DISCLAIMER: Adult content
A young Syrian needing treatment at Warbridge Hospital is seen by Phil Roberts, one quarter of a gay, polyamorous quad living in North East England. The men in the doctor’s life are Mike Angells, Ross Whitmore and Raith Balan, who Phil grows closer to each day.
Phil is troubled. Is his patient in the UK legally? Who has caused his injuries? Is trafficking involved? As the foursome struggle to find out, hampered by the fact that Mike is no longer a detective, cracks begin to appear in their relationship. Can four men be equals? Meanwhile, there are cracks of a different sort to deal with—and the job of doing so seems to fall exclusively on Mike’s broad shoulders!
This second tale about Mike, Ross, Raith and Phil can be read as a standalone or as a sequel. As in the first story, Badge of Loyalty, comments about living polyamorously are interlaced with events. This time, it’s Mike who offers readers an opinion.
Read an Excerpt
Among the lorries that rolled off the gangplanks at Hartlepool docks were two belonging to Colporth International. The vehicles looked identical, except for the colour of their cabs. The first was green; the second was red.
Border Force was acting on a tip-off. Two officers pulled the green cab over. The co-driver of the red lorry opened his window, made sympathetic noises and promised to wait a few miles further on at a lay-by on the A689, the trunk road that led through Durham and Warbridge and on to the rest of the region.
By the time the officers realised that their informant was either colour-blind or had been handed false information, the red cab's driver had made his deliveries, and six young men and women, who had started their journey many months before and many miles away, stretched their cramped muscles on English soil and looked forward to a better life than the one they'd left behind.
The red cab made its way through the Warbridge one-way system, passing a cafe where two men were sitting near the window drinking coffee. One man looked to be in his thirties, the other in his mid-fifties. They idly watched the red cab's passage over the old stone bridge that spanned the River Wear.
"So I've been back workin' for two or three weeks, sir," the younger man said.
"You don't have to call me 'sir' now, you know, Mike. I'm not your CID super anymore."
"I know, sir, but old habits die hard, as they say."
A person who overheard their conversation would be forgiven for thinking that their working relationship had changed due to the elder man's retirement. In fact, it was Mike Angells, the younger of the two, who'd left the Force. He hadn't had a choice: he'd had to resign.
"Anyway," said Mike, "it's good to get back to doin' sumthin', even if it is just for a couple of hours a day. They're treatin' me like some sort of unpaid servant at home! Raith especially — Phil and Ross aren't quite as bad. I'm doin' everythin' from hangin' out their washin' to plasterin' over the cracks in the walls. I'm goin' bloody mental!"
He was grinning as he said this, his grey-green eyes — which Raith, tetrachromat though he was, had found near-impossible to replicate in paint — full of laughter again, thank goodness.
Mike, Ross, Raith and Phil: four men who shared everything, including their home and each other. Mike and Ross had long lived in 'Cromarty', a tiny terraced house in Tunhead, a hamlet in the Durham hills, and now they were converting the equally tiny house next door so that all four of them could comfortably live together.
"So, regarding all this renovating and rebuilding, what exactly is the plan?" Superintendent Flaxby asked.
"Eventually, to knock all the party walls down so that Cromarty's big enough for the four of us. We've made a start on it. Or, rather, I've made a start on it. Means we can have a livin' room we can stretch our legs out in, for one thing."
"I was surprised Phil moved from Warbridge. I thought he liked being near the hospital," said Flaxby.
"Well he always said he wouldn't move, but he's really fond of Raith now. Also, I think he'd've moved out to Tunhead years ago, but he kept his place on so's I'd have sumwhere to stay in winter when the journey home from work'd get too icy. Bad enough on the six-eight-nine. On that lane up to Tunhead, bloody suicidal. Now I've left the Force though ..." Mike shrugged, and Flaxby diplomatically changed the subject.
Mike Angells had been a respected CID inspector until, around a year before, he'd left his job in circumstances that were only known to half a dozen people. Clive Flaxby was one. He'd been Mike's superintendent at Tees, Tyne and Wear's divisional HQ in Warbridge, County Durham. Flaxby knew all about the men in Mike's relationships, too.
"It's crazy really," mused Mike. "Never thought I'd be a landlord. Yet here I am: one-quarter owner of a dozen little houses, a whole little hamlet at the head of a beck. I mean, when me dad died, I quit school to keep a roof over our own heads — me mam, me gran, me brother and me sisters — and now ... I could give 'em a house each."
"There's landlords and landlords, Mike. You know that."
"Aye, I do that, and I know what I'd do to the bastards involved in some of those rackets if I got my hands on them."
Had the two men known it, some of those involved had — just minutes ago — almost been within their grasp.
* * *
So people want to know about livin' polyam, do they? And the other three have decided that, since I only work a few hours a week and all I have to do all day is tickle me toes in the beck behind the house, I can pontificate about our lifestyle and what it's got to do with this rebuildin'. The sods. They seem to forget that I'm the one who's doin' all the work round here, makin' two houses into one just so's Raith doesn't have to get his hair wet when he sweeps in, stickin' chilli flakes in everythin'. I know it rains a lot in County Durham, but if he made a bloody effort and ran the twenty yards from his studio to our front door, he wouldn't have to moan about catchin' pneumonia. He can be a real wimp when he wants.
