I pulled Arthur inside and shut the door. Anne was still awake; I could see the light of her reading lamp shining under the bedroom door. I was about to call her when she looked out from the bedroom to see what was going on and saw Arthur. She retreated into the room, and a few moments later, she reappeared with an armful of towels and a towelling dressing gown.
"I…", Arthur started to say.
"Shut up," Anne ordered. She took a quick look at the gash on his head, then handed him the towels and dressing gown. "Take these and get into the bathroom. Have a hot shower. Leave your clothes in the linen basket; I’ll get them when you’ve finished and put them in the washer/dryer. Make sure you empty the pockets. They’ll be dry for you in the morning." She looked at me. "Mike, find something he can wear tonight."
I took the hint.
While Arthur and I were similar in height, we were very different in build. Well, you do tend to put on weight if you spend all day at a desk writing. I remembered that when we had been sorting my stuff out for the move, Anne had filled a box with clothes from my student days. Even then, I had a more substantial build than Arthur, but not by that much.
I found the box I wanted in the hall. It was the sixth box in the pile I opened to look at. As I remembered, there were a couple of tracksuits and some Uni sweatshirts in there. It had been over twenty years since I had worn them but had never got round to getting rid of them. There was also some unopened underwear, which puzzled me for a moment until I remembered I had bought a load in a Primark sale and found that some if it was the wrong size. At the price I paid, it was not worth the trouble of going back to the store to exchange it.
Making a pile of the clothing, I placed it outside the bathroom door. The shower had just been turned off, so I shouted through the door to tell Arthur there were some clothes for him outside the door. I then went to join Anne in the kitchen. She was making a pot of tea.
We sat at the table, Anne giving me a questioning look; I shrugged my shoulders. We would have to wait for Arthur to get some answers. It was not long before Arthur joined us, wearing one of my old track suits under the towelling dressing gown. He looked better than he did when I pulled him into the hall, but he still looked rough.
Anne got up and poured him a mug of tea, which she loaded with sugar.
"Now drink this," she instructed. "I'll go and get your clothes and put them in the washer. We will all talk when I get back." That was clearly an instruction to me not to start questioning the boy till she was there. I concurred.
Arthur was just finished with his tea when Anne returned. This time with a first-aid box in her hand.
"Now, stay still while I deal with this." Anne started to apply some antiseptic wipes to the gash in Arthur’s forehead. Then she covered it with a gauze dressing held in place with micropore tape.
"It’s more a graze than anything. How did it happen?" she asked.
"Came off the bike at the end of Leyton Lane," Arthur responded. "The handlebar caught me."
"Any other damage?" she asked.
"Grazed my right calf," Arthur answered.
"Right, lad, pull your track suit up and let me at it," Anne instructed. Arthur obeyed. Anne got to work on what was really quite a nasty graze down the outside of his calf. I was impressed by her efficiency.
"I did not know we had a first-aid box," I commented.
"You didn’t," Anne responded. "I brought this over from my place. Now make yourself useful and make a fresh pot while I deal with this." I obeyed.
Tea made, dressings applied, we all sat round the table with fresh mugs of tea.
"I’m sorry," Arthur stated. "I just could not think of anywhere else to go."
"That’s fine, son," Anne responded. "Now, why were you out in the rain? You should have been home in the dry. Mike took you home."
"And Dad threw me out," Arthur responded.
"Why?" I asked.
"Mom and Dad came back from the Brethren meeting angry. The moment they got in, Dad called me into the parlour. Wanted to know what I was doing fraternising with, to use his words, 'that queer actor from that pagan film'? One of the Brethren had seen Trevor with Johnny and me on Friday
"He did not give me a chance to explain. Told me he was going to thrash the evil out of me. He took the riding crop from by the fireplace and went to hit me with it. It’s the first time he’s tried that since I was fourteen.
"As he tried to hit me, I grabbed the crop and twisted it from his grip. I threw it into the fire. They always have a fire lit in the parlour on a Sunday just in case any of the elders come back with them."
"Do any of the elders ever come back with them?" Anne asked.
"Not in the time I’ve lived at home," Arthur answered. "It’d be a poor treatment they’d get if they did. Bread and jam with marge, not butter. I think the elders know where they would be better fed."
"So," I prompted, "you threw the crop into the fire."
"Yes, then we had a massive row, with Dad telling me that if I associated with the devil's spawn like Trevor Spade, I would be turned queer. I told him I knew I was queer; I knew that when Brother Peter fucked me at camp when I was twelve.
"With that, they both lost it. Accused me of defaming a Brother. They told me I was the devil's spawn just like my mother, and there was no place for me in the house of the godly. The two of them pushed me to the door and out into the street. I asked for my stuff, but they told me everything was theirs, and I had no rights to anything. With that, they slammed the door.
"I had to go round to the alley at the back and climb over the wall to get my bike. Then I rode here."
"Why didn’t you phone?" I asked. "I could have picked you up."
"The phone’s in the house. They would not let me have it; said it belonged to the business."
"Ri-i-i-ght," Anne stated. "Enough of this for now; it's late, and we all need to get some sleep. Mike, you have to be at court for Ian by nine-thirty, so you’ll need to leave seven-thirty latest with the traffic." I nodded in agreement.
"Could I come to court with you?" Arthur asked.
"Yes, if you feel up to it," I answered.
