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Living with Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 35

"Well, I think that answers the question about whether they can afford it," Johnny said from behind me.

"Yes," I replied. "It also raises the question of the stairs."

Anne ushered the pair of them inside, waved Maddie off as she drove away to park behind the Stable House. Jasmin and Tariq stood just inside the door, looking unsure and a little bit lost. Johnny took charge; pushing me to one side, he stepped forward.

"Hi, I'm Johnny," he said, shaking hands with both of them. "That's my Dad, Mike, and that's Anne. Technically, she's my stepmother, but she would probably kill me if I called her that, wouldn't you, Anne?"

"Probably," Anne replied.

"Now come and sit down," Johnny continued. "Your mother's on the phone to Dad's agent, so she will probably be some time. Would you like a drink — tea, coffee, cola?"

"Coffee would be fine," Jasmin said, looking at Tariq, who just nodded.

"Right, I'll make some. Dad, Anne?" We both indicated we did not want any. "Dad, pop through to the study and tell Marcia that her kids are here and ask her if she would like a coffee." With that Johnny started to make the coffee, I went through to the study and passed on the message. Marcia did not want a coffee. She did, though, begin to wind up the call with Bob, promising to call again in the morning.

As soon as Marcia came into the kitchen, the kids got up and went to her for a hug. I went back to the study to check road conditions. When I got back to the kitchen, Anne and Johnny were busy preparing a meal. Marcia and the children were seated at the table, talking about their school day. I noticed the boy's speech was somewhat slurred, as if he was drunk.

"I have checked the road conditions, there is no point in trying to get to Lynnhaven, let alone Downshove, so it looks as if you are stuck here for the night," I stated. "Tariq, I noticed you have problems with your left leg. How are you with stairs?"

"As long as there are not too many, I can manage," he replied.

"Good, we have an apartment over the stables at the side of the yard," I informed them. "You can stay there tonight. We just need to get the beds made up; we were living in there till a week ago while this place was being refurbished."

"I'll run Marcia to Tesco's after dinner; she can pick up some toiletries and personal clothing for the morning," Anne stated from the stove.

"It's not necessary," Marcia stated. "We'll manage."

"Don't worry," Anne stated. "I was planning on going in this evening anyway. That idiot forgot half the shopping when he did it on Friday."

I was fairly sure I had not missed anything that was on her list. It was, though, a good excuse.

I realised that Marcia probably had a problem with money, so I suggested to Johnny that he show Tariq and Jasmin around the place. He took the hint and guided them off.

"Marcia, don't worry about the costs," I told her. "I can afford to sub you fifty till you get your advance from Bob."

"I don't know if I am going to get an advance from Bob," she stated.

"You will," I replied. "There was an email from him on my machine when I went to check the road conditions. He has looked up a few of your articles and is quite impressed. He is certain he can get the ghosting contract for you based on what you have written."

We spent the next half hour talking about the challenges of ghost-writing. I have done a fair amount in the past, so I was able to give her some useful pointers. My main advice was to write the chapters in your own style, putting in the technical facts as required. Then give the results to the celebrity and get them to rewrite the chapters to suit their style. Once they have done that, double-check the results to make sure that they have not altered any of the facts inadvertently. Do not try to write in the style of the celebrity; that never works. At least it does not work for technical writing. How it works with biographical writing, I don't know.

Marcia laughed when I made that point. It was then than Anne advised me that dinner was nearly ready and that I should find Johnny, Jasmin and Tariq. They were not difficult to find; all I had to do was follow the sound of combat, which was emanating from the computer game that was in progress.

After dinner, I suggested to Anne that I take Marcia to Tesco's as I thought it best to take the Hyundai Santa Fe, and I knew she was not keen on driving it. However, given the weather conditions, I thought it was advisable to use the four-wheel-drive vehicle rather than Anne's front-wheel-drive car. Anne agreed with me but stated she needed to come along as there were some things she did need to get. I asked Tariq and Jasmin if they wanted to join us, Tariq said no, and Jasmin said she'd better stay with her brother. I then requested Johnny to sort out bedding for the beds in the apartment.

We were just about to leave when Neal came across and said he was taking the girls back to their hotel; he asked if I could pick them up in the morning. I was surprised by this and asked why; he said he was driving down to see Arthur and would be leaving early. They had tried to book a taxi for the girls, but all the cabs in the area seemed to be on school runs at nine in the morning.

As we were talking, I noticed that Neal was looking at Tariq with an expression that indicated a degree of anger.

