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Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 54

We all turned and looked at Miss Jenkins.

"I am sure that the threat emanating from the remains of John Henderson's criminal group has been removed," she stated. "What I am not sure of is that the threat itself has been eliminated. The people behind the contract are still out there, and I sense they might be getting desperate."

"And to complicate things," Neal pointed out, "we've no idea who our spy is."

That led to a somewhat technical conversation, which to be honest, I could not follow and had very little interest in, a fact that must have been obvious as Tony came over and asked if I had a moment. I indicated we could speak outside.

"You looked bored," he commented as we got into the hallway.

"I was," I confirmed. "What are you doing here?"

"Miss Jenkins had an appointment in Romford this morning to discuss some financing we are involved in. She took me along, no doubt to teach me about the business. Then this all blew up and I got dragged in along with her.

"Nice place you've got here, Johnny. Care to show me around?"

I laughed, put my head back in the study and told Dad I was going to show Tony around the estate, then guided him out into the yard. It was an hour and a half later when we got back, having stopped for a chat with Marius and the girls at the forge. I had also popped in to see Steven and Jim at the nursery. A mistake. I ended up helping out on the checkout for half an hour whilst Jim sorted out some problem that Granddad had found in the greenhouse.

"You do that often?" Tony asked as we left the nursery. "You seemed pretty experienced on the till."

"Not too often, but I've done it a few times when they have been pushed."

I did not feel like going back and joining the conversation in the study, so led Tony down to Pound Pond and showed him the evidence of the tide mill that Joseph had found.

"How is Joseph?"

"Don't know. He seemed OK when we got to the station. Dan made sure he got on the train. I suppose I should check on him, but to be honest, with everything going on, I forgot about it."

I tried calling Joseph, but the call went directly to voicemail, then I remembered he had gone home for Shabbat, so his phone was probably off. It was, after all, after five. Tony suggested we should head back to the house as he knew Miss Jenkins had to be in London for a meeting at seven, so she would be leaving before long.

We walked up the slope from the Pound Pond to the driveway. Just as we got there, Matt's car came up the drive and pulled into the yard. By the time we got there, Luuk was getting out with his phone to his ear.

"Look, Joseph, I've got to go. Matt's just dropped me off at the Priory. Speak with you later," Luuk said, finishing the call. He then looked over at me. "Sounds as if you had an exciting time this morning."

"Not sure if exciting is the right term," I responded. Joseph must have been on the phone to Luuk when I called.

We went into the house, Luuk went off to his room in the guest wing, and Tony and I went back to the library. As we entered, Miss Jenkins looked around.

"Ah, Tony, perfect timing. Look, I really do not have time to get you home and get to my seven o'clock meeting. Do you mind if I leave you here and have Dan take you back later? He's a bit tied up at the moment and probably will not be free to drive you home till about ten. I'll let your mother know you're going to be late."

"No problem at all, Aunty," Tony replied.

"Good, I am sure either Mr. Carlton or Neal will ensure that you are fed. Now I must get off." She stood and turned back towards Dad and the chief inspector. "Mr. Carlton, Chief Inspector, I think we have covered everything we can, at the moment. I will, of course, let you know if anything comes up which might change things."

Both Dad and Manley gave a small nod of the head — or was it a bow? Thinking about things, it probably was a bow. Miss Jenkins inspired that sort of reaction.

She exited the room and made her way towards the front door. I rapidly went to open it for her. How she managed it, I do not know, but her car was there waiting for her, Stanley holding the door open. I knew damned well it had not been there when I showed Tony around the estate. It had not been in the yard, either.

Once Miss Jenkins had departed, I closed the door, then went up to my room to change. I also tried Joseph again. The call went directly to voicemail. I was not happy when I went down for dinner.

Tony was in the library chatting to Dad and Gert when I got downstairs. I asked where Luuk was, and Gert informed me he was having a long shower. It seems Matt had had him working on one of the sites this afternoon.

"He's not used to physical work," Gert commented.

"Are you?" I asked.

"You'd be surprised how often I end up having to lug kit around on shoots," he replied with a laugh.

"Hopefully, you'll not have to do that as the director," Dad commented.

"I don't see why not," Gert replied. "A director's job is to get the film made the way he wants it. If that means that a piece of kit is needed in a certain location and nobody else is around to move it, the director moves it."

"What are you directing?" Tony asked.

"It is not finalised yet, but we hope to be making a TV series about the building of a replica of an historic yacht," Dad stated. "I've asked Gert to direct it."

"It's the first time I will have directed," Gert told Tony.

"Though he has assisted on a number of TV programmes and on a film my company has made," Dad said.

Luuk came into library.

"Feeling better?" Gert asked.

