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Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 22

After dinner at the Crooked Man, Uncle Bernard said he wanted to talk to Joseph. He did not say he wanted a private talk, but the way he said it implied that it is what he wanted. Dad suggested they use his study, so they did. I went up to our room. Joseph joined me about half an hour later.

"I'm going home with Dad tomorrow," he informed me as he came into the room.

"You're OK with that?"

"Yes, Mum will not be there, and Dad's assured me there is no way that he is going to take me up to Granddad's for Pesach. Also, he assures me that there is no way he will give his consent to my marriage. He did point out that I can't afford to mess up my GCSEs."

"Well, he's right there," I acknowledged.

We discussed things a bit longer, then decided to have a battle on the PlayStation before going to bed.

Sunday morning, I did not wake up till well past eight. Joseph was not in bed with me, and from the sounds coming from my bathroom, I guessed he was in the shower. I went and joined him. It was past nine before we were dressed and on our way downstairs.

Dad and Uncle Bernard were in the kitchen, working their way through a pile of toast. Dad informed me that Mum had gone over to Jenny's to deliver the washing and find out what had happened about the machine. He also informed me that if we wanted breakfast, we would have to make it ourselves; he and Uncle Bernard were just about to go out.

Actually, just about to go out was a bit of an exaggeration. Joseph and I had nearly finished our breakfasts about half an hour later when they did go out. I was not sure where they were going but suspected it was to look at the Sidings Lane property because they were walking, and I did not think that Uncle Bernard would walk very far. Dad did tell us that if we did go out, we needed to be back by one. Uncle Bernard was taking us out for lunch.

They had not been gone long when my phone went. It was Steve. He wanted to know if we were free and if we would like to go with him to have a look at the Nase. Apparently, when he had got home yesterday, there was a letter from the solicitors informing him that George Hamden Jr.'s challenge to the will had failed. As such, the solicitors were advising him that he was the legal owner of the Nase and had the right to access it. I checked with Joseph and then told Steve that we would like to go with him.

While waiting for Steve, I jotted down a quick note to Dad to let him know where we were going and pinned it to the board by the phone in the kitchen. Steve picked us up about twenty minutes later and drove us up to the yard. I mentioned that I thought we were going to have a look at the Nase.

"We are, but I don't want any problems with the Elmchurch lot. We'll use the boat to get down there. There may be disputes over the right of way on the Lane, but right of passage on the Creek is clearly established."

A few minutes later, we were chugging down the Creek in the small outboard runabout that Steve kept at the yard. The Nase was about half a mile, if not a bit over that, down Long Creek from Steve's yard. Immediately next to Steve's yard there was a section of High Marsh that was not very wide for about a hundred yards. Although there had been yards there in the past, no one had tried running a yard there since the war. Beyond that, High Marsh widened again. That was where Long Creek Fibre and Composite was situated, a yard run by the Lee brothers that specialised in doing fibreglass and composite boat repairs and also building fibre and composite hulls. Steve said they were good at it, so good, in fact, that they were getting more business than they could manage in the space they had at the yard and were looking to move out. In fact, they now had to as they had been given notice to quit.

Just beyond their yard, High Marsh narrowed extensively, so there was not enough space on the creek side of it for there to be any yards. In fact, there was hardly enough space for the track that was High Marsh Lane to run along the top of it. About a quarter of a mile further on, High Marsh widened. That is where Cooper's yard was located. According to Steve, they had effectively closed down about three years ago. Old Mr. Cooper was just waiting for the estate to buy back what was left of his lease; he had ten years left to run on a ninety-nine-year lease that had been taken out by his grandfather. Apparently, the ground rent was fixed at six pounds a year. His grandfather had been paying that in 1910, and Mr. Cooper was still paying it today.

Just beyond Cooper's yard the High Marsh narrowed considerably before bulging out into a what would have been a decent-sized island if it had not been connected to High Marsh. It effectively blocked off most of Long Creek from the Blackwater, giving the creek protection from storms.

Steve took the runabout out through the mouth of the creek and into the Blackwater, steering the boat to port. As we came round the tip of the Nase, I saw what remained of an old stone jetty. Steve steered the runabout up against it, then told me to clamber ashore and make the boat fast. I grabbed the bow mooring line and jumped up onto the old stonework. The top of the jetty was about a one-and-a-half metres above the water level. Fortunately, although somewhat overgrown, it was still quite solid. Under the vegetation I managed to find a mooring ring and tied the boat up. Then I got Joseph to throw me the stern line and tied that off to a somewhat rusty bollard .

