I lowered my newspaper.
“I wonder what's happened to him?” I asked myself, thinking aloud, rather than expecting an answer. However, given that we were in the library at Wilks's Club and that Richard Finch was within earshot, I got one, anyway:
“I hope and believe, something exceptionally nasty”, said Richard evenly. He did not look up from Private Arse, his favourite satirical magazine, which he had been reading with little snorts of laughter.
“I was talking about that Cambridge lecturer who has gone AWOL or missing in Italy”, I said.
“So was I”, said Richard. “You were referring to Dr Edwin Mayor of Boring College, Cambridge. No loss!”
Because Parliament had risen and it was now the “silly season”,the story was front-page news, along with the latest activity of the Loch Ness Monster. Dr Mayor, a Cambridge Don and author, had gone on holiday to Italy, starting in Rome, during the Long Vacation. One day he had left his hotel in the Via Boncompagni after breakfast, to go sightseeing or whatever he normally did, at the usual time. He was on demi-pension; he breakfasted and dined in the hotel, but seldom if ever took lunch there. He had indicated that he might be back late, so no-one worried when he did not appear at dinner that evening. Next morning, however, he had still not reappeared and the chambermaid reported that his bed had not been slept in. Two days later he had still not resurfaced: At that point the hotel manager decided to contact the British Consul and the Italian Police. That had been more than a month previously. To date no-one knew whether Dr Mayor had met with an accident, been kidnapped or murdered, eloped with an attractive Italian or had simply lost his memory and was now wandering about somewhere, unaware of all the fuss.
“You know him?” I was constantly being surprised at the wide spectrum of people whom Richard unexpectedly knew; many of them not remotely connected with either the army or politics.
“Yes,” said Richard. “You see, we were were university contemporaries. As you know, I won a scholarship to Cambridge; to Trinity Hall, to be precise. I studied the Classics and graduated...
I concluded the sentence for him: “With a starred First, the winner of various prizes and medals, to say nothing of your sporting trophies. We know!”
Richard looked smug. “Thank you for blowing my trumpet for me,James!”
“I thought that I'd save time and spare you the trouble!”
“Quite so. The immodest false modesty of so many Englishmen and Americans is ridiculous and it really pisses me off! Anyway, in a funny way Dr Edwin Mayor was responsible for my starred First! You see, he was my most serious rival in the Classics School. Most of the time we were neck and neck. Sometimes one of us was ahead; sometimes the other. We were always pipping each other at the post for glittering academic prizes. It was the thought of being upstaged by that wanker that kept me working at my books.”
“So it wasn't a friendly rivalry?” I asked.
“It was not: we hated each other's guts. He was a Socialist. I called myself a Tory but we know what I really am: well to the right of Genghis Khan. He hated the Army; I was heading for Sandhurst after university. I loved field sports; he wanted them abolished. The list of subjects on which we disagreed was endless. He thought that I was a pampered and privileged brat, when actually I had achieved almost everything by myself, at minimal cost to my adoptive parents, thanks to scholarships and bursaries. I hoped that he would die of creeping AIDS, with a dose of syphilis thrown in.”
“Did you ever say so?” I inquired.
“Yes; and for some reason he didn't like that!” Richard smiled sunnily at me and continued: “It was very easy to upset him. For example, one day I announced that my father had been made a Peer in the Birthday Honours. Of course he hadn't really – it was someone else of the same name - and anyway, as an adopted child, I could not have inherited any dignity from him. Boring Mayor however did not know that and the chump believed me! I had really pissed in his beer: he became quite ill with jealousy and fury. 'Does that make you a fucking Honourable?' he snarled. 'Yup!' I said. “And I'm going to decorate all my possessions, including my chamber-pot, with coronets!' He used the most dreadful language”, chuckled Richard.
“Er... you didn't ever by any chance fuck him, did you? Some people can get very shirty afterwards about that sort of thing!”
“Honestly, James, You say some crass things! If you had ever seen Edwin's mugshot, you would not ask that question. He was ugly – seriously ugly- what I call fugly. He had spots,terrible teeth which stuck out at all angles, wore thick glasses like the bottoms of Coca-Cola bottles, had halitosis and he was a Socialist; a total Widmerpool. I wouldn't insert the ferrule of my umbrella into Master Mayor, let alone a special and sensitive part of my anatomy!"