"If you're going, you need to rest," Anne stated. "I've made a bed up on the couch in the study. Your clothes are in the washer/dryer. They will be ready for you in the morning. Now go and get some sleep."
Arthur sensibly obeyed.
Anne and I made our way to our bedroom. Once in bed and the lights out, I commented that we appeared to have another problem.
"No, Mike," Anne replied, "we have a solution."
"Arthur clearly needs a place to stay, and we need somebody to housesit the Priory. Looks to me like a perfect match."
* * * * *
The sound of the kettle coming to the boil greeted me as I came into the kitchen. Johnny was making coffee. Seeing me, he put some water in the pot to warm it.
"Dad," he asked, "why is Arthur asleep in the study?" I gave him a potted version of last night’s events.
"Shit?" he commented. "Why didn’t you come and get us; he could have slept in the caravan."
"It was late," I replied.
"We were up talking till well gone one."
I pointed out that there was no way I could have known that, then suggested that he take Arthur a mug of coffee as he wanted to go to court with me for Ian’s case.
"Oh," Johnny responded, "Trevor wants to go, as well." Just then Trevor came through from the caravan.
It was something of a rush for all of us to use the bathroom and get ready. In fact, Johnny was a bit late in leaving, so I told him I would drop him off at the yard on the way to Chelmsford and would pick him up when he finished.
In the end, we made a somewhat better time into Chelmsford than I expected, getting to the court well before it opened. Given that breakfast had been both rushed and on the light side, we adjourned to a nearby café and got a second breakfast, though Arthur did not seem too keen on eating. Trevor started to ask Arthur about the previous evening's events. Arthur told his story. I noticed that Trevor seemed able to ask questions that elicited details that Arthur had not given before.
What was very apparent from Arthur's answers to Trevor's questions was that things had been a lot worse for Arthur at home than I had thought or even wanted to believe.
We had not long sat down to our meal when Bernard and another man, who looked vaguely familiar, entered the café.
"What are you doing here?" I enquired.
"Seeking sustenance," Bernard replied. "Harold here said this was a good spot. One thing every barrister learns early on is where to get a good bite close to the court. Isn't that right, Harold?"
Harold, a thin man, who I guessed had a good twenty years on both Bernard and myself, smiled and asked Bernard what he fancied.
"A bacon sarnie," Bernard responded. Then he looked at me. "Don’t you dare tell Debora. That applies to you boys, too." We all nodded, though Arthur looked puzzled. I realised he probably did not know that Bernard was Jewish.
As we sat and finished our breakfasts, Bernard and Harold joined us. Bernard explained that, as he was out of practice in magistrate court procedure, he had thought it best to get the services of an expert. I started to wonder just how much of an expert Harold was.
Breakfast over, we made our way to the court. Bernard consulted with the court list and then told us where we needed to be and when. He and Harold then departed into the bowels of the court building to consult with their client.
A man whom I recognised as a friend of Matt’s came over and approached us. "Mike Carlton?"
"I'm Steve Webber, a reporter with the local rag. We’ve met a couple of times when I’ve been in the Anchor with my brother-in-law, Matt." I nodded. "So, what’s the big case?"
"Big case?" I asked. "What makes you think there's a big case."
"First, Trevor Spade’s here." He nodded towards the two boys who had hung back a bit. "Any case that involves one of England’s gay icons is a big case."
"He's not here for a case, just to observe court proceedings. Thought it might be useful for an upcoming role." I remembered there was a court scene in That Woman's Son, though I could not remember if Trevor's character was involved in it.
"Oh, well," Steve replied. "But when I see Bernard LeBrun, a leading solicitor arriving with Sir Harold Gleeson QC then I know something is going on. I’ve checked the lists and can’t see anything that would involve people of that calibre, so there must be something that I’ve missed. If nothing else, at least tell me which court I should be sitting in."
I told him, then mentioned that I thought court duties usually went to the junior staff.
"With the current cutbacks, there are no juniors anymore — damned few seniors, either. Usually, the newspaper leaves the courts to the stringers, but a local football celeb is up for speeding, the third time in twelve months, and should lose his licence."
We chatted for a couple more minutes, and I introduced him to Trevor. Well, it is always a good thing to keep on friendly terms with the press; Trevor got on his right side by giving him a couple of signed photos for his daughters. It never occurred to me that people like Trevor carry pictures of themselves around.
Bernard came up to the lobby and told us Ian’s case was up next. He commented it had been moved up the list. We made our way into court and took our seats. Bernard went to the defence bench and joined Harold. The district judge looked up as they took their places and then did a doubletake. The young lady at the prosecution bench looked distinctly unhappy.
The district judge looked at Harold. "I do not think you are known to this court, sir."
Harold nodded with a slight smile. "I have appeared before this court in the past, sir, but that was when it was located elsewhere. Harold Gleeson Queen’s Counsel."
"And you appear for the defence in this case?" There was an emphasis by the judge on the words, ‘this case’.
"Yes, sir, in this matter, I am assisted and instructed by Mr. Bernard LeBrun, solicitor at law."
The judge sniffed as a sign of general disapproval and then turned his attention to the young lady at the prosecution bench. "Miss Laycross, are you ready to proceed?"
"Yes, sir. The accused, Ian Thomas Jenkins of Jenkins Farm …" She proceeded to read out the details of charges, never once looking in the direction of the young man in the dock.
