Chapter XII - Reflections and New Ventures

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Please note that this chapter is intended for adult viewers (over 18 years), and contains images and text featuring nudity and strong language. Please do not view this chapter if you find such features objectionable....

'The old order changes, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.'
Alfred Lord Tennyson
"And why did we 'come back' ?",  Jim asked.
"Because there is much more for you all to do.", Faunus replied.
"So where do we go from here ?", Jim asked.
"Well, hopefully living our new lives...", Faunus replied, brightly.
And many more perhaps...".
"And will you stay with us ?", Josh - who first discovered Faunus at Tibur - asked.
"Of course.....always.
I'm afraid you're stuck with me....and Glaux as well......"

And Glaux blinked and fluffed his feathers....

There was a palpable silence.
Glaux twittered contentedly, and the boys looked at one another.
As usual Faunus knew what they were thinking....and got the message.
"Well, I think I should be going...."
Jim stood up.
"So...will we be seeing you tomorrow ?", Jim asked.
"Yes .....of course, if that's OK ?", replied.
"Of course !", Jim replied.
Faunus then left conventionally - by the door.
Ethan wandered into the kitchen - started clattering about, and made some coffee.
"Well, guys, shall we have a meal out - I mean together - and if we find somewhere not too busy, we can have a chat about what's been happening ?", Zac suggested.
"Good idea, Zac.
"But I don't know anywhere round here to eat, except for the Club Jaguar, and I'd rather not go there in case we meet up with the 'Boss' - not that I don't like his company - but I think we need to talk privately.", Jim said.
"Don't worry Jim, I know an excellent place - and I can 'phone them, and book a table, and also get Chuck to drive us there.", Zac said, taking advantage of his extra knowledge of the place, having been in Vegas for some time longer.
As they were talking the buzzer sounded.
Josh answered.
After a few moments conversation Josh turned to Jim.
It's the concierge.....he says he has a guy downstairs called Brody - wants to talk to Zac.
Is it OK to let him come up ?
Jim looked to Zac.
"'s a guy that the 'Boss' wanted me to speak to - but I didn't thin he'd send him round here.
Well ?", Zac concluded, looking to Jim  questioningly.
"It's up to you Zac.
You speak to him in the study - not that any of us have used it yet - while we get ready.", Jim suggested.
"Study ? I didn't we know we had one here...", Ethan said, looking confused.
"Well that's no surprise." Jim said, grinning.
"OK Josh !", Zac called to Josh.

Moments later the door buzzed again - and it was Brody.
Jim and Josh greeted their visitor, as did Ethan, who poked his head out of the kitchen.
Zac went over and shook the boy's hand.
Brody Calls on Zac
"Welcome to the 'Penthouse Gang', Brody.
I wasn't expecting you, so we can't talk for long, but it's good of you to come.", Zac said.
"I understand...sorry to disturb you, but the 'Boss' said I should come round, - so I had no choice..... you know what the guy's like."
"True, Brody, but it's not wise to call him a 'guy'.
It's the 'Boss' - OK.
Otherwise, if it gets back to him - well, I'll leave it to your imagination." Zac said, with an old hint of menace in his voice.
'Old' because Jim recognised it from elsewhere.
"Of course Zac...sorry ....I understand.", Brody said, apologetically.
Brody looked tough - even although he was quite young - and Zac already knew that the boy had quite a reputation, but it seemed that the opulence of the penthouse had convinced him that Zac and Jim were not to be trifled with, and he took Josh and Ethan to be 'sidekicks', who might well also be 'enforcers'.
"Come into the study and we can talk.", Zac suggested, taking their rather overawed guest from the main living room, down a corridor, and into the mahogany panelled study.
As Zac offered Brody a seat, there was a soft tap on the door.
It was Ethan.
"Jim says what should we wear ?", Ethan whispered.
"Formal, and you can wear one of your new suits." Zac whispered with a grin.
Zac then sat behind the large double pedestal desk.
C.C.C. - California Combat Club
It was his first chance, in this 'new world', to give a real interview, and he relished the chance.
"So the 'Boss' tells me that you have applied to one of his associates to join 'California Combat Club' ?", Zac began.
"Yes, a friend at the gym told me about it." Brody answered.
"And how did he know about it ? - Had he appeared there ?", Zac asked , probing.
"Oh no...he's too 'chickenshit' to fight in that kind of set-up.", Brody explained rather forthrightly.
"Less of the vulgar - at least here...", Zac said, imposing his authority.
"Yes...sorry, Sir.", Brody replied, obviously realising that he needed to be careful if he wanted to get this job.
So this 'buddy' of yours knows of some guy who's worked there ?", Zaz continued, trying to get to the bottom of the matter.
"No, it just rumour, Sir.", Body said, trying not to look a little too credulous or gullible.
"But what have you heard ?", Zac asked, trying a different tack.
"It's real rough.. real 'hard fighting'.
Nearly no rules, no fakin', and a bit of S&M in the more extreme matches.", Brody explained - just a little too enthusiastically.
Zac made a note - not being exactly sure what the acronym 'S&M' meant.
"Just one minute, Brody." Zac said.
And Zac tapped in 'S&M' on his laptop that was open on his desk, but facing away from Brody.
Zac smiled when the results came up.
"And what do you think of these kinds of displays ?
I mean could you cope with that kind of action ?", Zac asked bluntly.
"And the possible nudity, could that be a problem ?", Zac added, making sure that Brody was not wasting his time.
"Forget it ! I've got plenty to show !", Brody boasted.
"I see...", Zac said, opening a desk drawer, and taking out a his gold Montblanc, (a gift from the 'Boss', which immediately caught Body's eye), and a business card.
Zac wrote an address on the card, and handed it to Brody.
"Can you get there - 10 AM tomorrow ?
OK ...make a note on the card....", Zac said, handing over the Montblanc.
"And don't put the Montblanc in your pocket as you go out.", Zac added.
"No Sir. !", Brody replied, broadly grinning.
"And we'll provide the kit.", Zac concluded, as he stood up, and showed Brody to the door.
"Thank you, Sir, for this chance.", Brody enthused, as they walked across the thickly carpeted study.
"Don't thank me yet, Brody....wait until you get the contract - that is if you get a contract !", Zac said, trying not to raise the boy's expectations.
"I will, Sir, don't you worry.
I'm the best !", Brody said, as they reached the end of the corridor, and the main doors.
" was good talking... see you tomorrow !", Zac said, noticing the firm grip as they shook hands.
Zac went back into the main living room, where his three handsomely turned out companions, and a nicely preened Glaux were waiting for him.
"So what was all that about ?", Ethan asked.
"Well it's a bit of a story, so if you can wait, I'll tell you when we get to the restaurant.
And what's Glaux looking so smart for ?
He can't come.", Zac said.
"Zac,'re not talking to that boy Brody now.
Glaux wants to see the town, but don't worry, he'll stay in the limo, and just look like one of those stuffed ornaments - sorry Glaux, but it's all that he understands." Ethan said, indicating Zac.
Zac smiled.
"OK just wait a few minutes while I put my suite and tie on, and we'll be off.
And Josh, can you 'phone Chuck and tell him we're on our way ?"