"A bit, but think I will be sore tomorrow."

"Why? What have you been up to?" I asked.

"Went over to a barn restoration the other side of Southmead. There should have been a team tiling the roof today, but when Matt and I got there, there was only one roofer on site. He was having to carry all the tiles up to the top of the scaffolding to stack them before starting on the roof. So, no actual roofing was being done."

"I bet that pleased Matt," I commented.

"Didn't it?" Luuk responded. "Turned out t he chap who was there was the roofer, but his two labourers had not turned up. They should have been there to carry the tiles up to the roof, ready to be laid.

"It ended up with Matt and me helping him get all the tiles up onto the scaffolding so he could start to position the tile stacks ready for laying."

Somehow, I could not picture Luuk humping stacks of roofing tiles around the place.

The tam-tam sounded, indicating that dinner was ready. As we walked down towards the dining room, Mum shouted out that we were eating in the kitchen.

"There's only six of us, and we can fit around the kitchen table," she informed us.

"Where's Grandma and Granddad," I asked.

"It's the first of August; they've moved into their apartment," Mum informed me.

After dinner, I apologised to Tony that I had to go to the dojo to train.

"Wish I had my gi. I'd join you," he said.

"I've got a spare," I told him. "We're about the same size, so it should fit."

That was a serious mistake on my part. As I had taken Tony to the dojo, I was paired with him for training. What I had not realised was that Tony was also a black belt. Also, Uncle Ben was running the training session. Both Neal and Maddie were there, as well.

I had trained with other black belts before, like Simone and Lee, but they always treated me with care. Tony did not; he treated me as an equal.

"You were a bit hard on Johnny, weren't you?" Neal asked Tony when we were down in the Crooked Man after training.

"Was I?"

"Yes, you were," Neal said. "Though it probably taught him more than he wanted to know."

He continued, "Look, Tony, Dan's just texted me, Things are taking longer to sort out than expected, so it's going to be late before he can take you back to Town. I've got to go in first thing in the morning. Why don't you crash out in the van for the night? I'll run you home when I go in."

"Might as well," Tony replied, though he did not seem too happy with the idea.

"Look, if you are staying the night, why not stay in the house? We've got plenty of space in the guest wing," I said.

"You sure?"

"No problem. I'll text Mum and let her know you're staying."

It was just after eleven-thirty when Tony and I got back to the Priory. There was a note on the kitchen table that Tony was to use the room next to mine. Mum had gone up to bed; Dad was in the library, reading. I asked him what if he wanted a hot drink. Yes, he did. Tea. So, I made Dad a tea and made chocolate for Tony and me. We sat at the kitchen table talking about how we thought we had done in our exams and our plans.

"You're lucky," Tony stated.

"Why?" I asked.

"You've got all this and the freedom to do what you want."

"And you've got a house in London and a place on the Downs—"

"And my life nicely mapped out for me," Tony interrupted. "A-levels, then uni to do law and accountancy. Then a job in the bank. In twenty years, I will be a director, then probably chairman when I am sixty."

"You make it sound bad, Tony."

"It is bad when it's not what you want," he pointed out. I looked at Tony in surprise.

"What do you want?"

"To be honest, I don't know. Just know that I don't want to be spending my life running the family's financial empire."

"Then don't," I told him.

"Easier said than done. Leaving the family is not that simple."

"You make it sound like the Mafia or something," I said, then realised it probably was something like the Mafia.

"Oh, it's not quite that bad," Tony stated. "They won't kill me if I leave. They will just disassociate themselves. It means I would never be able to call upon them. Also, I would not be able to benefit from any of the family assets."

"Family assets?" I asked.

"Yes. Most of the family wealth is tied up in trusts, which Aunty controls. You want to buy a house, one of the trusts will lend you the money at a very good rate. Of course, the house is mortgaged to the trust, and if you step out of line you find the mortgage rate shoots up to something you cannot afford. Then it is repossessed.

"Of course, it is the trust that pays my school fees. So, they dictate what courses I do. I wanted to do art at A-level. Not allowed. Got to do government and politics, instead."

"I'm surprised," I said. "Miss Jenkins always seems—"

"Like a nice grandmother," Tony stated.

"Well, yes."

"She's like the little old lady in Goldfinger. You know the one, the one who is by the barrier when they drive into Goldfinger's place. She does a nice curtsey as she raises it. But when Bond is escaping, she stands there with a submachine gun.

"Don't worry, while you're useful to her, she'll be the considerate grandmother. Just don't expect it to stay that way. That woman is hard. She knows what she wants and will do anything to get it."

"So, what does she want?"

"To get those who were behind Master James," Tony replied.

