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Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 45

There, standing in the yard was a silver-grey Volvo XC90.

"Technically, it is the estate's," Dad said, dropping a set of car keys into my hand. "Your name is on the insurance as a named driver. Lee is named as well as he is under twenty-five. I've also added you as a named driver to the Merc, though that is just for emergencies. The Volvo is yours to drive."

"Didn't you add me on for the TVR?" I asked incredulously.

"No, they won't insure anyone under twenty-five for that," I was informed. "Actually, I'm not sure they will insure it for over twenty-fives, either. Haven't tried to insure it; that's why it's stuck in the corner garage under the dustsheet."

"What about the Smart Car?" I asked.

"Actually, Johnny, that's not very practical around here. I was wondering if you would mind if we took it up to Golders Green when we move there. It's an ideal town car."

I had to agree that made sense.

I went over to the XC90, pressing the unlock button on the key fob. There was a loud click as the car unlocked. Opening the driver's door, I climbed up and got in it. Looked at the dials and controls. I must have sat in it, looking around for a good ten minutes or so before I got out, closed the door and locked the car.

"Aren't you going to take it for a run?" Dad asked as I walked back into the kitchen.

"Nah, I think I'll leave that till tomorrow. It's going to be dark soon." Also, I was really not in the mood for driving.

I chatted with Gran and Granddad for a bit. Matt had told them that the work on the apartments was going to take about six to eight weeks, so they were looking at moving in sometime around the first two weeks in August.

Shortly after ten-thirty, I went up to my room. The first thing I did was phone Colin and tell him not to bother cycling into the yard in the morning; he was to come over and see me. He said he would. I then phoned Joseph and told him about the car. He did not seem that interested.

I was up early on Monday morning, partly because I wanted to have a good read of the manual for the XC90 before I took it out for my first drive. It was not yet six when I had finished my coffee and toast and was sitting in the driver's seat reading the manual and checking off the controls. When I thought I had a good feel for them, I decided to take the car for a short run down to the back gate and back. In the end, I did that about five or six times. The car handled very different from the Seat I had been driving last week. It was also a lot bigger. The size difference caught me out when I tried to turn for the first time at the back gate. Ended up going up on the verge. It did not have as tight a turning circle as the Seat.

By seven, I felt fairly comfortable handling the XC90 and parked it by the back door and went in to make myself another coffee. Mum was in the kitchen when I got in.

"Been out for a spin?" she asked.

"Only up and down the drive a few times. Wanted to get a feel for the handling before I took it out on the roads."

"Probably a good idea. A bit different to driving what you were driving last week I expect."

"Massively. Driving the XC90 feels more like driving a tank."

"That's what driving your dad's Santa Fe feels like to me," she commented, pouring a mug of freshly made coffee for me and putting it on the table.

"You're up early," I commented having a feeling that it was probably late last night before she got to bed. Dad had wanted to discuss something about the Australia trip with her but would not do so while the grandparents were around.

"Junior decided to have some kicking practice," she stated.

"So, it's a boy, then?"

"Don't know. We decided we did not want to know, so asked the nurse not to tell us when she did the scan. We can't tell from the image she printed for us. However, from the way it's kicking, I would say it is either a boy or the future captain of the England women's football team.

"Do you want me to cook you something for breakfast?"

"Not really. I had some cereal and toast earlier," I told her.

"You're going to the yard today?"

"Yes, Mum. Promised Steve I would go in so he could have a day off. Bran's off every Monday, and Katherine is not happy tending the chandlery. Steve's not been able to have a day off whilst I've been away."

"I know you had cereal and toast, but how about a bacon sandwich?" she asked. "I'm doing some for your dad; he'll be up shortly."

"Yes, please," I said.

"Surely, you not being around does not stop take Steve taking a day off. There must be other people there who can cover."

"Well, it depends on what you mean by cover," I told her. "Both Bran and Katherine can run the yard just as well as Steve. Unfortunately, Katherine does not know the office or the chandlery computer system that well, and until she is au fait completely with it, she needs me to cover those systems. She's getting better with them, but to be honest, she does not get that much chance to work with them."

Mum nodded in understanding and moved the bacon into the warming oven. Almost dead on seven-thirty, the backdoor bell rang. Mum opened the door to let Colin in. She asked him if he would like a bacon sandwich. He confirmed he would and two minutes later was sitting at the kitchen table with a sandwich in front of him.

"Whose car is by the door?" he asked.

"That's mine; we'll be going in it this morning."

"You passed your test, then?"


Colin settled into consuming his bacon sandwich. Ten minutes later, we were in the car. For the first time, I was driving on the public road without a driving instructor sitting beside me. It was a bit scary.

When we got down onto Marsh Road, I looked at the causeway. The tide was going out, but there was still water on it. Glancing at the poles along the causeway, I guessed there was not more than a couple of inches of water; however, it still obscured the roadway, and there was a strong flow over the road surface. The XC90 might have permanent four-wheel drive and, in theory, should have handled the conditions with ease. However, I was not sure I had the experience to handle them. I drove off and followed Marsh Road around the marsh until I came to the chain ferry. It was, of course, on the wrong side for us, so Colin and I had to winch it over before I could load the car on and winch the ferry over to the High Marsh side. As a result, it was just gone eight-thirty by the time we got into the yard. Katherine was just completing the unlock.

