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Living with Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 33

By the time Anne finished her class and joined me at Marge's Café, I had finished dealing with my emails and had managed to get some writing done. I had also got through three pots of tea, a couple of rounds of toast and some cakes. As a result, I was not particularly hungry. Anne, though, was; we had both skimped-on breakfasts in the rush to get everything organised this morning. After a quick review of the options, we decided to have an early lunch at Marge's before setting off for Manston.

Anne went for a full English breakfast. Given what I had already consumed, I opted for a bacon sandwich. While we had lunch, Anne filled me in on the word around the college about Wednesday's incident.

"It seems that our Johnny is quite the hero," Anne informed me.

"Oh?" I responded, sinking my teeth into the bacon sandwich.

"The Henderson boy was not popular. Also, the refectory was crap," Anne informed me. "They are hoping that the county will now get some decent caterers in to run it."

"I hope not," Marge commented. She had just walked up to the table to deliver a fresh pot of tea. "That would be bad for my business."

"Don't think you need to worry there, Marge," I stated. "The county will no doubt mess it up again and give it to another crony."

"You're probably right there," Marge responded. "Heard the brother-in-law of the Vice-Chairperson was after it last time.

"By the way, Channel 4 have just said they are interviewing your boy this afternoon; it will be on the seven-o'clock news."

I looked at my watch, it was getting on for one, so I made a point of telling Anne we better get a move on as I would like to be at Manston before any interviewing was done. I forgot Marge was still standing by the table.

"Having a film star for an uncle must be useful," Marge commented.

"Having two is even more useful," Anne replied.


"Ben Carlton's that lump's brother," Anne stated, indicating me. "Matthew Lewis is Johnny's mother's brother."

"And they own Manston. Very convenient," Marge observed.

"Yes," I responded.

I spent a couple more minutes chatting to Marge whilst Anne finished off her full English. Then we set off to Manston. For a Friday, the traffic was surprisingly light, but then we were slightly ahead of the main Friday afternoon traffic out of London going north. We got to Manston just after three-thirty.

Ian's mother came out to meet us as we pulled up in front of the house.

"Good afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Carlton," she greeted us. "Mrs M asked me to look after you until Mr. Ben gets back."

"He's not here?" I blurted out.

"No, Mr. Carlton," she replied. "He took the boys into Rugby to get Johnny something to wear for the interview. In the rush to get here this morning, Johnny had not packed anything suitable."

"Oh," I replied. "When is this interview taking place?"

"Five o'clock," Mary informed me. "They are setting up in the library, Mrs M is supervising that as well as the last arrangements for tomorrow's wedding, that's why she has asked me to take care of you." With that, she indicated we should make our way into the house.

We were sitting in the Conservatory having a pot of tea when Ben, Joseph and Johnny returned. After a quick hello from Johnny, he was sent off to get cleaned up and changed.

"What's going on?" I enquired from Ben.

"Our publicity people have arranged an exclusive interview for Johnny with Sharon Meddler from Channel 4 News," he informed me. "She's good and she's sympathetic."

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" I asked.

"No," Ben replied. "I am sure, however, it is the only way to get the newshounds off Johnny's back."

"So, if you are sure it will get the hounds off Johnny's back, why might it not be a good idea?" I enquired.

"Well," Ben answered, "for a start, I don't know how Johnny will hold up under interview. I think he will do OK. That boy has more confidence than most sixteen-year-olds I know. However, he is not media savvy; he does not have the experience and training of somebody like Trevor concerning how to deal with the media. I've given him some pointers, but there is only so much you can do in a couple of hours.

"Then, there is how the rest of the media will react. They are going to be upset that they did not get the interview. There is a chance that they might go out for revenge, trying to make out that Johnny is the bad guy. It's a risk, a risk I think we have to take.

"Fortunately, the groundswell of social media is in Johnny's favour. Better still, that has required no input from our PR guys. It really is grassroots-driven. It is unlikely that any of the press would want to go against the social-media trend unless they had got some really hard dirt on Johnny."

"That's what worries me," I stated. "Johnny has not had the most glittering of school careers to date."

"Shouldn't worry about it," Ben advised me. "If it becomes an issue, we can get the PR boys to work on it: the bad boy turns good. There's an angle on anything if you know how to play it."

"Are Jack and Flora here?" I asked.

"No, Flora called me, not long after we left your place. Jack's not that well and once I had assured her that Johnny was fine, she put her foot down on him coming down here. She says he's been overdoing it and needs a rest.

"Anyway, Mike, you'd better come through and meet Sharon. For a start, you need to sign the consent form."

Ben led the way through to the Library. There, we were introduced to Sharon Meddler. We spent the next quarter of an hour going over some formalities, such as parental-consent forms and Sharon getting some background information from me about Johnny. Not that I could tell her much. As I told her, Johnny had only come to live with me at Easter.

"He came to live with you at Easter?" she enquired, apparently needing to confirm that she had not misheard.

"Yes," I replied. "It appears my ex-wife decided it was my turn to have the boy. Suspect it had something to do with her forthcoming engagement." Sharon looked at me, questioningly.

"Engagement?" she asked.

"Yes, her engagement to Malcolm Davenport was announced the weekend after Johnny came to live with me." I could see Sharon's mind whirling away as she made mental connections.

Just then, Johnny walked into the Library. His appearance gave me a surprise. There was nothing I could put my finger on, but somehow, he just seemed different. His hair, which was usually a bit unruly, was tied back into a ponytail. He was wearing a long-sleeved roll neck shirt, tight black jeans and plain black sneakers. I had seen him in similar outfits before, but this one seemed different, it oozed self-confidence and maturity.

Sharon turned to Ben. "Good styling, who's the stylist?"

