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Living with Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 60

The sound of happy chatter surrounded me. The smell of mulled drinks filled the air, and there was a happy cackle in the atmosphere.

"Remind you of something?" Ben asked from behind me. I turned to face him. He was smiling. I thought for a bit. The place did remind me of somewhere, then it hit me.

"Hampstead," I stated.

"Yes, the Hampstead house," Ben replied. "We have everything at Manston, but it does not feel like this."


"Because, Mike, this is a home. Manston isn't; it's a place. It's not a home; it never will be. Phil and I have been discussing giving it up. It is never going to be our home, no matter how much time we spend there. It's a very grand hotel where we stay."

"So, you're selling Manston?" I asked.

"No," Ben replied. "We can't because the estate is part of the trust. However, we have been talking about selling the conference and wedding businesses, letting somebody else take over that. Phil suggested we should just make the Dowager House our home. I wasn't sure, but this has convinced me. Manston at Christmas never felt like this."

It was after ten when I made my way downstairs Christmas morning — not surprising it was that late as it had been getting on for three when I had gone up to bed. For a good part of the evening, Ben, Bernard and I had sat around telling tales of Christmases past — in Golders Green and Hampstead. Johnny, Joseph and Lee had sat listening to our tales. Lee left for his apartment just after midnight, with Johnny and Joseph going to their room about an hour later. That had not stopped the three of us reminiscing until Phil informed Ben that it was time they were in bed.

I did a final check around the house, then went up to bed. Before I did, though, I took one last look at the tree. Nobody had said anything about putting presents under it, but it seemed everybody had. I noticed the parcels I had packed up for Johnny, which had been in our bedroom were under the tree. I reckoned that Anne must have brought down the presents that were in our room. Before I went up the stairs, I went to my study and got a couple of packages to add to the pile.

Christmas morning was like most Christmas mornings in England: cold and damp. The smell of coffee and warm toast drew me into the kitchen. Flora was busy at the stove.

"Mornin', Mike," she said. "There is a breakfast buffet in the dining room. Anne just took fresh pots of tea and coffee through."

"You shouldn't be cooking," I said.

"Why not?" Flora asked.

"Because you're a guest," I stated

"Don't be stupid," she told me. "This is not Manston; it's my grandson's home, and I'm the visiting grandma. I'm being a grandma. Get it?"

I got it and went to get my breakfast. The table was set with a variety of breakfast dishes to help yourself from. It was Christmas, so I went for pork pie. I know, not the most normal of things, but my mother was from Leicestershire, and either a Melton Mowbray pork pie or a Walker's pork pie is traditional for Christmas breakfast in those parts. It was a tradition we had grown up with in London. Even Bernard had grown up with it, as he usually spent Christmas mornings with us. As I looked across the table, I saw he had not given up on it. Debora gave him a look.

"What can I say?" he asked. "It's traditional."

"It's certainly not kosher," Debora replied, smiling as she tucked into some smoked salmon.

"I suppose the boys are still asleep," I stated.

"Oh, no," Flora informed me as she placed a pile of toast on the table. "They went off early with my Jack. They're doing a Christmas rook shoot."

"We don't have any guns," I pointed out, hoping that Jack had not bought Johnny an air rifle. I knew most teenage boys around Stoke would probably have them.

"That's fine," Flora replied. "Jack's got his catapult, and he brought a couple down for the boys." Somehow the idea of Johnny and Joseph with catapults filled me with more dread than the idea of them having air rifles. Looking across at Bernard, I sensed he had similar feelings.

James, I noticed, was once again with Jenny. It seemed to me that they were spending a lot of time in each other's company.

Once I had finished breakfast, I found Anne and asked her what the plans were for the day.

"We're all meeting in the hall at one to hand out presents," she informed me. "The Queen will be on in the lounge at three for those who want to see it. We are planning dinner for four-thirty."

"We?" I asked.

"Debora and Flora are helping," she informed me. "To be honest, Flora has really taken over; Debs and I are just following instructions."

"What is there for me to do?" I asked.

"Not much, Mike, just be the host, keep the glasses filled and make sure everybody is in the right place at the right time."

I walked around the house; the women had all seemed to gather in the kitchen, except for Jenny. She was in the games room with James and JayDee, having been sucked into a game of Monopoly.

Phil and Ben were in the library, talking about some planned production. I noticed there was no sign of Tyler or Trevor. When I mentioned it, Ben informed me that they had both said they would be over for one. That reminded me I'd better let Lee know he should be over for one. I had no doubt he was taking advantage of having a long lie-in.

I found Bernard in my study reading a magazine from the pile I kept by my desk.

"Hope you don't mind," he said. "Decided this was the best place to catch you if I waited long enough."

"Not at all," I replied. "Why did you need to catch me?"

"I'm going in a week on Wednesday," Bernard informed me. "They say I will be in for at least two weeks."

"I thought you were going in on the Monday?"

"Change of plan. There are some last minute tests and scans they need to do, so doing them as an outpatient on the Monday, go in for the op on Wednesday."

"How do you feel about it?" I asked.

"Scared," Bernard replied.