Steve and Joseph joined me on the jetty.

"Well, this will have to be done up," Steve commented, looking at the stonework that stretched about four metres out into the Blackwater. At the land end of the jetty, a set of stone steps led up the rise of the land. It was about three metres from water level to the top of the steps. Though I had to remind myself that we were not yet at high tide.

Once we were at the top of the steps, a view opened out to a flat elliptical area that must have been about forty-five metres in width at its widest point and some sixty metres in length at its longest point.

"It's big," Joseph commented.

"Just over two acres," Steve informed him.

From where we were standing, I could make out the outlines of some low walls. A couple of chimney stacks rose from the brushwood and, at one end, a strangely intact tower, obviously part of some major structure, clearly now no more than a ruin. Across what was effectively an island from where we were, the land sloped down to Long Creek. Even from here, I could make out the outlines of what once had been slipways and the base walls of boatsheds.

"What happened?" Joseph asked.

"Don't know the full story," Steve commented. "Though, heard bits from time to time.

"Back in the 1930s, David Elmchurch, the eldest son of the Elmchurch family, fell for Grace Hollows, the younger sister of George Hamden's mother. Grace and David married against the Elmchurch family's wishes, Grace at the time being a kitchen maid at Elmchurch Hall.

"David's father was furious and disinherited David. However, Elmchurch Hall and the Nase came to David from his grandfather, whom he was named after. David's father could not do anything about that, and on the grandfather's death, David's father moved the rest of the family to the Priory. Grace and David lived in the Hall. David ran a boatbuilding business from the yard here. He wasn't a boatbuilder, but he was a good manager and ran a successful yard for many years. Actually, I did some of my apprenticeship in his yard."

"What happened?" I asked.

"Well, it must have been about thirty years go. No, a bit less as I'd just turned seventeen. Nobody knows what started it, though some think it was a stray firework, as it was early November; one of the boatsheds caught alight. Fortunately, the yard was closed when the fire broke out. David went to try and put it out, but as he got to it, there was a major explosion. All the sheds were set alight and fragments from the explosion landed on the roof of the Hall smashing through the tiles to the attic, which set the roof alight. There's no way to get a fire engine down here, so everything burnt to the ground.

"David was killed. Grace just packed up the little that was left and moved up north somewhere. Word was she had gone to live with her housekeeper's sister, who kept a boarding house at one of the northern seaside resorts. She was a hundred and five when she died. Left the Nase to her nephew, George. I think he was the only relative that she had left who was not an Elmchurch."

"What's that?" Joseph asked, pointing to a low concrete structure half hidden by bushes.

"The old blockhouse," Steve informed him. "Was put here during the war. There is supposed to have been a gun emplacement as well, but I've never seen it. David Elmchurch used the blockhouse as a storeroom for stuff he did not want to have around the yard. Actually, I think George did as well."

"What sort of stuff?" I asked.

"Nasty chemicals and things. There was also a first-aid room there, though I never saw it."

We walked over to the blockhouse. It was a squat, low structure, half buried in the ground, with steps leading down to a steel door that was firmly padlocked with a heavy hasp and a steel lock. The slit windows in the walls were all barred.

"Not much chance of getting in there without hydraulic bolt cutters or an angle grinder," Steve commented.

"What are you going to do with the place?" I asked.

"For the time being, not much," Steve replied. "The extra slipways might come in useful sometime, but they are not much use without the boatsheds to go with them. For the time being, we've got the slips at the Salvage Yard."

"And the Peters Yard," I commented.

"That's more than enough for any extra business we're likely to take on, at least, till you're fully qualified. Maybe, when you are designing your own yachts, we might need more," Steve said with a laugh.

We spent another half hour or so walking around the Nase. Steve stated that when the weather warmed up, he would probably get someone in to cut back the undergrowth that we were having to fight through. Joseph asked him only to cut back where the paths were, leaving the rest in place for the wildlife.

When we got back to the stone jetty, Steve spent some time looking at it in detail. Then he commented that this was one thing that would need to be sorted out just to make sure we had safe access to the site. He asked Joseph to make some notes and then started to make a list of work that needed to be done to the jetty. As he was making the notes, Joseph was taking a close look at the stonework.

"You know, I think this might be medieval," he stated, more to himself than to anyone.

