The next few days were fairly quiet. I got back into my routine of doing my administration work in the morning, domestic work in the afternoon, and writing in the evening or early hours of the morning. Anne had finished moving her stuff over and now was fully resident in the bungalow, which was good timing as she got tenants for her place the day after it went on the market and they needed to move in as soon as possible. It was a young couple with a two-year-old daughter; turned out their landlord had not been paying the mortgage, and the bank had turned up with a repossession order.
Johnny was firmly in a schedule of getting up about seven-thirty, often making breakfast for me and Anne. He would then study for his exams till about eleven before going off to Hamden yard to work with Steve.
There was, though, one major change in our planning. Debora had phoned up on the Wednesday morning, fuming at Bernard. “How could he? That idiot of a husband of mine. Why I married him I don’t know, mother warned me—”
“Look, Debora,” I interjected.
“And don’t you try to defend him. The pair of you are two of a kind, both as bad as each other. I’ve heard what his mother says about the two of you and what Aunt Ruth says.” Bernard’s mother was one thing, but Aunt Ruth was another; she had walked in on the two of us in the coal shed when we were nine. That woman could certainly wield a hairbrush; I don’t think either of us sat down for a couple of days.
“Debora, he invited us down for dinner so you could meet Johnny.”
“I know. He is so unthinking. How could he think about inviting you down to dinner on Saturday? It’s impossible. You would have to drive down, then drive back. It’ll take you at least two hours each way, and you won’t be able to have a drink. I know you will be in that 4X4, and I know Anne won’t drive it. Anyway, why should Anne not have a drink?
“That's beside the point; a couple of hours is not long enough for Anne and me to discuss the wedding. We’ll need at least half a day. He should have realised that and invited you down to stay for the weekend. Come down Friday and stay till Sunday. That will work well, and it will be nice to have a Sabbath goy around.”
I knew Anne would have no problems with a weekend down in Kent, but I thought Johnny would not be too happy as he would have to miss youth club. If we were going down on Friday, we needed to get there before sunset.
As I expected, Johnny was not very happy, but the reason seemed to be that he would be missing more time in the yard rather than the fact that he was missing the youth club. I wondered if everything was OK between him and Arthur.
Phil also phoned on the Wednesday to make arrangements for us going to Manston for Easter — or to be more correct, the week after Easter. The place was fully booked over the Easter weekend with weddings; they had six on over the three-day period. We agreed that our party would go up on the Tuesday and stay till the following Saturday. Phil was worried that Johnny might get a bit bored being in Manston for five days; somehow, I doubted it, but Phil suggested that Johnny bring a friend. When I told Johnny, he suggested Arthur, but it turned out he could not get the time off work, so Johnny arranged for Matterson to join us; apparently, he lived close to Manston and we could pick him up on the way. Even though Arthur could not go, I was assured by the fact that Johnny had first suggested him to go; it indicated there was no irreparable problem between the two.
Friday turned out to be a bit hectic. Although Anne had agreed with Jack to cut back her hours at the Anchor, she was working behind the bar Friday lunch. It was not supposed to be her shift, but Susan, the other barmaid, had called in sick, and Jack was desperate; they had a large lunch party in. He had phoned just after ten, and Anne had agreed to go in to help out on the strict understanding that she was finished at two. Turned out it was closer to three-fifteen before she got away, so it was something of a rush to get packed for the weekend, showered and changed.
The situation was not helped by Johnny, who had insisted on going into the yard as he would not be around on Saturday. Again, things had not gone as planned. Although given strict instructions to be back by two so he could get packed and ready to leave at four, it was gone three before he got home; he was in a filthy state that appeared to take at least two showers to clean up. When I commented on how he looked and smelt, he just pointed out that bilges needed to be scrubbed out at times. I decided not to go into the matter deeply.
As it was, with some hard pushing from me, they managed to get showered, packed and ready to leave just after four, which left me with two hours and twenty minutes to get down to Bernard’s place — normally not too much of a problem, but late on a Friday afternoon the M25 is not the best place to be if you are trying to go anywhere fast.
Johnny was asking me why the rush.
“Johnny,” I answered, driving the car along the country lanes a bit faster than I would normally do, “you have to remember that Jews, even those who are mostly nonconforming—”
“What’s this got to do with Jews?”
“Bernard and Debora are Jewish, so they are Jews. This evening Shabbat begins at sundown. We will be celebrating the Shabbat meal with them. Although we are goy and Bernard and Debora are not strict Jews, it is still polite to arrive before the start of Shabbat, which today is at six-twenty.”
