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Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 37

"So, you know about things at the yard?" I asked.

"Yes, went to work there when I finished my national service in 1950, just after Old Dicky got the yard back," Alf replied.

"Who did he get it back from?" I asked.

"War Department," Alf stated. "RAF took it over in 1940; took the whole of Long Creek over. Was supposed to be for RAF Marine, the Air Sea Rescue service, though we all knew it weren't."

"What was it, then?"

"It was them folk that nobody was supposed to know about, Churchill's special lot. Don't know what they were called but they kept doing funny stuff over there." The 'there' was said with a cock of the head which indicated the direction of the sea to the east and whatever was on the other side of it.

"SOE," Colin supplied. "The Special Operations Executive."

"Yes, that's them," Alf stated. "Weird lot and bloody dangerous by all accounts."

"You knew the yard then?" I asked.

"Oh yes, Ma, me and mi bruder, we live in the old Jackson place on the hill leading here. You can see the yard from there."

"Where was your father?" Colin asked.

"He weren't around much — in the bloody army — not that made much difference; had not been around much before the war broke out. Me Ma, she worked for Old Dicky. Did his cleaning an' laundry like." He smiled as if there was some secret there. "That be before the war. I went and helped in the yard as a nipper till the Air Force took over. Old Dicky said there be a job there for me when I wanted it, and I wanted it when I'd done my national service. Worked for him till the day he died, then for his son until I retired."

"I'm surprised Mr. Phillips sold it without telling us what was in the sheds," I commented.

"He dan't know," Alf stated. "Old man Dicky told him to stay out of them sheds, and young Dicky did as he were told. The day his da died he took the keys off him and hung them on a nail in the office, and there they hung all the time I worked for him. Never once did he open one of those huts nor any of the containers the old man got once he had filled the Nissen huts."

"I wonder why?" I muttered.

"Well, he knew his dad played the game and was worried what he might find in there. Young Dicky weren't his dad; he didn't want owt to do with anything that might be dodgy. He was as straight as any man, moor the fool. Could have made a fortune from that yard if he'd been a player, but he be too honest. Got that from his mother. All church and saved she be, and young Dicky took after 'er."

"What game was he playing?" Colin asked just as Dean brought our pie and chips, with peas, over to us.

"Smuggling, of course. What else was there to make a living round 'ere in those days? Old Dicky knew all the little inlets and landing places on both sides of the North Sea and made good use of them."

For the next fifteen minutes or so, while Colin and I were eating our meal, Alf told us tales of the old days. How much of it was true, I do not know. What was clear was that things were going on at the Salvage Yard that were, to say the least, questionable.

When we had finished our pie and chips, I ordered sticky toffee pudding for both of us. As a result, we were quite full when it came time to say goodbye to Alf and get back to the yard. So full, in fact, that after cycling back to the yard, neither of us really felt like doing anything, so we went home.

Dad was in the kitchen when I got home, making a brew.

"How's Mum?" I asked.

"Seems a bit better now; at least she's sleeping. Doctor's been, said it is most likely a twenty-four-hour stomach bug which seems to be doing the rounds. There is no risk to the baby so long as she is kept hydrated.

"Tea or coffee?"

"No thanks, Dad, just had a pint in the Pig."

"You did?" he asked, giving me a questioning look.

"Yes, Dad, one of the regulars bought it for us. We were eating, had pie and chips there and heard an interesting story."

"OK, just so long as you did not put the licensee's licence at risk. I don't mind you drinking as long as you keep within the law."

I assured him we did, then told him what Alf had told us about the storage containers and Nissen huts. He expressed concern about the idea that there might be weaponry or explosives in them.

"You know, Johnny, if we find anything, we will need to call the police. It might be an idea to let Steve know what might be there."

I agreed with Dad, so went and phoned Steve. When I told him, he was not that surprised.

"Never met the old man, but George used to tell stories about him. Gather he was quite a character. George could never understand how he made the Salvage Yard pay, but if he was using it for smuggling, it would make sense."

"I'm worried about what he might be smuggling, what's in those huts," I told Steve.

"Well, we will have to be careful going through them. What have you found so far?"

I told him that the containers seemed to be stocked with wood.

"If it's Cuban mahogany, it could be useful. I'll have a look next time you're at the yard, and we can check it out."

