They'd come to the Vatican when the MP for Shropshire Douglas Courage got the idea. He'd been in Rome with his personal assistant, George Bishop, a handsome (oh so distractingly handsome, Douglas reflected bitterly) 23-year-old graduate of Cambridge, since the previous month, when the MP had left his wife to the ministrations of her favourite spa and gone on a working holiday to the eternal city. A journalist with the Catholic Herald before he became an MP, Douglas still occasionally contributed an article. The Pope was due to give an interview expressing, if not full and unwavering support for same-sex couples, then at least a more tolerant attitude, and it was Douglas' duty to detail this troubling news for the good sons and daughters of Shropshire.
What better time and place, then, to put down a kelev, the Hebrew word for dog, but also a male "dancer". Hadn't he first seen George while the latter was dancing, 21 and gay (so to speak), on the table of a Mayfair nightclub? The same one where Prince Andrew supposedly met with a portion of his own scandal. Mayfair nightclubs, just like pizza restaurants, New York financiers, and the socialite daughters of dead press barons, were not to be trusted. And neither were "gay" young men, it had turned out.
George had been celebrating a successful term at Cambridge with his childhood friends, a set of kids who'd grown up around power and knew Central London as well as anyone. George's family weren't rich, exactly, not compared to many in their circle, and that perhaps was what had given the kelev, the dog, the whore, his ambition.
Douglas, celebrating his 38th birthday, had passed the table from which the young man was giving an impromptu performance with his wife and a handful of friends. George wasn't wearing a shirt underneath his black blazer, and champagne trickled down his tight yet somehow soft, inviting chest. His sandy blonde hair was in curls, themselves damp with alcohol and glistening in the overhead lights. He spun around and flashed his arse at the crowd.
Douglas, watching now from his party's table while they ordered their drinks, became suddenly, acutely, and embarrassingly aware of his own arousal. When the frisky undergrad pulled his trousers back up, caught Douglas' eye, and winked at him, the good son of Shropshire thought that he was going to pass out. It was with a great effort that he remembered his manners, one of which was to not tug yourself off at the same table where your wife's ordering a G&T. Especially not to the thought of another man's arse. (The rule was probably somewhere in Leviticus.)
For all that had happened in between then and now, as Douglas walked through one of the Vatican's chapels he comforted himself with the thought that even if he could go back in time, he'd do it all again. He wouldn't be able to stop himself. Some years ago he'd publicly excoriated a colleague for fathering a child out of wedlock and then trying to hide it.
'A chap controls his baser impulses!' he'd thundered from the pages of the Herald. In the spirit of Christian forgiveness, he now wanted to reach out to that man and say 'I'm sorry. I understand now.' He hadn't just tasted of the forbidden fruit. He'd eaten it with large and gluttonous bites, still grinning as the juice dribbled down his chin. And now he was paying the fruit through the nose to keep it quiet.
'I'm getting sick of this' said George. 'Are we going to spend the whole fucking day looking at old churches?' Douglas glanced anxiously at a couple of nuns knelt before the altar. 'Shut up' he spat. 'I've already put you in my will, what more do you want from me? Think about where you are!'
George snorted. 'Fuck off, Dougie' he said, though a little quieter now. 'If you think that's blasphemous, what do you call getting sucked off at Lourdes?' Douglas walked quickly away, clenching and unclenching his fists. It was a blindingly bright Roman day, God's light soaking the sacred city as if the man Himself was a visitor here, enjoying the terraces and various artworks dedicated to His eminence. Merely thinking about murder in this place is the darkest blasphemy, Douglas thought, so how much worse would acting on it be?
He glanced about and saw George some distance away, leant against a pillar with a newspaper obscuring his face. Which meant that he was smoking, illegal in Vatican City. Douglas sighed and re-entered the chapel. The nuns were gone now. He walked down the cool, shadowy nave towards the tabernacle in which Caravaggio's Conversion on the Way to Damascus was hung. The painting was of St Paul, having fallen from his horse, lying on his back with arms stretched towards heaven.
Douglas felt in his jacket for the silver letter opener that he kept there. 'Sharp enough to fence with' joked the Westminster stationer who'd sold it to him. He turned it this way and that in the light of the tabernacle, thinking about the headline on the paper that George had been reading. GAY SLAYER STRIKES AGAIN. Announcement of the Pope's semi-liberal feelings towards homosexuals had come after a new serial killer turned up in Rome. He arranged assignations with men on gay apps and websites, then killed and robbed them, leaving them in or near churches. This latter element of the modus operandi led police to believe that the motive was partly religious.
Caravaggio once killed a man over a game of tennis, Douglas thought. And surely he's not burning in Hell, having done so much to promote the faith through his art. If I handle this little problem, I'll dedicate my life to religion. I'll build churches in the third world. I'll put Catholicism back on the political agenda in Britain. And surely I'll be a better promoter of the faith with money and resources, which I won't have if my hobby of gay sex gets out.
The only problem he could see was that he couldn't say for sure that he'd be able to resist temptation in future. He'd be discreet, though. He wouldn't be so stupid as to start screwing a twentysomething golddigger and then hire him as his assistant. There were places that chaps like him could go, surely, to discreetly handle their urges before returning to the business of pretending that even shaking hands with another man isn't quite to their tastes.
Before he could talk himself out of the plan, he took out his phone and rang George. 'Where the fuck are you?' said George.
'In the church. Walk down the nave and step through the arch to the right of the altar. I'm in there.'
'Why can't you come out here?'
'I've got a proposition for you.'
George laughed. 'You kinky old bat. In a Vatican City church now? Well, I'm game if you are.'
Douglas started clenching and unclenching his fists again. 'It's not that' he said, voice like dry ice. 'We've got some financial matters to discuss.' He hung up. That'll bring him running, he thought.
George walked through the arch, arms outstretched. Douglas made a split-second decision to enter the embrace, slipping the letter opener into his lover's stomach as he did so. He felt a short, sharp shock, however, as a stiletto was slid through a point in the back of his neck. He leaned back slightly and stared at George, who seemed equally surprised.
GAY SLAYER COMMITS DOUBLE MURDER! ran the headline several days later. 'Scandal has erupted in Britain as one of its most fervently Catholic politicians, Douglas Courage, was revealed to be one of two men found dead in a tabernacle in Vatican City. Police suspicions were confirmed when a search of the 40-year-old politician's rooms at a local hotel turned up explicit photographs of him and the other man.
'It appears that the man, 23-year-old George Bishop, was his personal assistant. Police believe that the killer had arranged a threesome with the two men before stabbing Courage through the back of the neck, and then Bishop through the stomach with a separate weapon when the latter tried to defend his lover. Neither man was robbed, probably due to the slayer having been unsettled by people walking nearby, police have speculated.
'Michael Dunning, former Shropshire Conservative, whom Courage had denounced following revelation of Dunning's extramarital affair and fathering of a child, spoke to the media today. "It seems," he said, "that my late former colleague couldn't control his baser impulses."'