Sebastian was more relaxed and happier than he had been for years. Even Dr. Knox commented on his improved blood pressure and heart rate.
"Rick's doing you a power of good," the doctor commented.
"He's a good lad. I must admit, I was concerned about the friends he insisted on bringing to the island but it's worked out rather well. I gather he was a bit of a loner and chose his friends carefully, and I accept his point. There's too much going on in his life, and he needs people who understand. Steve wants to move here as well, but it's proving difficult to persuade his mother."
"Yes, I gather she likes her independence."
"Independence! We just about managed to get her to stay for a week as our guest. It's lucky she accepted a chalet in the holiday camp and even then she applied for a cleaning job. Village shops try to charge to our account, but she won't have it."
"It's only been a couple of days so let her get used to it. Don't pressure her but drop hints about scholarships and university. Get her thinking about Steve's prospects."
"We've already thought about it but Steve mentioned those obsessive disorders people have. Could there be a problem?"
"There could." Doctor Knox replied, "It could just be over-tiredness. Does she know about Steve being gay?"
"We're not sure. She seems to prefer him staying at the castle but it's to keep the chalet tidy."
"As I said, it could be over-tiredness and a bee in her bonnet. Let her rest this week, and we'll take it from there."
Sebastian nodded. Rick intended visiting his mother later in the week, and finally, she was making some progress. He and his friends were visiting the activity centre to spend a day canoeing, so he was looking forward to a leisurely lunch with Dr. Knox when his phone rang. It was Jimmy.
"A guy's just got off the ferry; he's looking for the Castle pub, and I thought he was going to hit me when I said there wasn't one. The only thing I got out of him was his nephew was staying there."
"Thank you, Jimmy." Sebastian replied, "Richard doesn't have an uncle; that's why he's here and Will described his as a 19th century villain."
"He's after Will then. We'll keep an eye on him."
"Thank you, Jimmy. How are you getting on?"
"I'm fine, thanks. I'm going to need a cabin or something for the winter. I don't want to be popping into Mr. Forbes house just to get warm."
"It's Richard's decision nowadays but I don't think there'll be a problem. Leave it with me."
Sebastian's sense of well-being wilted a little but not by much. Although Rick was a young teen, he was capable which allowed Sebastian to discuss problems. Jimmy's parents were the sort of people who blamed every problem on someone else, belonging to the minority who wanted the island sold off. By contrast, Jimmy was happy. He was dyslexic which gave him problems with paperwork, but he understood his efforts around the pontoon were appreciated. Again, his parents believed if they were on the mainland, he'd find a better job and be able to receive treatment, though they would never admit to taking too long to accept he had problems. The result was considerable friction at home with Jimmy often preferring to sleep on the beach. Mr. Forbes, the harbourmaster could scarcely look after himself let alone do his job, so something had to be done. He had no family except for Mrs Forbes who was too frail to look after anyone, and nowadays, it was the Earl's job to look after them.
But first, Will's uncle had to be dealt with. Uncle Roger had a quick and violent temper which landed him jail. It was a weakness the police sought to exploit to uncover his illegal activities, but they never succeeded, and a number of cold-bloodied, planned murders remained unsolved. Uncle Roger was coming to the conclusion that there was no pub called the Castle. He had searched the village, checked a tourist map and found nothing. Giving up, he visited the only pub he could find and settled at a table with a whiskey to wait for a ferry. He watched as a boy about Will's age came from the back and through the bar flap, followed by an older youth. They carried colas with them together with cutlery wrapped in serviettes.
Uncle Roger was immediately curious. How many other others were staying here? There was another boy, eating with his parents and greeted the arrivals.
"Where's Steve and Ryan?" the boy asked, "Did they go with Rick and Will?"
Only Charles saw Paul screw up his face, but of course, it was too late. Uncle Roger had heard, and he was sensible enough to remain quiet and listen. Uncle Roger knew of Rick because Will was supposed to be staying with him. Thinking about it, he had never mentioned Will's name, but this wasn't the Castle.
He listened as Paul replied, "No, they're taking Steve's mother sightseeing."
"OK! We need one more for volleyball, tomorrow. Ask Rick if you see him, will you? I'd go and ask him tonight, but it still feels weird popping into the castle when it's closed."