“None of this explains why you still seem to hate him, all these years later”, I ventured.
“No; that is just the background.The feud came to life again after I left the Army and started to get interested in archaeology once more."
I knew that Richard had taken to passing holidays in Greece and Italy, occasionally with me in tow, where, among other diversions, he had fun copying ancient inscriptions and looking at ruins. Sometimes he got involved in archaeological digs.
“Ah! I may be starting to understand”, I said.
“I doubt it”, said Richard dismissively. “You see, it was a new departure for me: I had begun to write the occasional article about Roman inscriptions of the early Christian era; that period when no-one was quite sure whether they were Christian, pagan or neither and meanwhile preferred to hedge their bets by pretending to follow whichever cult the Emperor of the moment was promoting or preserving. It is beautifully epitomised by a sarcophagus that I discovered last year: it bore inscriptions from both The Bible and The Aeneid. One side showed the Good Shepherd, the Last Judgement, tedious Heaven, amusing Hell and things like that. The other one showed Hermes Psychopompos conducting souls to the Styx, the Elysian Fields with hunky nude heroes exercising, practising arms-drill, tending their horses and having a drinks-party. In the foreground a warrior, who was Aeneas, was talking to an older man who was Aeneas' father, Anchises. You can guess which version of the afterlife I preferred!”
I could, easily. “A sarcophagus? That's interesting” I remarked.
“It was”, said Richard, “because it helped me to work out when the Christian Romans stopped cremating their dead and started burying them in coffins and in catacombs because they thought that cremation was pagan and might deny them the Second Resurrection. Superstitious nongs!” Richard laughed happily.
I thought, but prudently did not say, that the pagan Romans, whom Richard admired, also qualified as superstitious nongs, from what I recalled of their habits and beliefs. Richard rose and stared pensively out of the window. With his clean-shaven, tough good looks, short, dark, curly hair and stern expression, he looked like a Roman soldier-emperor. Only the toga and laurel crown were missing; instead, he was wearing a well-cut black blazer and flannels, with a white shirt and Parachute Regiment tie. They subtly followed the lines of one of the finest male physiques that it has ever been my good fortune to see, handle, know and have sex with. “But what really interested me”, Richard continued, “were the inscriptions that I was finding, ranging from the pious and learned to mere graffiti. I decided to write an article about them for the Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. But by doing so, I unwittingly ignited - or re-ignited - an academic feud. Edwin Mayor read the article. He was furious and rubbished it because it cut across what he had written in one of his books. He had a special pet theory, you see; he was deeply and immovably attached to it. That's the mark of an unsound scholar.” Richard stopped and glanced at me sharply: “Are you sure that you are not getting bored? Would you like to change the subject?”
“No, absolutely not! I sense that we are coming to the interesting part!”
“As a matter of fact, we are! Normally it would not have been too difficult for me to disprove much of what he had written, because I had found inscriptions that vindicated me and disproved his theory. But there was a problem: I had discovered the inscriptions myself; lots of them, and I was not ready to go public. In any case I would have needed Cardinal Mascardi's permission to publish anything, and at that point in time it would not have been forthcoming.”
Even I had heard of Cardinal Mascardi. He had been mentioned by the media as a possible future Pope. “You know the Cardinal Librarian and Archivist?”
“Of course I do!” said Richard impatiently. “He's another classical scholar. I had to apply to him for permission to use the Vatican Library and access the Secret Archives. Moreover the land where I made my discovery belongs to the Church, although it is outside Rome, along the Appian Way. What I was doing was very sensitive. Who knew what heretical things I might uncover!”
The penny finally dropped. “You've discovered lots of hitherto-unknown funerary inscriptions dating from the early Christian era, to say nothing of some interesting sarcophagi? In other words, you must have discovered a new catacomb. Right?”
Richard's grin became broader still.
“Correct, my dear Watson; elementary. It has still not yet been officially announced. When it is, it will be very exciting, especially as I am fairly sure that it contains the remains of certain “missing” early Popes - good and bad – and, just possibly, the lion-chewed remains of St Ignatius of Antioch!”
“And there will be kudos for you, of course?”
