Armstrong.
"A. J.?" Charlie said my name softly as he offered me his cigarette case.
I took a Sullivan and smiled my thanks. "Yes, Charlie?"
He struck a match and held it for me to light my cigarette before he lit his own. "Forgive me for asking, but has Armstrong really left London?"
I looked at him. "Yes. I went to his flat before I returned home and was assured he had indeed left. You don't have to worry any more Charlie; he's out of your life." I put my hand over his.
Charlie glanced away from me and then looked back at me. A faint hint of colour touched his cheeks. "That's not really what I meant, A. J."
I frowned. "Then what -" I fell silent as his meaning suddenly became clear. I glanced around me before I leant a little nearer to Charlie and lowered my voice. "Did you really think I might have," I hesitated, bent my head even nearer to him and said, "hurt him?" We both knew what I really meant.
Charlie swallowed. "Actually, A. J., I did rather fear you might."
"My dear Charlie, what on earth made you think I would do such a thing?"
Charlie again glanced away for a moment before saying, "I know how fond you are of me and I know how angry with Armstrong you were."
I nodded. "Well, yes, both of those facts are true. However, hurting Armstrong would not have really benefitted anyone, would it? Not you, not Bunny and not I. I cannot deny it did not cross my mind - more than once. However, there are times when I am sensible, Charlie. I also confess it wasn't until I stood in his studio earlier today that I realised quite how tall and clearly strong a man he was."
Charlie sighed. "Yes, he was very strong." And then to my surprise he took my hand. "I really did try to fight him, A. J."
"I'm sure you did, Charlie. I never doubted that for a moment." He didn't need to know that wasn't completely true and that I had given thought to the fact that he had merely capitulated.
"I didn't mind the handcuffs; well I didn't like them, but I didn't - He . . . And they weren't too awful; my wrists were a little sore, but bearable. It was only when . . . You must think me a fool, A. J., to put up with any of it."
"No, Charlie, of course I don't. We all do things for people about whom we care." His hand felt somewhat chilled so I took it between both of mine.
"I stopped fighting him when I realised the more I struggled the more it was going to hurt and there was a chance he would actually - Why, A. J.? Why did he do that?"
"I don't know, Charlie." And then despite telling myself I would never tell him I said quietly, "I do believe he was sorry."
Charlie stared at me. "Was he?"
I nodded. "Yes."
"Not that it matters, not now. He destroyed any feelings I had."
"Charlie -" I fell silent as I realised for one of the first times ever in all the years I had known him, I did not know what to say.
Charlie broke the silence and to my surprise changed the subject. "Do you think Urquhart's uncle would like a second opinion?"
I blinked at the complete change of subject. "Well," I said, "I don't see why not. I'm sure Bunny will mention it to Urquhart."
"Not that I'm doubting the other doctor's diagnosis," Charlie said quickly. "It's just it would be rather nice to see Urquhart again."
I opened my mouth to reply. However, at that moment Bunny returned and Charlie once again changed the subject by asking if we wanted another coffee and brandy.
THREE WEEKS LATER
A great deal had happened in three short weeks. Bunny had all but moved into my rooms at the Albany and we were waiting to take over a set of rooms with two bedrooms which would be available in two months time.
When I had approached Parker and asked if he knew if any sets of rooms with two bedrooms would be available soon and what the waiting list was like, he had assured me that if I wanted the set that would soon be available, they would be mine. He also suggested that until they became available Bunny might like to occupy the rooms Charlie had occupied for a short time. I believe Parker knew quite well that whilst I had said yes, and Bunny had been given a set of keys, in fact he barely spent any time in the rooms. However, should anyone start to wonder - well, the two sets of room should stop them.
I had discovered that my rabbit was writing a novel and had almost finished it. He wrote every day in my dining room whilst I was at my offices and after I had gently asked a time or two if I might read what he had written, he had agreed. He really did write very well.