I agreed to pick up the girls in the morning but did say it would not be until half-past nine. It was not until I was driving to Tesco's with Anne and Marcia that it occurred to me that Maddie could have gone down to pick the girls up. Neal had just used the excuse of asking me to get a look at Tariq. I wondered what was going on.

The Tesco store closest to us is one of the out-of-town megastores, so has a good clothing section. Anne was able to persuade Marcia to get the kids and herself a change of clothes for the morning. She also got some basic groceries, which I was sure I had got on Friday; then I realised Anne would put these in the apartment kitchen so that Marcia could make some breakfast in the morning.

When we got back to the Priory, Anne shoved Marcia and me into the kitchen, instructing me to put the kettle on. Johnny, who was in the kitchen, was called out to give a hand. I put the kettle on and made a pot of tea; also a jug of coffee. I have never been big on drinking coffee in the evening, but Anne and others seem to like it. I had just got both made when Anne and Johnny came back into the kitchen, both smiling.

"Where are Tariq and Jasmin?" Marcia asked. I must admit that I had been wondering about that myself but had decided it was probably best not to ask.

"Tariq is up in my room, playing on the PlayStation," Johnny said. "I had only just come down to get us some cola when you got back. Jasmin is over with Maddie. According to Neal, they are watching some chick flick. Neal decided to drive down to Richmond tonight.

Neal leaving tonight surprised me. It was only a couple of hours max to Richmond. The rain had stopped, and there was no more in the forecast, so no risk of further flash floods. It occurred to me that Neal probably was not going directly to Richmond.

"Now I'd better get this up to Tariq." He opened the fridge and took out a two-litre bottle of cola.

I went to check my emails; there was one from Bob. When I opened it, I found it was a cc to me of an email addressed to Marcia. It contained a note saying he was copying it to me in case she could not get access to her email account. I opened it up and printed off the authorisation to represent that was attached, then took it through to Marcia.

Marcia read through it, then asked me what I thought of it. I read it, but it was all fairly standard. It was essentially just a basic authority for Bob to represent Marcia in putting her name forward for commissions. It would be superseded by any contract Bob and Marcia entered into for Bob's agency to represent her. All Bob was doing was covering the situation until it could be formalised.

I explained that to Marcia, who agreed that was how she had read it. That being understood, she signed it and asked me if I could scan it and send a copy back to Bob, an act I was happy to undertake.

Once that was out of the way, I returned to the kitchen and joined Anne and Marcia at the table. Anne had put a plate of biscuits on the table to go with the tea, which Marcia and I were drinking, or the coffee, which was Anne's choice.

"How bad are Tariq's injuries?" I asked.

"Chawish broke his right cheekbone and fractured his skull," she stated. "There was a subcarinal haemorrhage, and Tariq's right eyeball was ruptured. The haemorrhage effectively was a stroke. Tariq has lost some use of his left arm and leg; his speech is also slurred, and there is a facial droop on the right side. The doctors assure me he will recover use in time, maybe not one-hundred percent, but a lot more than he has now.

"As to the eye, it is anyone's guess. They did emergency ophthalmic surgery and think they may have saved it, but it will be some weeks before we know. Even then, there is likely to be some loss of vision."

"How is he going to be with the stairs to the apartment?" I asked. "If necessary, either Johnny or I could carry him up."

"I don't think they will be a problem," Marcia replied. "He is slow on stairs, he has to take them one step at a time, but he can manage them. He managed the ones up to my Aunt's office at her synagogue when we visited."

"You're Aunt's synagogue?" Anne asked.

"Yes, Aunt Miriam is a rabbi, much to my grandmother's disgust," Marcia stated. "She wanted Daniel, my mother's younger brother, to be the rabbi; he's a used-car salesman in Twickenham. 'My daughter, the rabbi', does not quite sound right to people of her generation."

"So, are you Jewish or did you convert when you married Chawish?" I enquired.

"I'm Jewish, though very much non-religious," Marcia replied. "Chawish's family must be happy with the breakup of our marriage; they never liked the fact that he had married a Jew."

"How is your family coping with Tariq's orientation?" I asked.

"We're Reform Jews; we believe that God made us all in his own image. God does not make mistakes, so if he made some of us homosexual, it was his intention; it reflects part of what he is. As Rabbi Saperstein says: to discriminate against a person arising from ignorance, fear or hatred is inconsistent with this fundamental belief."

"I must get you to talk to Debora," Anne stated.

"Debora?" Marcia asked.

"She's a friend; I am sure you will meet her. If you are going to get a literary agent, I am sure Mike will tell you to use Bernard for your solicitor. Debora is his wife. Their son is gay; in fact, he is Johnny's boyfriend."

"Johnny's gay?" Marcia asked.

