"Must these fucking nancy boys put on a show every time?" Bruce MacPherson, the Prime Minister yelled, "Why does everyone get taken in just because they're snotty-nosed brats."
"Easy." Richard Courtney, the Home Secretary and the prime minister's closest ally said, "We've under-estimated them that's all. Let's face it, the bulk of them are state school urchins and don't know to avoid the press."
"Fuck that." Bruce retorted, "The monarchy's approval rating is nudging 70%. How? We've got a queer prince and another who's a drunk. Spiking his drink got him nicely aggressive, and he's out of the picture. Our agent deserves a reward for timing it so nicely. Where is she now?"
"Safely dumped in the middle of the Atlantic. She was too much of a link between us and the prince."
"She was only a druggie. She was good when she was on the job, but she'd do anything for a fix, including betraying us."
"All right, she's no loss then. What do we have?"
"Not much. The Hammerstein business has completely discredited RNN, and we've got to cut Hammerstein senior loose. We knew he was violent but breaking his kid's arm is going too far. Our reporter tried to turn it into a slanging match to confuse the issue, but who could have guessed fifteen-year olds could dodge it? Without him Walker's useless. The straight kids aren't going to do much unless we can bribe them. Taverner is a possibility. We might use the benefit's people to put pressure on his dad, unless the boy cooperates. It's risky though. Finally, there's Steve Ganden. He's thirteen and seems friendly with the gang, but we can't find out why. We're trying to figure a scheme to turn a pool night into a brawl. If someone gets killed, we could link the prince to two killings, and it would seem suspicious."
"It's risky as well, but we've got to do something. These corruptions investigations are getting too damned close."
"Bartholomew's trial is coming up. The palace has asked to be represented in court. Let's see what we can make of undue pressure being applied, but we can't afford to allow anything else to backfire on us."
Judge Travers looked suspiciously at the third lawyer in the meeting, as they all sat down.
"I understand the palace's interest in this case goes beyond concern for the prince, but I will fight any undue influence on the handling of the case, Mr. Harmon." He said, "That said, I'm surprised you're here at Mr. Andrews' request and not Mr. Zeigler's."
"The political situation is delicate." Mr. Harmon began, "The palace position is that Bartholomew is man enough to accept the consequences of his actions. Its main concern is the intense scrutiny and publicity may have skewed certain details. For example, Sergeant Williams reading of his rights was not word-perfect. I believe he said, 'You needn't say anything' instead of, 'You're not obliged to say anything'. Our position is, the sergeant was dealing with the crowds, the accident and a violent prisoner, and was somewhat harassed. His caution covered the fundamental requirements and was not misleading so was acceptable. Mr. Zeigler's defence relies heavily on such technicalities, and the palace suggests the substance of the law be met and not the letter."
"I see. That is my view, but now I'm concerned my court is being used to throw Prince Bartholomew to the wolves."
"Bartholomew has caused the Royal family considerable damage." Mr. Harmon replied, "Justice being seen to be done may mitigate that damage. Getting off on technicalities will increase it."
"Mr. Zeigler. Do you have any objections that fit the spirit of this discussion?"
"Only that blood tests showed a peak to his testosterone levels immediately after his arrest. It suggests his drinks may have been spiked."
"We will argue that it also contained a number of other drugs and a high level of alcohol. His car was parked nearby, and he was still in possession of his car keys. We will accept his drinks could have been spiked, but it was only one of many contributing factors."
"If my client pleaded guilty, what could he expect?" Mr Zeigler asked.
"Let's see. Possession of drugs, assaulting a police officer, driving over the limit, causing injury through dangerous driving, failing to submit to a breathalyser test. Aggravating factors would include violence and apparent lack of remorse so far. I would allow some mitigation for the suggestion his drink was spiked, but I'd say five years." Judge Travers replied.
"Would you agree to it being in an open prison and allowing him out under licence on completion of a drugs' rehabilitation course?"
"Providing he completes half his sentence, and he shows a general improvement in his attitudes. Mr. Harmon, I accept the palace is in a difficult situation, so I think thoughts on his further rehabilitation after release would support his application."