“So, I have a Jewish godfather?”
“Great! That’s one up on Matterson; only his great grandmother was Jewish.” Somehow, I got the feeling that I had missed something.
Luckily the M25 was not as bad as I had feared — it was bad, just not that bad — so we did make it in time, arriving about a few minutes before six. “Uncle Mike,” a voice called out from the summer house on the far side of the lawn. In a moment, a thin streak of a fourteen-year-old was dashing across the lawn straight for me. Once across the lawn, which must have been a good hundred metres, he threw himself at me wrapping arms around me in a massive hug.
“Joseph Lebrun, put that man down; you don’t want your Aunty Anne getting jealous!” exclaimed Debora, who had come to the door and was now standing on the top of the steps.
Joseph, turning somewhat red, released me and stepped back. I realised how long it had been since I had visited Debora and Bernard. Last time Joseph had barely come up to my shoulder, now he was looking directly at me eye to eye. “Sorry, Uncle Mike,” he stammered.
“Why should you be sorry for welcoming your favourite uncle. I presume I am still your favourite?”
“Yes — except for Uncle Ben.” I wondered what my brother had been up to.
“That,” Debora interjected as she came down the steps, “is only because Ben gives him tickets for Tottenham home games.” I was more puzzled. How was my brother getting tickets for Tottenham home games? More importantly, why? He hated football.
“How are you, Mike?” she said giving me a hug and a peck on the check.
“I’m fine; how’s the family?”
“Good, thank God.” She released me and turned to Anne, embracing her in a hug. “I hear you need to see my cousin Daniel.”
“Why should I want to see Daniel?”
“He’s the family shrink; if you are marrying this gump, you should see one — though, on second thoughts, probably not him. He’s just divorced his second wife and I think is looking for a third. He is definitely a worse catch than Mike.” Debora released Anne and looked at Johnny, who took a half-step backwards, no doubt fearing an embrace. “Last time I saw you, kid, you were wearing nappies and were eight-weeks old. You’ve grown a bit since then.
“Come on, grab your bags and let’s get in. It’ll be nice to have a Shabbat goy in the house; I can have a decent cup of tea tonight.”
“Mam!” Joseph exclaimed, “Shabbat has never stopped you from switching the kettle on.”
“I know, Joe, but it is nice to be able to do things properly for a change. Now, take Johnny up and show him his room. Mike, I have put you and Anne in your usual room. Why don’t you go up and freshen up, but be quick; I have some candles to light.”
When we got back down Bernard greeted us and shepherded us into the dining room, where the table was set for the Shabbat meal. Debora stood at the head of the table. Before her were two candles, a glass of wine and two loaves of braided, enriched dough bread covered with a napkin. Micah was there with a dark-complexioned girl whom I did not recognise but assumed was his girlfriend. I noticed that Joseph was talking to Johnny, pointing to things on the table. Hopefully he was explaining what was happening.
Although a goy, I had grown up amongst Jewish friends and had been to many a Shabbat meal. Being a goy who knew Jewish customs made me popular amongst the families of my Jewish friends. I was always being invited to join them for Shabbat; having a goy around could be useful for all those little things that are forbidden to Jews on that day, like switching on the gas fire when it got unexpectedly cold. As such, I was familiar with the traditions, and Anne was as well, having visited Debora and Bernard with me a number of times. However, Johnny was not. Stupidly, I had forgotten that and had not explained what was about to happen. It looked as though Joseph was making up for my lapse as I heard him say to Johnny, “There are two loaves of special bread we call Challah; it’s made with eggs. They represent the double portion of manna that the Lord provided for us with for Shabbat when the Jews were in the desert.” I heard the ping of an alarm, Debora lit the two candles, then wafted her hands over them welcoming in Shabbat, before bringing her hands up to cover her eyes as she started to speak the words of the blessing.
“Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam”
“Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe,” Joseph translated for Johnny.
“asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu”
“who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us”
“l'had'lik neir shel Shabbat. Amein”
“to light the lights of Shabbat. So, let it be.”
“Thank you, Joseph for explaining things to our guest,” Debora commented, “though I think there might be some questioning of your translation of Amein, a simple rendition as Amen would have done.”
“Now, Joseph,” interrupted Bernard, “let's not get into a debate about Hebrew and bore everybody.” He turned and smiled at me. “I think this one would be better off becoming a rabbi than a barber; he will dispute the smallest point when it comes to religion or Hebrew.”
“Dad,” Joseph responded, “people will always need barbers; they may not want rabbis.”