"You get used to it." Charles smiled, "Dad still thinks I'm staying there."
Luckily, the family's food arrived, and the conversation ended. Uncle Roger seemed unconcerned, as if the conversation had meant nothing, but once he was seated, Paul sent a message to Jimmy. Meanwhile, Uncle Roger was working out what to do. It was one big coincidence. His nephew and his friend were no aristocrats. No-one would call either one 'Your Lordship', but a Will and a Rick were living at the castle. He could even see why there was a mix-up over where he was staying. If it was true.
He had never met Rick and did not know what he looked like. Uncle Roger was considered the clever one in the family, able to read police statements before signing them, and this situation needed more than low animal cunning. He thought of police evidence used against him and decided he needed a picture. There was a stack of brochures advertising local amenities, and he took one when he bought his next drink. On the front page was a picture of the Earl of Westmark with a welcoming smile.
That evening he showed the picture to Will's father, sitting back and pleased with himself for investigating like a pro.
"How did the fucker pull a con like that?" Will's father asked.
"I googled it." Uncle Roger said, showing off his Internet skills, "It turns out he's pretending to be some long-lost son, and the real Earl is doolally."
"And Will is with him." His father murmured, impressed.
Uncle Roger frowned, he didn't want to be upstaged by the brat so asked, "So what are we going to do about it?"
Bob, Will's father, thought for a moment, "Nothing. Let the briefs do their stuff. Who reckons the Earl is doolally? What would they pay for the low-down on them?"
Roger nodded. Bob might struggle to write his name, but he was always quick with an idea, some of them actually worked, and they could both see easy money beckoning. Bob might be possessive, but he was thinking of selling Will and that was a different story.
At much the same time, Will was sitting with his friends, Jimmy and Sebastian looking at CCTV footage.
"That's Uncle Roger." Will confirmed.
All the youngsters turned to Sebastian.
"No-one complained about his behaviour so there's not much we can do," he said, "He can't smuggle Will off the island unless he hires a boat and manages to find a secluded landing spot. You say he was looking for the Castle Pub?"
"If he was expecting the seedy dive you joked about, he might have had some leverage. If he tries bully-boy tactics in reception, security will be onto him. Rick, you're visiting your mother the day after tomorrow. I'd like Jimmy to go with you."
"Why? I'm not a kid." Rick pouted.
"Neither is Will's Uncle."
"I don't get it." Will said, "Why would Uncle Roger kidnap Rick?"
"He'd be a fool if he tried but how about ransom or a bargaining chip to get you home?" Sebastian explained, "Insurance is all about hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. The more they see Rick and Will as valuable targets, the more tempting it is to try something stupid."
"Maybe I should go back." Will said, "I'm just giving you problems."
"That is a victim's way of thinking." Sebastian replied, "You make Richard happy and you're not causing trouble. Others are. We do live in a castle that has fought off enemy attacks and though we might not be drawing weapons before rushing to the battlements, we are going to defend it and what we stand for."
"We're building holiday homes in Seaview Close." Rick said, "Do you suppose Mr. Forbes would like to live in one?"
"Why?" Sebastian asked.
"We've got a harbourmaster and a dock hand. How about a harbourmaster and a secretary?"
"I like your thinking, Richard." Sebastian said, "The mainland will have to pay him Housing Benefit, care allowances, and he has a works pension with us. He could do very nicely out of it."
"I didn't think you'd like the mainland involved." Steve said.
"We work the system and remind the mainland authorities how much full integration would cost."
"Will Mr. Forbes agree?" Will asked, "Old people don't like losing their homes."
"Islanders are pragmatic. I assume you're considering Jimmy as harbourmaster and part of the package will be frequent visits from Mr. Forbes telling him what he's doing wrong. Mr. Forbes says he wants to move, and he's had enough of a big, draughty house. I was considering along similar lines so well done, Richard." Sebastian paused, "Or were you trying to divert attention from Jimmy accompanying you?"
Rick grinned, "Not really. I wanted to think about it, and I get the idea now."
"Good! Maybe it's time you reassured Will why he's so welcome here. Our friends won't mind if you claim to be tired."
Both boys were long past being embarrassed at mention of their relationship. Rick just grinned and as they left, replied with: 'Good idea'.
