The chatter of the opening night crowd made Dorian think of seagulls: the constant chirrup and squawk, the continual swirling and resettling, the way a small group would suddenly break away and then land together, pecking and squealing, on a new target.
He wouldn’t have chosen to come to this particular event, but Roger had been insistent. “Darling, you’ll love it,” he’d said. Roger was blond and appealing, and Dorian wanted to get him into bed, so he’d said yes. Right now, Roger was chatting to someone else, so Dorian was taking the time to observe the rest of the clientele.
Not a very interesting bunch, he thought. Just the usual opening night crowd, here to see and be seen.
He turned his attention back to the works on show. Photography, Roger had assured him, was the art form of the future. He sighed. Perhaps another glass of champagne. He wandered over toward the wine waiter hovering in the corner.
Picking up a fresh glass, Dorian made another slow circuit of the gallery, taking in the works on display. Without Roger hanging on his arm and chattering about what he considered the finer points of the photographer’s art, Dorian was able to look objectively at the pictures.
Perhaps, he thought, it is just possible there’s some merit in this as an art form. Particularly the work on that wall.
The pictures in question were black and white studies of the human figure. Nudes, both male and female. The lighting was bold, and the camera angles unusual. The photographs spoke of a dark sensuality that drew him like a moth to a flame.
Someone stepped up to stand close beside him. “Do you like this work?” The voice was deep and resonant.
Dorian turned to look at the speaker: a tall, swarthy man in his forties, with black hair and a neatly-trimmed goatee. Handsome, in a raffish and rather theatrical way. In contrast with most of the brightly-clothed, self-consciously arty guests, he was dressed in black from head to foot with the exception of a scarlet cravat at his throat.
“Interesting use of shadow,” Dorian responded. “Reminds me of Caravaggio.”
“You’re interested in painting?”
“On the whole, I prefer it,” he said, “although I do like this work here. Do you prefer photography or painting?”
“I appreciate painting, certainly. We photographers can learn a lot from the old masters. But photography is my medium.”
A smile unfolded on Dorian’s lips as he realised who this must be. “Is this your work, then?”
A single nod. “I’m Raeburn.”
“I’m Dorian.” He took the business card Raeburn held out. “Is Raeburn your first name or your last?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Dorian noticed Roger glaring at him over the shoulders of two of his friends. Dorian pretended not to see him. A little jealousy might spice things up later on.
Raeburn began to explain how he liked to use light and shade in his work. Enjoying the attention, and savouring the rich mellifluous tones of the man’s voice, Dorian drifted around the gallery at Raeburn’s side. By the time they had completed a full circuit of the space, Raeburn was emphasising his opinions with gentle touches on Dorian’s arm, and leaning in close as he spoke softly.
At the far corner of the gallery, Raeburn turned to face Dorian, focusing on him instead of the works on display. He touched the fingers of one hand to the side of Dorian’s face, tilting it away from the light.
“Such lovely bones. The shadows love your bone structure. I’d like to photograph you.”
“Why not?” The idea appealed to Dorian’s vanity. He smiled flirtatiously, but Raeburn didn’t return the smile.
Raeburn’s intense, unsmiling demeanour would have intimidated some – Dorian was sure it was designed to do so, but he wasn’t intimidated. Underneath the ostentatious manner, Dorian could see raw desire simmering. Being able to provoke that made him feel powerful. This man was nothing like the soft, pretty boys Dorian was usually drawn to – the soft, pretty, safe boys, easily dominated and effortlessly discarded. Raeburn’s brooding allure teased at Dorian’s fascination with risk and shadow and ambiguity.
“Come to my studio tomorrow night. I’ll take some shots of you.”
“All right. I will.”
The crowd was beginning to disperse so, reluctantly, Dorian excused himself and went to find Roger.
Clearly, Roger had been complaining to his friends, because they gave Dorian frosty looks as they melted away, pointedly saying goodnight to Roger and ignoring Dorian. To tell the truth, after meeting Raeburn, Dorian felt ambivalent about going home with Roger; but he’d been pursuing him for three weeks now, and tonight was the night he had planned, finally, to get Roger to sleep with him.