"Has there been any indication of plea?" the judge asked.
"Sir," Harold announced, standing up. The judge looked at him with displeasure. "My client will be entering a plea of not guilty. We would ask for bail."
The judge turned his attention to Miss Laycross. "Does the prosecution have any opinion on bail?"
"Sir, we would oppose bail. There is a history of assault by members of the accused family upon members of the victim’s family. If bail is granted, we believe the accused may commit further acts of violence against the victim or members of the victim’s family."
Harold stood; the judge turned to him.
"Sir," Harold stated, "concerning the statement made regarding the previous assault on a member of the victim's family by a member of the accused family, I can state that it has no direct bearing on this case." There was a rustle of paper from the press bench, and I noted Steve was making rapid notes.
"Further," Harold continued, "we feel that the defendant would be at risk if he was to remain in the area. Arrangements have been made for him to be lodged in London for such period as he may be on remand if bail is granted. Surety is present in court for any reasonable amount that the court may think necessary. I think I must advise the court that we will be applying for a transfer of proceedings to the Central Criminal Court in any event." There was a slight gasp from the prosecution bench.
The district judge sat quietly for a moment, then announced. "I find the objections of the prosecution sufficient to deny bail. Bail is refused. The defendant is remanded in custody for twenty-eight days for trial at the Crown Court."
The two security guards behind the dock escorted Ian out through the back of the dock. We made our way to the lobby where we were joined by Bernard and Harold.
"There was not much point in me coming," I commented.
"Oh, no," Bernard responded. "We need you to hang on a bit. Harold is just going to pop next door. I suggest we meet up back in that café. I’ll be there in ten minutes or so."
It was more like thirty minutes before Bernard joined us. He apologised for the delay.
"Took a bit of finding the right judge," he commented.
"What’s going on?" I asked.
"Harold is having a hearing in chambers on an application for bail for Ian Jenkins. Can’t get a hearing before twelve, but I doubt if they will ship the lad out before then. I doubt if Her Honour Justice Meldross will reject the application. She was Harold's pupil, and I think she had quite a crush on him."
For the next hour and a quarter, we sat and drank tea or coffee, according to taste, consumed alongside a selection of cakes. Bernard was just eyeing up the lunch menu — I think the mixed grill with its liver and pork chop — had caught his eye when Harold came in.
"Got it," Harold stated. "We’ll need you back at the magistrates."
Half an hour later I had signed as surety for five thousand pounds, and Ian was leaving with us. Just as we got to the door, Steve Webber came up.
"Look," he said to Bernard. "I know you can’t say anything and you don’t know me, but Mike’s mate can vouch for me. I’m local press and hear a lot of what’s going on — a lot more than I can print or the paper dare print. Here's my card. If you want any questions answered, give me a call." He handed Bernard his card, then left.
"Strange," Bernard stated. "It seems he thinks he knows something."
"He was the one who gave Matt the information about the assault on Ian and it being a Brethren family," I pointed out.
Bernard nodded. "Maybe I will call him in a day or two. Now I need to make a phone call; then we need to get to the station." He took out his phone and made a quick call.
We had parked at the High Chelmer multi-storey not far from the station, so we walked with Bernard, Harold and Ian to the station. Just before we got there, I spotted Ms. Simpson standing and waiting with a large bag over her shoulder. When she saw us, she ran to Ian and gave him a hug.
"I told her not to attend court," Bernard informed me. "It would only have upset her."
She turned to Bernard. "Thank you. I’ve packed enough for a couple of weeks; I’ll bring some more down when I can get away."
"That’s OK," Bernard responded. "I’m sure we can manage. We do have a washing machine. Anyway, he is about the same size as my son." I looked at Bernard, surprised. He smiled. "Ian is staying with us at the Hampstead house. Could not get anything else arranged in time. So, he is stuck with living in Hampstead until we can get his bail conditions reviewed."
Ian, who up till now had been very quiet, besides a few mumbled greetings suddenly asked, "But what about my work?"
His mother looked at him, a sadness in her eyes. "Sorry, son. They phoned up this morning; you’ve been fired."
Bernard looked at him. "Sorry, you have not been there long enough to claim unfair dismissal. However, we can add it to the damages when we sue the Hendersons."
"Sue the Hendersons?" Ian asked.
"Yes," Bernard commented. "I have to get my fee some way, and if you sue them, my legal expenses can be part of your claim."
Everybody stood around on the corner for a moment, then Bernard announced: "We’d better get a move on; there is a train to catch, and I want to get to my office in time for tea."
Ian said goodbye to his mother and promised to phone her that evening; then Bernard, Harold and Ian went off towards the station. We started to walk towards High Chelmer; Ms. Simpson came with us, stating she had parked her car there as well. About halfway to the car park, she turned to me.
"Mr. LeBrun told me you stood bail for Ian," she stated. I confirmed that I had. She thanked me and said that she would have liked to have been in court but had been advised against it. When I expressed surprise that Bernard had given her such advice, she informed me that he had told her he did not want to draw attention to Ian's black origins. Bernard had said something to me the day before about the odds being stacked against black boys. Now his comment made sense. If a white boy and a black boy were charged with the same type of offence, the white boy was twice as likely to get bail as the black boy. The thing was, the odds were even worse if they were unlucky enough to get a black judge.