"Could well be," Steve commented. "There's been boatyards here since the time of King John. George Hamden said that the Elmchurchs claimed the land was granted to them by Edward the Third."

"You said claimed?"

"Yes, Johnny. Claimed. There is no record of such a grant being made. More likely, they just occupied the land, and no one challenged them."

"Could be right," Joseph said. "Edward the Third's reign covered the period of the Black Death. That's when Dr. Portage thinks the Priory was abandoned by the monastery it was attached to. A lot of such establishments just did not have the manpower to continue after the plague. A family like the Elmchurchs could have moved in and taken over the property. They may have even bought it off the monastery or the local bishop if the monastery was being dissolved."

We spent about twenty minutes examining the jetty, then it was into the boat and back to Steve's yard. It was about ten minutes after we got back that my phone went. Dad wanted to know where we were. I told him, and he started off about not telling anybody we were going. At least, he did until I asked him if he had read my note.

"What note?"

"The note I pinned to the notice board by the phone," I told him.

"You know I never look at that."

"That, Dad, is your problem. We'll be home soon."

We were — about thirty minutes after the call.

When we got home, Mum was just laying out a light lunch. Uncle Bernard started apologising to Joseph, saying that he had to get back into Town. However, he did say that if he wanted to, Joseph could stay till this evening and get the train back. Joseph decided on going back with his father.

"Don't want to leave him on his own," Joseph told me when we went up to our room for him to get his stuff.

Once Uncle Bernard and Joseph had left, I went down to nursery to see how Steven and Jim were doing. I was surprised to find no sign of either of them; they usually spent most of Sunday sorting things out in the nursery.

Not finding them, I continued down the driveway to the back gate, then walked around the sidings, looking at the land that my uncles and Dad were in talks about buying. I had seen it before, like when we had driven in via the back way, but had never really looked at it. When I did, I realised it was a lot bigger than I thought. However, I realised that, as it tapered towards the engine workshops at the end, it narrowed rapidly. If large warehouses were built, it would make the space feel squashed in and oppressive. I was not sure that would be good for the entrance to the arts and crafts centre and the nursery. I decided I really needed to speak to Dad about it.

When I did get back, Mum was cooking Sunday dinner. She informed me that Dad was over at the Stable House seeing Arthur. I put on the kettle and made a mug of hot chocolate for myself. Well, it had been cold out. I did ask Mum if she wanted one, but she declined. However, she did suggest I made a fresh pot of coffee, which I did.

I was about halfway through my mug of hot chocolate when Dad came back. I asked him if we could have a chat about the land out back.

"Yes, what's on your mind?" he asked as he poured himself a mug of coffee. An act that surprised me as he normally only drank tea.

"I was thinking about the proposal of putting warehousing up there. Wouldn't it spoil the access to the Green Farm complex when it gets going?"

"What do you mean, 'spoil the access'?" Dad asked.

I explained what I was thinking. At least, I tried to. I am not sure I was able, though he seemed to get the point.

"Yes, driving in through an industrial estate may not be the best," Dad stated. "I think I need to speak with Matt and Jan before I go any further on the plans."

"Will this upset Uncle Ben's plans for the studios?"

"No, Johnny, we've already committed to the purchase, and land is never a bad buy if you can hold it long enough. As Mark Twain said, 'They're not making it any more'."

Over dinner Dad brought up the question of warehouses on the sidings. Mum expressed an opinion that she was not in favour of them.

"They'll be a bit of an eyesore, stuck along there," she commented.

"The thing is that I have no idea what we could do with the land," Dad stated.

"Well, I'm sure that you could get somebody to pay you for all those rails and points and stuff. You know all that old railway stuff is valuable, if only as scrap."

Dad just nodded, then got on with dinner.

Joseph phoned me not long after we'd eaten. He apologised for not phoning earlier but said they had not long got home. I expressed surprise but was informed that they had gone to his Aunt Rachel's before going home. That apparently explained reason that Uncle Bernard had to dash back to Town, though I was not sure I understood why.

Monday morning, there was a sibilant murmur as I was walking down the corridor of the college. I wondered what was going on. Simone was quick to update me when I got to my first class.

"Mrs. Lowcroft resigned over the weekend," she informed me.

"So?" I asked.

"Everybody thinks it's your doing."

"All I did was front the petition; you did everything else," I pointed out.

"I know, but they don't," Simone smiled. "You're already a hero for the Henderson takedown; now you've become a superhero. You took down the principal. Half the staff think that's wonderful."

