The Gnome would like to point out that although he may write porn, or even gastro-porn, he would never stoop to blatant real-estate porn like this. This one is all Cobweb's (Cobweb says the Gnome is just jealous because he wants that kitchen, too, and that when all the buff, young, rich estate agents come calling she isn't sharing.)
It was an odd thing – a series of events apparently unconnected, which suddenly all came together in a knot. My dad had been giving me a bad time, again. He gives me a bad time every time I call home. Not about Piet, not any more. He doesn’t like any part of my private life. He doesn’t like that I’m gay, he doesn’t like Piet. He thinks Piet’s too old for me. I’m not at all sure that he doesn’t think that Piet’s the predatory older man of myth and legend. But we’ve more or less got over that, via a couple of horrendous rows. He’s a pragmatist, my dad. Once he had grasped that This Was It – well, I suspect that once my mum had told him that This Was It – he let the argument drop. He and Piet are coolly polite to each other, but no more, and I’m satisfied with that. My mum’s better, she rather likes Piet I think, but with my dad it’s armed neutrality.
No, the bad time was about money. He’s an investment broker, all the jokes about investing your money for you until it’s all gone. He’s senior partner at Cartwright Dennison, and there are offices all across the North West with his name on them. I had an accountant before I had a full time job – Steve who’s been my dad’s personal tax advisor since before I was born and if you told me I was a tax fiddle I wouldn’t necessarily deny it. Dad reckons I’m a changeling: he’s said often enough that he would have looked suspiciously at the milkman if it weren’t for my resemblance to his uncle Stan who died in the war. There’s never been a Cartwright as big as me, nor a Mackenzie (that’s my mum’s family) either, but the photos of Stan show a man of five foot six wearing my face. Very odd.
Anyway, one thing I do get done on time is all my paperwork for my tax return to Steve as soon as we’re past April 5th. And Steve’s a professional: he doesn’t talk about my affairs to anybody else, not even to my dad. Nonetheless, there’s no particular secret about it, and dad knows that at the moment I’m doing quite nicely for myself. The rugby itself doesn’t pay that well, but the add-ons do: the sportswear contract is arranged via the national side, and we all have one, but my boot contract is my own and Piet negotiated it for me and it pays bloody well. And then I do the pasta ads, and occasional clothes ones, and I’ve got a car contract.
But I’m not particularly good with money. I pay off my credit card every month – well, I’ve got the money so I’ve no excuse not to – largely because I’m not good at remembering things like that, so I set up a direct debit and left well alone. I’ve got a pension fund because my dad hit a top note when he found I didn’t, but I don’t invest. Every so often he points out that money in the bank isn’t doing me a lot of good, but I can’t bring myself to be interested in stocks and shares and stuff. He explains it all to me, and I can feel my eyes glaze and my life slipping away. And look, it’s quite true that when Hansie and Tim were faffing about their new house, I could perfectly easily have dug them out of a hole. I’d have been willing to do it, but I knew without even asking that they would be horrendously offended if I so much as offered, so I held my tongue. After all that there’s been between us, and even given that Hansie calls me his brother, I’m allowed to buy the drinks or the meal precisely one time in four. If they hadn’t managed the deal with Fran, I don’t know if Hansie's desire for the house would have overcome their unwillingness to come to me for money; it might. He really, really wanted that house, and I was turning over sillier and sillier plans to let them have it without them being able to find out that it was me. I was hugely relieved when they sorted it themselves.
So I’ve got some money and my dad had been tearing me off a strip again about not investing it, and then he suddenly said, “Hamilton’s, that’s near you, isn’t it? Didn’t you say that one of your friends works there?”
“A couple of them do,” I agreed, glad to get off the subject of Why Phil Doesn’t Have A Share Portfolio. “Why?”
“City gossip’s that there’s a hostile takeover coming. Supposed to be a good solid company and one of the American competitors wants it. I gather the share price could be higher.”
Dad explains this sort of thing to me regularly and I never follow it, but it didn’t sound good. “What do they want it for?”
