Lancelot’s been dead for nearing twenty-four hours when Harry volunteers to visit his widow to tell her so, opaque as the explanation will have to be.
He drives through the opened entry gate up to the front of the Tyrwhitt family home – an imposing country residence built in 1762 (the date stone proves it so), with a housekeeper to open the door.
His widow, a sharp, well-groomed lady, his age, breathes deeply to stop herself from bawling; her eyes are damp and crinkled. Harry feels a searing internal pain soar inside him at Leigh’s death playing over and over in his mind. He closes his eyes for a moment and absorbs the feeling, along with the stifling awkwardness and powerlessness he feels in this present situation, as punishment for not being the one to take the impact instead.
“I don't want your help! I want my husband back!” Harry opens his eyes again. She does not take Harry’s proffered handkerchief.
His duty carried out and wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep for two days, Harry gets up to let himself out. Then in toddles in Leigh’s son.
“Miles,” the boy tells him politely when Harry asks him for his name.
“You take care of this, Miles. And if you’re ever in trouble, call this number. Tell the operator ‘Oxfords not brogues’. Then you’ll be alright.”
Miles’s tiny, chubby hand stretches out and takes the medal, and Harry takes that as his cue to go for good this time. He shuts the living room door and goes back the way he came, shoes tapping across the parquet floor of the hallway, and drives with a sting in his eyes all the way home.
Sixteen years later, Harry receives an incoming call to his glasses from the comms centre.
“Message through from Miles Tyrwhitt,” the operator says, and it takes Harry two seconds to place the name but then the realisation brings a sick jump to his gut. “Would you like me to forward the recording?”
“Please.” What could have happened to him? Harry hadn’t heard from him or any member of his family for sixteen years and, after deciding that Mrs Tyrwhitt wouldn’t have thrown away a medal of such obvious worth, he had assumed Miles was having a life of happy privilege, no help required.
“Sending,” the operator says, and ends transmission as soon as Harry receives the sound file.
Hello, a slightly nervous, very well-spoken voice says. I’m wearing Oxfords, not brogues. Mother told me to, um, call this number if I was ever in trouble. So if there’s anyone on the end of this line who can help, meet me at table twenty-seven at Coq d’Argent at seven p.m. this evening. Thank you. Goodbye.
No hesitation, Harry makes for the hangar and the nearest Jaguar XJ.
You would think that, what with being a privately employed international spy and everything, Harry would have no problem operating his sat nav. Nevertheless, he gets stuck with his nice car in a not-so-nice pocket of London before he’s crossed the river. It’s not an area of the city he knows well, and he’s got to be at the restaurant in twenty minutes or Miles will think he’s been stood up. In Harry’s experience, people have got to be pretty desperate to ask for help from a source they don’t know anything about.
He thinks he must be somewhere between Peckham Rye Common and Old Kent Road, but it might be best to momentarily pull to a stop down a cul-de-sac of the housing estate he’s passing through and check Google Maps.
He startles when there’s a knock at his tinted window.
Must be an idiot to come up to a parked car and do that. Probably a car thief, so Harry must be an idiot himself to start winding his window down, but if the probably-car-thief tries a thing Harry will show him the error of his ways with a sharp blast from his signet ring–
“Alright, bruv. Nice wheels,” the someone says. “You lost?”
He’s young, wearing a baseball cap and a ridiculous tracksuit. Fit, underneath all those baggy clothes, and eyes that look as if he’s laughing at Harry underneath it all. He’s biting his lip, eyebrows raised as he sinks down to lean in through the car window.
The look on him, the look of him, shuts off Harry’s brain for a moment. He’s been so busy as of late that his sex drive’s not exactly overstayed its welcome, but it comes rocketing back at the sight of this (surely?) teenager leaning against his car window, grinning. Harry’s fingers itch to take that infernal cap from off his head and pull him in in for a rough, furious kiss.
“Yes, I am actually” Harry says, pushing his glasses up his nose. He’s sitting alone in a bright red Jag – he must look ridiculous. “I’m trying to get to Bank.”
Harry twitches as the guy jabs his hand through the window, but it’s only so he can zoom in on the screen of Harry’s phone.
“You’re here. Go Peckham Hill Street, Old Kent Road,” the lad’s saying, with another jab of his finger on the screen. “Then up to Borough, then London Bridge. You good?”
“Er, yes, I think that’s me,” Harry says, still surprised. “Thank you very much.”
“What you up to this evening, nice suit like that?”
“Dinner with a friend’s son,” Harry says, the boy earnest enough to throw out any of Harry’s cover stories. His demeanour invited honesty, even honestly vague by necessity.
“I’ll be round by the King’s Road by nine, mate,” he says, his expression a challenge. “Come see me later, yeah?”
