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Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 13

Uncle Bernard called me just after nine to let me know that his housekeeper would be at the Hampstead house from ten to midday for me to collect my backpack. I thanked him and asked if I could speak to Joseph. He told me that Joseph was not there. He had gone to the Kent house last night but had gone off on his bike early this morning.

"Johnny, he knew I was going to phone you, and I think he wanted to be out of the house when I did."

Simone and Lee took me to the Hampstead house to retrieve my stuff. Then they drove me to Dunford. They dropped me off by the Priory front gate. It seemed that they had an appointment in Dunford. I trudged up to the house and let myself in through the front door.

"That you, Johnny?" Dad called out from the kitchen as I entered the hallway.

"Yes, Dad."

He came through from the kitchen wiping his hands on a towel. "You alright, son?" I shook my head in reply. "Come on through to the kitchen. I'll sort you a coffee."

I followed him through into the kitchen, hung my coat up, then sat at the table.

"You know?"

"Yes, son, Bernard phoned this morning and told me."

"Where's Mum?" I asked, wanting to change the subject.

"She's taken Jenny into Chelmsford," Dad informed me. He placed a Danish pastry in front of me. "Eat!"

I wasn't really hungry. Had not felt up to breakfast this morning. I went to push the plate away, but Dad was giving me one of his looks. Just to keep him happy I picked up the pastry and took a bite out of it. Sweet and spicy tastes filled my mouth. Suddenly, I was hungry. Before I knew it, I had finished the pastry. Dad put another on my plate and a mug of coffee beside it. Neither lasted long. Three Danish pastries and another mug of coffee later, Dad sat down opposite me.

"Want to talk about it?"

"Not sure there is much to talk about, Dad. Joseph has dumped me. Can't say I blame him."

"Why? What did you do?"

"I didn't do anything," I snapped back.

"Then why don't you blame Joseph?"

"Because I've got a history, and it came back last night. If Tony and I had not had a history together, he would never have kissed me and Joseph would not have seen it."

Dad laughed. I looked at him, warily.

"Johnny, we all have a history. The thing about history is that it is in the past, and that is where it should stay. Unfortunately, the fact that it was not your fault is only going to make things harder."


"Because, once Joseph realises it, he will then realise that he is in the wrong. That is somewhere where nobody wants to be, particularly a fifteen-year-old boy. He'll feel bad about the fact that he jumped to conclusions. He'll feel bad about not giving you a chance to explain. He will also feel bad about blaming you for something that was not your fault. Then he will blame you for making him feel bad."

I slumped in my chair, realising that Dad was probably right. Could things get worse?

The rest of Sunday was something of a waste of time. I should have been doing my homework for college. I had a set of matrix problems to solve, but I was in no mood to do anything. Spent most of the day wandering around the house, trying to find something to do and not finding anything to grab my interest. Eventually Dad dragged me out to what was going to be my workshop and told me I had better start sorting it out. At least that gave me something to do.

Just after six, Mum called me in and told me dinner would be ready in half an hour. She suggested I might like to have a shower to warm up before eating. Mum had a point. It had been freezing in my workshop; there was no heating in there yet.

Over dinner, I raised the point of the lack of heating in the workshop. Dad assured me that would be sorted out by tomorrow. Apparently, it was all installed, except there was a fault in the control panel, which was being replaced tomorrow.

After dinner, I made a half-hearted attempt to solve the matrix problems. Did three out of the ten that had been set, then gave up and went to bed. Sometime after midnight I woke up feeling very agitated. There was no way I could get back to sleep, so I got up, put my dressing gown on, and went down to the library. Thought I might get myself something to read.

When I got down to the ground floor, I saw that the light was still on in Dad's study. Not all that strange; he often wrote late into the night or in the early hours of the morning. Said he did some of his best work then. I let myself into the library, switched on one of the standard lamps rather than the main lights. Then I looked around for something light to read. One problem with Dad's library is that most of it is fairly heavy technical reading.

There were a couple of slim paperbacks in a box-set case that looked, at least from the spines, as if they may be cartoon books. That puzzled me. Why would Dad have any cartoon books? I knew he had some strange books around the place, but comic books? I pulled the first of the books out of the box, opening it at a random page.

It was a cartoon book, but the drawings were dark and disturbing, which strangely fitted my mood. I sank into the chair by the standard lamp, which was next to the side table on which the tantalus stood. Looking at the cover of the book, I read its title, Maus. Opening and looking at the images of cats, mice and pigs, I decided it looked like something worth reading.