"Master James?" I asked. The name had come up before.

"He was a particularly nasty piece of work who was involved in the death of my cousin Michael. Michael was Auntie's favourite nephew. To be honest, he was more like a son to her. Uncle Peter — that was Michael's father — was in prison doing a long stretch, and Aunt Laura was seriously ill, so Aunty took Michael in. He lived with Aunty from when he was five until he was fourteen."

"His mother was ill that long?"

"No, Johnny, but when she recovered, she was disabled, quite badly, so she could not cope with Michael. It would have been unfair on the boy, as his mother needed almost twenty-four-seven care.

"Michael saw his mother every day and would spend time at home at weekends, but he essentially lived with Aunty and Uncle Alf. Aunty became very attached to him. Then he got himself killed. The police wrote it off as an accident: riding a motorcycle whilst under the influence of diazepam. Then Maddie turned up. She was looking for information on whoever was responsible for the suicide of her boyfriend. Turned out that Maddie and Miss Jenkins were after the same person, and they got their man: Master James.

"The thing is, Johnny, it did not end there. What they found out was that Master James was working for somebody else."

"Die Vereinigung."

"Yes, though we only found that out a lot later. All we knew was that Master James had a master, and Aunty wanted his blood. Initially, Aunty took on the job of investigating the events around Ian Jenkins arrest as a favour to Bernard LeBrun. After all, he is the family lawyer. Then two things happened: Aunty found out that Ian was her great nephew, and Neal hacked into the Henderson's computer system and found a connection to Master James and to the people behind him. Then, you get a large quantity of gold which originates with the same people.

"They want that gold back. Aunty wants to hurt them badly. You, my boy, are a useful tool."

"But she's protecting me," I pointed out.

"Not really," Tony replied. "We know that they need those funds by the end of September. If we really wanted to protect you, you would have been whisked away to somewhere where they could not find you. Instead, you are left here and watched. Sorry, Johnny, you and Joseph are bait. Aunty wants to grab whoever it is that comes to grab you."

Tony gave a heavy sigh, then looked across the table at me. "Shit! I shouldn't have told you that."

"Then why did you?"

"Because you… Fuck it, Johnny, I love you."

"Oh, shit."

"I know, you love Joseph. I loved you when we were at school together. It broke my heart when you were sacked. I told myself that it was just a schoolboy crush and I would forget you. The thing is, I didn't. Then I saw you at Neal's party and—"

"But you were after Taylor Minor," I pointed out.

"So were you," Tony stated.

I admitted I was.

"The thing was, I had a crush on you, but there was no way I could do anything about it. You were my best friend, but we both knew the rule."

"You don't get involved with somebody in your year," I said.

Tony nodded. "We were first-years and Taylor Minor was a third-year."

"And a hunk," I commented.

"All that rugby and rowing," Tony replied.

"Did you get him?" I asked.

"Nah, so far as I know, he never had a boy the whole time he was in the school."

"Must have been the token straight," I commented.

Tony laughed.

I washed our mugs and put them to drain, showed Tony where his room was and found him a terry robe and some bath towels. As I went to leave, he put his hand on my shoulder.

"Any chance of a goodnight kiss?" he asked.

I was about to say no when he leaned in. Our lips met, then our tongues. My arms went around him, pulling him into the kiss. Finally, after what seemed an age, we broke apart. I stepped back.

"Goodnight, Tony."

"Goodnight, Johnny, sleep tight."

I turned and left his room, making my way next door to my room. Mine and Joseph's room. I stripped and slipped into bed but did not sleep tight. I lay there for what seemed like hours, thinking about what Tony had said, about Tony, about that kiss.

After a somewhat disturbed night, I was up just after six. Was just finishing a second mug of tea when Tony came down to the kitchen.

"You're early," I commented.

"Neal called me at an hour when no decent person should be awake. He's leaving for town at seven."


"If you ain't got coffee, yes," Tony replied.

"Coffee will take twenty minutes," I told him. I had just put the coffee-filter machine on, it was still getting warm. It made good coffee but took its time.

"Tea it is. Neal told me to be over at the van at seven." He glanced up at the kitchen clock, it had just gone half-six. The toaster pinged and the slices of toast popped up. I grabbed two for myself and put two on a plate for Tony. He slathered his toast with butter, then munched on it while drinking his tea. Finally, he paused from his consumption of toast and tea due to the fact he had exhausted the supply of both.

"About last night," Tony said.


"Sorry, I should not have dumped that on you," he replied. "It's just…"

I leaned across and took his hand. Tony smiled. Then he checked the time again; it was just before ten-to.

"Shit. Better get over to the van," he stated.

"I'll walk over with you," I told him.