"What about the other half?"

"They're writing their letters of resignation as we speak," Simone smirked.

Before I could ask more, Mr. Taunton came in, looked at Simone and me and smiled. I did not feel comfortable.

Later, when I had an extended break between classes, I popped along to the woodwork room to give Miss Cooke some of the supervision forms that Steve had signed for me. I had not been aware that Steve had been keeping a logbook on the work I had done. He had used the information from that to sign off on a whole pile of supervised work forms.

Miss Cooke took them off me and scanned through them.

"Are you sure you want to go for NVQ Level 1?" she asked.

"Yes, why?"

"Well, on the basis of what you have been signed off for, you could go for Level 2 with no problems."

"I'll take what I can get," I responded.

Miss Cooke laughed, then put the supervised-work forms in my work folder. I was just about to leave when she thanked me for forcing the principal to resign.

"That wasn't my doing," I informed her.

"No, but you started the ball rolling. With people like her, it needs someone to stand up to them before everybody else will pile in. I can assure you by last Friday, a lot of people were piling in."

That evening, I had another session in the dojo with Lee and Simone. Steven and Jim joined us; the doctor had cleared Steven to take part. Delcie also joined us, but she had to leave early as she was on reception at the Hall from ten. We finished shortly after nine-thirty, then made our way down to the Crooked Man for a drink, though I had to stick to a shandy. Mary knew I was well underage.

By Tuesday, things had settled down somewhat at college. At least, there were no sibilant murmurings as I passed down the corridors. Simone informed me that Miss Grunthorn had taken over as acting principal.

"Who's she?" I asked.

"She's head of hort and ag," Simone replied. "The thing is, she is retiring at the end of this academic year, so it is only a stand-in position. I hear that they are advertising for a new principal."

"You hear a lot," I commented.

"It's my job," she replied.

Wednesday morning, I had to get up at an unearthly hour to get into Town for the start of the inquest. Uncle Bernard had phoned on Tuesday night to suggest that, as I was on call for the three days, I would be better off staying at the Hampstead house during the inquest. Dad was also going to be staying there while it was on. He may only have been called for the one day, but he intended to attend the whole inquest.

Although the inquest was not due to start till ten, it seemed that we had to be at the venue for nine to meet with the barrister who was representing Dad and me. That meant getting a train from Southminster at seven-thirty. Lee came with us to the station so he could take the car back. Three days of car parking was just too expensive. When we got to the station, Martin was waiting for the same train, apparently for the same reason. On the train in, he explained that he was not there to represent Dad or me; he was there to represent the trust that my mother had set up for my benefit.

"In practice, your interests, Johnny, and the trust's are the same, so the representation will be the same, however, in theory, they could differ, which is why we have two barristers at the inquest. One for the trust and one for the family; that's you and your family."

"Do we really need representation?" I asked.

"Yes, you do," Martin replied. "Yaland Insurance will have a barrister there. I have no doubt they will try and show that you were in some way involved in your mother's death so that they can avoid paying out on the full amount of the insurance."


"It is rather, but that's the way of things these days," Martin replied.

Once we arrived at Liverpool Street, Martin advised against getting the tube to St. Pancras. He pointed out that we would still have to get a taxi to the St. Pancras Coroner's Court, so we might as well get one all the way; it would probably be quicker. Given the London traffic, I am not sure it was quicker; it took us over half an hour, and it was past nine when we arrived at the court. Once there, we were introduced to three barristers and another solicitor. This solicitor apparently was the one handling the executorship of my mother's estate. It was emphasised to me that the estate and the trust were two different entities, and both had to be represented.

The young man who was introduced as the barrister representing the family was named Richard. He must have been familiar with the court as he said there was still three quarters of an hour before the sitting would start and that there was a nice little café just around the corner where we could get a good coffee. He was right, the coffee was excellent.

We were back in the court building just before ten and took our places in the courtroom. The coroner took her seat about five-past-ten. After looking at the array of barristers at the front of the court, she started proceedings by advising everybody that this was not a court of law but an inquest into a death. As such, the rules and procedures differed. The big difference that I could see was that it was the coroner who was calling the witnesses.

The first witness was the police detective inspector who had found my mother's body. Once he had given evidence about finding the body, he also gave evidence of identification.

"How was identification achieved?" the coroner asked.