I thought about getting myself a beer from the fridge, but then decided against it. I wanted something warming. Anyway, going to the kitchen would mean walking past Dad's study. I did not want to disturb him if he was writing. These days, he has problems finding the time to write.

Reaching round to the shelf behind the side table, I removed a glass, then opened the tantalus. Dad never locks it; in fact, I do not think he has a key for it. I removed the brandy decanter and poured myself a good measure, then set about reading Maus.

The brandy was very smooth, and I sipped it as I read the book. When I finished a glass, I poured myself another couple of measures.

"How many of those have you had?" I looked up and saw Dad standing at the library door just as I was about to pour myself another glass of brandy. I realised I did not know how many I had had.

"Don't know. It's bloody smooth."

"It should be. It's an hors d'age Armagnac. Bernard gave it to me for Christmas." Dad walked into the library and picked up the book I had been reading.

"Art Spiegelman's Maus. Not particularly light reading, though one which you probably need a good brandy with. You know, Johnny, it's the only graphic novel to get a Pulitzer Prize?"

"I didn't, Dad."

"Come on, you'd better get to bed; it's gone two and you have to be at college in the morning."

I nodded. I did feel tired. Then I stood up. That was a mistake. I was certainly unsteady on my feet. Dad grabbed me, then guided me to the kitchen. Once there he pushed me into a chair and put a pint glass full of water in front of me.

"Drink that," he instructed.

"But I'm not thirsty; would like a black coffee, though."

"Drink that. I'll sort you a coffee."

I drank it, then drank the coffee Dad made for me, though I almost gagged over that; it was so sweet. I don't normally have sugar in my coffee. When I commented on it, he said I probably needed some sugar. He then got me to drink another pint of water.

"Is this supposed to stop me having a hangover?" I asked.

"No, Johnny, it won't stop the hangover, but it will reduce the effects." As he said that, he filled a sports-drink bottle with ice and then topped it up with water. "Put this on your bedside table. You will probably want a drink in the night. You certainly will want one the moment you wake up."

It was getting on for half past two by the time I got back to bed. Dad was right; I did need a drink the moment I woke up. My mouth was dry and tasted vile. I grabbed the water bottle and about half emptied it. I then groggily looked at the clock. It was half past eight. Clearly, I had not set my alarm last night, and no doubt Mum would have left for college by now.

I dragged myself out of bed and into the shower. Something that Dad did last night must have been right. Yes, I did feel like shit, and I had a headache, but at least it was not the type that has Preston United Ladies Clog Dancing Team taking up residence. Considering I must have had a good six measures of brandy last night, I suspected I was getting off pretty lightly. I had experienced worse hangovers from only a couple of pints of Snakebite, a fact that I mentioned to Dad when I eventually got down to the kitchen.

"Not surprising, Johnny. I made sure you rehydrated before you went back up to bed. Dehydration is one of the major factors behind a hangover. You can't do much about the other factors except not drinking to excess. Dehydration you can do something about. If you ever drink anything more than a couple of pints of beer or glasses of wine, always take plenty of water before you go to sleep. It will make the following morning more manageable."

"It sounds as if you are talking from experience," I commented.

"I was a student, so I am," Dad stated, putting a couple of slices of toast down in front of me. "Now get those into you; they'll make you feel better."

I was not really that hungry. In fact, my stomach was telling me that the last thing it wanted was food. However, Dad gave me that look, which informed me that I'd better do as he says. By the time I had finished the second slice of toast and my second cup of coffee, I felt that my stomach had been lying to me. I definitely wanted some food. Dad put an omelette down before me, which I obligingly consumed.

I was just finishing the omelette when the backdoor bell rang. Dad went and let whoever was there, in.

"Morning, Johnny." I turned to see who was there; it was Simone. "We'd better get a move on or we are going to be late for maths. I need to call in at the hall to collect my stuff and get changed."


I looked at Dad. "I called Lee this morning when it was clear that you were not going to be up in time to go in with Anne. I asked him if he could take you in as there is no way you are going to go in on your moped in this weather. He told me that Simone was there and that she had the same classes as you, so could take you in."

Simone just smiled.

I finished off my breakfast, slurped down a third cup of coffee and then grabbed my stuff for college. Twenty minutes later, we drew up in front of Southmead Hall. Simone told me to wait in the car; she would not be long. I did, and she was not. About ten minutes after she had gone in, she was back, dressed in a sweater and jeans, with her backpack.

"Weren't we supposed to see Mr. Taunton yesterday?" I asked.