"Oh, yes," I replied. "Johnny is gay, out and proud."

We chatted for a few more minutes, then Johnny and Tariq came in.

"Johnny's checked on the school website," Tariq told his mother. "It's closed tomorrow due to transport problems with the flooding. So, no school."

"You sound happy," Johnny commented.

"Yes, they won't be making fun of me," Tariq stated.

"Whose making fun of you?" Marcia enquired.

"Everybody," Tariq answered. "All the kids and some of the teachers. They laugh at me because Jasmin has to carry my lunch tray for me. And Mr. Cains calls me a useless cripple."

"Letterman High does not have a good reputation," Anne stated.

"Unfortunately, Downshove is in the catchment area, and the only other school that covers that area was already full," Marcia replied. "Look, it's getting late, and school or no school I think I need Tariq and Jasmin to get to bed."

"I'll call Maddie to send Jasmin over," Johnny said, going off to my study.

"How are you two fixed for college tomorrow?" I asked Marcia and Anne.

"We were told no classes till Thursday," Anne replied.

"I presume it's the same for Johnny," I stated. Anne nodded. "In that case, may I suggest, Marcia, that you join us around ten in the morning, and I can hopefully get you through to Downshove — that is, if the road to Lynnhaven is open."

Marcia agreed. Jasmin came across from the Stable House and joined her mother and brother. Anne showed them up to the apartment. Some twenty minutes later, she came back into the kitchen.

"You'd better offer her the apartment in the morning if you know what's good for you," she stated.

"I will," I stated, but I need to talk to Bob first thing and find out what her earning potential is," I replied.

"Why do you need to know that?" Johnny asked.

"So, I know where to pitch the rent," I replied.

"Can't you let her have it rent-free?" Johnny stated. "It's not like you need the rent."

"Johnny, to have any degree of security, she needs to be paying rent," I informed him. "However, she is a student, so can't get housing benefits, so I need to set the rent at a rate she can afford."

"Actually, Mike I think she can get housing benefits," Anne stated.

"How come?" I asked.

"Well she's a part-time student," Anne informed me. "She is only doing twelve hours of classes and study a week, and you need a minimum of twenty-one to qualify as full-time. I think part-time students can get housing benefits."

"I'll look into that tonight," I stated.

"Don't bother, Dad; I'm doing it," Johnny stated. I turned to look at him. He had his phone out doing some searching.

We talked around the subject for the next half hour, then Anne decided she was going to turn in for the night. I went to my study, emailed Bernard, asking him to phone me as soon as he got to the office in the morning, then sent one to Matt asking what the going rent for the apartment would be in this area.

I was a bit surprised when an email notification popped up ten minutes later saying I had mail from Matt. He must have been working late. I opened the email. He said that I could probably get between seven-fifty and eight-fifty a month for it. Matt did point out that I would make a lot more from holiday lets, being able to charge up to six-hundred a week for the two-bedroom unit and four-hundred for the one-bedroom unit, once they were separated. However, he did point out that it was only from April to September, and I would probably only get fifty-percent occupancy. I did the calculations, that was still two thousand more than what I would get letting to a tenant. Then, as Johnny had pointed out, it was not as if I needed the money.

I managed to finish off an article that I had been working on, then went up to bed just before twelve, which for me was early.

I was up nice and early on Wednesday morning, got the coffee on and made tea for myself. Then I put on the local radio, not my usual choice of morning listening. I much prefer Radio 4, but I needed to find out what the local road conditions were like. Not good from what I could make out, but at least the road to Lynnhaven was open for high-clearance vehicles. I just hoped the Santa Fe classed as such. Thought it probably did, given it was one of the older models.

I was sipping my tea and nibbling on some toast when Johnny came into the kitchen. He got himself a mug of coffee, which he promptly filled with sugar, then put the rest of the sugar in the basin on a bowl of muesli before dousing it with milk.

"I see you like coffee with your sugar," I commented.

"Only because you can't make decent coffee," he responded. "You always pour the boiling water onto the coffee in the filter. It's too hot; it scalds the coffee. You should let the water go off the boil before you pour it on the coffee."

"Where did you learn that?"

"In France, Marcel's mother taught me to make decent coffee; it's not hard so long as you remember that coffee and boiling water do not go together. At least if you are making a brewed coffee."

"You seem to know a lot about coffee," I commented.

"Marcel's mother had a family interest in a coffee-import business; she knew a lot about it and taught me a lot about it. The thing is, if you are brewing coffee, as in a cafeteria or a filter system, the water is in contact with the coffee and draws the volatile compounds out of the coffee into solution. The bitter volatiles come out in water above ninety-eight centigrade. Essentially boiling water. Below ninety-eight but above ninety-two you get the milder flavour volatiles, so you get a nicer cup of coffee."

