Author’s note: this episode contains some eroticism and political incorrectness, so it probably isn’t for everyone, but I did warn you about that, didn’t I? All dun in fun (or done in fone). I hope you enjoy.
In Julian Parfitt’s ‘Oval Office’, an agreement with the UK Government was finalised with almost indecent haste. After everybody had expressed their admiration for everybody else, A.J. Poulson, on the ‘phone from the Ministry, wrapped the deal up.
“I’ll have the papers prepared. If your legal people are happy we’ll be signed and sealed in a few days. You keep your sovereignty, we pay your rate for the gas, and we rent the pipeline from the Republic of Aga. Toodle-pip!” He rang off.
“That was amazingly easy!” Julian enthused. “Willoughby, you’re a genius!”
Willoughby blushed. “Now, Julian! Come on. Let’s get in that exercise I promised!”
Skaeflint’ae Beach was at its best that summer forenoon. Very early in his explorations Willoughby had discovered the cove with its honeycomb of caves and tall cliffs, hidden away from the gas wells on the other side of the headland. The little apron of sand was large enough to tempt bathers and private enough to be exclusive. In their first days on the island – in those times Rowena remembered so wistfully – she and Julian had bathed uninhibitedly here.
Today it was Willoughby who accompanied Julian to the beach. Rowena had to stay behind – a consultant and an Iranian cook had arrived on the early tide to help prepare for the Iranian delegation due that afternoon. They had set up most of their equipment at the harbour, ready to transport to the house, which they began to do at around eleven am. They were nice people, and they brought with them some knowledge of a surprising nature.
“Your clocks;” said the consultant. “You do realize they’re two hours adrift?”
“Are they?” Rowena was at first disbelieving, then astounded. “My watch, too. How could that be?”
“I guess too long away from the mainland?” the cook suggested. “It is of no importance – we can finish our work in very little time.”
“Julian!” Rowena exclaimed. “He won’t know! Can you find your own way around? I must warn him!”
Even as she set off up the path to Ben Adderhochie, Rowena recognised the futility of her task. The walk to Skaeflint’ae was at least forty minutes, and the Iranians would be with them within the hour. However, as she hurried, a few dark corners began to open in her mind; a few vital tumblers began to click into place. As the sinister import of these deliberations took shape, Rowena began to increase her pace. She had not missed the faun-like conspiracy in her husband’s look that morning, or Willoughby’s devious smile…..
“Isn’t this truly beautiful?” Cried Willoughby, standing at the water margin. “Doesn’t it just fill your heart, Julian?”
Julian, staring at Willoughby’s back, admitted that it did. As they had clambered down the steeper section of the cliff path, Willoughby had removed his shirt to expose that back and every rippling muscle in it.
“Let’s swim!” The rest of Willoughby’s clothes seemed to magic from him, so all of a sudden Julian was plunged into his dream of the previous night: these were not the tropics, but Willoughby’s virile nudity was all it promised to be, running towards the deeper sea. Laughing at the ice-chill of the waves, Willoughby turned to offer a view that certainly filled Julian’s heart, and did much to stimulate other organs too: “Come on, my little water-baby; get in here!”
Julian tried a modest compromise, removing his shirt and trousers. Willoughby was hysterical: “Oh, what? Underpants! Get them off you, man!”
So Julian did. The sea was so bollock-freezingly cold it precluded all innocent play. Willoughby did not mind this – he saw it merely as the setting of a stage. Swiftly back upon the beach both men laughed and stamped and shivered while Julian made the point that, in this wet condition, they had no hope of regaining their clothes.
“I’m going to catch pneumonia!”
“Lie down on the sand,” commanded Willoughby. “It’s warm in the sun.”
Side by side in the more yielding stuff above the tide-line they stretched themselves out to dry. Gradually Julian’s shivering stopped, but he did not cease to complain of the cold. Not, that is, until he felt Willoughby’s arm across his chest – then he began to experience a warmth which wasn’t quite rational.
“Not a bad body, you know, Julian,” said Willoughby; “for a City gent, hmm?”
Julian should have resisted, but he found himself quite liking that irrational warmth. There was still time to step back, then; to turn away – before Willoughby slithered closer to him, so they were flank to flank, and certainly before Willoughby’s hands began to explore him in areas where even Rowena was reluctant to go, unless offered a bribe of fine vintage Bollinger.
“I’m afraid I’m not very…” He heard himself stuttering. “I’m not hung like a…well, not like you.”
“Like a donkey?” Willoughby laughed. “Don’t worry, I’ve heard it said. But I think you’re rather sweet, dear Julian. And size isn’t so important, is it?”