"New car?" she asked as I climbed out of the driver's seat. I nodded. She continued. "I guess that means you passed your driving test."

"I did."

"Good. Having an extra driver around is always useful. Colin, could you start by cleaning Number One Slipway? Noticed quite a bit of rubbish on it this morning. Must have blown in last night."

That surprised me as I had not noticed any high winds when we got home last night. I mentioned the fact to Katherine.

"There was a thunderstorm just after six. Came in from nowhere — thunder, wind, hail. Then, twenty minutes later the sun was shining, and it was as calm as anything."

"I was in London till gone eight," I stated.

"Explains how you missed it."

At lunch time, one of the new lads running the composite-repair yard in the old Peters Yard cycled up to the Pig and Whistle to collect the order. Normally, it would have been Colin, Bran or me, but Bran was not here today, so no motorcycle, and I had brought Colin in the car, so neither of us had a bike.

Over lunch I told Colin that I could give him a lift in any time that I was coming into the yard.

"Thanks, Johnny, but it's not really practical," he told me.

"Why not?"

"Well, most days you either come in early and finish mid-afternoon or you come in late and stay to lock up. If I come in with you, I be stuck here without a bike. If you give me a lift home in the evening, my bike will be stuck here."

He had a point. I suppose I could always put a bike rack on the car, but the idea did not appeal to me. Then I remembered something. That afternoon whilst I was covering the chandlery, I went online and did some checking. Then, I went online to check my bank account. When I was locking up, I asked Colin if he was in a hurry to get home.

"Not really; don't have anything on. Trevor's in London, and Arthur is away visiting sites today. Not due back till late. I was going to go to the pub for dinner."

"You can join us for dinner," I told Colin. I knew Mum was doing a pasta bake, so there would be plenty. Before we set off, I sent her a text saying I had invited Colin for dinner.

"Good. Your dad just phoned to say he won't be back till late. There's a hitch in the filming. I need some help to eat all the bake," was the reply I got. A piece of information I passed on to Colin. Then, once we had crossed on the chain ferry, I set off for Southmead. Fortunately, Halfords was open till eight, though it was gone seven when we got there.

Getting there whilst they were still open was one thing. Finding an assistant to serve me was something totally different. Even when I found one, he did not seem very interested in helping me. Eventually, another assistant came over and dealt with me. He looked younger than I was but turned out to be about the same age. He knew me from college. Turned out he was doing the car-mechanics course there and working part-time in the store.

I must admit he was a bit surprised when I told him what I wanted.

"Really? Are you sure? They're nearly a grand, you know?" he told me.

"I know. I looked them up on the website, and it says you have two in stock. Do you?"

"I would think so. I think every store got sent two, one to put on display and one to keep in stock in case we could sell one."

"Well, you've sold both."

"That could be a bit awkward. We're not supposed to sell display models," I was informed.

"Well, get your manager and explain the situation. You can sell both of them today to me, or I can ring up the manufacturers in the morning and have two shipped overnight to me. They will be with me on Wednesday. As I don't need them till Friday, that will not be a problem."

The manager arrived about five minutes later. He looked at me a bit sceptically. I explained what I needed. I also told him that if I could not get them both this evening, I would not be buying any from them.

"Do you know how much they will cost?" he asked.

"Yes, one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-ninety-six pounds. You do take Visa, don't you?"

He told the sales assistant to put it through the machine. We walked over to the cash desk, and he entered the amount into the card machine. I inserted my card, then entered my pin number. I think he was a bit surprised when it went through with no problem. It helped that I had contacted the bank earlier and told them I was making a large purchase either this evening or in the morning.

Fifteen minutes later, we were on the road back to the Priory with two folding electric bikes in the back of the car.

"Why did you get two?" Colin asked once we were on the road back.

"Well, I realised you were right about being stuck there without transport. I did not want to put a bike rack on the car, so a folding bike I could get in the back seemed the best idea. This way if I take you in, I leave the bike for you to get home on. If you're going in before me, you can use the bike to go in, and we can fold it up and put it in the back when I take you home."

"But why two?"

"Well, I need one for days like today when I do not have a bike to go up to the Pig. The lads doing the composite work are not in on a Sunday and are both off on the same day during the week, so we can't count on one of them being there."

"That makes sense, but why did you get electric bikes? There were some cheaper folding bikes there."

"Yes, but can you imagine trying to pedal them up the hill, then across the marsh paths. If we had to have something with small wheels, going electric made sense."

Yes, going electric did make sense. However, what I had not thought about was where to charge them. There were no electric power points in the garages, an oversight I would have to raise with Dad. It was Granddad who came up with the solution. He pointed out that there were plenty of power points in my workshop. So that is where we put the bikes to charge. The consequence of that was I had to give Colin a key to get into my workshop so he could get a bike out when he needed one. Not that it was a problem, at least not for me.

Colin gave me a hand to unload the bikes from the back of the car and move them into the workshop. We then set up the chargers, putting the bikes on to charge. From what I read in the manual, we needed to leave them charging overnight before first using them.