"A Mrs. Krone, housekeeper to the deceased, arrived at the property while the initial investigation was taking place. She was able to undertake the identification later that day at the morgue."

"Thank you. Detective Inspector, can you advise the court why Mrs. Krone is not available to give evidence to that effect in the court?"

"I believe, madam, that Mrs. Krone is currently out of the country. The information we have is that she left for Australia to visit her son at the beginning of March and will not be back until the second week of April. Notification of this hearing would have been served after she had left the country. It is our understanding that Mrs. Krone always took these six weeks off to visit her son."

Martin leaned back from where he was sitting in front and asked me if that was correct. I told him it was, that she always took March and two weeks of April off. Martin passed this information on to our barrister, who then stood.

"If it assists the court, I can confirm on behalf of the family that Mrs. Krone has, in past years, taken these same weeks off to visit her son." The coroner asked if that could be confirmed in a witness statement, and the barrister stated it could.

That done, the detective inspector was advised that he would be called to give further evidence later but was excused for the time being. He was replaced by an elderly lady who turned out to be the pathologist providing evidence regarding the cause of death. It was a fairly detailed rendering of the autopsy report, which I found a bit disturbing.

Once the report had been given, the coroner asked a few questions, then invited Richard to question the witness. Richard had no questions. The coroner then asked if there were any other parties who had questions or matters to raise. The barrister for the estate rose at that point and requested that the body be released for burial.

I had not realised till then that the body was still being held in the morgue. When I thought about it, I should have realised that. If the body had been released, there would have been a funeral. I am certain Dad would have told me if there was to be a funeral.

The coroner then asked if there were any objections to the release of the body for burial. None being made, she said that she would sign the necessary papers and release the body for burial today.

Detective Superintendent Lawlan was then called to the stand. He identified himself as the chief investigating officer. Then he went on to give a summary of the investigation, stating that video evidence had confirmed the identity of the perpetrators of the act and that they had been arrested whilst trying to leave the country. He also advised that the parties arrested had pleaded guilty to murder in the Crown Court and were now awaiting sentencing.

"Was it possible to establish a motive for their actions?" the coroner asked.

"Madam, they were paid hit men who had been hired to do a job. They had no personal motive in carrying out what was an execution."

"Is there any indication as to who hired them to carry out murder?"

"No, madam; all we can ascertain is that they were hired in August of last year to carry out the execution when any one of three conditions were arrived at."

"What were those conditions?" the coroner inquired.

"Should the victim refuse to take on the defence of one Andrew Mayers, who was awaiting trial for a number of serious offences; should the said Andrew Mayers plead guilty, or should there be conviction or acquittal of the said Andrew Mayers."

It took me a moment for things to sink in, but then I realised. They had been hired in August. My mother had been condemned to death before the Mayers trial had even started. I was about to say something to Dad when there was a bit of a commotion at the rear of the court. I noticed all the reporters were rapidly making notes in their notebooks, so I turned to see what was going on. Uncle Ben and Uncle Phil had entered the court. Dad saw them and indicated they should come and sit with us.

The coroner paused the proceedings and asked them to identify themselves to the court and state the nature of their presence, seeing how they had arrived late for the proceedings.

"I'm the deceased's brother. I was in New York when I was advised of these proceedings and flew back overnight. Unfortunately, my plane was delayed due to technical problems, and we only landed at Heathrow a little over two hours ago. I have attended this court as rapidly as I was able."

The coroner thanked Uncle Phil for attending and then resumed the proceedings. Martin passed a note over to Uncle Phil, who read it, then nodded.

"Have you been able to establish where these instructions originated?" the coroner asked.

"If you are asking if we have identified a specific individual who originated the instructions, then the answer is no. We have been able to establish that the instructions originated with a known criminal organisation that both the victim and the said Andrew Mayers had connections with."

The coroner then looked at some papers on her desk.

"Detective Superintendent, a number of the facts you have stated are not contained in the police report that was submitted to this court, may I ask why that is the case?"

"I believe the report in question was submitted before certain information became available. The parties involved in the killing have been co-operating in another ongoing investigation. A lot of the information only became available as part of the interviews concerning that investigation."

"May I ask when those interviews took place?" the coroner inquired.

"Last weekend."

The coroner then asked our barrister if he had any questions. He stood and asked a couple, just clarifying what the detective superintendent had stated. Once he indicated that he had no more questions, the coroner asked if any others had questions.

A woman barrister stood up and identified herself as counsel for Yaland Insurance.