It struck me then that unless you knew his mother, you would not have thought that Ian was of mixed race. He would probably be considered as of Italian, Spanish or maybe North African origin. I commented on that.
"All my sons have that look. I’m actually a bit of a throwback. Both my parents are mixed race. My family has African, Chinese and Scottish bloodlines all mixed in it. I think there is even some Scandinavian. Robby is blond with blue eyes."
We stopped at a cash point while Arthur went to get some cash. He put his card in and entered his pin, selected an option and then stared at the screen with an expression of horror. I asked him what was wrong.
"Dad’s cleared the account. It was the account for my internet business. There should have been nearly a grand in it. He must have cleared it out last night."
Mary looked at him, puzzled.
"Sorry," he said. "My Dad's Brethren; he threw me out last night. Did not approve of my friends." With that comment, he glanced at Trevor.
"Let’s get something to eat," Trevor suggested. "My treat. Won't you join us, Mary?"
Mary agreed to join us and suggested Queenies Coffee Shop. The boys got coffees and some cake that looked sweet and sticky. Mary and I had tea — Assam for her, Earl Grey, for me. I asked Mary how Robby was doing.
"I’m not really certain," she informed me. "I sent him to my cousin in Croydon Saturday morning. Have not spoken to him since he got there. Now they have got Ian, they would be after Robby next. Best, he moves away. My cousin has said he can stay with them till he finishes school."
"Couldn't Ian have gone there while on bail?" I asked.
"Not enough room," she replied. "Anyway, my cousin Ruby and Ian have never really got on. Robby, though, he's her favourite."
"Why not just sell up and move?" I asked.
"Can’t do that. The farm’s in trust for the boys. Can’t sell it till Robby turns twenty-five; then they can cash it in if they want. Anyway, selling it would not be fair on Alison. She's John's half-sister. Her father died when she was six, and John's mother married John's father a couple of years later. From what I heard, Alison virtually brought John up.
"She's lived on that farm all her life, and she works what we still farm and makes it pay, if only just. If I could find something that would pay a decent wage I would jump at it, move out and leave Alison with the farm, but there is nothing going round here, and I don’t have the contacts these days that I used to have to find work elsewhere.
"Twenty years ago, I was a top-flight events organiser. Now I am a part-time bar manager. Quite a comedown."
"Do you regret giving it up?" I asked.
"No. John was a great man. The boys are really good. It's only been the last three or four of years since the Hendersons bought the Ricketts place — that's the farm next to us — that there has been trouble.
"Anyway, I must get off. Have to be at work for three." With that, she stood up, made her goodbyes to us and strode off. The three of us watched her as she exited the coffee shop.
"You know," Trevor commented, "that woman has style, which, Arthur, is more than you have; we need to sort you out some clothes."
"I know. That’s why I went to the cashpoint. I’ve only got fifteen pounds."
"It doesn't matter; I'll stand you a couple of hundred. You can pay me back when you sort out a job," Trevor informed him. "Come on, let's hit the shops. Do you want to join us, Mike, or wait here?"
I declined to join them, as I had some of my own shopping I wanted to do. So, we agreed to meet up in an hour at the car-park entrance. About ten minutes after we had parted, I heard a girl scream, followed by more screams and shopping centre security rushing in the direction the boys had gone.
"I'm sorry," Trevor said with a smile on his face. "I should never have taken my hood off."
"It’s not your fault," Arthur stated, "that security guard said you couldn’t go into the store with your hood up. Though, it might have helped if you could have kept your sunglasses on."
We were sitting in the manager’s office of one of the more upmarket stores in the shopping centre. It had taken the security staff almost half an hour to calm the mob of girls who had surrounded the boys once one of them had recognised Trevor. I had kidded him earlier in the day about going around with his hood up and sunglasses on; now I knew why he did.
Once they had been escorted inside the store, they had called me and asked me to join them in the manager's office. There were still quite a number of girls standing around outside the store when I got there, no doubt waiting in expectation of seeing Trevor when he left. I had approached one of the assistants for the manager and was informed that she was busy at the moment. I told the assistant that I was expected and was with the party who was keeping the manager busy. With that, I was shown through to the back of the store.
One of the assistants came in with a pile of clothes that Trevor and Arthur were looking at. Actually, it was more a case of Trevor looking at and holding pieces up against Arthur to see how they looked. Arthur was continually standing up, then sitting down as Trevor selected different items. Eventually after about half an hour, with Arthur trying on several different pieces, Trevor placed his hand on top of one of the piles of clothes that were on the manager’s desk and told the manager they would take those.
The manager looked somewhat relieved. Arthur seemed slightly embarrassed, telling Trevor he could never afford that lot. Trevor told him not to worry, it was all useful publicity. He then handed Arthur a twenty-pound note and told him he’d better go by himself to Primark and get some underwear.
Arthur took the money and left for Primark. I agreed to meet Arthur in half an hour at the car-park entrance. They were going to take Trevor out of the store by the back entrance, and I was to pick him up at the loading bays. I then sorted out with security how to get from the car park to the loading bays.
I had a couple more purchases I wanted to make but had to be pretty quick about it. Then I met Arthur, and we made our way to the car. Once there, I called Trevor and told him we were on our way.