Zac was as good as his word, and in a matter of minutes they were descending in the elevator.
Although it was only Glaux's second trip in the elevator, he seemed to quite enjoy it, warbling as the floor indicator lights flashed one by one.
Cadillac Night Drive - Las Vegas
On climbing into the Cadillac, Josh carefully helped Glaux onto the trunk cover (Eng. parcel shelf), were Glaux carefully manoeuvred himself so that he was supporting himself on the back rests of the rear seats.
And so they were off, with Glaux enthralled (as he had been before on his trip back from LA), by all the bright lights.
"3131 South Las Vegas Boulevard, Chuck." Zac said, as he climbed in to ride 'shotgun', leaving Josh, Jim and Ethan in the back - and as Chuck had brought a 'stretch' job there was plenty of room in the back.
"Excellent choice, if I may say so, Sir.", Chuck said, meaning the restaurant, as he smoothly drove off.
It was not a long trip to the restaurant.
"Oh I am glad I wore my new suite !", Ethan exclaimed, as they drew up outside the palatial restaurant..
"Yes, I thought you'd like it - and, surprisingly, they have cheeseburgers on the menu - but not quite the same as MacDonald's, or the way you make them in the microwave.", Zac quipped.
"And probably not quite the same price !", Jim added.
"So say goodbye to Glaux, and we'll bring him some hamburger meat, if he's good.", Josh said, ruffling Glaux's feathers, and making him shy.
Lakeside Dining - Las vegas
A few moments later, Chuck had parked up, and a deferential young doorman had opened the doors for them.
The dining areas were palatial - open air, and with the promised 'lake'.
As Josh commented, it was a very relaxing and agreeable atmosphere.
The tables were set for four - which was just right, and with the assistance of some very polite waiters, they were quickly settled and ordering drinks.
They were careful, however, to avoid alcoholic drinks, as that was one of the strict rules that the 'Boss' insisted on.
Although he drank himself, he was very much against his boys, and his employees for that matter, drinking, even in their leisure time, and as he owned much of the town, it was inadvisable to break this rule, as their were always people watching.

Once they were settled, Ethan began his interrogation.
"So what's this business with Brody ?", Ethan asked.
"It's a business matter.", Zac replied curtly, trying to steer the conversation away.
"And what business ?", Ethan persisted.
"Well it's really the business of one of the Boss's associates - a business partner called Marty.
He runs a concession, on behalf of the 'Boss' - very lucrative, but a bit on the 'edge'.", Zac carefully explained, or rather indicated.
"How do you mean - 'on the edge' ?", Josh queried.
Well, in this time and place they try to pretend that certain things are not quite 'proper' - mainly connected with sex and violence.
Although their stories and movies are full of such things, they get a bit squeamish about such things being shown more realistically.", Zac explained.
"So, no Roman Ludi.....", Ethan said, grinning.
"Well, not quite...but if you have enough money, and the right contacts, then you can see something similar, and that's where Marty comes in.
Now Marty wants to get this boy, Brody,  to work for him with his franchise - the 'California Combat Club'.
Of course its not like a 'sports club' for people who like to take part in combat sports - and definitely not like our gym.
The actual 'club members' are the audience, carefully vetted, and all very rich - and they watch the boys fighting." Zac explained, in some considerable detail.
"So why's Marty so interested in this Brody boy ?", Josh asked.
"Well this Brody kid is intended to take part in a kind of betting 'scam' - fixed matches and such, which would very much benefit the 'Boss', and us, indirectly - so he wants me and Jim to check him out.", Zac explained
"Ah...clever !", Ethan exclaimed - not really understanding, but wanting to be in on the 'scam'.
"So when are you checking the kid out ?", Josh asked.
"Tomorrow - at ten - at the California Combat Club gym.", Zac replied.
“So can we come ?”, Ethan asked.
“Well as long as the ‘Boss’ doesn't mind, I don't see why not.”
“So what actually is going to be happening at this 'California Combat Club' ?”, Josh asked.
“Well, it’s an audition, which may result in a very profitable contract for Brody.”, Zac replied.
“And for Marty, and of course the ‘Boss’.” Ethan added.
“Yes..and you guys will be getting a ‘cut’ as well.”, Zac said, and the ‘boys’ all brightened up.
“The ‘Boss’ will take Dr. Lockhart with him to give this boy Brody a good check up.
Then Marty and the ‘Boss’ will give him a good looking over – stripped – to see if he’s sufficiently attractive for the ‘club members’.”, Zac said.
“Yes...and to see if his 'dick' and 'nuts' are big enough, probably.”, Ethan piped up.
“Exactly, Ethan !
You seem to have it all worked out very well.”, Zac continued, as Jim grinned.
“Then we’ll choose some appropriate kit for the boy, and then we’ll give him a try out in the ring.”, Zac said, trying to sound a little more professional.
"If he gets through all of that, we'll have some photos taken of him…..a few in the ring, and then some more, in his kit, and nude, in the club photographic studio.” Zac explained.
“All very professional – and with a bit of sleaze added.”, Josh added, smiling.
“Well, in this town, Josh, if it doesn’t have a bit of sleaze, it simply won’t sell !”, Zac explained.
“So...will we see any fights ?”, Jim asked.
“Yes of course.”, Zac replied.
“Brody can put on a display, and there will be a couple of other young hopefuls there.”, Zac said.
“And then a meal after ?”, Ethan asked, expectantly.
“Of course...why not ?”, Zac answered smiling.
By then their evening meal was over.
"Now, there’s some other things that we should talk about, but not here.”, Jim said.
“So let’s 'pay the man', and get Chuck to take us back to the penthouse.”
So..they left the restaurant, not forgetting to wrap up some hamburger meat in a napkin for Glaux, and climbed back into the limo.
Glaux eagerly gobbled up the meat, while continuing to admire the city lights.
“That was good, Zac, but why the hurry to get back to the penthouse ?”, Ethan asked.
“Well, we need to talk about some things that Jim thinks really need to be spoken about in private.”, Zac explained.
“Ethan looked worried, however, as they sped smoothly through the busy streets.