Bernard smiled and looked at me, raising his palms to heaven and stated, “See what I mean?”
Once the Shabbat blessing had been given, the household proceeded through the rest of the Shabbat rituals — the Kiddush, the washing of hands and finally the uncovering and breaking of the bread — performed by Bernard as he recited the blessing. Through all the steps, Joseph was explaining to Johnny not only what was going on but what the symbolic meaning of it was. For me, though, what was more important was the fact that Johnny seemed to be interested in what Joseph was telling him.
Over the Shabbat meal, there was, as expected[‘usual’?], quite a lot of conversation. I was introduced to Bethany, Micah’s girlfriend. I was quite impressed with her and thought Micah had made a good catch; they were both attending the University of Manchester. Micah was doing law, and Bethany was studying music. Initially, I thought that they knew each other from secondary school and had arranged to go to the same university, but I found out in fact that they met on one of the university open days last August.
From the way they interacted with each other, I thought they would make a good couple, but I noticed that when Debora looked at them, there was an expression of sadness in her face. After dinner, I helped Debora with the plates, rinsing them for her and placing them in the dishwasher. While we were in the kitchen, I asked her if she had a problem with Bethany.
“Oh, God, Mike, I didn’t realise that I was letting it show. No, Bethany is a marvellous girl, and she is so good for Micah; I think this will work out for them.”
“There’s a but there.”
“Yes, she’s goy; my grandchildren will be goy.”
“She might convert; Samuel’s daughter-in-law did.”
“No, Mike, she won’t convert; she’s Buddhist. Her mother is English, her father Burmese. He was a refugee from the military dictatorship there and has become a millionaire here. They live a couple of miles away. She comes and joins us for Shabbat regularly, and, no, she never stays the night. Micah walks her home.”
I could understand Debora’s feelings. You are not born a Jew unless you mother is Jewish.
That night in bed, Anne told me how much she missed having a family. She and Tom, her late husband, had always intended to start a family but had put it off to get a bit more financially secure. Then Tom had the first bout of cancer. A combination of chemo and radiation therapy had put an end to any chance of him becoming a father. They had looked into adoption and were well into the process when Tom’s cancer had returned and finally killed him at the age of twenty-seven.
She told me how much she enjoyed having Johnny around. There was, though, a wistfulness in her voice which told me she wished for a child of her own. Much as she had taken Johnny to her heart, he was my child, not hers.
One thing that I enjoyed whenever I visited Debora and Bernard was having a relaxed day on Saturday. They might not be strictly observant of the Shabbat, but they did observe the spirit of the Shabbat, which meant no unnecessary work. After breakfast, Anne and Debora had vanished to Bernard’s study, which he avoided on the Shabbat, and were deep in discussion with each other. From the pile of magazines and catalogues they had scattered around when I took them coffee, I suspected it might have something to do with wedding dresses.
Micah had gone to Bethany’s and said they were going into town. In respect to the Shabbat, he was going to walk to Bethany’s, which was about two miles. Bernard and I were sitting in the garden room watching Joseph and Johnny playing Frisbee on the lawn when Micah put his head round the door to say he was leaving for Bethany’s. As he was walking down the drive, Bernard commented that he did not think they would walk to the station, though, which was about three miles away — probably five from Bethany’s — especially as Bethany had just passed her driving test. I commented that maybe Bethany would drive them into London, but Bernard commented that only an idiot takes a car into London, and his future daughter-in-law was no idiot.
“You think they are going to marry?”
“Mike, that pair are made for each other. It will take time, but they are going to marry, probably when they graduate. That is, provided they don’t start a family before then, but I doubt that will happen, Bethany is a sensible girl.”
“Bernard, you know that Debora is a bit unhappy about it, don’t you?”
“Yes, no Jewish grandchildren.”
“Well, there is always Joseph,” I stated, turning my attention to the boys' game, which Harris, the black Labrador, had decided to join in.
“I don’t think there will be much help from that direction; I suspect that his tastes are more aligned to your Johnny’s.”
“Has he said anything?”
“No, and I doubt he will whilst my father is alive; the old man is becoming more observant as he gets older, and orthodox Judaism does not cope well with the modern view of homosexuality. Joseph loves his grandfather, and I think he will avoid ‘coming out’ until the old man is dead.”
“Knowing your father that might be a long wait.”
“I doubt it, Mike. Dad was operated on last year for prostate cancer. It has bought him a few more years but not that many, and I am not sure he thinks the price was worth paying; he has been in poor health ever since the operation.”
“I’m sorry, I did not know.”