Whilst I was setting up the bikes to charge, Colin was looking around the workshop.

"You build all these?" he asked, looking at the models sitting on the shelf that run around the top of the workshop.

"Yes," I told him. "But most of them were built when I was at the old house with mother. Not done much since I've been here. Working on that one, at the moment." I pointed to the model of America that sat on the bench.

"Can I help with it?" Colin asked.

"Why would you want to?"

"Not much else to do in the evening," Colin admitted. "Anyway, I might learn something."

Model-building has always been something I have done in private. Even when I had school friends come to the house, which was rarely, I never let them see my model-building. To be honest, I never let them see my models; they were something private. My instinctive reaction was to say no, but I managed to stop myself giving an instinctive answer. I thought about it for a few moments, then said. "Don't see why not. Just don't touch any of the models if I'm not here with you."

Colin said that would not be a problem.

That sorted, Colin went over to the Stable House apartment to get showered and changed. I told him to hurry and come over for dinner. I went in and up to my room to shower and change. Colin must have taken my instruction to heart as he was in the kitchen, seated at the table, when I got down.

As Mum had said, there was a large pasta bake for dinner. I suspected that Gran had probably had a lot to do with it as it seemed much richer than what Mum's pasta bakes normally were. Over dinner, Colin was talking to Granddad about one of the jobs he got landed with today: cutting some rotten woodwork out from the decking on a boat that had come in. Colin said he had been unsure how far to cut back, and a couple of times when he had taken a length of planking out, Katherine had come and looked and told him to take more out. Granddad told Colin about some trick with a hammer you could use. Apparently, if you tapped the wood with a hammer, wood with rot in it sounded different from solid wood.

At least, that is the gist of it that I got. I was somewhat occupied with listening to Mum, telling me about the arrangements for tomorrow. I will not say that I had forgotten that it was the premiere of That Woman's Son, but it had not been at the forefront of my mind. So, I had not been giving it much thought. To be honest, I had not given it any thought. I had just assumed that we would turn up at the cinema with our invitations tomorrow evening and that was it.

Apparently, that was not to be it. It seems that the uncles had hired a set of rooms in a nearby hotel for the important guests at the premiere, which for some reason, included us. We were expected to be there for two. Mum told me we would travel down in our day clothes and change into evening wear for the premiere at the hotel. There was a reception being given at the hotel before the premiere; we were invited. Then, there would be a fleet of cars to take us from the hotel to the premiere. It seems that we were expected to arrive in a certain order.

That really messed up my plans for Tuesday. I had presumed we would not be leaving till about five at the earliest, so had planned to go into the yard in the morning to continue with the survey of The Lady Ann. I really wanted to get that completed so I would know what I was doing next. Now, it seemed we would probably be leaving about eleven. Not much point in going into the yard to do any work.

After dinner, Colin and I went back into my workshop just to check on the charging of the bikes. They were both charging well, though the indicator only showed a five-percent charge. Colin expressed doubts as to whether they would be fully charged by the morning, but I told him it did not matter. I would not be going into the yard tomorrow, so they would have a full twenty-four hours plus to charge up before we needed them.

Colin went off to the Stable House apartment, and I went back into the house. I called Joseph to see how his day had gone, but my call went directly to voicemail. He was either out of the service area, which I thought unlikely in London, or his phone was off. Though I was a bit puzzled why that would be.

Once I had given up on contacting Joseph, I phoned Cliff just to check how things were in Blackpool. Apparently, Chris and his dad had been up before the magistrates on charges of murder, conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and sexual assault of a minor. They had been committed for trial at the Crown Court and remanded in custody.

As we finished the call off, I said goodbye, and Cliff said he would see me tomorrow. I wondered what he meant.

Joseph phoned me back just after ten-twenty. He had picked up my missed call.

"Sorry, Johnny, I took Luuk to see a show, and the phone was off in the theatre," he told me by way of explanation.

Dad did not get in until well after eleven and was not in a good mood when he arrived. Apparently, he had wasted a complete day driving up to Lincoln for a film shoot on the archaeology series, then waited around all day because the wrong equipment had been sent to the set. When the equipment that had been requested arrived, they hit problems with the actual shooting of the scene. Apparently, the big name who now fronted the series got so upset that he walked off the set, and it was left for Dad to improvise to finish the shoot.

"I suppose, being Martin Shelt's cousin, he will get away with it, walking off set like that?" I stated.

"I'm not so sure, Johnny. It's not the first time he's done it, and I think that Martin is getting a bit tired of it. We should have the current series finished by the end of next month. I know Martin is talking to the channel about a third series, but I suspect his cousin might find he does not have a part in it."

"So, you'll be the lead?"

"Not sure. Not sure I'd want to be, either. Splitting things like we have been doing has worked well. It's left me doing the technical stuff, which I'm good at, and I have not had to do the historical and social stuff, which to be honest, bores me. I did suggest to Martin that he might consider getting a female lead."

"How did that go down?" I asked.

"Actually, pretty well."

Having said that, Dad announced he needed a cup of tea and then was going to bed. He did remind us that we needed to be up early in the morning.

"What do you mean early?" I asked.

"Well, no later than nine," he replied.