"I can understand that; it's a major operation," I answered.

"It's not the operation," Bernard responded. "It's the aftermath that's the problem. I'll have a bloody colostomy bag to shit in. Not sure I can cope with that."

"Surely that's not permanent," I said, remembering some articles I had read on colostomies.

"They don't know," Bernard replied. "It depends on how much of the bowel they have to remove, how bad the cancer is, and a thousand-and-one other things. Not sure how things will work out."

"Well, there is not much you can do about it," I pointed out. Bernard agreed, then went on to tell me about the arrangements he had made regarding Johnny's legal affairs and mine.

"The house will be let in the new year," he informed me. "After agents' fees and stuff, it should clear three grand a month. I have set things up so half will go into Johnny's trust fund, and the other half will go directly to his bank account. He'll need accountants; I suggest you speak to yours about acting for him."

"What about the gold?" I asked.

"Nothing we can do about that," Bernard advised me. "Under the terms of Beryl's will, it goes into trust for Johnny. There is the issue of death duties, whether or not the trust is liable for them, but my opinion is that the answer is probably not. The asset is held outside of the United Kingdom and has never been in the UK. My godson is one very rich young man."

"Who wants to design yachts," I pointed out.

"With what he has got he can design as many as he likes," Bernard stated.

"I just hope it does not cause problems with Joseph," I commented.

"What do you mean?"

"Johnny is rich," I stated. "Actually, quite wealthy, even if it is tied up in trusts. How is that going to make Joseph feel?"

"I should not worry too much about that," Bernard told me. "Joseph is not that bad off in his own right. Not as rich as your Johnny, I'll give you, but plenty rich enough. Dad set up trusts for all the grandchildren; Aunt Ruth has made a couple of donations to the trusts. If she proves her claim to the Monet, I am sure she will be adding more."

"Claim to the Monet?"

"A Monet has surfaced in Austria," Bernard informed me. "Aunt Ruth claims it was looted from her uncle's house by the Nazis. It appears she has a strong claim on it. She's already claimed six or seven pieces that were part of the same collection. She's come to a settlement each time and put the funds into trust accounts for the great-nieces and great-nephews. Both Micah and Joseph have benefitted."

The sound of excited young voices reached us in the study. Tommy and Susan must have arrived with Steve. I checked with Bernard if there was anything important we needed to discuss.

"No, Mike, it's all covered," he informed me. "Martin is up to speed on everything, and he knows where all the paperwork is. If you have any questions, you can ask him. I've no doubt he will be around quite a bit."

"Marcia?" I asked.

"Yes," Bernard replied. "I think that relationship is getting fairly serious. Now I think we'd better get down towards all that noise; it sounds as if a couple of children have found the Christmas tree."

"What time is it?" I asked, just as the sound of a tam-tam rolled through the house. Something that surprised me as I did not know we had a gong."

"Nearly one," Bernard replied.

As we made our way down to the hallway, I found Anne standing in the corridor holding a small gong that looked slightly familiar and small for the sound it produced.

"Where did that come from?" I asked.

"The box of Christmas decorations you had stashed away in the bungalow," Anne replied.

I realised it must have been the gong my parents had in the Hampstead House. It must have been packed up when they moved and was never unpacked.

As we were talking, Jack and the lads came into the kitchen from the yard.

"Any luck?" I asked.

"Nah," Jack replied. "Not a bloody rook in sight. How can you have a Christmas rook hunt with no rooks?"

"Don't know," I replied. "Never had a Christmas rook hunt."

"You don't know what you're missing," Jack laughed in reply as he passed me on the way to the hallway. Johnny and Joseph followed him. I noticed all three had what looked like professional catapults sticking out of their back pockets. Bernard was standing there, shaking his head at the three of them.

"I think he is teaching them to be good working-class lads," Anne stated.

"Should we be worried?" Bernard asked.

"It's not worth worrying about something that you can't do anything about," Anne replied. I just agreed. Anne struck the gong again.

It was just after one when we got everybody assembled around the tree in the hall. The problem was I had no idea how to handle this. For a start, how did I get the presents from under the tree?

"Use the kids," Bernard suggested. I looked across to where Tommy and Susan were standing with their father.

"Tommy, Susan, could you help me?" I asked. They nervously nodded. So, I told them what I wanted them to do. Each was to take a present from under the tree and bring it to me; I would then tell them who to take it to. There were a couple of presents that were way too big for the kids to handle, I got Joseph and Johnny to handle those, which was good as it turned out those presents were for Joseph and Johnny.

Although nothing had been said, by some common consent nobody started to open their presents until they had all been distributed. I was pleased to see that both Tommy and Susan had a pile of presents each. Anne suggested people might like to take their presents into the sitting or the drawing-room to unwrap them. It seemed a sensible idea. I took mine into my study.

When I emerged from the study, I found Lee, Johnny and Joseph playing some sort of hoops game with JayDee, Tommy and Susan in the hall.

"It's drizzling outside," Lee informed me. I just told them to carry on enjoying themselves. I got the feeling that Lee, Johnny and Joseph were having more fun trying to get the rings over the post than Tommy and Susan were, what was important, though, was that they all seemed to be having fun.

