BERNHARDT FREUDE had just twenty minutes to live.
The tires of the crimson red sports car gripped tight to the twisting mountain road that snaked south of the Pyrenees, down to the east coast of Spain. As a lawyer specializing in European copyright law, Bernhardt Freude was a cautious man. He had bought the car earlier that year precisely because Auto Bild magazine had voted it the safest sports car of the year two years running. Before setting off on his cross-European journey, he had booked it in for inspection and maintenance at the workshop close to his apartment in Berlin.
Bernhardt had been on the road for just over two days. Last night he had stayed in a pleasant little chambre d’hôte on the French-Swiss border. He seldom drove when he was back home in Berlin. It was simpler and quicker to take the U-Bahn or the tram. But if he had to travel farther, he preferred the liberty and independence that a journey by car offered. He hated flying. His long athlete’s legs were unsuited to the cramped cabin of a budget airline plane. And he found the other passengers noisy, crass, and shallow. In his youth, he often took long train journeys across Europe. They were exciting and romantic. Now at the wheel of his beloved new car, he could keep his own company, away from the noise, smell, and possible infections of the general public.
It was over an hour since he had passed the summit of the climb through the Pyrenees. Just after Girona, he decided to turn off the E15 autopista onto a smaller road that headed to the coast. It twisted and turned through the hilly, arid landscape, and there were few passing points. Bernhardt was a careful driver, and as such, he kept his speed at no faster than fifty kilometers an hour, much to the apparent annoyance of the driver in the large black limousine close behind him.
Bernhardt was very conscious of the car on his tail. It had been following ever since the last service area, where he had noticed it parked next to him. As soon as the road straightened out for a short stretch, he pulled over onto the dusty verge and stopped to let the driver pass. As the black limousine roared ahead, Bernhardt switched off the engine and got out. He crossed the road to enjoy the spectacular view he had just left behind: the peaks of the Pyrenees, rising up in snow-capped grandeur.
On that late-May day, a breeze from the mountains competed with the afternoon sun, which warmed his face. Bernhardt stretched his aching limbs and longed to be twenty years younger. To relive his carefree life as a prize-winning law student from Berlin’s Humboldt University, driving his battered Volkswagen beetle on his first cross-Europe adventure. Confident, triumphant, and gloriously without responsibility.
Sighing, Bernhardt leaned back against a rock, drinking in the beauty of his surroundings. He was headed for Spain’s Costa Dorada, the Golden Coast. Miles of sandy beaches bordering the azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea.
He took out his mobile phone and dialed Dominic’s number. After several rings it switched to voicemail. Bernhardt hung up and stood for a moment, pondering what to do. He redialed.
“Hello Dominic. It’s your boy from Berlin here. Not long now. I am no more than two hours away from Sitges, and you. Let’s meet at the bar by the church. You know the one. To remind us of that wonderful time. I have everything with me. See you soon. Tchüss, Schatzi.”
He turned and crossed the road back to his car. Slipping his phone into the pocket of his tan chinos, Bernhardt got in and fastened his seat belt. Then he began his final drive, headed for Sitges, the gay-friendly sanctuary he loved most.
“WHO WAS that, lover?” Jonathan lay languidly stretched out, facedown on the sun lounger. He aimed to expose every inch of his toned body to the rays of Spanish sunshine.
Dominic put down his phone. He paused to look out across the terra-cotta rooftops below their balcony to the Mediterranean beyond. Why go back to damp England, when they could live among this warmth and vividness forever? He and Jonathan were into their second week in this idyllic spot south of Barcelona. Dominic could get used to it.
“Oh, just a client trying to contact me,” he said. He kissed Jonathan on his neck. “You’ll be burnt to a cinder if you don’t get some more sunblock on you. Here, let me rub it into your back.”
Dominic picked up the plastic bottle of sunscreen and straddled his husband’s prostrate body. Reaching across Jonathan’s broad shoulders, he began to rub the cream in. Jonathan moaned appreciatively beneath him.
“Husband, you have very sensuous fingers, do you know that? And a wonderfully firm riding position.” Jonathan reached his arms back and massaged Dominic’s upper thighs. Now it was Dominic’s turn to moan appreciatively. Jonathan’s large, strong hands grasped his husband’s thighs firmly, and his thumbs delved deep into Dominic’s groin.
“Mm, is that a gun in your Speedos,” asked Jonathan, “or are you just pleased to be newly married?”
Dominic dropped the bottle of sunblock to the ground and lay flat on Jonathan’s back. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to move from here for a short while,” he said. “Not with any decency at least.”
Jonathan transferred his massaging hands to the inside of Dominic’s swim shorts. “You’re such a shy, retiring country lawyer, my love. And that’s why I want you above all others.”
Dominic nibbled gently on Jonathan’s ear. “Mr. McFadden. You’re a very bad influence on me. Just for that, I’m going to have to leave you in a few hours.”
Jonathan turned his head and clumsily kissed Dominic on the side of his lips. “Why? Where are you off to?”
“I’m going to hunt down something very special for you from the town,” replied Dominic. “And I want to wander around a bit. You’ve seen Sitges many times, but remember it’s only the second time for me. I still find it difficult to believe how beautiful it is. I want to drink it all in.”
“You mean you thought I’d simply bring you to some gay ghetto for our wedding?” asked Jonathan. “You know that Sitges is far more than just a gay-friendly resort. The Spanish know what they’re doing, and they’re very relaxed about it. There are hetero families, gay families, singles—everyone is here. And yet we can hold hands. We can be arm in arm. I can kiss you in the street and no one bats an eyelid. This is what the world should be like. Remember, Spain was one of the first countries in the world to introduce equal marriage. Long before the UK or the US. It was fitting for us to come here.”