That made sense. What I did not know then was how long it would be before I was in the yard next. Steve was saying he was feeling a lot better and talked about opening the yard, or at least the chandlery, on Sunday. I fully planned to go in and give him a hand. However, Sunday morning saw Dad down with the bug and Mum not yet recovered, so I became nurse. Fortunately, both Mum and Dad were back on their feet by Monday. I did really need to be in college; my first exam was on Thursday.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in heavy revision. When we were not in class, Simone and I were in Marge's, drinking a constant supply of coffee and firing off questions to each other from our physics book; that was when we were not in the library studying maths. On Thursday, exams struck. We had our first physics paper in the morning, then the first maths paper in the afternoon.

By three-thirty, when we got out of the maths exam, both Simone and I were drained.

"I'm going to kill Aunty," Simone stated, with some intent.

"Why? What has that sweet, little old lady done?"

"She exists. And the only bit about that description which fits is old," Simone replied. "It was her idea I got my A-levels and go to university."

"I bet she has planned out which one as well."

"Oh yes, some college in Cambridge; she says she has connections there."

"Knowing Aunty, I am sure she has."

"I know she has," Simone told me. "I've met him, Doctor Sir Edward Chapman."

The name rang a bell.

"Isn't he some sort of expert on climate change. Been on TV a few times; he's in a wheelchair."

"That's him. Took Aunty up to Cambridge a couple of times to meetings with him."

"Why would Miss Jenkins want to meet him?" I asked.

"Your guess is as good as mine, and we'd both be wrong. What that woman does is not for mere mortals to understand."

I looked at her with some surprise. There was a feeling of awe in what she had said that I found difficult to understand.

"Look, Johnny, twenty-odd years ago, the Thompsons and the Porters were a has-been crime family. We'd been a has-been crime family since the Krays first appeared on the scene. More of our members were in jail than were actually out of it. Then Edith Jenkins takes over. Alright, I know technically it was Albert who was in charge, but everybody knew who pulled Albert's strings. In five years, she turned the family around and made it one of the most profitable operations in London. At the same time, she took it out of all the nasty stuff. For the first time as long as anybody in my dad's generation could remember, the majority of the men in the family were out of jail.

"Then she moved the family from crime into legitimate enterprises. All right, a lot of it is on the borderline and may be a bit dodgy, but compared with stealing old masters and payrolls, it is legitimate. For my generation, she has ensured we have honest businesses to go into and that we get a good education.

"It takes somebody special to do that, man or woman. For a woman to do that with a London crime family, that is unheard of."

"You really admire her, don't you?" I said.

"Yes, I do," Simone replied.

We got out to the car park; Simone asked me if I needed a lift. I was about to say yes when a car horn beeped. I looked round to see the Merc with Lee sitting behind the wheel.

"Looks like I've got one," I told Simone. Then I went and got in the Merc. Simone came over to talk to Lee.

"Glad you're here; saves me having to drive over this evening to see you just to let you know there's no training tomorrow," Lee told Simone. "It seems we've got to set off earlier than we expected."

Simone leaned into the car and kissed Lee. "Just stay away from the Dutch girls," she instructed before going back to her car.

"Why the rush?" I asked as Lee drove out of the car park.

"There's been a fuck-up over the filming permits. De heer Wilhelm's people thought they had permission to film at one of the locations on Sunday. It turns out that it's for Saturday. Gert is furious. It means we have to get across tomorrow. We are booked on the midday crossing."

"Then why have you come to collect me? I would have been home in plenty of time."

"Martin's on his way over to meet with your dad. He wants you in on the meeting," Lee informed me. "Apparently, some of what he has to talk about affects you directly. Unfortunately, he also has to be elsewhere later, so the quicker you get there the better."

Dad was in the kitchen when we got to the Priory. As I entered, he looked up.

"Tried to phone you to tell you to come straight home, but it went to voicemail, so I sent Lee to get you," he stated as way of explanation.

"I was in an exam; no phones allowed," I pointed out.

"Sorry, forgot. It's been a total mess here this afternoon. No doubt Lee's told you we are going over to the Netherlands tomorrow. We're on the twelve-twenty-five shuttle."

"Yes, he told me."

"Then Martin phoned to say he had to see both of us this evening. Apparently, it's urgent."

I was about to ask more, but the back doorbell went. Dad went to answer it. I was Martin. Dad suggested we move into the study. I suggested I make some tea and coffee first, something Martin said he would be grateful for.

Ten minutes later, we were seated around the table in the study, Dad had a mug of tea; Martin and I both had coffee. There was also a plate of biscuits.

"As you know, I was in the States last week," Martin informed us.

"We know," I responded. "You missed Colin's appeal."

"Yes, that was a bit of a fuck-up. I'm meeting him tomorrow to take him to the police station for his caution. After that, he should be able to start to sort his life out.