“To get a brand name for their own stuff, I expect. It’s usually something like that. They badge their own products with the Hamilton’s name, take over the customers and eventually drop the local link.”
This really didn’t sound good, but it wasn’t my business, and I let the subject drop, had another ear-bashing on my lack of financial planning, and managed to say goodbye. But I was a bit worried and eventually I told Piet. “Have you heard about this?”
He shook his head, and gave it some thought.
“Do you think I should ring Tim? In case. . . they must know, surely?”
“No, not Tim. I think, perhaps, you should ring James.”
“Mr Hamilton? Dream on. He thinks I’m a complete airhead; he wouldn’t take me seriously.”
“He does not think so: do not do yourself down. And as you say, it is unlikely that he does not already know. . . but if by chance he does not, we would not like to discover it later. If you do not wish to call him, then I will.”
He didn’t know. Piet told him what I had heard, and then dragged me to the phone. Mr Hamilton wanted to hear precisely what dad had said and thought.
“Aye. Right. Well, thank you, laddie. I’ll put my own people on it in the morning. Your father is quite right, our share price is not what it might be. We did. . . you’ll not be wanting to hear me justify it. It was the accountants’ plans and there is always the risk of a predator afterwards, but we hoped we wouldn’t draw attention to ourselves. We’re a bad size just now; big enough to catch the eye and not big enough to fight off the big boys. I’ll need to think of a big PR campaign and get it on the go straight away. We’ll need a lot more public interest in us if we’re to see off a hostile bid. Thank you, Phil. Goodnight.”
I heard later that I had given him 48 hours warning that he wouldn’t otherwise have had. By the weekend the story was in the financial press and Tim was sweating buckets. “We need interest. We need the shares to be moving faster and at a higher price and for more people to be wanting them. The company’s sound enough, but we need a higher profile.”
I saw at once what I could do, and I opened my mouth to say so, and then I shut it again. I’m not known for forward planning, and I thought I would be better to wait and talk to Piet in case he had an objection. I was sorry to leave Tim twitchy any longer than I needed, but just in case. . . But Piet had no objection, other than to ensure that I did understand what I was committing myself to, and so on Monday morning we went to Hamilton’s and asked that terrifying secretary to let us see Mr Hamilton. He came out of his office looking harassed.
“Pieter? Is this urgent? I’ve got no end of people to see, and I’ve no’ really got time for rugby talk just now.”
“This is only indirectly rugby talk, James. Phil has a proposition for you.”
The harried look turned to me. Thanks, Piet, I rather hoped you would explain it. I swallowed nervously. James Hamilton does think I’m an airhead.
“Tim says you need a PR coup and you need it now.”
“Aye,” he said, rather impatiently.
“You can have me.”
That was maybe a bit blunter than was quite helpful. He stared.
“If you make an announcement that the face of Hamilton’s Sports Equipment for the next year is Phil Cartwright, it will make the papers, probably more than once. It’ll go to the financials, it’ll go to the sports pages, and if you get a good picture from Fran it will go to the broadsheet main pages too. I’ve been obliging to quite a lot of journalists this year, and I can think of one or two who would run the story if I asked them.”
He swung round to look, amazed, at Piet, who shook his head.
“This is none of my doing, James. Phil thought of it himself. He is right about the journalists, too, there are favours he can call in. My part in this is only to negotiate the deal should you want it, and I warn you that your short term gain will be paid for in the long run. I have Phil’s interests very much to heart.”
“Come in, then, and let’s hear about it.”
They thrashed out a rough deal which he could put to the Board in about an hour and a half; the Board confirmed it on the spot. Mr Hamilton came back from wherever he had been, rolling down his shirtsleeves and picking up his jacket.
“Shona, I’m taking the gentlemen to lunch. Where are Tim and Hansie today?”
“Tim is at Becketts and won’t be back until five. Hansie has a lunch appointment with that man from the insurers.”
“Aye. When they come back, ask them to call in on me.”