Soon they were back at the penthouse.
On arriving back, they all changed, concerned to take good care of their extremely expensive clothes, so generously provide by the ‘Boss’.
On this occasion Josh made the coffee – to give Ethan a break, and then they all gathered in the main living room.
"Anyway, to change the subject a bit, how are we finding these sessions with Faunus ?", Zac asked.
"Wow….you sound like Dr. Brandt – but regardless, I think most of us are finding it quite difficult, to be quite honest - but Faunus has explained how they are necessary.", Jim replied.
Now here, of course, Glaux was listening very carefully.
"I've been wondering, though, about how much of what Faunus gets us to remember really happened.
I mean, we all know how he can put things in our minds - but we don't know if they're 'real' memories, or things that he's making up.
You see, I've been thinking that a lot of what goes on round here seems a lot more likely than that life we were supposed to have had in Rome.", Ethan said a little diffidently.
"I know what you mean.", Zac agreed.
"Apart from the 'Boss', I've been here the longest, and I'm not so sure about what Faunus is telling us.", Zac continued.
"Yes...but why give us this story about ancient Rome - and I for one remember meeting Faunus for the first time, in a wood in Tibur, with Glaux.
And where does Glaux come into all this ?", Josh said.
Glaux, who had sitting on the back of Josh's chair twittered, and awkwardly turned his back on all of them, pretending not to listen.
'Well I don't think he's impressed with anything we're saying." Jim said smiling.
"There is one thing that concerns me about all this, however.
According to Faunus, to 'come back', like we did, you have to 'die'.", Jim continued.
"Well I don't feel very dead !", Ethan interrupted.
"But wait a minute - and try to be sensible, Ethan.
I think that the 'Boss' 'died' first, and I have a suspicion that it was some kind of plot, by those five guys that Faunus mentioned - although I can't remember their names except for Cleon and Servius, and probably the 'Boss' was murdered.", Jim said hesitantly.
"Well yes...........that's quite possible.", Zac agreed.
"But then how come the rest of us all 'died', apparently at about the same time ?....that seems odd.", Jim said.
"I think that what we need to know is the date when all this was supposed to be happening.", Josh said.
"That's the one thing that Faunus hasn't told us."
Ethan flipped open his laptop.
"Yes.....lets look up some Roman history.", Ethan suggested, as he started searching on Google.
"That's OK...but there's an awful lot of Roman history to go through, and remember, the only important person among us - who might be recorded in the history book here, is Jim, who was called Marcus Gracchus.", Zac warned.
“OK, so look up ‘Marcus Gracchus – Ancient Rome’ in Wikipedia….”, Ethan told Jim.
Jim typed in the words.
And then looked at Zac.
“Nothing !”, Jim said, despondently.
“Now look, guys...we've really got to try to remember.
If all this Roman business is true, then we must try to find some evidence of it.
Now Josh has managed to remember a place called Tibur.
So can we remember any other places that we visited of lived in ?”, Jim asked.
“Well I can remember a place called Baiae – it was by the sea, and a bit like here – sort of a holiday place.”, Josh suggested.
“Nice weather and lots of rich people.”
“OK..”, Zac said , sounding hopeful.
“ type that in.”...
“How do you spell it ?”, Jim asked.
“I T -”, Ethan replied, facetiously.
“Come on, be serious, Ethan….this is important !”, Josh said, obviously annoyed.
“Ah..this Wikipedia thingy's given me a suggestion...let’s try that.”, Jim said hopefully.
"Yes...It says it was a popular place for the very wealthy aristocrats, with hot water springs and fine beaches, close to a city called Neapolis, and - lots of very large villas.
Sounds like it may be the place where the ‘Boss’ had a villa.”, Jim said.
“So any massacres, murders or anything like that ?”, Zac asked.
“Yes, Emperors and senators dying, one or two important people being killed, but no Marcus.”, Jim said, after reading on a little bit.
“So were there any other interesting places around there, apart from this Neapolis place ?”, Ethan asked.
Pompeii & Vesuvius - Prior to the Eruption
“Yes….Pompeii.”, Jim said as he scanned a map on the appropriate page.
“And I’m certain that I’ve heard that name before...”, Jim added.
Zac looked nervous.
“I know it !”, Zac said suddenly.
“I went there, with this guy Servius !”, Zac said, becoming very agitated.
“Take it easy, Zac, and just let any memories come.
“Don’t force it.”, Josh said, worriedly looking at Jim.
“Type it in !”, Ethan said to Jim.
“Yes, here we are....
Another holiday place, but quite a bit ‘down market’ from Baiae.”, Jim said, and then he paused.
“Here it comes...”, he said, and the others all looked at Jim silently.
“It was destroyed when the nearby volcano, called Vesuvius, erupted, killing practically everyone in the town.”.
“Well that must have been before I went there, because I remember vaguely that I had to climb up the volcano - on my own – and for some reason – drop something into the crater – and the town was till there then.”, Zac said.
Area Effected by the Eruption of Vesuvius
Baiae is close to Misenium - top left
“Well, if we were all there, some time later, and according to this map here, it was quite close to Baiae, then we could have died when the volcano erupted.”, Josh said.
“But I don’t think that the ‘Boss’ could have been with us, because I get the feeling that he died some time before us, and that maybe explains why he had been waiting around so long here, and in Mexico.”, Jim said.
“And then there's those five guys who were in some kind of plot, and that might have been to do with getting rid of the ‘Boss’.
So perhaps he was murdered before – maybe at his villa.”, Jim suggested.
There was a pause, and the boys all sat silently thinking about what they had discovered, and the implications that these possibilities could bring.
“Well, perhaps there is som truth in what Faunus is telling us, and helping us remember.” Zac said, and Glaux twittered.
“I’m getting scared.”, Ethan said.
"I thought to begin with – with all my false memories of mom and dad an’ school, an’ all, that all this Roman stuff was just a ‘game’.
I felt so lucky, after living on the street, finding a good guy who would look after me, and not expect anything ‘bad’ in return – you know.
Now, I don’t know what to think.”, Ethan said – got up and went to his bedroom.
“Go after him, Josh, and calm him down.”, Jim said, putting the laptop to one side for a moment.
“So what do you think, Jim ?”, Zac asked
“You're the guy with the brains.
What do you make of it all ?”, Zac asked, realizing that, in a way, things were getting a little too much for him, just as they had been for Ethan.
“I say that it’s making a lot of sense – though I don’t think that many people would believe it – but then they don’t know Faunus.”, Jim replied.
“But anyway, there’s a lot more in this Wikipedia thing about Pompeii.
So let me tell you about it.....
Eruption of Vesuvius
It seems that it happened in 79Ad, in the reign of an Emperor call Titus Vespasianus – now that name seems familiar…..
There had been a lot of earthquakes before, but the eruption was unexpected.
Most of the people were killed by rocks, dust and ash from the eruption, but then everything was destroyed by what they describe here as a ‘pyroclastic flow’, which just about killed everybody – instantly.
Then, many years later, the remains of the town were discovered, perfectly preserved – and it seems – they were even able to make plaster casts of some of the dead people.
Now, it’s a famous tourist site.”, Jim said.
Ruins of Pompeii
“That’s amazing.”, Zac replied, enthusiastically.
“Perhaps, some time, we could get the “Boss’ to take us there.”, Zac suggested.
“Well, I’m not sure.
Plaster Casts of Corpses - Pompeii
Would you really like to go to see the place where you died – and even, maybe, see a plaster cast of your dead self in a museum ?”, Jim asked.
“Well, now you look at it that way, perhaps not, but I would like to see this Baiae place – sounds ‘cool’.”, Zac replied.
At the moment Ethan returned with Josh, red eyed, but composed.
“Sorry guys….it all ‘got to me’ a bit there...for a moment.”, Ethan said shyly.
“Don’t even think about it, Ethan – we’re all feeling a bit unsettled about all of this.”, Jim said, indicating that Ethan should sit down again.
“Unfortunately, Ethan, we’re all beginning to realise that we need to face up to things.
We’re all in a very strange situation, but I think that Faunus knows that we can’t really go on ignoring things, and enjoying our good luck here, without realizing how we got here – wherever ‘here’ really is.”, Zac said.
“Or ‘when’...for that matter.”, Jim added.
“Well...I think after all that, we should have a further talk with Faunus, and maybe with the ‘Boss’ at the same time - but after all this business with the Combat Club and Brody is finished.
What do you think Jim ?”, Zac said, clearing away the coffee cups.
“Yes, I agree.”
“Yes, we could invite them here for dinner – we do have a dining room – at least I know that – though I’ve never used it.”, Ethan said – a little sadly.
“Good idea….. and it will be private !”, Josh said.
“Great...but who's going to cook the meal ?...
And it can’t be cheeseburgers, Ethan !”, Jim said.
“No problem….Clare can arrange for some outside caterers to do it all, and it will be just like a real restaurant, with a couple of waiters and a chef.”, Zac said.
“Well let’s do it – in a couple of days. If the ‘Boss’ agrees – yes ?”, Jim said.