He slipped an arm around Roger’s shoulders as they made their way out onto the footpath in front of the gallery. “I’m sorry, love, I shouldn’t have left you to your own devices – but I thought you were all right, since you knew so many people.”
Roger’s stiff posture suggested he was not susceptible to sweet words seeking forgiveness, and when Dorian pulled him into a loose embrace, he stood woodenly, his hands thrust firmly into his pockets.
“Come back to my place, Roger love,” Dorian murmured softly. “You know I adore you. I want to make love with you, darling.”
“Fuck you, Dorian,” hissed Roger. “If you cared about me you wouldn’t have embarrassed me by flirting with that pretentious old lecher and letting him fawn all over you. I suppose he sent you on your way, so now you’re settling for your second choice. Well, forget it, honey. I’m going home – to my place – and you’re not invited.”
Pulling away from the embrace, Roger turned on his heel and marched down the street, leaving Dorian on the footpath outside the gallery.
As he trudged homeward, alone, Dorian wondered if Bonham would be around when he got there. He could do with someone sane to talk to as an antidote to Roger’s petulant fury.
He reflected that he and Bonham were an unlikely pair to be sharing a house. “Slumming,” some of his University friends had said when he moved into the run-down red-brick terrace off Cowley Road. In his first year at Oxford, he’d done the expected thing and lived in College. The formality of College life was not unfamiliar to him, as a child of the nobility, but the restrictions began to chafe, and he longed to have the freedom to come and go as he pleased. In addition, he was tired of having to fabricate explanations for the growing personal art collection that decorated his rooms, and he yearned for more privacy.
Not long after he’d commenced his second year, Dorian had met Bonham. Bonham’s unpretentious take on the world and his earthy sense of humour had been a refreshing change. Bonham, for his part, took Dorian’s flamboyant style in his stride, and wasn’t the least bit awed by his status as the heir to an Earldom. Bonham himself was working class through and through, and proud of it. Even so, he had a well-informed appreciation of antiques, and a surprisingly good eye for Victorian silverware, which had puzzled Dorian at first. It was not long before he found out that Bonham was a thief, and came from a long line of thieves. Keeping up the family tradition, he had an unremarkable job, and supplemented his income with a little breaking and entering on the side.
When a room became vacant in Bonham’s house, Dorian moved in, delighted to escape the decorum of College life for greater freedom, and also curious to see if there might be something he could learn from his new friend.
As soon as he reached the front gate, Dorian could see that there was nobody else about. Either Bonham was out, or else he was asleep: there were no lights on.
Disgruntled, Dorian climbed the stairs to his own room and went to bed.
The next morning, Dorian padded barefoot into the kitchen to find Bonham standing at the stove frying bacon.
“On your own?” Bonham said. “I thought I’d see Roger’s smilin’ face across the breakfast table this mornin’.”
Dorian winced. “Actually, we had a disagreement. He thought I wasn’t paying him enough attention last night. Or, to be more specific, he thought I was paying too much attention to someone else.”
A grin from Bonham as he forked bacon onto his plate and started building a bacon sandwich. “Anyone interesting?”
Dorian’s expression became coy. “Mmm. Quite interesting. I’m going over to his place tonight.”
“He’s a photographer. He’s going to take some pictures of me.”
“Is he as good looking as Roger?”
“Mmm, but completely different. Handsome. Exotic-looking. He’s older, forty-something. His name’s Raeburn. He was one of the exhibiting artists.”
Swallowing a mouthful of bacon sandwich, Bonham raised his eyebrows. “You don’t usually go for the older type.”
“No, I don’t, but perhaps it’s time for a change. Perhaps I’d like to be looked after for a while.”
“So, if Roger rings, what do I tell him?”
“I doubt that he will, but if he rings, just say I’ve gone out.”
Raeburn prowled around the perimeter of the studio turning on lights and adjusting their beams to fall on a divan in the centre of the room. He picked up a length of thick dark cloth from under a bench, shook it out, and draped it over the divan. Not quite satisfied with the fall of the fabric, he lifted it, shook it out again, and let it drop once more. The cloth settled in deep soft folds, pooling on the floor around the base.