"Yes, but you were in no fit state to do so," Simone advised me. "I saw him and explained you were unwell. He said he would see us in his office after this class. We're both free till two."

"He's back, then?"

"Oh, yes. I just hope he stays."

"Why shouldn't he?" I asked.

"Because of the way he was treated. Everybody presumed he was guilty from the start."

I could only nod in agreement with that comment.

It is surprising what a difference a teacher can make to a class. Two teachers may be teaching exactly the same thing, using the same book and same set work but have totally different results. When Mr. Taunton talked about maths, it was something interesting and exciting. He went beyond what was in the textbooks and showed us how the maths could be applied and why it was important. The substitute teacher we had last week had just parroted the textbook, drawing on the board what was on the page in front of us.

Our ten o'clock class was a double period, so it was eleven-thirty before we got out. Simone and I made our way to Mr. Taunton's office and waited for him to arrive. He had been packing up his materials when we left the classroom. He arrived just a minute or two after us, glanced at the clock, noted that it was twenty-five to twelve.

"Marge's should be fairly quiet still. Why don't we go over there? The coffee is better than here, and I'll buy you two lunch." We both agreed. Five minutes later, we were in Marge's and found an empty table well away from the few others that were occupied.

Marge herself came over and took our orders.

"How things been today, Len?" she asked.

"Not too bad," Mr. Taunton replied. "Though, I am not the most popular person on campus."

"Why?" Simone asked.

"Well, it seems that some of my colleagues appear to have given in to Miss Carver's offers. There are some questions being asked about the grades she has achieved."

"So, what happened with Martin?" I asked.

"Well, once Mr. Clay had seen the video which your father supplied, he contacted the police and confirmed there had been a complaint made against me. He made an appointment for me and him to go and see them on Thursday morning. When we got there, they arrested me on suspicion of sexual assault and attempted rape."

"Shit!" I exclaimed.

"You're right, there. It was a good job Mr. Clay was with me; otherwise, I would have panicked. Anyway, they took me through to the custody suite and searched me, took my tie and shoes off along with everything from my pockets, and locked me in a cell. About half an hour later, I was taken to an interview room, and they started to question me. Mr. Clay was there.

"The first thing they did was read a statement to me that had been made by Miss Carver. In it, she said that she had gone to my office after her last class on Friday and that I had tried to rape her. Mr. Clay interrupted then and asked what time she finished her class. The interviewing officer said four p.m. Mr. Clay laughed; he then opened up his laptop and told them they needed to see what he had.

"The first thing he showed was the video from your Dad's dashcam. He pointed out the time on it. However, the officer said I could have driven or taken a taxi into Town. That's when he pulled the cat out of the bag. He showed them a video of me getting on the two-forty-five to Southminster. It also showed me getting off at the station at three-twenty.

"The police wanted to know how he got the video from the bus company. Martin told them he got a court order to obtain it; he also said he had court orders to get the relevant CCTV videos from the station, the train company, and London Underground, but they had not been supplied yet.

"After that they suspended the interview until they had spoken with a senior officer. I was left in the interview room with Mr. Clay."

"Can't you call him, Martin?" I asked. "I find Mr. Clay confusing."

"Oh, I could never do that. He is a solicitor; they are always mister," Mr. Taunton stated.

"Except when they are Miss," inserted Simone.

Mr. Taunton nodded, then continued. "Anyway, shortly after, a Detective Superintendent came in to see us. He explained that, given the evidence that Mr. Clay had presented, they did not intend to continue with the interview, and I was being released without charge.

"At that point, Mr. Clay got demanding. He insisted that a formal complaint against Miss Carver be made and that she should be charged, at the minimum, with attempting to pervert the course of justice. The DSup was not very happy about it, but in the end, he agreed to file the complaint and proceed.

"It was while we were sorting out my release that things hit the fan. The Detective Sergeant who had been interviewing me had checked the files and found out that Miss Carver had made an identical accusation against a teacher at her old school. The thing is, he is now serving seven years for sexual assault and attempted rape. Mr. Clay said he would get in touch with the solicitors involved and update them on the latest developments.

"Mr. Clay phoned me on Friday to inform me that Miss Carver was being arrested."

Simone confirmed that she had been.

"I heard you were not feeling well yesterday," Mr. Taunton said to me.

"No, my boyfriend dumped me over something that wasn't my fault."

"What happened?"

I explained the events of Saturday.

"Have you spoken to him?" Mr. Taunton asked.