I spent the afternoon until three wandering around like the good host, making sure that everybody was comfortable, had a drink and was occupied with something or other. At three, most of us had gathered in either the library or the lounge to watch the Queen's Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth. Lee, Johnny and Joseph were still playing hoops with JayDee, Tommy and Susan. Somehow it seemed that Tommy and Susan were winning. JayDee had teamed up with Lee and was complaining that Lee was a bad shot.

Tyler and Trevor were in the library with Phil and Ben; there was no sign of Arthur. When I commented on this, Trevor informed me he had gone over to the give the girls a break from covering the server. Arthur would, though, be joining us at four-thirty for dinner.

Bernard and Debora were in the sitting room with James and Jenny. I topped up their drinks for them, then went to the lounge where Anne, Flora and Jack had ensconced themselves for the Queen.

"Got anything decent for the toast?" Jack asked.

"Twenty-year-old single malt?" I asked.

"Yes, lad, that'll do," Jack replied.

"No, it won't," Flora stated. "He can have a small sherry like the rest of us."

I poured the drinks. We sat and listened to the Queen's Christmas address to the Commonwealth. When it finished, Jack stood up. "To the Queen." We all stood and partook in the toast.

That over, Flora quickly informed us that we were in the way and that all the men should depart to the far end of the house. That meant either my study or the library. We decided on the library.

Ben and Phil were already there with Trevor, Tyler and Arthur as we arrived. Tyler was speaking to Phil.

"It's just that it is too close to things for me."

"What's too close to things for you?" Jack asked as we walked in.

"It's a part in a film that Phil is making. He's asked me to play the lead," Tyler replied.

"So, what's the problem?" Jack asked.

"The lead character, Harry, is too much like me," Tyler replied. "He's born in Handsworth, part of Birmingham. Both his parents are petty criminals. When they are both jailed at the same time; he's taken into care, fostered to a white family in Sutton Coalfield. There, he is the only black boy in the school; at the foster home, he is loved and cared for far better than he ever was at his home. He starts to study hard to please his foster mum, ends up doing well at A-levels and goes off to college. By which time, he has abandoned all his black roots and adopted a white perspective on things."

"So?" Jack asked.

"It's too close to my own story," Trevor responded. "I was fostered to a white family — in my case in Kensington. They became more of a family to me than my real family ever were. They got me into drama school and acting."

They continued to discuss it for the next half hour. Somehow during that time, Jack persuaded Tyler he should take the part.

"Son," he said, "there are several actors who can probably play the part, but there is only one I know who knows what it's like to be a black kid in a white world and what that means to the man he becomes. You need to tell that story because it's your story."

Tyler just nodded.

"You'll do it?" Phil asked.

"Yes, get the contract; I'll sign it," Tyler replied. Phil smiled, went up to his room and returned with a set of contracts, which they signed. I did suggest to Tyler he might want Bernard to look them over.

"No point, Mike," he advised me. "I've already spoken to Bernard about them. He wrote them."

"When do you go into production?" I asked Phil.

"End of March is the plan," Phil responded. "Though we have a bit of flexibility there. Now we need to find the young actor who will play the part of Harry as the young boy."

"Isn't there going to be some criticism of a white director making a film about black identity?" I asked.

"I'm not directing it," Phil informed me. "Sharon Stevens — she's an assistant director on That Woman's Son — is going to direct it. All I am doing is producing it. Sharon is Black British of Trinidadian descent. I think they might find it difficult to attack her."

"You did not tell me Sharon was directing," Tyler stated.

"Does it make a difference?" Ben asked.

"Yes, it becomes a black story with a black director," Tyler responded. "It shouldn't, but it makes it a lot easier from the perspective of the black audience."

This led to a general discussion about preconceived audience perspectives. Jack, strangely enough, seemed quite happy to participate. I could not understand what they were talking about. I looked around for Bernard or the boys and noticed they were not with us. I guessed the boys were probably in Johnny's room, and Bernard would be in my study. I guessed right, at least as far as Bernard was concerned.

"Merry Christmas," I stated as I entered.

"It is, actually," Bernard replied. I looked at him questioningly. "Mike, it's not Manston, and that's the difference; this is a Christmas at somebody's home, not a hotel in the Midlands. I can relax and be myself. I don't have to worry about upsetting the staff and… Well, it's like it was in the old days."

"The Hampstead house?"

"Yes, like when your parents were alive; there was always life in that house; there is life here. It's home. You and Anne have made it a home."

"Don't forget Johnny," I pointed out.

"That's who you have made a home for," Bernard stated.

The tam-tam sounded, announcing that we needed to get to the dining room.

Christmas dinner was something totally different from anything I had expected; it was totally new, yet very familiar. It was like a Christmas dinner I remembered from years ago when I was at university and Ben was doing sixth form. Bernard had been there as well, and it was the year we['he'?] had met Debora.

Turkey, pork cooked with crisp crackling, tender hams and sausages were all served, together with piles of sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage with apple and raisins, plus a range of other vegetables and sauces. Each and every one of us overindulged and then did so again.