We walked across the yard together. Nothing was said; there was nothing to say. That was until we were walking around the end of the Stable House.

"You know, Johnny, if things don't work out with Joseph, I'll probably still be there."

I took his hand and gave it a squeeze. "I know, Tony." Then I let go before we turned the corner to where the van was parked. Neal was just coming out of the van in his leathers and carrying a couple of crash helmets.

"Good. You made it," Neal said. He held out a crash helmet. "You'll need this."

"You're going in on the bike?" Tony asked.

"Of course," Neal replied. Tony had turned white. "It's not that bad, I'll have you home in under an hour."

"That's what worries me," Tony stated. He put on the helmet. Neal vanished around the end of the van before reappearing, pushing the bike. He put on his helmet, then climbed on the bike and indicated that Tony should climb on the pillion. Tony did without any sign of great confidence in what he was doing. The bike started and Neal gently guided it out onto the drive and through the rear security gate before roaring off down the back drive.

I wondered why he had gone out through the back entrance. I knew it did not add that much to the overall distance, probably about half a mile, but it was a lot easier to go out the front entrance. Then I remembered. There was no coverage of the back drive on the main CCTV system. Whoever was watching on the remote viewing facility would not know that Neal had left.

I sent Tony a text telling him to let me know that he had got home safely, then started back to the house. I was surprised to see Antonio's car pull into the yard as I entered it. It was only ten-past-seven.

"You're early," I said as Antonio got out of his car. He looked around and seemed surprised to see me.

"Got some translation I need to get done before Tyler gets back," Antonio stated. He went over to the Dunford Film Services offices, entered a code in the numeric lock, then swiped his key card to let himself in.

I went into the house and got ready to leave for the yard. I knew I would be helping Katherine today, completing the survey work on the Princess of Alba. Before I could do anything, the phone went. From its ring, I knew it was an internal call.

"Johnny, it's Arthur. Can you let your mother know Uncle Theo will not be coming this weekend? He's just phoned to say he can't get down. He's invited us up there for the day — tomorrow. So, Trevor and me are going up." I assured him that I would let mother know, then put a note on the board for mother before I left for the yard.

Although I should have finished at four, it was well past five before I got away. As a result, it was getting on for six when I got in.

"You'd better hurry and get changed," Mum said as I walked into the kitchen.

"Why? What's up?"

"Your uncles are taking us to dinner," Mum informed me. "They've booked a table at Swain Grange for seven."

Swain Grange was a country-house hotel, which had recently got a Michelin star, on the other side of the Blackwater. It was on the way to Tollesbury and a good forty-minute drive from here. So, I could see why Mum was pressing me to get cleaned up and changed.

The uncles had arranged transport so we could drink, they said. Leni arrived with the Manston stretched limousine just on six. Uncles Phil and Ben were already in it, but with passenger seating for eight, there was plenty of room for Mum, Dad and me. Allen, of course, was up front with Leni. I noticed that there was another security car behind us as we drove out of the Priory. Though whether that was security for the uncles or for me, I was not sure. Probably for the uncles.

Over dinner, I recalled what Michelin stars were supposed to signify. A one-star rating indicated that it was a place worth stopping at if it was on your route. Two stars indicated a place worth taking a diversion to get to. Three stars was somewhere that was worth making a trip specially to get to. The food was good, but I did not think it was worth making a forty-odd mile trip to get to it.

"What's the occasion?" Dad asked Uncle Phil once we had ordered.

"We've reached breakeven," Uncle Phil replied.

"Breakeven?" Dad asked.

"The point in a film's distribution where the income received from the film has exceeded the production costs of the film. Got the July figures in this morning. We made breakeven the start of week four," Uncle Ben told us. "Now, everything that comes in is return on investment."

"How's it looking?" I asked.

"Good. It's still playing to packed houses in the States, and the reviews are good," Uncle Phil supplied. "Doing fairly well over here, too."

"Not quite as well as in the States," Uncle Ben stated. "But then, the evangelicals are not giving us free publicity."

"Free publicity?" Dad asked.

"Yes, some of their Bible thumping pastors object to the fact that the film has a couple of gay hero characters in it," Uncle Phil said. "They have been calling for a boycott of the film and demonstrating outside theatres where it is showing."

"Of course, the demonstrations are reported in the local press and the local television and radio," Uncle Ben pointed out. "It gives us far more exposure than we could ever afford to get through paid advertising. People are coming along to see what is so wicked about the film."

Sometime during dinner Mum asked how Fly Boys was doing.