"Anyway, back to the States. As Bernard told you, he gave Delmoan University twenty-eight days to formally renounce their claim. They did not, so he applied to the High Court for a judicial declaration. Whoever the university's lawyers are over there, they really need their heads examined. They decided to fight the judicial declaration, so put in a response to it, claiming that the court had no jurisdiction in the case."

"How can they do that?" I asked. "The contract clearly states the laws of England apply."

"Well, it seems that the original contract did not have that clause in it. It was added during the final drafting, which was done by a team from John's university and the Swiss university's lawyers. Delmoan's lawyers are claiming that the change had not been approved by the Board of Regents. They went to some judge in Rhode Island, and he struck the clause.

"At that point, our New York associates got their people onto it, and an appeal was lodged with a Federal court. As this was a question of international law, it falls under Federal authority. Some strings were pulled to get it onto the case list as an urgent issue. Unfortunately, to get that, we had to show cause, which meant revealing the existence of the TV project. However, that may have made them start to think twice. They had the idea that they were taking on a Canadian professor who had very little backing behind him. Suddenly, they found themselves in their own courts with top-flight New York and international lawyers facing them, knowing that there is a TV production company prepared to finance the action. So, I was over in the States last week in the capacity of an observer acting for an interested party, assisting the lawyers representing John.

"Anyway, the Federal court declared that the clause stood; the London court had jurisdiction over the issue. That was a week ago. I flew back Friday. On Tuesday, Delmoan's lawyers offered a settlement. Apparently, they had received counsel's opinion of their chances in an English court. We have agreed to terms this morning. I just need to get your signoff on them."

"What are they?" Dad asked.

"One, they will pay all legal costs," Martin stated. "Two, they will pay reasonable expenses incurred by John and yourself in defending John's rights in the book."

"So, what are we looking at?" Dad asked.

"Well, we've agreed five thousand dollars for John's costs and two thousand pounds to cover your costs; basically, we are claiming for the time Lee spent copying everything that we needed."

"So, they are getting off fairly lightly," I said.

"No," Martin replied. "The legal fees are going to come out at well over three-hundred-thousand dollars. Remember, I was there for five days and travelled for an extra day to deal with this. That's a hundred and forty-four hours to start with. I'm sure Bernard will put in for at least forty, and I think the New York boys will be doing the same. Compared to them, Bernard is cheap. Don't know what the Canadians will be putting in for, but I would expect it to be about the same."

"You're charging them for all the time you were in the States?" I asked.

"Yes," Martin replied. "Taking Marcia to the cinema is expensive; I need the bonus."

"How is it expensive?" I asked.

"I have to pay Lee to look after the boys. That's not cheap."

Dad laughed. He then set about signing the papers that Martin had brought him.

"Now, to the matter which directly concerns you, Johnny, the gold," Martin announced.

"Is it good or bad news?" I asked.

"Both," Martin replied. "The Police and CPS have given up trying to find a way to claim it under POCA. They can't. So, from that aspect the gold is yours."

"So, what's the problem?"

"Death duties, Johnny. HM Customs and Revenue would like forty percent of it. They are saying that although the physical bars are located outside of the UK, the Certificates of Authenticated Deposits are in the UK and are, therefore, part of your UK estate."

"Do they have a case?" Dad asked.

"Probably, but it is one we can argue. The question is: do the certificates have a value in their own right? Now, if they were bearer certificates that would be the case. However, these aren't. They are named-person certificates. As such, it can be argued they are no more than proof of ownership and have the same standing as deeds to some land. In such a case, the location of the asset is the factor at issue, not the location of the deed.

"It is almost certain that we will have to go to court on this, and it may take some time. In the meantime, don't plan on spending any of the gold; you may need it to pay the tax bill."

"What about the rest of the estate?" Dad asked.

"That's fairly well settled," Martin stated. "Johnny's mother had some very good inheritance-tax advice by the looks of things. The big hit is the house, we've had to pay seven-hundred-and-ninety thousand on that. Total death duties have come out to one-point-two million. Fortunately, we are able to use part of the payment from Yaland Insurance to cover that. The overseas properties are not part of the UK estate. Anyway, they are all owned by Swiss-based companies, which are now owned by Johnny.

"No, the only big issue on the death-duties front is the gold. That is going to take years to sort out."

"How long?" I asked.

"Customs and Excise will try to drag it out, hoping we will settle just to get our hands on part of it, so I would say at least three, maybe four years. Could even be longer."

Mum put her head around the study door to inform us she was back from college, then she asked about arrangements for dinner. Dad apologised but said it had been a hectic afternoon and suggested the Crooked Man. Mum assented. Dad asked her to call Lee and tell him to join us.