"Detective Superintendent, are you aware of the incident outside the Old Bailey where the victim's criminal activities were exposed to the press by the actions of her son?"

"Yes, I am aware of them," DS Lawlan replied.

"How did that incident lead to the victim's execution?"

"It did not," stated DS Lawlan. "I was able to establish that, at the time of the killing, neither of the parties involved had any knowledge of the incident. In fact, they did not learn about it until they were in custody."

The barrister did not look very happy with that answer. She continued with a number of other questions along similar lines but was clearly getting nowhere with the answers she received. Finally, she sat down.

"Am I right in understanding, Detective Superintendent, that the revelations made by the victim's son were not known to the killers?" the coroner asked.

"Yes, madam. There had been an incident after certain statements were made, and a number of USB sticks being given to the press were reported on the early news. The details of what was on those USB sticks did not come out till late that evening. In fact, most of the details were not made known to the public by the press, at the request of the police.

"The murder took place before any of the details were made public, so that could not have been a factor. More importantly, neither of the two men who carried out the killing know much English. Even if they had heard the news report, I doubt they would have understood what it was about. They may have recognised the names, but that would have been all. Finally, both men have stated that they received their instruction in August, well before the incident took place — in fact, before the victim had agreed to represent Andrew Mayers."

"I see. Thank you; you may stand down. It is now past one o'clock. This court will adjourn until two-fifteen."

Richard guided us to a small café not far from the court where we could get a quick lunch. He emphasised that it had to be quick.

"I think this inquest is going to be somewhat shorter than expected," Richard stated once we had all got some lunch and were seated at a table.

"How so?" Uncle Phil asked.

"Well, the big question that was hanging over the inquest was whether the son's actions outside the Old Bailey brought about the killing. That, though, has been answered. There was no connection between the two."

"Do you mean I will not have to give evidence?" I asked.

"No, you will be called. There is still a need to get background information on your mother's activities. However, what we can say is that there is now no way to tie you in with any responsibility, direct or indirect, for your mother's death. I am sure counsel for Yaland Insurance is reporting that to her clients as we speak."

"Well, I've already reported it to my principal," Martin stated. Uncles Phil and Ben, plus Dad, looked at him wondering whom he meant.

"Bernard," Martin added. "I've no doubt he will have a letter off to Yaland today giving them twenty-eight days to settle or face court action."

We got back into court just before two-fifteen, and the session resumed dead on two-fifteen. The detective inspector who had been called at the start of the inquest was recalled and asked about the evidence regarding the two men who had been convicted of my mother's murder. The video recording of the shooting was shown to the jury and the coroner, though it was not visible to the body of the court.

After that, a forensic ballistics expert was called and provided evidence that the gun found at the scene was the gun that had fired the fatal shot. That was followed by evidence from another forensic expert, though I failed to see its relevance.

It was then that Dad was called. He was asked about his relationship with my mother and informed the coroner that they had separated some sixteen years ago and divorced soon after. He did say the last time he saw mother was in court at the Mayers' trial. The barrister for Yaland Insurance wanted to know why he was in what was a closed court.

"I act as a researcher for a firm of solicitors from time to time. In that instance, I had been involved in preparing a large amount of scientific research material that had a bearing on the case. As such the solicitor/advocate who was conducting part of the case felt he needed my presence in court to supplying him with relevant information when needed."

The coroner asked if this information could be confirmed. The barrister representing the trust then rose and informed the coroner that a representative from the firm of solicitors was available in the court and could confirm the statement. Martin then did so.

After that, Yaland's barrister seemed to lose interest in questioning Dad. I suspected that there would be some for me.

It was nearly four in the afternoon when Dad finished giving his evidence, so the coroner adjourned the inquest till the following morning. As we were getting ready to leave the court, Uncle Phil suggested that Dad and I join him and Uncle Ben for a drink. We retired to a nearby public house. Uncle Ben got the drinks in. I was given a pint of shandy. At least, it was better than a pint of cola.

There were a few minutes of general chitchat, Uncles Phil and Ben both wanting to know what had happened at the inquest before their arrival. Then Uncle Ben informed Dad that they had sorted the required financing to build the studios on their part of the sidings.

"Well, I am having second thoughts about the warehouse idea," Dad stated.

"Why?" Uncle Phil asked.

Dad proceeded to tell him about my doubts concerning the impact that an industrial estate would have on the approach to the arts-and-crafts centre.