I had always known his verses were excellent, but as I read the first few chapters and became so caught up in the story that Bunny was completely bathed, shaved, dressed and standing in front of me before I realised I had very little time in which to bathe, shave and dress myself before we dined with Charlie, I discovered his fine writing was not just confined to verses. He really was an excellent story teller. His book was going to be very popular and if I was any judge, he would be asked to write more.
He had, as I had expected, flushed at my words of praise. However, to my pleasure he didn't dispute my words; he did not think I was merely being kind and saying what he would want to hear. As I bathed and he stood with his back turned quite pointedly towards me, I had enquired as to why he had not doubted me. His reply was simple: he knew I would never lie to him - certainly not over something that mattered.
I, well we, saw more of Charlie than I had seen of him since he and Armstrong had begun their relationship. We dined together at least once a week and I know all three of us enjoyed ourselves very much indeed.
I barely kept my hands off Bunny, but then I never had done during our school days, and whilst our lovemaking was far gentler than I had experienced it with any other man, it was also the best I had known. Somewhat to my surprise, given how reticent he had always been, I found Bunny to be a very enthusiastic lover, he loved kissing and being kissed and seemed to adore being naked under my hands and our lovemaking was also fairly varied. He made me happy; he made me happier than I had thought possible. He completed me in a way I hadn't realised I had needed to be completed.
Yes, I possessed him - maybe a little too much - however, he made no objections. In fact he made it quite clear how much he enjoyed being mine again; quite how much he liked my possessive nature. I loved him; I adored him; I liked him; I could not, nor did I want to, imagine life without him in my arms, in my bed, in my life.
"Do hurry up, Raffles, or we'll be late."
"Don't worry, my rabbit. We have plenty of time."
"The train -"
"Will be there when we get to the station. I promise you, Bunny, we will not miss it."
"I hope not. Do you want me to help you pack?" Bunny began to pace around the bedroom.
"No. I'll be but another minute or two.
"What about Charleston? Should I ring and see if -"
I sighed, stopped folding a shirt and caught him arm as he paced past me. "Bunny, Bunny, Bunny. One thing of which you can be quite, quite certain is that Charlie will not be late. I have never, never note, in all the years I have known him, known him to be late. He will meet us at the station as arranged. Now, come here."
"We haven't got time." However, even as he argued, Bunny allowed me to pull him a little nearer to me and put my arms around him and he returned the gentle, loving kiss I bestowed on him.
When I lifted my mouth from his, he sighed softly and for a moment rested his head on my shoulder. "That's better, is it not?" I asked.
"Yes, Raffles. It's just -"
"Hush. There's my good boy. Now, be a good rabbit and refill my cigarette case for me and by the time you have done that I will have finished packing."
He smiled at me, kissed me quickly, before taking my cigarette case and hurrying off to the sitting room to refill it whilst I put the last few items of clothing into my bag.
We, Bunny, Charlie and I, had all been invited to stay for a long weekend with Lord Catterfield and Urquhart. Bunny had rung Urquhart to reassure him and tell him of Armstrong's habit of destroying all the plates and any unsold pictures after a short time, thus he had no need to fear being blackmailed.
During the conversation he had also mentioned that Charlie had said should Lord Catterfield wish, then Charlie would be more than happy to examine him and give him a second opinion. Apparently, Lord Catterfield had been delighted by the offer and had thus issued an invitation to Charlie. He had also insisted that Bunny go with Charlie as he wanted to thank him personally for reassuring Urquhart and for what he had done.
I had been almost a little jealous as well as realising quite how much I would miss my rabbit until Bunny calmly told me that Lord Catterfield had also invited me. I didn't enquire as to why he would do such a thing; however, Bunny told me that he was always pleased to meet friends of Urquhart.
Thus, we were leaving London for four days. I was quite happy and I was looking forward to seeing Urquhart again, he had always been a very nice boy. Bunny was delighted that he would be seeing his boyhood best friend again. And Charlie . . . Well, something told me that Charlie was looking forward to seeing Urquhart maybe even more than my rabbit was. It looked as if it would be an interesting four days.
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