"But what about the coffee machines in the coffee shops? They use boiling water, as does the expresso thing that Anne sometimes uses on the stove."

"Dad, that's a different process. It's pressure extraction rather than brewing. The water is forced through the coffee under pressure. It does not stay in contact with the coffee for any length of time. So, it does not extract the bitter volatiles — or at least not in the amounts that brewing would at that temperature. That said, expresso coffee has a bitter edge to it; that's why it's served in such small cups."

"Getting a lesson on coffee, I see," Anne said as she walked into the kitchen. "You could do with listening to him, Mike; you make awful coffee."

"So, my coffee fills you with awe, does it?" I responded.

"Stop being pedantic," Anne replied. "I am using awful in its modern sense: something terrible. Bacon?"

"Yes, please," both Johnny and I responded.

Just then the phone went; it was Bernard, so I took the call in my study. As briefly as I could, I explained the situation with Marcia and that I wanted to offer her the apartment to rent but would need a lease drawn up. Bernard asked for her full name; that stumped me for a bit until I remembered the representation agreement that she had completed the night before. The original was still by my scanner waiting for me to post to Bob.

"Marcia Miriam Glockenberg," I told Bernard.

"Glockenberg, that's a Jewish name," he responded.

"Yes, she is Jewish," I replied.

"And you say she is having a hard time of it?" Bernard asked.

"Yes," I responded. "She's struggling, and the boy is being bullied at school."

"What do you mean, bullied?"

I spent the next ten minutes giving Bernard a rundown on what we had learnt yesterday.

"Right," he said when I had finished. "Tell her to call Debora and explain her situation. Then she is to phone me. She needs me to deal with Bob; I can also help her on other matters."

"How can Debs help?" I enquired.

"Well, she is one of the major fundraisers for some Jewish charities and is a trustee of a few; she should know what help is available."

I had just finished the call with Bernard when Bob called. Anne also called that the bacon was ready. I asked Bob if I could call him back in twenty minutes. He said yes.

Once I had consumed my breakfast bacon, fried bread and eggs, I went back to the study and phoned Bob. First off, I checked that he had received the scanned copy of the authorisation to represent. He had, then asked me to confirm that an original would be posted to him today, which I did.

"What do you think her earnings potential is?" I enquired.

"Well, with the ghost-writing and if she can get the Kingly and Dean work, she should clear fifteen grand next year. We could probably get her more work on top of that. Why?" he asked.

"Could you put a two-grand advance in the agency contract for her?" I asked.

"I could, but why should I?" he asked. "I know we should get her fifteen grand. In fact, I hope we could get her more, but nothing is sure until the work is done. Can't do a two-grand advance to an unknown, it's just not done."

"Not even if I say I will cover the advance if it does not work out?" I enquired.

"Well, if you want to do that, I could consider it," Bob stated.

"Then do it," I stated. "Get the agency contract written up for her with the two-grand advance in it and email it to her before ten, copy me in on the email so I get a copy I can print out for her."

"OK, Mike, I don't know what you are playing at, but I'll do it, so long as you assure me that you will cover the advance if things don't work out?"

"I will," I promised.

That sorted, I went back to the kitchen, made another pot of tea and made some toast. I was just finishing off my toast and marmalade when Marcia and the kids came in from the apartment.

Before Marcia could say anything, Anne asked them if they had had breakfast.

"Yes, we did, Anne. We don't normally have much breakfast, so everything we needed was in the kitchen," Marcia replied.

"What did you think of the apartment?" Anne enquired.

"It's perfect," Marcia replied. "Wish I could find somewhere like it. Tariq really needs his own room."

"Well, why not move into it?" I asked.

"What?" Marcia stated.

"Why not move into it? I was planning on splitting it into two apartments for holiday lets, but there is no reason I can't let the whole thing to you if it is suitable," I replied. "At the very least, it would give you somewhere to live while you look for somewhere else, and it gets the kids out of the Letterman High catchment area."

"Does it?" she asked.

"Yes," Anne responded. "We're the wrong side of the marsh; there are no direct transport links from here to Letterman High. I'm not certain, but I think there are three upper schools serving this area. Kennedy, Southmead Road College — though that's known as Dunford High — and Queen Elizabeth High, though that is a bit of a trek to get to. They are all fairly good schools. Southmead Road and Queen Elizabeth are fairly modern; they were both rebuilt a few years back. Kennedy is a bit rundown. It was built in nineteen sixty-three, as the name suggests, and could do with being refurbished. However, it does have the best reputation for teaching."