"No, I think he has blocked my number. I tried to call him from the house phone, but as soon as I said hello, he rang off and then blocked that number. He's not replied to any of my emails."

"Write to him," Mr. Taunton suggested.

"I have, but he has not answered," I pointed out.

"No, not an email. A nice, old-fashioned letter. You know, those things you put in an envelope with a stamp and place in the post box. It's no use using email; he can see it is from you and delete it without reading it. If you send him a letter, he will have to open it to see who it is from. Most people open letters and start to read them before they check who it is from."

"That's quite true," Simone observed.

I thought about it and had to agree. It seemed to make sense. I decided that, once I got home, I would write a letter to Joseph. Dad was going into Town tomorrow, so I could ask him to post it in Town. That way Joseph would not be able to identify the sender from the postmark.

The place was just starting to fill up when Marge bought our lunches over to us. I noticed that both Mr. Taunton and I had gone for light lunches. In Mr. Taunton's case, poached eggs on toast; I had toast and soup. Simone had gone for a full English breakfast plus a side of chips.

"Hungry?" I asked.

"Not particularly, but Lee is going to be throwing me around the mat for a couple of hours tonight, so I don't want a heavy meal just before I go on the mat."

That reminded me that I was due to join Lee and Simone in the dojo tonight. I was not sure if I was up to being thrown around by either Lee or Simone, an observation which I made known to Simone.

"That's OK, Johnny. Steven and Jim are coming along to learn as well," she informed me.

"Look, I need to get back; I've got a class at one," Mr. Taunton stated. "Just wanted to thank you two for putting me in touch with Mr. Clay and for the video from the dashcam."

Once he had left, I asked Simone about Steven going to the dojo. Was that safe, given his operation?

"It's OK, he's not coming to train, at least not yet. Jim is. Steven's just going to watch, though we might get him doing some of the less-physical stuff."

Neither Simone nor I had an early class in the afternoon. In fact, we only had one class this afternoon and that was physics lab, which started at two. So, having finished our dinners, we ordered another round of coffee and sat at the table chatting.

"What exactly happened on Saturday?" Simone asked. "I know Joseph caught you and Tony kissing, but how did that come about?"

"We were at Bladon House together," I informed her. She looked puzzled. "It's a prep school, just outside Aylesbury. There were three of us: Tony, Karl and me. Made a gang of queers. We all ended up going onto Oakland School. Karl was split off from us there. He was in a different house, but Tony and I ended up in the same house. We had a bit of an affair going till I got sacked."


"It's the public-school term for being expelled."

"Why does that not surprise me?"

"I've got a record of being expelled," I responded.

"How long?"

"Two prep schools and two public schools," I answered. "Though I got a feeling I may have only been suspended from the last one; they did make it clear they did not want me back for A-levels."

"Okay, I'm not surprised."

"I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not."

"Well, Johnny, you do seem to attract trouble," Simone laughed. I was not amused. "Anyway, continue your tale about you and Tony."

"With Karl being in a different house from Tony and myself, we sort of grew apart as a gang. Though I still used to go to Karl's home some weekends and for the short holidays."

"What are short holidays?"

"It's where you get a bank-holiday Monday. The school would have only a half-day on Friday and no prep Saturday, so we had a long weekend when we could go home. Only mother did not want me at home, so I went to Karl's."

"Oh. Go on about Tony."

"Well, Tony and me, we sort of became a couple. Whenever we got the chance, we would slip away somewhere for a quick snog, sometimes for something more."

"So, you and Tony were lovers?"

"I'm not sure about being lovers, Simone. I think we were more wank mates with a bit extra. Unfortunately, I think Tony thinks there was more."

"Was there?"

"I don't think so. There is no way I felt for Tony anything like I feel about Joseph."

"But you did have feelings for him?"

"Of course, he was my best mate."

"I think he was more than that," Simone stated.

I nodded. In some ways Tony had been more than best mate. He was the one thing I missed when I was sacked. That night when I got back to mother's, I cried myself to sleep. Mother thought it was because I had been caught and sacked. It was because Tony was not there to give me a cuddle before we got into bed.

Just after one, Simone and I decided it was probably a good idea to make our way back onto campus. When we went to pay Marge, she laughed and told us that Mr. Taunton had dealt with our bill; said he owed us for what we did. I was not to argue with her about that, but at the same time I felt a bit…well, I do not really know. I was not annoyed nor angry; it was just I realised that, given he was on an FE teacher's salary, I was probably a lot better off than he was. I mentioned this to Simone, but she told me not to worry about it and move on. She pointed out that if we got to the physics lab early, we could use the time to do our maths homework together.