It was dark outside, and Anne had lit the candles on the table. Then Flora carried in a massive plum pudding, which she placed down on the centre of the table. Anne immediately poured a jug of warm brandy over it before adding a match setting the whole dessert ablaze. Soon we were all served with bowls of flaming Christmas pudding. Anne supplied a choice of cream, brandy butter, brandy sauce or ice cream to go with it. Tommy and Susan went for the ice cream, as did Joseph. I noticed Johnny looking at it, but I think he wanted to act grownup, so he opted for the brandy butter. That was also my choice, though I noticed most of the adults went for the brandy sauce.

With dinner over, liqueurs were passed around and toasts made—one to Anne, Debora and Flora for preparing the meal, then one to me for hosting the day. Dinner finished, Johnny said he and Joseph would look after the clearing up. Lee offered to help, but Johnny told him to take care of Tommy and Susan.

In the end, Arthur, Trevor and Tyler helped Johnny and Joseph clear up. Anne joined me in the sitting room, sharing the sofa with me as we watched a DVD that someone had either received or found. Shortly before eight, Steve thanked us for having him and the kids for the day but stated he had to go now to pick up Peter, who would be finishing duty at eight. Both Tommy and Susan came up to say thanks, then went to thank Lee for playing with them.

Steve's departure was the signal for others to start to leave. Arthur and Trevor went across the yard to the Stable House apartment. Tyler made his way back to the housekeeper's apartment. By ten, people started saying good night and going to their rooms. Anne told me she was getting an early night, given that Debora, Flora and she intended to hit the Boxing Day sales in the morning.

"What about Jenny?" I asked.

"I think she'll be doing the sales but with another party," Anne replied. I told her I would give it an extra half hour, then lock up the house before coming up.

She had not been gone for more than five minutes when Johnny came into the sitting room and took up the place on the sofa next to me.

"No Joseph?" I commented.

"He's talking to Uncle Bernie in the library. I think he is negotiating to stay here longer."

"As long as it is OK with Bernard, Joseph can stay till after the new year?"

"Thanks, Dad," Johnny said, giving me a hug.

"For letting Joseph stay, I get a hug?"

"No, for giving me a Christmas," Johnny replied. "I've never really had one before."

I took him into a hug and kissed him on the top of his head. "You're welcome, son; everybody deserves a proper Christmas, at least once in their lives."

He returned the hug, then left, no doubt to find Joseph and tell him he could stay, as I doubted Bernard would have said no. I set out to patrol the ground floor of the house, checking that all the outside doors were locked. That done, I made my way to bed.

Boxing Day opened up bright and sunny, but definitely cold. When I got down to the kitchen, I found Flora once more in command, telling me that there was a breakfast buffet in the dining room. She also informed me that Jack had gone off for a long walk and that she would be watching musicals in the lounge. Over breakfast, I tried to sort out what everybody was doing. Debora and Anne were off into Town for the Boxing Day sales. It turned out that Ben and Phil were also going into Town, so they had agreed to car-share, taking my Santa Fe. Phil, however, did say he was treating everybody to dinner at the Crooked Man that evening. So, by general consensus, we all agreed to sort lunch out for ourselves and then gather back together around seven for dinner at seven-thirty.

Bernard muttered that he was just providing the money, so saw no need to be dragged around the shops to see what it was being spent on. Johnny informed me that he and Joseph were going sailing with Steve. Lee, whom I had told to come over and join us for breakfast, informed me that his parents were coming over to take him out to lunch, though he said he would be back just after one as he had promised Marcia he would babysit the boys. He hinted that his mother wanted to see where he was living.

That all being settled, I went to my study and started to read some of the papers and magazines which I had in my must-read pile. I do not like it to get too high. By eleven, I had got about halfway through it. That might sound like a lot of reading, but in reality, it was not. A lot of the articles are the same article reformatted for a specific magazine. I know; I do the same. So, once I had read one version of an article, I did not need to read another version of it in a different magazine. I was usually able to identify an article I had already read in the first paragraph or so, so that allowed me to skip quite a few. Then there were the highly specialist articles that were completely out of my field. There was no point in me trying to read such work as there was little or no chance that I would understand it. Then there were the rehashes of earlier works. A magazine wants to put together a special edition on alternative energy and asks for submissions. Half the authors do not have the time to write anything new; they just take stuff they have already written and rehash it into a new article.

In general, I would find that I would get not more two or three articles per ten magazines I read that were worth reading. However, I had to plough through all the rest to find those. Deciding I had done enough ploughing through the pile for this morning, I went into the kitchen and made some tea — and coffee for Bernard, who I knew was in the library. Tea and coffee made, I took them through to the library.

He looked up from the book he was reading as I placed the tray down.

"Good book?" I asked.

"This year's Booker Prize winner," he replied.

"That does not mean it's good," I pointed out.

"You are right, but it is interesting, thought-provoking and very well written," Bernard replied.

"So, are some legal judgements," I pointed out. "By the way, I have not seen Micah or Bethany today."

"They left early, took my car," Bernard informed me. "They are spending the day with Bethany's grandparents in Huntingdon. I suspect they are going to finalise details of their wedding."