"I can see why Aunt Sybil waited for him." Sebastian said, "He's more island boy than many who've lived here all their lives."
"He doesn't behave much like an Earl though." Ryan said.
"Ah! I'm not going into get into that argument." Sebastian smiled, "A good feudal lord looked after his serfs. A bad one just saw them as property to be used. Think how that applies to the modern world, say a factory owner and I'll leave it at that. Of course, we're being feudal with Jimmy, because we're assuming he'll fall in with our plans."
Jimmy smiled, "Assume on. I'll hire Seb as a houseboy."
"Being serious, I think it would be an excellent idea. A bit of responsibility would do him good, and both of you would accept the other's, er, private activities. In fact, you'd be more feudal than Richard. You'd be able to use your servant as you will, and he won't complain."
Meanwhile, Rick and Will were content to lie cuddling and holding each other. They both had marks on their bodies for when they had wrestled for dominance. They were boys at times preferring boisterous play fights, both willingly offering their arse if they lost, but whenever a problem was brewing they would lay, comforting each other.
The following day, Rick was cheered by a call from the hospital. His mother was sitting up in bed and talking. It was an effort so speaking on the phone would have been too much. However, she was excited at the prospect of a visit from Rick, reeling off a list things she wanted from home. Rick looked worried.
"What's wrong?" Sebastian asked.
"I don't know." Rick replied, "A couple of weeks ago, I fitted in around there. Now I'm some sort of toff and taking on Will's family. My mates know where I live so word will have got around."
"Are we talking about hoping for the best and preparing for the worst again?" As Rick nodded, Sebastian added, "I'll speak to Ti. He's ex-SAS. Don't ask him about his name though. It's Tiberius."
"Yeah! Of course everyone knows but won't embarrass him. I kinda like it though."
The visit to his old home, turned out to be an anti-climax. Neighbours saw him arrive and asked after him and his mother. One came in and helped him find the things his mother had asked for, adding a few things she had forgotten.
"There're some stories going around about you," the neighbour said, while they packed, "You've got local villains after you and you're some sort of boss. You seem normal though."
"I'm the Earl of Westmark and I live in a castle. Will is staying with me, and it's his family that's after us."
The neighbour stared wide-eyed, but Rick had always been a nice lad, and he didn't seem to have changed. She wondered if she dare mention the juiciest rumour.
"They say you and Will are boyfriends. His family won't like that."
"I know." Rick replied, "His Dad beat him up because of it. The two guys waiting outside are friends of ours, and they came in case there was trouble."
"We're done here. Bring them next door and I'll make you all a nice cup of tea."
It was Jimmy who enthralled the neighbour with his tales of life on Bovaline, and how Rick had thwarted Robin's takeover bid, but soon it was time to head for the hospital. Rick was surprised to find his mother out of ICU, and not only in a ward but sitting up in bed.
He left Ti trying not to look like a bouncer and Jimmy eyeing up the younger nurses while he greeted his mother. She looked pale, and struggled to hold a cup, but she smiled warmly when she saw Rick.
I hear you've been visiting. It was nice of you but you must be sick of trains by now, and you can't expect Sebastian to keep paying the fares. How's the flat? I can see myself with a week of cleaning after all this time. I'm worried we won't be home in time for school."
It took all of her effort to get her questions out of the way, and she lay back, exhausted but alert.
"Cousin Sebastian doesn't own a pub. He lives in a real castle, and so do I now. I don't come by train, I fly by helicopter. Did Dad or Granddad say anything about their family."
"Your Granddad fell out with the family because he wanted to live in London. All he'd say was 'Bloody Charter, and they could stuff it'."
"OK, Mum." Rick said, "I've inherited something from Granddad, and I've got some presents for you. Can you eat much?"
"No. I'm still on liquids. Why?"
"In that case, here's some Bovaline fruit juice and this."
As he spoke, Rick handed her the box containing the necklace. She opened it and stared. Rick took it out of the box and opened it, so she could see the pictures.
"Rick, it's so expensive. You really mustn't ask your cousin for money all the time."
Just then, a nurse arrived to check on her before beckoning Rick outside.