“No, we have kept it fairly quiet. My brothers were worried that if it became widely known, pressure might be brought by some of the shareholders to sell the business. There has been some takeover interest, but so far nothing firm on the table. My brothers want to sell — in fact they need to — but on their own terms and their own timetable.
“Dad built the business up from a bespoke tailor shop in Golders Green to an international brand. For many, he is J. T. Lebrun & Sons, which is a bit stupid as his name is Izsak; Jacob was his father, and without him there is no business. An error on their part; since grandfather died, most of the day-to-day business has been run by David, Benjamin and my sister Rachel. In fact, it was Rachel who oversaw most of the brand development and international expansion. To think that the business is reliant upon Dad is a mistake.
“That is one reason I asked you down today as I wanted to tell you before the news broke on Monday. Rachel, Benjamin and David are all telling other friends of the family over the weekend. Dad is stepping down as chairman; the news will be announced to the stock market at seven-thirty on Monday morning. There is going to be a board meeting tomorrow; David will be appointed chairman and Rachel CEO.”
“Rachel, not Benjamin!” This surprised me.
“No, he also is resigning — wants to go off finally and do what he wanted to do when he was at school.”
“Yes, says he will settle in his place in France and live a pleasant retirement doing what he wants to do.”
“How old is he now? I know he is a lot older than you and David.”
“He’s sixty, eighteen years older than I am. He’s the eldest boy, who was fully expected to go into the business. The moment he was old enough to leave school, he was put to the tailor’s bench, and he was good at it, though his heart was never in it.
“Listen, Mike, I know you bought shares in the business when it went public.” I looked at Bernard a bit surprised, wondering how he knew. It was not something I remembered discussing with him; in fact, it was something that I had avoided mentioning to any of Bernard’s family. They had been forced to go public about fifteen years ago when their expansion as a top-end, luxury, gentleman’s outfitters had required a major cash injection and the banks were being uncooperative. It had just been at a time when I was rather flush with money, so I had brought five thousand shares at ten pounds a share in the initial public offering. I had seen it as a way of helping out a family that had helped me out in the past.
“Don’t look so surprised, Mike. I may not be actively involved with the business or its management, but I am company secretary; one reason Dad pushed me into law was so he would have legal expertise on tap for the business. As company secretary, I see the share register, and I was always a bit surprised that you never mentioned that you owned the shares.
“Anyway, getting back to my point, the family are going to sell the business; there are a couple of luxury brands that have been sniffing round us for the last year or so. Hopefully they will use Dad’s resignation as the trigger to make a formal bid. If two of them bid, we get a bidding war and a better price.
“When the news breaks that Dad is retiring, I think the share price will drop. If I was you, I would get some options then; I do not think it will be long before the bidding starts.”
“Wish I could, Bernard, but at the moment I am rather strapped for cash.”
“That’s why I suggested options. They will cost you a lot less than actually buying the shares.”
“Isn’t that insider dealing?”
“If you were to take out the option now, it would be, but once the news of the resignation is released to the stock exchange, no; then the news is public. As to whether there will be a takeover bid or not, we don’t know; that part is just speculation; there is no inside knowledge for you to base your trade on, so that is not insider trading.”
Just then, Joseph and Johnny came running into the garden room followed by Harris, the dog. As the dog came through the door, Joseph turned towards it and shouted, “HARRIS, NO. Kitchen.” The dog stopped, turned and then moved off down the side of the house towards the kitchen door. I was a bit startled. “Sorry, Uncle Mike, but Harris is not allowed in this part of the house; dirty paw prints on the lounge carpet upset mother.”
“And what about dirty footprints?” Bernard asked, looking at the trail of footprints across the light, stone floor tiles.
“Oops!” Joseph exclaimed. “Come on, Johnny, we’d better use the kitchen door as well.” The boys departed back out of the garden-room door and followed Harris down the side of the house.
After lunch, the weather changed, and a light drizzle started to fall. As a result, the boys came in from outside and joined us in the garden room; the women had vanished off into Bernard’s study yet again. I kept wondering what they found to keep them so occupied; then I started to wonder what it would cost me.
The four of us played Monopoly, and as usual, I lost. I had been losing to Bernard at Monopoly since I learnt to play it when I was nine. What did surprise me was that Joseph and Johnny managed to knock Bernard out of the game. I am sure that came as something of a surprise to him, too. In the thirty-plus years that I have known Bernard to play Monopoly, I don’t think I have ever seen him lose, except when his sister Rachel was playing.