Dorian disappeared behind an elegant Japanese screen in the corner and divested himself of his clothes. He pulled on the soft white towelling robe he found hanging there, and came out into the studio to find Raeburn on his knees beside a low coffee table, raking a pile of fine white powder into lines with a razor blade.
Raeburn looked up. “Something to help us relax. Get the creative juices flowing. Do you indulge?”
Dorian knelt down beside him and took the slim metal cylinder he was offered. Right nostril. Left nostril. He straightened up, sniffing, blinking.
Raeburn took the cylinder and bent over the table, snorting deeply. When he was finished, he stood up, and holding out one hand, helped Dorian to his feet.
“Now, just relax into this.” He cupped Dorian’s face in both his hands. “The camera will love you.”
Dorian dropped the towelling robe and strolled over to the cloth-draped divan. The light from his left side was almost blinding. Instinctively, he turned his face away from the source. The strong light carved deep shadows into his form, throwing his lean muscles and finely chiselled bone structure into sharp relief.
“How do you want me?” Dorian’s voice held a flirtatious undertone. “Like this?” He postured dramatically, an old-fashioned pin-up girl pose. “Or like this?” He melted down onto the divan, soft and innocent, his blond curls shadowing his face. He smiled playfully, waiting for a cue from Raeburn.
There was no smile in return, but a flush of heat in the older man’s eyes showed that he liked what he saw.
“Forget you’re here in the studio. Forget I’m watching. Just enjoy your own body. Shift around when you want to. Just be yourself, Beautiful.”
Dorian shifted into a more natural position, relaxed and graceful. His own artistic instinct told him how to angle himself against the light, to make best use of the shadows.
“Oh, yes. That’s good. That’s very good,” murmured Raeburn.
He took up his camera and began prowling around Dorian’s languid form, snapping pictures. He stopped and reloaded the camera several times, and twice he adjusted the lights to give different effects. He said very little – only short, softly-spoken commands: “This way, Beautiful”; “Look up, now”; “Hold still, listen to your breathing”.
Acutely aware of his own body, warm and half-aroused, Dorian relaxed into a dreamy, trance-like state, barely conscious of Raeburn circling him.
After some time, Raeburn carefully laid his camera on the floor and came to sit on the divan beside Dorian. “You’re doing very well,” he murmured. “You really are exquisite.” He traced his fingers over Dorian’s face, lingering on his lips.
Dorian took the fingertips into his mouth and sucked gently, an invitation and a promise.
A slow, predatory smile spread over Raeburn’s face. He stood up and reached into his pocket, producing a tube of lubricant. “Why don’t you get yourself ready for me?” he suggested, his voice low and hungry.
Dorian smiled knowingly. He took the tube and squeezed some of the gel, warm from Raeburn’s pocket, onto his fingers.
Raeburn picked up his camera and began to shoot again.
Shameless, sinuous, Dorian flaunted his body for his audience of one, moaning breathily as his own slick fingers probed and stretched.
Raeburn finished the film. He didn’t reload the camera this time. Instead, he shed his clothes.
Lost in sensation, Dorian didn’t see Raeburn approach until he knelt on the divan, the mattress dipping under his weight. Without speaking, Raeburn took Dorian’s mouth in a deep kiss.
The kiss was demanding, dominating, and Dorian found himself pinned to the divan, unable to move, completely at Raeburn’s mercy. A small, bright ember of panic sparked at the back of his mind. Dorian arched upward, straining to dislodge Raeburn’s solid weight.
He was not going to be Raeburn’s passive toy: he’d chosen this, he didn’t need to be coerced; he was damned if he was going to let Raeburn control him.
Raeburn rolled to one side, pulling Dorian over with him. “So beautiful,” he growled, “and so fierce.”
Freed from constraint, Dorian writhed ecstatically against Raeburn’s body, devouring his mouth. He bit at Raeburn’s lips and tongue, none too gently, and Raeburn’s forceful response made his blood sing with sheer exhilaration. Throwing all restraint to the wind, Dorian luxuriated in the hunger and heat and sensual overload, allowing Raeburn to drive him to ever wilder levels of lust as they pushed each other with animal ferocity toward a turbulent coupling. Then, Dorian’s mewling and moaning were the only sounds as they rocked together, mouths locked, nostrils flared.