"I'll put it to him." Mr. Zeigler said, "Good day, Gentlemen."
The news broke a few days later that Bartholomew had accepted the deal. King Constantine phoned Conrad.
"You are now my heir, and it's irrevocable. A convicted criminal would never be allowed to take the throne. There's another problem. He still insists on being called His Royal Highness. When he tried it in court, he lost the chance of an early release. He tried it in prison and nearly got beaten up. He's been transferred to a psychiatric wing of a secure prison for assessment, and the doctors think the drugs may have damaged his mind."
"OK! Is it going to affect me until I can take up some royal duties?" Conrad asked, "That came out wrong. I'm worried about Bartholomew, but it's not a simple brotherly thing, is it?"
"No, and I understand. My first instinct was to pull every trick to get him off, but I had to remember my duty. It's a pity your challenge fizzled out because we could do with a distraction.
"RNN called it a cheap publicity stunt, and the others didn't want to get involved."
"I was thinking of making you patron of youth charities where you and your friends could join in, but if we try it now, they'll all seem to be cheap stunts as well. You need to keep as low a profile as possible for now."
"It'll suit Jim. I messed up with that challenge, didn't I?"
"Professional press teams would have warned you off, but it didn't do you any harm. The big problem is the main body of the press corps is picking up on a battle with RNN. Try not to encourage any more spats with them."
Between incidents, Conrad was still happy. Sex was still an adventure as was just lying naked with Jim pressed against him. He had a circle of friends he liked. Admittedly they were still a little awed by who he was, but it simply meant he was not pressured to join the right clique. Instead, he accepted anyone as a friend, and his friendliness spread to the whole class, not just to the 'right people'.
Even so, he was surprised when Dave Linderman sidled up to him one break. Where Conrad was handsome, Dave was chubby with a mop of curly hair, a big nose and a small mouth. Where Conrad was sporty, Dave hated sport, was also consistently top of the class and a computer expert.
"My brother's been arrested. They say he stole a car, and he probably did. I want to help him though."
"I understand that." Conrad replied, "Is there anything I can do?"
Conrad flinched as Dave replied, "Dunno. You couldn't get your brother off, could you?"
"He doesn't have a lawyer though. He's been in trouble before, and they don't reckon he needs one until he goes to court."
Conrad frowned, "That sounds wrong."
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
"OK! Give me the details and let me make some phone calls." Conrad said.
He was soon talking with Mr. Ziegler.
"It does sound wrong. He has a right to representation." Mr. Ziegler said, "You realize of course the problem could be with the boy himself."
"I'll look into it, and call you back."
Conrad had a message waiting for him during the following break.
"I think procedures might be a little sloppy. It does happen. However, I rang the station as soon as you hung up. I was told he was being questioned, and he was being held pending enquiries. Five minutes later my office got a call saying he was being released on bail."
"You mean, as soon they realized a hot-shot lawyer was on the case, they got worried." Conrad said.
"I'm not sure I'm a hot-shot, but it may be the case. You see, some villains see doing time as a credential. Others just think it's all just part of a ritual, and going along with it is the easiest option. As I said, on the other side, procedures can get sloppy, and I've given them a wake-up call. Either way, I think the young man is in danger of slipping through cracks in the system, so if you agree the fees while I look for aid, I'll proceed further."
"Go ahead, please."
It took to the end of break before Dave spoke to him again.
"Dean's been released on bail and claims he's got a fancy lawyer. Did you do it? We can't afford him."
"Mr. Zeigler takes on civil rights cases. He's looking into your brother's case, but it doesn't mean he can do anything. He couldn't do much for my brother."
For once, Dave looked impressed, "He must be good though. I mean if your lot hire him he must be. Yeah. Thanks."
With that, he stomped away. Later as Conrad and Jim settled down for the night, Conrad mentioned the incident.
"You sure got on with him. He's never even spoken to me. Billy's had a go at him, and he's often in trouble with teachers for being so rude." Jim replied.