I laughed. Early for me when I was working at the yard was six-thirty.

Tuesday morning, I was up just after quarter-to-eight and had showered and dressed. Getting down to the kitchen, I found Grandma at the stove, cooking.

"There's fresh coffee in the pot, lad," she informed me. "Help yourself. Do you want one egg or two with your breakfast?"

"What is there?" I asked.

"Bacon, sausage, black pudding, mushrooms, fried bread and eggs. The bread and eggs I will do fresh as needed; the rest is in the warming oven. You're all going to have a long day today, and I thought you'd need a good breakfast."

Somehow, I suspected she was right, so I opted for two eggs. Grandma broke a couple of eggs into the pan and put a round of bread into the second pan to fry. Three minutes later, she was placing a breakfast plate before me loaded up with the goodies she had announced earlier.

"Where's Granddad?" I asked as I tucked into my bacon and sausages.

"Out. Went down to the nursery to see if they boys needed a hand. Not come back, so I suppose they do.

"What's that thing on the wall over the table?" she asked. She was pointing to the ula I had found in the storage shed. I had put it on a couple of hooks hanging on the kitchen wall.

"It's an ula, a Fijian throwing club," I told her.

She looked at it with interest. "Pass it here, can you? It's a bit too high up for me unless I climb on a chair, and that's not a good idea at my age."

Actually, I had to get up from my meal and climb on a chair to get it down. I handed it to Grandma, who carefully felt its weight and balance in her hands.

"Got a good weight to it," she stated. "And it balances well. I could wang this a good distance and hit the spot."

I could just imagine her wanging the war club, then decided that it was not something I wanted to imagine. Watching Gran as she hefted it from one hand to the other, with it turning a single revolution as it passed through the air, showed a level of control that made me aware that she had some skill when it came to wanging.

When she was satisfied with its feel, she put it down on the table and instructed me to put it back on the wall when I had finished my breakfast. She also suggested it would be better if it was hung a bit lower.

"Don't want to be climbing on a chair if I have need of it."

"If you have need of what?" Mum asked coming into the kitchen.

"That," Gran stated, pointing to the ula, which was now on the table.

"Why would you need that?" Mum inquired.

"Well, you never know. There might be a burglar or something around while you're off Down Under."

I had not realised until then that Gran and Granddad would be looking after the house while we were off in Australia.

I do not know what time Dad got up. I had gone out to my workshop to check on the bikes before he came down to breakfast. The bikes had fully charged overnight, so I took them off the charger, then spent some time doing some fiddly work on the model of America. It was rather absorbing work as I found out when my phone rang and Mum told me that they were getting ready to leave. I had been in the workshop for nearly two hours.

Once back in the house, I found that Mum had exaggerated a bit. It would be at least half an hour before they were ready to leave. However, I probably needed that time to get my stuff ready. For a start, I had to get my evening suit out of the wardrobe and packed with the other stuff I needed: dress shirt, bow tie, black shoes and all the other shit you have to wear for a formal occasion. I also had to remember to put my toilet bag in the case as well.

In the end, I made it on time and was down in the kitchen with my case before eleven, as was Mum. It was Dad who held us up. Apparently, he could not find his cufflinks. As a result, it was gone twenty-past before we set off. I was rather surprised that Lee was not with us as I thought the uncles had invited him.

"They did, Johnny," Dad informed me. "They invited him and a guest, so he's taking Simone. However, they're not attending the pre-premiere reception, so are making their own way."

"What your dad is saying is they do not need to be there till gone five," Mum added.

We got to the hotel just after one-thirty. As we pulled into a parking bay in the hotel's underground car park, a Mini pulled into the space next to us. Jenny, Tyler's girlfriend, got out from the passenger door as we were getting out of Dad's Santa Fe. A woman whom I did not know emerged on the driver's side, then Tyler emerged from the back of the Mini.

"Where's the Lambo?" I asked.

"In the garage," Jenny replied.

"It's totally impractical for most city driving," Tyler explained. "We only get it out when we are doing something related to Jenny's modelling job or distant runs on major roads. This is Tracy Armitage by the way, one of the production assistants on The Dodge. She's got lumbered with driving us around today.

"Mike, any chance Jenny and I could scrounge a lift back with you after this do? It would let Tracy get off early."

"Yes, but we're not staying late," Dad stated.

"That's fine. I have to get Jenny to Luton for ten in the morning, so don't want a late night myself."

On the way up into the hotel, I mentioned to Tyler that I had not seen much of him around.

"Only tend to be at the Priory at weekends at the moment," he informed me. "Usually stay at Jenny's place during the week while we're shooting The Dodge. Just got a couple of weeks off set, going to drop Jenny at Luton in the morning and then going up to Manston. Going to be up there for a few days."

"Anything special?"

"Just a pre-production meeting for Snowball. It's going to take a couple of days, then I'm back down at the Priory. Want to see if I can get that bit of garden in front of my place sorted out."

"You need to talk to the lads about that."

Tyler said he probably would. He then asked me if I knew what was going on.

"What do you mean, what's going on?" I asked.

"Well, this pre-premiere reception. It's not normally done. There is normally a big party after the premiere but usually not much before."

I told him I had no idea.