He took us to Bannisters for lunch, very posh. “Well, the opinion of the Board, Phil, is that you’ll have dug us out of a very nasty pit. We’ll no’ see results for a week or ten days, but the accountants are impressed. I’ll have a contract for you by Wednesday, I should think, and then we can go to the media. The accountants think the sooner the better.”
I shook my head. “Then do a press release this afternoon.”
“Och, you need your contract first. You’ll want something binding before we do that.”
“No. I’ve got Piet as my witness to the terms. I thought that when a Scotsman shook hands on a deal, that was it?”
“Ye’re not in Scotland here,” he said, eying me curiously. “Although you’re right: as far as I’m concerned, that’s a done deal.”
“Then put out your press release. I’ll trust you with it.”
“Pieter, you should maybe not let this innocent out on his own.”
“No, he is right. We trust you. Make a statement this afternoon.”
“I will, then. And. . . there aren’t so many good turns done in business that I’ll be forgetting this one.”
That was the first thing, O.K.? An odd little happening. The second one started when Piet was away, not long after the other two – the other four – were playing musical houses. I found it a bit unsettling. I opened the wardrobe to look for a clean shirt and half the bloody contents fell on me: we need a bigger wardrobe. So I moved a batch of stuff to the spare room and it didn’t fit there either. We need a new wardrobe. Only there’s no spare wall to put one against.
That was how I ended up in the High Street, looking in estate agents’ windows. And I went in and picked up details of half a dozen houses, but there was nothing which really said to me ‘yes, this one’, the way it apparently had to Hansie. Where I saw the one I wanted was on the local news with a story about a developer who had gone bust.
When Piet came home, I fed him. I’m not above a little subterfuge; I made all the things I know he likes and I opened a bottle of wine, and he saw right through me.
“What have you done, koekie, that you want to have me in a good mood?”
“Then what is it that you wish to do, that you think I will not like?”
“Hell, Piet, can’t you even pretend to let me get away with it?”
He laughed, and pulled me down onto the sofa. “Is it very bad?”
“I don’t know. It’s. . . Piet, how attached are you to this house?”
He shrugged. “I like it. It suits me. You are not happy here?”
“You know I am. But I hate the kitchen and we could do with more space.”
He nodded. “I would not argue with that. You wish us then to follow Hansie and Tim and move?”
“I’d like it. But not if you don’t like the idea of giving up your home.”
He shook his head. “I do not think of this place as my home.”
I got a bad chill from that. I had thought that he was settled in England now; I hadn’t realised that he still thought of South Africa as home. My face must have changed, for he pulled me to him. “Home, koekie, is where you are. When I am away and I think: now I shall go home; I do not think of the house or the town. I think of coming to you. Where do you want to live? I will live somewhere else very happily if I live with you.”
“You’ve changed, Piet. Two years ago you wouldn’t have said anything half that pretty.”
“So you grow up, Phil, and I grow outwards. I have learned from you as much as you from me. I am no longer afraid to say pretty things to you or to tell you of my love. I was afraid for years, as afraid as Hansie, and I think neither of us is afraid any more.”
Well, that was more or less the end of conversation about houses for the evening; we had better things to do. In the morning he got up to make coffee and I followed him downstairs and brought the house details I had collected back up with me.
“These are houses you wish to go and see?”
“Not really. Not unless there’s anything catches your eye. No, the one I want you to see isn’t technically for sale yet. But I know where to get the keys.”
“I am fascinated. Take me.”
“Right. I will.”
“And afterwards we can go and see this house.”
“Piet, I’ve spoken to you before about bad jokes. . .”
I had already made enquiries; it hadn’t been difficult to find out where the keys could be had. In fact, I had already had them once and gone to carry out a basic reconnaissance. Then I had spent an evening with pencil and paper, trying to work out what I could do. I hoped Piet was going to have some ideas – I hadn’t got nearly enough. The only one I had with any conviction was that I wanted this house and all that went with it.
Piet was looking round him in interest as we drove up the track. “What is this place, koekie?”