"I can understand that," Uncle Phil said. "We'll be landscaping the studios, and they will be set well back from the road, so that should not be a problem, but I can see that some big warehouses would have an impact. What are you going to do? I hope you're not pulling out."

"No, we're not pulling out. If we did, we would have no control over what went up, and it could end up being worse," Dad assured them. "The thing is that, at the moment, we have no idea what to do with the land."

"Mum did say that we could sell the railway lines and stuff off. She said that railway enthusiasts would probably want them — or scrap dealers would," I said.

"She's probably right, there," Uncle Ben agreed.

We talked about options for the next half hour or so, but nobody came up with any ideas. Uncle Phil got another round of drinks in. This time he got me a pint, winking when he put it down in front of me.

"Wasn't That Woman's Son supposed to have been released this week?" Dad asked.

"It was," Uncle Phil replied. "However, with all the news about Trevor and the porn stuff, the distributor dropped it. In a way it's been good for us as we had a couple of post-production problems. The delay will give us a chance to shoot a couple of new scenes which will make the film better. We've got a new distributor, and it is being released in June."

"What are the new shoots? Do they involve Trevor?" Dad asked.

"No, they are just a couple of linking shots; none of the cast is needed for either of them. Hopefully, we will have everything sorted by Easter."

"That's only just over a week away," I commented.

"We only have a day or two of work left before everything is finished," Uncle Ben stated. "By the way, you'd better put the twenty-third of June in your diary."

"Why?" Dad asked.

"That's the premier," Uncle Phil stated. "We finalised the details with the distributors in New York yesterday; that's why we flew over. They are premiering it here in London on the twenty-third and in New York on the next day. Going to have to fly overnight."

"I gather that it is not the same distributors as before," Dad said.

"No, it's not. These don't think the scandal around me or Trevor will cause any problems. In fact, they think it might draw some audience in," Uncle Phil stated. "They have a smaller circuit in the UK than our original distributors, but their circuit in the States and in Europe is larger, so we will probably end up better off."

Drinks finished, Uncle Phil suggested we join them for dinner, but Dad informed them that we were expected at Uncle Bernard's and really needed to get over there.

We got to Uncle Bernard's a little after five-thirty. I wanted to let us in using my keys, but Dad insisted on ringing the bell. Joseph answered the door and informed Dad that his father was in the kitchen. He told me to drop my stuff in his room and then join him in the conservatory. I did. When I entered the conservatory about ten minutes later, I was nearly bowled over by a golden-brown creature about the size of a medium suitcase that proceeded to run around me yapping its head off.

"His name is Sandy," Joseph informed me. He then called the dog to him. "Dad says dinner will be about an hour, so we can take him for a walk on the Heath."

Joseph fastened a lead to Sandy's collar. We then proceeded to exit the house by the back way and walked along the road to the Heath.

"When did you get him?" I asked.

"Yesterday," Joseph informed me. "One of Dad's clients asked Dad if he could find a home for Sandy. Dad's client has got to go into a nursing home and can't keep her dogs. She had found homes for the others, but Sandy is the runt of the last litter and nobody wanted him, so Dad brought him home."

"Well, you clearly want him," I commented.

"Wanted a dog here since I was seven, but Mum always said they were too much trouble in the city. We just had Harris down in Kent, but he was Micah's dog, not mine."

"You said had?"

"Yes, he had to be put down last year just before we came up to Manston for the wedding. He was an old dog, I think older than me. Now I've got Sandy; he's only six months old."

"What type is he?" I asked.

"Not sure. The mother is pure golden retriever, but the owner does not know what type the sire is. Apparently, the owner was taken into hospital last year and a neighbour took care of her dogs. The bitch got loose one day and must have mated while she was out; she came back a couple of hours later, but by that time the deed was done. So, nobody knows what breed the sire is. I think that is one of the reasons she had problems getting rid of the litter."

We spent a good half hour on the Heath, letting Sandy have a run around. Joseph had one of these leads that had a reel attached to it. He could let Sandy run off quite a distance but always had control of him via the lead. By trial and error, we found that the reel had about a hundred metres of line on it, so I could throw a ball for Sandy, and he would run off, with Joseph releasing the line. Then Sandy would get the ball and bring it back to us, Joseph rapidly winding the line in.

We returned to the house, once more going in through the back way, then put Sandy in the conservatory. Joseph got him a bowl of fresh water, then opened the door from the conservatory to the garden. As we went into the house from the conservatory, Joseph stopped and locked the door to the conservatory.