Again, he grinned from ear to ear. “Oh yes! I can't wait! Richard the Renaissance Man! How pleased my old College is going to be! And how surprised my constituents will be; most of them regard me as a complete Philistine. Not that the electors of Flogham and Lynchfield mind that in the least; most of them are Philistines. I had worked out where the catacomb had to be, from very obscure sources in the Vatican Library. And there it was! It was a real detective story, almost worthy of Sherlock Holmes. It is quite possible that the Pope himself might attend the grand opening when that finally happens.”
This was a bit ironic, given that Richard was not merely not a Roman Catholic but an agnostic, when he was not being a pagan. I had long suspected him of offering pagan sacrifices to the old gods: if so, they had clearly paid off. He paused again and wandered over to the self-service coffee percolator in the corner. He brought us both a cup. Then he continued:
“But all that was under threat from the wanker Edwin Mayor. You see, I knew him very well indeed. I did what I could by writing, in what became an increasingly heated public correspondence, that there existed certain first and second-century inscriptions that refuted his theory and even quoted from some of them. He responded robustly and challenged me to produce the inscriptions, which of course I could not then do. I said that he would have to wait for the publication of a book on which I was working. He then openly speculated that I had invented the whole thing and that it was a massive hoax.”
Richard stared out of the window again.
“Obviously some riposte was called-for. The question was, 'What?' Finally I entered into private correspondence with him. I made it clear by many references and quotations that I really did know what I was writing about and that I was on to something big. Finally he accepted that that might be the case. Soon, he was slavering like a Pavlov's dog, desperate to see my inscriptions. So, I invited him – by 'phone - for a private view. No problem; he was planning an Italian vacation anyway. Of course, the viewing would have to be by night, when the workmen had gone away. The joke, however, was that it was now late July or early August. There were no workmen; everyone was on holiday. Even fewer people and things than usual were working or functioning in Rome. And it had to be kept secret; especially from the Church. We met by night on the Appian Way. I went there by motor-bike. I got there early, to change into my 'catacomb dress'.
“How romantic,” I said.“Ill-met by moonlight”.
“I dressed carefully for the occasion: black track-suit, black T-shirt, black socks; black everything, in fact, apart from a pair of Red Indian moccasins in soft deerskin, with a fringe on the heel. You can guess why, or you shortly will. I also brought along a black 'terrorist-style' balaclava helmet. Dressed in this fashion, I popped out from behind the Roman tomb where I had hidden the motor-bike and where we had agreed to meet, giving him his first shock of the evening. While he was yelling I had time to notice that he had not brought a torch. As he did not smoke, I was pretty sure that he would not have matches or a lighter on him, either. That proved to be the case. No matter; I had a powerful hand-torch and some spare batteries with me.
'I can see that you still haven't completely grown up,” Edwin grumbled when he had recovered. “No doubt that explains your choice of an Army career; very Boy's Own. Now, let's see these graffiti of yours. I'll reserve judgement until afterwards but I have come prepared to be disappointed.'
“I thought that was tactless in the circumstances. I led him quickly to the old, derelict house, unlocked the door and let him in. He looked about him with distaste. Admittedly, it had not been used for many years; I do not know why. Then I took him down to the wine-cellars, which were extensive. I unlocked the door and led him to the concealed entrance to the tunnel that led to the catacomb, which was at the furthest end of the complex of cellars. A blast of chilly air came out, which made him shudder. It had been very warm above ground; a typical jasmine-scented Roman summer night.
'I should have brought a coat with me!' he muttered.
“That, however, suited me,”Richard continued. “I should explain that the catacomb of St Ignatius, as I had provisionally named it, is vast. I know it better than anyone now living, but I suspect that I may have only explored a tenth of it. Parts of it are probably pre-Christian, excavated for God knows what purpose. There is a central chamber containing the most important tombs; passages branch off it in all directions. They go for miles. One day they will no doubt be surveyed properly, but at present we have only a sketchy idea. They are a labyrinth. I did not take him by the most direct route, but one that was unnecessarily complicated and confusing. However, for my own safety, I had tied some strong fishing line to a hook in the wine cellar door, to make sure that I got back safely. The other end was tied to my wrist. At one point we crossed a small underground stream, using stepping-stones that I had placed there.