The next morning Clare got the boys up early, as instructed by the ‘Boss’.
She got them washed and cleaned up, and gave them some new sporty clothes that the boss had sent over.
What was odd, to the boy’s thinking, was that Clare seemed to have no inhibitions, and would breeze into any of the en-suites, or even the big hot tub room, where the boys were stark naked, with out a comment or even a thought – or so they hoped – as regards the thoughts.
It was decided to leave Glaux at the penthouse as previously he had quite a late night, and anyway he enjoyed Clare’s company – because she fussed over him – so he was quite happy snoozing in the sunshine on the deck.
The boys didn’t know what to expect really from this visit, as they descended in the elevator, and were politely greeted by Chuck, who was driving a pure white stretch Cadillac.
“How many Cadillacs has the ‘Boss’ got ?”, Ethan said, as he found a comfy corner to sit in, next to the flat screen TV.
“He told you…. he collects them.”, Zac replied, still half asleep.
“Doesn’t this strike you as rather familiar ?”, Jim said, as the drove smoothly off towards the Club Jaguar.
“I don’t mean the town, the clothes or the limo.
Rather I’m thinking of the idea of going to watch and choose young guys who will be fighting in front to a wealthy, select audience.”, Jim queried.
“It’s like a rather more civilised Ludi, all over again – and that's something that I do remember, because I dream about it night after night.”, Jim continued.
“Yes ….me too.”, Zac said, with a not of resignation in his voice.
“But then what did you expect ?”, Josh said.
“In some ways we are just living our lives all over again, but in a different time and place.”, Josh suggested.
“Yes, well I just hope that it doesn’t all end in a volcanic eruption.”, Zac said.
“No, judging by what I’ve read about this area on the internet, if it’s going to be anything it will be a devastating earthquake !”, Jim said dramatically.
“That’s just great !”, Ethan said.
“And what’s this business about a volcano ?
I must have missed that last night.”, Ethan queried….but at that moment they arrived at the Club Jaguar.
The Cadillac pulled up to the kerb, the doorman opened the doors of the club, and the ‘Boss’ stepped out onto the side-walk as Chuck opened one of the doors of the rear passenger compartment.
“Good morning boys !”, the ‘Boss’ said brightly.
“And how are we all today ?”.
“Good, Sir, they all mumbled.”, not really sounding very cheerful.
“Do you like the clothes ?”, the ‘Boss’ asked, not really needing to ask, as they were in the height of fashion and very expensive.
“Great, Sir...thank you very much.”, Jim replied, speaking for the others.
“So...not much to say about this morning.”, the ‘Boss’ began.
“Just remember – and this applies particularly to Ethan – and don’t take this the wrong way, - you really are my ‘special little guy’, (and Ethan blushed), but be careful what you say – particularly to Brody...he’s very touchy, and I don’t want him hitting anybody – other that his opponents, of course.”, the ‘Boss’ explained, with the flicker of a smile playing over his eyes.
“Yes, Sir, I’ll be very quiet and polite.”, Ethan said.
“Good, I know you will.”, the ‘Boss’ replied, and Jim smiled.
Chuck carefully manoeuvred the massive limo through the busy morning traffic, and eventually came to a fine classic looking building (to the boy’s eyes faintly reminiscent of a Roman temple – which was a little unnerving for them.)
The one thing it didn’t look like was a Gym.
California Combat Club Plaque
The only indication that it was the Combat Club was the exquisitely detailed bronze plaque outside the equally exquisitely detailed bronze doors.
And the plaques featured a fine rendition of ancient Greek – or possibly Roman – nude wrestlers.
If this was ‘sleaze’ as Josh had suggested, then if was the classiest ‘sleaze’ imaginable – apart that is from the classical magnificence that had once, so long ago it seemed, been the Amphitheatre at Baiae – a place that the boys could only dimly remember, but which haunted their dreams – or were they nightmares ?
Chuck smoothly exited his driving position and, with studied care, opened the doors of the passenger compartment.
One thing that Ethan really like about getting in and out of the limos belonging to the ‘Boss’ was the fact that people always stopped to look.
Perhaps they were thinking that Ethan was some famous celebrity, that they just couldn’t put a name to – and in fact that is exactly what the boys were becoming as they moved from one high class establishment to another.
California Combat Club
And this morning it was the mysterious California Combat Club.
The doors were instantly opened for the ‘Boss’, and he and the boys trooped in, to be greeted by Marty.
Marty was surprisingly young, but didn’t really make a very good impression on the boys.
He was brash, and seemingly lacking in sophistication.
The ‘Boss’ introduced the boys, one by one, as his ‘associates’, and Marty had no choice but to be equally respectful and subservient to them as he was to the ‘Boss’.
It was obvious to the boys, right from the start, who was really in charge, and Marty seemed more like an ‘under-manager’ than anything else.
“Has Lockwood arrived yet ?”, the ‘Boss’ asked, putting aside any formalities.
“Yes ’Boss’ - he’s in his office, cleaning himself up I think – you know these doctors and their hygiene.”, Marty replied, trying to smile.
“And the boy ?”, the ‘Boss’ asked.
“Yes….he’s here – in the main office.”, Marty replied.
“Good. - Myself and my associates will go and speak to the boy, meanwhile you get the practice ring ready, and the studio.”, the ‘Boss’ said, not wanting to waste any time.
Marty immediately went away, not looking very happy, having been essentially dismissed in front to the young associates of the ‘Boss’.
The ‘Boss’ and the boys proceeded down a classically panelled corridor, towards a fine mahogany door.
“You’re going to ditch him, aren’t you ?”, Jim whispered to the ‘Boss’ as they walked down the thickly carpeted passage.
“My, you do catch on quickly, Jim...but keep it to yourself.”, the ‘Boss’ whispered back.
Jim stepped forward and opened the door for the ‘Boss’.
Brody was standing by a large antique desk, wearing the same clothes as when he had visited the Penthouse.
He looked a little alarmed at the number of people entering the room.
“Good morning, Brody.”, the ‘Boss’ said politely.
“Good Morning ‘Boss’, Brody replied, nervously.
As before with Marty, the ‘Boss’ introduced his associates.
“Are you in good shape for this audition ?”, the ‘Boss’ asked.
“I hope so, ‘Boss’.”, Brody said.
“No….don’t hope so – hope has a nasty habit of dying.
Know so !”, the Boss said firmly.
“Yes ‘Boss’...I know I’m in good shape, ‘Boss’”, Brody said, trying to sound resolute.
“That’s better.
Now go into the corridor, and knock on the door marked ‘Doctor’, and Doctor Lockwood will give you a medical examination.
Then ask him to take you to the practice ring.”, the ‘Boss’ said.
“So, what do we do while we wait for this medical to finish ?”, Josh asked.
“Don’t worry, I’ll show you round.”, the ‘Boss’ replied, now being very relaxed after his ‘performance’ with Brody.
The facilities were remarkable.
There were showers, saunas, massage rooms, medical facilities, weight-training rooms, a photo studio, a couple of practice rings, and for the club members, bars, lounges, a small restaurant and other facilities.
Dr. Lockwood
After an extended look round, the ‘Boss’ brought them back to the main office, where Lockwood and Brody were waiting.
Lockwood and the ‘Boss’ then went off into one corner for a short, quiet chat.
Lockwood then went over to Jim.
“Hello Jim...and how’s the old memory ?”, he asked, obviously concerned.
“Oh it’s coming along very nicely now, Sir.” Jim replied.
“Good, well I know that the ‘Boss’ will contact me if there are any problems, so don't hesitate to tell him.”,Lockwood said.
“Thanks Doc – and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”,Jim said, genuinely grateful to the doctor who he had come to admire.
The ‘Boss’ then interrupted.