"That, Sharon, is all his own work," Ben stated.

"I wish I had that much dress sense," she commented. Then she went over to Johnny, greeted him and then guided him to one of the two armchairs that had been positioned by the fireplace. There were six video cameras mounted on tripods around the chairs plus some video lighting stands.

"Right, you lot," she announced to technical guys setting up the equipment, "get this lot running, then bugger off out of here."

She turned and looked at Ben and me. "That applies to you lot as well. I don't want anyone in here while I'm chatting with Johnny." I was about to protest, but she got in first. "If you want to watch, you can do so on the bloody monitor from outside." Ben took my arm and guided me out of the room.

"Is she—?" I started to ask.

"She prefers to work this way. She has done it to me a couple of times. You sit, just you and her in a room and chat, then she puts the pieces together to form the interview. It works, and she often gets far more out of it that one would expect," Ben stated. "Don't worry; I've agreed to final sign-off rights before transmission."

Outside the Library, the technicians were huddled around a couple of laptops. One of them signalled for us to come over and watch. Each of the laptops was taking a feed from one of the principal cameras. For the next hour, we watched and listened to a consummate professional guide Johnny through an interview, which ended up getting far more information out of him than I think Johnny actually realised he was giving.

Towards the end, Sharon posed the question which I think both Ben and I had been waiting for. "You're the nephew of Ben Carlton, the actor and martial artist. Did he teach you how to defend yourself like that?"

"No," Johnny replied. "I've only known Uncle Ben for six months. Haven't done any martial arts with him."

"How come you've only known him for six months?" Sharon asked.

"My mother did not want me to know about my family," Johnny stated. "She never told me about my uncles or my grandparents. They were not good enough for the bitch." There was a short pause. "My apologies, I should not compare my mother to a female dog, it's insulting for the dog." There was a round of giggles from the technicians. From behind me, a voice stated, "I totally agree." I turned to find Bernard standing behind me.

"So, where did you learn to defend yourself?" Sharon enquired.

"In France. My mate Marcel trained in Savate. I spent most of my summer holidays staying with his family and used to go along to the classes with him. Have done that since I was eight."

"Bloody hell!" Ben exclaimed. "That's where that kick came from."

"What's Savate?" I asked.

"French foot-boxing," Ben informed me. "Bloody effective if you are trained in it, and it appears our Johnny is."

Sharon asked a couple more questions and then looked directly at the camera. "That's it. Take it as a wrap, boys. You can come in and clear this lot up."

The technicians turned and went into the Library; Ben, Bernard and I followed. As we did, I asked Bernard where Debora was.

"In the Conservatory with Anne. Joseph is in there with them, I think getting an earful from Debs for missing school."

Sharon and Johnny came over to us as we entered. Sharon informed Ben that she would have an edited copy of the interview ready for us to look at in about an hour. She then asked Johnny not to change just in case they needed to reshoot anything, though she did not think they would.

I went with Bernard to join our wives in the Conservatory. Johnny came along with us, saying he needed to see Joseph.

"How come you come up here?" I asked Bernard as we walked round to the Conservatory.

"Well, the missus stated she wanted to see her son," Bernard replied. "She was not happy about me letting him have time off from school."

"I suppose not," I answered.

"There is something else, though," Bernard stated, putting his hand on my arm, holding me back from Ben and Johnny, who were walking in front of us.

Bernard dropped his voice to an almost whisper. "Beryl's solicitors contacted me. She wants the boy back living with her."

"What!" I exclaimed. "There is no way Johnny's going back to live with her."

I had not realised I had shouted, but I must have. Ben and Johnny were quite a distance ahead of us in the corridor, and they turned and looked at us.

"Fuck that," Johnny said. "I'm sixteen and can live where I want." He started walking back up the corridor towards us. "She dumped me; I'll stay dumped. If I can't live with Dad, I'll get my own place."

"That might be a bit difficult," I stated. "You may be legally able to live on your own at sixteen with your parents' consent, but you are still a minor so you cannot enter into a contractual arrangement, so you could not sign a lease for somewhere. Doubt a landlord would rent you anywhere without a lease."

"Actually, Mike," Bernard inserted, "that is not correct. A contract for a necessity entered into by a minor can be enforced. Housing is a necessity."

I nodded, then asked, "Why now?" Bernard looked at me, then at Johnny.

"Look, the lot of you don't say anything, but the word is that Johnny is going to be honoured. Actually, I know he is going to be honoured; the only question is which honour? I suspect Beryl and the Honourable Edward rather fancy themselves accompanying Johnny to the Palace."

"That smells about right," Johnny commented. "She only wants me around when I am useful."

"Well, there is no use in us standing around here discussing it, we may as well join the women," Bernard stated, leading the way towards the Conservatory. As he proceeded down the corridor, he looked back over his shoulder. "Mary said she was serving afternoon tea in there, so there's food." With that, he proceeded on, with Ben, Johnny and I following.

Over tea, Johnny filled us in about the interview, though, of course, Ben and I had seen it on the monitor. The rest had not. Anne asked how long we needed to be holed up here; Ben told her we were welcome to stay as long as we wanted, pointing out that we were being housed in the stable apartments and Dowager House. The main house was booked out for a wedding. He then told Anne that it was probably OK to go home in the morning, but we would probably be better off leaving it till Sunday.

We had a short discussion, both Anne and Johnny wanted to get back to their classes, so we agreed we would go back on Sunday. Bernard then brought up the issue of Beryl's request that Johnny goes back and live with her. This, of course, was the first that Anne had heard of it, so Bernard had to give a full explanation. In fact, he gave a fuller explanation than he had given to me in the corridor. It seems that Beryl's solicitor had informed him that Beryl would be applying to the Family Court for full and exclusive custody.