Over dinner at the Crooked Man, Dad explained to Mum about having to go over to the Netherlands tomorrow.

"I've got a class at one-thirty," Mum pointed out. It was more an objection made to make a point. She would have liked to be consulted before Dad committed to arrangements. He could have left booking the crossing till tonight. A perfectly feasible option would have been for him to fly over tomorrow and the rest of us drive over on Saturday as originally planned, a fact I pointed out to him. He was not pleased that I had but did have the grace to admit he had not considered that option.

Once that option was in the open, Mum came up with another. Lee and Dad go over in the car tomorrow with our luggage. Mum and I could fly over on Saturday. Dad was not too keen on the idea of Mum flying with the state of her pregnancy. In the end, Mum and I agreed to miss our classes. I had already arranged with Simone for her to take notes for me. Mum gave Marcia a call to make similar arrangements.

Friday morning, we were up, fed, packed and loaded, ready to go by nine-thirty, which was good as it was a two-hour drive to the EuroTunnel. I was surprised to find that we were taking the Merc. I thought we would be in the Santa Fe, but Dad apparently had decided on the Merc. It made some sense; it was more comfortable, especially for Mum in her current condition.

We got to the EuroTunnel about quarter-to-twelve and were in France an hour later. Lee had driven us down to the EuroTunnel, but once we were in France, Dad took over, citing the fact that he had more experience driving on the wrong side of the road.

"Unfortunately, mostly in England," Mum commented, which got a chuckle from Lee.

Following directions from the Sat-Nav, we arrived at a vakantie parc a few miles outside Venlo just after four, local time. Gert was there to greet us and get settled in the bungalows, which we had for the weekend. This caused some confusion at the office as they normally let them for seven days at a time. Gert assured us that De heer Wilhelm's company had booked only for the weekend as, apparently, we were due to move to Hilversum on Monday, a fact that pleased me. I was not particularly enamoured of this vakantie parc. There were facilities here, but they seemed to be aimed at families with young children. The accommodation was nowhere near as good as that we had experienced at Beekbergen. Also, the cabins, really flat-roofed huts, were only one-or two-bedroomed. So, Mum and Dad had a one-bedroom cabin, whilst Lee and I shared a two-bedroom one.

I asked Gert about getting into Amsterdam, but he advised me that I was looking at three-hour journey to get there. That upset me a bit as I wanted to have a look at the property on the Herengracht and would have liked Luuk to be with me when I saw it, at least to translate. I had the contact details for the agents who managed it and had emailed them about viewing the property. They had told me that they could do it any day other than Sunday, so long as I gave them a few hours warning of when I would be in Amsterdam. I explained this to Gert.

"Why don't you view it on Wednesday afternoon?" Gert advised. "I know Luuk has no classes on Wednesday afternoons this trimester, so he should be free to meet up with you."

That sounded like a good idea, and Gert said he would sort it out with Luuk. He also told me that Luuk was coming over to Venlo this evening as they had planned to do an interview in Venray on Saturday after the filming had finished.

That sorted, Gert did suggest it might be an idea to go to the bar and get something to drink, a suggestion that I was all for, as were Lee, Mum and Dad. Ten minutes later, we were sitting in the park's bar having some cool Grolsch and discussing what to do for dinner. Gert explained that he would not be joining us as he had to pick Luuk up from the station in Venlo at six-thirty. Dad suggested that we should go with him to Venlo, pick Luuk up and he could join us for dinner. It was an idea that Gert went along with.

Although I was used to being served beer in pubs at home so long as I was having a meal, I was not used to just sitting at the bar and drinking beer without a meal, a fact I mentioned to Gert.

"The age for buying beer or wine in the Netherlands is sixteen, at least at the moment," he informed me.

"Why at the moment?" I asked.

"There is increasing pressure on the political parties to raise the age to eighteen so it is the same for all alcohol. You can't buy spirits until you are eighteen."

Just before six, we left to drive to Venlo to pick up Luuk from the station. Fortunately, Gert had the use of one of the people carriers. Luuk was staying with Gert for the weekend. Gert had booked a two-bedroom bungalow for them. Dad was covering the extra cost for that as Luuk was working for him. Once we had collected Luuk, Gert had to find somewhere to park near the café that Dad had selected for dinner. Apparently, some friend of his had recommended the Café de Klep, it for the beer. I can't really comment on the beer, though Dad was enthusiastic about the selection available. What I can say was the saté I had was great. Mum was also enthusing about her meal. I think Dad and Gert were just too into beer to be interested in the food. Luuk and Mum had gone for wine.

