November 11th 1994. Tamarigo, an independent island state, ten miles outside Brazilian territorial waters, due East of Rio de Janeiro, Emilio Gomez looked round his sun-filled bedroom in his guardian's mountain villa, unable to believe he'd had the same dream three nights in a row. Stupid! He got out of bed and slid open the patio door, crossed the patio at a run and jumped into the pool. Ten feet down, he touched bottom, then shot to the surface. Facing away from the brilliant sunlight bouncing off the villa walls with blinding intensity, he glided through the water, his long black hair tickling his shoulders. He tried to forget the dream but it refused to fade - the flash of sunlight reflecting off metal as he sat by the thirty-foot pool, the rifle and a face above it peeping out of the shrubbery, the loud crack and a bullet streaking towards him before everything turned red. The purpose of this four-day break from his busy life in Nashville was to make sense of the screwed up memories of his past life, to celebrate his fifteenth birthday with the man he loved as a father, and to find his parents and tell them of Tony's plans to adopt him. No stupid dream would spoil those plans if he could help it. Reaching the far end, he hoisted himself onto the tiles and stepped onto the grass beyond, to begin his morning warm up routine; some general exercises, a little Tai Chi, a few dance movements. The pool at this end went down to a depth of eighteen feet; if he had time before his guardian came back from the village, he'd climb the rocky outcrop above the pool for some diving. He interwove his movements with handstands and cartwheels, making believe he danced on stage in Nashville. Muscles loosened, he prepared to dive back into the water when the hairs on his neck rose. Moving to the edge of the shrubbery, he pushed the foliage aside and stepped through to inspect the soil behind. Yesterday he had weeded the place and broken up the soil. Now it bore the marks of being brushed over. Someone called to him and he stepped back through the shrubbery. His tall grey-haired guardian stood watching him from the patio. He waved and dived back into the water. He swam along the bottom and delayed his rise to the surface till the last possible moment, rolling and twisting like an otter and expending all the air in his lungs. A talented vocalist, he found this a perfect way to increase lung capacity and breathing control. He knew Tony Grafton, a successful journalist and biographer, loved to watch him, but he didn't feel comfortable about that any more. Fifteen years old tomorrow, he had sultry Latin looks to be proud of, and that was the problem. They didn't just attract the females.  He broke surface and gasped for air. When he reached the tiles below Tony's feet, he squeezed the water from his nose, flipped his hair back and gazed up at Tony. 'Did you find my parents?' 'No.'  'Why? What happened?' Tony reached down to haul him out of the water. 'According to the people in the village, you don't exist.' 'That's ridiculous.' Emilio accepted the towel Tony held out and wrapped it round his hips. Under it he stripped off his shorts then proceeded to dry himself. Tony handed him another towel to dry his hair with. 'For some reason, the people in your village deny knowing you. The village priest hinted that everyone is under a vow of silence.' Emilio moved away from his English benefactor and leaned against the waist high parapet bordering the patio and supporting an ornate, wrought iron safety rail. On the other side of the wall, the ground dropped in a steep, foliage-covered gradient to the tree line a hundred feet below. Smoke drifted up from the village where Emilio had been born and he wished the smoke would reveal things he could not remember, and hide those he didn't want to but came to him at night in dreadful nightmares. 'I suppose this means the adoption won't go ahead. Some birthday!' 'Not necessarily. We don't really need your parents' permission; I just thought it would be polite to tell them of our plans. In any case, I didn't pull you away from your dancing and skating lessons in Nashville just to give up at the first sign of trouble. There is a man in the village, a guitar maker, who's name is Julio Gomez. Is he a relative?'  'My father's younger brother.' With the memory came tension, making Emilio's accent lapse into mixture of American and Hispanic, a stark contrast to Tony's English upper-class accent. 'What about him?' Tony pointed to the patio table already laid for breakfast. 'Come and sit down, we can talk while we eat.' Depressed and not very hungry, Emilio stared at the smoke once more as the smell of burning wood drifted up on the breeze. 'If this adoption doesn't go through, I can't stay with you. It wouldn't be right.' 'I'm your guardian, where else would you live? By the way, what were you doing in the bushes just now?' 'I had that dream again. I went to check where the rifle was fired from. Someone's been here.' 