"On what grounds?" Anne asked.

"That Mike has not provided a safe and secure environment for Johnny," Bernard replied.

Johnny laughed. "Safe and secure. As if I was safe and secure at her place. Half her friends were trying to get into my pants." He paused, a mischievous look of malevolent glee appeared on his face. For a moment, I felt sympathy for whoever was going to be the target for whatever he had in mind; then I remembered it was probably my ex-wife.

Johnny pulled out his phone and dialled. We all sat watching him, wondering what he was up to. Whoever he had dialled answered. "Mother, I hear you want me to come back to live with you … Oh, so Dad can't provide me with a safe and secure home … Well, let me tell you, at least at Dad's I don't have old men trying to grope me as I take them a drink, and I don't have your boyfriends fucking me because you are too drunk to be of any use to them. … Of course, your boyfriends have fucked me; they said I'm a better fuck than you are. … Including the Honourable Edward, with his four-inch, pencil-thin dick. I'll tell the judge all about them and how you fucking knew."

With that, he ended the call and put the phone down on the table. A moment later, it started to ring; he rejected the call and switched the phone off. My phone started to ring. I looked at the caller ID and then followed Johnny's example. The last person I wanted to speak to was my ex-wife.

"Did you have sex with her boyfriends?" Joseph asked.

"A couple," Johnny replied. Then he looked around at the shocked expressions on our faces. "Don't worry, it was my choice, and I made sure they paid well. Got fifty out of the Honourable Edward just for a blow job."

At that, Anne burst out laughing.

I really needed to talk to Johnny about what he had just said but somehow felt that now was not the right time. Johnny gave me a look that pretty much confirmed that feeling.

Mary came through to tell us that Sharon would like to meet with us in the Library. We all made our way there. Once there Sharon played the edited version of the interview for us. For a news broadcast, it was a longish interview, nearly ten minutes, but then, Channel 4 News at seven was a one-hour slot. I was impressed. She had managed to get a lot into the ten minutes. Including, I noticed, the fact that his mother had dumped Johnny on my doorstep at two o'clock in the morning. I also noticed that Sharon introduced Johnny as the son of the leading barrister Beryl Carlton-Smith. I wondered just what my ex had done to upset her.

There was nothing that either Bernard, Ben or I objected to in the interview, and we agreed it could be broadcast. That done, Sharon told one of the crew to upload it and then went over to Ben and thanked him for making the interview possible.

She then turned to Johnny and congratulated him on doing such a good interview. "You're a natural at it, kid; maybe you should go into politics."

"No thanks, Sharon," he replied. "I'm going to build yachts."

"So, you said," Sharon replied. "Probably a good job. I think you would probably end up kicking a few arses in Westminster if you ever got there."

Just then her phone went; she walked off a bit and answered it. A moment later she came back to us.

"Right," she informed us, "the producers are happy. It will be shown as it is just after seven-thirty. I hope you will be watching."

"We will," we all replied.

Ben suggested that we might like to view the transmission in the Dowager House, as the main rooms in the Hall were being used for the wedding party. He told Mary that we would have dinner served in the Dowager House. There was some discussion about whether we should have an early dinner before Channel 4 News or dine after the broadcast. The general consent, with only Bernard dissenting, was that we should eat after the broadcast. Bernard was not the happiest of people; he never likes to be kept waiting for food.

It being a lovely evening, we all decided a stroll round the park would be a good idea before meeting up in the Dowager House for the broadcast and dinner. My brother and the boys went off in the direction of the stable yard, and I guessed they were looking for something a bit more exciting than a gentle stroll. Anne and Debora informed us they were going to go and sit by the lake and enjoy the evening sun. Bernard commented that that left us walking around the lake.

We were about halfway round the lake when Bernard announced, "Edith Jenkins wants a meeting with you."

"Why on earth does Miss Jenkins want to meet me?" I enquired.

"I think she has a proposition for you," Bernard replied. "Though I have no idea what it is. Is it OK for me to tell her to come up tomorrow?"

I answered in the affirmative.

When we got to the Dowager House just before seven, there were three trail bikes leaned against the side of the garage. That answered what my brother and the boys had been up to. Inside we found the others assembled in the drawing room waiting for the news to start.

The interview was shown very much as we had seen it. There were two changes. At one point they cut in a piece of video of Johnny and Joseph sailing. I had no idea where that had come from, but it fitted well with what Johnny was saying about wanting to design yachts. When it came to the section where he had described the incident with the Henderson boy, they cut in actual video of the events. No doubt that had come from one of the many phones that had been around at the time.

Overall, I was quite happy with the way that Channel 4 had handled things. Both Johnny and Ben seemed delighted with it as well.

Once the interview was finished, we went through to the dining room. Mary Simpson was there supervising the service. The food was delicious and the service excellent. At the end of the meal, I congratulated Mary on the quality of the food and the service.

"Thank you, Mr. Carlton, it was a good exercise for the trainees," she stated.

"Trainees?" I queried.

"Yes," she replied. "Your meal was cooked and served by students from the local catering college. Normally we mix them in with the experienced staff but, given the nature of this party, I thought it would be a useful experience for them to do a complete service from end to end."

We retired to what had once been a smoking room and was now a delightful sitting room, where coffee and liqueurs were served. Just before ten, Ben called the main house and asked for the car to be sent down to take the boys back to the Hall. Ben and the rest of us would be staying in the Dowager House.

I realised I had left my laptop up in the Conservatory and said I would have to go up to the Hall to collect it. Would need it in the morning. Johnny suggested that we should walk up to the Hall, telling Joseph to use the car.