"At the moment, we are using the conservatory as a doghouse for him so he can have free access to the garden. That does mean we have to keep the door to the conservatory locked when nobody is in there with him."

"Aren't you worried he might get out of the garden?" I asked.

"Not likely; there is an eight-foot-high wall all round it."

"But what if somebody opens the side gate?" I asked.

"If you didn't notice, I locked it when we came in. Actually, it is also bolted from the inside.

"We'd better get cleaned up."

We did. Then we joined Dad and Uncle Bernard in the kitchen. As we entered, Uncle Bernard said he presumed that Joseph had introduced me to Sandy. I said he had, then had to explain to Dad who Sandy was.

"You've got a dog here!" Dad exclaimed.

"Yes, Debora has made it clear that this is my house, so I'm letting Joseph have a dog. He's wanted one of his own for ages, and after we had Harris put down, Debora refused to get another. Got a chance to get a dog yesterday, so brought one home for the boy. Suppose I will have to get one for Micah as well, but that can wait till they graduate and get a place of their own."

"But Debora always said the garden was not big enough for a dog," Dad pointed out.

"Well, the garden is not that large, but the Heath is massive."

Dad laughed.

Dinner was a fish pie served with green beans and salad. I suspected that Uncle Bernard had got the fish pie from one of the upmarket food shops in Hampstead. Could not see him making it from scratch. Over it, Dad and Uncle Bernard were tossing ideas back and forth about what could be done with the sidings that would not have the impact that a load of warehousing would have.

After dinner, Joseph and I took Sandy out for another walk on the Heath. This time it was a walk. There was no ball-throwing or running around. One thing was clear though, I had a serious competitor for Joseph's affection. Not that I minded; Sandy was a cute dog.

When we got back to the house, Uncle Bernard said he needed a word with me about tomorrow.

"You'll be called tomorrow to give evidence. Should not be that big a problem given the new evidence that the police have provided. However, Yaland Insurance are going to try to link you to your mother's death. Think carefully before you answer any question. Take your time; above all, do not feel pressed into giving an answer."

Thursday morning, we did not have to rush. The inquest would not start till ten, and we were already in Town. As a result, neither Dad nor I had to get up early to make it to court, somewhat to the disgust of Joseph who had be to up before seven to get ready for school. Uncle Bernard had arranged for a private hire company to take Joseph into school each day and pick him up after school. I asked Uncle Bernard about this once Joseph had left for school just before eight.

"Mum was worried that Debora's father might try to snatch Joseph if he was on the tube or bus" he informed me.

"Couldn't they snatch him from the car?" I asked.

"Miss Jenkins owns that private hire company," was the reply. So, they could not snatch him from the car.

"Do you think your father-in-law might try that?" Dad asked, tucking into another round of toast.

"It depends on how desperate he is," Uncle Bernard replied. "I can't help thinking there is more to this than just his religious orthodoxy. He seems desperate to get one of his grandsons married off into the Aronowitz family. The question is why."

We never explored the answer to that question, as we had to leave to walk down to the tube. Once we got to St. Pancras, Dad decided we could walk to the coroner's court. We should have taken a taxi. As it was, we only just made it in time.

Fortunately, Uncle Phil was called first. The questioning did not take long. He just confirmed that his sister was estranged from her family. In fact, he told the court that as far as he was aware, there had been no contact from her for the last fourteen years. As a result, neither he nor any other member of the family had any knowledge of her affairs.

Once he had given his evidence, I was called to the stand. For nearly an hour, the coroner was asking me questions about my mother, most of which I could not answer. As I told the coroner, I was either at school or in France most of the time. When I was at home, I hardly ever saw her. In fact, I saw Mrs. Krone more often than I did my mother. At least, when I was home from school, Mrs. Krone would come in and make lunch for me most days unless she knew I would be out. She often also prepared an evening meal, which would be left in the fridge for me to heat up.

Richard, the barrister for the family then asked a couple of questions to clarify statements that I had made to the coroner. Then it was the turn of the barrister for Yaland Insurance.

"Mister Carlton-Smith, why did you want your mother dead?"

Note: For those of you not familiar with London, the Heath is Hampstead Heath, a large area of ancient heathland which is some 320 hectares (790 acres) in size. The Heath consists of a variety of habitats including ancient woods and grassland.

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