During the game, Johnny asked how Bernard came to be his godfather. That, of course, involved Bernard and me telling him how we grew up together. I’m sure that some of the stories Bernard told about our childhood are false; I don’t remember them. Also, he could have left out the story about Aunt Ruth and the hairbrush or, at least, not told why Aunt Ruth thought she needed to use the hairbrush on both our backsides.
Unlike Friday’s somewhat formal meal, Saturday night ended up as something of a free-for-all. It seems that Anne and Debora had agreed during the day that there was no need to cook and we should get some take-away. As soon as the sun had set, Bernard and I were directed to drive to the nearest KFC and get a couple of their Bargain Buckets, a task which involved a fifteen-mile drive there and back. When we got back, Debora had putting out paper plates and piles of serviettes on the kitchen table, and Anne was filling paper cups with wine. Anne saw me looking at the arrangement somewhat askance. “No washing up,” was her only comment.
It had gone half-past eight by time we had demolished the KFC Bargain Buckets, with everybody feeling that they had partaken of rather more than they should have. Debora got a black bin bag for the rubbish, but Joseph stopped her. “I’ve got a better idea.” Ten minutes later we were all at the bottom of the garden, standing round the incinerator bin as Joseph and Johnny were throwing paper plates and cups into the fire within.
We left early the following morning to drive back to Lynnhaven. Both Debora and Bernard pushed us to stay for lunch, but I declined, making the excuse that we had to get back in case Anne was needed at the Anchor for lunch-time service. Anne and I had talked about it in bed the night before and agreed to use that excuse, knowing that Debora and Bernard were planning on going to their place in Town once we had left. Normally when the boys were off school, Debora would stay at the house in Kent and Bernard would commute, but both felt that with the situation in the company being what it was, they needed to be in Town.
As it was, it turned out not to be an excuse. We had only been in the bungalow about ten minutes before the phone rang, and it was Jack asking Anne if she could go in; it seemed Susan was still off sick. Johnny informed me he had some studying to do and wanted to chat with some of his mates, so departed to the caravan. As none of his mates were around, I presumed he meant chat with them online.
I went through to my study to deal with the pile of emails that I expected to have received since Friday. Actually, there were not many, the only important one being an acknowledgement from Zachary that he had received the signed papers and would get the countersigning done on Monday. Once that was done, the money would be available for me to use. One million pounds; I started to fantasize about what I could do with it other than buy the Priory, then realised that if I did use it for anything else, I would certainly face the wrath of both Anne and Johnny, so I quickly dismissed the thought.
From what Matt had told me, I suspected I would need about a quarter of a million to update the Priory and refurbish the outbuildings, which had been allowed to get into a state of some disrepair. That would, though, still leave me with about two hundred thousand. I had originally thought of using the money from selling the bungalow to finance buying some student properties, but that was no longer an option. I could, though, use the spare funds to buy something, giving me a return above what I was paying on the loan.
Thinking about money made me think about what Bernard had told me the day before. I opened up my spreadsheets and had another look at my finances; not having to come up with the cash immediately to buy the Priory definitely made life easier. Looking over things, I had about eighty thousand that was in cash or in stocks that I could quickly liquidate. Should I take a risk and gamble or not? This time last week I would definitely have said no, but things had changed. I now had the funding I needed to buy the Priory and do the work on it without having to dip into my other resources. Looking at the overall picture, it was tempting, to say the least.
It was shortly after two, and I was still contemplating the figures when Johnny put his head round the door to tell me he was going out for a ride. I checked that he had his phone on him and told him to be back by five as I planned to have dinner about five-thirty.
Once Johnny had gone, I settled down to get some writing done. There were a couple of deadlines which, whilst not yet close, were starting to make their presence felt. It was a good idea to try and get the bulk of the work finished before they became pressing.
Just before three, I heard the front door open. I presumed it was Anne back from work but then heard Johnny’s voice, which surprised me as I did not expect him back so soon. I went to investigate and found Johnny and Arthur going through into the kitchen. “Hi, Dad, I’m just getting us a couple of cold drinks, and then we’re going to the caravan.”
“You’re back early,” I commented to Johnny, then turned to Arthur, “and I did not expect to see you today. Shouldn’t you be up in Chelmsford at the afternoon meeting?”
“Walked out this morning, told Dad what he could do with his meetings and got the bus back, then grabbed my bike” Arthur replied. “Maybe not the best of ideas, but I had had enough of their teachings. This morning we had a preacher who was on about lesbians; said they were the spawn of the devil who corrupted good women into denying their service to men and so to God. Two of my friends are lesbian. They are down at the homeless shelter today giving out soup and bread to the homeless. I don’t see any of the Brethren doing that.”