Joseph did not look pleased. Johnny leaned over and whispered something in his ear. After that, Joseph got into the car. He was still not happy but did not look as unhappy as he had been. The car pulled off, following the long drive around the edge of the park. Johnny and I took the pathway that led up to the formal gardens.

"I suppose you want to talk to me about what I said to mother," he stated.

"Yes," I replied. "I'm rather worried about you being abused."

"Don't be, Dad. I knew what they wanted, and I knew what I was doing," he replied. "I made sure I came out on top. Anyway, I enjoyed it."

"That's beside the point, it's…"

"I know, Dad, it's wrong, it's illegal, and it should not have happened," Johnny said. "Be realistic, Dad; I was fourteen and as horny as hell. I've been having sex since I was ten…"

"Couldn't you have found anyone around your age?" I asked.

"Dad, a couple of them were not much older than me; they were still doing A-levels."

I looked at my son, somewhat shocked.

"Dad, get real. My mother knew where to pick up young meat when she wanted to get a good fuck. The only problem was that half the time she was so drunk she was not up to it. She had paid for some fun, so I might as well have it."

Johnny's attitude worried me. He seemed to think it was alright for underaged boys to have sex with older males. Somehow, though, I sensed that it was probably not much good me talking to him about the issue, that was perhaps best left to Ben. I made a mental note to have a word with Ben about it in the morning.

Once back at the Hall, Johnny made his way through to the back and the Stable apartments. I grabbed my laptop from the Conservatory. Mrs M told me off, saying all I needed to do was call and she would have sent it down to the Dowager House. She then ordered a car to take me back down to the Dowager House.

Saturday morning, I was up early. Let us be honest; I had been awake most of the night worried about Johnny's revelations. I was surprised to find Ben in the morning room when I went through to get a coffee. He was busy on the phone and just gave me a general wave as I walked in and pointed in the direction of the buffet which the staff were just laying out. I helped myself to some coffee and toast, then went over and joined Ben at his table. He just finished off his call when I sat down.

"Morning," he muttered in my general direction.

"Looks as if you did not get a good night," I commented.

"You don't look much better," he responded.

"No," I answered. "Was up most of the night thinking about what Johnny told me last night. I'm not happy with his attitude to things. Can you have a word with him?"

"Not sure that would be a good idea," Ben replied. "There are complications."

I thought about his response for a moment, then realised what he was on about. "Sorry I forgot, the duty to report."

"Actually, Mike, there is no duty to report," Ben replied. I looked at him, surprised. "Oh, I know a lot of people think there is, and for many child psychologists working in the public sector, there is a contractual requirement to report. However, in England at the moment, there is no legal duty to report. The professional guidelines strongly recommend that we should report, but in the final analysis, it is up to each of us to decide if it is in the interest of our client to report. Our client's interest has to come first.

"In many, in fact, most cases once a client starts to talk about their abuse, they are more than happy to report. We do not have to. However, for some clients that would be traumatic, and then we have to maintain client confidentiality above everything. As a psychologist, I can't do my job if my client does not trust me.

"No, the reason I said it would not be a good idea is that I am too close to Johnny. I think he needs to discuss this with someone, but that someone should not be me. I will do some digging around and see who I can find that is close to you down in Essex."

"Thanks," I said. "So, what kept you up during the night?"

"Unions," Ben replied. "We have just over ten days shooting left on set, and there is a big teardown and build scheduled for tomorrow night. We've had our own crew working on this alongside the studio people. The studio unions have now decided they do not want our team working on it as they are non-union.

"The thing is, our crew are union, but a different one. The studio boys are claiming they should not even be on set. The whole thing is a mess, and I need to get down there and clean it up. So, I'm not going to be around today. Hope I can get back up tonight."

"You think you can sort it in that time?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," Ben replied. "This is just some local shop steward throwing his weight about. We got agreement at the national level before we even started to shoot that we would have our crew on set. Anyway, all the remaining studio shots are in the situation room; that's the set they were going to be building tomorrow. If push gets to shove, we'll up sticks, go off to do the location shooting, then finish off using the basements here as a location for the situation room. We had discussed doing that to start with. It's just that it is a lot easier to shoot something like that on set rather than on location."

With that, Ben got up and went over to the buffet to pour himself another coffee. As he walked back to the table, he glanced at his watch. "Need to get a move on. We have a meeting with the shop steward at ten, and it is at least a two-hour drive to the studio."

I finished off a couple more pieces of toast, then decided to have an early morning walk around the grounds. Well, just down to the lake and back, but that was far more exercise than I usually got. I was just exiting the formal gardens into the parkland when Ben's Maserati roared down the driveway.

When I got back to the Conservatory, Bernard was there, tucking into what looked like a full English.

"You're taking a risk," I commented. "Debora could come in at any moment."

"Not likely, she and Anne grabbed a coffee each and headed off into Rugby to spend some money," he replied. "Oh, Anne left this for you." He handed me a note. It was just to say she was going into Rugby to do some shopping.

"By the way, Bernard, what is the situation with Hartmann's? My royalties are due soon."

"They are due to be paid on the thirtieth, and they will be paid; of that, I can assure you."

"I hope they are," I replied. "I am rather depending on them to start to pay off the loan on the Priory."

"I'm sure you are," Bernard replied.

"So, what has happened with them?" I asked.

"Officially nothing. There was a case conference before the judge in chambers last Wednesday. I sent you a note about that," Bernard stated. I remembered seeing a note about a case conference, and that, as it was only procedural, I was not required to attend. "Anyway, the judge expressed an opinion to their barrister that he was not prepared to accept most of their case. He also advised them that if there was any delay in the payment of royalties, he was minded to grant damages if the case went against them.