Over dinner, I made arrangements with Luuk about viewing the Herengracht. Of course, I had to go into some detail about how I came to own a property on the Herengracht in Amsterdam.

"You mean your uncles gave you a house on the Herengracht?" Luuk asked with an air of disbelief.

"Amongst other things, yes," I told him.

"Anything else in the Netherlands?" Gert asked.

"Well, there are a couple of CGI studios in Hilversum," I explained. "They got the Herengracht property when they bought those."

Gert wanted details, so I had to look them up on my phone. Fortunately, I had loaded all the details of the properties in the trust onto the phone. I told Gert where they were.

"Godverdommen!" Gert exclaimed. "They're the best CGI people in the country, and you own them."

"No, not the businesses; my uncles own them. All I own is the buildings they operate from." That then took some explaining, especially since I actually did not own them outright, that they were owned by the trust that my uncles had set up for me."

It turned out the Luuk knew the Herengracht well, at least the bit up towards the Centraal Station. He used to live there in Wim's apartment.

"How come Wim had an apartment there?" I asked. "I had the impression that Herengracht was somewhat upmarket."

"Oh, it is," Luuk replied. "The apartment goes along with the ground-floor studio/office, which is where Wim's uncle has his practice. Wim's apartment is in the basement."

Luuk assured me that meeting me on Wednesday would not be a problem. He had classes till eleven but was free after that. Technically, he was supposed to have tutorials on a Wednesday afternoon, but the group was so big that his tutor had split it into two and did one half one week and the other half the other week. This was not the week designated for his half of the tutorial group.

"Bit unfair," I commented. "You are only getting half the teaching you are supposed to get."

"I know, but one of the department staff is off long-term ill, and the department have not been able to find a replacement for her. They've assured us that they will be taking it into account when it comes to our grades."

"I should hope so," I commented.

Saturday morning, Lee and Dad were off at some ridiculously early hour. Gert had explained it to me the night before about the need to catch the magic light that existed in the hour after dawn. I do not care how magical the light is, that hour of the morning does not exist for me, especially on a Saturday.

Mum and I had breakfast in the park's café. Luuk was already there when we arrived, so he joined us. We spent the day sightseeing, Luuk having explained that he did not know this part of the country at all.

In the morning, we went to the Castle Gardens Arcen, which was close by. Then, after lunch, we used the chain ferry to cross the river Meuse to Lottum. It reminded me a bit of the chain ferry on the Long Creek, though this one was motorised, and the crossing was longer. In Lottum, Mum enjoyed herself visiting a number of nurseries.

Actually, I quite enjoyed looking around the nurseries, especially the big rose nursery on the road from Lottum to Venray. I also managed to get some contact details of growers who would be interested in supplying Steven and Jim directly rather than going through the selling co-operatives that they normally had to use.

"If your friends want to buy five-hundred bushes from me, I can load them in the van and bring them over to you and still make more money on the deal than if I sell them through the co-operative," the owner of one nursery told me. "Better still, I can treat the wife to a day's shopping in London on the way back."

"That will probably wipe out your profits," I pointed out.

"Yes, but it will give me a contented wife and at least three months' peace."

We did not discuss prices or anything, but I did take some photos, which I emailed to Jim, together with contact details for the owner. There was a small café at the nursery, and we went in there for coffee and cake. Both Mum and I had learnt not to order tea in the Netherlands.

It had just gone five when we got back to the vakantie parc, but there was no sign of the film crew, which was a bit worrying. Gert had arranged for Luuk to interview the chap they had found in Venray this evening, and they were due there at seven. Originally, they had been going to do the interview this afternoon but the mix-up with the filming permits had meant they had to move it to this evening.

"Looks like you might have to move it to tomorrow," I told Luuk.

"Not on," he informed me. "He has to go into hospital tomorrow for a heart operation on Monday. Today is the last chance we have to get his testimony down on film."

"Why is it so important to get it down on film?"

"He was a sonderkommando in Auschwitz; escaped during the 1944 revolt."

"What revolt?" I asked.

"In October 1944, there was a revolt of the sonderkommanden; some managed to escape from the camp. Most were recaptured and executed immediately. The Nazis claimed all were, but there has always been stories that some escaped in the forest around Auschwitz with the help of the Polish underground. It seems our chap was one of them."

"You say, 'it seems'?"

"Yes, we must check everything as much as possible. It is always possible that somebody may be fantasising about their past. Unless we are absolutely certain that we can prove what is being said, we cannot use it. However, I tracked this chap down, so I am fairly certain that he is for real."

