"Hey," Karl called over to the badly dressed girl caterwauling through a pop song cover. "How about you shut that godawful trap and give us a pole-dance?"
The girl looked down from the stage at them, then around in confusion.
"She's lost her pole," Josef suggested.
"Bring the dolly a pole, someone," Karl demanded of the audience. "Or do I have to give her one myself?" He stood up and started to unbuckle his belt. The girl fled off the stage, much to the boys' amusement.
"Come on," Stefan prompted the lady compere. "We want a stripper next." This idea tickled them and for the next six acts they chanted "Strip!" at the bewildered men, women and children taking to the stage.
They were having fun. By now they were the only people in the auditorium who were. Josef hadn't been surprised at the absence of anyone with a flicker of talent from the stage; they had after all been pretty comprehensive in their work. What was astonishing was the sheer quantity of crap that had stepped up to take its place. Seemed everyone in the Kingdom wanted their three minutes on the stage.
Not one of the freaks and losers had got past the judges' initial assessment. They at least were taking the whole thing seriously; they and the increasingly desperate Princess up in the Royal box. Josef wondered if she knew this was her father's attempt to save her from Karl. Probably not; if she did she'd be down there exchanging vows with that guy with a rock on his head by now, not wailing and whining. She didn't look tough enough to last five minutes in Karl's bed.
Am amateur magician next, making a white dove disappear almost competently, but then failing to find it again. "Check up your arse," Mikael suggested loudly. "Which reminds me..." He leaned over for a quiet word with Karl, who nodded. "Off for a piss," Mikael told Josef. "Coming?"
"Sure." The steady drinking was having the usual effect. They staggered onto the stage and across it in search of the johns. Found one backstage, found everyone else just leaving. Josef unzipped his flies and let flow with a sigh of relief.
"Want a shag?" Mikael had been watching him.
Josef was pleasantly drunk. Why not? "Yeah, OK,"
Mika pushed him towards one of the cubicles. "Drop your trousers, then."
Josef started pulling them down, turning to watch the other man. "What are you doing?"
"Getting some lube." He was squeezing the soap onto his hand. "Come on, we'd better be quick." Mikael joined Josef in the cubicle, the door banging open.
Lubricant made a difference. Josef rested his arms against the wall, spread his legs wide, squirmed as Mika's fingers pushed into him. That felt pretty good, except for the residual soreness. Mika had noticed.
"He hurt you last night." It wasn't a question
Seemed little point in denying it. "A bit. Doesn't matter."
"I'll be careful, then. Don't want to put you off the whole fucking thing, do I? Be like Rikard all over again. Gabs would kill me."
His hand came round, slippery from the soap, grabbed Josef's cock, started to squeeze it. Josef gasped slightly. That was not at all like jerking himself off, particularly with hard fingers stretching his arse. This felt like raw sex. He liked it.
"Fuck careful," he demanded, "Just do it."
He could hear Mika's laugh over the noise of someone walking in and leaving abruptly. "OK. Hold on."
How fucking huge was Mika’s cock? It hadn’t looked particularly big. At least the discomfort was nothing like yesterday's agony. Just large and in a odd bloody place. He had braced himself for thrusts, but Mika just stopped there.
"What are you doing?"
"Admiring the view." Josef's shirt was yanked up. "Fuck, you've a lot of bruises, you know that?"
"When I bruise someone they always bloody know it, Mika." Gabriel's deep voice from behind. "Get on with it. Karl wants you back."
"Get out of my fucking space and give a man a little privacy then. We're not all bloody exhibitionists like you."
"Just checking him out."
"You can do that later. Go watch the fucking door, Gabs."
A grumbled retreat. Mika was leaning forward to murmur in Josef's ear, "Next time we do this properly, find a bed, take all night." He was moving now inside Josef, against bruised flesh, the sensation interesting, if somewhat too painful to keep Josef hard. Still, the heat on the back of his neck and the hand around his own cock felt pretty good. Josef thought he would probably enjoy sex with Mika, next time.