“Haydon’s Farm. There was a developer who was turning it into a. . . I don’t know what you would call it. The farmhouse was converted to run bed and breakfast, and that was finished. The intention was to convert the farm buildings into self catering cottages, but that hasn’t been done. And then there are bits of another conversion done. I’ll show you that later. I want you to see the house first.”
The outside was still all old farmhouse. The inside wasn’t. I’m not asking how the permissions were obtained. The administrator had assured me that they had been obtained and I wasn’t stupid enough to commit to a deal without having it confirmed. The inside was as modern as any house could be. And it was huge.
“This is what? The dining room? Phil, we have no need of a dining room as large as this, have we?”
“None at all,” I agreed cheerfully. “But if we had visitors, it would be nice, wouldn’t you think? And we could put glass doors in half way down to split it for when we didn’t. I’m not thinking that this would be where we would usually eat. Come through here, this is the sitting room.”
“This is good; I like this. Very light. What is through here?”
“It ought to be the garden but it’s all rough and wild still. But the boundary is down there at the trees. The river’s the other side of the trees.”
“Does it flood?”
“I don’t know. We’d have to ask. Now, this is the good bit.”
It was the kitchen. The kitchen was the size of the flat I had lived in before I met Piet. The kitchen was designed for the commercial provision of meals. The kitchen was giving me wet dreams. It was fully fitted, and it had all, and I mean all, the whistles and bells. I wanted that kitchen. The rest of the house was good, but I wanted the kitchen.
“I think we would eat here. It’s big enough for a table to seat six, and. . . well, actually, I think we would live here. It’s the heart of the house. There’s a utility room through there, and another room that we could use for storage, or turn into a wine store or something. We wouldn’t miss the cellar in your house. And look at that view! Now, come through here. The stairs are at this end.”
We went up, and I showed him the top floor. “See, every bedroom has an en suite shower room at least, and that one has a full bathroom, and this one. . . this one would be ours.”
Piet looked perplexed. “It is a nice enough room, koekie, but it is smaller than we have now, and smaller than that other. Why would you choose this one? Does it have a bathroom?”
“Through there. Same as the other one. I’d have this one because through here, there’s. . . well, it was intended as a little sitting room, but I think we could have it as an old-fashioned dressing room. Put the wardrobes in here and the chest of drawers. Then we could have better things like bookcases in the bedroom.”
He began to smile. “You have thought this all the way through, koekie, I see. Yes, I like that. Is there more?”
“Yes. This is the other good bit. Look, this door is the same as the one downstairs. They both go through to this sort of granny flat; apparently it was intended for a live-in housekeeper. But what I thought was, the main house is Haydon’s Farm, but this little thing is called The Dairy. It’s a separate address. And I thought that you could have it. There’s a single bedroom and a bathroom and a slip kitchen downstairs and a sitting room, but we could make them into an office and a storage room. We could put a phone in on a different line, and then Piet de Vries has an address for his post, and a phone number of his own, entirely separate from where I live. I bet Simon could set up the phones in the house so that they rang differently depending on whether it was your line or mine.”
His eyebrows climbed again. “And this is because?”
I looked down. “When I did an interview last week, the man asked about whether, quote, ‘now that you’ve got a measure of financial stability, you’ll be stopping lodging with your coach,’ unquote. We’ve got to address that, Piet. Either we’re coming out as a couple, or I’ve got to stop living officially with you. And I thought that this way, if I bought the estate, nobody would be much surprised if I rented the dairy to my coach, but it’s a different address to mine.”
He nodded, thoughtfully. “I see. Is there more? I do not quite care for the sound of that word ‘estate’. That sounds expensive to me. Show me what more there is.”
Actually there was a terrifyingly large amount.
“The rest is all farm buildings. The cars could go in this one. But this is the interesting one. Wait a minute: there’s no light in here yet and there’s a sodding great big hole. I’ll open the door at the other end too.”
“We are to put an oil rig over the top? Or do we dig for gold?”