"I've got a feeling I've made a bad mistake though." Conrad said, "I'm going against one of the Prime Minister's friends again."
"How?" Jim asked.
"Richard Courtney's the Home Secretary. He sets policing policy and attitudes, and if he's happy for the police to cut corners …"
"I suppose this is normal for couples, isn't it?" Jim asked.
"Police policy is winding you up, so you're not in the mood."
Conrad smiled, "I'm sure you can get me in the mood."
The following morning, Mr. Zeigler rang.
"Mr. Linderman has given me permission to keep you updated.
"According to his story, the police imply asking for a solicitor suggests you're guilty and trying to wriggle out of things, so it's better to cooperate. There's some truth in it to a point. If a burglar is caught inside a shop, with his blood on the broken glass and a pocketful of jewels, it's going to be difficult denying burglary. However, the less well-educated or slower minded suspects could still be persuaded to admit other crimes they had not committed. The official policy is that it's acceptable to mention all the possibilities of their actions."
"Do you believe him?" Conrad asked.
"Let's just say, I've got plenty of stories to back him. I've only spoken to him on the phone, and my first impression is; he's vulnerable."
"His brother is a weirdo, he just doesn't try to mix in." Conrad said.
"I work for a charity that deals with suspects and prisoner's rights. You have contributed by getting us involved so early in the process, but I think the charity should take over."
"That's a relief. I was worried about going against the Prime Minister and his friends again."
"It may be too late." Mr. Zeigler said, "They will no doubt link me to you, and you to the brother."
Mr. Zeigler was right. Anything Conrad did was noticed and tended to be reported to the highest levels, and this time, Conrad could be accused of meddling in politics. It was something that could antagonize the mainstream media and not just RNN.
"Morning Seb. Are you up to speed yet?" Adrian Chapman asked as Seb arrived at school a few days later.
"No. I saw it on the news, and I know the background, but I don't get the problem. Lunchtime?"
"OK!" Adrian replied.
"How come you don't get the problem. Prince Conrad is interfering in politics. What is your reaction to that?" A new reporter asked.
"Not now." Adrian said, "We cut him some slack because this is a school. Loitering to abuse schoolkids doesn't do us much good."
Seb duly returned as promised.
"Conrad arranged for a classmate's brother to have legal representation. We are not sure why it has become a political issue because both the students and the staff all believe it is our right. You may be able to help us. Has the government announced plans to remove that right?"
"No, but it does encourage investigations to focus on evidence and not procedures."
"The Prince cannot comment on that." Seb said, "I can give you a personal quote."
"If I was done for spraying graffiti, I wouldn't like to be told it'll go easier for me if I confessed to every other bit in town, so should I give up my right to a lawyer?"
"So you are challenging government guidelines." Adrian said.
"That big corruption scandal is still going on. How many people involved are interviewed without lawyers and accountants briefing them or even going to the interview as well? How do the guidelines work then?"
"They are dealing with big complicated issues, so they need help."
"Don't you think the law is a bit complicated for a sixteen-year old, so don't they need help?"
"So, do you think Prince Conrad just wanted to help a classmate and unwittingly stumbled into political matters."
"No. I think Prince Conrad wanted a commoner school friend to get the same help his brother the prince got." Seb paused, remembering something from his history lesson, "Isn't that what a democratic and equal society should do?"
"It's still political."
"Prince Conrad did not challenge any law. He did not put pressure on anyone. He did not challenge the Home Secretary's views. He simply thought a lawyer was a legal right. Is it really political?"
"Try to learn the basics of a press conference." Adrian chuckled, "We ask the awkward questions, and you dodge them."
"I'm just a schoolkid, so I ask questions to understand."
"You've made your points though."
On the whole, TV discussions and newspaper reports accepted Seb's arguments, but it was not surprising. They liked his lack of caution, so they still remembered his age, but there were several comments on the number of Conrad's brushes with the press. There was no doubt, the feeling was growing he should be in a more manageable environment.
