Inside, Lucasta Ellesmere was awake, looking a bit groggy.
“My dear, I found your note how interesting I didn’t expect you back for ages and ages such a big place to go looking.” She glanced sharply at Cody, whose eyes were red and who was still hiccuping and gasping. She was too well mannered to force an introduction but Jason saw the look and said, “Grandam, this is Cody. He’s … ,” he paused for a moment, “ … a friend of ours. Cody, this is my gran, Lucasta Ellesmere.”
“Delighted I’m sure, Cody,” said Lucasta, “always a pleasure to meet Jason’s friends and he seems to have made so many here in Australia such a friendly place so quickly though he’s always had that capability you know even at school he had so many friends especially at a time like this.” She looked triumphantly at everyone when she’d finished this speech. Cody stared back, bewildered. It was all too much. Seeing his discombobulation, Jason turned to Eleanor and said, “Tea, do you think?”
“Quite,” she replied. “And some food. Sandwiches would be just the thing. Have you eaten, Cody?” Her voice was calm and sensible and unjudgemental.
Cody shook his head, unable to speak in the face of such disinterested kindness. But would they still like him if they knew what he was, what he’d done, and what had happened to him?
“We’ve found Cody.”
“Where? I’ve been looking everywhere. I was worried sick. How did you find him? What was he doing? Is he all right?”
“We’ll discuss it lyter. Just get here as quick as ya can.”
“Where are you?”
“At Jason’s plice. Majorca Flats.” He gave Luigi the address and disconnected.
“He’s on his woi.”
“Who?” asked Eleanor.
“Luigi,” answered Jason. “You remember? We were talking about him just before we started to look for Cody.”
“Ah, yes,” replied Eleanor, still not clear in her mind who was who and who was who’s special friend. What a silly phrase, she thought. Like ‘walking out’. All these euphemisms for ‘love’ and ‘lover’. Lovers and friends. How different to her childhood. But rather refreshing, in truth. Pushing all these thoughts out of her mind, she went through to the kitchen to make sandwiches and tea. Reliable comforts in uncertain times.
Jason followed her through to the kitchen. “Can I help, Mrs C.?”
“I think you’d better stay with your friends. I think he—Cody—needs looking after just now. I’ll manage!” She smiled at him. He was so likable. She hoped he would stay for ages with her. She felt young again. All these vigorous young people around. Of course, they had their traumas and dramas, but they lived so intensely. And she was so glad Cody had been found and was safe. She herself had never broken her marriage vows but she didn’t judge others who had. The bitter fruit of her selfishness with Bart had made her less critical, less self-righteous.
In a moment Lucasta came through to the kitchen.
“Now what can I do my dear so hungry young people hollow legs though that sounds so odd when you think about it like Pinocchio you know all wood.”
Eleanor set her to buttering bread while she herself took out the good tea things, the Wedgewood and the Spode teapot and poured hot water into the pot to warm it.
“Now who is who I’m lost apart from dear Jason of course I’m not quite senile yet but there are so many aren’t there?”
“Well, I only met them this morning myself. They are all Jason’s friends.”
“Except for Cody even though Jason called him a friend I could see you know a certain stiffness but maybe I’m wrong.” While she spoke, she efficiently and briskly buttered bread, her hands moving like a knitter’s quite independent of her thoughts and speech.
“It’s a long story,” replied Eleanor to the implied question. “Jason will tell you. We discussed it while you were having your nap. But he needs special care right now, poor lamb.”
The young men had barely sat down before Bolt raced to the door barking. He always confounded visitors because he heard them before they had a chance to knock. It was Luigi.
He stamped in, his shiny black eyes sharp with anger and worry. Staring crossly at Cody, he said, “I told you to come round to my gran’s house! Why’d you walk off like that? I was worried sick!”
Jason reached over and pulled Luigi into a hug. “Calm down, gayboy. Cody’s here now. He’s safe. He’s with us.”
Cody just stared at Luigi, and he looked so sad and lost and without hope that Luigi at once stopped being angry. He pushed away Jason’s protective arms and walked over to Cody.
“Idiot,” he said roughly, his voice catching. “C’mere.”
They were in each other’s arms when Eleanor and Lucasta came through from the kitchen with an old-fashioned tea trolley laden with sandwiches, biscuits, cake and tea.
“You must be Luigi,” said Eleanor serenely, as she manoeuvred the trolley up against the sitting room wall. “How nice to meet you!”
Luigi suddenly turned all Italian, bent over her hand and kissed it, before producing one or two phrases in Italian then exclaiming, “Thank you signora for finding my Cody! It makes me so happy.”