That is what we did.

Our physics class finished at half-three. I had hoped that Simone might be going over to see Lee before tonight's dojo session. If she had been, I could have scrounged a lift off her and been home by four. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. She informed me she was covering reception at Southmead Hall Hotel from four to six, so she would not be at Lee's till about quarter to seven. As a result, I had to wait for Mum's class to finish at four-thirty. So, I went to the library and finished off my maths homework and started to draft my report on the lab work we had been doing.

It was all a bit of a rush then. I had to help Dad finish cooking dinner as I wanted to eat at six so it had time to go down before I got thrown about in the dojo. To complicate matters, Dad wanted to talk to Mum and me about plans for the trip to Holland. I could have done without that at the moment. The result of all this was I had no time to compose a letter to Joseph before I went over to the dojo.

As Simone had said, Steven and Jim joined us in the dojo that evening, Steven just watching. There was also a girl who arrived with Simone. Simone introduced her as Delcie and told us that Delcie was working at the hotel Simone's father managed. I was rather pleased to note that when she was walking towards the mat that she was not wearing a hakama. Then I noticed her belt; it was black. I commented on this to Simone.

"Not all black belts are teachers. Delcie got her dan grade last year but missed the teaching course, so does not have a teaching certificate, so no hakama."

The session was interesting. Jim and I spent most of the evening learning how to fall without hurting ourselves. More importantly we needed to be able to fall, turn the fall into a roll and come to our feet standing up, preferably facing our attacker. Lee said it was one of the most important things in fighting.

"Nine times out of ten you will be taken by surprise. If you can fall and come up from the fall uninjured, you have the advantage. Your opponent will be expecting you to be flat on the floor. The fact that you are not gives you the advantage."

Some two hours after we had started, the class finished. I was not quite sure what I had learnt, though I knew I had learnt something. As Lee, Simone or Delcie had been throwing us around, the thing that had become clear was that they were not using force. Strength was not required. What was needed was perfect technique. I had a feeling it would be some years before I mastered that.

It was gone half past nine before I got back to the house. I made myself a hot drink, then went up to my room to write to Joseph. Some three hours later — and ten different tries — I had a letter for Joseph.

Tuesday morning, I groaned as I got out of bed. Parts of my body protested, with muscles aching that I did not even know existed before. It took me a few minutes to make my way to the bathroom. Fortunately, a hot shower seemed to relieve some of the protesting muscles. I still found it somewhat painful to dress and make my way downstairs.

Dad was in the kitchen when I went down for breakfast on Tuesday morning. This was not always the case. In fact, it was something of the exception, though I suppose the fact that he had to be in Town meant that he had to have an early start to the day. I gave Dad the letter to Joseph and asked him to post it in Town.

"Why post it in Town?" Dad asked.

"Because if it has a Dunford postmark on it, Joseph will know it's from me and probably bin it unopened."

Dad nodded and put it with the papers he had on the table.

I was just finishing off my breakfast when Lee came in. It seems he was going into Town with Dad. Not unexpected, really, as Lee is Dad's production assistant and they were going to a production-planning meeting. Actually, from the way Dad and Lee were talking I had the impression it was somewhat more important for Lee to be there than for Dad.

Lee asked me how I was. I told him that I ached all over.

"Not surprising, Johnny; you were using muscles last night in a totally different way to which you have ever used them before."

"But I'm a gymnast. I should be able to roll, jump and throw myself around," I told Lee.

"And when did you last do any gymnastics?" Lee asked.

He had a point there. I had not done any for nearly a year. Actually, thinking about things, it would be exactly a year in two weeks. I acknowledged this fact to Lee.

"You know, Johnny, if I am off the mat for a couple of weeks, I ache when I get back into practice. When I got out of prison and had that first practice session with your uncle, I was in agony the next day."

Dad asked Lee if he wanted any breakfast, but Lee said he had already had breakfast and did not want any more. I checked the clock and saw it was nearly half eight; Mum and I should be on our way by now, though I had not seen her around. I had presumed she had breakfasted and gone up to change. I knew I was running a little late. I mentioned this to Dad.

"She's having a lie-in this morning," Dad informed me. "Does not have a class till ten thirty, so I thought we would drop you off at the college on our way to Southmead. Your class is nine-thirty, isn't it?"

I acknowledged it was, poured myself another coffee and popped another slice of toast in the toaster. Some twenty minutes later, we tidied up the kitchen and set off for Southminster by way of Southmead College, where I was dropped off.