“Right Brody, let’s get you down to the practice ring.”, The ‘Boss’ said, taking the boy by the arm.

The practice ring room was light and airy, with good lighting, pale grey walls, a small practice ring covered in a light beige matting.
(the main difference between a 'training' or 'practice' ring and a 'performance' ring is that a training or practice ring is smaller, and has no 'apron'.)
As the ‘Boss’ arrived, a young blond guy approached.
“Good morning, ‘Boss’ !”, he said respectfully.
“We haven't seen you here for some time.”, he commented, shaking the hand of the ‘Boss’.
“No Kurt….lots of business to attend to...”, the ‘Boss’ replied, briefly, with little explanation
It seemed to Jim, however, that the ‘Boss’ and Kurt had a better understanding than the ‘Boss’ had with Marty – who, it seemed, had disappeared.
“I have this young man here who wants an audition – so I was hoping that you could arrange things for him, and run him through the usual business.
His name’s Brody.”, the ‘Boss’ explained.
“Hi Brody !”, Kurt said, shaking the boy’s hand.
“Done anything like this before ?”, Kurt asked, leading him over to a small desk near the practice ring.
“No, Sir...just a bit of wrestling.”, Brody said nervously.
“Well this is not your polite Collegiate wrestling, Brody, if that's what you've done before.
This will be much, much rougher, - and ‘raunchy’ - if you get my drift.”, Kurt explained.
“Yes...I do understand – a bit.
Zac here has told me something about it.”, Brody replied.
“And how did you meet Zac ?”, Kurt asked.
“Oh – he goes to the same gym as me.”, Brody replied.
“You can afford to got to that gym, ?”, Kurt asked, somewhat incredulously.
“Well, just about.
It’s all I really spend my money on, and it’s the best, and I really want to make it in this business, so that’s the gym I need to go to.”, Brody explained very convincingly.
“I see.”, Kurt said, rubbing his chin.
“Well…. if the ‘Boss’ decided to give you a contract – and there’s no guarantee that he will – then an allowance would be made for your gym expenses – although we probably wouldn’t pay the amount to cover all your expenses at your present gym…. But then if you’re training there with Zac, the ‘Boss’ might make an exception.
Archive Photo - Ivan v Mark
Archive Photo - Ivan v Mark
Brody, who was somewhat taciturn, nodded.
While this conversation had been taking place, Ethan and Josh had been looking at the numerous publicity photos that covered one of the walls of the gym, which Zac explained to them - chatting about the various fighters.
Of course, the photos displayed in the prectice ring room were quite inoccous, as this was part of the complex that was seen by those visitors who were not 'au fait' with some of the more 'extreme' activities of the club.
Archive Photo - Ivan v Mark
Meanwhile, the ‘Boss’ and Jim, however, had been listening intently to the conversation taking place between Kurt and Brody.
“So… shall we get on.”, the ‘Boss’ asked, having heard enough.
“Of course ‘Boss’...right away.” Kurt replied, realizing that the ‘Boss’ was a busy man, and probably had other appointments.
Kurt then started making notes of Brody's personal details on a large form – something that Jim was surprised, but pleased to see, as it seemed that the business was run on a professional basis - which was really not surprising considering the opulent building in which the Club was situated
Having got Brody to sign in numerous places on the form, Kurt turned to the ‘Boss’.
“Well before we can try him out, we need to get him ‘kitted up’.” Kurt said.
“And I know how fussy you are about presentation, ‘Boss’, so what were you thinking of ?”.
“Well he’s young, quite good looking – even attractive, but initially I want him to fight as a ‘jobber’ - just to soften up the betting situation.”, the ‘Boss’ suggested.
A 'jobber' is a professional wrestling term used to describe a wrestler who is routinely defeated by 'main eventers' and 'mid-carders'. A jobber may not necessarily lose, only make his opponent look powerful. 'Heels' routinely 'abuse' and humiliate 'jobbers'. In most cases 'jobbers' are also 'faces' (see below).
Kurt very politely led the ‘Boss’ over to one side of the ring, apparently out of earshot.
“No problem !”, the ‘Boss', said, smiling disarmingly.
“My young ‘associates’ are aware of the situation, so we can speak quite openly.”, the ‘Boss’ explained.
“Ah...I see.” Kurt said, looking a little more relaxed.
“You can talk to me and Jim – it’s no problem.” the ‘Boss’ assured Kurt.
“So it’s a scam ?”, Kurt said.
“You want the boy to look vulnerable, loose matches, get the betting against him, and then allow him a serious win...yes ?”, Kurt said, smiling.
“Yes...exactly Kurt.”, the ‘Boss’ said.
“So we need to show him how to take some ‘punishment’, and teach him to ‘sell’ the audience the idea that he’s badly hurt, yes ?”, Kurt suggested.
“Yes !”, the ‘Boss’ replied.
“So...we dress him in white – white for the ‘face’ is good.
In professional wrestling, a 'face' ('baby-face') is a ‘heroic’ or a ‘good guy’ wrestler, scripted by the match organisers with the aim of being popular with the audience but and betted against winning. Traditionally, they wrestle within the rules and avoid cheating while behaving positively towards the audience. Such characters are also 't├ęcnicos' in 'lucha libre' - (Lucha libre, meaning ‘free fight’ - ‘NHB’) is a term used in Mexico for a form of professional wrestling developed in the country). The face character is portrayed as a hero relative to the ‘heel’ wrestlers, who are analogous to villains. In most cases 'faces' are young - often teenage.