Then there are shouts from one of the walkways above them; Harry can’t quite make out the name they’re calling. It doesn’t even sound like a proper word.
“Got to go,” the boy says, a touch of fear crossing his features, and it makes Harry feel a troubling wave of concern. “You’re good to go.”
“Thank you,” Harry says again, then hurriedly starts up the engine once the boy’s out of sight. He is an idiot. He’s a complete idiot.
Coq d’Argent is a City favourite with a private lift to the top floor and a flashy wine list. On the way to Miles’s mentioned table, he passes a group of eight brayers celebrating a big deal. Not a gentlemen in sight. If Miles becomes a candidate (as Harry secretly hopes he will), Harry might have to teach him a few things about restaurant choices.
Miles greets Harry with a handshake and it makes Harry jump, making eye contact with him for the first time as a grown man – he looks just like his father did when Harry first met him, from the colour his hair down to his polished brogues (that was the joke). A chip off the old block.
Or, rather, once Miles has ordered a bottle of vintage Shiraz, waved away the waiter and informed Harry of his predicament, not.
“You called the number on the medal… because you didn’t get into Oxford,” Harry says.
“Tyrwhitts have gone to Balliol for the past three centuries,” Miles points out with an easy confidence. “Well, the men have, anyway. I don’t see why they can’t give me another interview, at least.”
“I myself went to Bristol,” Harry says, “until I dropped out for Sandhurst. And I had a wonderful time.”
Miles looks up at him as if he’s just rolled through dog shit.
“Look, mate,” he says, taking another glug of wine and smacking his lips. “Can you help me or not?”
“Are you on any of your school teams?” Harry asks, not particularly caring that his contribution to the conversation appears to be a non-sequitur. “In the cadets? Athletic at all?”
“Not me I’m afraid – but I’m up on the academics. Which is why I don’t understand why the admissions tutors– ” Miles gesticulates in demonstrating his point, but neglects to hold on tightly enough to the wineglass he’s still holding and he flings across the room, hitting one of the bankers across the room square in the chest with an impressive smash, Shiraz bleeding across the man’s white shirt.
“Excuse me, but what the fuck?” the banker spits, having almost upturned the table he was dining from and making his way over to their table, his colleagues irritated and just behind him.
“Boys,” Harry says calmly, running through attacks and glancing across to remind himself of the location of the fire exits, “I have had a rather emotional day, so I would appreciate it enormously if you could just leave us in peace.”
“Please, there’s no need,” Miles says, cringing, panicked. “Let me get our waiter.”
“I will go,” says Harry, getting out of his chair and beginning to step away.
“If you’re looking for another rent boy, I hear one can find them on the corner of Smith Street,” one of the men calls out to them, and the others chuckle.
Harry rolls his eyes.
“Manners maketh man,” he recites under his breath, then knocks most of them off their feet with a well aimed kick. A cleverly thrown desert fork and Miles’s smashed wineglass take care of the rest.
By this stage, the restaurant’s staff’s attention has been attracted. Stepping over one of the unconscious bankers, Harry aims mind-wiping darts at each of the thirty or so other diners and staff in their section of the restaurant.
“That was– what on earth is going on? Miles says to him. “I thought you were from the Freemasons or something, not bloody – that!”
“I do apologise, Miles,” Harry says, only slightly out of breath. “I shouldn’t have done this in front of you.”
“No, please don’t, I won’t tell anyone– ”
“I don’t believe you,” says Harry simply, and wipes Miles’s mind clean.
Smith Street. He’d show those imbeciles. He’s got every right to be here if he likes. Who would have known Miles would turn out to be such a disappointment? Leigh would be disappointed to see his son as he is now, Harry thought, even if Miles would turn out just fine in his comfortable world. In any case, it is proven to Harry once again that you can’t trust hereditary genetics alone.
He made a clean getaway in the Jaguar some time ago, turning away from the CCTV at the underground car park, and had cut through Thames-side central London to make it to Chelsea.
He can’t get the man from the estate out of his head. Mixed with the adrenalin and anger running through him, Harry has driven here with one thought in mind. That earlier meeting had been another hint of something that could have happened but never did, so he – and he had every right – could find a quick fuck (his heart hammers in his throat at the thought of where he’s going) before he goes back home.
Harry winds his window down and slowly drives as close to the curb as he can, and sure enough there are several young men hanging around. He wants to find someone who looks like no-one he knows, to forget everything for fifteen inglorious minutes, to–
Standing there, it’s the boy – man, young man, Harry corrects himself – from Peckham Rye Common. Harry had almost convinced himself the man had been kidding around earlier but, no, here he is, exact same clothes, exact same face putting up a front yet making it inviting.
“Oy oy! So it’s true, posh boys do like a bit of rough.”
Harry feels himself blush to the roots of his hair.
“What’s your name?”