'”It's the River Styx,' I joked. 'That stream whence no-one ever returns. But Charon the ferryman is on holiday, like everybody else at this time of the year, so we have to use the stepping stones!' I do not think that he found this funny, for some reason.
“Our footsteps echoed in the icy passages. Now and again I would stop and draw his attention to some interesting inscription or sarcophagus. I could see that he was starting to get really interested and excited. Good!
“Finally we reached the central chamber. I let him look around. As I had hoped, his eyes popped. There were what I believed to be the sarcophagi of some of the early Popes. But most interesting of all was a very plain tomb, cut into the side of the chamber, roughly filled in and plastered. On it in crude characters, while the plaster was still wet, someone had long ago written:
IGNATIUS ANTIOCHUS INEST.
In other words,'Ignatius of Antioch is inside'. He was fascinated by this. If this was indeed the tomb of St Ignatius, it would cause ripples all over the Christian world; especially, perhaps, in the Eastern Orthodox part. While he was still gloating over it, I switched off the torch.
“He gave a yell: “Hey, what's the joke? Turn that torch on immediately!”
I laughed. 'I just wanted to give you a real feel for the place! And to see it as those early Christians would have seen it!”
“At that point I produced a partly-used candle and lit it with my lighter. The candle-light cast a spooky glow over the scene. It was like an old candlelit painting by Henrik Ter Bruggen or someone like that. I placed the candle near St Ingatius's tomb and took the opportunity to scatter a few spent matches and an empty matchbox, when Edwin was not looking. He, meanwhile, was recovering from his panic. Despite the chill, he was mopping his brow with a large bandanna handkerchief.
“'Crikey, you gave me a fright', he kept saying, 'Crikey you gave me a fright!' Well, he had not seen anything, yet. Then he added 'You bugger!'
“He was soon poking around again and I could see that he was being devoured by curiosity and jealousy; testicle-tightening, ass-gripping envy and curiosity. He knew that this was something big and he had not discovered it; I had. It must have been maddening for him. Presently he said:
'Candlelight is all very well and romantic, but I can't read this inscription properly by it. Can we dispense with the candle and use the electric torch again?'
"'We can certainly dispense with the candle!' I said. I blew it out and plunged us again into total darkness. The moment had come.
"'Enjoy the atmosphere!' I said to him. 'I'm leaving now! Pip! Pip!' Then I skedaddled,as quickly and silently as I could, winding in the fishing line as I went. The fringes of the moccasins would wipe out any trace of my returning footsteps in the dust.
"Go on!" I said. Richard continued, with a reminiscent smile:
"I could hear Edwin screaming, shouting and cursing, and his footsteps, as he came bumbling after me. However I had a head start. From time to time I would hear a yell, when he tripped up and barked his shins or fell flat on his face. Once there was a splash; he must have fallen into the River Styx. But he soon took a wrong turning; the noises got fainter and fainter, then they died away. I regained the wine cellar, shut and bolted the door to the catacomb, went upstairs, locked the door to the cellar, then locked up the house. There was supposed to be an Italian watchman looking after the property but there was no sign of him; like everyone else, he had probably fucked off to the seaside or the country for August. My plan had worked perfectly; there had been no witnesses whatsoever, except for my victim, who would not be around for very long.
“I felt energised; I jumped for joy, punched the air and may even have shouted 'Yee-ha!' - or something along those lines. I also wanted to get as far away as possible as soon as possible, so I ran like a startled stag. Looking back, it would have been more sensible to have strolled away slowly and nonchalantly. However there was no-one around to see me; it was very late and the Appian Way was deserted.
“I got back to the old Roman tomb where I had hidden my hired motor-bike. It was a fine, warm night, and the place looked deserted; not even any drug-pedlars or courting couples. I stripped to my jock-strap, which was that brand that I like; a black one; I never wear white."
I did know, having often seen Richard in nothing but a jock strap. In this particular brand, the pouch was slightly transparent, giving a tantalising indication of the pale, heavy genitals and the dense, dark crotch-hair confined - for the moment - inside the restraining cache-sexe.