"We're a bit behind schedule on that. Had some problems with studio space. We've had to rejig the shooting schedule. Trevor and Tyler have been out in Malta this week shooting some scenes with the second unit. Trevor got back yesterday. We're picking Tyler up from Manchester airport in the morning, then going on to Blackpool to start the main shoot. Then we get into the studio," Uncle Phil informed us.

"Tyler's in Malta?" I asked.

"Yes. He flew out on Tuesday. Was supposed to be out there till Wednesday, but they managed to get ahead on the shoot, so Tyler's coming back early. Why?" Uncle Phil asked.

"It just that I got the impression he was around this weekend," I commented.

During dinner I had my phone on silent, but once dinner was over, I switched it to ring. I had been expecting a message from Joseph. I'd sent him one to let him know I was going out for dinner with the uncles, so he might have to get a taxi from the station if he came back tonight. The moment I checked the phone there was a message from Joseph saying he was not coming back till Monday. It also said he would get a taxi direct to Matt's office, so no need to be picked up.

It was getting on for ten by the time we got home, and I was rather bushed. After all, I had been up since six and done a hard day's work in the yard. So, as soon as I got in, I said I was going up to my room. Mum asked if I wanted a drink, but I declined. I did, though, grab a litre bottle of mineral water from the fridge. Before I went to bed, I decided to check my emails. I had not looked at them at all today. To be honest, I had not looked at my emails since yesterday morning.

There was one from Tony, thanking me for my hospitality last night. It also advised me never to go on the motorcycle with Neal. "I am sure we did ninety down the Edgeware Road," he wrote. I could believe it.

Judy de Vries had also emailed me. It was a report on how the renovation of the Herrengracht property was going. Work on the holiday apartments was nearly completed. From what I could understand, the only work to be finished on the upper floors was the top-floor apartment. Judy said they were hoping to get the final inspections done in the following week.

She confirmed that Wim's uncle had vacated the ground-floor studio/office and that work would start on that and the basement flat on Monday. She also told me that she had received a couple of enquiries about leasing the studio/office and wanted my instructions. I decided I had better go down and talk to Dad about that. I know we had talked about MCP Nederland taking them on.

Dad had said over dinner that he had some writing that he wanted to get finished, so I expected him to be in his study when I went down. He was not, but given that the ground-floor lights were still on, I was fairly certain he had not gone up to bed. I was right. I found him reading in the library. So, I went in and asked him about the studio/office on the Herrengracht.

"Let's see if Gert is still up," he said. I looked at the time, and it was only twenty-past-ten, so I thought there was a good chance that he was up. I was right. Dad asked Gert if he could join us.

"He'll be with us in about ten minutes; he's down at the Crooked Man," Dad informed me.

It was a bit more than ten minutes before Gert got back from the Crooked Man, a fact for which he apologised profusely.

"Lee had just bought a round when you called, and I couldn't drink a whole pint that fast," he admitted.

"I should hope not," Dad commented. He then expressed a concern that Lee was down there drinking alone.

"He's not," Gert assured him. "Simone, Neal and Maddie are with him. We had a darts game against the lads from the marina earlier."

"Who won?" Dad asked.

"The marina lads."

"Not surprising," Dad stated. "There are a couple of those lads who are in the local darts league."

We went on to discuss the studio/office on the Herrengracht. In principle, Gert was all for using it for MCP Nederland. However, he was concerned about the costs, given that it would be at least twelve months before any of the projects they had in development produced income.

Dad assured Gert that he could sort out the funding for it. I wondered how, given that I had forked out an additional fifty K to fund The Unheard. Dad must have seen what I was thinking, so said he would talk to me later about funds. In the end we agreed that MCP Nederland would take the premises from the start of September or when they were ready for occupancy, whichever was later. I would get a quote for rent from Judy, and Gert would get an independent agent to advise on what rent they should be paying. When we had those two, we would sort out a figure for the rent. It was agreed that I would give them a rent-free period till the end of the year to get settled in.

By eleven-thirty, we had sorted it all out — at least, as much of the deal as we could. Gert left, and I was about to go upstairs when Dad said he would like a word.

"Johnny, I saw your surprise when I said that funding the Amsterdam office was not going to be a problem."

"Well, seeing how tight you were for funds earlier this week I was wondering how you were going to do it," I stated.

"We can thank Janet Long for that. You know, I asked her to handle the enquiry about the film rights on the Dorothy Richards' Caroline Banks series."

"Yes, you told me they weren't interested when they found out Dorothy Richards was you."

"That's correct. Well Janet is in New York. She called me this morning. Apparently, she's been hawking the rights around. Once word gets out that somebody is interested in rights, everybody wants to look at them. Technically, it still has to be confirmed, but she has sold the film rights for the first book in the series and taken options on all eleven books. The rights for the first book is three-hundred-thousand dollars; the options are ten thousand a book."