It's not just about him though. From a poly point of view, it made sense to knock the houses through. Ross and I have lived in Cromarty for several years now, though we only started calling it Cromarty after he moved in. It was 'Number 1, The Street, Tunhead' till then. We've never been to Ross and Cromarty — the real Ross and Cromarty in Scotland, that is. Then, after we'd bought up all the other houses in Tunhead and Ross had started up BOTWAC (nuthin' to do with BDSM, though we get lots of enquiries from people who think it is — it's the Beck on the Wear Arts Centre), Raith came and set up his studio in the old quarry storehouse. Tunhead was built as homes for quarry workers, but obviously there's no quarryin' here now. Raith was always over in our house. He said it's 'cos he loved our company so much, but we think it was just to get out of the bombsite that's his own place. There, you'd either fall flyin' on water that's spilt on the floor, or you'd cough your guts up on the clay dust that gets everywhere. So he was always here, with his little pot of bloody chilli flakes. And then, of course, Phil was in Warbridge. He wanted to be handy for Warbridge General and for the uni in Durham, because he works at both, but — especially recently — he started spendin' more of his free time in Tunhead.
Also, we have to do a lot of talkin' to make our foursome work. We need lots of opportunities for discussions. So it made sense to move in together, but Cromarty alone was far too small. One loo. One shower. One bath. A twelve by fourteen foot livin' room. Four men. And we average out at four big men. Phil and I are average big, Ross is smaller, Raith is larger, and four big men in one tiny terraced house doesn't go. And I know this sounds daft, but somehow Raith takes up more space than he occupies. We're tryin' to train him. And constrain him! "Put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket, Raith. Take your fuckin' hair out of the plughole in the shower. Up here in the north, we call this a floor mop" — he's from the Midlands — "use the bloody thing!" He's gettin' better, so it isn't hopeless, and luckily we're optimists. And patient.
So, and as I was sayin', when Anna Rowle — that's the weaver who had the house next door — decided to move back into town, rather than lease the place to sumbody else, we decided to have it ourselves, rebuild and all move in together.
When we've finished knockin' ... No, when I've finished knockin' the walls through ... Honestly, it's ridiculous. Raith and Phil say sumthin' about their hands bein' worth thousands. Ross does the odd bit then races off to the gallery in town, and that leaves me starin' after 'em, wonderin' why I'm left cartin' barrowloads of bricks and stone and cement around. What was I sayin' about talkin' and togetherness? I must be mad. I hear plenty of talkin', but there isn't much evidence of the doin' things together bit! Not that I can see, anyway.CHAPTER 2
Phil Roberts knew he was a lucky man. He hadn't had to operate on his own backside, for a start.
The analogy that crossed his mind most frequently, and crudely, likened his lovers' endowments to a gardening competition. Mike might get a commendation in the amateur growers' courgette section, but Raith would easily beat off all the opposition and walk off with the giant marrow prize. Ross, of course, wouldn't be one of the entrants. He never ventured beyond his partnership with Mike.
Yes, Phil was grateful for his luck, and he often counted his blessings. The most recently bestowed one was his change of location. He was travelling home now, to a house he loved — or would love, when the dust finally settled — to three men he loved, from a job he loved. It was late afternoon. After their evening meal, there'd be plenty of time for a stroll on the moors above the beck, and then, sleepy but relaxed, there'd be snuggles and cuddles and maybe even something more with Raith. So why did he feel so ill at ease? Why didn't he feel happy?
He parked on the tarmacked area in front of Raith's studio. The studio had once been the main storeroom for Tunhead's quarrying industry. There were still a few large quarries along the main road working the local limestone, but the smaller quarries like Tunhead's, which once had supported two dozen families and even a little church, had long since closed. Mike had made his home in Tunhead many years before, shortly after Phil had initially met him. Mike's path had crossed Ross's when he'd investigated some thefts from a gallery Ross curated, and soon the two of them were living together. Ross had turned the little hamlet into the thriving, if isolated, BOTWAC — not without laughing at the possibilities suggested by the acronym — and Raith had arrived later, to paint, and produce much-sought-after erotic ceramics in the roomy converted storehouse.
Phil went straight to Cromarty's kitchen — he could hear BBC North East blaring from the radio there. Mike was standing near the sink, singing and adding sliced-and-diced vegetables to a large collection of stir-fry ingredients he'd placed neatly in separate heaps on the work top.
Mike looked up, smiled and waited for the hug he knew would be Phil's greeting. It came, but not with the enthusiasm he'd expected. He turned the radio down.
"I mightn't be a cop anymore," he said, watching Phil carefully, "but I still know how to read a guy. What's up?"
"Was it that obvious?" asked Phil, chewing on a carrot stick in order to deflect suspicion.
"Hands off! It's taken me all bloody day to slice that lot. You're worse than Raith, you are."