“It’s a swimming pool.”
“It is a hole in the ground inside a barn. Swimming pools have water in them, Phil. Where I come from, every house has one, so I know these things. Coloured tiles. Diving boards.”
“Ha ha. It has planning permission to be a swimming pool. Up at the other end, there’s a second hole in the ground which was intended to be a jacuzzi or hot tub or something. Behind that wall is the space for the heating and filtration equipment. I think there would be room for gym equipment too.”
“You wish a swimming pool?”
“I’d love one. And it would be good for my fitness too.”
“It is hardly big enough for that, but we could add one of those water pressure things that they use for racehorses to swim against. Very expensive.”
I didn’t deny it. “Is this all, koekie?”
I shook my head. “Come on.” We walked up the track away from the house. At the top of the rise I stopped and looked back down the hill. “Could you live here, Piet?”
“Fersure. And I like all your ideas. Do we talk about the money now?”
“Not yet. There’s more. Look, over there. It’s a sort of secondary farmyard with buildings all round.”
“Dear heaven. Is it a house you want, Phil, or a village? This is vast!”
“I know, but have you seen the small ads in the local paper? People are always advertising for storage. Spare garages and the like. I reckon we could let all of these within two months.”
“For what sort of thing?”
“Well, you know Rob? He’s a sleeping partner in his brother’s business. His brother’s a mechanic and they import classic American cars, and Rob’s brother does them over and they sell them. They’re always looking for somewhere to keep spares and cars they aren’t ready to start. These units have got business use consents, Piet. A small business which didn’t need to be in the town could take one. There’s power and water in them, it wouldn’t be hard to get them up to workshop standard. And the track goes down to the Ashwell road that way, so people wouldn’t have to come past the house. The thing is, Piet, this isn’t a household mortgage we’re looking at. The developer has gone bust and the administrators want to sell the whole thing as one. They might do better breaking it up, but then they would have to make sure all the units had equal access rights and so on, and it would take time. They want a quick sale. We’ll never get anything like this amount of property for such a good price again, but I’ll admit the price is terrifying. It’s not just buying a house; it’s a business venture.”
“But it is what you want.”
“Yes. And I think I can put together a reasonable amount of money for it. You know I’ve got savings; my dad will find me a couple of investors. It’ll need a commercial mortgage and the rates won’t be as good as I could get for a residential one, but there will be tax breaks for a business. I won’t be a rugby player all my life, Piet. I won’t even be a rugby player for very much longer. Ten years? And I doubt if I could be a coach afterwards, I don’t think I would have the skills. I’m going to need something else.”
He looked around at the little yard, and back at me, and nodded. “So what do you think, Piet? Is it worth going into this?”
“I think. . . I think. . . I think, damn, I am good. I had not realised I was so good.”
I gave him a blank stare. “Good? Good at what?”
“I am a bloody good Top. I must be. I told you that I would teach you to plan and to think ahead, and see? You have learned. I shall retire; you will not need me any more. You do not require an aging rugby coach to look after you and tell you what to do. You shall be an entrepreneur and I shall sit in the sun and do nothing all day.”
“Oh yes, likely. You’ll be bossing me about like always. Treating me like a ketchup bottle.”
He frowned. “Like a. . .?”
“If I don’t give you what you want, you turn me upside down and smack my bottom.”
“Now who is cracking dreadful jokes? I will tell you something that I like here, Phil, and that is this row of trees. Pollarded trees put up these shoots, and if I break one off it makes a very suitable switch. How fast can you run, Phil?”
“Faster than you, old man.”
“You think so? You are a sprinter, I grant you; how good are you over half a mile?”
All right, not a good race to bet your shirt on. Fixed in the final furlong. I slowed as I came over the top of the hill, to let him catch me, although I didn’t have to slow by much, and we jogged down to the house together, with me rubbing away the sting from where he’d caught me a couple of smart ones with the switch. “Shall we go home and look at the paperwork?”