There was quite a crowd at the reception, with people saying that they had to see someone or other. Dad managed to push his way to the front. I was just behind him.

"Who do you want to see?" a rather exasperated receptionist asked Dad without looking up from the screen in front of him.

"No one," he replied. "I understand there are some rooms for us."

The receptionist looked up. "What name is it?"

"Carlton, Michael Carlton. The rooms are for myself and my wife; there should also be one for my son, plus rooms for Tyler Lawrence and Jenny Jones."

The receptionist started to enter names into the computer system and generate key cards. Just then, I heard my name called. Turning, I looked over the crowd waiting at reception and saw Patrick and Cliff in the lobby, trying to make their way through.

"Dad, Patrick and Cliff are here as well."

"Right," he said taking some key cards from the receptionist. He handed me one with instructions to give it to Tyler. "What are their names?"

"Patrick Felton and Cliff Rownton," I told him. Dad gave the names to the receptionist. I handed the key card to Tyler, telling him it was a suite for him and Jenny. As I turned back to Dad, he handed me another key card, saying it was for Patrick and Cliff. I pushed my way out of the crowd to get to Patrick and Cliff and gave Patrick the key card. We then made our way towards the lift, but before we could get to them, we had to negotiate our way past a row of security guards who had roped off the access to the lifts. Showing our key cards got us past them.

When the lift got us up to the eighth floor, we were met by a young lady with a clipboard. She checked our names off a list and told us where our rooms were.

"Mr. Lewis asked that you meet him in the Beaumont Room, which is just past the lifts on the other side from where your rooms are, at two-thirty. There is no requirement to change for that meeting. Mr. Felton and Mr. Rownton, the tailors are waiting for you in room 821. Once you have put your stuff in your room, I suggest you go directly to them."

It turned out that Patrick and Cliff had the room next to me. Mum and Dad were across the corridor. Though I said room, what I actually had was a small suite, with a bedroom, bathroom, sitting room with dining area. There was a card on the table in the sitting area informing me that the minibar was fully stocked and complimentary, as was any room service I wanted. I grabbed a can of cola from the minibar and consumed it whilst checking the room-service menu. There was nothing on that which I fancied. I was just finishing my cola when there was a knock at the door. Opening it, I found Patrick and Cliff standing there, so I invited them in. Cliff looked as if he had been blushing. A fact I commented on.

"He has been," Patrick informed me. "We've just finished with the tailors."

"What happened?"

"They asked me which side I dressed," Cliff stated. "I did not know what they meant."

"So, I told him," Patrick announced.

"Yes, he said the tailor was asking which side my dick hung down."

"But that is what he was asking," Patrick pointed out.

"Yes, but you did not have to go on and give him the answer, did you?" Cliff commented.

"So, why did you have to see the tailors?" I asked.

"Well, neither of us have evening suits," Patrick informed me. "Matthew's assistant sorted some out for us; she got our measurements from Mum yesterday. Told us they would be ready when we got here. Apparently, they are ready but needed fitting. They are making the adjustments now and will be ready for us before the pre-reception, whatever that is?"

"Don't look at me for an answer," I told Patrick. "I've no more idea what is going on than you do."

Just then there was another knock at the door. It was Dad saying they were going to the Beaumont Room. I checked the time, and it was just gone quarter-past, so I told Dad I would be down in a few minutes.

"So, you came down on the train this morning?" I asked.

"No, we flew down. Your uncle had a plane pick us up at Blackpool Airport and fly us into London City. There was a car waiting to bring us here," Cliff told me. "Though, apparently we go back by train tomorrow after I have met with my agent."

"You've got an agent?" I asked.

"Yes, Patrick's uncle insisted I get one. Somebody he knows recommended one. I'm due to see her in the morning."

"Who is she?" I asked.

"Irene Kaufman."

I laughed. "She's my dad's agent. Probably Uncle Bernard who recommended her."

"Is she any good?" Patrick asked.

"Seeing the way Dad's producer talks about her, I think she must be," I stated. "Look, we'd better be getting down to this meeting."

We got to the Beaumont Room just before two-thirty. The uncles were already there. Most of the people in the room I knew, if only by sight, but there were a few I did not. As we entered, Uncle Phil looked over.

"Cliff, glad you made it in time. Come over and meet Trevor," he called across the room. Cliff looked at Patrick, who just nodded. Then he crossed the room to Uncle Phil. Trevor was standing next to Uncles Phil and Ben. The moment Cliff was over there it was immediately clear how much he looked like Trevor. Yes, the hair colour was wrong, and Cliff was shorter and stockier than Trevor, but they were so much alike you could easily think they were brothers.

Uncle Phil introduced Cliff to Trevor and then turned to the room again.

"I am sure a number of you are wondering why we are holding a pre-premiere event here before the premiere. Yes, it's normal to get the red-carpet people to a venue like this to get ready to attend a red-carpet event, if only to ensure that they will arrive in the right order." There was some laughter at this comment. "However, to have any form of reception prior to the premiere of a film is not normal, though I can assure you it is not unique.