'I thought so, too. I think it's Peter. Remember we found very little food left in the kitchen when we arrived? My bed smelled of an aftershave he uses; can't stand it myself, that's why I noticed. As my son, he's the only one, apart from you and I, and George, with access to the place. I've barred Peter from using it. ' 'Why?' 'I cut him out of my will two weeks ago. You're my sole beneficiary.' 'But he's your natural son.' 'Not any more.' 'Have you told him?' 'Yes, but we'll talk about him some other time. First I want to know why you think you can no longer live with me if I can't adopt you.' Emilio felt his cheeks grow hot.  Tony provided a secure home, an education from private tutors most boys could only dream about, and encouraged him to become an entertainer. He didn't want to hurt him but he had no choice. He threw down the damp towel and combed his hair back with his fingers. 'I'm not a kid any more. We're too close.'  'I should hope so; I've worked at our friendship hard enough.'  'I know you're gay.'  Tony's eyes widened with astonishment then he burst out laughing. He came to stand beside Emilio and placed an arm round his shoulders. 'And there's me thinking I fooled everyone. Seriously, I'm only joking. You're quite mistaken, you know. Being impotent and being gay are two very different things. Thankfully my problem is the former. I've spent a lot of time and money on therapy and it's finally paying off. My family were beginning to think like you and I even went through two horrendous marriages just to keep my family happy. Now an urchin from the back of beyond sees through my camouflage in no time at all. How did you guess I'm not the lady's man I pretend to be?' Emilio cast him a scornful glance. 'I'm not stupid and I don't wear blinkers.' 'Blinkers?' 'Yeah, you said horses in England wear them sometimes.' 'And what, may I ask, have blinkers got to do with my love life?' 'You have a great time with your lady friends when I'm around, and I've heard about them leaving in tears when I'm not.' 'Oh, I see. You think I use you as a form of aphrodisiac, do you?' 'It looks that way to me.' 'Well you're quite mistaken. As I said, the therapy seems to be working. If you must know, I had a job getting rid of my latest conquest to come down here.' 'Gillian?' 'Yes.' 'I don't like her.' 'Why?' 'Bad vibes.'  'You're lucky she's such a considerate lady. George believes you are ready to enter the second stage of your own therapy and you need more of a family environment. It's essential to your mental growth for you to remember what happened to you in the past, and deal with your demons one by one. So, Gillian has agreed to become the stable mother figure in your life.' Emilio screwed his face up in disgust. 'How is our illustrious head fink, any how?' 'Young man, at times I despair of you. I spend three years grooming a homeless waif to fit into society and you fall flat on your face with that kind of street talk. Shame on you.' 'You're not the one having his brains picked every week.' 'George Sherbourne is one of the best psychiatric consultants in the US, and just as responsible for your recovery as I am. But we're digressing here. Do you want me to adopt you or not?' Emilio considered his position - an urchin from a tiny backward country, rescued from a life of physical and sexual abuse and handed a life of comparative luxury for as long as he wished - he'd be dumb not to grab it with both hands. But this man offered something money couldn't buy - a father's love. 'Yes,' he said at last. 'I do.' Tony's face lit up. 'Well, there we are. I've already prepared the paperwork. All we need is your birth certificate or whatever they call it here. I looked for a Tamarigan entry of birth but there isn't one. I think we should go down to the village again, and see this uncle of yours.' Emilio stared down at the smoke and the trees that hid the village, suddenly afraid of the unknown. He was about to take a journey into his past, some of it painful. Tony and George told him what they knew. Now it was up to him to retrace his steps and remember it for himself, without outside prompting. That scared him the most. He glanced at Tony and saw in his eyes how much this handsome, rugged man wanted this, but Emilio still hesitated as Tony moved away and sat at the table. If Tony only knew how much I see of my past in my nightmares, and draw in my sketchpad when I'm alone. At last he joined Tony at the table and picked up his juice. 'Okay, let's do it today, before I change my mind.' 'Tomorrow would be better.' Tony tapped the laptop beside his plate. 