"You had the right idea, but you were over the top." Richard Courtney said to Bruce MacPherson, the Prime Minister, "They've been turning our weaknesses against us. Let's do the same. He wants to play the queer boy, but he doesn't rule out providing an heir, so he needs help to straighten himself out. RNN can run that line. We can all be proud of a prince who cares for people so much, but he's at risk of being manipulated by extremists. We must care for him as much he cares for us and see that he's safe. What we need is a bungling assassin."
"Why? Why not just kill the fucker?"
Richard Courtney sighed, wondering, as he often did, how such a colossal idiot became Prime Minister.
"We are his only obvious enemies so there would be a backlash against us. If we can save him and then protect him, we'll be on his side, and we might even get some tougher security legislation through. The trick is to use his popularity for us and not let it go against us."
"Kill that Walker fucker then. I'm not putting up with him defying us for much longer."
"No. We'd do better to arrange some honorary award for services to journalism. We admire the way he speaks out even if we don't always agree with him, and consider him an outstanding example of modern youth."
"Then we kill the fucker."
"If we can sound outraged and angry enough about it, we might make something of it."
Over the next few weeks, nothing happened, and the press corps waiting outside the school steadily shrank. Bartholomew settled to prison life, but refused to see any member of his family, angry they had abandoned him. King Constantine did receive reports though, so he knew that he did receive visitors who were largely unknown, except to the security forces because they were associated with extremist groups. The king was upset, but consoled himself with reports on Conrad's progress. He had enough intelligence to guess at the Prime Minister's plan, but there was little he could do, except be a father.
The school football team was playing an away game, and the flustered host school was dealing with the informal visit of a prince. Security usually consisted of teachers ensuring spectators were friends or relatives of the players, but this time it consisted of royal bodyguards. It was still low-key and no-one took any notice of a nondescript car arriving just before the match was due to start. The three men who got out were wearing jeans and windcheaters like most of the other parents. They strolled over to where Mr. Poulson, and Jim were standing with Mr. Taverner and Sven's father.
As Mr. Poulson stiffened, standing a little straighter, the King said, "Don't make it obvious please. I'm here as a player's father. I'm pleased to meet you in person, Mr. Taverner, but we'll let Mr. Harkness get used to me for a while."
Jim recovered first, "Hello sir. Conrad didn't say anything about you coming."
"He doesn't know. Luckily, the French ambassador likes to bring his son to see my railway. In return, he's not put out I did not attend his meeting today. He's dealing with a couple of my ministers desperately apologizing for my absence."
" I wish I could do that." Mr. Harkness said, "My boss doesn't appreciate me taking time off."
"Does he know Sven is friendly with Conrad?"
"Yes, er, sir."
"Then you had to attend a secret parent's meeting, didn't you?"
The whistle blew, and the game started. Sven and Conrad were midfielders while Billy was a forward. The visiting team soon showed they had an edge as they developed an attack. The ball passed to Billy who took aim at the goal and hit the post.
The visiting spectators groaned but everyone clapped as the home side took possession. As the players settled down, so the game became more even, but the host team struggled to get close to the visitor's goal. The king was enjoying himself. Conrad and Sven together with the other two midfielders were proving a formidable team, blocking the other teams attacks then advancing with the forwards. Suddenly, Sven found himself a little off-balance as he tackled and slipped awkwardly. The game paused as a medic hurried onto the field.
"Don't forget the little dear's makeup." A spectator called out. Everyone turned to him, a home side parent as he continued, "Ban the poofters. Ban the poofters."
Teachers were already keeping an eye on him, used to him taking sips from a flask. Normally he confined himself to yelling at his own son, but occasionally he let go at others. As teachers gathered around him, the king nodded at his bodyguards, and they hurried over. Somehow the teachers formed an outer ring as bodyguards crowded round him. There was a brief scuffle, and he was hurried away, the teachers relieved it was not them handling him.
The home team gathered around a boy close to tears while the visitors huddled around Sven. The King hurried onto the pitch, approaching the referee.
"I know. I'm not allowed on the pitch." he said, "I'm just wondering if I can help."
"Er, I know who's playing, and I think I recognize you. Are you …"
"Conrad's father. Yes I am."