Simone gave me no sympathy at all about my sore muscles when I went into class. The only sympathy I got was when I met Steven and Jim in the corridor; Jim was in the same state. However, Simone assured us that we would feel a lot better after Wednesday's session.

"Are we going to tomorrow's session?" Jim asked Steven. Steven looked at me; I shrugged my shoulders.

"If you have suffered this much, you might as well make it worthwhile," Steven stated. "We'd better go to Wednesday's session. I can enjoy watching you."

The rest of the week was fairly quiet. Steven, Jim and I did attend the dojo sessions on Wednesday and Friday. On Friday, Lee got Steven on the mat and showed him a technique he could do with little effort.

Simone was right. I did not ache as much after those classes as I had after the first one. Actually, after the Friday session, I did not ache at all.

Saturday morning, I opened the yard up for Steve. He had gone to look at a customer's boat at a marina on the far side of the Blackwater. It had been taken out of the water for the winter, and there were signs of hull problems. The owner wanted them checked out.

Mr. Peters from the yard next door was repairing some of the fencing as I got down to that end of the yard. The fence between the Hamden Yard and his was Mr. Peters' responsibility.

"Problems?" I asked as I walked up to where he was working on the fence.

"Not really, but better to get things sorted before they become problems than have to repair them after they are problems."

I nodded in agreement, then had a thought. "How's the sale of the yard going?"

"Now, young Johnny, that's a good question. Right rum thing happened last Wednesday. My solicitor, he phoned me and told me that Mr. George Jr. is asking for more time to complete. Seems there's a technical hitch with getting some things in place."

"I bet there is."

"You know something, Johnny?"

"Yes, but I can't speak of it, Mr. Peters."

"Dan't be surprised. No doubt, young Steve had got a block of shares in the yard on old George's death."

"How did you know?"

"I dan't know, lad, till you confirmed it but guessed he would. Old George used to talk to me when we met in the Plough and Anchor at times. He said he meant to make sure that young Steve got to keep the yard. Said none of his lads were interested in it.

"Did he give Steve the Nase?"

I kept silent. Mr Peters looked at me and smiled.

"He did, dan't he? That explains a lot."


"Well, Mr. George Jr., he was supposed to sign off on the purchase of the Salvage Yard last Monday, 'cording to what Dickyboy was saying, but they did not complete. Said there was a short-term problem and they would not be completing till later this year.

"I thinks, Johnny, that you and young Steve be part of the problem."

"Me? How am I involved?" I asked.

"Well now, Steve dan't have the nounce or lolly to take on the Hamdens. Oh, he'd come out of things OK, that Doctor bloke he lives with would make sure of that, but he would not fight the Hamdens. He don't have the funds for that.

"Now you? I keep my eyes and ears open, and I hear things. It's surprising what is said in the Plough and Anchor. Steve may not have the lolly or the connections, but you do. Your dad's that chap on the telly, and I hear him on the radio talking about science and stuff. Your uncles are them film folk. People like that have money; more importantly, they have connections. Connections good enough to get that lad off when those church folk tried to wrap him up for something he nay done.

"To do that, you need money, but you need connections and not always in the high places, if you get what I mean."

He paused. I was not sure if he was waiting for a reply or not, but I did not say anything. There was silence for a moment, then he continued. "Well, lad, you might like to let those behind young Steve know that Dickyboy is a bit niffed at the way things have gone, and he is looking for a buyer. I think I might be, as well, in a couple of months."

With that comment, he applied a final twist to the wire he had been mending, dropped his pliers back in his tool bag, picked it up and walked off. I told Steve about the conversation when he got back to the yard just before twelve.

"Interesting," Steve observed. "I'd better let Martin know about this. I know he wants a meeting. Was going to ask you when would be a good time."

"Anytime next week; it's half-term. Got the whole week off."

"Not spending it with your boyfriend?"

"No, he's dumped me." I did not feel like telling Steve more.

"OK, but if you're off next week. Fancy a trip to Simmon's Reek on Monday?"

"Yes, what are you doing?"

"Looking at an old hull. Bob Carluke, found a Thames barge hull there; wants me to see if it is worth saving."

Bob Carluke was a big customer. I had met him a few times when he had come into the yard to get work done on one of his boats — he had about half a dozen of them, all classic sailing boats — or to get supplies from the chandlery. Actually, during the summer I had looked forward to his visits; he had always tipped well when I carried stuff to his boat or car.