“Fraud!” whispered Keith into Jason’s ear.
Jason winked at him. Eleanor disclaimed all credit, referring the praise to Jason. Luigi gave Jason a heart-melting smile, and Jason felt his cock stir in his trunks. We probably won’t fuck again, he thought, and was filled with melancholy. Cody’s gain—and Luigi’s gain too, honesty forced him to add—was his own loss.
It wasn’t that he’d stopped loving Brent. He thought of him every day. The grief—and the guilt and shame for how he’d treated him, how he’d let him down—hadn’t gone away. Yet Luigi had helped him past agony into acceptance. Luigi’s own vulnerabilities, his own problems, had brought out Jason’s protective instincts, and had made his own pain less profound. He was very fond of Luigi. No, he thought, as he watched Luigi and Cody together, he loved Luigi. It wasn’t the same intensity as it had been with Brent. With him, they’d been lovers and best friends and in love as well. He wasn’t ‘in love’ with Luigi. But he felt a deep affection and concern for him. He’d never expected to find love at all after Brent. And he had. He cared for and about Luigi and he knew Luigi returned the sentiments. It was love. There weren’t enough words in English to describe all the different kinds of love human beings could have for each other. But he knew that what Luigi felt for Cody was ‘in love’. Maybe there was friendship and affection and companionship too, but he wasn’t sure. Sometimes you fell in love with such unsuitable people, people who were selfish or ungenerous or solipsistic, people who didn’t expand you but narrowed you.
Cody needed looking after, Jason accepted that. But Luigi needed to be cared for too. When he and Keith had talked about it, with words and with their eyes, he’d known that Keith felt the same way he did: that the best way to look after Luigi was to keep him close. And if that meant that Cody had to join their band of brothers, they’d do their best to help him fit in. They were not about to cool their friendship with Luigi, and Cody came with Luigi and that was that.
Luigi’s thoughts, though, were obscured behind his black-olive eyes. Jason decided that he would find out what they were.
As he munched sandwiches and sipped tea, Keith was like Jason also thinking about Cody and Luigi. He knew better than to believe in ‘in love’. Jason was far more romantic than he was. Keith had been a whore. He thought sex was pleasurable, sometimes intensely so. He loved making love to his friends, to Tom, to Esmé. He loved Tom very deeply. But it wasn’t ‘in love’, that treacherous but seductive state which has more to do with chemicals and electricity than profound affection from deep in your heart. He admitted to himself that he was half ‘in love’ with Jason. But Jason was also his friend, as well as being sexy and desirable. He felt much the same now about Luigi. At first, he’d been hostile and afterwards still reserved. But now he loved Luigi as much as he loved Jason. He adored them both.
Like Jason, he too was willing to welcome Cody into their charmed circle.
But … he himself was bisexual. Maybe, if he hadn’t had to earn his living by selling sex, maybe if he’d been an ordinary bloke who’d ended up with a nice normal nine-to-five job and a wife and kids he wouldn’t have known that he was capable of loving and lusting after men. He supposed that if he’d lived at a time when being a homo was criminal he would have set aside his desires for men, his love and affection for men, and been happy to be an apparently straight married guy. But over the years he’d conceived a loathing for the religious bigotry that denied him and people like him the right to be what they were, to be loved, even the right to life itself. When he thought of Tom and Jason and Luigi, and how fine they were, he would feel a slow-burning anger build in him, a determination not to have a key part of his life dictated by the thin-lipped. He had no intention of pretending to be straight just to keep those drongos quiet.
But he knew also that he was attracted to women. He liked women and found them sexy. Prolly he could never have a marriage and kids. He was pozz after all. It wouldn’t be right to have unprotected sex and he didn’t know any way you could have unprotected sex and also make babies. His life was what it was, and he couldn’t wind time backwards and change things. For good or evil, he was here now, he was what he was and he had to pay the price for what had happened to him.
But he thought Cody might well be mostly straight. How would he be able to stay with Luigi? And maybe his wife would have him back? Would he start cheating on Luigi with women? Luigi had said that that was what the straight-acting blokes in his life ended up doing—loving him and then going off with a woman. And Cody had already showed what he was capable of. He’d cheated on his wife. And had gone on picking up guys at pubs after Luigi had told him to fuck off. How else had the Macedon killer been able to find him?
When Keith had had sex with the married men who’d frequented the beats, he hadn’t judged them. Most of them were fat and old and plain and without much joy in their lives, it seemed to him. They’d been kind to him and gentle, happy with simple uncomplicated vanilla sex. So he’d made a point of listening to their problems and making them feel special and loved. He didn’t think of this as hypocritical. It was his job. No different, in a way, from being in hospitality.