Right now Mikael was grunting in his ear, thrusts faster. Josef wondered if there was something that he should be doing but he couldn't see much scope for it. He'd ask later.
After a couple of minutes or so Mikael pulled away, breathing heavily. "Sorry about Gabs. Guy's got no fucking respect." His grip tightened. "You want...?"
Josef did, but between the alcohol and the soreness he didn't think it was going to happen. "Some time when Karl's not waiting."
"Shit, Karl. We'd better move."
Josef followed Mikael as far as the door, where Gabriel stretched out an arm between them. "He's only after Mika right now."
Mikael turned, indignant on Josef's behalf. "Boy's had your fucking boots all over him, drilled till he keeled over and then a rough session with Karl last night. He's in no state to take the whole fucking barracks on tonight."
"Didn't stop you."
"I was careful."
"Careful. Yeah." Gabriel was unimpressed. "Maybe he wants it a bit more hot than sodding careful."
"Hey!" Josef interrupted. "Maybe he can have a fucking opinion of his own, guys."
He shifted slightly, assessing. Mika was right; he was in no condition for this. Next turn was going to hurt rather more, prolong his recovery time further and God knows when Karl might want him back in there for another go. On the other hand- he looked straight into Gabriel's hard blue-eyed gaze- he didn't want to say no to Gabs, for reasons of politics and otherwise.
"Mika's right. I'm too sore to screw any more," he confirmed. "But you got any other ideas, I'm game."
Gabriel nodded, glanced round the men's toilets. "Not here, though. My room, when we get back." He strode out, leaving Josef facing a glowering Mikael.
"Problem?" This had better not be a bloody problem. If he'd known he was supposed to hook up with just one of them, it wouldn't have been Mika.
"Your problem, not mine. You stupid, Joe, or do you like getting fucked about? Kid fucking gloves you get from me, and you're throwing yourself under his sodding boots."
"Hey," Josef protested, "You were the one talked about trouble if I didn't!"
"Spread your legs and bend over, sure. Anyone try to force you do anything more, they get the rest of us breathing down their necks, unless they're the boss or you fucking asked for it, which you just did. This is Gabriel we're talking about here. You think he's just going to want a kiss and a blow job before bedtime?"
"I don't know, do I? You say do everyone, then you yell at me when I'm only being fucking obliging!" The loss of his temper was, in part, the knowledge that he had, as Mika said, just signed up for an open session with the gang's resident sadist. Not that Gabs would try anything on him, he told himself without much conviction, two day old bruises aching.
"If you won't be fucking smart about this I'm done giving you advice," Mikael snapped back. "You don't take better bloody care and you'll end up with Karl and Gabs riding your fucking arse together. Want to know what they did to Vlad last year?"
"No! I'm not bloody Vladimir and I can look after myself! I don't need your nannying, Mika. Get off my fucking back!" Josef shoved his way past the other man and stalked back across the stage, barging straight through an acapella jazz ensemble in his way.
Karl was watching him as he took his seat again, then past him to Mikael following. He leaned over to them, scowling,
"You turn up with another set of fucking bruises, Joe, I'll add to them myself. You're causing trouble all round and I want it stopped. Understand?"
"Yes, Boss." Josef wasn't entirely sincere. He glanced over to Stefan, resolutely ignoring him, and to Vlad, grinning. There was a bit more trouble, and Gabriel, to come.
The mood had soured. What they shouted up to the stage now was nastier than funny. Every so often one threat more creative than the rest would make them laugh, but they were bored with the endless succession of talentless cretins. There was some fun to be had watching the Princess crying, but not much.
Josef and Vlad were sent out to find food and some more booze. They elbowed their way to the front of a packed concession stand and waited for their burgers to be cooked.
"My turn next."