"I would love it, but I'm not sure I could afford it," Marcia stated.

"Look, let me look into what the rent would be, then we can look into what housing benefits will pay," I said.

"But, I'm a student, so I can't claim housing benefits," Marcia stated.

"But you're part-time," Anne pointed out. "That means you are not excluded from housing benefits."

"Can we move here? Please, Ma," Tariq said. "I'm tired of not having my own room, and I hate Letterman High." Marcia looked at her son, then turned to me.

"Any idea what the rent would be?" she asked.

"I think about eight hundred a month," I stated. "You would need to put up a month's rent in and a month's deposit."

"That might be a problem," Marcia stated. "I only have a couple of hundred saved. Will probably have to ask my parents for help, though I don't like doing that."

"Don't panic about that," I stated. "I think you might be able to get some advance from Bob when he puts things together; that might help."

"I hope so," she replied.

"Have you checked your emails today?" I asked.

"No," she replied, pulling her phone out of her bag. She scanned through a few, then looked up. "Bob's sent an email with an attachment. It's copied to you. Could you print the attachment out?"

I was happy to do so, having a reasonably good idea of what was in it. Some five minutes later, I was laying the ten-page contract in front of Marcia. She looked at it with some trepidation.

"This looks a bit complicated," she commented. "Do you think I need a lawyer?"

"Probably you should speak with Bernard LeBrun," I told her. "Bernard represents a couple of other writers and me, so he knows these sorts of contract. Before you speak with him, I think you should speak to his wife. First, though, you need to read the contract."

Just then the phone went; it was Bob, so I took the call in my office.

"Is Marcia still with you?" he asked.

"Yes," I answered.

"Has she signed the contract?" he enquired.

"She's reading it now, then Bernard is going to look at it," I told Bob.

"Shit, he'll screw me blind," Bob stated.

"Probably," I responded. "Why is it so urgent?"

"Contacted Robert Langley this morning, told him you were not available to do the articles at the moment but suggested Marcia. He asked to see something of hers, so I sent him links to a couple of her pieces that are online. He's hooked. He's just emailed me with an offer for her, the full twenty-eight articles at seven-fifty each. They will put up a five-grand advance. Do you think she'll take it?"

"She would be stupid not to," I responded. "Do you want to speak to her?"

"If I could," he replied.

"OK, but don't try to talk her out of getting Bernard to review the contract."

"I won't, Mike," Bob replied. "It is a fairly standard one, and Bernard has already approved it for two other writers, so I don't see any problems."

"Good, I'll get Marcia for you."

I went to get Marcia, telling her to use the phone in my study and that when she was finished, she should speak with Debora and then Bernard. Told her there was no rush as it would be at least another two hours before we could set off for Lynnhaven.

In the end, it was more like three hours before we could set off to get Marcia and her children home. She had phoned Debora and Bernard but had not said anything about the calls, and I was not going to ask.

One thing that had been decided was that she was going to take the apartment, which was why Johnny was also with us. He informed me that Tariq would need help to pack his stuff up, though I had got the impression from Marcia that they did not have much.

As we were driving over to Lynnhaven and Johnny was talking about the logistics of getting Marcia moved, I suddenly had a thought. "What's happened to your car," I asked. "You said you drove down to your parents."

"I did," Marcia replied. "Came down in the Range Rover; it was a company car; the bank seized it two weeks later. Can't afford to buy another."

"So, when are you going to move into the apartment?" I asked as we turned away from the coast, going inland to avoid Long Creek. "You don't have to wait until the paperwork is sorted."

"It will have to be next week. My parents are back then and can help me with the move," Marcia stated. "Wish it could be earlier so that the kids could move school."

"Why can't they?" Johnny asked. "All you need is a letter from Dad confirming he is leasing you the apartment with effect from today. So far as the education authorities are concerned, you have moved today. It does not look like Letterman High will be open this week, so you should be able to get them transferred for the start of next week."

"It's an idea," I stated.

"We could try it," she agreed.

Even though the flash floods had receded, there was still standing water on many of the roads. Worse still there was a layer of slippery mud in many places. I was thankful we were in a four-wheel drive.

"Incidentally," I enquired, "how did you get into Southmead? It must be more difficult from Downhove than it is from Dunford."

"I cycled to Smetterling and got the bus from there. My cycle, hopefully, is still chained up by the bus stop," Marcia stated.

"Well, we'd better go and check it and get it back once we have got to your parents' and dropped the kids off," I stated.

"Can we start packing?" Jasmin asked.

"I think so," Marcia stated. "Though, we won't move until Grandma and Grandad are back."