RIchard continued: "Finally, I could relax. I lit a cigarette and stood still, to let the warm, gentle night breeze dry my sweat before putting on my black leather biker suit, helmet and boots, which would disguise me completely. I knew I should have to ditch the track-suit, which might – even after washing – hold traces of plaster, dust or whatever from the catacomb. To my regret, I would have to ditch the moccasins as well; they were a souvenir of one of my trips to the States. Disposal posed no difficulty; I would just chuck them all away in a certain area of Rome full of illegal immigrants and characterised by "horrendo squalore",in the words of one of my Vatican friends. The clothes would be taken immediately.
"Suddenly, someone shouted “Bellissimo ragazzo!” I turned and saw a young Italian man looking at me. He was not bad-looking, either! He looked a bit like Jean-Claude Van Damme, with short, dark hair, an aquiline nose and slightly sticky-out ears. He was wearing dark-blue designer jeans, which fitted closely around his crotch and ass and had probably cost a small fortune, a white shirt, gaping open and showing some sort of medallion. I guessed that he was about twenty-six. Even though he was fully dressed, I could tell that he had a great body. He was unashamedly groping his crotch. He was up for it, all right! This was a stroke of luck! I took a last drag at my cigarette, threw it away and expelled the smoke through my nostrils. I smiled darkly at him and stretched my arms wide open. Will you walk into my parlour...? He gasped, then came over to me hesitantly, as if hardly daring to believe his luck, and let me hug him. He kissed me; first gently and then more and more passionately and greedily: mouth, neck, nipples, then my six-pack...
"I didn't let him pull off my jock-strap, but I did allow him to 'worship' me, as the Americans say. That is to say, I let him run his hands all over me and touch me everywhere, except for my cock and balls, which were covered by the jock-strap. If he got too close, I would gently take his hands and move them elsewhere. He loved the fact that I had shaved my body. 'Ercole, my Greek hero' he whispered. And again 'liocorno mio' - my unicorn - he meant that I was a fabulous creature", said Richard with a chuckle. "Then I bent over an old altar-tomb, legs apart. I let him run his hands all over and between my legs, very gently, even reverently, as though he was afraid that I would bite! He caressed my bare ass-cheeks... he was getting more and more excited!"
“I bet he was excited!” I said, with real pain, envy and jealousy. So was I. Richard's ass was a marmoreal masterpiece; hard, symmetrical and muscular, like two ostrich-eggs. When he permitted, I could not keep my hands off it. The ass-crack was perfectly-shaped, too. He kept it, like most of the rest of him, shaven. His ass-pucker was an exquisite pink star of desire, as the young Italian had presumably noticed.
Richard was now laughing: "He slid his hand between my ass-cheeks and touched my man-hole... It was like the gentlest of electric shocks!"
"Stop it!" I almost shouted: "I've heard enough. Not only am I ablaze with jealousy, but I've got a bloody painful hard-on!"
Richard leaned over and squeezed it through the cloth of my trousers and briefs.
"Bloody hell, so you have!" he chuckled. "I shall interpret that as a compliment. Well, it'll have to wait, at any rate until after I've finished the story!"
"You bastard!" was all that I could groan.
Richard was clearly very much amused; he assumed, correctly, that my annoyance was due as much to his abandoned fling with the young Italian, as it was to his grabbing my genitals. Fortunately we were alone in the library that afternoon. Richard was not easily embarrassed; I was, however.