"I would have thought they would have told you and Debs first," I commented.

"Yes, but Bethany's family is from Singapore; the elders have to be told first," Bernard said, pouring himself a coffee. "How are things going with you?"

It took me a few moments to think about what Bernard had asked. Then I answered. "I'm not sure. Everything has changed so much."

"What do you mean?" Bernard enquired.

"Well, there I was at the start of the year a poor writer eking out a living on the east coast of England. Now, look at me. I'm a father, married and have a career as a TV personality, plus a not inconsiderable income. In less than twelve months, that is quite a change."

"Rubbish," Bernard stated. "First, of all, you were never an impoverished writer. You were making quite a good income from your articles and books. It wouldn't have mattered if you hadn't been; you could have lived comfortably on the income from your London properties. So, stop playing the impoverished-writer role. Second, you have always been a father; it is just the fact that your son has not been around. Third, you and Anne have been a couple for over ten years. The fact that you are now married has not made a difference to things."

"Yes, but there is this place," I pointed out. "We're hosting a Christmas as big as at Manston."

"But it is not Manston," Bernard replied. "This is your home, and we are having Christmas in your home. That's a major difference. This is your home, the home you have made for Johnny and Anne."

I was about to answer Bernard when there was a knock on the library door, which I had closed. Calling out to whoever was there to come in, I was a bit surprised to see Lee.

"Is it OK for me to take the car?" he asked.

"Yes, what are you doing?" I replied.

"I'm taking Tariq and JayDee ice skating," Lee informed me. I glanced at the clock and saw it was just past one.

"Not Jasmin?" I asked.

"No, Marcia and Jasmin are going to the sales. That's why I've got the boys."

"I suppose you've cleared it with James?" I enquired.

"Yes, it was James who asked me if I could look after the pair this afternoon; he is taking Jenny somewhere."

All that sorted, I told him to wait a moment and went up to my room to get my wallet. When I returned, I gave him a fifty to cover the costs for the afternoon as I knew he only had his discharge grant from the prison.

"You don't need to give me this," Lee informed me. "James has already given me fifty to cover expenses."

"OK, James has covered expenses; this covers the treats," I told him. Lee just shook his head and headed off.

"He seems a good lad," Bernard stated.

"I think he is. You know his history?" I asked.

"Yes, Martin informed me about the case," Bernard replied. "There are far too many cases like that; wish there weren't, but the Criminal Justice system is far from perfect and sometimes just totally busted."

"Martin seems to be getting awfully close to Marcia," I observed.

"I've noticed," Bernard replied. "I think there will be an announcement there fairly soon."

"I doubt that," I stated. "Though I would not be surprised if they moved in together."

"Why not get married?" Bernard asked.

"I reminded him about the clause in the will."

"Forgot about that," he stated. "What about James and Jenny?"

"You noticed?" I asked.

"A bit hard to miss," Bernard informed me. "I think James is somewhat smitten with Jenny."

"Even though she is wheelchair-bound," I commented.

"The wheelchair is not the person," Bernard reminded me.

"I know, but sometimes it seems to dominate things around her," I stated. "Though even with the wheelchair, she is still pretty independent, except when the council mess things up."

We chatted a bit more; then Bernard challenged me to a game of chess. I got us a bite to eat and settled down to an afternoon of chess. Neither of us is a particularly good player, but we had both learnt chess from Bernard's grandfather and enjoyed the odd sessions of play.

After the second game, I went to the kitchen to make us some drinks. The sound of South Pacific was emanating from the lounge. I looked in to see if Flora wanted a drink, but it appeared she had just made herself a pot of tea. She did, though, ask if I had seen Jack. He had not been back since he went out just after eight. I decided to call Jack's mobile number just to check that he was alright, only to be told he was busy and if I wanted to talk, he would see me about four.

With that, I made our drinks and took them back to the library for more chess. It was just after four when Jack came looking for me.

"What did you want?" he asked.

"Just checking if you were OK," I informed him. "Flora said you had gone out for a walk just after eight and had not been back."

"Were busy helping those lads in the kitchen garden," he advised me. "They're trying to get one of the glasshouses fixed up before the new year."

"Steven and Jim are working?" I asked, surprised.

"Yes, and bloody hard, too," Jack replied. "Had to twist their arms to get them to take a break and go down to the pub for a half and a sandwich for lunch. They are only packing up now because the light is going. I'm giving them a hand tomorrow to get the staging set up."

"Jack! You and Flora are supposed to be on holiday," I stated. "Flora's taken over the kitchen, and now you're working with the tenants. How's that a holiday?"

"Mike, we are not on holiday; we are spending Christmas with our family. It's different. Far better than sitting around bored stiff at Manston for most of the week. At least, here I have something to keep meself busy. Think I'll see if I can rope that grandson of mine and young Joseph into giving a hand in the morning. The more help, the better. Those lads have a lot to get fixed up."

With that, Jack tipped his hat and left. I looked at Bernard.

"Don't say anything," Bernard stated. "You won't win, not with Jack. He's right, you know. Manston could be pretty boring at times."