To be fair to Julian, he did tense up a little at this point: he did recognise the Rubicon he was crossing, that this was an aspect of sexuality which had always made him feel uncomfortable in the past. But he did not feel uncomfortable – not at all. In fact, Willoughby’s attention was making him feel very comfortable indeed.
He would have been less relaxed if his ears had picked up the faint chug of a diesel motor, or if he had been looking out to sea at this particular moment; for a yacht was passing the open mouth of the cove with its complement of three Iranian diplomats lined up, like three wise men on a Christmas card, upon its deck. Unlike the three wise men, though, they each had binoculars. Alas, he was not looking, and he did not see. He did not see even when, five minutes later, the same yacht and the same three diplomats passed by again, travelling in the opposite direction. This time only one diplomat was looking through binoculars – the other two had cameras.
“I know what we need.” Willoughby murmured in Julian’s ear. “I’ll be right back, love, Okay?”
“Oh, don’t go!” Julian was nervously affected by the prospect of any interval in his further education, inasmuch as he feared a premature conclusion, exacerbated by the sight of Willoughby’s taut buttocks stalking away from him up the beach, to disappear into one of the caves. Fortunately, Willoughby’s return was almost immediate. He held a packet of white powder in one hand while he twirled a drinking straw in the other.
“A little stash I set up yesterday, especially for us,” he explained, as he plunged into the pockets of his discarded trousers to produce a small mirror. Using that magnificent torso to shield them from any breeze, he nicked the corner of the packet, allowing a thin stream of powder to settle in a line upon the mirror. “Here we are, darling boy. Something else you haven’t tried.”
Now there was truly no turning back. The Rubicon was a distant memory; Julian was well into Italy and his feet had dried. The white powder filled his world with little clicking sounds and flashing lights and unable to withstand any further delay he thrust himself awkwardly at Willoughby, who chuckled his indulgence: “No, sweety – that works with women, not with us.”
Then he showed Julian exactly what to do, and Julian followed his instructions with alacrity, and Willoughby said a rather curious thing.
He said: “All right boys – in for the close-up. Not all at once, now!”
‘Close-up’? Julian relished this strange terminology, knowing there would be many new words to learn. It was a whole new world, one he had denied himself for so, so long. As he let the waves of fulfilment roll over him he ruffled Willoughby’s hair and opened his eyes to ask its meaning. He did not have to ask; nor did he need to ask about the clicks, or the flashing lights, because they were still happening. They were coming from the ring of photographers standing around them.
“Julian old chap!” Said Willoughby, disengaging himself. “Let me introduce you to the gentlemen of the Press.”
The misery of the next ten minutes would remain with Julian all his life. His struggle to get through the ranks of paparazzi to recover his clothes, the break into an undignified run with his trousers still down around his knees, the raucous cheer when he fell flat on his face in the sand. Then there was the second raucous cheer when, halfway up the cliff path he met Rowena coming down – or, more correctly, ran onto her fist.
If the gentlemen of the fourth estate had lacked quotes to spice up their articles Rowena gave them plenty. But Rowena was never a woman to be taken, or quoted, lightly – she also gave weight. The one redeeming act of that whole mortifying afternoon was when she kicked Willoughby off the cliff. The man who wrestled with crocodiles was no match for Rowena scorned, and Rowena was never one to leave an advantage without pressing it home. She pursued Willoughby to where he had fallen, clutching a number of compound fractures, and jumped on him until four sturdy press men restrained her. By that time she had ensured that Willoughby would trouble no-one of either sex for a very long time.
“He invited them in early that morning,” Julian explained miserably, after he and Rowena had negotiated an uneasy truce and they were browsing the websites of the national dailies in their kitchen the following day. “They were hiding in the caves all the time we were there. He set me up. The coke, the whole thing.”
Dismally, they scanned pages full of pictures with little black squares all over them. Rowena featured as much as Julian, for the camera Willoughby had set up on the grandfather clock had done its job well.
“I got a phone call from the Iranians;” She said. “They don’t want your alliance.”
Julian nodded. “You should have heard Prince Fuisal. Apparently what I was doing in those photographs is punishable by death in Al Flaberri. Daddy’s told him never to speak to me again. The tankers all sailed early this morning – there’s going to be no pipeline and no deal. We’re just waiting for the landing craft.”
Rowena rested her chin on her hands: “Or maybe not.” She said. “No, maybe not.”