"Basically, he was telling them that on the paperwork they had submitted to the court, they were going to lose. The case is now listed for a hearing, but the earliest that will be is sometime in November; it could even be next year. However, given what the judge said at the case conference, I suspect their counsel will be advising them to withdraw from the case and admit liability. If they don't, they could be out of pocket big time.

"By the way, I've had a text from Edith; she should be here about eleven-thirty."

"Any idea what she wants to see me about?"

"None at all," Bernard replied. "Though she did say it might be useful if I sat in on the meeting. I suppose when I have finished this, we'd better make our way up to the big house.

"By the way, Anne says to switch your phone on; it's still off from last night. She tried to call you this morning."

I switched it on. Once it had connected, about thirty text messages came through; one from Johnny, saying Joseph and he were going out on the quad bikes; one from Anne, saying she was going into Rugby. Then, there were over twenty from my ex. I did not bother reading any of them.

Seeing Bernard tucking into a full English made me hungry, so I helped myself to a couple of slices of bacon, some black pudding and fried bread. I also made myself a nice pot of tea. I spent the next fifteen or so minutes enjoying a fried breakfast and chatting with Bernard about nothing in particular. We then made our way up to the Hall.

It was just before eleven when we got there, and Mrs M informed us there was coffee, tea and cakes in the Conservatory. Bernard immediately led the way to them. We sat for the next quarter-hour discussing our respective spouses over tea and cake. Bernard stated at one point that he dreaded to think how much Debora was spending on the credit card, though he did say that it was probably her way of punishing him for not keeping Shabbat.

"Bernard, how does Debora equate keeping Shabbat and going shopping on a Saturday?"

"Oh, normally she won't shop on a Saturday, at least not before sunset, which generally means winter only. However, she takes the view that if you have already broken Shabbos, which we have being here, you might as well take advantage of the situation."

Just then Mrs M came through and informed us that Miss Jenkins had arrived and that she had put her in the drawing room. Mrs M apologised but stated that the Library was being used by the wedding they had on.

I asked Mrs M if she would give our apologies to Miss Jenkins and that we would be with her shortly. Mrs M advised us that there was no rush. Miss Jenkins had said she was early, and Mrs M was just arranging a pot of tea for her.

Bernard and I got to the drawing room about ten minutes later. Miss Jenkins was just finishing off her cup of tea. She stood as we entered.

"Mr. Carlton, I am so glad you were able to see me," she stated.

"Not at all, Miss Jenkins," I replied. "What was it you wanted to see me about, and I hope you do not mind Mr. LeBrun being present?"

"Not at all," she stated. "In fact, it could be most beneficial if things work out as I hope they will."

"And what do you hope for, may I ask?" I enquired.

"I want to buy into Arthur's computer business," she responded.

I looked at Miss Jenkins in surprise. Why was she talking to me about buying into Arthur's business?

"It's really for Arthur to decide about somebody buying into the business. But might I ask why you are interested?"

"You are right, it is up to Arthur, and I have already spoken with him about it. However, he told me he would not discuss it unless you agreed first, at least in principle," Miss Jenkins informed me. "As you ask why I might be interested, well it has potential. Not the provision of the internet connections, that's a waste of time in the long run. The pressure is on for the service providers to get fast internet out to the rural districts, and they will do that in the next couple of years.

"What the business has going for it, though, is the network and technical support service that Arthur provides. Maddie and Neal have been keeping me informed about what they have been doing over the last couple of weeks. They have been relatively busy, there is a lot of work there, and they have been getting more enquiries in. At the moment, they have put any new work on hold as they did not know how the situation would develop.

"The thing is that Neal has to start at Imperial the week after next, and the week after, Maddie is due back in Cambridge. It is going to be the end of November before Arthur is back on his feet, and he needs someone to cover the business in the meantime."

"I can see the problem," I stated.

"I am sure you can," Miss Jenkins replied. "Although there is an excellent little business developing for Arthur, it is not yet there. Maddie and Neal do not cost the business anything. However, to get somebody in to cover for Arthur full time till he recovers, is going to cost. To be honest with the amount of work that is coming in, you really need two people.

"I've got a couple of girls, who Maddie and Neal inform me are quite capable of doing the work required. However, you would be looking at twelve hundred pounds a week in costs to employ them, and at the moment, the business will not support that. However, Neal informs me that it would only take a couple of months to increase the level of activity to a point where it could easily cover that and enough to pay Arthur.

"So, my offer is: I will put in twenty-four thousand; that will more than cover the wages needed to keep the business going till Arthur returns. I will also put up a hundred-percent mortgage so the business can buy that place on Southmead Road that you were looking at. The rate will be bank rate plus one percent. In return, I want thirty-three-per cent of the business. How does that sound?"

"It sounds generous," I stated. Knowing full well, it was an excellent offer. Too good, in fact, which gave rise to my next question. "What's in it for you?"

"Simple," she replied. "I will have an interest in a perfectly respectable computer business which has a legitimate need for some specialised network equipment. More importantly, I think the business has a lot of potential. Both Maddie and Neal have spent time talking to Arthur and are quite impressed with what he wants to do with the company. The only thing really stopping him is capital. I can assure you, with me behind him, there will be no shortage of capital when it is required.

"Oh, before you start wondering. I need this business to be totally legitimate. It must be totally above-board and able to undergo the most rigorous scrutiny. I don't want it as a front for anything. I hope you understand."

"I understand what you want to do," I said. "What I don't understand is your motives for doing it."

"That, Mr. Carlton, is simple. My family has quite a few business interests, entirely legitimate business interests. It also has some investments which are, as you know, not that legitimate. We need modern technology, as Neal keeps telling me. However, at the moment, we get our systems from numerous suppliers, so none of them knows everything about our set up. That, though, does cause problems. We do not always end up with the most efficient architecture for our systems.