It was about half an hour later that Joseph and Johnny got back from sailing. They had clearly enjoyed themselves, chattering away about it whilst I made them some hot Bovril in the kitchen, as they both complained of being cold.

"How come it was so enjoyable if you were both cold?" I asked.

"It's exhilarating," Johnny replied. "Unless you've done it you would not understand."

"Well, I hope you are not planning on sailing tomorrow," I stated.

"Why not?" Johnny asked.

"Because your grandfather wants to rope you in helping Steven and Jim fix up the glasshouse," I informed him.

Johnny just shrugged his shoulders, then smiled. "Well if Granddad asks us to, I am sure he'll make it fun."

I poured two mugs of Bovril and placed them before the lads, then returned to the library to join Bernard and more chess.

Shortly after five, Lee arrived back with two exhausted boys. Marcia was not back from the sales yet, so Lee brought them into the house. I told him to find Johnny and Joseph, who no doubt would keep the boys entertained with some video games.

Lee told me he had to get to the shops to get something for his dinner; I reminded him that he was expected to join us at the Crooked Man for dinner, courtesy of Phil.

"But I'm not family," he stated.

"It's not about being family," I informed him. "It is about being part of the Christmas party at the Priory."

That settled, I told him to be back over by seven.

By seven, everybody had arrived back from their various shopping trips or business excursions, and we were able to make our way down to the Crooked Man. Over dinner, Bernard informed me that Debora and he were going home in the morning but would be back for New Year's Eve.

"We need to get some things sorted out before I go into hospital," he informed me. "Anyway, we have to get Micah and Bethany to Bethany's parents; they are spending New Year's Eve there."

Tyler told me that he had heard from Zach, and it looked as if a deal could be put together. They were going to have a conference call on Tuesday to discuss things.

Phil and Ben were happy that they had finally managed to get the whole of That Woman's Son in the can. All the post-sync work had been done, and the film had now been handed over to the editors. Phil assured me they were still on target for a mid-March release date.

I noticed Trevor had not joined us and mentioned this to Ben.

"He and Arthur had already made arrangements for this evening," Ben informed me. "I think they are having dinner at the Belmont with the girls."

After dinner, walking back up to the Priory, I noticed that James was pushing Jenny's wheelchair, even though it was powered and she was perfectly capable of steering it back to the house. However, by pushing it, James had an excuse to be near Jenny and was able to chat with her.

Johnny and Joseph were walking just ahead of me. I noticed that they were holding hands. Although I had no problem with it, I made a mental note to have a word with them about holding hands when out in public. Some people could take serious offence at it.

When we got back to the house, I got my chance. Ben and Phil were off to the games room with Tyler for a game of snookers. I asked Johnny and Joseph to join me in the study.

"What's up, Dad?" Johnny asked the moment we were seated.

"I just want to warn you two about holding hands when out in public," I stated.

The pair of them looked at me a bit surprised.

"Dad, it's the Twenty-First Century," Johnny informed me. "Nobody cares about things like that now."

"The problem is that there are some out there who do not realise it is the Twenty-First Century. I don't think they have realised that the Twentieth Century has concluded. They are still stuck in the Nineteenth Century, or worse still, the Fifteenth."

"The Fifteenth wouldn't be too bad," Johnny commented. I looked at him. "Well, the great sin was sodomy, which we are not into. Many clerics reckoned that oral sex was preferable to masturbation, as the seed was not spilt upon the ground, so the sin of onanism was not committed."

"How come you know that?" I asked.

"I just like to read obscure texts," Johnny replied.

"Right, but to come back to what we are talking about," I stated. "I know you two are in love and want to express it, but it is best if you keep it amongst family and friends. Showing signs of personal affection in public could be inviting trouble. There are idiots out there who might just decide to 'teach you a lesson'."

"And you don't think I could take care of them?" Johnny asked.

"You probably could," I replied. "I'm not sure about Joseph. In all likelihood, they would probably wait till you were on your own before going after one of you."

Johnny looked a bit sheepish when I said that Joseph looked positively alarmed.

"I didn't think of that," Johnny admitted.

"So, what are you going to do about it?" I asked.

"Well, I suppose I'd better start teaching Joseph to look after himself," Johnny stated. Not quite the answer I was looking for.

"We should avoid public displays of affection," Joseph stated.

"That might be a good idea," I replied. "Though, you learning some self-defence might also be useful."

"I've been studying with your brother for years," Joseph reminded me. I had forgotten about the incident in Market Square. So apparently had Joseph.

"Could Lee teach us?" Joseph asked.

"Why did you ask that?" I enquired.

"Well, I heard Lee and Uncle Ben talking about setting up a dojo," he replied.

I recalled my earlier conversation with Ben. "We'll have to see," I stated.

On Saturday morning Bernard, Debora, Micah and Bethany departed. Bernard said he and Debs would be back on Wednesday for the new year. Johnny and Joseph went off with Jack to help Steve and Jim with the greenhouse repairs. Shortly after eleven, I took a couple of flasks of coffee down to them and was surprised to see how much they had gotten done.