Bonham sorted through the day’s mail as he waited for the kettle to boil. “Two for you.” He handed Dorian two large envelopes. “At least somebody writes to you. I’ve got nothing but bloody bills.”
Dorian opened the first of the two envelopes, and lifted out a handful of stiff drawing paper, fragments of a larger sheet that had been torn into pieces. Delving in further, he found a single sheet of writing paper, folded into quarters. He groaned. He knew what this would be.
Dorian, he read, you treated me disgracefully at the exhibition opening on Friday night. I thought you might have had the decency to phone me to apologise, but you didn’t. You are a heartless brute. I never want to see you again. Roger.
“What’s this?” asked Bonham, picking up one of the torn pieces.
“It’s a drawing I did of Roger. He doesn’t want to see me again – or have anything around that reminds him of me, obviously.”
The pieces were fairly large, so it wasn’t hard for Bonham to fit them back together on the table top. “Good likeness. Wish I could do this. I couldn’t draw to save m’self.”
Dorian swept the pieces together and threw them into the bin, along with the note.
“To hell with Roger,” he said. “Plenty more fish in the sea. He was very pretty, though.” He sighed. “You never seem to have dramas with lovers, Bonham. What’s your secret?”
Bonham shrugged. “Dunno. I s’pose I don’t let people get close to me until I know what they’re like. Men or women, though, it always ends up the same. Sooner or later they get to the clingy stage and then it’s the wailing and tears. All too bloody hard, really. Makes celibacy look like a good option.”
“You’re not, though, are you? Celibate?”
A grin. “Nah. But sometimes it’s tempting.”
Dorian laid a friendly arm across Bonham’s shoulders. “You know, love, the thing that makes me feel so comfortable around you is that you’re one of the few people who’ve never tried to get me into bed.”
Bonham just smiled. When he turned away to pick up the teapot, his expression was a little wistful.
Dorian sat down again and opened the second envelope. Photographs: eight by ten, black and white, satin finish.
Raeburn! Warm pleasure surged through Dorian as he lifted the prints out.
The first two were full-body shots: one from the back, spine gently curved; the other a frontal shot, shadows sculpting the toned torso like a Renaissance statue.
Dorian smiled. He appreciated beauty. Even his own. Especially his own.
The next was a tight close-up of his face, eyes closed and lips parted with the tension of arousal. Next, a delicately explicit image of a fine-boned hand, fingers two knuckles deep in flesh.
He turned to the last picture, and his smile faded. Cold clutched at his gut.
It was a dark, grainy, blurred shot of a slim figure in a black catsuit. The identity was unmistakeable: long sharp nose, an errant blond curl escaping the black knitted cap. It was a still from a security camera.
Bonham placed two mugs of tea on the table. “You all right, mate?” he asked, puzzled by his friend’s shocked expression.
Dorian hesitated, then laid the security camera shot on the table for Bonham to see.
“Fuck,” said Bonham. “Where did that come from?”
“Raeburn sent it to me. But where and when it was taken, I have no idea – nor how he got hold of it. And worst of all, I’ve got no idea what he might do with any other copies he happens to have.”
Bonham sat down in the chair next to Dorian’s to look more closely at the photograph. “No idea at all when this was taken?”
“Is there a note?”
“No, there wasn’t anything except the photos. What’s he playing at?”
Bonham shook his head uneasily. “I don’t like the look of this.”
Dorian shoved the pictures back into the envelope, and picked up his jacket. “I’m going over to the studio to find out what the bastard is up to.”
“Want me to come with you?”
“Well, I’ll wait for you at the Red Lion. And if you take longer than an hour, I’m coming looking for you.”
Raeburn took his time coming down the stairs to answer the furious knocking on the door. A quick glance from an upstairs window had told him who it was. He let Dorian in, and without speaking, led the way into a room furnished as an office. Raeburn sat at the desk and regarded the younger man with a bland expression.
“Where did you get the shot from the security camera?” Dorian demanded.
Raeburn countered with a question of his own. “March 21st this year. Do you remember where you were?”