He hurried over to the home team and spoke to the son, "It's all right. If you think you've got trouble with your father, imagine the problems Conrad has with me."
The team stared, but the boy managed a slight nod, the king continued, "Are you all right now? I hope so because you've been giving Conrad a hard time, and he's trying to impress me."
"Yeah! You're not really the King, are you? Shouldn't we be bowing or something?"
"No. This afternoon I'm Conrad's father. I just thought you were more upset than Conrad and his friends. I'll leave you to it."
Sven was back on his feet, limping briefly before breaking into a run to a round of applause.
The king gave Conrad a nod, and a brief smile as he stepped back over the sideline.
It was in the second half Billy managed to score, and it was the only goal of the game. The whistle blew for the end of the match, so the players found their various parents.
"I think the referee would have abandoned the match." Conrad said, "Thanks for coming."
"My pleasure." King Constantine said, "Shouldn't there be some sort of victory celebration?"
"No. It's a school event, so we've got to get back. Parents can take their kids though providing you let Mr. Hodges know."
"He's your coach. I'll speak to him."
"I'll do it." Mr. Poulson said, "I think this school's head teacher is coming over."
"Head him off." The king ordered a bodyguard, "Explain I'll visit again but today I'm just a father."
King Constantine was not sure whether the head teacher was relieved or disappointed, as he turned away, but he turned back to see Jim and Conrad hugging each other.
"On second thoughts, I'd like pictures of the players. Ask the other school if they're willing."
Politics was always at the back of the king's mind. Conrad playing football added another facet to his character, so pictures of the match, team photos, groups of players and proud parents, and a video of the game donated by a startled parent would make a great story.
King Constantine spoke briefly to Jim explaining his plan, "I'd like you to take the pictures. You understand this is about justifying him staying at your school. No! Let's be honest, it's about giving him some red-blooded male credentials as well. Later there'll be shots of you two dancing. State school, boyfriend, a clear stance supporting the general good and now, football, all make him a strong character doing it his way."
Jim nodded, "I get it, and I'm getting used to it. Are people always going to try to split us up?"
"Probably, and the opposition is beginning to plan more carefully. Just look after him, please."
The king received reports that even Richard Courtney was put out by the resulting publicity which meant Bruce MacPherson, the Prime Minister would be furious,. It did not help when the case against Dave Linderman's brother was dropped. It got even worse when Mr. Zeigler announced an investigation into police procedures at the station concerned, and a group action by anyone pressured into pleading guilty.
Conrad only had a brief report, so Seb had to resort to a palace statement which read: Mr. Zeigler will continue to act for Bartholomew Saxebourg but will have no other dealings with the palace.
"Does Prince Conrad accept the statement?" A reporter asked.
"Will he take an interest in the investigations going on?"
"He will be interested in the newspaper reports of them. He will not be contacting Mr. Zeigler directly."
"You're very formal, Seb." Adrian said, "Any personal quote?"
"I've been warned it's all getting too political so Conrad has to butt out, and so do I."
"OK, we won't push it. Thanks. I don't suppose you've got any titbits for us."
"The school dance is coming up, and parents are invited to supervise it. We kind of joke about Conrad's parents volunteering."
"That could prove interesting. Who is Conrad going with?"
"Jim, of course."
"How about you?"
"Jamie. Billy and Sven will be together."
"How does the school feel about so many gay couples?"
"Probably as confused as you are. Don't worry, we'll still be outnumbered."
"OK! How does the football team feel about so many gay players; especially in the changing room?"
"Most are jealous. They'd love to get a peek in the girl's changing room, and we can do what they want to do."
"And it would be hypocritical if they complained. Nice one, Seb."
Still, careful not to humiliate a teenager, the papers which ran the story followed Seb's sense of fun. King Constantine was particularly pleased with one line: It's difficult to say what's more confusing: having a gay prince or having one who is so in touch with the people. His wife would feel lost in such a strange situation, so it would not be fair to ask her to go. However, he was getting intelligence something was being planned, and he intended to look out for his son. Mrs Jacobs was startled to get a phone call direct from the king.
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