"That's four-hundred thousand," I commented.

"Yes, though it is subject to tax. I do need to talk to the accountants about how to avoid a big tax hit. Of course, it is all subject to being signed off by the relevant parties on Monday, but it looks as if it's a fairly certain deal. It will cover MCP Nederland for more than a year, even with the exorbitant rent you are no doubt going to charge."

"Will it give me a weekend in New York?" Mum asked, as she entered the library.

"Will what?" Dad asked.

"The film-rights deal. I could hear you talking about it in the lounge."

"In all likelihood I'll have to go over to do the final sign-off on things," Dad said. He then looked at Mum. "Hopefully, I can put that off till later in the year."

"Christmas shopping in New York is supposed to be good," Mum pointed out.

Dad laughed, then commented. "Just remember we have now established a tradition for Christmas here."

I left them talking, went back to my room and sent a reply to Judy telling her that the studio/office was to be used by MCP Nederland and I needed her to tell me what a fair rent would be. I did not mention anything about the rent-free period. Did not want her to load the rent to cover it. That done, I went to bed.

I was awakened in the depth of the night by the sound of running feet. The glow of the bedside clock informed me it was three-fifteen. Then there was more noise, and I heard Mum call out to someone to hurry up. I grabbed my robe, put it on and went out to see what was going on.

Dad was just coming back up the stairs, carrying something, when I got out on the landing.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Anne's waters have broken and she's in labour. The baby is on its way," he replied, rushing past me to get to their room.

I dashed back into my room, pulled on some jeans and a sweatshirt, and pushed my feet into a pair of trainers. Then I grabbed my wallet and keys and got downstairs. I was unbolting the back door as Dad helped Mum into the kitchen.

"Why are you up?" he asked.

"I'm getting the Merc," I replied. "You'll be in no state to drive. Did you grab the hospital bag?"

"No, I forgot."

"Go and grab the bag. I'll get the car." I got the spare set of keys for the Merc from by the door and ran across the yard to where Lee kept it parked. I started it up and brought it round to the back door just as Dad was helping Mum out. I got out and opened the back passenger door. While Dad was getting Mum in, I locked the house up. I also remembered to call the monitoring room to let them know I was taking Mum and Dad to the hospital.

I made it to the hospital in just under half an hour. Mum was admitted immediately. Then I had to find somewhere to park before going back to find out what was happening. Of course, when I got back, there was no sign of Mum or Dad or where they had gone. It took me an age to find out, and then I was directed to the labour ward. When I got there, Dad was in the waiting area.

"How is she?" I asked.

"I don't know. The doctor is in with her at the moment," he said. "Johnny, she's four weeks early."

I took the seat next to Dad in the waiting room. We seemed to have been sitting there for hours before a doctor came out and asked to speak to Dad. Then I was left sitting in the waiting area by myself for what seemed like hours again before Dad came out to see me.

"Johnny, you might as well go back to the house and try to get some sleep. It looks as if it is going to be a long night."

I glanced at the clock on the wall. It was ten-past-five.

"Dad, it's morning now."

"Yes, it is. Take the car and go home. I'll ring as soon as there is any news. Could you let your uncles know and the grandparents? You'd better let Jenny know, as well, though I would leave informing anyone until after a decent time in the morning."

I was somewhat slower driving back to the Priory than I was driving to the hospital. By the time I had found the car in the car park — I had been in such a rush I had not made a note of the floor on which I had parked it — sorted out a way to pay the parking charge given I had no change, only the notes in my wallet, and driven back to the Priory, it was past six. Not worth going back to bed. I made a pot of tea and put some bread in the toaster.

After a couple of mugs of tea and four rounds of toast and marmalade, I felt more like an awake human being. I did, though, take the precaution of having another mug of tea, just to make sure. Then I sent a text to Steve letting him know I would not be at the yard this morning and why. It had just gone seven, and I knew Steve would be up as he was opening the yard at eight.

Got a text back saying Peter would check on Dad at the hospital when he went on duty.

I waited till after eight before I sent texts to Jenny and the uncles. I decided not to text the Grandparents but went round to their new apartment to tell them. A good move. Grandma was just about to start breakfast when I got there, so I got bacon, sausage, fried bread, mushrooms, and eggs. Once we had finished breakfast, Granddad suggested that, as I was not going into the yard, this would be a good time to sort out the tools he had put in the workshop. Grandma said she would come around to the house and sort things out there.

I was not sure what Grandma had meant by sorting things out, but then she reminded me that we had guests, Luuk and Gert, and they would need to be fed and things. She had a point there. I had completely forgotten about Luuk and Gert. Went back to the house immediately. Fortunately, it appeared that neither of them had got up yet. At least, there was no sign of either of them, so I put some coffee on to filter.