Steven explained to me that they were cannibalising the greenhouse, which was in the worst condition, to repair the one that was in the best. They had found a paraffin heater in one of the storerooms and got it cleaned up and working. Although it was not big enough to heat the greenhouse, it was big enough to keep the frost off. That would allow them to sow some seeds early in the new year so that they would have plants ready for sale by Easter at the latest.

"That way we can have some income early in the year," Jim informed me.

It made sense, and I spent the next half hour talking over their plans, with Jack putting in some occasional comments. I had not realised just how much Jack knew about horticulture, then realised that he had cultivated an allotment for the whole of his mining life and, as far as I knew, probably still had it.

Leaving Jack, Jim and Steven working on the greenhouse, I returned to the house. Crossing the yard, I noticed that Arthur was by the door to the Stable House, explaining something to Lee. It turned out he was telling Lee how the clock and the bells worked and that he would be connecting the clock bell up to chime on at the new year.

I asked Lee to join us for lunch, which he accepted. The invitation was also extended to Arthur and Trevor, but Arthur informed me they planned on going into Maldon to do some shopping.

When we went in for lunch, Anne informed me that Ben and Phil had gone up to Manston; there were some problems with the renovation work that was being carried out. She did say they would be back this evening. James and Jenny were also out, taking Tariq and JayDee to the cinema. I mentioned Bernard's comment about James and Jenny.

"Wouldn't be surprised at all," Anne responded. "He seems to be all my sister can talk about at the moment."

Flora was busy by the stove making a pile of bacon sandwiches. She asked Lee to wrap some up in foil and run them down to the kitchen garden. "That bloody husband of mine won't think about taking a break for lunch."

Lee did as requested. By the time he got back some fifteen minutes later, Flora had another pile of bacon sandwiches ready.

Over lunch, I chatted with Lee about the proposed TV series. He asked if he could have a look at the script outlines, so after lunch, we went through to the study, and I gave him a printout of what I had done so far. He spent about an hour reading through them while I dealt with some emails and odds and ends of administration that I needed to sort out.

"I am not sure this is right," Lee suddenly stated.

"What?" I asked.

He handed me the section he was reading, pointing to some information I had written on the North Atlantic Conveyer. I read it and suddenly realised that Lee was right; I had made a mistake. In writing the piece, I had left out a sentence, which meant that the overall piece was wrong. I printed off a copy of John's manuscript and handed it to Lee.

"This is the original work by John Dupree that the series is based on. The first thing I would like you to do when you start is to cross-check my script with the manuscript."

"I can start on that now," Lee informed me.

"You don't have to. Officially, you don't start work for me till the second of January," I informed him. "However, if you want to get a head start, it would be useful."

He said he did not have much else to do, though he was babysitting Tariq and JayDee tomorrow.

"Again?" I asked.

"Yes, it's just in the morning," Lee replied. "I told Marcia I would keep an eye on them while she runs Jasmin over to a birthday party for one of her friends. If the weather holds, we will probably play ball in the yard."

We chatted a bit more about the proposed series; then Lee informed me that he'd better go and get ready as his parents were picking him up at five. They were going into Maldon for a meal.

Shortly after four, Jack came back with Johnny and Joseph, all looking extraordinarily filthy and very happy.

"Got one greenhouse sorted," Jack informed me. "They'll be able to start sowing next week. Now I need a cuppa."

"You need a bath, you old sod," Flora announced. "Go and get cleaned up, the three of you. I'll have tea and toast ready for you in fifteen minutes."

All three knew better than to argue with Flora.

Saturday dinner was quiet. There were only Jack, Flora, James, Jenny, Johnny, Joseph, Anne and I present. Anne had decided to keep things simple and sent me down into town to get fish and chips. It was something we all enjoyed.

After dinner, I settled down in my study to do some more work on the scripting for the proposed series; I also had a couple of articles to finish off. They were due to be in by the end of the year.

Ben and Phil arrived back shortly before ten. I heard the roar of Ben's Maserati as it pulled into the drive, so I went to the kitchen to put the kettle on, feeling sure they would need a drink after the drive back. They did, Ben was pleased to see the kettle just coming to the boil as he came in through the back door.

"That's a sight for sore eyes," he stated.

"Tea or coffee?" I asked.

"Tea for me," Phil stated, following Ben in.

"I'll have the same," Ben said.

I made a pot of tea and set it on the kitchen table. Ben and Phil hung up their coats and joined me at the table.

"How did it go?" I asked.

"Not too badly," Phil replied. "Other than the fact that we have had to fork out an extra ten grand."

"Why?" I asked.

"There's some major rewiring required," Ben replied. "It is not a job that we can put off. Fortunately, it is only the main house; both the wings were rewired just before we purchased the place, so it is not as bad as it could have been."

"How about the Dowager House?" I asked.

"That was done ten years ago, so it's fine," Phil stated.

We chatted a bit more about Manston and what was involved in the restoration work being carried out. Then Ben and Phil excused themselves, saying they had had a long day and wanted a reasonably early night. I felt in the mood to write, so I went to my study and worked on a couple of articles. As a result, it had gone two before I got up to bed, which meant it was gone ten Sunday morning before I got down to the kitchen for breakfast.