"Having a network-services supplier who is, from our perspective, trustworthy, makes a lot of sense. We can use them to support our IT systems without any fear that they may stumble across something we would not like them to know, because we can be quite certain that, even if they do stumble across something, they will not take note of it."

I was not all that enamoured of the idea of being a business partner with Miss Jenkins, but she had a very valid point that somehow the business needed to be kept going until Arthur was back on his feet. If we did not take her up on the offer, I was reasonably sure the business would probably have to close once Maddie and Neal went off to University.

There followed an hour of negotiations. I really did feel that taking a third of the business was a bit high, especially given what Trevor had committed to it. In the end, we came to an agreement. Miss Jenkins would put up the required funding in return for thirty-percent, but Arthur and Trevor would have the right to buy back, at valuation, five-percent of the company's shares from her at any time in the next five years.

Miss Jenkins agreed to this, conditional on her having the right to appoint one-third of the directors to the board.

When we had finished, I looked at Bernard. "You followed that?"

"Yes, Mike, and I made notes." He held up his notebook.

"In that case, Mr. Le Brun, could I ask you to draw up a formal agreement along the lines discussed that I can put, with my offer, to Arthur?" Miss Jenkins asked.

"Of course," Bernard replied. He looked at his watch. "It's quarter to one, do you think there is any chance of late elevenses or early lunch?"

"After the breakfast you had?" I asked.

"Well, listening to you two negotiating is hard work. I'm hungry."

Not being hungry myself I left Bernard to escort Miss Jenkins to some food. I returned to the Dowager House and my room and set up my laptop to try and do some work. I mostly intended to deal with any emails that had come in. Fortunately, today there were not many.

An hour later, I was just making my way back from the Dowager House to the main house when Joseph and Johnny roared past on the quad bikes as much as you can roar on electric bikes. I was pleased to note that they were both wearing helmets. They went around the house to the Stable Yard. I cut through the house, meeting them in the yard. Once they had switched their machines off and removed their helmets, I called over to Johnny that I needed to talk to him and asked him to meet me in the drawing room as soon as he was ready.

He joined me in the drawing room about ten minutes later.

"Dad," he started as he entered the room, "if this is about me having sex with Mam's boyfriends, I don't want to talk about it."

"Well, it's not," I replied. "Though I think you do need to talk about that, but probably not to me."

"Not to Uncle Ben, either," he stated.

"On that, he agrees. Will you talk with somebody else, though?" I asked.

"I don't want them getting into trouble," Johnny stated. "Wouldn't mind shafting the Honourable Edward, but if I spill the beans on him, it will come out about the others."

"I understand what you are saying," I stated. "I don't agree with you, but I understand where you are coming from. Ben has told me that there is no obligation for psychologists in private practice to report. If you make it clear that you do not want things to go further, they will respect that. He also agrees with me that you need to talk about what happened with somebody, but not him. If he finds someone local to the Priory, will you see them?"

"I guess," he replied rather sullenly. I guessed that it was about the most consent I was going to get from him at the moment. So, I did not pursue matters but got on with what I wanted to discuss, namely, Miss Jenkins approach to buying into Arthur's business. I spent about fifteen minutes explaining what she was doing.

"What's this got to do with me?" Johnny asked. "It's Arthur's business."

"Yes, it is, but it is actually a company, and you own ten percent of it," I explained. "If this deal goes through your ten percent interest will fall to just over six and a half percent."

Johnny thought about that for a moment and then nodded. "If Arthur can't get somebody to run it until he is back on his feet, it will have to close down, won't it?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Then there is no problem," Johnny stated. "If it closes, I will have ten percent of nothing, which is nothing. If Miss Jenkins puts the money in, I end up with six percent of something, which is a whole lot more than nothing."

"So, Johnny, you're in agreement with it?"

"Yes, Dad. I know you don't have the spare cash to fund it. Trevor probably could, but that would raise questions, so best to take Miss Jenkins' offer. Anyway, from what Neal and Maddie say, working with her is fun."

"I'm not sure about that," I replied. "I'd better phone Arthur and Trevor and tell them what I have discussed with Miss Jenkins."

"Don't bother, Dad; they are coming here this afternoon."

"What! How do you know?"

"They have a break in shooting for a couple of days, so Uncle Phil is bringing them up this afternoon," Johnny informed me. "Arthur texted me while we were out on the bikes.

"Anyway, if that's all you want to speak about, I want to get some lunch. I'm starving."

"Christ, you're as bad as your godfather," I stated. Johnny laughed and went off towards the Conservatory.

I decided I probably could do with some lunch and followed him.

As most of the house was in use for the wedding, we family guests stayed in the Conservatory after lunch. A drizzle had started, and nobody was really up for going out. Joseph and Johnny were playing some sort of game between themselves on their phones. Bernard and Miss Jenkins were seated in the corner, with Bernard making notes as Miss Jenkins was giving instructions. I busied myself reading a couple of scientific articles on my e-reader.

Just after three, Mary came into the Conservatory and asked if any of us wanted refreshments. The boys asked for cola; Bernard, Miss Jenkins, and I opted for tea. Just then, there was the sound of an approaching helicopter. Given that there was a wedding going on, I was somewhat surprised when it flew in and landed on the helipad. I mentioned it to Mary.

"It's not a problem, Mr. Carlton," she replied, "as the wedding is not till four and most of the guests are still in the process of arriving. They will probably think it is one of the guests coming."