And some nice brief Speedos - that’s if he’s ‘well hung’ - or otherwise 'short shorts' or maybe tights.”. Kurt said.
“Well, as to being ‘well hung’.", the 'Boss' paused and smiled knowingly,  "I've no idea…..but we’ll find that out soon, if you get on, and get him ‘kitted up’, Kurt.”, the ‘Boss’ said.
“Yes, of course ‘Boss’.”, and Kurt turned to Brody, who by now was looking a little bored.
“Come with me Brody, and I’ll get you ‘kitted up’ in the locker room.”, Kurt said, taking Brody through an unobtrusive door at the opposite side of the room.
A short time later Brody returned, wearing black Speedos.
He the nimbly climbed into the ring, and struck a rather selfconscious pose in the corner where the ‘Boss’ and Jim could see him.
Kurt stayed onside the ring, looking up at the young hopeful.
“So what do you think, ‘Boss’ ?”, Kurt asked.
“Looks the part - ”, the ‘Boss’ replied.
“What do you think, Jim ?”, the ‘Boss’ queried.
“Yes...Nice physique….but...”, Jim said hesitantly.
At that point Zac ambled over.
“Good…..but I think it needs white speedos – for the ‘cute look’.” Zac suggested.
Brody - White Speedos
“ may be right.”, the ‘Boss’ replied.
“OK Kurt, get him to change into some white Speedos.”.
“Right, ‘Boss’ !”, Kurt replied, and Brody, a little reluctantly, climbed down from the ring, and disappeared again into the locker room.
“You see boys,”, the ‘Boss’ said, turning to Jim and Zac, “In this ‘game’, like in most entertainment, the presentation – the ‘look’ of a thing is all important in ‘selling’ it to the ‘punters’.
It might seem a lot of fuss over nothing, but it’s time well spent, and will bring in the ‘bills’."
They didn't have long to wait, and once again Brody climbed into the ring and took up his pose against the ropes - this time looking a lot happier.
Apparently Kurt had told Brody to smile, as a miserable 'bunny' was unlikely to get a contract.
As Kurt said, echoing the 'Boss' - 'sell it to the punters'.
“Yes….that looks better !”, the ‘Boss’ said, with a distinct air of satisfaction.
Now keep the smile - it looks really good !", the 'Boss' enthused - obviously feeling that he might have a good prospect with the boy now that Brody had begun to relax a bit.“OK Brody...
Brody in Ring
Now how about a few poses to show the ‘Boss’ what you've got – like you do in the mirrors in the gym.”, Zac called up to the boy
The ‘Boss’ then, with surprising agility, climbed into the ring to take a closer look as Brody went through a series of poses.
Impressed by the youngster’s muscularity, he then told Kurt to get some photos taken of the boy.
The 'Boss' and Brody in the Ring
The ‘Boss’ then climbed out of the ring, assisted, but not really of necessity by Jim.
“I think we have a good candidate there...”, the ‘Boss’ said to Jim, smiling.
So let’s go to the studio and see the photos being taken.”
According to the ‘Boss’, who spoke of him later, Adam had an excellent eye, brilliant technique, and a particular flair for the special kind of lighting required for ‘physique photos’.
In addition, he took the photos on match nights, with the help of his assistant, Gareth, so in addition he was a good 'sports action' photographer.
“Good morning Adam”, the ‘Boss’ said formally.
“These are my associates - Jim, Zac, Josh and Ethan, and we’re auditioning this young guy, Brody.
I need some photos made – quickly – as we need to study them this morning in order to decide if we should grant Brody a contract.
I suggest a dozen poses in Speedos, and the same number nude – if that’s possible.
“Of course, ‘Boss’ !”, Adam replied.
Photo Studio - California Combat Club
The ‘Boss’ then settled himself in a large black leather armchair, and started leafing through some recent photos that were lying on the marble topped coffee table.
At the same time Ethan and Josh parked themselves on a remarkably long matching sofa, while Jim and Zac stood with the ‘Boss’.
Seconds later a cute young teenage boy came into the studio carrying a large tray on which were five precariously balanced cups of coffee, for the 'Boss' and his 'associates'.
As the ‘Boss’ sipped his coffee, he perused the photos, he passed them on to the ‘boys’.
Meanwhile, Adam was giving Gareth instructions regarding the lighting and the backdrop.
Adam looked to the ‘Boss’.
“Any requirement for the backdrop ‘Boss’ ?”, Adam asked.
“Well, as he’s wearing white Speedos, I think a medium neutral grey, if you have it, would be ideal.”, the ‘Boss’ replied knowledgeably.
“We have everything here, ‘Boss’, Adam said cheerily.
Gareth, on hearing the request of the ‘Boss’ immediately started setting up an appropriate backdrop.
"Excuse me, ‘Boss’….do you want any oil on him ?”, Adam asked.
“Just a touch on the photos in Speedos, and a little more on the nude shots, with the lighting a little more – shall we say – dramatic ?”, the ‘Boss’ explained.
“Exactly, ‘Boss’.
“You have an excellent ‘eye’, if I may say so.”, Adam said.
He was not only a good photographer, but excellent at flattering those who mattered.
Jim smiled.