"What?" Josef didn't think they were in a queue. They'd better not be in a fucking queue; he glared at the people beside him and they backed off a couple of steps, causing bits of the crowd behind them to squeal in the crush.
"To have you. My turn."
"When hell freezes over. Go fuck yourself, Vladimir."
"You're junior." A whine. Vlad and Gabs joined the same time, Josef remembered being told. He doubted that Gabriel had tolerated the indignities of junior status. Vlad seemed born to them.
"Fuck that. I'm told your dick's too small to stay up by itself anyway, is why you just take it up the arse."
Vlad was just too easy to wind up. He was glaring at Josef, fists clenched. "l'm going to fucking make you!"
"Yeah?" Vlad had a few pounds on Josef and most of them were muscle, but it was a long way from knocking a man down to successfully sticking your dick in him. "Want to try it now?"
The crowd was backing away further. The young woman at the stand coughed loudly,
"The burgers are ready."
Josef looked up at her, astonished at the interruption. She flashed him a grin. "Better not to fight on an empty stomach, I always think. Fourteen burgers, eight with cheese. Relishes to your left. That would have been fifty six forty but I imagine you're not intending to pay for them?"
Josef patted pockets automatically. "Got no money," he said, almost apologetically.
"Oh well. Enjoy your meal."
"Cheeky fucking bitch." Vlad slid the knife from his boot.
"Shut the fuck up and get the food, Vlad. You want to tell Karl why his burger is cold?" Josef picked up the bag of vodka bottles. As Vlad turned away, grumbling, Josef looked back up at the burger lady and winked. God, it had been a long time since a woman smiled back at him like that. Karl's black got a hell of lot of respect but not many smiles.
They fought their way back into the auditorium against weary and desperate crowds trying to get out. Seems the show had finished.
Karl was still watching what was left of proceedings; the judges deep in conversation, the stage with the exhausted compere wandering aimlessly, the empty Royal Box. The other four men were watching Josef’s arrival. They were after the vodka, he told himself, distributed the bottles without speaking.
He slid into a seat next to Rikard, took a burger. "What's happened?"
“Everyone in the world’s fucking pissed with you, far as I can see. Fuck knows how a nice guy like you manages it.”
“Not that. On the stage.”
"Princess vanished, then everything else started to go to hell. I think it's over."
"No competition winner, then? Karl beat them?"
"Looks that way." Rikard grinned at Josef through a mouthful of food. "That'll teach the bastards."
There was the King, looking like hell, talking quietly to the compere. Karl was leaning forward as if he could hear them. His Majesty finally turned to look directly at Karl. A stag cornered by a tiger, Josef thought. All hope lost. But when the man spoke it was clear and steady.
"The competition is hereby declared..." A sudden disturbance from the wings cut him off mid-phrase. The Princess, barefoot and mussed, dragging a man by the hand.
"What the fuck!" Karl was on his feet as the Princess dropped to her knees. Asking- no, begging for something from the King.
The King glanced back to Karl helplessly, then shook his head at his daughter. Easy to read; whatever she wanted would anger Karl, and the King's temporary defiance was burned out.
Rikard was staring at the man. "That's the one from the house we torched. Leonardo. How the hell did he escape?" Josef couldn't see anything special about the guy. Just a long-haired peasant with no dress sense.
The Princess was keeping on at her father. Karl had started to swear, surely loud enough to be heard onstage, "Don't you fucking dare. She's mine! Don't you fucking dare! Not again!"
The King wasn't listening; his attention was all on the couple in front of him. Finally he nodded, and the Princess collapsed in clear gratitude. Fuck. This was trouble. Because here was the compere, and the lights switched on again and the orchestra back and whoever this Leonardo was he was getting his three minutes after all.
Karl was sitting back in his chair, upending the vodka bottle. Calm; too calm. Josef knew real bad trouble when he saw it, and that was Karl right now.
"OK, let's see what you've got, then, Leonardo", the boss murmured, quiet enough that only the boys heard. "Bring it on."