About ten minutes after the helicopter had landed, Phil entered the Conservatory followed by Trevor pushing a wheelchair with Arthur in it, his leg supported straight out in front of him. Joseph and Johnny immediately went over to Arthur and asked how he was. Mary, who had just brought our colas and tea, took another round of orders and went off to get them filled.

"I thought you had union problems at the studio?" I said to Phil.

"We do," he replied. "That, though, is Ben's problem. He's in charge of that side of production. We've got a shooting break anyway, so I thought I would bring the boys up. I know Trevor and Arthur want to see Miss Jenkins." I noticed that Arthur extracted himself from Johnny and Joseph and wheeled his way over to the table where Bernard and Miss Jenkins were seated. Trevor quickly joined him.

"No Tyler?" I enquired.

"No, we finished shooting all his scenes yesterday," Phil informed me. "He's not needed now till we start location work in the Caribbean, which will be in four weeks. Tyler has gone off to do some modelling work in the States. He will rejoin us when we go out to Trinidad if he does not come back to England first. Though, I fully expect him to be back by time we start the location work over here.

"By the way, Ben needs to sort out about the location shoot at your place. Would like to do that the week after next if we are on schedule. Should finish the studio shoots end of this week or maybe over next weekend. That's if Ben can sort the union out."

"Trinidad? I thought you were filming on Necker." I stated. Not wishing to get into the subject of them using the Priory for a location. I had completely forgotten about that.

"We are for a lot of the shots, but there are a couple that Necker did not work for," Phil informed me. "The location people have found a spot in Trinidad that works perfectly. Also, we can use the local population for extras, as there are a lot needed for those scenes. Taking a pile of extras to Necker could have been a problem."

We chatted a bit longer, then Phil's phone beeped. He took it out and looked at a message, the smiled. "Union problem solved. Ben says he will be up here about seven. He suggests we should decamp to the Dove for dinner; this place will be busy with the wedding."

I could see sense in that. The Dove was a pub, originally a coaching inn that had been built in the 1620s, in one of the small villages around the estate. I remembered they did an excellent home-made, steak-and-kidney pie. With that in mind, I agreed with Ben's proposal.

While Phil was busy informing Mary that we would not be requiring dinner that evening but did require transport to the Dove, I went over and joined Trevor and Arthur with Miss Jenkins and Bernard. As I approached, Miss Jenkins looked up.

"Ah, Mr. Carlton, it seems we have a deal," she announced.

"Everything agreed?" I asked.

"Well," Bernard injected, "there is some legal wording that has to be sorted out, but all the principal points have been agreed. I'll get a letter of intent drafted on Monday for all parties to sign. I'll have the final agreement drafted by the end of the week."

"So, what happens next?" I enquired.

"Well, I have to sort the staff out to cover the business till Arthur is back on his feet," Miss Jenkins stated. "I know it will be a couple of weeks before all the legalities are sorted out, but would anybody mind if I put them in as soon as I can get it arranged? Would like to have them working alongside Maddie and Neal for a couple of weeks, if possible."

Nobody disagreed.

"Mr Carlton I believe you and Arthur currently form the board of directors," Miss Jenkins continued. I confirmed that was the case. "That being so, I would like to appoint Neal to the board to represent my interests." I looked at Arthur, he nodded, so I agreed with the appointment.

Anne and Debora got back just after five. From the number of bags they were carrying, I was not hopeful about the state of either Bernard's or my credit cards. Fortunately, I noticed that most of the bags were deposited at the table where Bernard was sitting. When Anne came over to the table I was using for my laptop, she only had two bags.

"Looks like Bernard has had an expensive day," I commented.

"Not really," Anne answered. "There's a lot of bulky stuff but not that expensive. Debs wanted some new bedding, and we found a place that was closing down. Think she bought most of its good stock. Probably cost less than a quarter what she would have paid in London."

"Well, I hope he appreciates the saving."

"He doesn't have much choice," Anne observed. "She had to cancel a Shabbat meal, which she had been planning for weeks, to come up this weekend. She had invited their new rabbi!"

I drew my breath in sharply through my teeth, then looked over at Debora, then looked back at Anne. "Really?"

"Yes," she replied.

"I guess he's got off cheap, then," I stated.

"Almost certainly. Just before we found the bedding place, she had been looking at a three-year-old Renault convertible."

Miss Jenkins came up to us and informed me that she was leaving. There was a car to take her to Kettering, where she would take the train back to London. She then said she would be seeing us in Dunford next week as soon as she had arranged the replacements for Maddie and Neal.

After she left, Anne asked me what that was all about, so I had to explain it.

"That's good," she stated. "I was worried about what would happen when Maddie and Neal had to leave."

"But—" I started to say.

"Don't start," Anne said. "Miss Jenkins may be a crook, but she is at least a decent crook, and if she says it's all going to be legit, I believe her. Anyway, far better the crook that you know than the one you don't know."

"Hear! Hear!" Bernard said from behind me. I had not realised he had walked up after Miss Jenkins left. "Edith Jenkins might be involved in some shady undertakings. I don't think that family is involved in anything much more than shady these days. Edith Jenkins is scrupulous in whatever she does, so if she says it will be legitimate, it will be."

I am sure Bernard meant to make me feel more comfortable with that statement. The problem was, it did emphasise that there were some of Miss Jenkins business activities that were not legitimate. No matter how she kept her interests separated, I could not help but feel uncomfortable about those parts of her business.

I noticed that Joseph, Trevor, Arthur and Johnny had all left the Conservatory while I had been speaking to Miss Jenkins. Phil informed me that they were wheeling Arthur over to the Garden House as there was disabled accommodation there suitable for him to use. I realised then that there was no disabled access to the stable-apartment accommodation. So, he could not have been housed there.

"How long are you up here?" I asked Phil.