'I still have to keep to deadlines, even on trips like this, hence my visit to your village at the crack of dawn. And you have some flute practice to do as well as some work your tutors set you I believe. I must have this work completed and emailed to my secretary by tonight, which means you will have my undivided attention tomorrow; that is if there are no interruptions.' Emilio knew nothing would change Tony's mind once he decided the day's schedule. Still, Emilio didn't mind working in this mountain home. He ate his breakfast then dressed in T-shirt and shorts and took his schoolwork folio out into the sunshine. Cara, the housemaid had placed a fresh pitcher of iced lemonade and lime on the table; Emilio poured himself a glass, added lumps of ice, and made himself comfortable on a lounger. In the folio he found a note from his English tutor. '˜Your essay on the works of Dickens reads like a first grade doodle. Please read the passages in Great Expectations again and rewrite your essay with a little more enthusiasm, outlining the goals Pip set himself and how he expected to achieve them.'  How boring. Both he and Tony worked through the day on their projects, with Cara supplying food and drinks as needed. Tony sat at the patio table in an old pair of swimming shorts. Emilio made do with the briefest of briefs, and a towel to spare Cara's staunch Catholic blushes, their work interspersed with dips in the pool to cool off and relieve the tension of concentration. Neither of them of them noticed the time passing, till a female voice suddenly called out. 'Cooo-eee!' Emilio choked on a mouthful of his drink and came off the lounger, coughing and spluttering. Tony looked round in the direction of the voice. 'Gillian? How on Earth did she get here?' Emilio clutched his towel closed. 'I don't know, and I'm not waiting to find out.' 'Coward!' 'She's your problem, not mine. You'd better get rid of her before tomorrow. I don't want her gate crashing any party of mine. ' Emilio made it to his bedroom as Gillian stepped out of the villa. Her perfect features lit up as she spotted him, her eyes dropping to the towel, but Emilio glared at her and dived into his room. Tony rose to greet Gillian with a hug and a peck on the cheek. 'Hello, Darling. How did you get here?' 'I paid a friend of yours an extortionate amount to bring me from the airport.' Gillian smiled and hugged him back. 'Lovely place you have here. Nice and secluded for a twosome.' 'You know you shouldn't have come, don't you?' 'Well, you're such a dear man, I just couldn't stay away from you.' Tony smiled. 'Thanks for the flattery but this is supposed to be a private holiday for Emilio and I, to celebrate his birthday and sort out the adoption, which isn't going very well at the moment.' 'Oh. Now I understand the black look he gave me just now. Never mind, Darling, I'll make myself useful and help prepare the food.' To Tony's dismay, Gillian made herself comfortable at the table and placed her handbag on the patio by her chair. Even in the heat, she looked cool in cream silk, her white low cut blouse moulded to a perfect bosom, her blonde hair piled high in neat waves. At fifty, the results of a successful divorce kept her looking as smooth and vibrant as a woman twenty years younger. 'Be a dear and pour me a glass of that delicious looking drink. I'm dry as a bone.' 'It won't be the kind of party you're used to.' Tony sat down and poured drinks for them both. Gillian's idea of a party was to cater for lots of guests and show off her culinary talents. 'It will be just a quiet, relaxing day, for the two of us.' 'And George?' 'No, just Emilio and I. Really, I think it would be best if you went home. We may be down here for some time.' Gillian rewarded Tony with one of her famous '˜You can't get rid of me that easily' looks. 'That's all right, I've nothing planned for weeks, and you owe me an explanation.' 'About what?' 'Emilio. If you want me to step into the role of a stepmother, I need to know all about him. I offered you a proposal and I hope this boy is not going to spoil everything. What's so special about him, anyway?'   Tony had first met her at a star-studded country music party where her talents as a hired high-class caterer and hostess ensured a successful event. During the first weeks of their relationship, this English lady of independent means displayed all the attributes a boy like Emilio needed in a mother. Sensitive enough to be concerned, shrewd enough to wait till the boy invited her into his life. Now he doubted his feelings. Over the following weeks he observed cracks appearing in her faƧade and a harder kernel showed through, her gentle questioning replaced by too many probing questions. Tony's cheeks grew hot. 'I'm sorry, Gillian. I love you but not enough to accept after just a few short months. I need more time to think about your offer. Emilio is my prime concern at the moment. Forgive me?' For an instant, Gillian's eyes flashed and her features warned of the wrath of a spurned woman, then a disarming smile lit up her face. 'Buy me a nice ring, with a large rock attached to it, and put it on my finger in Paris, and I'll forgive you.' Tony glanced at his watch and closed his laptop. 