"Did I hear my name?" asked Raith, appearing in the gap Mike had made in the party wall. He stepped through, towelling dry his long, dark hair, and, unable to see what was in front of him, stubbed his bare toes on a loose lump of building stone.
He hopped over to Phil, cursing loudly.
"Have I broken them?" he asked pitifully.
"Probably not," said Phil drily.
"What sort of bedside manner's that? Where's your sympathy?" Raith asked. Seeing that no sympathy was forthcoming, he turned to Mike and said accusingly, "I could have tripped on that block of stone. You need to be more careful."
Given that Raith's studio could have doubled as an SAS obstacle course, Mike ignored the remark and repeated his question to Phil.
"Well, what is the matter?"
"Tell you after we've eaten. It'll keep," said Phil, after he'd extricated himself from Raith's damp embrace.
"It's nothing to spoil our tea. It's not about us."
Thinking that it didn't affect them was probably Phil's second big mistake.
His first had occurred many years before when he'd married a woman, pushed into doing so by a mother who wanted grandchildren and who was determined to ignore the signs telling her that her only child was gay. Phil had acquiesced, in part because he'd been trying to ignore the signs himself, and in part because he believed he could probably make the marriage work. Work enough to father children, anyway.
It had been a disaster from the start. He and his wife had soon divorced, and his mother hadn't spoken to him since. He sent Christmas cards. His parents sent him none. It often surprised him that he wasn't bothered.
It was Ross's turn to wash whatever wouldn't fit in the dishwasher and Raith's turn to dry, so it was early evening before they all sat down together to talk.
"Come on, Babe," said Raith, sitting on one of the two sofas squashed inside the tiny living room and placing a heavily-tattooed arm encouragingly around Phil's shoulders. Raith called everybody 'Babe' — everybody except Mike, that is. Tickled by the spelling of Mike's surname, Angells, insisting that it should read 'Angels' not 'Angles', and certain that Mike was destined for Heaven when his earthly time was up, Raith called Mike his Angel Baby. Phil, despite growing closer to Raith by the day, had to make do with 'Babe'. "What's up? If you've got a problem, we want to know about it."
The four men had long ago decided that the only way to make their lifestyle work was to talk and talk and talk. The subjects were often mundane and could be dealt with simply by means of a rota. Hence Ross and Raith had done the washing up. More awkward to sort out were their finances and legal obligations. They tended to leave the fine details to Ross, as he seemed comfortable dealing with 'officialdom'. He was the one behind BOTWAC and two successful galleries after all. The most pressing ongoing problem was how to knock two dwellings into one yet preserve their disparate tastes. One for olde-world cosy, one for modernistic functionality, one for anything that didn't involve traipsing round and round any furniture stores, and one who didn't care a toss as long as he could stretch his long limbs fully out. So they did a lot of talking.
Sex, unsurprisingly, was frequently on the agenda. Ross was willing to share his lover with the other two — occasionally. By no means every night. And if full intercourse was required, which it wasn't necessarily, then all four men were versatile, although — surprisingly perhaps, given his imposing build and presence — Raith rarely topped. Even when he did, he entered with the utmost care. Phil had imposed restrictions, mainly because of his job.
Phil could accurately claim that he worked at the back of the forefront of cutting edge medical technology. He'd helped to pioneer a form of surgery that repaired damaged rectums by attaching nanocarbon patches to the rectal walls. He loved the job, despite its gruesome nature. It mattered little to Phil whether the damage was due to the passage of time or the passage of alien objects. Cancer or rough sex, he treated everyone equally and with care. But he didn't want to operate on Mike — not again, not after the horrors of the past few months — and as he was the only person who could supervise the operations, he didn't want his own ass ruptured by Raith's extravagant excesses. So Raith was under strict instructions: if Raith intended to go top on his lovers, he had to prepare them well.
So what was up?
"I don't know," Phil said after a while. "No, I do know. The problem is that I don't know what the problem is."
"You mean that something's troubling you that you can't put your finger on?" asked Ross, trying to read meaning into Phil's confusing sentence.
"No. I can put my finger on it."
"Look," said Mike. "Stop analysin' it, or tryin' to. Just tell us what happened at work today that's caused sumthin' to be on your mind. We won't worry about what it is exactly."
Phil looked gratefully at Mike, nodded his appreciation of a well-tried interview technique, and began.
Thursdays were one of the two weekdays Phil set aside for consultations, so he had been working in his room in the hospital outpatients when a call came through from A&E. Could he possibly look at a patient there?
"They thought he had my kind of injuries. I couldn't attend straight away, but as soon as I was able to, I went along," Phil explained. "There was a young man there: Khaled Husso, nineteen according to his documents — he had an ARC card — or, rather, the woman who was with him did. She did all the talking."
"What's an R card?" asked Raith.
"ARC card, not R card. It's a card that's issued to asylum applicants," Mike explained. "Stands for Application Registration Card. Looks a bit like a drivin' licence. Has your photo and personal details and a load of legal stuff. You use it a bit like an ID card. Proves entitlement to health services and some other benefits."
Excerpted from "Polyamory on Trial"
Copyright © 2018 Jude Tresswell.
Excerpted by permission of Rowanvale Books Ltd.
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