“I came across him on the marsh road,” Johnny commented, “and thought I‘d better bring him back for a drink. Is there any chance he could stay for dinner?” Arthur looked a bit embarrassed by this request.
“Is there a problem?” I enquired of Arthur.
“No, more a difficulty,” Arthur responded. “Our place is all locked up on the master lock, and Dad has the master key, so my passkey won’t work. I can’t get in till they get home; that’ll be about ten.”
“That is a difficulty. You are certainly welcome to stay for dinner, and you are not going to cycle home in the dark. I’ll take you back to Dunford in the 4X4; we can fit your bike in the back.” Just then Anne arrived, and the whole explanation had to be related again to her.
“Shit!” she exclaimed.
“Look Anne, it is a bit of a mess—”
“No, Mike, not that. I just realised I still have the till fob.” I looked at her, and the fob was there hanging on the extension reel that was attached to her belt. She removed it and looked at Johnny. “Could you slip down to the Anchor for me and give this to Jack. I’d do it myself, but I have something of a need for the bathroom.” Johnny said he would and told Arthur he would be back in a few minutes; he left. Anne went off to the bathroom, then to change. I got a bottle of cola out of the fridge and poured a glass for Arthur, indicating he should sit down. Then I jumped in with both feet and asked if there had been a problem between him and Johnny.
“It’s not really a problem, but we had a disagreement last Tuesday. Sorted it out with a few texts, but it was bit tense for a day or so.”
“Did you disagree about sex?” Arthur turned bright red and looked very embarrassed. “Look Arthur, I know Johnny is gay, and he’s told me you are.” He nodded. “Knowing what I know about my son, I guess he was pushing you for sex and you declined.”
“Well I did not decline — just did not go as far as he wanted.”
“Look, Arthur, I suspect that Johnny has had a lot more sexual experience than you have. He is fairly open about his sexuality, and he’s told me he has had quite a few sexual experiences, which I suspect you have not.” I did not think it was possible for somebody to go to the shade of red that Arthur now achieved.
“I’ve never had any sexual experience, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it. Johnny wants to move things on, and I’m not ready yet.”
“I can imagine. Just how far did you get?”
“Just some kissing and fondling.”
“If that is where you are happy, stay there and keep things at a speed you’re comfortable with. Don’t let my son push you into things you are not ready for. If you do that, it will mess you both up.”
“It’s not that easy, Mike; he can be very demanding.”
“I’m certain he can; he’s got that from his mother. Look, you can always use the line that he is too young; that will cover you for the next eight weeks.” Just then we heard the front door open, indicating the return of Johnny, who came into the kitchen, poured himself a cola, then took Arthur off to the caravan.
I went back to work for a bit but then gave up and started to prepare dinner. Deciding to keep it simple; I shoved some potatoes in the oven to bake and knocked up a chilli con carne from some frozen mince I had in the freezer. Really would have liked to let it cook for six or seven hours, but it got a good two and was passable.
Anne came into the kitchen whilst I was cooking and informed me she had asked Debora to be matron of honour at our wedding. I expressed surprise, saying I thought she would have selected one of her sisters or her cousin.
“Mike, if I chose one of them, I would upset the others by not choosing them. This way, I chose someone whom no one in my family knows, and so I don’t upset any of them. I presume you are choosing Bernard as your best man.”
“To be honest, I had not thought about it. Bernard is my oldest friend, so he is the obvious choice. I suppose I’d better ask him.”
“I thought you would already have done so; you better get down to it.” I left Anne in the kitchen and went and emailed Bernard. Knew better than to ring him as he would be driving the family back to their place in Town.
Just after six, the boys emerged from the caravan, and we all sat around the kitchen table for a meal of baked spuds and chilli con carne. Arthur complimented me on it, saying that the last time he had chilli con carne, it had been vegetarian and very bland. I pointed out that you can’t have a vegetarian chilli con carne; the term carne means meat; the whole name means chilli with meat. That got into a general discussion about food, in the middle of which Arthur dropped a bombshell. “About the only thing I can remember about my mother was she cooked some wonderful meals.”
“What do you mean about your mother?” Johnny asked.
“Sorry, I should have explained before; I’m adopted. My mother was my adoptive dad’s sister. No one knows who my father was. My mother died just before my sixth birthday. We were in the car coming back from a school sports day, and a van drove straight into driver’s side of our car. I was unhurt but mother was killed outright.”