“Don’t play games, Raeburn. I want to know where you got that shot.”
“Not a game, Beautiful. Do you remember? Perhaps I should give you a clue. Shaftesbury and Sutherland’s Gallery, in Camden Town. The Century of Change exhibition. The gallery had something like two dozen works on show by twentieth century artists, all owned by private collectors. You told me the other night you don’t have much time for modern art, but I think you must occasionally make an exception.”
It took Dorian all his concentration to preserve his mask of composure.
He remembered the night clearly. He’d attended the opening of the exhibition with some friends the previous weekend, and his interest had been taken by a small Andrew Wyeth nude that he thought would look very good on his bedroom wall. A subsequent visit to the exhibition and a post-sunset stroll through the neighbourhood provided more information about the layout of the building, possible entry and exit points, and the apparent level of security.
He’d been on the point of breaching the skylight over the rear section of the gallery when he’d noticed the secondary alarm system hooked up to the skylight’s frame. A quick survey of the other entry points told him that disabling the system without triggering it was going to be too difficult on his own. He’d abandoned his attempt on the building, chalking it up to experience, and told himself he wasn’t that keen on twentieth century art, anyway. He hadn’t even seen the security camera that had recorded his midnight visit.
Raeburn was watching him with cold eyes. “Game’s up, Beautiful. Attempted breaking and entering.”
“How did you get the picture?”
“It’s my gallery. I’m one of the owners. When I met you, I thought I’d seen that pretty face before. Then while I was in the darkroom developing our pictures, I remembered where – on the security tapes.”
“So what do you want, Raeburn?”
“You didn’t tell me much about yourself, but I made some inquiries. Your father is a Peer of the Realm, isn’t he? I doubt that he would like it if our little portfolio of artistic studies were to be sent to the newspapers. He might be willing to pay to keep them under lock and key. The pictures from the security camera are insurance against his going to the police. If he approaches the police, I send them evidence about your attempted break-in. The Earl might find it rather disturbing for the authorities to learn that his son and heir is a burglar. Does he know you’re a thief?”
Dorian’s expression tightened.
Raeburn smirked. “I thought not.”
“A common blackmailer. The lowest of the low,” Dorian spat contemptuously. “Why are you even bothering to tell me this? If this is about extorting money from my father, why don’t you just get on with it, without telling me first?”
“Because, Beautiful, you might like to relieve him of the financial burden and pay me off yourself. That way, he doesn’t have to know what you get up to when he’s not looking. If you won’t pay, I go to him. If he fails to cooperate, the photographs go to the newspapers, and the whole country gets to see them. If he involves the police, they hear about your attempted break-in. So, shall we talk terms?”
Backed into a corner, Dorian went on the attack.
“No, we won’t talk terms. You might like to reconsider what would happen if you do go to the police. There was no actual break-in – there was no crime committed. Just a University student out for a lark, parading in a rather becoming black catsuit, getting his picture taken by security cameras so the business owners would be puzzled about why there seemed to be a burglar, but no burglary. Timewasters and nuisances, these students, wouldn’t you say so?” His eyes bored defiantly into Raeburn’s. “On the other hand, the police might be quite interested in some of your other dealings with me. I’m nineteen years old, Raeburn. Under the law, I’m too young to consent to homosexual intercourse. Carnal knowledge of a minor, Raeburn. Very unpleasant.”
“You’re bluffing, pretty boy.”
The two glared at each other, simmering with hostility, until Raeburn broke the silence. “Let’s see what happens when I call on your father.” He smiled coldly. “I imagine he’ll view things rather differently.”
“You won’t win, Raeburn.” With a last contemptuous look, Dorian strode out of the studio and slammed the door behind him as he left.
He kept up the appearance of determined fury until he came to the corner pub where Bonham was waiting for him. Collapsing into the booth beside his friend, he began to shake uncontrollably.
Bonham pushed a beer and a double brandy in front of Dorian, and listened as he described the encounter.
“… and then I walked out. I was bluffing. God, I hope I don’t have to go through with it. I don’t think I could face having my sex life dissected. I’d rather see the photographs published in the paper.”
“D’you reckon he’ll contact your old man?”