“James, you would have done the same!” said Richard, soothingly. “You see, here was my perfect alibi, if I should need one. Being a rentboy was marvellous cover for a murderer. The young Italian clearly thought that I was just a rentboy touting for trade; hence the stripping-off. He was equally clearly, from his clothes and car, well-off and respectable. He was therefore potentially open to blackmail, if I should need him to provide me with an alibi. I was quite happy to do what it took to get him on-side. He offered me a huge sum in lire and wanted to do it there and then, but I refused. I said that I insisted on some degree of comfort, and I wanted to spend the night with him. Did he know anywhere that we could go? He looked a bit worried and said that he thought that he might. Later I discovered what the difficulty was: despite his dashing appearance, he was, like many young Italian men, a Mummy's boy and still lived at home. Mummy - or rather, Mamma - would be most upset if he brought back a girl, let alone a man! Then he suddenly remembered and said that a friend of his called Massimo had an apartment in Rome and that he had a key to it. He was pretty sure that Massimo was away on vacation, but he'd need to check. We drove back into Rome in convoy – he in his car and me on the motor-bike - as I refused to leave the bike there. Eventually we arrived at the friend's apartment block. The lad did a recce and confirmed that no-one was at home. There were some preliminaries. Firstly, I told him that I was a Russian immigrant but was happy to speak in French; my Italian was not good. That settled, we negotiated a price for a whole night's fucking. It equated to several hundred English pounds! That settled, he rang Mother and had a lengthy argument with her. Finally, he rang off and grinned at me:
"'I told her that I was at this party, that I was now too drunk to drive home and that I'd be spending the night on Massimo's sofa!' He chortled at his own cleverness. I hoped that Massimo, whoever he was, would back him up. 'And now, my dear Russki', he said, 'Let's fuck!' I was all for that!
“I don't know about you, James, but I always get very randy just after I've killed someone; especially someone I don't like. I also feel randy when I've taken a risk and got away with it; I suppose it is a side effect of the adrenalin rush. I'm highly-charged at the best of times and now I was super-charged. My host, who was called Gino and belonged to a distinguished family of papal nobility, was going to get the full works.
“Gino was really handsome and looked even better when I had got his clothes off. You know the type: tall, delicately handsome and dark-haired; elegant even when naked; a golden all-over tan, apart from minute, pale rosy-pink triangles front and back, left by the smallest pair of bikini trunks in existence. That was extremely erotic. He was definitely a sporty boy: long, strong legs; beautiful, muscular arms, narrow waist, great ass, classical torso... and a beautiful face. I loved it when those aristocratic, refined but still masculine features were contorted by pain, lust or ecstasy. All of those sensations were soon inflaming them.
“We started out by having a shower together. That was fun; it was a power-shower! Before long I was kissing and cuddling his wet body, while down upon our heads Niagara Falls descended with all the heat of music-halls. I sucked his cock, kissed and bit his ass-cheeks, parted them, and then rimmed him. He'd never had that before, if you'll believe me! He went bananas. But that was just the starter. I got him out of the shower; we dried ourselves and each other. He had some condoms and lube. I played with his ass-hole, teasing and probing it with my fingers while he went bananas all over again. It struck me that he was very inexperienced and in fact I was right; until last year, he had only slept with girls. However he had recently discovered his true nature, wanted to make up for lost time but didn't want Mamma to know! Well, that too was useful to know if Gino should ever try to cause trouble in the future! Nothing to beat good old blackmail.
“The apartment was absolutely made for an erotic encounter, or so I thought. The décor was lush and a bit OTT, to be honest. The furniture was ornate and decadent. The paintings on the ceilings and walls depicted the loves and lusts of the Gods. Whoever the painter was, and I suspect that he was a good, albeit second-rate, pupil of Caravaggio, he – or his patron - must have been gay, as he had depicted as many naked, muscular, straining heroes as he had luscious nymphs. Hercules smooched Hylas; Jupiter in the form of an eagle carried off Ganymede, who looked more like a randy teenager than a cherubic boy and was pissing himself with fright. Muscular Romans raped the Sabines... but I digress.
“I fucked Gino all over that sumptuous flat: in the shower; bent over the sofas; on the floor, even on top of the grand piano. He screamed when I bent him over and took him the first time.. He screamed when I mounted him again while he was flat on his face. He screamed when I got him on his back, spread his legs and deep-fucked him. He screamed when I had him upside-down against a sofa. But then he started to get into the spirit of it and rode my cock very competently while I instructed him between gasps, groans and grunts. We were both gasping and pouring with sweat by the time that he had finished his riding-lesson. We showered again, slept for a few hours and then, at about 4.30 am, he was randy once more! This time he wanted to fuck me! So I got him hard, took him like a man - right up my backside - and rode him like a steeple-chaser. I finally left at about six in the morning, with a sore ass but several hundred pounds richer. I wandered off to have rolls and a cappuccino at the Pope's favourite trattoria – which I could now well afford and which I knew was always open, even at that hour - before returning to my temporary lodgings."
“Where were they?”