Turned out I had timed it perfectly; the coffee had just finished filtering when Gert came into the kitchen from the guest wing. He went over to the coffee machine and took the jug off the hotplate before pouring himself a mug, which he then looked at and shook his head.

"Can't get used to you English using mugs instead of cups," he commented, taking a seat at the kitchen table opposite me. "God, you look as if you've been up half the night."

"I have," I replied. Then told him about Mum going into labour.

"That messes things up," Gert stated.


"Well, your father's not going to be around today, and even if he is, he is not going to be in the mood to work. We were supposed to do the final review of The Unheard this morning, and I was flying back to the Netherlands tomorrow. Have meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday about the architecture TV series."

I had to agree with him that Dad was not going to be able to do the final review today. We were just in the middle of discussing how to rearrange things when the uncles arrived.

"Any news?" Uncle Ben asked. I had to advise them I had heard nothing since I had left the hospital earlier this morning. That update imparted, I decided I'd better make some breakfast for Gert. However, when I told him I would sort out some breakfast for him, he informed me that he could do it himself. He never got a chance. Grandma arrived and promptly took charge of the kitchen.

Her first question was to Gert asking if he had had breakfast. When he informed her that he had not, she told him to sit down and she would have it ready soon. She then asked if Luuk needed any.

"Doubt he will be up anytime soon," Gert stated. "He was drinking with Lee and Neal until late. Got in about one and looked a bit worse for wear."

"I'll make him some toast when he surfaces," Grandma stated.

I suggested to Uncle Ben and Uncle Phil that we should go through to the lounge. Grandma informed us that it would be a good idea if we did.

We had not been in the lounge ten minutes when Grandma came through with a tray of tea and biscuits. She informed me that she would have some sandwiches ready in ten minutes for me to run down to the hospital.

"I know they've got vending machines there, but your father needs something more," she informed me.

Uncle Ben said he would take them down.

In the end, he did not have to. About five-to-eleven, my phone rang. It was Dad to tell me I had a brother, Alexander Michael Carlton, born at twenty-past-ten. He assured me that mother and baby were doing fine. I passed the news on to the uncles. Uncle Phil instructed Uncle Ben to get over to Tesco's and grab a few bottles of champagne on our way to the hospital. Uncle Phil was then on his phone telling somebody to send flowers to Mum.

I went through to the kitchen, where Gert was finishing a full English breakfast, to give Grandma the news.

"What time did labour start?" she asked.

"I don't know, I was woken at quarter-past-three, but she was already in labour and her water had broken."

Grandma was silent for a moment as if working something out. "Seven to eight hours' labour, I would guess. Good going for a first baby." She then handed me a lunch box. "Take that with you to the hospital for your father."

Uncles Phil and Ben came into the kitchen. "Ready to go?" Uncle Ben asked. I nodded and grabbed my coat. I was sure Uncle Ben would have the roof down on the Maserati, despite the weather. I was right.

It was gone two before we were allowed in to see Mum. She looked tired, though that is to be expected after eight hours in labour and very little sleep. We also saw Alexander, but we had to see him through a window as he was in an incubator.

"He's slightly premature, but not that much," the attending nurse told us. "He would probably do as well out of the incubator, but it is better to be safe than sorry."

I was not going to argue with that. Anything to keep my brother safe.

The nurse had told Dad that Mum needed some rest, so we all left shortly after three. Rather than squeeze into the back of the Maserati, Dad called for a taxi. I decided to join him.

Whilst we were in the taxi, I remembered that I needed to let Steve and Jenny know. I called Steve first, when I told him that the baby was called Alexander, he sobbed. I asked him what was up.

"Johnny, Alexander was the name of my older brother. He was killed by the IRA during the Troubles in Northern Ireland."

Once I had finished the call, I passed that news onto Dad.

"I didn't know that," he said. "All Anne said was she wanted to call him after her deceased uncle. Never said anything about him being killed in the Troubles."

Jenny was delighted with the news. She wanted to know when she could visit. I passed her over to Dad, who had that information. Dad told her he would pick her up at seven when he went in to visit Mum this evening. When we got home, Dad told Grandma that we were going back to the hospital to visit at seven. She informed him that she would prepare dinner for five-thirty.

Dad apologised to Gert for missing out on what had been planned for today. He did, though, go over to the office to have a look at the final cut that Gert had put together that morning. I seated myself at the kitchen table and started to text some people with the news. Dad had not been gone for more than ten minutes when Uncle Bernard pulled into the yard in the Jag. Both Uncle Bernard and Aunt Debora got out, Uncle Bernard carrying a big bottle of champagne. Dad must have let Uncle Bernard know — or it could have been Uncle Ben.