"Only till tomorrow afternoon," he replied. "We are due to resume shooting on Monday. Needed to be up, though, as there is a pile of estate business we need to go through with Mrs M and Mary before we vanish for eight weeks."

"I did not realise you were that hands-on," I observed.

"We did not mean to be," he replied. "But things tend to draw one in. Mary has already come up with some new ideas for bringing in business, and we need to sign off on them so she can start to promote the place over the winter. Though most of the weddings and conferences take place in the summer, most of the selling takes place in the winter."

Anne informed me that she was going to have a nice long soak in the bath before we went for dinner. With that information imparted, she left to get a lift to the Dowager House. I joined Phil in a game of billiards, the Billiard Room being about the only one of the main rooms not in use for the wedding.

Ben arrived just before half-six. No sooner had he found Phil and myself than he dragged Phil off for an urgent talk, instructing me to get everybody in the "servants' hall" for quarter past seven. He would arrange for transport to pick us up at the side entrance, the main entrance being in use for the wedding party.

I went back to our room in the Dowager House. Anne had finished her bath and was getting ready for going out. She suggested I needed a shower, a suggestion I agreed with. Before I took it, I called Johnny and told him about the arrangements for meeting and asked him to tell Trevor and Arthur; also suggested Joseph and he probably needed to grab a shower.

The servants' hall was next to where the old kitchens had been. It had a door out to a yard next to the stable yard. Ben had informed me once that this was the delivery yard. Anne and I got down there just after ten past to find almost everybody there. Only Trevor and Arthur were missing, though as Ben pointed out they did have to come over from the Garden House, and Trevor, no doubt, was having to push Arthur.

Once we were all assembled, Ben led the way out to the yard, where a twelve-seater minibus, complete with rear lift for Arthur and the wheelchair, was waiting. We were quickly in, then waiting for the wheelchair to be loaded and secured. Once that was done it was only a ten-minute drive out of the estate and around the boundary road to the Dove, where, of course, we all quickly disembarked and then had to wait for Arthur and the wheelchair to be unloaded.

Getting a wheelchair into a seventeenth-century public house presented a bit of a problem. They were not particularly built to facilitate disabled access. However, with a bit of lateral thinking on behalf of the owner and some brute strength from the boys, it was achieved.

The boys were seated at one table whilst Bernard, Debora, Phil, Ben, Anne and I took up another. I was a bit disappointed to note that the steak-and-kidney pie was not on the menu tonight — a disappointment which I think Bernard shared. We both ended up going for the fish pie, which we agreed was good.

Just after we had sat down, Johnny came over to our table and asked if I could order a cider for him. Both Arthur and Trevor had ordered ciders, but being under eighteen, Johnny could not order one for himself. He could, though, drink one as he was consuming it with a meal and was over sixteen. It had, though, to be ordered by an adult.

"What's Joseph having?" I asked, remembering that it was not his birthday till the end of the month.

"He's ordered cola," Johnny informed me.

"Do you think it's fair, you having cider and him stuck on a soft drink?" I asked, somewhat in jest.

"He doesn't like cider or beer," Johnny replied.

"That's right," Bernard confirmed. He can have both at home but does not like them. In fact, the only alcohol he likes is red wine and then only the expensive stuff. You've been warned, Johnny, my son has expensive tastes and when you marry him, he will expect to be kept in the style he is accustomed to."

"Then I'd better ask for a big fat dowry," retorted Johnny.

"I'm Jewish, not Hindu," Bernard replied. "In Judaism, the husband pays the dowry to the bride's family to compensate them for the loss of the bride's economic value."

"You mean I have to pay for Joseph?"

"No, just keep him?" Debora laughed.

I ordered a cider for Johnny, who returned to his table.

Over dinner, Ben gave us feedback on the media response to Johnny's interview of the night before. It was not till Ben mentioned it, I realised I had not seen any newspapers that morning.

"Not surprising, really," Phil stated. "You've all kept to the 'family' side of the Hall with the wedding going on. The newspapers are put in the library and the breakfast room for the guests in the morning. Of course, as family, you've all be using the Conservatory. I need to discuss this with Mary for the future. When we have family staying while there is an event on, we need to make sure newspapers are also put in the Conservatory."

"It's the Sunday's that are going to be the important ones," Ben stated. "Today's did not really have time between the transmission and them going to press to work anything up in the way of comment. Sunday's will have had time to think about it and take a position. Hopefully, it will be favourable."

I shared that hope.

Debs asked Phil how the film was going?

"At the moment it looks good," Phil replied. "The interaction between Trevor and Tyler is working. If it continues once we are on location, we are going to have a great film."

Just then the waitress came over to clear the table and enquire if we would like desserts. Ben, Phil and I just went for coffee, while Bernard, Debora and Anne all went for a dessert and coffee. Bernard and Anne were going for the peanut-butter-and-chocolate cheesecake and Debora going for a banana surprise. All the boys went for desserts, all selecting the ice-cream sundae.

We all got quite a laugh when Deb's banana surprise turned up. A split banana on the plate, filled with fruit and covered in syrup. At one end was a mound of whipped cream; at the other, two artistically placed scoops of ice-cream. Debs blushed, then tucked into it with gusto.

As they were eating their desserts, I noticed the volume of talk arising from the boys' table was getting increasingly loud. While before it had been a gentle murmur in the background, now I could make out individual words and phrases, some of which sounded quite angry.

Suddenly I quite clearly heard Trevor say, "Johnny, you have got to say something."

"As you fucking did," Johnny replied, his voice quite loud.

"I made a mistake," Trevor shouted back.

"Well, I'm not going to, so fuck you," Johnny shouted. With that, he stood up and walked out.

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