The pick-up went without incident, but we were now running very late. I was sure Anne would not be pleased when we got home. Rather than having to drop the boys off, then drive back and pick up Johnny, I phoned him and asked if he could finish early. He could, so I arranged to pick him up on our way back to Lynnhaven.
Anne was smiling when we entered the bungalow. I wondered what was up.
"Sorry," I stated, "we got held up."
"So I heard," she responded.
"It was on the news. ‘Chaos in shopping centre when teen film idol spotted’."
We spent the next half-hour giving both Anne and Johnny an account of events both at the court and at the shopping centre. I must admit that I found Arthur’s description of Trevor being mobbed quite amusing. Anne could not stop laughing.
"It wasn’t that bad," Trevor commented.
"Wasn’t it?" Arthur responded.
"No doubt we will find out on the local news," Anne pointed out.
I noted that we had to organise food for dinner, sort out Arthur’s sleeping arrangements and get some packing done for the move. The first was relatively easy. Anne did us a quick pasta dish and salad. Arthur moved his bedding from the couch in the study to the caravan. The boys had agreed he would use the bed that was made up from the seating area at the front.
That left the packing. We had been doing bits and pieces of it since the offer was accepted for the Priory. There still seemed to be no end of it to do. Johnny, though, assured me that he would be around all day Tuesday to help, as he was not going into the yard till after his exams.
We had just started to pack up the books and papers in my office when Anne called us into the lounge to watch the local news on TV. Somehow, they had got some CCTV footage and smartphone video from the shopping centre. The CCTV footage showed Trevor and Arthur being stopped at the entrance to the store by a security guard, who indicated that Trevor should put his hood down. When Trevor did, the guard also indicated the sunglasses. Trevor was just removing them as a group of teenage girls were walking out of the store. One of the girls looked at him, then opened her mouth in what appeared to be a scream — the footage was silent — pointing at Trevor. Girls and young women, plus some young men, immediately gathered around him, pushing things at him for his autograph. Some of the things signed looked quite intimate.
It could not have been more than a minute after the news item finished than the phone rang. I answered it.
It was Susan. "Is Trevor staying there, Mike?"
"Thought so. Couldn’t think of anyone else he knew near Chelmsford. Can I speak to him?" I wondered why she had not called him on his mobile but handed the phone to Trevor, telling him it was his mother.
For the next five minutes, we listened to one side of a conversation which consisted of a series of "yes, mother", "no, mother", "I told you I'd be back on Wednesday." This sequence was repeated several times. Finally, he handed the phone back to me.
"Mike," Susan said, "is he all right?"
"Yes, he seems fine."
"Can you make sure he comes back on Wednesday?"
"Susan, I'll do my best, but he is eighteen and can do what he wants."
"I know," she admitted, "but I worry about him."
After that, we got back to the packing. Arthur was helping me in the study, while Trevor and Johnny were helping Anne in the rest of the bungalow. I opened the drawer in the bottom of the filing cabinet, which contained some mobile phones. A few years ago, I had a spate of jobs writing user manuals for them. It was a time when work was slow, and I was happy to take on anything. I told Arthur to put them in the boxes for charity. He asked if he could have one.
"Yes," I replied, "but they are all out of date. I would have thought you would have wanted a smartphone?"
"Can’t afford one," he stated. "These will work to text and call. Now, all I need is a GiffGaff SIM."
"Actually, I’ve got a couple," I informed him. "Somebody sent them to me suggesting I should try one, but I didn’t see much point in swapping networks. It would have meant getting my phone unlocked." I rummaged in the top drawer of my desk and found them.
"Thanks," Arthur said as I handed him the SIMs. "Could I use your laptop for a bit?"
"Yes. You probably need a laptop, don’t you?"
"I do, but it is one of the things that will have to wait."
"Look," I told him, "there is an old laptop in one of the charity boxes in the garage. It’s the one I replaced when I got this. A bit old — if I remember, it’s running Vista — but you can have that." I went out with him to the garage, and after a bit of rummaging around, we found the right box. Fortunately, the laptop was right at the top.
Arthur got it out of the box, and we returned to the bungalow, where he immediately set about getting one of the phones charged and plugged the laptop in. I remembered why I had replaced it. It was slow.
After about fifteen minutes, Arthur was smiling. The phone, still charging, started to beep. I asked him what he had done.
"I logged into my GiffGaff account. Reported my phone as lost or stolen and then did a SIM replacement. This phone now has my number. Had to unlock it, but the code was easy to get. Would you mind if I put Linux on this laptop?"
"It’s yours now. Do what you like with it."
He thanked me and then started to read the texts that had been arriving.
"Shit!" he exclaimed.
"What’s wrong?" I asked.
"Dad’s closed the internet business down. He has sent emails to all the users saying that the service will end on the thirtieth of June."
"At least," I commented, "he has given them time to get a replacement service in."
"He had to," Arthur informed me. "There’s a thirty-day notice period in the contract. Dad’s too canny to risk being sued. That’s not the point. There is no alternative service for the small hamlets. They're too far from the exchange for ADSL, and there is no fibre away from the main trunk."
I knew the basics of how the system he had put in place worked. Line of sight directional WiFi. It is widely used in some parts of Africa, which I recalled was where Arthur had got the idea. As long as you had relatively flat terrain, it was a fairly simple solution if a wired option was not available. It was also a lot cheaper to set up in many cases.
"You set the business up, didn’t you?" I asked.