“Oh, in the Vatican,” said Richard. “Some nuns were looking after me. I slept like a log until almost midday.”
“And meanwhile Dr Mayor was expiring from terror, cold and starvation in the catacomb?"
“So I imagine”, said Richard unconcernedly. “I had to go back there a week or three later with Cardinal Mascardi for a private viewing. I was quite prepared to find Edwin's corpse or even conceivably to confront a starving, screaming and completely bonkers Edwin. I had a story or two ready, of course. But we saw and met no-one and nothing. Even so, Edwin could not have got out. He must have wandered off into a remote part of the catacomb and expired there or broken his neck; it's easily done in the dark. As I said, it is a very big place. Anyway, he was no loss; he had really pissed me off ever since we first met at Cambridge! His card had been marked long ago!”
“And pissing you off is a capital crime, I suppose?” I ventured. "Well, I have been warned!"
“Too right!" came Richard's cheerful reply. “And, seriously, I was not prepared to risk Edwin's trying to pre-empt my discovery, which he would have tried to do. My dear James, you're such an honourable chap that you can have no conception of how very unethical, dishonest and unscrupulous some academics are. At the very least, he would have gossiped indiscreetly and queered my pitch with Cardinal Mascardi. No: he had to go.”
Richard looked at me, his dark-hazel eyes twinkling with mischief: “James, let's forget Edwin, can we? He literally is history now. No doubt he will be missed by his friends; by both of them, I should think. Now, how about a game of squash? Unless, of course, you'd care for something even more energetic? I'm staying here in the Club while my flat is being decorated!"
Minutes later, in Richard's bedroom upstairs, we were engaged in a complicated soixante-neuf. Suddenly Richard's teeth nipped the loose skin of my scrotum. It hurt like hell and I got an instant erection. I went bananas and lost all restraint. Thereafter I took it like a man until I was begging for mercy. I did not receive it, either. For a while we lay trembling and sweating in each other's arms. Then we showered, saying very little. I spent the rest of the afternoon recovering.
That was far from being the end of the story. Edwin Mayor's body was eventually found somewhere in the catacomb, now officially named for St Ignatius. Richard denied any knowledge of how he might have got there. He admitted that he knew of Dr Mayor's interest in the catacomb, but was able to produce witnesses to demonstrate that heand Edwin had been rivals and on bad terms. No way would Richard have admitted him to the site, and certainly not without first clearing his lines with Cardinal Mascardi! The assumption was that Edwin must have gained entry illicitly; perhaps by bribing a workman, or using other criminal means to gain access, undoubtedly in a spirit of academic rivalry to Richard. There is now a memorial to him in the chapel of his former College at Cambridge. Richard's proposed epitaph was not used:
The Lord is pleased when Man doth cease from sin;
TheDevil is pleased when he a soul doth win;
The World is pleased when every wanker dies;
So all are pleased, for here fat Edwin lies!
For Richard there was a more distinguished outcome. The Pope was delighted at the discovery of the catacomb, which had indeed proved to contain the mortal remains of St Ignatius and of some early Popes. The whole area is now consecrated ground and can be visited by appointment, in guided groups. As you might recall, when The National Geographic revealed Richard's discovery to the world, Cardinal Mascardi received much of the credit. Richard's role was understated, but he did not mind; he had been made a Knight of the Order of Pius IX and also received a Papal Doctorate Honoris Causa for his pains. Richard's natural father, Thierry, and I watched him receive both. For his Doctorate Richard had to wear a cassock with his doctoral robes and he received a biretta instead of a mortar-board at the degree conferment ceremony. Dr Richard Finch, looking serious and noble in his quasi-priestly garb, was a very unusual sight.
One slightly untoward incident marred the ceremony of Richard's investiture with the Order of Pius IX. As Richard stood to attention for the Pope to pin the medal on his chest, a young member of the Noble Guard, who was wearing an extravagant Ruritanian uniform, dropped his ceremonial sword with a crash and retrieved it, puce-faced with embarrassment. He kept glancing nervously at Richard, while the Pope smiled benignly and his Commanding Officer frowned. Later Richard explained:
"Oh,that was Gino! I don't suppose that he ever expected to see his 'Russian' ragazzo di vita, again; least of all, being decorated by the Pope!"