Dad, Gert and Lee got back just before six. There was then a mad dash to get the gear they needed loaded into the Merc and to set off with Luuk to Venray. Gert was assuring them as they loaded the car that they would be able to make it on time. Dad assured Mum that they would get something to eat after they had filmed the interview.

The one problem that did raise its head was what were Mum and I going to do about dinner, as we had no transport. We ended up going to the Restaurant De Kloosterhoeve, which was within walking distance. It was a nice place but not as good as where we had a meal yesterday.

Dad and his crew arrived back not long after ten. Dad assured Mum that they had eaten, then pointed out they had an early start in the morning. I was now firmly convinced that the film- and television-production business was not one I wanted to get into. I have no objection to early starts, like seven-thirty or even seven on occasions, but half-past-four in the morning! That is not a reasonable time for anyone, let alone for a seventeen-year-old.

They may have had a ridiculously early start on Sunday morning, but on the upside, they and the crew were back fairly early. Although a full day's filming had originally been planned, the cock-up over dates that had resulted in yesterday's filming meant there was only a few hours of filming to be done today.

"I just hope there are no more similar cock-ups," I stated.

"There can't be," Gert replied. "Everything else is studio work for the rest of the week, and I have booked the studio space. We have them booked twenty-four/seven from Monday to Friday."

"That, Gert, does not make sense," I commented, then had to explain exactly what twenty-four/seven actually meant.

We had lunch in the restaurant in the vakantie parc. Over lunch, I asked Dad how things went last night with the filming of the interview.

"It went well, and we got some good stuff. Unfortunately, we can't use it."

"Why not, Dad?"

"Max, the chap we were interviewing yesterday, is of Jewish descent. He went underground when the Nazis started to round up the Jews in Amsterdam. When he was picked up in 1943 during a raid on a place known to be frequented by homosexuals, he had false papers on him so was not identified as Jewish. He was sent to the labour camps as a sexual deviant.

"What he saw there is horrifying. He told of seeing his friend, who had been arrested with him, being tied naked over a barrel, then being doused with the urine from a bitch in heat. The guards then let their dogs fuck him one after another until he was dead. The whole camp had to stand and watch. It took three hours for him to die."

"So, why can't you use it?" I asked.

"I'm coming to that. In July 1944, someone identified him to the camp authorities as being Jewish and there under a false name. He was shipped out to Auschwitz on the next transport, arriving in August 1944. The moment he arrived he was assigned to the sonderkommanden ."

"What are they?" I asked.

"They were the prisoners who had the job of moving the bodies of the dead from the gas chamber to the crematorium and putting them into the ovens. They were kept separate from the rest of the camp because of the secrets they knew, but that also ensured that they would be killed. Every three months, they would be gassed and replaced with a new lot, just to ensure the secret of the gas chambers was kept.

"The thing was, the SS considered them to be… What was the word he used, Luuk?"

"Geheimnisträger; it means carriers of secrets," Luuk supplied.

"Yes, that's it, geheimnisträger. They knew that there was no way they could tell anyone else about what was happening, although somehow they did. Some of them kept secret diaries which they buried. Some were found after the war. They also managed to get information out to the wider camp. There was some limited contact between them and the girls who working in the ammunition factory next to the camp.

"Because the SS considered them to be geheimnisträger, they used them for sexual purposes. Most of the younger sonderkommanden were raped by SS officers, some were even killed during SS sex parties. Max was used in that way by a senior SS officer. On the night of the sixth of October, when he had Max tied to a bed and was raping him, he told Max it was a pity that he was being gassed the next day as he had enjoyed fucking him.

"When Max got back to the barracks that night, he passed the news on. That batch of sonderkommanden had been well aware of what their fate would be and had been preparing for it. They had been getting gunpowder smuggled into them from the ammunition girls. So, on the morning of the seventh of October, they attacked their SS guards. A group of the sonderkommanden managed to escape into the forest. Most were rounded up and executed on the spot. Max, however, was one of the lucky ones who was found by the resistance. They got him into hiding and then across Allied lines into Russian-controlled areas.

"Max got back to Holland in 1946 to find that the Germans, efficient as ever, had actually updated his records to show his true name on his conviction. He also had to serve the remainder of his time in prison because he was deemed to have been convicted of a criminal offence."

"So, why can't you use it?" I asked.

"Johnny, Max was sent to Auschwitz as a Jew; what he is telling is a Jewish story. Yes, he's gay and he was treated as a criminal when he returned home, but the whole thing about the sonderkommanden, that is a Jewish story. If we were to include it in this film, it would take away from what the film is about. It is about the unheard of the Holocaust, those whose voices have been drowned out by the telling of the Jewish aspects of the events."