"Late night?" Flora asked from her position by the stove. She seemed to have taken over ownership of it.

"Yes, but very productive," I replied. "Where is everybody?"

"Your wife and her sister have gone over to Jenny's to pick something up. Marcia went with them with her daughter. I think they are planning on going into Chelmsford," Flora informed me. "I think James is planning on taking Jenny somewhere posh on Tuesday, and she wanted something a bit more dressy. James is in the lounge reading. My husband went off with the lads from the nursery to get some supplies from somewhere or other. My son and your brother have gone downtown to get the Sunday papers. Your son and his boyfriend have gone off for a walk, though they had their catapults with them."

That information imparted, she placed a mug of tea in front of me together with a pile of toast. "You're too late for a fry-up. You'll have to sort your own lunch, I'm off down to the Crooked Man. Mary's giving me a lift into Maldon; won't be back till about five." With that, she dried her hands, grabbed her bag and coat, and exited by the back door. I wondered what she was going into Maldon for.

I munched my way through the toast and finished the tea, getting a refill before I made my way to the study. Reviewing what I had written last night — or rather early this morning — I was pleased with the result of my efforts. I had just about to start on another piece when Ben came into the study.

"Mike, can you join us in the library? We've got a problem."

"What?" I asked.

"Best if you see," Ben replied. I followed him into the library, where a furious Phil was sitting with a pile of Sunday papers in front of him. A glance at the papers showed me the problem. FILM STAR'S CHILD PORN CAREER, the headline of one of the leading Sunday's screamed out of me.

"Is it?" I asked.

"Yes," Phil replied.

I picked up the paper and read the article. Although it never actually named Trevor, it was reasonably clear from the article who they were talking about. It gave, in some detail, the whole story of him making boy-porn films for Mayers. Further, it suggested that the only reason he had got leading parts in a number of films was due to porn work and giving sexual favours to producers and directors.

"Has Trevor seen this yet?" I asked.

"I don't know," Phil replied. "Hopefully not. I've phoned Bernard. He's on his way here; should be here in about an hour."

"We'd better let Trevor know," I stated. "Better we tell him than he hears from somewhere else."

"I'll call him," Phil said.

Whilst Phil was on the phone, I went through to the kitchen to make some drinks. There was the sound of laughter in the yard; I looked out to see Lee playing ball with Tariq and JayDee. Trevor was walking across the yard, JayDee stopped him and spoke to him. Trevor smiled and nodded. I had just finished making a pot of tea and a pot of coffee as Trevor came in.

"They're in the library," I stated before he could ask anything. Trevor nodded and made his way to the library. I followed with the tray of tea and coffee.

Phil told Trevor he'd better sit down, then handed him a copy of the paper. Trevor read it, his face going white. Tears started to form in his eyes.

"Why?" he sobbed. "Why drag it all up? Why now?"

"I don't know," Phil stated. "It seems they are out to get you."

"Well, we will just have to get them," Ben stated. "Bernard is on his way here. Hopefully, he'll be able to sue them for everything they've bloody got."

"But they don't name me," Trevor pointed out.

"They don't, but they might as well have," Ben replied. "There is enough detail in that article that you are easily identified."

Trevor just nodded, tears rolling down his cheeks. Phil and Trevor discussed the article some more. Phil was assuring Trevor that they would stand behind him and would get their publicity people working on it as soon as Bernard had given them the OK. Trevor looked a bit more settled.

"I'd better go over and tell Arthur," he stated. "Don't want him finding out from elsewhere." With that, he stood to leave.

"Do you want me to come over with you?" I asked.

"No, it's all right," Trevor replied. "I'm a big boy now."

With that, he left. I put the used mugs back on the tray, picked it up and took it into the kitchen. Johnny and Joseph came in just as I was in the middle of washing up.

"What's up, Dad?" Johnny asked. "You look as angry as fuck."

I told them about the article and that Trevor had gone over to tell Arthur.

"But Arthur's not in," Johnny stated.


"He's not in, Dad," Johnny replied. "We saw him this morning when we were going out for our walk. He's got a call out to a server in Chelmsford; he was just getting in the van when we went across the yard."

"Fuck!" I grabbed the towel and dried my hands, at the same time making my way towards the door. If Arthur was not in, what was Trevor playing at. Just as I opened the door, the alarm bell in the clock tower started to ring. I dashed across the yard and into the Stable House hallway. Lee was there, supporting Trevor's body. A rope hung limply above the body, fastened to the cross beam below the bells. JayDee was turning the handle of the alarm like mad.

Johnny and Joseph followed me in; Johnny immediately went to help Lee support the weight of Trevor's body. A few moments later, Jack and the lads came running in. Jack took one look at the situation, told Jim to lift him up so he could get to the rope, and pulled a jackknife out of his pocket. I always knew Jack kept his knives sharp. Today I was supremely thankful, for that knife cut through the rope with ease.

Johnny and Lee lowered Trevor to the ground just as Phil, Ben and James came into the hallway. James instantly started CPR, instructing Johnny to give mouth to mouth. Phil was on his phone, calling an ambulance.

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