"When's that?" Tariq asked.

"They get back late Saturday but are staying in a hotel by the airport Saturday night. They are driving back on Sunday," Marcia answered.

The drive from Dunford to Lynnhaven was not too bad. Except for a couple of particularly muddy spots, there were no real problems. Getting from Lynnhaven to Downhove was another matter. Just over the hill from my old house, it became apparent that the road must have acted as a funnel for all the excess water that was flowing in. There was mud and debris all over it. To make matters worse there were several abandoned vehicles, some of which appeared to have been swept away by the flood and dumped in the most inconvenient places. It took us nearly an hour to get from Lynnhaven to Downhove, a trip which in normal circumstances would have taken ten minutes at the most.

Fortunately, it looked as if Downhove itself had avoided the flash flood. Probably because the main road through the village was straight and ran down to what had once been a fishing harbour, I guessed that the water had run down the road like a river and never got backed up enough to rise and threaten the houses. This thought was confirmed when we pulled up outside the house indicated by Marcia. As we got out, her neighbour came out and said how worried they had been. Apparently, the flood water had risen to the end of the gardens but got no higher.

Once inside the house, it was clear to see this was an old fisherman's cottage that had been modernised. No doubt, what the upstairs accommodation was now had once been a sail-loft or something similar. Marcia insisted on making tea for herself and me, Johnny opted for coffee, and the two kids raided the fridge for a cola.

"How do we do the packing?" Tariq asked.

"I would pack up the stuff you know you are not going to need for the next few days," Johnny said. "Then we can put some of it in the Santa Fe to take back with us. That way, there will be less for you to move on Sunday."

This came as a surprise to me, though I realised it made sense. Jasmin and Tariq quickly started to talk about what they could or could not pack. I suggested to Marcia that we leave them to it and go and recover her bike.

Once we got to Smetterling, it became clear that it had suffered badly in the flood. There was still standing water in the roads, up to a foot deep in places. A number of cars which must have been parked along the main road had been washed into people's gardens. Marcia expressed concern for her bike. She was right to be concerned. Although it was still in place, chained securely to the iron railing fence by the bus stop, it was clear that something quite substantial had been rammed into it by the force of the flood. Both her wheels were badly buckled, and the frame appeared to be bent.

My advice to Marcia was that it was probably not worth repairing. It was then she told me what it had cost, an amount that made my eyes water. Given that, I could see why she probably would want to try and repair it. Luckily, I had roof bars on the Santa Fe, and I always carry some bungee cords in the back, so I was able to fasten the bike on the roof. The condition it was in, with the mud of questionable origin, there was no way I wanted it inside. Good job I carried a pack of disposable gloves in the car, as well.

The round trip to Smetterling and back to Marcia's parents' house took not more than forty minutes. It was, therefore, something of a surprise to find that there were already some eight boxes of stuff waiting for us in the hallway. I got Johnny to help me put down the seats in the Santa Fe, and then we started loading. I was surprised by the weight of the boxes, which were not large, being A4 archive boxes. When I mentioned this to Johnny, he informed me they were Tariq's books. It seems they had been stored in the garage at the rear of the property and not been unpacked as there was no room in the house for them.

I was a bit concerned about whether there would be room for them in the apartment and mentioned the concern.

"Dad, they are only going to need one kitchen," Johnny pointed out. "The area at the top of the end stairs — where you were going to put in a kitchenette for the second apartment — is big enough for Tariq to use as a study."

He had a point there, though I would have to speak with Matt about enlarging the kitchenette into a proper kitchen if the whole apartment was going to be used as long-term accommodation. The question, though, was could this be done before Marcia moved in? Whilst Johnny was loading the boxes into the back of the car, I phoned Matt and asked him to meet me back at the Priory. He told me he was planning on a site visit that afternoon so would check in with us.

He was waiting in the kitchen, having a mug of coffee with Anne, when Johnny and I got back. I explained the situation to Matt. He pulled out some drawings of the apartment and made some suggestions. I had thought he would try to expand the current kitchenette, but he vetoed that idea, saying it would take too much time and effort. He did point out, though, that we had not installed the second bathroom which would have been needed if we split the space into two holiday apartments. His idea was to strip out the kitchenette and put a full kitchen in what was going to be the second bathroom. The current kitchenette could be made into a shower room and a small study. That would leave the apartment with three bedrooms, one en suite, one full bathroom and a shower room. It would also have two reception rooms and a small study. I asked him how long it would take and what it would cost.