After Steve and I talked about things, we worked out that, if we left early, we could be at Simmon's Reek about eleven and get back to the Priory for four, which would be a good time to meet with Martin. I had to check that Dad would be around. Was not going to get into a discussion with Martin about the trust if he was not.

A quick call to Dad confirmed that he would be around Monday afternoon. Actually, he needed to see Martin about something, anyway, so if Martin could make Monday afternoon, it would work out well.

I stayed around giving Steve a hand in the yard till just gone two, when Steve told me I might as well go home. The light was already starting to fade, and given the weather, it was not really safe to be working in the yard under low-light conditions, so I set off for home.

It came as something of a surprise when I got home to find Dad and Arthur in the kitchen talking. Arthur looked worried.

"What's up?" I asked, looking at the pair of them.

"Arthur's been summoned to appear as a witness at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday," Dad informed me.

"Ian's brother?" I asked. Dad nodded. "About bloody time. It's five months since Ian's trial and the Hendersons were shown up to be what they were. Why has it taken so long to get to court?"

"The thing is, Terry went guilty on the advice of his solicitors," Dad informed me. "It is almost impossible to get a guilty plea overturned. Bernard has got to show that there was a fundamental failure of the judicial system before the court will even look at it."

"Doesn't a corrupt cop and a corrupt firm of solicitors amount to that?"

"Hopefully, yes. I've phoned Martin; he's coming around Monday afternoon. Not sure what time, but he will be here for four so you and Steve can see him. I will see him either before or after you. I've asked him to have a word with Arthur."

Once Arthur had left, I asked Dad what he wanted to see Martin about.

"Steven's uncle has come up with an idea about the walled garden and the gardener's house."


"Well, you know he wanted to buy them for Steven and Jim."

"Yes, I was there when he said it to you. What about it?"

"You know why I can't?"

"Yes, the restricted covenant on the estate. You can't split it up or sell parts off. That's why we got this place so cheap."

"That's right. If it had been otherwise, I would have sold them to him. Well, he has come up with a workaround."


"George's idea is that I sell a lease on the properties to him, a bloody long lease."

"How long?"

"Nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine years," Dad answered.

"Would that be legal?" I asked.

"Well, George thinks it would be, and I have asked Bernard about it. He's going to get some barrister to check the idea out. Should have the answer Monday afternoon. Martin is going to bring it over and discuss it with me."

"What is Steven's uncle offering?"

"Two hundred K," Dad informed me.

"Fuck! That's a lot, given the condition of the place."

"That's why I am looking at it."

I could understand that. Two-hundred thousand would make a lot of difference to things the way they were at the moment. Not as if Dad was short of money. I know he had made a killing on the sale of the company that Uncle Bernard's grandfather had started. He has also done quite well with his meteorology book. He did, though, have to pay this place off, which was coming close to a million given all the work he had got Matt to do.

I chatted with Dad for a bit, then told him I was going to try and assemble the workbench for my workshop. There was heat out there now, so it would not be so bad trying to set things up. Dad told me that there was a venison casserole for dinner and that it was in the slow oven, as he did not know when Mum was coming back.

"Where she's gone?" I asked.

"She went over to Jenny's this morning, and they have gone into Chelmsford."

"Christ, Dad, we will be lucky if she is home before midnight." Dad gave me a light clip around the back of my head and told me not to be cheeky, though I noticed he did not contradict me.

In any event, it was just coming up to quarter to seven when Mum got back. She apologised for being late, telling us there had been an accident on the road back from Chelmsford. Not that it made much difference to the time we ate dinner. That was getting on for eight. Dad had got so tied up in helping me sort out my workshop that he forgot all about the time and the fact that he had left some sourdough to rise in the proving drawer. So, we had to wait for him to knock back the dough, form the loaves and then leave them for the second prove. Then they had to be baked.

Sunday morning, I grabbed some breakfast and decided to go for a walk despite the cold. Wrapping up warmly, I set off to walk around the grounds, but I did not get far. Trevor and Arthur were by Trevor's car having quite a heated discussion.

"What's up, guys?" I asked as I crossed the yard.

"This idiot won't listen to sense," Arthur stated.

"Why, what's wrong?"

"He's got three weeks' filming out in Marrakesh and is supposed to be flying out today. I was supposed to be going with him, but I can't; I have to be in court on Wednesday. I've told him I will fly out as soon as the case is over, but he doesn't want to go."

"You've got tickets?" I asked.