'Why don't we make a start on dinner? We can talk about this later.  Cara went home just before you arrived and Emilio and I usually make our own evening meal.' He escorted her into the villa and on the way to the kitchen they passed Tony's gymnasium. The sound of someone straining under physical exertion prompted a look through the porthole windows of the door. Between the exercise and martial arts areas of the small but well equipped room, a punch bag in the shape of a six- foot human hung from the ceiling with its legs anchored to the floor. Emilio, dressed in black shorts and sleeveless T-shirt, attacked it with open hands, fists and bare feet, and it shook violently under the savagery of each strike; the gentler points of Karate forgotten in a noisy tirade of grunts and snarls. 'I've never seen him so angry. What is he doing?' Gillian asked 'Whatever comes natural to a scorpion.' 'I beg your pardon?' Gillian stared up at Tony. 'I'm not sure I understand.' 'Don't you know anything about Astrology? Scorpio has three sides to his nature. The first is the eagle, soaring high in triumph and champion of the underdog. The second is the lizard, the psychiatrist's nightmare, wrapped up in his own misery and hiding under a stone. The third and most dangerous is the scorpion himself, giving vent to his temper and stinging his enemies till they are no more, even to the point of stinging himself. A Scorpio can be a loyal friend, your sworn enemy, or he can cast you to one side like an empty chewing gum wrapper. There is no in between. At the moment he's expending his anger in the safest way possible.' 'Anger? What has he to be angry about?' 'You.' 'Me?' 'Come into the kitchen and I'll tell you all about my young friend, and maybe then you'll understand why he resents you being here.' While Gillian put on one of Cara's aprons and took charge of the cooking with the confidence of a seasoned chef, selecting various ingredients from the fridge and seeking out suitable pans and dishes, Tony talked. 'Emilio used to live in the village down the mountain. When I heard Emilio disappeared, I made enquiries and I found him working as a photographer's tout among the tourists in Porto Dominique on the southern coast.' He started toying with a bowl of fresh fruit salad Gillian had made. She took the spoon from him and slapped his hand. 'Anyway,' he continued, 'about that time, I asked George to treat me for my impotence and he arranged sessions with one of his therapists. You know I prefer these to take place away from clinical confines and, on one occasion, we met at a Los Angeles motel. Our room hadn't been fully checked and my friend found a gay magazine stuffed down the side of a chair. We skimmed through it for a laugh and found a photo of Emilio in the centrefold. The photo had a caption welcoming interested parties to the delights of the Dominique beaches.' 'I need three avocado dishes,' Gillian interrupted him  'Have you got any?' Tony went to a cupboard and lifted the dishes down. 'There are street boys all over the world and I suppose Tamarigo has its share, but I just couldn't believe Emilio could live like that. The photographer probably used him as a free advert and never bothered to tell him. I know how much that kind of photo sells for, and if Emilio wants me to, I'll find the bastard and sue him. Incidentally, I managed to please my therapist that night, a breakthrough in itself.' Gillian raised an eyebrow at him. He placed the dishes in front of her. 'When I got back to the island, I tried to find Emilio but he'd vanished again. The police were less than helpful. Street kids disappear off the streets too often for them to investigate each case. The Commandant of the Tamarigan Police Force is a friend of mine. He was just a captain then. He said he'd let me know if they found anything. They put Emilio's name on file and I heard nothing more. I went back to work on my biographies and my physical problem returned. Months later I heard from my friend that the police had investigated rumours of a club in the mountains further north from here.' 'What sort of club?' Feeling uncomfortable, Tony turned away to pace the kitchen. 'One of the most unsavoury kind you can imagine; any fantasy acted out in complete privacy if you are a homosexual paedophile and can afford the fees. I had a hunch Emilio would be there and I insisted on being on hand when the police raided the place. 'Unfortunately, someone tipped off the owners and the place was empty except for a number of security guards who opened up with guns. In the middle of the fight, an African American carried Emilio out of the villa. Someone shot him in the back as he reached us.' He picked up a wine glass and placed it on a shelf with some others. 'How did you know he was an American?' 