“Do you have it here? I would like to read the property details here where I can still go and look at anything I have missed. You know, Phil, I can think of someone else who might take one of those units. Fran is doing so much studio work now that she is almost never in her shop. She might move out here. There would be room in the yard for her lorry, and the big corner unit would give her an office and a studio both, although she might not be willing to give up her high street shop front. Still, we could ask her. She was nearly able to take Tim and Hansie's house without Nick, so she probably has the capacity now to expand her business a little. Show me the papers.”
We sat in the car and I handed them over. “The important thing – the big number – is on the second page. I think they’ll go lower, but not much.”
Piet flipped the page and gave a gasping cough. “That is a lot of money, Phil.”
“But see what you get for it! And although I would like things like the pool, they could wait. If we couldn’t raise enough to finish the extras, it wouldn’t matter.” And then I held my tongue while he read, carefully, through the whole document. He sat for a little afterwards, looking out at the yard, and thinking.
“The Gaspards’ house was put on the market for £400000. I do not know if they got quite that, but my house has a larger garden and is in better condition; even for a quick sale I think we could count on that.”
I sighed and leaned my head against the steering wheel. “You think we can do it?”
“If your father can get you some investors, yes, I think we can. And. . . I think, Phil, it is time for me to make some changes too. I have some money in South Africa: there was a trust fund set up when my grandparents died. Riana took her share when her children were born but I left mine in case I went back and wanted to buy a house. I will set matters in hand to have it brought here. I do not know how to do that – there are currency regulations about such things, but it will be possible somehow. And I will tell you one thing which will be easier than before: two men buying a house together attract attention but two men in a business partnership do not. We shall go to a solicitor and do whatever one does to register a business together. And also. . . I think it is time for me to admit that I am not going back to South Africa. I shall apply for British citizenship. I believe it is not difficult.”
I reached over to take his hand. “That’s. . . serious. Is that what you really want to do? I wouldn’t ask you to. It’s a big deal, changing your nationality.”
“I shall marry you to get a British passport. But you will have to allow that I support South Africa in the rugby unless you are playing.”
I lifted our clasped hands and kissed his knuckles. I didn’t know what to say.
It was quite a lot later that some of the things we had said drifted together in my head and the picture reformed like a shaken kaleidoscope.
“Piet? What you said about retiring...”
“Not yet, I think. I cannot afford to retire if we are to buy a business.”
“No, I’m serious. Not retiring, but have you ever thought about taking on more players?”
“I am too old. I can only keep you satisfied if I drink plenty of milk and take vitamin tablets. . .”
“Piet! Will you be serious! I know you registered as an agent so that you could look after my affairs, but there isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t act for more players, is there?”
“No, koekie, there is not, and it had already occurred to me. You said you would not be able to play for ever, and I will not be able to coach for ever, not at a high level. The sport is changing and although I do not feel yet that my knowledge is out of date, I can see that there will be a time when it is. I shall not, I think, actively search out more players, but I will let it be known that I will take on any who come to me. And when you stop play, that is something you will be able to do too.”
“When I stop play. . .” I said slowly. “When I stop play, things will be different for us.”
“I mean,” I said, blushing a little, “in the matter of our deal.”
“Well, yes. When you retire from rugby, the deal will die, and we shall play as and how we wish, or not if you wish not to. We have had that conversation before, have we not?”
“Are you happy about that?”
He looked at me for a moment, and then patted the sofa beside him. “Come, hart, and tell me what it is you wish to discuss with me, rather than making me guess. You know, for we have indeed talked of this before, that I will not lift a hand to you without your consent, whether in play or in punishment. Not ever.”
“And punishment is to do with me screwing up my rugby.”
“Ye-es. Although we have occasionally taken a rather wide view of that.”
“I know; usually it’s me attempting to blow my reputation by hitting Hansie or kidnapping somebody. And once it was what I did to you, not telling you about the ecstasy thing.”
“Indeed. What of it?”