"However, there is a reason for this event. Last week we learnt that one of the film magazines had obtained details of our next production, Fly Boys. Apparently, they are going to press with it. The main focus of the story is that we are having trouble casting the film. They have not been in touch with anybody on the production team to check their facts, which I may add are totally wrong.

"Today, we are going to launch Fly Boys with a press reception, which is going to take place at four. I hope you will all be there; I will be introducing the star of Fly Boys to the press, Trevor Spade. I will also be introducing his co-star, a young man new to the film world, Clifford Rownton." As he said this, Uncle Phil indicated Trevor and Cliff, the latter blushing like mad. Trevor leaned over and whispered something to him, and Cliff burst out laughing.

Uncle Phil continued. "There's a buffet back here," he informed us, pointing behind himself, "and drinks. Though no alcohol. I don't want any of you drunk when we get to meeting the press." There was another round of laughter. "Seriously, though, I need to give you all a briefing about our plans to make Fly Boys."

For the next fifteen or so minutes Uncle Phil described the story behind the film. It is basically about a group of Oxford University Flying Club students who join up at the outbreak of the war and became RAF fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain. The core of the story is about one of them, who is an ace during the battle but is eventually shot down and captured. It is also about his younger brother, who idolises him, goes on to become a fighter pilot himself and in the last weeks of the war actually shoots down the German pilot who shot down his brother.

Now, I understood why finding the right actor to play the brother was so important. I think Cliff did at that moment, too. I looked across at him and saw his expression change. He suddenly realised he did not have a small part in the film, he was going to be the co-star. As that understanding sank in, he blanched. I thought for a moment he might faint, but Trevor noticed and said something to him. Once more, Cliff burst out laughing.

"Should I be jealous?" Patrick asked, He was standing next to me.

"Why?" I asked.

"Well, he never laughs like that at any of my jokes."

"Yes, but I doubt if your jokes are as bad as Trevor's."

"You know Trevor?" Patrick asked.

"Yes, he's a friend," I replied. I did not want to give too much away.

"One who owes you quite a lot," a voice said behind me. I turned to find Miss Jenkins standing there. For a moment I was surprised but then realised I should not have been. She was, after all, one of the backers of That Woman's Son and no doubt had an investment in Fly Boys.

"What can you tell me about the young man with Trevor, the one who is going to be his co-star?"

"I don't think it would be right for me to say anything," I replied. "I am sure you already know quite a lot."

"Of course, I do, but it is always nice to get a new perspective on things," she said. Then she turned to Patrick. "And you are?"

I thought it was best to introduce her formally to Patrick. I also debated with myself if I should tell Patrick exactly who Miss Jenkins was. The outcome of that debate was that I probably should but that now was not the right time.

When I had finished the introduction, Patrick and Miss Jenkins chatted for a moment, mostly about Blackpool, where it appeared that Edith Jenkins had appeared as a magician's assistant in shows at the Winter Gardens.

"That was," Miss Jenkins observed, "before I met my Albert."

The conversation over, Miss Jenkins moved off into the crowd, speaking to one person here and another one there. Cliff was still over with Trevor, so I drew Patrick of to one side.

"About the person you've just met, I need to tell you something," I told him.

"That she is the head of one of the major crime families in London?" Patrick said.

"You know!"

"I didn't till Ben Carlton told me about her about just before we came to your room. He said we would probably hear gossip about her, so he wanted to make sure we had the facts."

"She is also a great help to those she considers friends of her family," I stated.

"That I can understand, but what is she doing here?"

"Well, she did fund a large amount of That Woman's Son, and she is one of the major backers of The Dodge," I pointed out.

"But surely The Dodge is based on her?"

"Most certainly is. One of her nephews wrote it. The same one who wrote the book Fly Boys is based on."


"Gossiping about Aunty?" Neal asked, coming up, with a plate of snacks from the buffet.

"Of course, we are," I responded. "What else is there to talk about here. Neal, this is Patrick Felton, Cliff's… Are you boyfriends yet or just good friends?"

"Good friends, possible boyfriends," Patrick replied.

"Right. Cliff Rownton's good friend. Patrick, this is Neal Thompson-Porter, one of Miss Jenkins' nephews.

"Where's Maddie, Neal?"

"She's using some excuse not to be here till five," Neal replied. "Apparently, she and Simone have to go and pick up their dresses for this evening."

"Poor Lee," I stated.

"What's Lee got to do with it?" Neal asked.

"He was picking Simone up to bring her in," I replied.

"So, he got dragged into the shopping expedition," Neal said.

"I presume so," I replied.

As we had been speaking, we had moved around the room, bringing us close to the buffet. Cliff joined us with Trevor.

"No Arthur?" I asked.

"He's on a client's site," Trevor replied. "Promised he will be here by five. Not really needed for the press bash at four. Cliff, this is Johnny, my landlord's son and one of the investors in Fly Boys."

"I am?" I responded in surprise.

"Apparently," Trevor told me. "Your name's on the investor list."

"I know Johnny," Cliff informed Trevor. "He's the reason I've got the part."

"So, I've got you to blame for the competition, then!" Trevor stated.

"What competition?" I asked.

"Clifford. I've seen the screen tests. He's a damned sight better actor than I am."

"Do you think so?" Patrick asked.