"We're very concerned," the nurse said, "The operations were a success, but we're still not sure whether the cancer has spread. Tests are still inconclusive, and in any case, we'd like her to get strength back before we consider what treatments she may need. The thing is, she's worried about you and looking after you, and she gets very distressed. I understand your circumstances have changed."
Rick nodded, "I didn't get a chance to explain everything, but I live on Bovaline now, and there'd be all sorts of problems with me moving back around here. I'm given this for her, but if she can't eat properly perhaps you'd share it with nurses here."
As he spoke he took out the cheeses and honey, he had been given.
"That's very kind of you but we shouldn't accept gifts," the nurse said.
"In that case will you throw it in the bin, please?"
The nurse smiled, "It would be a waste, wouldn't it? Thank you."
"Here's my card. When she's well enough, could someone show her the website and tell her we'll be fine. There wasn't time today and it's not something I can just blurt out, is it? You see I have to live on Bovaline and that means Mum moving as well."
"Yes, it is a lot for her to take in. Would you wait here for a few minutes?"
The nurse went to check on Rick's mother again and on her return said, "Why not go and show your card and let her see the website. Focus on your well-being, not any problems."
"There's something I've got to tell you, Mum." Rick said when he was sitting by his mother's bed again, "Thing's have changed. I'm not spending Cousin Sebastian's money; I'm spending my own. I own a castle now. Look!"
He took out his phone and showed her the website.
"I'm sorry, I can't take it in," she said, "What are you telling me?"
"I'm telling you, I'm fine and you don't have to worry about me."
Her eyes were already drooping so Rick quietly left to speak to the nurse again.
"Look, I don't want to get all snobby but when you're talking about me, would you say His Lordship. I prefer Rick but …"
"Let her get used to it." The nurse said, "I understand. It will help if she's not worried about you."
"I'll not mention having a boyfriend yet." Rick chuckled.
"And there was me planning to introduce my daughter to such an eligible and handsome bachelor," the nurse chuckled back.
Soon they were on their way home. It was an uneventful journey and Rick was deep in thought. As soon as he could, he sought out Mrs Wilson.
"How do I give notice on our flat, move Mum to a nearer hospital and arrange for her to live here?" he asked.
"I'll let you know. Will she live in the castle?"
"I don't know." Rick replied, "I'm not sure what I want, but I can't do it on my own."
"No. Leave it with me, and I'll make enquiries.
In his turn, Steve could see a considerable change in his mother. When he visited he was astonished to find her in just a bikini, lying back in a lounger outside the chalet, sunbathing.
"We could have a good life here, couldn't we?" she said, "Do you get paid or anything? Could we get a house?"
"How would we pay for it, Mum?" Steve asked.
"Why would we pay for it?"
"OK! That's not like you. You hate taking charity." Steve said.
"Maybe I was wrong. Even with the kid hanging around, are you happy here?"
"Yes I am." Steve replied, "Ryan's OK!"
"More than OK from what I hear. Are you really into that sort of thing?"
Steve blushed, "I think I'm gay, if that's what you mean."
"I think about girls a lot and I do like boys."
Steve nodded, embarrassed.
"I had a boy here last night, and he wasn't much older than you. Your friend Jimmy, it was one of his mates, and you're not in a position to complain, are you?"
Steve was not sure how he felt. It was almost as if his own mother was blackmailing him, as she continued, "I don't think I spent more than ten minutes in bed with your father. He'd got what he wanted and just vanished. At least Rick's mother got insurance payouts, but I got nothing. Now it's my turn."
"OK, but listen Mum. Rick said he would help, but you sound as if you want to use him. It's not like you and I don't think I want to do that. Besides, the island wouldn't like it."
"Oh, they're all at it. What about your friend Alan?"
"His dad is getting a job no-one else wants. He's been properly interviewed and everything, and he can start when he's ready. You did home care visits before the cutbacks, and there're old folk on the island. On paper, you won't get paid much but … Oh God! I can't believe I'm saying this to you, Mum … unofficially island boys would be part of the deal."
"And Rick? Does he work?"
"He's at school like me, Mum, but yes, he does work. He's learning about income tax and VAT and the like. He sorts out problems on the island. How many other kids know about wind farms?"
"Go away. I don't want young men thinking I've got a fifteen-year old son."
Unhappy at his mother's behaviour, he visited Dr. Knox.