That was something I had not considered.

"So, you are only going to use the material from gay sources?"

"No, Johnny," Dad replied. "We are also interviewing Sinti, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses and others who suffered persecution under the Nazis. Anybody who is not Jewish."

"The Sinti and Yenish are some of the hardest tales," Luuk commented. "Because of their lifestyle, many of them were not documented in their homelands, and when it came to repatriation after the war, their homelands refused to take them. They ended up stateless persons."

"Who are the Sinti and the Yenish?" I asked.

"The Sinti are a branch of the Roma people, though they claim to be separate from the Romani. They are, though, true gypsies. The Yenish are itinerant travellers, like the gypsies but not of gypsy stock; they are not Roma or Sinti," Luuk explained.

"A bit like the Irish and Scottish travellers in England," Dad stated.

"Are there any nowadays?" I asked.

"Oh yes, but they are mostly settled down," Dad responded. "They still keep to themselves, though, a separate community living in the midst of us."

"It seems a bit of a waste not to use the interview with Max," Luuk stated.

"It would be if it was never used. It just can't be used in this project," Dad stated. "However, there is nothing to stop us doing another documentary where we could use it."

I wondered what Dad had in mind.

Gert informed us that De heer Wilhelm had booked a local restaurant for an end-of-shoot celebration for the location crew.

"Most of the crew finish today. As from Tuesday, we are working in the studio, and there is a permanent, fulltime studio crew based there," Gert informed us. In the meantime, he suggested we take the afternoon to enjoy the facilities at the park, which including sailing on the lake and open-water swimming. I took one look at the boats available for the sailing and decided to visit the indoor pool instead.

A fleet of people carriers took us to a restaurant which seemed to be in the middle of a forest. I mentioned to Luuk that I was surprised it managed to get any business stuck in the middle of nowhere.

"Johnny, in the Netherlands nowhere is more than a kilometre from somewhere. This place is a party restaurant; people like it to be out of the way. That way the parties do not disturb the neighbours."

By the time we finally got back to our bungalows, I could well appreciate what Luuk meant. With parties like that, it was a good job the place was in the middle of nowhere. I did wonder if Gert would manage to get Luuk on the train to Amsterdam in the morning. He had to get the three-minutes-past-seven train from Venlo to get into Amsterdam at five past nine. His first class was at nine-thirty.

Monday, we moved to Hilversum, getting there around eleven. Not to another vakantie parc but to an apartment hotel. We had a three-bedroom apartment on the top floor. One thing which pleased Mum was that Sylvia was in Hilversum. Apparently, she was on De heer Wilhelm's full-time staff and normally worked with the studio management, so was based there. Sylvia offered to show Mum around Hilversum, at least around the shopping area. Dad had a script conference in the afternoon, which left me at a bit of a loose end, so I settled down to do some revision. After all, that was why I had brought my textbooks over with me.

Unfortunately, it was not only on Monday that I found myself stuck into my textbooks. It was the same on Tuesday. At least Mum was around, also stuck in her textbooks. She had her final assessments to take when we got back. In the afternoon I did have a look around Hilversum. To be honest, I preferred Apeldoorn.

When I got back to the apartment, Dad was there and in a good mood. It turned out they had finished all of today's planned work and about half of tomorrow's. If things went as well tomorrow, there was a good chance they could finish on Thursday. Lee expressed the hope that they would as he would like to have a chance to see a bit of Amsterdam.

"Don't really need you tomorrow," Dad stated. "We've done all the planning and scheduling, so if you want a free day in Amsterdam, why don't you go in with Johnny in the morning."

Lee said it was a nice offer, but while there was filming going on, he would prefer to be at the set just in case. He also pointed out he was learning a lot just hanging around the studio with Gert and Sylvia. Mum informed him that Sylvia would not be there tomorrow.

"Why not?" Lee asked.

"She's showing me around Leiden," Mum explained. "She has to go there for a medical appointment, so is taking the day off and has said she will show me around the place."

"That makes sense," Gert stated. "Sylvia is from Leiden. She is based at De heer Wilhelm's studio in Rotterdam."

"I didn't know he had a studio in Rotterdam," Dad stated.

"That's where he produces most of the light-entertainment stuff for TV," Gert informed Dad. "He uses the Hilversum studios for the drama and factual stuff. Both Sylvia and I work mostly at the Rotterdam studios — that is, when I am working for De heer Wilhelm. Sylvia is a full-time employee so is there a lot more. Though, she spends about half her time here in Hilversum."