Cody was different. He was handsome, muscular, hot. Very hot. Keith watched him from under his eyelashes and thought that spruced up and happy, Cody would be very sexy indeed. He would be able to pick up anybody. Anywhere. And since he’d already proved himself incapable of fidelity, Keith decided looking after Luigi would be necessary. And so, he was going to stay in both their lives.
Everybody had been up since the crack of dawn, and everybody was hungry and tired, even Lucasta, who’d had a nap. Mostly they ate and drank, and most of the conversations were silent.
Luigi’s mobile rang. It was Colin, the policeman from Macedon.
“I’ve spoken to detectives. They’ll be ringing you shortly. Are you still with Cody Williams?”
“Yeah.” Luigi didn’t want to explain what had happened.
“I couldn’t get a police guard. I’m sorry. I really tried.”
Of course you couldn’t, thought Luigi bitterly, why would they protect a homo?
As if Colin had read his thoughts, he said, “I’ve spoken to Michael, you know the bloke who found Cody …”
“ … yeah, I remember …”
“… and he’s found someone to go with you to the interviews. I’m sorry … I’m sorry that’s even necessary. It shouldn’t be. Mr Williams is the victim here.”
Luigi was silent. Then he chided himself not to be churlish. It wasn’t Colin’s fault. After many heartbeats’ silence, he said, softly, “You did your best. Don’t worry. We’ll look after him. Are the ‘tecs going to phone me?”
“Yeah. And so is the woman from Michael’s dad’s firm. Her name is … ” Luigi heard the rustle of paper, “ … Deborah Coulter.”
“Thank you again, Colin.”
“Let me know what happens, won’t you?”
“Yeah. See ya later.” Luigi ended the call.
Almost immediately his phone rang again. “Is that Luigi DiPietro?” It was a woman’s voice.
“Yes it is. Who’s this, please?”
“G’day. I’m Deborah Coulter from Coor, Apfelbrot, Kanastides and Simpson. Peter Apfelbrot asked me to be with Cody Williams at his police interviews.”
“Ah. Good to hear from you.”
“Have the Homicide Squad contacted you yet?”
“No. Colin—the policeman from Macedon who took the interview—just phoned to tell me that he couldn’t get police protection for Cody.”
“We’ll see about that!” said Deborah briskly. “Does Mr Williams have a mobile?”
“He did. But the killer took it. So for now, phone me if you want to talk to him.”
“May I speak with him now?”
“ ‘Course!” Luigi handed the phone over to Cody. “It’s the lawyer we talked about,” he said.
Cody took the phone. He was dazed and exhausted by all that had happened to him. It took Deborah a minute or two to get him to understand who she was and what she was going to do.
“I can’t afford a lawyer,” he said at last.
“We’re doing this pro bono. So there’ll be no fee.”
“Why?” asked Cody bluntly. Why were these people helping him?
“We think you’ve been through enough. Peter Apfelbrot specifically requested that. He’s one of the senior partners of the business.”
“I …” Cody started to weep again. Silently. He couldn’t speak. Wordlessly he returned the mobile to Luigi.
Turning into the corner of the room to get some privacy, Luigi said, “He’s a bit …upset. I’ll ring you when the ‘tecs call. Thank you for doing this, Deborah.”
“It’s my pleasure.” She meant it. Luigi wondered once again that human beings could be so vastly different. On the one hand, a ruthless, perverted killer. On the other, so much kindness, so many generosities.
Swallowing a lump in his throat, he again thanked her before ending the call.
Eleanor cornered Jason in the corridor.
“Does Cody have anywhere to stay?” she whispered to him.
“Prolly with Luigi. I dunno.”
“Well, if he hasn’t anywhere, he can stay here. I have another spare bedroom.”
Jason took her hand. “You’re too good,” he said. He leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll talk to Lou. See what he’s thinking.”
He went back into the sitting-room.
“Lou,” he said, when Cody’s attention was distracted for a moment by Keith, “will Cody be staying with you? ‘Cos Eleanor has offered to put him up if you don’t want him to stay with you.”
Luigi looked startled. “Bugger. I hadn’t even thought of that.” He ruminated for a minute or two. “Yeah, well he’s welcome to stay. I … I still love him. And he needs me. But he shouldn’t be alone. One of us should always be with him.”
Jason was absurdly warmed by the ‘us’.
“What about his job? Can he go back to it?”
“Well, he can try. But … he’s been away for four or five days and he hasn’t called in to say he would be sick. And if they phoned his wife to find out if he was OK, then they still wouldn’t know because she didn’t know.” He stopped for a minute. “Maybe … maybe I can get a medical certificate. From the doctor who examined him. I dunno. It’s going to come out some time. And when it does, his employers won’t take it well.”