"Think of a spring." Dr. Knox said over a cup of tea, "Your mother has been repressed, struggling to make a go of things on her own. Suddenly she's released and sprung the other way. Let's see if she settles somewhere in the middle. You've got a good idea with home care. A lot of people help out neighbours but sometimes the carer wants a break or even just needs to visit the mainland for the day. Finding cover can be difficult. Let her enjoy her holiday before we mention it."
"Yes but she sounded sex mad." Steve exclaimed.
"Try being objective. Is she still a beautiful woman?"
Steve blushed yet again but replied, "I suppose so."
"Then let her enjoy it. You were worried about her finding out about Ryan. Well, she's right. You're not in the best position to complain, are you?"
"No …" Steve replied uncertain what to say.
"Here's another thought. Is it in your best interest to stay on the island?
Steve nodded so Doctor Knox continued, "How about your Mother?"
Steve nodded again, "I suppose it is. She won't have to work so hard, will she?"
"Then I suggest you let her get to like the benefits of staying here."
And elsewhere, Children's Services had dealt speedily with a child potentially in danger. It was not so much concern but the feeling it could be speedily dealt with and forgotten. Uncle Roger was trying to explain a letter Will's father had received.
"It says he's well and in safe hands. There's no sign of him being clumsy but it could be because he is being suitably stimulated rather than problems with his previous situation."
"What does that mean?" Bill, Will's father, asked irritably.
"Dunno for sure. He's OK there, but he had problems here. Briefs like things exact and that could mean fumes from traffic or him getting beaten up for being queer. It's like they don't care."
"I want him back. It ain't right letting him run off like that. He belongs here." Bill exclaimed, "Can we grab him?"
"We'd have to get him on the ferry and what then. Are you going keep him locked in his room?"
"It ain't right." Bill repeated.
Bill was notoriously tight with money, if he owed you, you would be lucky to get it back but if you owed him, he would be knocking on the door the next day, baseball bat in hand. The exception was as he became more agitated, so he became more generous. Roger saw an opportunity.
"I'm a bit strapped otherwise I'd go back see what I can figure." He said.
Sure enough, Bill took out his wallet and handed over a wad of notes.
"Find a way in. He's mine and I'm not letting him go," He paused, "Unless I get a good price."
Roger already knew that, there had been similar conversations before, but Bill was even more determined. Will had gone and Roger was glad to see the back of the little faggot, but there was a lot of money in the offing. There would be no harm in having a little holiday while looking around, especially since it was at Bill's expense.
He noticed Jimmy's alert look as he stepped off the ferry but the smile was friendly enough as Jimmy said, "Hello again. Will's on the beach if you're looking for him."
"Thank you, sir." Roger replied, trying to be polite, "I'm surprised you remembered me."
"It's part of my job. I'm sorry about last time. I didn't realise you were looking for Will, and if I'd directed you to the castle, you'd have thought I was winding you up."
Roger smiled, "I didn't think you'd know Will, so I just mentioned the pub I thought he was staying at. Is there somewhere I can stay for a few days?"
"Let me finish off here and I'll take you to Mrs Dawson's. She got a cancellation."
Roger was beginning to relax and drop his guard. It did not often happen, but there was something about the place. How come Jimmy knew who he was, but did not treat him like a threat? The most likely possibility was that Jimmy had some grudge and was sizing up a likely ally, but he was too relaxed. As the ferry cast off heading back to the mainland, Jimmy joined him, and they strolled off the pontoon. Jimmy seemed to know everyone who looked curiously at his companion, then warily when he was introduced as Will's uncle. Mrs Dawson proved to be businesslike but friendly as he signed in and was shown to his room.
"Come down when you're ready." she said, "I'll make you a nice cup of tea, or would you rather go and find Will?"
Surprised she knew who he was, he replied, "Thank you. A cup of tea would be right nice about now. Do you know Will? Perhaps you could tell me how he's doing here."
Suddenly Roger was Mrs Dawson's favourite guest. What could be better than someone willing to listen to all the gossip? Jimmy was a little uneasy as he walked back to the pontoon, phoning Sebastian.
"He's going to find out whatever we do." Sebastian said, "Short of drowning him, we can't stop him nosing around, and we don't do that sort of thing any more."