Wednesday morning, Sylvia called at the hotel for Mum just before nine, and they were on their way by nine-ten. I did think of scrounging a lift off them to the station but decided against it. I had a slow, relaxed breakfast, then walked to the station, which was not that far away. Only took me ten minutes to walk there. I got into Amsterdam Centraal Station a few minutes before ten-thirty, which gave me plenty of time to walk to the American Book Centre. That was where Luuk had said he would meet me, having given me very detailed directions on how to get there from the station. Needless to say, I got lost, but after some very interesting offers from some of the lads who were patrolling the streets of Amsterdam, I did manage to find it without taking up any of the offers.

Luuk was already there when I found the place, standing outside, looking around like one of the lads who had made me interesting offers on my way there, a fact that I commented on to Luuk.

"You clearly look like a tourist," he commented.

"Well, I am," I pointed out. Luuk laughed.

We spent some time in the American Book Centre, and I purchased a couple of books. Dad had mentioned that I should read Vidal, and they had a good collection of his books. I got copies of The City and the Pillar and Julian. Shopping done, at least for the morning, we retired to a nearby eethuis that Luuk recommended. It was a worthwhile recommendation.

Over lunch, Luuk confirmed that he had spoken to Judy de Vries, the managing agent for the Herengracht property, and we were due to meet her at quarter to two. We would be viewing the property at two.

"Where abouts is it on the Herengracht?" Luuk asked.

"I don't know," I told him. "The notes don't give a house number, just a name."

"Well, we will just have to hope the agent knows where it is," Luuk observed.

"For what she is getting in fees, she'd better," I replied.

Luuk laughed.

When we had finished lunch, we still had nearly an hour before we were due to meet Mv. de Vries, so Luuk took me on a short sightseeing tour. Actually, we only went to one place, The Old Man Smoke Shop, one of the sights of Amsterdam. I am sure half the crowd who packed the place were just looking. I was not; I actually bought something: a Zippo lighter. Well, I thought I had to say I had made a purchase at the famed establishment.

Shortly after half past one, Luuk indicated that we should start to move to where he had arranged to meet Mv. de Vries. Apparently, we were going to meet her at one of the bridges over the Herengracht. I enquired how we were going to know her.

"She told me she is an unreformed old hippy and that we can't miss her," Luuk advised. I pointed out there were a lot of unreformed old hippies moving around Amsterdam every day of the week, a point Luuk agreed with. However, once we got to the meeting place, there was no doubt about who we were due to meet.

Mevrouw de Vries was a large black woman in all senses of the word. She stood well over six-feet tall; I would guess at least six-foot four, if not more. I knew Luuk was six foot and Mv. de Vries towered over him. She was also what the South Africans called a 'traditionally built' woman, all of which was emphasised by the clothes she was wearing. A long, full skirt reached nearly to the ground, dancing around her in a display of tie-dyed blues and greens, and a sunrise-yellow, tie-dyed tee shirt barely contained what was a very ample bosom. Surmounting these was a veritable coat of many colours: hundreds of diamond-shaped pieces of brightly coloured cloth, all sewn together to make a coat with wide sleeves. She was carrying a leather document folder and had a satchel slung over her shoulder.

Luuk went up to her and spoke in Dutch; from what I could hear, he was confirming that she was Mv. de Vries. She clearly was, because soon Luuk was introducing me.

"You're Jonathan Carlton-Smith?" she said, clearly taken somewhat aback.

"Yes, I am. Is there a problem?"

"Sorry, it's just when I was told the beneficial owner wanted to view the property, I just assumed it would be someone older. I've prepared some recommendations with regard to it which I wanted to present."

"That's no problem," I informed her. "Present them to me, and if I think they are reasonable, I'll recommend them to the trustees of the trust. They usually will go along with what I recommend."

"Are you sure about that?" Luuk asked.

"Oh yes, Dad knows if he didn't, I would make his life hell." I laughed. "Joseph would do the same to Uncle Bernard. We have to keep the 'rents under control."

"Maybe we'd better look at the house first, then I can tell you my ideas," Mv. de Vries said. I noticed a familiar accent to her English.

We started to cross the bridge. When we got to the centre, Mv. de Vries stopped, then pointed at a house on the other side of the canal we were crossing.

"Well, Mr Carlton-Smith, that is the house you own, the one with the yellow frontage."

"Fuck!" exclaimed Luuk. I turned and looked at him.

"What's wrong?"

"That's where Wim lives," he stammered.

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