Jonathan’s hands resumed massaging Dominic’s groin. “So what’s this something very special you’re going to get me?”
“I can’t tell you that,” replied Dominic. “It’s a surprise. I saw it the other day. All I’ll say is that it was in the window of that antiques place. You know? By the museum, just beyond the church. I’ve decided it’s exactly what you need.”
“Well that’s remarkably generous of you. Especially as I have everything I need right here.” Jonathan squeezed gently, and Dominic moaned in ecstasy. It would be a sweet couple of hours before his rendezvous with Bernhardt.
PUCCINI’S LA Bohème was playing on the car’s CD player. It was the aria “Your Tiny Hand is Frozen,” which Rodolfo sang to Mimi. Bernhardt turned up the volume, and the rich sound of Pavarotti’s classic 1972 recording filled the car. The aria was always intensely moving for him, bringing back memories of happier times.
Bernhardt remembered the first time he met Dominic, on the steps of the Berlin Opera House, nearly seventeen years ago. The poor young man had looked so lost as he searched for the returns ticket window. So lost and so cute. Bernhardt knew he had no choice but to treat this beautiful young English boy to the best seat in the house that night. During the interval they talked about opera, art deco furniture, and law. It turned out their passions were very similar. At the finale, tears were streaming down Dominic’s face. Bernhardt was moved by the raw emotion this shy young Englishman showed. He put a comforting hand on Dominic’s knee, reached across, and kissed him tenderly on the lips. “Stay with me tonight. Be a part of the new excitement that is a unified Germany. Our united Berlin.”
Dominic had stayed in Bernhardt’s bohemian apartment in the Schöneberg district of Berlin for several weeks. Bernhardt found the young man to be naïve and inexperienced sexually, almost racked with guilt. Moments of foreplay were abruptly halted when Dominic pulled away, as though in fear of liberating himself.
Blinded by his infatuation with Dominic’s beauty, Bernhardt allowed their days together to fill with passionate discussions about the law and its role in a Europe now rid of communism. He tried to convince himself it was erotic intellectual foreplay that would resolve into a lustful sexual exploration of each other’s bodies. Sometimes it did. Too often he had to leave the apartment to find sexual relief in the bars around Schöneberg.
Then one night, Bernhardt returned home late to find his apartment empty. Dominic had packed his rucksack and gone. It was a disappointment, but not unexpected. Anyway, Bernhardt had no shortage of beautiful men to play with in that increasingly fashionable sector of Berlin.
His lucrative law practice paid for a comfortable lifestyle. With the end of communism in Eastern Europe, software companies were taking advantage of exceptionally talented East European programmers willing to work for low wages. Bernhardt’s fluency in multiple languages and his broad knowledge of the new European legal systems quickly built him a reputation as the number one expert on European contract law, especially software law.
As Pavarotti’s voice soared in the closing moments of Puccini’s aria, Bernhardt realized the twists and turns in the road were beginning to tighten as it descended into Spain. Distracted by the music and his thoughts, he had failed to notice his speed was increasing. He put his foot on the brake, but the car continued to accelerate. He stamped hard on the pedal. All the indicators on the dashboard went blank. It was as though the car had switched to autopilot. He could sense he was getting faster but had no idea what speed he was going. The long sweeping curve in the road ahead tightened around the cliff face. Perspiration on his palms greased the leather steering wheel, and Bernhardt gripped tight as he tried to force the car to follow the course of the road. Now terrified, he could see a large diesel-oil truck ahead of him. He was closing on it fast. Frantically he stamped on the brake pedal. Still his car accelerated.
After nervously taking his right hand off the steering wheel, Bernhardt pulled hard on the parking brake. The rear wheels locked momentarily. He smelled burning rubber as the tires, skidding along the road’s surface, erupted in clouds of black smoke. The back end of the car lurched violently from side to side, and Bernhardt let go of the parking brake to seize control of the steering wheel with both hands.
He was little more than thirty feet away from the truck when its stoplights came on. Bernhardt reached for the parking brake again and pulled hard as the front end of the sports car hooked under the rear of the truck. The rear wheels locked, and the car spun on the road surface. The steering wheel was wrenched from Bernhardt’s grasp. The truck braked hard, and the sports car catapulted across the road into the crash barrier. It flipped over the top and rolled several times before it came to rest on a wide, sloping shelf of rock a few feet from the cliff edge.
Bernhardt was hanging by his seat belt in the upturned car. The engine had cut out, and he could hear the truck accelerating away beyond the bend in the road. There was an eerie silence, broken only by the sound of twisted metal creaking on rock.
Bernhardt knew he had little time to escape, but there was something he had to deal with first. Rapidly, he reached into the pocket of his chinos and pulled out his mobile phone. He tapped in a code, then selected a number and clicked Send. Shoving the phone back in his pocket, he reached to undo his seat belt. The car slid several feet toward the cliff edge. Frantically, Bernhardt pushed hard on the belt buckle. Suspended in the upturned car, his weight pulling on the strap, Bernhardt could not release the mechanism. It felt like every bone in his body had been broken, and blood was trickling into his eyes. With an enormous effort, he pushed his left hand against the roof of the car to lessen his weight on the seat belt. The catch clicked open, and he collapsed painfully onto the upturned roof. The car rocked with an ominous creak. Bernhardt was still scrabbling for the door handle when the car tipped at the edge of the cliff, then tumbled to the rocks below.