“But it’s not his fault!” cried Jason.
“They won’t give this as the reason. Oh, no! They’ll say he wasn’t doing his job properly or something. And in the office …. His mates will start avoiding him.”
“Well …” Jason paused for a think, “ …what about getting a certificate anyway. Just in case he does want to keep his job. And maybe it won’t come out for a while by which time they’ll have forgotten that he took four days off. And anyway, two of those days were on the weekend.”
“That just makes it look as if he took a long weekend.”
“Yeah. I don ‘t know what to do.”
“Well, first, phone the doctor. Get him to post you a certificate.” When Luigi hesitated, Jason prodded him in his rock hard tummy. “Go on, gayboy. Make yourself useful!”
Jason still had the piece of paper Colin had given him with the surgery’s address and phone number scrawled on it.
“Hi. This is Luigi DiPietro. I was in earlier with my friend Cody Williams. I was just wondering if Dmitri could give a doctor’s certificate for the days off work Cody has had.”
“I’ll put you through.”
When Dmitri picked up the phone, Luigi explained what he was looking for.
“I’m an idiot!” exclaimed the doctor. “I should have asked you when you were here! Of course I’ll do a certificate.”
“What will you say?” asked Luigi. A certificate which said the wrong thing would be worse than useless.
“Well …. first, it would be confidential, normally. But since you and Cody are partners … also, I can’t lie on the certificate. And I won’t. Hmmm. Injury. Trauma. The problem is …. Cody’s boss will want to know what the injury is. It’s not like a broken arm. And trauma … they’ll want to know what caused the trauma. I’ll do a certificate. But it might not solve all Mr Williams’ problems.”
Luigi thanked him and gave his email and snail mail address.
Luigi went back into the living room to talk to Cody. He was deep in conversation with Lucasta Ellesmere.
“So my dear I said to him that if that was his opinion of course he was entitled to it it’s a free country though not with those ultra-nationalists who are they I forget so vulgar. But really! Canon Green would give him a gentle rebuke you know so kind and wise and insightful but what I wanted to say was that you must come and stay with me and Parker and Mr Minim in London soon it’ll be such a pleasure to have you and you can tell him yourself about it you know that piece in the Bible about donkeys. Or is it wine? I get so muddled sometimes. Do say you’ll come and bring Jason too and your beautiful young man such a pleasure.”
Cody was smiling a little. “How kind! I’ve never been to London. I’d love to come and bring Luigi.”
“Such a beautiful name I always preferred it to the French version all those kings, Louis one after the other so tricky to remember at school and I always got muddled and then Miss Lavers would get cross though she was quite a sweetie really and would let us senior girls have tea with her every so often and I remember she had the most delicious seed cake and a photo of her young man killed in the Great War such a pointless waste I think if women ran the world it would be a better place and I said that to Lillibet when last I had tea there her cooks do make the most scrumptious eclairs though I suppose we shouldn’t eat all that stuff just live on lettuce leaves so dull.”
She smiled anxiously at Cody, not quite sure whether her prattle was helping.
On impulse, he took her hand in his and squeezed it.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “that I’m not more talkative. I’ve been through some bad times recently.”
“My dear, indeed you have. But if you will take some advice from an old woman, I do believe that in the end it will come right. Things which seem so intractable and serious and urgent in the end sometimes just resolve themselves. Time is a great healer. I should know, I’ve had lots of it.” She turned to Luigi. “So delighted to meet you my dear you’ve all been so kind to Jason here in a strange country and so upset.”
“Mrs Ellesmere, it was my pleasure. Jason is a top bloke. He was very kind to me when I was … unhappy.” Here Luigi looked at Cody and gave him one of his blinding smiles. Despite Cody’s incipient jealousy over Luigi’s relationship with Jason he was unable to stop himself smiling back.
Lucasta wondered whether ‘top bloke’ was Ozzie slang or some kind of sexual code word. She decided to ignore it. “Do call me Lucasta, dear, such an old-fashioned name but mine own as Shakespeare said or was it Marlowe I forget so long ago at school.” She drew breath and so did her interlocutors. But the pause was just momentary. “I was saying to your young man here that you must come and stay with me in London we’d be delighted to have you.”
“I would be very pleased to accept your invitation, er, Lucasta. Perhaps we can come over when Jason goes back to England.”
“Oh, d’you think he will he seems quite settled here fitting in which he didn’t in England all his snobbish friends so silly really when it’s what in your heart that matters don’t you think? But people can fuss about such unimportant things in the scheme of things though upbringing is important but sometimes you can be brought up by the best and go all wrong and sometimes have an impossible time in your youth and come right.” She looked anxiously at Luigi and then beyond him at her grandson.