And so the photo session began.
Gareth applied a very light covering of oil to Brody, rubbing it well in to avoid and extreme highlights, while Adam carefully adjusted the lights.
At Zac’s suggestion Brody started producing some poses, and as Adam saw a likely image, the flashes fired.
Jim and Adam in the Photo Studio
The camera was linked to an iPad Pro 12.9”, so that the ‘Boss’ could instantly look through the images, and choose which ones he wanted transferred to the smaller iPad he had brought with him.
The work went smoothly and well, with Brody obviously showing an excellent level of concentration, and only botching a couple of poses, which he was able to correct after a few words from Adam.
At the end of the first session, the ‘Boss’ had a quick scan through the images on the iPad, with Jim and Zac looking over his shoulder, and commenting on some of the images.
Meanwhile, Brody had disappeared into an adjacent door, leading to a locker room, where he took off his boots, leggings, knee protectors, and finally his Speedos.
Gareth then went into the locker room with a bottle of oil in order to apply a further layer.
“Well, this is the bit we’ve been waiting for..”, Josh said, expectantly.
“Yes….Brody in all his glory..”, Ethan replied.
Moments later Brody emerged from the locker-room ready for his nude photo session, oiled and naked.
The ‘Boss’, who had been perusing the images on the iPad, looked over, and raised an eyebrow.
He turned to Jim.
“Now that, to be polite, is what is termed ‘well endowed’.
Jim looked over and grinned, along with Zac.
“Fuck !….Look at the size of his dick !”, Ethan whispered to Josh.
"And his nuts !", Josh replied quietly.
“Is he getting a ‘boner’ ?”, Ethan almost spluttered.
“No – well I don’t think so.
I think that’s just the way he’s made – really ‘hung’.” Josh replied softly, not wanting the ‘Boss’ to hear him.
Brody - Nude Photo-Shoot
Brody seemed unconcerned, however, and stepped onto the background, which had been changed to white in order to accentuate his tan.
He then stood, apparently unconcerned that the ‘boy’s, and Adam and Gareth were staring at the one obvious place that they would stare.
Adam then snapped out of it, and started telling Gareth to re-arrange the lights.
Adam then positioned Brody, and made some suggestions regarding his poses.
Otherwise, apart from the surprise at the beginning of the session, the photo-shoot went well.
Fortunately for all concerned, Brody did not get a ‘boner’, much to Ethan’s disappointment, although Adam was relieved, as he didn't want anything to prolong (no pun intended) the session, as he had further ‘shoots’ that morning.