"Yes," Arthur replied.
"So, what is needed to run it?"
"Somewhere to locate the central hub and its transceivers. The shop used to be a bakery, and I used the bakery chimney for the transceiver station. It was high enough to be able to reach quite a distance. The other thing is a good connection to the internet, you need to be on a decent spur. That was one problem we had; Dad would not upgrade to a main connection, which slowed the speed we could offer. Not that speed was that much of an issue. When the choice is no internet or slow internet, you take what you can get."
"So why not restart the business?" I asked. "You know that there are going to be a lot of customers wanting it."
"But I would need a fast internet connection and somewhere high enough to locate the central transceivers. I would also need some funds to get it going; there would be servers to buy and other things."
There was a decision to be made, but I did not want to make it on my own, even though I knew what it should be. I checked with Arthur if he had his own bank account, separate from the business one his father had control of.
"Yes," he replied. "There is not much in it, only about four quid."
"But it is a current account?" I asked.
"All right," I told him, "I think it is time there was a bit of a family conference. We’d better go through to the kitchen." Arthur looked a bit apprehensive but preceded me into the kitchen. As we went through, I called Anne, Trevor and Johnny to join us.
Johnny set out to make tea and coffee as we sat around the table. I briefly explained that Arthur had a problem, and I thought a family discussion might be helpful. At that point, Trevor said he was not family, so better leave. I told him to stay as I thought he might be able to provide some input. I then got Arthur to explain the situation.
"Let’s see if I’ve got this right," Anne stated. "You had a business with over seventy customers paying fifteen quid a month for a beamed wireless internet connection. Is that right?"
Arthur confirmed it was. Anne continued. "Your father has given notice to all your old customer that he is closing the service down?"
Arthur confirmed that was the case.
"Was there any scope for expansion?" Anne asked.
"Yes, we were turning people down as we had reached the maximum we could support on the internet connection we had," Arthur replied.
"Then," Anne declared, "I don’t see what the problem is. Just restart the business in your own name and supply your old customers."
"But I need somewhere to run it from," Arthur informed her. "And there is the money I would need for the equipment to run it. Also, I need somewhere high enough for the base station."
"Arthur," Anne told him, "with the number of out buildings, barns and other assorted buildings at the Priory, I am sure we can find you somewhere for your business. I don't think you could use the turret at the Priory as that is Schedule Two listed, but the stables aren't, and the clock tower on the stables is almost as high. It’s a damned sight higher than anything in Dunford, considering the hill the Priory’s on.
"As for money, how much do you need? I’m sure Mike and myself can help out. It sounds like a good potential investment." I nodded in agreement.
"I can put some money in as well," Trevor stated. We all turned and looked at him. "Well, Mam and Dad have been on to me make some investments so that I'll have something to fall back on if acting dries up."
"So," I asked, "how much money do you need to get started again, not cutting corners?"
"Really at least seven grand; ten would be better," Arthur informed us. "The Priory is the wrong side of Dunford for most of my existing customers, so I will have to update the transceivers."
"I can put up three for you," Trevor stated. I looked at him.
"Sorry," he apologised, "three is all I can get at without having to do transfers from the trust accounts; if I do that, people start asking questions."
"I can put in two," Johnny added.
"And where," I asked, "are you getting two grand from?"
"My post-office savings account. Could not touch it till I was sixteen. Ten pounds a week has been put in since I was born, there's about eight K in it. Don’t know who was putting it in; doubt it was the bitch."
"I suspect it was Stan and Flora," Anne commented. "It is just the sort of thing they would do."
"Right," I said, "that covers five grand. I’ll put in five. The only thing is, Arthur, you need to set it up as a limited company, and you take half the shares; the other half are divided between those of us putting up the money."
"But why do I get half the shares?" Arthur asked. "It’s your money."
"Because you’ll be doing all the work, and it is your expertise," I responded.
Arthur looked a bit blank for a moment. "Dad always said as it was his money behind the business, it was his business."
"Well," I responded, "this one is yours. Now we better get started on sorting it out."
Just over an hour later, we had completed a company formation online, which cost me fifteen pounds. As soon as we got the formation documents, which should come through by email tomorrow, Arthur could set up a company bank account, and we could put up the funds to get him started.
After that, none of us were really in the mood to get back to packing, and I was surprised how much we had actually managed to get done. Most of my office was packed. The stuff that was left unpacked was stuff I needed right up to the time we moved. Anne had got most of her and my clothes packed, leaving just enough out to cover us for the next couple of days. The main thing left to pack was the kitchen and the tools in the garage. All Johnny's stuff was in the caravan, and that would be just towed over.
Tuesday morning was a lot calmer. Anne and Johnny took on packing up the kitchen stuff, and Trevor set about packing the loose things in the garage. Anne and I had been running a multi-car policy for the last couple of years, so it was reasonably easy to add Arthur on as an alternative driver for both my Santa Fe and Anne's car. One thing they would not do, though, was put a seventeen-year-old on for the Morgan. Not that I can blame them.
Shortly after ten, the email came through with the Certificate of Incorporation for Arthur's company. He had named me as a director. So, armed with the paperwork, I drove us into Dunford and visited the bank. The bank, however, did not seem to be very keen to open an account for us; they had problems with a seventeen-year-old director.
In fact, they even suggested that Arthur resign as a director and leave me as sole director. I told them no way; it was Arthur’s business.