That led to a discussion about Arthur’s family life, and as far as I could tell, it sounded pretty grim. Apparently both his adoptive parents are staunch members of the Brethren and live their lives strictly according to its precepts, which causes problems at times.
The insight into Arthur that I got during that discussion surprised me. I had already realised he was something of a computer geek, but I had not realised how alone and isolated he felt. It was only since he was seventeen that he had been able to push the boundaries a bit, with his father having him drive the business van to make deliveries and collect repair items. Until that point, he had not been allowed to mix with his peer group in the town as they were seen as being unholy.
Just after nine, he asked if I could run him back to Dunford, so we placed his bike in the back of the 4X4, and the three of us — Johnny insisted on coming — got into the car. Sunday evenings are fairly quiet, so we made good time to Dunford — or, to be more precise, to about a mile from Dunford, where Arthur asked us to drop him just before the lighted section of road started. When I mentioned I did not mind taking him into the town, he stated it would be better if he cycled in. He gave no explanation for this, but I guessed he did not want to be seen being dropped off.
On the way back, Johnny was very quiet, I asked him if there was a problem. “No, Dad, I was just thinking. Always thought I had a hard time with the way mother was, but at least she did not mess around with my life — just dumped me in boarding schools. At least, there the teachers took an interest in me. It seems that is a lot better than having parents like Arthur’s.”
“Maybe it is,” I responded.
The rest of the drive back was uneventful, and as soon as we got in, Johnny said he was off to bed as he was going to the yard in the morning. I was surprised by this as I thought we had agreed that he would keep Mondays free for study, but he pointed out that it was now the Easter vac so nothing would be given out at school; anyway, Matterson was away on a skiing holiday till Easter weekend.
O o O o O
By the time I got up on the Monday morning, after a rather restless night, I had made a decision. I would gamble. Just after eight, when I knew my broker would be in his office, I phoned him. My instructions were that he was to sell all my shares, other than LeBrun, that were easily liquidated and use the funds from them, plus an additional twenty thousand that I would transfer that morning, to take six-month options on J. T. Lebrun & Sons.
“My God, man, are you mad? Haven’t you heard?” he stammered into the phone.
“Heard what?” I asked, trying not to let on that I knew more than he did.
“There’s been a boardroom coup. Isaac, the old man, and Benjamin, who was expected to take over as CEO, have both been kicked out. The shares are dropping like I don’t know what. They have lost ten percent of their value on the grey market since the news broke.”
“How low do you think they will go?”
“Who knows? I think they could lose half their value.”
“OK, hold off buying options for the moment, but liquidate all the stocks that I have which are not in ISAs; then buy options when you think they are close to the bottom — or on Wednesday, whichever is the sooner.”
“OK, it’s your money, but I think you are making a mistake.”
“Yes, Howard, but as you said, it is my money.” He got the point, and after a few pleasantries, he finished the call, probably to deal with clients who were not quite so mad. I went and made myself a nice mug of tea.
After that, I was quite happy to have a nice peaceful week — or as peaceful as it can be when you are being asked about decisions regarding what to do about one thing or another with respect to (a) the new house, (b) some treasured clothes that you have worn lovingly for years, (c) whatever other issue Anne could come up with. After a few instances of these types of discussions, I realised that the best reply was, ‘Really, darling, I’m not sure. What do you think?’, then put up a token resistance and go along with what she decided.
Johnny was up at the yard every day during the week; from what he said, most of his time seemed to be spent sweeping, mopping, polishing or painting — the yard, that is, not boats. I could understand why all this was necessary; the coming weekend was the Easter weekend and the start for the season. Steve would want the yard looking spick and span for that.
There was one highlight in the week; just after eleven on the Thursday morning, a UPS delivery van pulled onto the drive. There were eighteen boxes addressed to Johnny. I had to get the Morgan out of the garage in order to have somewhere to put them. I sent Johnny a text to tell him they had arrived; about half an hour later I got a text back from him asking if it was OK for Arthur to come over to give him a hand to unpack them. Of course, I replied but did query where he was going to put the contents. The caravan was quite small!
It was also Anne’s last week at the Anchor. Although she had told Jack she would be cutting back on her hours, in the end it had been decided she would pack up completely, even before the move. This gave Jack time to get a replacement in and trained before the season’s tourist rush started — such of it as we saw down here. The result was that every one of the locals seemed to want to toast her on her departure — well, she had been there over ten years. This meant it was rare that she got in from her lunchtime shift until well after three-thirty and often not till after four.