Brody was then escorted back to the locker-room, and then to the showers in order to wash off the oil and get dressed.
Meanwhile, the ‘Boss’ and the boys made their way back to the main office, where they found Kurt and Marty waiting for them.
The ‘Boss’,immediately sat behind the desk, which presumably Marty occupied when the ‘Boss’ was not around.
Both Marty and Kurt stood to one side, while Ethan and Josh sprawled out on the large leather sofa, and Brody, at the behest of the ‘Boss’, sat in an armchair in front of the main desk.
Jim stood just behind the ‘Boss’, and Zac stood to one side of the desk, carrying the large iPod from the photo studio.
The ‘Boss’ had placed the papers that Brody had signed on the desk in front of him.
“So, Brody… so far so good.”, the ‘Boss’ began.
The ‘Boss’ stretched his hand out to Zac for the large iPod.
“Physically, you’re exactly what we’re looking for.
As for your wrestling skills – well.... they’re not too important at the moment.”
Brody looked puzzled.
In response the ‘Boss’ ‘steepled’ his hands, with his elbows on the desk, looking over them quizzically at Brody.
"To begin with, you will lose almost all of your matches, even if, in actuality, you could win them, and soundly beat your opponent.
In the process, you will suffer a great amount of very vulgar abuse and humiliation.
You will take it, because your instructed to, but as far as the ‘punters’ are concerned you will give a convincing impression that you far from happy – very far….and we will teach you how to do this.
Acting’, of a kind, it may be, but it will still be very painful and unpleasant.
So…..are you willing to do this, for this very attractive contract that I have on my desk in front of me ?”
“Yes, Sir.”, Brody replied firmly and confidently.
“Now you’re not a stupid guy, so do you understand why I am requiring to fight like this – under these terms ?”, the ‘Boss’ asked.
Brody leaned back a little in his chair, and the ‘Boss’ could see a faint glimmer of a smile on his lips.
“Yes….I think I understand, Sir.”, Brody replied, and paused.
“And do you mind if I ask what’s in it for me, Sir ?”, Brody asked, taking a considerable chance.
The ‘Boss’ smiled back, equally faintly.
“Well, boy….you haven’t seen the contract yet, have you ?”
And with that the ‘Boss’ slid the contract across the desk.
Brody opened it, and started to read it.
Fuck !”, he whispered.
“I think I understand what you’re planning.”, he said quietly, looking round at the other people in the room, obviously wondering if they were ‘in the know’.
“And this is legal ?”, Brody asked.
“Perfectly.”, the ‘Boss’ replied smoothly.
“And my cut as well ?”, Brody, somewhat unwisely persisted.
“And your cut as well.”, the ‘Boss’ replied.
"So, you will answer directly to Kurt – but Jim will be your contact with me.
Dr. Lockwood will deal with all you health matters.
Zac will assist you in your training – when he is available – and the Club will cover your entire gym expenses, equipment costs, supplements and diet.”, the ‘Boss’ explained.
Brody nodded, obviously stunned.
“So Brody, if you're happy with that, sign here.”, the ‘Boss’ said, pointing his finger to the appropriate place on the contract
Brody's Neighbourhood
And Brody signed.
“And tell me, what is your housing situation”, the ‘Boss’ continued.
“Oh, I just have a one room apartment way out on the edge of town.
I can give you my address, if you need to contact me.”, Brody said, rather innocently.
“Well I for one will not be contacting you, but go to the penthouse tomorrow - where you went before – in the early afternoon, and Zac will arrange for an apartment for you closer to the Combat Club.
“Thank you, Sir”, Brody said, still bemused by his obvious good fortune.
It should be pointed out that there are extreme levels of urban poverty in Las Vegas and while Brody was able to 'hustle' on the 'Strip' and other areas, giving him an income that enable him to put a roof over his head and fee and clothe himself and cover his training costs, the old, infirm and mentally ill in Las Vegas could find themselves in the most appalling situations - with some parts of the city simply 'no go areas' because of high levels of crime, destitution and drug abuse.
“So, after arranging your accommodation tomorrow, report to Kurt in the early evening, and start your training.
“That’s all Brody.”, the ‘Boss’ said, as he rose from his seat, obviously dismissing the boy.
“Oh, and Brody….don’t call me Sir, that’s only for my you, and everyone else it’s ‘Boss’….OK ?”, the ‘Boss’ said sternly.
“Yes ‘Boss’ “, Brody said, and with that the boy left the office at once, before he made any more mistakes.
The ‘Boss’ the turned to Zac.
“Zac, could you please copy those images from the studio iPod to my persona iPod before we leave.”
Zac nodded, and immediately set to work.
At that point Marty and Kurt approached the ‘Boss, but Marty was waved away, and the ‘Boss’ spoke very briefly to Kurt.
“You know what to do with him, so get started tomorrow.
Any problems just ‘phone Jim – here's his number.”, The ‘Boss said quietly.
The ‘Boss’ then turned to Ethan and Josh.
“Come on guys, I think it’s time we had something to eat.”

'Franklin tidies up all the outstanding business matters for the 'boys', and Brody moves into his new apartmentThe 'Boss' then attends his first 'Dinner Party' at the penthouse with Faunus and the 'boys' - and Faunus allows his fellow guests to confront some of the more painful aspects of their shared pasts.'
 to find out more go to:

 to be continued soon.......

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