'I already knew him. He lived near Emilio's village and used to do occasional heavy work for me here. For the life of me, I'll never understand how he ended up at the club. His name was Caroga - a jolly fellow, always singing jazz. He carved my pool out of solid rock and paved the patio. Before he collapsed, the man said one word, 'Heroin.' He died two days later in San Margarita hospital. Those bastards had given Emilio a massive dose of it.'  'Oh, no!' Gillian gasped. 'Who would do such a thing?' 'Anyone desperate to shut him up.  The police found the bodies of six other boys between the ages of six and thirteen in the villa; the remains of several others were found in an incinerator.  The boys died the same way Emilio would have but we got him to the hospital in San Margarita just in time. I insisted on bringing in specialist doctors from Brazil but for several days we thought he would never make it. I hardly left his side, I felt so guilty.' 'What on earth for?' 'I feel I'm responsible for him running away from home in the first place.'  'How?' My houseboy, Benito, said a friend of his needed work to feed his family. Emilio came to me a half starved ten-year old. My son, Peter, and his friends used this place in the summer vacations. Peter and Benito got on well enough and they asked me to take Emilio on. Peter and his friend always made quite a mess when they were here so I thought an extra pair of hands would help keep it reasonably tidy. I went abroad a lot and didn't know what really went on till I dropped in unexpectedly. I caught Peter and his friends using Benito and Emilio as sex slaves. Benito seemed enthusiastic, but little Emilio showed nothing but raw hostility. I gave Peter a thrashing and sent his friends home with a warning that I'd be writing to their parents. I dismissed Benito and sent Emilio home, right into the arms of Guido Gomez.' 'His father? Why was that a problem?' 'I suspected Guido of beating him but I couldn't prove it. Gillian put down the knife she used to split some avocados and turned him to face her. He looked down at her and saw the understanding in her eyes. 'Tony, you mustn't blame yourself. After all, you did try to find him and make amends. You nursed him back to health. You've done all you can for him.' 'Have I? Emilio's fight to lead a normal life is only just beginning.' 'You've done far more for this boy than many men would. You've given him a new life, a home, and offered him a permanent place in your family. That boy's got a lot of talent and you've encouraged him every step of the way. How you've managed to handle him all this time I don't know.' 'It's quite simple really. From dawn to bedtime, George and I never gave him time to brood. I paid for double, sometimes triple lessons and he's learnt what another child would take six years or more to learn.' 'Has it been worth it?' 'Oh, yes.' 'Than you have your answer. You've done all you can.' 'Then why is it that I still feel I've let him down?' 'Don't be silly, you've done more for that boy than he deserves,' As soon as Gillian uttered the words, she turned from him and went back to preparing the avocados. Tony sensed she wanted to retract her statement. 'What do you mean, Gillian?' 'Nothing, forget it.' Annoyed, Tony took the knife from her, laid it down on the worktop. 'Why do you think he doesn't deserve all I've given him?' Gillian faced him and stared hard into his eyes. 'He's a poor Latino from an island country hardly anyone knows exists. He has no claims on you or your wealth. You can't carry on doting on him. Did you know people are beginning to talk? A homeless urchin kept by an unattached man of the world? You've been so wrapped up in the boy you've failed to notice how other people view the situation. You're building a reputation as a biographer and music critic, and magazines are queuing up to have you write for them. That won't be for long if stories of abuse reach your publishers.' 'Abuse? That's nonsense and you know it.' 'Is it? Emilio will soon fly away and forget you once he's stepped onto the entertainment ladder, then where will that leave you? A sad old man with his journalistic career in ruins.' Tony returned her gaze with one of surprise. 'I do believe you're jealous. I thought you wanted to be a mother to him. Now I not so sure.' 'Darling, I'll admit I'm not the motherly kind but I love you too much to see you make a big mistake. I'll do whatever is necessary to keep the illusion of happy family life if that's what you want. Just don't ask me to act the doting mommy. In any case, he's the one who's jealous. Like all children coping with a possible step parent, it's natural for him to feel threatened.' Tony laughed and hugged her. 'If that's all it is, he'll just have to get used to having you around.'   'I hope so, too.' Gillian pushed away from him. 'Now, go and have your shower and dress for dinner. Let's make this a special night for him then I'll make myself scarce first thing in the morning.' *   *   *

 

DJ

[email protected]

Top


Rate Story Choose rating between 1 (worst) and 10 (best).

Bookmark and Share

blog comments powered by Disqus