"Tell Joseph we're here," Uncle Bernard said when he came in through the back door.

"He's not here," I told him. "He's in London."

"What?" Uncle Bernard exclaimed.

"In London. He went up on Friday for Shabbat," I responded.

"We had Shabbat at the house in Kent," Aunt Debora said. "But Joseph left Saturday evening as soon as Shabbat was over. Said he was going to stay at the London house and get the first train Sunday morning."

"He texted me to say he would not be back till Monday and would get a taxi direct to Matt's office." I pulled out my phone and found the text, showing it to Uncle Bernard.

"What the hell is he up to?" Uncle Bernard asked.

"Who's up to what?" Uncle Ben asked walking into the kitchen.

"Joseph, of course. We thought he was here; Johnny thought he was with us. Where the hell is he?"

I was trying to contact him by phone, but my call went straight to voicemail.

"He's not answering his phone," I stated.

"He'll be lucky if he has a phone when I've dealt with him," Uncle Bernard stated.

I wondered what was going on.

Grandma made it clear that we were clogging up her kitchen, so we moved into the lounge.

"How's Anne?" Debora asked.

"She was tired when I saw her," I commented.

"Of course, she was tired; she'd just given birth. You men don't realise how hard a job that is. How long was the labour?"

"About eight hours," I told her.

"Lucky Anne. My first was over twenty hours. I was about ready to murder Micah when he popped out. He took long enough. Hasn't changed a bit since. Never in a hurry."

Grandma brought tea and coffee through for Uncle Bernard and Aunt Debora. She asked me to run down to the nursery and tell Granddad that dinner was at five-thirty.

"He said he was only popping down for five minutes, that was three hours ago," Grandma stated.

I went down to the nursery and gave Granddad the message, then for safety, made sure he came back with me.

Uncle Phil was in the kitchen talking to Grandma when we got back. Uncle Ben came through and announced, "That's all sorted."

"What's sorted?" I asked.

"We were supposed to be picking Tyler up at Manchester Airport," Uncle Ben stated. "Dolly, one of the production assistants, is going to pick him up and take him to Blackpool. I've told Lawrence, the assistant director, that he is in charge until we get there."

"Is that wise?" I asked.

"To be honest, Johnny, he'll probably get more done than I would," Uncle Phil stated.

Grandma shooed us out of the kitchen.

I do not know how Grandma managed it as it definitely was not planned, but somehow, she managed to produce a meal sufficient to serve ten of us. When it was finished, we all piled into our respective vehicles to make our way to the hospital, where it was quite clear we were not particularly popular. It appears that a large volume of flowers had been sent to Mum during the day, together with stuffed animals for Alexander. The overall quantity of both had somewhat exceeded the capacity of the staff to cope with it.

"Where've they all come from?" Dad asked, looking at the pile of flowers and gifts. Uncle Ben strode over to a large teddy bear which must have been as nearly as big as me and read the label.

"Well, this one's from Trevor," Uncle ben stated. "And this is from De heer Wilhelm," he added, looking at the label on a light-blue unicorn.

"But how would they know?" Dad asked.

"To be honest, I doubt if they do know, though they probably have been told by now. Their publicity people would have you flagged as an important contact, and when the news hit the wire that your wife had given birth to a son, the publicity people would have gone into action. I know ours did," Uncle Phil informed Dad.

"Yours did?"

"Yes, Mike. Fortunately, we were able to stop ours before they let loose," Uncle Phil said.

"Otherwise, you would have had a stuffed two-metre hippo from me," Uncle Ben stated.

"And a giant Dumbo the Elephant from me," Uncle Phil added.

"But why?" Dad asked.

"Mike, you're a celebrity producer. Everyone wants to be in your good books."

"What are we going to do with them all?" Dad asked, looking at the pile of flowers and toys.

"Well, I think we need to discuss it with Anne," Uncle Bernard suggested. "However, I would suggest we get someone from the security team on the estate to get down here and move them to the estate. Then, select any toys you want particularly to keep for Alexander and send the rest to children's homes or hospital wards and send the excess flowers to nursing homes."

Dad and I went in first to see Mum. Then I left to let Uncle Bernard and Aunt Debora in, as only three visitors at a time were allowed. By the end of visiting hours at nine, everybody had been in to see her. They had also all looked at Alexander in his incubator through the window of the nursery.

Dad asked Uncle Bernard if they were staying overnight. Uncle Bernard declined the invitation, stating that he and Aunt Debora had better get back to Town and try to find out what their son was up to. Something I would like to know, as well.

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