“Eggsy,” he says gleefully. “Can I get in?”
If he’d had his glasses turned on, Merlin would be having fits right now. As it stands, Harry swallows his pride and jerks his head to motion Eggsy inside the car.
Eggsy opens the door, plonks himself ungainly in the passenger seat, and Harry drives off.
“And what should I call you?” Eggsy says, looking around at the leather interior in an impressed sort of way.
“Harry,” says Harry, trying to keep some of his attention on the road and not simply thundering through the sequence of thoughts that involved pulling over and kissing Eggsy right this instant. “I’m taking you to my house. Is that OK?”
“Is it, like, a mansion. That’s an expensive fuckin’ suit.”
“It’s not a mansion,” Harry says carefully. “But it’s nice.”
’Nice’ repeats Eggsy in a decent imitation of Harry’s accent, flipping down the sunshield and checking his reflection in the mirror.
“You’re paying from when I got in the car, right?” Eggsy says.
“I’m not exactly sure how this works,” says Harry, primly. “But trust me, I won’t try and cheat you out of money. I know I’m just your customer.”
“Nah mate, I don’t normally pre-solicit, trust me,” Eggsy says, and there’s that grin again, “‘specially not so close to home. I’m not here for the money, yeah? You’re seriously fit.”
“I’m sure you say that to all of them,”
“Nah, Harry, I really don’t.”
After the next junction, Harry can see out of the corner of his eye Eggsy’s hand move towards him. His breathing hitches.
“We don’t have to wait to get to your place if you want, Harry –” and Harry twists in his seat as Eggsy’s hand grazes his knee and moves up, up his thigh.
“It’s OK,” he says, wrenching up his left hand and taking Eggsy’s wrist (it’s so warm), removing his hand. “I need to concentrate on the road.”
“What’s wrong? No offence, and I know I’m overstepping the line here, but your mind seems all over the fuckin’ place.”
“The young man I swore to his late father to help and protect,” Harry says, running one hand through his hair, “is an arse.”
Eggsy laughs, and it makes Harry smile in a way that it really shouldn’t.
“Sounds you have an exciting life,” Eggsy says to that. “‘Swore to protect’. All noble. More exciting than mine, anyway.”
“Well, I’m sure you meet plenty of interesting people.”
Eggsy snorts. “Well, I ain’t been doing this for long. You’re the most interesting yet.”
Once they’re inside, Harry’s beginning to have second thoughts. He doesn’t know anything about this boy (man). This isn’t something Harry usually partakes in. And Eggsy has more than a whiff of unsavviness. He hasn’t actually asked Harry to hand over any money yet.
They end up talking. Harry ends up telling Eggsy what he can about his life (extremely little), and Eggsy spills out confessions that increase in frequency: not amounting to much in secondary school, dropping out of the Marines, his violent step dad…
It’s well in to the early hours of the morning by now. Harry, very impolitely, fails to stifle a yawn that asserts itself solely due to tiredness. It makes Eggsy look at him almost patronisingly critically.
“You know that this isn’t how this usually works, right? You can bone me right now because you’ve paid for me. The longer we’re talking, the more you pay. Although you look like you could afford three guys with you at the same time if you wanted… “
“So, you talk. You get more money. Or you could take my money now and leg it.”
“Yeah. That’s why I’m always talking. Talking. Running. Jumping off balconies.”
Harry lets himself take another good look at him, but with a different sort of idea in mind. Gymnastics experience, training with the Marines… and the deadline for submitting his candidate is fast approaching.
“I shouldn’t, I– ”
“Why the fuck would you come round Smith Street if you weren’t going to?”
Harry swallows. “Come upstairs.”
Eggsy smiles again.
And Harry’s heart didn’t skip a beat in the slightest, it was beating loudly and clearly on every single thump saying I am here and I could be falling in love with a man I just picked up off the street.
“Then I can suck you, yeah?”
“Only if you want to.”
Harry leaves Eggsy lying down on his bed, cap placed on Harry’s bedside table, and goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth and change, a little farcically, into pyjamas.
By the time he’s returned, Eggsy’s asleep over the covers: top lip curled, one fist clenched. Harry smiles down at him for a moment before climbing into bed beside him and drifting off to the sound of Eggsy’s breathing.
In the morning, Eggsy says: “I don’t want your money.”
“Well, that’s your choice,” Harry says, sliding down the lever of the toaster before looking back to Eggsy. “But I can give you a job offer, potentially, if you’re interested.”
“Sure,” says Eggsy. “Doing what?”
“The same thing as I do,” says Harry. He holds up his phone, a map on the screen. “This is the address.”
“A tailor’s shop?” smirks Eggsy. “Mate, I don’t know what you are, but you ain’t no tailor.”
“Be there for eight p.m. tomorrow,” says Harry. “And you’ll find out.”