Divining her concern, Luigi gave her a small smile and nodded. “Jace will be fine. He’s …” Luigi paused for a breath, “he will be OK. He has us.”
The simple honesty with which he said that brought a lump to Lucasta’s throat and for once she was speechless.
Luigi’s phone rang. “Excuse me for a moment, Lucasta.”
“G’day. Luigi DiPietro speaking.”
“This is Detective Sergeant William Lukovic. I understand you’re the contact for Cody Williams?”
“Yeah. He doesn’t have a mobile at the moment.”
“Can I talk with him?”
“Yeah.” Luigi took Cody’s arm and whispered to him, “It’s the ‘tecs.”
“Yeah …. Good …. OK …. I’ll see you there in half an hour.” He handed the phone back to Luigi. “We’re to meet him at Carlton Police Station.” He stared at Luigi. Luigi could see his reluctance.
Luigi pulled him into a hug. “Don’t worry. You’ve got Jace and me and Key on your side. And a lawyer. We’ll sort it out.”
Cody shook his head and looked away.
As it turned out, the police detective was scrupulously polite. But police protection for Cody appeared to be still unavailable.
“Just as well I was there,” muttered Deborah as they left.
“He seemed OK,” observed Luigi.
“Yeah, but a couple of times, he started asking something then stopped. They tend not to do that unless … Listen, don’t agree to have an interview unless I’m there. I don’t trust them.”
“OK,” answered Luigi. He was too tired to argue. They thanked her and said goodbye.
“Shall we go home?” he asked Cody.
“Where’s that?” asked Cody, bitterly.
“Do you still love me?”
Did he? He wasn’t sure, any more. But he had to say he did, because Cody needed him. Later ….
“Yes. I do.” And saying it made it all at once real. He wasn’t ‘in love’ any more, perhaps, but he certainly loved Cody. Cody mattered to him. He wanted Cody to be happy. He needed Cody. Was he a friend? He didn’t know. Jason and Luigi were friends. And lovers. Their relationship was equal, one of mutual affection and support. And lust. Was that love? He didn’t know any more. After Richard, his cello player older lover, Luigi had thought he’d come to a more nuanced and adult view of love. And then he’d met Cody. Now …. now he felt wiser but he also felt he knew less about love and sex and ‘in love’ and friendship. What had happened over the last few weeks had made it harder to make a harsh judgement, to divide and classify.
He pulled Cody into his arms and kissed him. “I do love you,” he said again.
“Lou … I don’t think I’ll be able to have sex again. It … after … him … it seems … I just can’t.”
Luigi hugged him closer. “It doesn’t matter, Coads. When it feels right, then we can do it.”
“What if it never feels right, Lou?” Cody sounded desperately sad and downcast but also matter of fact, as if he were facing a bleak and unavoidable reality.
“It will, one day. When you love someone enough, you can … overcome … big obstacles.”
“But what if … Lou …. what if it was my fault that all this happened to me?”
“How can it be your fault?” Despite himself, Luigi was feeling nettled. What the fuck was Cody saying? What did he mean?
“Well … I mean … if I hadn’t been there, in that pub, he wouldn’t have got me.” He stopped for three or four breaths. Luigi waited. When Cody next spoke he was close to inaudible. “I’d still be all right. Everything would be all right.”
“He would have taken someone else. Fuck it, Coads, that man is a monster.”
“Yes, but … if I hadn’t been out whoring … if I’d stayed at home with Phillippa …”
“But Coads … you’re gay.”
“No!” Cody shook his head vigorously. “No, I’m not gay.”
Luigi was starting to get angry as well as depressed. “You liked it well enough when we had sex,” he said, letting go of Cody and turning away.
“Yeah. But I’m not gay.”
“OK. What are you?”
“I don’t the fuck know, Lou. I’m … I dunno. I do love you, Lou, I do. But … but, Lou, what if what happened to me is a punishment. From God.”
“Do you believe God is good?”
“Yeah. I s’pose.”
“So why would He choose someone evil to do His bidding?”
“I dunno, Lou. I just feel maybe if I’d been straight … then …”
“I thought you weren’t gay?”
“I’m not. But … it’s a no brainer … I’m prolly not straight. I don’t know, Lou. I don’t know anything any more.”
“You need to talk to Key and Jace. They’re not 100% gay either. Key … I think Keith is half in love with Esmé, who works in the café next door to the pub. But he also loves Tom and … Coads … he’s my friend too.”