"Yes, I do. I have to work at creating a character; he just slips into it. It's uncanny."

"Actually, you are both great actors," Uncle Ben said, joining our group. "Though I will admit, Trevor, given a year or so of film experience, Clifford is going to give you a run for your money."

"No, I won't," Clifford stated.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because I'll be in medical school."

"You're still going to do that?" Patrick asked.

"It's what I've always wanted to do. This gives me the chance to do it. I know the final fees have not been agreed, but even what I've been told I am getting as a minimum, means I can afford to do it."

"That's a relief," Trevor quipped. "Knowing I won't have the competition for future parts."

"Don't be so sure," Uncle Ben said. "Even medical students get vacations. I am sure we can fit shooting around his studies."

Cliff blushed.

I told them all we needed to attack the buffet.

"Avoid the petit fours," Neal advised. "They're gross."

I laughed but did avoid them when making my selection from the buffet. I noticed that Patrick did not. He put a couple on his plate. Once we had all filled our plates, we moved off to a quiet area of the room to consume the delicacies. Patrick popped one of the petit fours into his face, then gulped.

"Neal was right, they're gross," he managed to say once he had swallowed it.

"One tends to learn that Neal usually is right about things," Trevor stated. I noticed there were no petit fours on his plate.

About half-past-three, the room started to thin out. People were leaving to get changed for the formal press launch of Fly Boys at four. One of the production assistants came over to remind Trevor and Cliff that they needed to get ready. Patrick and I followed them as they were guided out of the room. I got back to my room, freshened up and changed into my evening suit. By the time I was ready, it was already past four, so I guessed I'd better get a move on to get to the press reception, though I really did not know why I was needed there.

Fortunately, I was not the only person who was late. Trevor was waiting for the lift when I got to it, something I found reassuring. If the star was not there, they would not have started the press reception, a fact I commented on to Trevor.

"Don't be so sure," Trevor told me. "They gave me strict instructions not to get down there till ten-past."

The reception was to take place in the hotel ballroom, which was on the first floor. When we got there, one of the production assistants was waiting with a clipboard to tick us off the list when we gave our names. Why Trevor had to give his name, I do not know. I would have thought they would have known who he was. However, Trevor did not seem to mind, a fact I commented on.

"It's a safety thing if I am with anybody they do not know," he replied. "If I give my full name, they know I am under duress and will raise an alarm. So long as I say Trevor Spade, they know there is no problem and just tick me off. If I was on my own or with production crew they knew, they would have just waved me through."

"So, they were making sure I was not kidnapping you," I stated.

"Basically, yes."

We got into the ballroom where the press reception was being held. As we entered, Trevor was directed to some seats by the rostrum, I was directed to a table at the side of the room where I noticed Miss Jenkins was seated. There were place cards on the table. I found mine and took a seat across the table from her. She acknowledged me as I sat myself down.

"What're doing here, kid?" a large man on my left said as I took my place. He had a strong American accent. "This is the investors' table."

"And that is my name," I retorted, pointing to the place card. It said Jonathan Carlton-Smith GM."

"What does GM mean?" he said, scoffingly.

"It means that besides being one of the richest young men in the country, he also holds the second highest honour for bravery that this country has to offer," Miss Jenkins stated. "I hear there may be another honour coming your way, Johnny."

"Oh, no," I said.

"Oh, yes," Miss Jenkins said. "Your actions last Friday have been brought to the notice of certain parties. At the very least, it looks as if you are in line for a commendation."

This was getting embarrassing. Fortunately, before Miss Jenkins could say more, we were joined at the table by an elderly black woman, who was strikingly good looking, even at her age. She gave Miss Jenkins a slight nod of acknowledgement, then introduced herself to me and the fat guy as Grace LeRoy.

"So, Milady, you decided it invest in the film," Miss Jenkins said to Grace.

"Yes. What I heard about it when I saw you at Manston back in January got my interest. I've a bit to spare at the moment, so decided to make some investment. Even if it does not come off, it will be nice to have made a contribution to the arts." She turned to me. "You look a lot more comfortable than you did at the Palace three months ago."

"I'm sorry, Dame Grace, but I don't recall seeing you at the Palace," I said. I had noted the GBE after her name on the place card.

"Probably not. I think I was well in front of you in the award queue. You know they go from the lowest to the highest. That's why you were so near the end."

"But surely a knighthood—" I started to say.

"Oh, I got that years ago; this award was for services to charity, though it was one which is in the Queen's personal gift," she stated. I noticed she did not say what the award was.

Looking around the room, I noticed that the setup was a bit odd. Around the outside of the ballroom, there were tables for six to eight persons. Whilst we were being seated, a number of chairs had been place in rows on the dance floor. There were a number of empty seats at some of the tables. Actually, there were two at the table I was at, but they were on the far side of Miss Jenkins, so I could not see the names on the place cards.

I did spot Mum and Dad seated at a table on the other side of the room from me with Uncle Bernard and Aunt Debora. No Joseph, I noted, which surprised me as I would have thought the uncles would have invited him if they invited his parents.