As we were leaving, the business advisor who had been trying to open the account for us told us we should try MyCashPlus. As soon as we were out of the bank, I looked them up on my phone. So far as I could see, it offered a pre-paid credit card linked to a bank account that had full banking facilities other than cheques. Who uses those nowadays?
Half an hour after we got back home, we had a MyCashPlus account set up in the company’s name and had made the required transfers into it.
By about four, the place was pretty well packed up. That did, though, raise the question of dinner, as most of the pots and pans were now packed away. We decided to go down to the Anchor and eat there.
The removal men arrived at eight on Wednesday morning. Surprisingly, it took them less than an hour to pack the van. We then had to sit around and wait for completion. I had never really understood what completion meant, but Bernard carefully talked me through it. Basically, it meant that everybody had been paid. The thing was, Bernard could not pay for the Priory on my behalf until he had received the money for the sale of the bungalow. Shortly after eleven, he called to say we had completed and that the agent would meet us at the Priory with the keys.
I hooked the caravan up to the Santa Fe, handed the keys for the Morgan to Anne. She had given the keys for her car to Arthur, who had taken Trevor and Johnny to Southminster Station so they could get the train to London, Trevor to face his parents, Johnny to go on to Sheffield and exams.
As it turned out, we had only just got into the Priory when Arthur arrived after dropping off the boys. Yes, the agent had been there when we arrived, but she had the wrong set of keys. Actually, that is not quite right. She had a set of keys for the Priory, just not the set of keys with the master key for the security gate. So, we were stuck outside on the road while she went back to Dunford to get the additional keys.
By four o’clock, I was glad that Anne had insisted that we used a professional removal company. Even with them putting all the furniture and boxes in the right rooms, there was still a lot we had to do, mostly unpacking boxes to find essentials, and I was exhausted.
As a result, I was glad when the removal men left, and Anne suggested that we go and get something to eat. It was then I realised that we had not had any lunch.
We made our way the four hundred yards or so down the road to a pub. It was about the nearest place to the Priory. The back of the pub car park must actually abut Priory land. As it was so close, we decided to walk down to it.
When we got there, the place was relatively empty. In fact, we were the only people in. Not usually a good sign for a pub. I mentioned this as I ordered our drinks and got some menus.
"Only just opened," the landlady informed me. "There is no weekday afternoon trade out this way, so not worth opening. It’ll get busier after five, though not by much. Only really busy, outside summer, at the weekends; then, we get the sailing folk coming in for meals."
Once I had got our drinks and the menus, I joined Anne and Arthur, who had taken a table on the outside terrace. A quick look at the menu gave me more hope for the place. It was a decent, if limited, menu. A menu with twenty or thirty possible mains usually indicates pre-prepared meals, either frozen or chilled. Here we had a choice of six mains, two of which were variations on the same ingredients. Arthur and Anne both decided to go for the steak. I was a bit more adventurous and selected the chicken breasts in mushroom and garlic sauce. When we had all decided I went up to the bar to place our order.
"I noticed," the landlady stated, "there’s not a new car in the car park, so you must have walked here?"
"Well, you’re not dressed as hikers, so I presume you must be the people moving into the old Langton place."
"We are," I confirmed.
"I heard it had sold. Been on the market for some time but too far out for most people."
"Not a problem for me, I work at home; so long as I have internet, I can work anywhere."
"You’re going to have problems out here; there’s no internet," she stated. "Would love to have it. Could do wonders for this place if we could take online bookings. BT says it’s too far from the exchange for a service."
"You need to speak with Arthur," I told her. "He's sorted out the internet for us, though it will be a week or so before we get it."
"Is he your son?"
"No, just a friend of my son who's going to be housesitting for us while we are away. I'll send him over to speak to you while we are waiting for our food."
When I got back to the table, I told Arthur to go and have a talk with the landlady. He came back five minutes later and said to me that he had arranged to come down to speak with the landlady about an internet connection tomorrow afternoon before the bar opened.
We got back to the Priory just after six. Although not the best pub meal I have had, the Crooked Man had served a decent meal at a reasonable price. It was nice to know that there was somewhere close by where we could get fed on those days when we did not fancy cooking.
One problem we did face was that there were no connection points for the caravan at the Priory. That being the case, Anne suggested that Arthur would be better off sleeping in the house. Fortunately, we did have a camp bed that we put up for him in one of the bedrooms.
Thursday was spent unpacking. I was grateful to have Arthur around; he was a big help, especially with getting my study sorted out. Again, we decided to go down to the Crooked Man for dinner as nobody really felt like cooking.
By Friday morning we were relatively well sorted — or at least as much as we could be until the new furniture arrived. Anne had made a list of what was to be delivered and where it was to go. This she gave to Arthur and carefully talked him through it, just to make sure he knew what was coming when and where it was to be put. She also phoned the furniture place and ordered another bed so there was somewhere for Arthur to sleep rather than the camp bed.
Just after eleven, Matt turned up to discuss the alterations with me and sort out what work could be done whilst we were away. Knowing that Arthur would be around made life a lot easier.
While we were looking at the plans of the Priory, Arthur asked how one got up to the stable clock tower. Matt told him that there was a trapdoor at the back of the stables, which, he thought, led up to the tower. He told Arthur that there used to be an outside staircase to a door at the back of the stable’s clock tower, but that was long gone. Arthur went off to explore.