"At least, you don't think we do." Jimmy chuckled.
"There's no harm in adding a little uncertainty to the proceedings. You should try it. Warn Will, and he can play it as he likes."
Roger found himself enjoying himself. Bill was paying for his accommodation, and to his surprise, when he went to pay for something, he was told it would be charged. On that first day, he finally managed to get away from Mrs Dawson and headed for the beach. Sure enough, Will was there with another group of youngsters, playing volleyball. Will saw him and waved as he sat down on the sand to watch. After the game, Will joined him.
"You look well, boy." Uncle Roger said, "Life here suits you."
"And no-one cares I've got a boyfriend." Will said pointedly.
"I'm not here for an argument. Your dad's worried about you. No, I'll be honest. He wants you back under his thumb." Will looked surprised so Roger continued, "You've got nice a little number here, so what's it worth keeping your Dad off your back and don't get on your high horse. I'm treating you fair, how about the same from you?"
"OK! I can't believe how lucky I am. It's like waking up in a fairy tale. I'm not going back, and you can't make me, so I'm not going to ask Rick to buy you off. You cause trouble here, and you take on the whole island. They don't drop people off the cliff any more, at least Uncle Sebastian probably doesn't think they do. You don't cause trouble, and you could have every serious crime unit in the country after you, and they wouldn't find you here."
Roger was not going to let some poofter brat threaten him, and he desperately tried to control his temper. It took time, but it began to sink in. It was more than a threat, there was a deal somewhere. He was warned off causing trouble — that was a threat and his temper surged again. He tried again. Islanders looked after their own: he could work with that. If he did not cause trouble then he was Will's uncle and would be one of them. Sometimes things could get hot, and he needed a bolthole. It was an offer unless this Cousin Robin could offer more. Case the joint. He understood that. Don't cause trouble and look around. What was it Big Joe was always on about? That's it. Plan A and Plan B. He finally got it straight: Plan A was a bolthole, Plan B find the dirt to sell to Cousin Robin. He smiled cheerfully as he spoke to Will again.
"I knew we'd work something out. How about showing me around? And what was that about Uncle Sebastian?"
"He's Rick's cousin and is the eleventh Earl, I think it's eleven, but Rick is the next one. Cousin didn't seem right, so I call him Uncle. Come on, I'll grab a car."
They could have walked to the castle, but Will wanted to show off. He had discussed strategies with Sebastian and the others, and he was sure the first one had worked. Now it was just a case of showing how well he was established.
Roger noticed how they sat at a table reserved for the Earl of Westmark and guests, chatting to a pleasant though slightly vague old boy, who was studying the racing pages.
"It's a hobby of mine." The old boy said, "I look at the horses, decide which one should break its leg and put a bet on it."
"You do better than that, Uncle Sebastian." Will said.
Uncle Sebastian. A Lord and he was not looking down his nose at either Will or him. Roger tried to respond, "I'm the same. I get tips like that."
What followed surprised all three. Will because the two adults hit it off, Roger because Sebastian really was a kindly but slightly vague gentleman and Sebastian because he unlocked Roger's deep passion for horses.
"I do ride when I can, but it's a bit restricted." Roger said at one stage.
"I'm afraid the island is infantry rather than cavalry, but we can watch the race if you'd care to join me." Sebastian said, "You go, Will. Make sure Rick's not panicking."
"Sebastian's going for Uncle Roger's weak spot." Will chuckled, when he found Rick, "They're watching the races together."
Money still beckoned when Roger finally went home, but he left with kindly feelings for the place. Plan A was definitely a good, workable idea, while he had not made any progress with Plan B. His biggest problem was: what was he going to tell Bill, Will's father? He was still uncertain when they met up.
"Well?" Bill asked without preamble.
"We'll never take him on the island. Everyone knows what's going on and there're cameras everywhere. Your best bet is to forget what the brief says and go for custody anyway. Get him off the island and grab him at the court. What are you going to do then?"
Slowly it dawned on Bill that they were talking about kidnapping. How would they hold Will against his will?
"I'll think about it." Bill growled but Roger was satisfied. His bolthole was secure, and he had heard about Jimmy and what went on around the pontoon. Maybe that was the dirt he needed for Plan B, so it was worth looking into, and he was looking forwards to another visit.
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