“Yes, I do. He’s a bloody-minded sod. I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s exchange was mainly to intimidate me. I’m a student – Raeburn has no reason to believe I’d have any money, even though my father does have a title.” Dorian gave a hollow chuckle. “If he only knows it, there’s not much reason to believe Father has any money either.” He groaned, and buried his face in his hands. “What a bloody mess. What a bloody, bloody mess.”
The next day, Dorian stayed in bed all day. He appeared in the morning while Bonham was having breakfast, drank three cups of tea and ate some toast, then went back to bed. He got up again in the late afternoon, found some more food, and went back to his room again.
When he didn’t get up the following morning, Bonham was worried. He could understand Dorian feeling rotten about the situation, but he was at a loss to know what to do to help him.
He wandered down to the shop to buy the paper.
Fifteen minutes later, he was back, banging on Dorian’s door.
“Dorian! Get up! You have to read this!”
With bad grace, Dorian jerked the door open, ready to protest – to be confronted by a grinning, wide-eyed Bonham holding up the Daily Mail.
“PHOTOGRAPHER IN GALLERY SCANDAL”, the headline read.
A wave of nausea washed over Dorian. “Oh fuck, no,” he moaned.
“Read it! You’ll never believe it!” Bonham thrust the paper at him.
Dorian went over to sit on the edge of his bed, dreading what he might see.
Photographic artist Raymond Burns,
more widely known by his professional
name Raeburn, was arrested last
night for allegedly embezzling funds
from three businesses of which he is
a part owner.
Irregularities were uncovered during
routine auditing of the businesses’
accounts. Initial investigations indicate
that the misappropriation of money
has been going on for several years.
Burns, who is noted for his innovative
photographic portraits of prominent
actors and musicians, is understood
to have accumulated massive gambling
debts and has been under pressure
to pay his creditors.
Charles Foster, Burns’ business
partner at Wolverton Gallery, Swindon,
said he was shocked to learn of the
“The gallery hasn’t done well financially
for the last three years, but times are
tough for galleries around the country,
so I thought nothing further of it,” Mr
Foster said. “I don’t concern myself with
the financial side of the business. This
has come as a great shock.”
Other businesses affected are
Shaftesbury and Sutherland’s Gallery
of Fine Art in Camden Town, and an art
supplies retail outlet in Abingdon.
Investigations into the matter continue.
Dumbfounded, Dorian stared at Bonham.
“I’d say that our friend Raeburn is goin’ to have some contemplative time at Her Majesty’s pleasure,” drawled Bonham. “Oh what a tangled web we weave.”
“Do you think this gets me off the hook?”
“I’d say so, mate. He hasn’t approached your father yet, or gone to the police, as far as we know. Give it a few weeks before you can be sure, but I’d say you’ve got nothin’ to worry about.”
Dorian sat up straighter and looked squarely at Bonham. “We have a break-in to perform.”
Bonham raised his eyebrows in an unspoken question.
“We’re going in to Raeburn’s studio to get those pictures, and the negatives,” Dorian said in steely tones. “Never mind sitting about waiting to see what will happen. If he doesn’t have the pictures, he can’t blackmail me. Bloody hell, why didn’t I think of this before? We have to move fast, though – they’ll be going through his stuff, and I don’t particularly want anyone else to get hold of them. Besides,” he added, “some of the pictures he took of me were rather good.”
Between two and three in the morning, there was very little traffic in the streets near Raeburn’s studio. Dorian and Bonham approached the building through the access lanes at the back. Not many of the buildings in the street were residential, so there were no near neighbours to hear or see anything unusual. A thorough check showed that Raeburn relied on locks and barred windows to keep his studio secure. There was no evidence of any alarm system. They got the back door open without difficulty, and slipped silently into the building.
The studio occupied most of the first floor. Dorian shuddered involuntarily as they crossed the space. The divan was still in place at the centre of the room. Where the photographs had been taken. Where he and Raeburn had fucked.
Beyond the studio space they found the darkroom with its paraphernalia of chemicals and equipment, and a store-room lined with filing cabinets and shelves. They began searching.
It was Bonham who found what they were looking for. As he sifted through the stacks of black and white prints, studies of buildings and landscapes gave way to images of a slim, lean-muscled male form.