"To be honest, Mike, without doing a full costing, I can't tell you, but it will probably not cost more than five hundred over what you were going to be paying for having the extra bathroom put in," Matt told me. "Also, you will be saving, as you will not need to put in the external fire escape; the staircases at each end provide two separated exits in case of an emergency. You will be saving a few grand on that. All the plumbing we need is already in place, so that makes things easier. If I pull the lads off the guest wing and work overtime, we could get it done by Saturday afternoon."

With that information, I went and phoned Marcia and told her what I had in mind. I did not want to change the layout of the place without her agreement, as she would be renting it. Fortunately, she thought it was a good idea. So, I went back and told Matt to go ahead. I also told him to put plenty of bookshelves up in the study area.

That got me thinking that I did not want the apartment to be on the same network as the main house. A quick call to Maddie confirmed that would be no problem; she would install a separate router just for the apartment. It was already on a different network in its own right; it had only been linked into the house network.

Southmead College was closed till the end of the week due to damage caused by the flash flood. Although none of the teaching facilities were damaged, some of the support areas had been flooded, and there was a major clean-up in progress. It was felt that it would be unsafe to allow students back onto the premises until it was finished. As a result, both Johnny and Anne were at home for the next couple of days, which was useful, as it turned out there were a hundred-and-one things that had to be taken care of before I could allow Marcia to move into the apartment. Fortunately, Bernard sent me a list of everything that had to be sorted out.

More surprisingly, Debora phoned to say they would be coming up on Saturday night, and could we put them up? Anne took the call and just confirmed that it would be alright, then told me we had guests coming.

"Who?" I asked.

"Debora, Bernard and Joseph," she replied.


"Saturday night. Should get here about half-nine to ten," she answered.

That figured. They would not leave until after the end of Shabbos, and sunset was just after seven, so three stars would not be visible till getting on for eight-fifteen. If they were driving up from London, it would be an hour-plus, if, from Kent, they were looking at two hours.

Thursday morning, Johnny and I made another run to Downhove, bringing back a car full of boxes, plus Tariq. I was not entirely sure how I had come to agree to putting Tariq up in the Priory until Marcia moved into the apartment. However, Johnny assured me that I had. He informed me that there were good reasons for Tariq to be staying with us. I suspected that the main reason was that Johnny was bored, as there was nothing for him to do at the yard, and college was closed till Monday.

In the end, it turned out that having Tariq around was useful. Sarah Colman came round on Thursday afternoon asking if it would be permissible for her to take some photographs of the site. Dr. Portage had asked her to do a presentation about it at an industrial-archaeology conference. Johnny and Tariq spent the afternoon holding measuring tapes and survey sticks in position while Sarah took photos.

I stood at the top of the drive, watching them working at the bottom of the sloping lawn that ran down to Pound Pond and got quite interested in what they were doing. So much so, I did not realise that anyone had walked up the drive from the gate until a voice behind me asked if that was the boy whose father had beaten him. I turned and found Miss Jenkins standing behind me.

"Yes," I replied. "How did you know about it?"

"His sister told Maddie the story when she was bringing them back from school," she replied. "Maddie told Neal, who informed me.

"A most disgusting act by a parent: to turn on a child."

There was a venom in the voice which made me feel sorry for anyone it was aimed at.

"I didn't hear you arrive," I stated.

"Got Stanley to drive me up," she responded. "Dropped me off at the Crooked Man. I needed to see Mary; then I walked up. Want to have a chat with the girls just to see if everything is going OK. Neal can give me a lift into Dunford later; need to check on the hotel. Stanley is there now, doing a surprise stocktaking."

I sincerely hoped there were no problems with the stock. I had never met Stanley, but from a couple of things Neal and Maddie had said about Miss Jenkin's driver-cum-bodyguard, I was not sure I would like him finding any shortages in my inventory.

We spent a few minutes chatting, then she made her way over to the Stable House, having first extracted an invitation to join Anne and me for tea at three. I decided I'd better check with Anne that we had some fancy cakes. Somehow, I thought Miss Jenkins would expect fancy cakes for tea.

That was an idea that Anne quickly corrected for me. "Scones, clotted cream and jam," she told me. "Run down to Tesco's and get some clotted cream, can you. While you're at it, you might as well get this lot." She handed me a list.

I got back about quarter to three, having decided to visit Office World on the way back to stock up on some supplies. Johnny and Tariq had just finished helping Sarah with the photography and were walking across the yard as I drove in, so I got them to help with unloading the supplies. To be more correct, I got Johnny to help, as I was not certain how much Tariq could do, but he joined in anyway. I extended an invitation to Sarah to join us for tea, but she declined.