I didn’t really know. I knew there was something there, something that needed addressing, but I didn’t know what it was. I slid against him until I could get my head in his lap, and he carded through my hair, and waited while I thought.
“I’m not a leader, Piet. I know you say I would be captain instead of Rob if I weren’t away so much, but I’m not sure I would. Or I’m not sure I should. Or could. I think I could do it, but only in the short term. I can do it when Rob’s injured or whatever, but I think that if I tried to do it all the time, my own form would go off. I can concentrate on my own play or on everybody else’s, but not both.”
He nodded. “That is true; I knew it. I was not certain that you did. But you could learn, I think.”
“I could, I expect. I wouldn’t ever like it but I dare say I could be made competent. I suspect I would never be a great captain. I don’t want it badly enough, for a start. And you were joking earlier about me being an entrepreneur, and I don’t want that either. I want Haydon’s Farm, yes, and I’ll learn how to look after it as a little trading estate. I’d like. . . you remember what Tim said, about how after I stop play I should try to get in with the TV or radio people? I would like that, I think, if I could learn how to do it. And I can see myself being good at it. I enjoy writing the little columns for the Gazette. But the thought of. . . I don’t know, of running a big business like Mr Hamilton does, gives me the yips. It’s just not me.”
I looked up; he was giving me his undivided attention, as usual, but he understood me, I could see that.
“And you’re good for me. It’s not just that I love you and you love me – I do sometimes think, before I do something really daft, ‘what’s Piet going to say?’”
That was obviously too much; he simply barked with laughter. “So I should hope, koekie! And I am quite well aware that sometimes you do it anyway. You and Hansie both.”
I grinned at him. “Leave Hansie out of it. I wouldn’t get into half as much trouble without him.”
“Now that I can believe. So I have a sobering influence on you: what of it?”
“What happens if I screw up and it isn’t anything to do with rugby?”
“You find the means to unscrew it or you live with it screwed, whatever it is.”
“And what if it’s you?”
“Who is screwed?”
“One more bad joke, Piet, and we’ll have a go at re-establishing who’s Top here.”
“You are no fun. Well, what if it is me?”
“You don’t spank me.”
“True. That is not what we agreed, nor, I think, do you wish to submit to me in all things, nor even to go on the way Tim and Hansie do.”
“I don’t. But I know that sometimes there are things I do that piss you off. You weren’t terrifically pleased when I cried off at the last minute from that party your friends had.”
“I thought it was rude, koekie. I know you had not wished to go and I would have gone without you, but to say you would go and then back out was ill-bred.”
“And you didn’t like it when I went to the motor-racing with Steve.”
He shook his head. “It was not that you went; you go where you wish. It was that I did not know that you had gone, and then you were gone all day, with your phone switched off, so that I did not know if I should be phoning hospitals to enquire after your body.”
“Well, that’s the sort of thing I mean.”
He shook his head. “So you annoy me sometimes. We live through it. I tell you that I am not pleased, you tell me when you are not happy with what I have done. I do not spank you for that sort of thing, no. Is this what you mean?”
“And you want me to? I do not think that you do. And indeed, that is a life-style I do not embrace.”
“I want you to have the option. It was stupid, not telling you when I would be out all day. If I had thought about it at all, I would have known that you would worry about me – and if you had wanted to spank me for it I would have let you. Like you say, it was rude, and I felt bad about it for days. All I’m saying is, if you’re pissed off with me and you think it would help, I won’t necessarily say no, even if it’s not rugby. I’m just – I don’t know, just opening it up a bit, that’s all.”
His hands had stilled in my hair. “What you are saying, koekie, is that we shall go on as we do, with me as your Top other than in play, even when you have passed through your rugby.”
I was relieved that he understood. “That’s it. It’s not what Hansie and Tim do, because I think they do it for things that aren’t very important – well, maybe not quite that, maybe they invent reasons or something, and I don’t want to do that. I only want you to have the option for big things. I’ll play, you know I will, but I won’t be punished for – I don’t know, for leaving the lid off the toothpaste or not buying the newspaper. But I will, for hurting your feelings or messing you about.”