"Yes, we've got open tickets as they were not sure of the dates for the filming. Only confirmed yesterday," Trevor informed me.

"Right, Trevor, you be a good boy and go off to the airport now. I'll make sure Arthur is on the first flight after the case finishes. Will that do?"

Trevor looked a bit puzzled for a few minutes, then nodded.

"What are you doing with the car at the airport?" I asked, having heard Dad moan about long-term-parking charges.

"Leaving it at Neal's and getting the Piccadilly line into Heathrow."

"Where at Neal's?" I asked, never having seen any sign of any parking there other than on the street, which was residents only.

"He's got some parking spaces at an underground car park nearby," Trevor replied.

Somehow that made sense. I do not know why, but it just made sense that Neal would have parking spaces. It explained how Simone could get her car so quickly.

All that settled, and after some extra assurances from both Arthur and me that Arthur would be on the first possible flight to Marrakesh, Trevor departed for London.

Once Trevor had driven off, I turned to Arthur. "How is he?"

"In a bit of a mess, to be honest," Arthur replied. "I can't make him see how important he is to me. He keeps saying that I'll find something better and leave him. What's better than Trevor?"

"For you, probably no one. That, though, is not the point, how is he physically?"

"He's done wonders with his speech these last couple of weeks. You probably noticed his speech isn't slurred. At least, not whilst he is thinking about it. He's been reciting Shakespearian speeches most of the time for the last ten days or so, ever since he knew this job was on."

"What is the job?"

"He is doing voice over and fronting for a publicity film for a luxury hotel in Marrakesh. Though it is not just for the hotel; they run trips into the Atlas Mountains and throughout Morocco. Just hope I don't get held up at the court too long. Have promised him I will be out there as soon as I can."

"What about the business?"

"Neal's coming down tomorrow. He has a reading week; Maddie will be here the week after. For some reason their reading weeks did not match each other."

By now, despite the warm clothing I had put on, I was feeling decidedly cold standing about in the yard. Arthur must have been freezing as he did not have any sort of coat on. Given the temperature, I decided to curtail my walk and went back into the house, divested myself of my outer garments and made myself a hot chocolate. I also made ones for Dad and Mum.

I took Mum's through to her in the lounge, where she was reading some text for her course. Dad was in his study, so I took his drink there.

"Thanks, son. Thought you were going for a walk?"

"I was but got stuck talking to Arthur and Trevor in the yard, then got too cold to enjoy the walk, so came back."

"What are you going to do, then?"

"Not sure," I said. Then my eye caught on the box in the corner of the study. It had my mother's diaries in it. "Could I have a look through mother's diaries?"

"Don't see why not," Dad replied. "They're yours; you might find some useful information in them. I've not had a chance to look at them yet."

I went and got my drink, took a chair at the small conference table Dad had in his study and got one of the blue notebooks out of the box. They were numbered, so I dug around a bit till I found number one. Then, to make life easier for me, I sorted the rest of them in the box in numerical order and found space on the bookshelves to put them. Once that was done, I took my place at the table and opened the first notebook.

Skimming through it, it seemed to be just a collection of notes about student life in Birmingham. Mother was not a religious diary keeper, she just made notes about things that seemed to interest her. Sometimes there could be weeks between entries. Other times there could be seven or eight pages devoted to a single day. I skim-read each page, then went on to the next, only stopping to read something fully if it caught my attention. It was near the end of the first notebook that something did catch my attention. A name: Mayers.

Today, started a summer job with Gutterham and Mayers. Dr. Fillbert arranged it for me. There is no Mr. Gutterham; apparently he is retired, but his name is still kept on the firm, and he does some consultation for them. There are two Mr. Mayers …

The entry went on to talk about the problems getting accommodation in London just for the summer. It seems that mother was staying with Uncle Phil and that things were not to her liking. She did, though, state it was better than being in Stoke.

Of course, the name Mayers might be a coincidence. It was not that uncommon a name, but I wondered. I asked Dad if I could have one of his blank notebooks, then made a note about mother's involvement with a firm called Mayers. I also noted the page number, entry date and volume number for the notebook.

For the next hour or so I went through the rest of mother's diary in some detail. There were a lot of notes about what she was doing at Gutterham and Mayers. One note caught my attention.

There was something funny today. Mr. Mayers Sr. asked me to get a file for a client from the storeroom. I did, and like always, I glanced through it before taking it to Mr. Mayers. He had it in with him for over an hour, and there were no clients seen in that time. When I took the file back to the storeroom, I noticed that the date had been changed on the letter of instruction.

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