Anne took charge of telling the boys where to put what. I grabbed the boxes of paper and printer inks and made my way to my study, then spent a few minutes checking my emails. There was nothing urgent, though there were a couple of enquiries for articles that would be nice commissions. Unfortunately, there were also several requests for articles that were totally outside my field. I wondered again about using an agent for my article writing.

There was one important email that was from Irene Kaufman. She had been in contact with Martin Shelt and had a formal offer from him. Irene's advice was that I should decline; she thought she could get me a lot better deal; however, she had to put what was on offer before me.

I opened up the attached offer document and read it. To me, it looked like an excellent deal, and I would have taken it. However, when I opened Irene's comments documents, I saw what she was pushing for. She had no problem with the fees, which she stated were quite fair for a first-time presenter. What she did have a problem with was the parts of the contract relating to the intellectual-property rights. I emailed her back agreeing with all her comments, then went and joined the tea party in the kitchen.

When I got there, Miss Jenkins was already seated at the table talking with Tariq. She looked up from the scone she was spreading jam on as I entered the room.

"Mr. Carlton," she said, "thank you for inviting me for tea; I always love a good scone."

"I hope they are good," I stated. "They are only Tesco's."

"Don't knock them," she replied. "I can tell by the way they cut, that they are good scones, you did not buy the cheap, own-brand ones."

I just nodded by way of reply.

We all sat around the table tucking into scones, clotted cream and jam, chatting about everything and nothing. It seemed to me that Miss Jenkins was subtly manipulating the conversation, so it kept coming around to Tariq's interests and activities. It turned out he liked music and maths. He told Miss Jenkins that he had been studying for his grade-five piano before the attack by his father.

"I hope you are going to keep it up," she stated.

"With this?" he asked, indicating his limp left arm.

"Of course, with that," Miss Jenkins replied. "You need to start trying to use it. Until you do, you won't know what you can do."

"Wish I could," Tariq answered. "Not much chance, though; we don't have a piano now." There was a combination of bitterness and sadness in the boy's voice.

"I think we can sort that," Miss Jenkins stated. Then she looked across the table at me. "I presume somebody will be around tomorrow?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Good, expect a delivery." With that, she turned her back to Anne and started to discuss something totally different. Johnny and Tariq looked at me; I just shrugged my shoulders.

About ten minutes later, Miss Jenkins stated that she needed to think about getting back to London. She pulled out her phone and made a call. A few minutes later, an X-Type Jaguar came into the yard. I walked out with Miss Jenkins to her car. As we approached, a large man, who looked as if he was quite capable of going more than a few rounds with the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, got out of the driver's door, walked around and opened the rear passenger door for Miss Jenkins.

I said my goodbyes to Miss Jenkins as she got into the car. Just before the man, whom I took to be Stanley, closed the door, she held up her hand.

"Mr. Carlton, I do not doubt that Tariq's mother will need assistance to move," she stated. She then opened her handbag, sorted around for a few seconds, then removed a business card. "Tell her to contact these people. She is to ask for Bernard Saunders. Once she is speaking to him, she is to say that Aunty said she was to phone. They will sort out her removal for her and there will be no charge.

The card she handed me was that of one of the leading specialist removal companies in the country. I knew of them by name. They usually dealt with the moving of high-value items, specifically works of art. I wondered what their connection was to Miss Jenkins.

As I walked back to the kitchen, Johnny and Tariq came out. Johnny informed me that he was going to show Tariq around the grounds.

Once I got back inside, I did phone Marcia and gave her the information on the card and the instructions Miss Jenkins had given. She said she would follow it up. About an hour later she phoned back to tell me that it was all set up for a removal firm to move her — on Sunday of all days.

Over dinner, I noticed that Tariq looked worried. He kept glancing at Johnny. Johnny was not unaware of this and seemed to be getting a bit annoyed. Eventually, he leaned over and whispered to Tariq that he was not going to say anything. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it depends on your point of view, I have excellent hearing, and our kitchen has good acoustics. I clearly heard what Johnny said.

"What won't you say anything about?" I asked.

The two boys looked horror-stricken. I told them to finish their meal, and we would talk in my study after. I had caught Johnny's glance at Anne. I think Anne had caught it as well; she had that knowing smile on her face.

We finished the meal; then I went to my study, Johnny and Tariq followed.

"Look," I said. "If there is something that you need to keep a secret, I can understand that. You do not have to tell me. However, if it is something that is causing either of you problems, maybe you should tell me. If it is something that could mean danger to yourself or somebody else, then you must tell me. I may be able to help."

"Well?" asked Johnny, looking at Tariq.

Tariq looked apprehensive, then took a deep breath, sighed and looked at Johnny. "You tell him."

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