I was surprised on Thursday afternoon when Arthur’s van drove up just after four and Arthur and Johnny got out, getting Johnny’s bike out from the back. Turned out that Johnny had texted Arthur about helping him sort out the boxes, and Arthur had skived off work early to give him a hand, picking him up on the way down. Actually, Arthur admitted that as far as his father was concerned, he was out fixing an aerial, but the job had only taken five minutes — the problem being not with the aerial but the fact that the lead had been pulled out of the receiver. As he had allowed two hours for the job, he was intent on taking the two hours.
The boys helped themselves to drinks from the fridge and went into the garage to start sorting out the boxes. I expected to see piles of stuff being moved into the caravan and wondered where they would be putting most of it. I was therefore somewhat surprised to see a number of boxes going into the back of Arthur’s van. Intrigued, I went out to investigate.
“It’s piles of clothes that mother bought me. I hardly every wore any of them — was not at home enough — but she always got me what she thought was fashionable so I could impress her friends when they were around. Most of them are too small; there's stuff there from when I was eleven, and the stuff that is not too small, I would not be seen dead in. Arthur’s going to take it to the charity shop in Dunford for me,” Johnny informed me when I asked about it.
“It’ll give me a good excuse to be out late; I’ll tell dad that I had to pick some stuff up for the charity shop, and it took longer than I expected. I can’t drop it off till the morning, so he can see the stuff if he wants to,” added Arthur. From the way he said it I got the strong impression he expected his father to want to see it.
It took them about two hours to go through the boxes; about ten were put in the van to go to the charity shop, six were placed at the back of the garage to be moved to the Priory, and two were unpacked and their contents placed in the caravan. Both boys looked a bit sweaty when they eventually came in for dinner. Johnny did not look at all happy. I asked him what was wrong.
“The bitch hasn’t sent my bike, laptop or the stuff that Clive gave me.”
“What did Clive give you, and who is Clive?” I asked.
“He was her live-in lover for nearly two years. She threw him out when she found him in bed with me.”
“I’m not surprised; he was lucky she didn’t call the police.” I was rather irate that she hadn’t.
“She must have, because they came to speak to me about it, but it was nothing like what she thought.” Johnny sniffled slightly, and I sensed I had touched a raw nerve.
“Tell me about him, then?”
“Clive was great, a lot better than most of the lovers she had. Whenever I was at home, he made sure I was taken into consideration. If she was working on a major brief or something, he would take me out. When we were in Paris and it was my thirteenth birthday, he insisted we go to Disneyland. It was great, we had a whale of a time — at least Clive and I did — but I don’t think mother really liked it.
“Anyway, it was a few weeks after that. I had finished at prep school and was home. Mother was away working somewhere — a big case. Anyway, I had a terrible nightmare and woke up screaming, Clive came through to see what was wrong. He sat on my bed and gave me a cuddle and told me everything was going to be alright. I didn’t want to be alone, so he got under the cover and just held me till I dropped off. Next thing I knew mother was there screaming at him to get out. I tried to tell her what happened, but she wouldn’t listen.
“Anyway, the next day this policewoman came to talk to me. When I told her what had happened, she said I was not telling everything, that something else happened, but I said nothing else did. She spent a couple of hours trying to get me to say that something else had happened, but I didn’t. When she finished, I heard her speaking to mother, saying that I was too innocent to know what had been going on.
“Nothing fucking well went on. I know; I was there. If anything had been going on, I would have had Clive’s cock right up me, no mistake. I fancied him like hell, but he never went there or tried anything. He was a nice chap who was just considerate. He always thought about me when we were out together and would buy me things — nothing big, but things I really liked, like a set of craft knives or some modelling tools. I had a complete modeller’s bench set up in my room, but none of it is here, not even my models.”
Over dinner, Johnny told us more about Clive, about whom I knew nothing and had heard nothing of before. It seemed he had moved in with my ex the summer that Johnny was eleven. Johnny was unsure what job he did, but it was well-paid and involved a lot of travel. Johnny thought he was in the film or TV business as he had a lot of drawings of costumes and sets, but Clive never talked about his work, at least not with Johnny.
It was when Johnny said about the drawings that it clicked with me who Clive might be. I remembered Ben talking about a chap who went from being a top set designer to persona non grata overnight after rumours started flying about that he liked young boys. Ben said nobody knew where the rumours originated, but they were quite persistent and well spread about. Knowing what I knew now, I could guess where they started. The last thing my ex would want would be to share anything, especially with her son.After dinner the boys went to the caravan, but it was not long before Arthur left. Just before he left, he put his head around the study door.