“With your consent always,” he promised, and slid an arm under my shoulders to pull me up to be kissed. I was breathless when he let go.
“Rugby won’t last but we will.” It was nearly a question when I said it, and he heard it as one. “We will, koekie. We will.”
We had several very boring and stressful weeks with banks and investors and solicitors and Old Uncle Tom Officialdom and all. It didn’t prove particularly difficult to borrow the sort of amounts of money which would have kept me awake at night if my dad hadn’t tied it all up and explained it so that even I could understand it. In a surprisingly short time the house was marked as ours, Piet’s house was nearly sold, and I was a seriously happy bunny. The only thing we had to do was find the cash deposit, and to keep all the financial people happy, that was going to be Piet’s trust fund coming in from South Africa.
Only it didn’t bloody come. For some reason which I will never understand, although it has been explained to me about six times, the transfers were done via America. Via some tiny place miles from civilisation, to be precise. Don’t ask me why money from South Africa to England goes via Nitpick, Arizona (no, it wasn’t called that but it was some name of that type), where their computer was struck by lightning, or the clerk lodged his chewing gum in the keyboard or something. And the money left Johannesburg, and it was traced as far as whatever the damn place was called, and there it stuck. The bank rang up from this end. The bank rang up from Jo’burg. The administrators rang up. Piet rang up – I think that’s the only time I’ve heard Piet do The Voice and not get any response. My dad rang up. No funds. And the deposit needing to be paid by close of banking on Friday.
And then the old line kicked in. The bank will lend you money when you’ve already got some and not when you haven’t. Piet and I had sunk pretty well everything we had into the system already, the mortgage and the loans were ready to go, the investors’ funds would be freed as soon as we could demonstrate clear title to the property, and title would be transferred as soon as the deposit was paid. And we didn’t have the deposit. The bank wouldn’t lend it, even for the ten days for which we would need it, without security, and of security, with the house sold, we had none.
I did as good an impression of a headless chicken as you could wish to see. We rang everybody we could possibly think of who might lend us. . . well, it was a huge deposit, never mind how much. I had a bloody week at the club because I couldn’t give my attention to what I was doing, and on Wednesday evening, Piet spanked me, not very hard, but efficiently. “You are a professional sportsman, Phil. You must be able to clear your mind and behave like one. No matter what is happening in your private life, your team deserves to have you earn your money.” I wriggled round to get my arms round his waist, and buried my face against him. “Piet, we’re going to lose the house.”
“That is not a good reason for you to lose your focus on your sport, geliefde, and I will not permit it.” Does it sound silly to say that I was reassured by that? That no matter what changed, Piet didn’t?
And then the phone rang, and it was James Hamilton. “Phil? Tim tells me your deal is fankled.”
“Is it?” I said doubtfully, frantically waving at Piet to pick up the extension.
“The bank won’t lend us the deposit without security. We only need it for a week, two at the most until the damned Americans release Piet’s money.”
“Aye. Which bank? And who’s your manager? Right. I’ll get onto them at opening time. Let me know if they’ve not been in touch by midday.” And he put the phone down.
“What was that?” asked Piet, who hadn’t been quick enough.
“Mr Hamilton. I recognised almost all the words he used, but I couldn’t make anything of what he said. He’s going to talk to the bank.”
“Is he indeed?” said Piet, in tones of some satisfaction. “Koekie, he is the one person we did not think of. I admit, I did consider asking him if the company could lend the money, and I thought I could not ask. But it occurs to me: the company does not need to lend the money; the company need only say that it will act as security for it. You did James Hamilton a favour a little time ago and he is a moral man; I think your favour is coming back.”
It did. The bank rang at ten, funds were released at twelve, the house was ours at five. Piet’s house was sold a week later, and the regular Friday takeaway and DVD was in Haydon’s Farm, with Tim and Hansie helping us to mark it as ours. Mine and Piet’s. Not his house which I shared, any more, but ours.
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© , 2005