Julian gave her a quizzical look. “Unless you know something I don’t…”
“Exactly. Let me explain: last night while you were licking your wounds, so to speak, I made a few calls of my own. Then, this morning while you were watching the tankers sail away, I called A.J. It took me a long time to get through, and even longer before he stopped laughing. Then I told him he had to negotiate with me now, and he did stop laughing. The deal’s back on.”
“I don’t understand.” Julian admitted, staring blankly at his wife.
“You don’t. Do you? Oil is oil, my dear: gas is gas. That, and the opportunity to get one over on the British are incentives too great for the King of Al Flaberri to turn down. And fortunately, the sweet old King has a more liberal attitude to dealing with women than his stuffy little squirt of a son. We had a lovely chat – he’s going to come and visit me next summer; isn’t that nice?”
Rowena’s husband’s expression was changing rapidly from bewilderment to sheer open-mouthed admiration: “You’ve struck a deal with the King! You’re a genius!”
“It has been said.”
“And with reason! But, wait, what about the Iranians?”
“I was never too keen on them. We’re exchanging diplomats with Saudi Arabia instead. Lots more ‘planes!”
“Diplomats! But we haven’t got an embassy!” Julian protested.
“I thought the woodshed, with a few alterations of course. I did explain and the chappy’s quite prepared to rough it, as long as he has a garage for his two Ferraris and we promise to build a road for him to drive them on. I mentioned the grouse moors, of course.”
“Oh, now why didn’t I think of that? A sheik in the woodshed – an essential talking point for parties! And who, pray, have you in mind as our ambassador? I’m sure you’ve got somebody!”
“Yes!” Rowena said brightly; “I have! I believe a certain A.J. Poulson is going to apply for the job. He seems to think his career at the Home Office is over.”
Julian was completely overawed. “You bloody little miracle worker!” He cried: “It was a day of days when I married you, my love!”
“Ah.” Rowena said heavily. “There’s something I ought to tell you, Julian, my sweet. Let me see, how does it go?….Yes. I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee. There! I can say that because I’ve changed the constitution. And we’re Moslems, remember?”
Julian’s expression changed profoundly for a second time. “You see;” Rowena said; “the King would only agree to revive our contract if you were completely out of the picture. His family would never accept any association with – what was the charming term they have for it in their language? – I forget exactly, but I remember telling him you didn’t wear that type of shirt. Anyway, I’ve staged a coup!”
“He’s made you take over the Presidency.” Said Julian, staring in mystification at his ex-wife. He shook his head in despair: “I’m going for a walk.” He made to rise from his chair.
“I’m awfully afraid you can’t.” Rowena apologised.
“Well that’s the other part. You’re under house arrest.” She gave Julian one of her gentle, consoling smiles.
“What?” Julian growled.
Rowena repeated her words, in response to which Julian added a few thoughts of his own, largely in words that are unprintable, inducing Rowena to tut. “Language dear! You know, you’re dreadfully sexy when you’re angry.”
“You’re mad!” Julian spat the words through gritted teeth.
“No, no; I’m perfectly calm. You, however, are getting redder and redder. It’s all completely civilised. You know the portacabin the drilling crew used? I’m having it moved this morning to the top of Ben Adderhochie: there’s an oil heater inside so you’ll be quite warm – it’s a perfectly acceptable place to live until I can arrange to have you exiled. I might come and visit from time to time, like I used to at your flat before we were married; won’t that be fun? Or have your tastes changed? Would you prefer someone more masculine?”
Julian exploded. “Exiled? I won’t do it! You can’t make me do it! All I have to do is call security, and we’ll see who gets the charming hilltop bungalow, you scheming, devious, blousy bitch!”
“Thank you. I learned from the best, my darling. Now, if by security you mean your half-dozen alcoholic Glaswegians they’ve sworn allegiance to the New Republic, because I’m paying them now – they’re waiting for you outside. They’ll escort you to your new home. I should go straight away, if I were you; we’re quite finished here.”
There was a moment Rowena genuinely feared; the critical few seconds when Julian was close to putting his thumbs to her windpipe and squeezing. But his shoulders slumped and he stood up wearily. At the door, he turned: “One thing I don’t understand. I wasn’t the only one Willoughby caught. There are just as many photos of you with your knickers off – how come His Royal Majesty is prepared to overlook those?”
“Heterosexual love isn’t illegal in Al Flaberri.” Said Rowena with an indulgent smile. “In fact, they positively encourage it. The old King was very impressed with the pictures – in fact, he’s asked if I have any more. You recall the ones you took on our honeymoon? You wouldn’t happen to know where they are, would you?”
© Frederick Anderson 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.