"How come," I asked Matt, "that the stables aren't listed? I always thought that when a building was listed, everything in its demise was listed with it."
"That’s correct," Matt informed me. "But when the Priory was listed, the stables and outbuilding weren’t in the demise."
"No. When the Priory was listed, most of the outbuildings and the stables belonged to the farm. They were part of the demise of the farmhouse, so were not listed with the Priory. Old man Langton bought Home Farm when it came up for sale; that must have been about ninety-six. The place was in pretty bad shape by then as it had not been lived in for some years. Anyway, the old man had the farmhouse demolished. Knocking it down improved the view from the main reception rooms. There had been an incident when a couple of kids had got into the farmhouse. One of them had fallen through the floor. Luckily, he was not badly hurt, but it was a near thing. The old man didn’t want to take any risks. Had my old boss check all the buildings for safety then ordered the farmhouse to be demolished."
"There was talk about building a new farmhouse behind the farm buildings, which would have been out of sight of the Priory reception rooms. However, in the end, he sold off most of the home farmlands and just kept the outbuildings and stables, plus the land between the road and Sidings Lane."
We spent the next half hour or so going over plans and agreeing on what could be done while we were away. Matt was just about to leave when Arthur came back.
"There’s a flat there," he told us.
"Where?" I asked.
"In the stables," he told me. "I found a ladder and went up through the trap door. Under the roof, there is an old flat. It’s got one large room, a smaller room at the end with an old-fashioned bathroom off it and a kitchen at the other end. There are skylights along the roof, so plenty of light — or there would be if they were cleaned."
"That makes sense," Matt commented. "I’ve never really looked at the outbuildings. Just noticed there was a door at the roof level of the clock tower. The old man had the outside stairs taken down when he had the farmhouse demolished. ‘Pose it was to keep anyone getting in there."
"Any chance I could have the flat?" Arthur asked.
"We'll need to get it checked out, and I suppose it will take some doing up," I told him. "But I don't see why not. We will need to put some new stairs in."
"I’ll do the place up," Arthur informed me.
I asked Matt about access. He said to conform with current regulations, we would need to put in both the outside stairs and some internal stairs from the stables. I told him to get it sorted out while we were away; also, to get the utilities checked. Matt mentioned it would probably need rewiring as it must have been at least fifty years since it was last used.
"Actually, Matt, we will need to get the whole stable block rewired, as Johnny needs part of it for a workshop, and I was thinking of letting out parts of it as workshops for craftsmen. Any chance of getting it done while we’re away?"
"I’ll see what miracles can be arranged," he replied, looking at the plans and making notes.
Matt left just after one, and Arthur grabbed some cleaning equipment and headed off in the direction of the stables, no doubt to start cleaning up what was to be his domain.
As we would not have internet till the middle of next week at the earliest, it was not really feasible to do much work, so I sat down to read some technical journals. Just after three, Anne brought me a mug of tea through. We chatted for a few minutes about how things were going, and she informed me that she had finally sorted out the kitchen and would cook dinner this evening.
She had just left when the phone rang.
"Mike," Bernard asked when I answered it, "when are you going up to Manston?"
"Tomorrow afternoon," I answered. "Why?"
"Any chance you could give Mary Simpson a lift up? That’s Ian’s mother."
"Don’t see why not. We’re going up in the Santa Fe. Arthur’s bringing it back here on Tuesday." That reminded me; I needed to let Mrs M know there was one more guest at the wedding. "Why does Ian’s mother need to go up?"
"I’ve talked your brother and brother-in-law into lending her one of the cottages for the weekend. I’m bringing her boys up with us so she can spend the weekend with them."
"I thought Ian had to be in London under his bail conditions?"
"Got them changed. Now he is not allowed within ten miles of Dunford, so Manston is no problem. Thought it would be nice for her to see the boys for the weekend. Then we will take her and the boys back to London after the wedding; she can get the train to Chelmsford then the bus to Dunford."
"No need," I told him, "Arthur’s bringing the Santa Fe back on Tuesday; he can bring her back at the same time."
"That’s good," Bernard commented. "That means we do not need to come back till Tuesday. I can get sozzled at the reception."
"I have no doubt you were going to anyway, no doubt relying on Debora to drive you back." He laughed at my statement.
After we had finished our conversation, I called Mary Jenkins and arranged that we would pick her up sometime between two and three. I had been somewhat surprised by the fact that she needed a lift as I thought she had to have a car to get to her work. It turned out that she had a week off and had put her car in for some work, not thinking she would need it. Then Bernard had phoned and suggested she go up to Manston.
Saturday morning was total confusion. For a start, I could not find my passport. I always kept it in the safe, but we did not have a safe here. The security people were due to come in sometime after we got back to install the safes for us. In the meantime, I had put everything valuable into a safety-deposit box, and for a time thought I must have left my passport there as well. Eventually, Anne found it — in my bedside table.
As a result, it was well past three when we picked up Mary Simpson and getting on for seven when we finally pulled up in front of Manston. As usual, Mrs M appeared at the top of the steps as we pulled up. I got out of the car and opened the door for Anne to get out from the back. Arthur, who had been in the front passenger seat, opened the door for Mary.
"Mary Simpson!" Mrs M shouted out. "Where the hell have you come from?"