Uncle Ben went to the podium and switched on the microphone. "Good afternoon again. In a moment we will let the press in for the formal press launch of Fly Boys. Once we have dealt with their inevitable questions and the rest of our guests join us at five, a light meal will be served. Then, there will be cars ready to take you to Leicester Square for the premiere of That Woman's Son. Our production assistants will be coming around to your tables during the meal to hand you your tickets for the premiere, which will have your seating information on them. They will also have the sequence number of the car you have been allocated to. Each of the cars is a stretched limousine which will comfortably hold eight people. I'm told the capacity is in fact twelve, but that is if they are close friends. We have, therefore, limited the occupancy to eight. The cars, as normal are running a circular course, dropping one load of guests off and returning to pick up the next.

"After the premier, the cars will pick you up and return you to the hotel. I don't think we can organise the order of pickup after the showing, so please just get in the first of the cars that is available. Again, please try to keep to the limit of eight maximum in each car.

"I will now hand over to Agatha, who is the head of our public-relations firm, to start the press conference."

Uncle Ben handed the microphone to a woman dressed in a black business suit. Once he had returned to his seat, she nodded to somebody at the back of the ballroom, and the doors were opened. About thirty-plus reporters, photographers and videographers poured in. For the next half an hour, the uncles were informing the press about their new project, its stars, assuring them that they had the funding required to make the film and saying that filming was due to start in August.

After about three-quarters of an hour, the press appeared to run out of questions and were escorted out of the room. Then another set of doors opened, and more people entered. I spotted Neal there with Maddie. They came over and joined us, taking the places by Miss Jenkins. Lee and Simone were with that group, as well, and joined the table Mum and Dad were at. There was still one empty seat at that table. Once everybody was seated, a light meal was served.

During the meal, production assistants came to our tables, checked our names and handed us tickets for the premier, which had our seat information on them, and a card with the number of the car we were to be in. I noted I was in car six.

Across the room from us was what I assumed to be the stars' table. The uncles were there, as were Trevor, Austin, Tyler, Jenny, Patrick and Cliff. Cliff looked a bit upset about something. I wondered what was going on. I did not have to wonder all that long. As soon as the main course had been finished, Uncle Ben came over to our table.

"Johnny, would you mind swapping seats and car with me?" he asked.

"No. Why?"

"Cliff is nervous. Can't say I blame him; it's his first time being at the centre of attention. Think it might be useful if he had a friend by his side. You'll be front row of the centre circle. Phil will be seated next to you on one side, then Cliff, then Patrick on the other."

"Who's on the other side of Uncle Phil?"

"Trevor, Arthur, Tyler and Jenny," I was told.

I swapped tickets with Uncle Ben and checked the car number: car twelve."

Lunch finished, we were told we had thirty minutes to go to our rooms and freshen up, then the cars would start to arrive to pick us up. I went over to the table where Cliff was and spoke to him. He thanked me for agreeing to swap with Uncle Ben.

I was down in the ground-floor room that had been designated as the assembly room for the transport about twenty minutes later. It was one of the conference rooms of the hotel and had been set up with twelve tables, each with a car number on it, for us to sit at whilst waiting. I was the first down for car twelve. Uncle Phil joined me a couple of minutes later. He informed me that when we got to the cinema, the car would be doing drop-and-drive-round.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Well, we will arrive at the cinema, and Tyler and Jenny will get out to walk the carpet. The car will then drive on and do a quick circuit around the cinema and then drop off Trevor and Arthur, then on the next circuit, it will drop the four of us remaining."

"Why do it like that?"

"It's to give the press the chance to concentrate on the stars as they walk the carpet. As producer/director I am the last in. I thought it was better to have Cliff go in with me than sending him down the carpet on his own with just you and Patrick. At least, I will draw attention from Cliff."

I was not so sure. However, it seemed to work. When we got to our drop off, Uncle Phil got out of the car first, to a barrage of flashes. Patrick, Cliff and I climbed out after him and walked down the carpet very much in his shadow. Patrick and I keeping Cliff between us. Not much attention was paid to us, probably because nobody knew who Cliff was except for the press who had been at the reception.

Inside the cinema, we were escorted to our seats. Nobody asked for our tickets. Being the last to arrive and once we were seated, the lights dimmed, and the film started. It lasted nearly three hours, but I could see nowhere where it could have been cut. Once the film was over, we assembled in the circle foyer, where we had been advised to wait until we were told cars were available for us.

Cliff was a lot calmer now, but Patrick said they were going to cut the post-premiere reception and go directly to their room. I told him I thought we would be doing something similar but that we were leaving tonight, even though the rooms had been booked so we could stay overnight if we wished to.

Mum, Dad and Uncle Bernard came over to me, Tyler and Jenny joined up with us. I told Dad that Cliff and Patrick wanted to get back to the hotel. He pointed out that there were eight of us. We just made up a carful, so he suggested we go to where people were gathering to get cars.

After a short wait, we were escorted down to a roped-off area, where we were told to wait for the next car. There was a crowd of people beyond the ropes, clearly trying to get glimpses of the stars. As we were waiting, a kid — he looked about eleven or twelve — ran up to Dad and handed him an envelope.

"Was told to give this to you, mister," the kid said, then ran off. Dad stood puzzled for a moment, then opened he envelope and pulled out a single sheet of paper. He went white.

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