Bonham picked one of the prints up carefully and angled it into the dim light of his torch. The shot was taken from behind: Dorian’s gleaming hair cascading down his back, deep shadows emphasising the lissom curves of his body, his profile barely glimpsed over one shoulder. He looked dissolute – and vulnerable.
Slowly, Bonham leafed through the next few shots. Bastard though he might be, Raeburn had an artist’s touch with a camera. The beautiful, ambiguous images were disturbing to look at. Too intimate. Too real.
Bonham swallowed hard. “Found ‘em, mate,” he hissed.
Dorian came over and combed through the pile. He nodded. “That’s them.”
Some further searching yielded a stack of negatives larger than the collection of prints. They slipped the lot into a bag, and made their way back out of the building into the pre-dawn chill, securing the door behind them.
Dorian spent that evening at home curled up in an armchair, reading – mentally exhausted, but full of nervous energy and nowhere near able to sleep. He’d stashed the photographs and negatives in a box in the ceiling above his bedroom. One day, he decided, he’d get them down and look at them – but for now, they were hidden away. Out of sight, if not out of mind.
It was nearly midnight when he heard the front door open, followed by footsteps coming down the passageway. He looked up and smiled as Bonham appeared, leaning against the door frame, looking unusually serious.
“Hello, Bonham love. Been out?”
“Went to the pub. Had some things on my mind.”
“To do with last night?”
“Mostly about the whole business leadin’ up to it.”
Bonham came into the room and sat in the chair opposite Dorian’s. He regarded his friend gravely for a few moments before speaking.
“Look, Dorian – you probably won’t want to hear me sayin’ all this, but I’m only sayin’ it because I care about you. You’re a talented thief. You can get in and out of places I’d never even attempt. But I think this business has been a wake-up call. When you tried to break into that art gallery back in March, you could’ve been caught.”
Dorian tried to cut him off, but Bonham continued relentlessly, numbering off his points on his fingers.
“You didn’t see the secondary security system until you were about to go in; if you hadn’t spotted it before you started to jemmy the skylight, you’d have been in the shit. You didn’t see the security camera at all. And because you didn’t know who owned the building, you didn’t know who you were dealing with, or how much trouble they were likely to be if anything went wrong –”
Dorian flushed angrily. “Spare me the lectures, Bonham –”
“No, mate, hear me out. You’re better than this – but you’re only human. Look, when I first met you, I thought you were a rich brat pinchin’ stuff for a lark, but I soon found out you meant business. So, you need to be businesslike about it. You need to do your research. You need all the plans to be in place. Those are the things that’ve kept my old man out o’ the nick all his life. You need someone to work with you, gettin’ all that done so you can do what you’re best at. You need me, Dorian mate.”
Dorian frowned, thinking hard. Up till now, he’d seen himself as a solo performer. The fewer people in the know, the better, he had reasoned. But Bonham was right: he was only human, and things could go wrong. Would it work if he teamed up with someone else?
Everything had gone smoothly when they did the break-in at Raeburn’s studio together. He trusted Bonham. They got on well. They complemented each other in so many ways – their temperaments, their experience, their skills. Bonham was as loyal a friend as he’d ever known.
“So, you suggest we should work together as a permanent arrangement?”
Bonham nodded. “Why not? We’re both good on our own. Together, we’d be even better.” He grinned. “Today, Shaftesbury and Sutherland’s – tomorrow, the Louvre.”
A broad smile blossomed on Dorian’s face. “All right, Bonham love. We’ll do it. It’s a deal.”
“Good,” Bonham said, grin widening. “We’ll be invincible.”
Dorian and Bonham made their way through the front door of the Saracen’s Head and into the crowded bar.
“Lots of people here tonight,” Dorian remarked airily. “Perhaps I’ll meet a gorgeous stranger who’s everything my heart desires.”
Bonham rolled his eyes. “Far be it from me to give you advice about matters of the heart,” he said. “Just stay out of the way of the dark and dangerous types. These intense bastards who never smile except when they’re about to maim you just aren’t to be trusted. Stick to the pretty boys, Dorian mate.”