I spent the next hour talking options over with Johnny. What became apparent was that, while he knew what he wanted to do with his life, he had no clear idea of how to get there. Up to now, he had very much been in rebellion against his mother and her plans for him. Now, there was no need for rebellion. I would go along, within reason, with what he wanted to do. More importantly, I was not going to tell him what he should do; I would guide and advise, but the final decision had to be his.
What did come out from our conversation was that Johnny had, in fact, made very few decisions about his future. Yes, he had taken decisions and acted on his own. They had, though, for the most part been brought about by the actions of his mother and in response to decisions she had made for him.
"Look, Johnny, there is no rush on things," I stated in the end. "You have plenty of time to make up your mind. You've got your job at the yard; that will keep you going for a bit. It's not as if you need the money. If you want to, you could just loll about here for the next two years."
"What do you mean I don't need the money?" he asked. "I can't live off you for the next couple of years."
I realised then that I had not spoken to him about the arrangements that his uncles were putting in place for him. This, though, did not seem like the time to talk to him about them. Something needed to be said, though just not now.
"Look, Johnny, just trust me. You do not have to worry about money. You are my son; I am more than happy to support you. In the longer run, a couple of things are being done to make sure you have enough to cover your upkeep and education. I just can't go into details at the moment.
"For now, why don't you go off and make a list of your options and then a list of pros and cons for each option? We can discuss it some more in a couple of days. You might want to get some extra information on different options and see where that takes you."
"Can we talk about it again in a couple of days?"
"How about we leave it till the weekend?" I suggested. "I think we both probably need to do some research on options, and I have a busy few days ahead of me. Remember I'm in London on Wednesday."
"OK, Dad, Saturday then?" Johnny responded.
"Sunday," I stated. "I think we will need your godfather to fill you in on a couple of things."
Johnny left, saying he and Joseph were getting an early night. Not that it was that early. It was well past ten-thirty. I sent Bernard an email saying we needed to discuss the trust with Johnny. Then I got back to my writing, which went well. In fact, it went so well that it was gone two in the morning when I next looked at the clock.
Tuesday morning, I slept in; it was after ten-thirty when I finally made my way down to the kitchen. Anne and Jenny were chatting over mugs of coffee when I arrived.
"Just made a pot of tea," Anne stated. "Heard the shower."
"Thanks, love," I replied. "Where are the boys?"
"Arthur and Trevor have gone into Chelmsford. Arthur said something about getting some special oil. Johnny and Joseph biked off this morning. Did not say where they were going, but I suspect they are taking the dinghy out. They were talking about it last night."
I nodded and popped some bread into the toaster for my breakfast, then poured a mug of tea. After the toast was done, I joined Anne and Jenny at the table. We chatted for a bit. Jenny was interested in Anne's plans for going back to college. I asked Jenny why she had not gone back to college to get her qualifications. She pointed out the problems of her disability. My response was that her disability was the college's problem, not hers; they had to make access to courses available.
Once I had finished my breakfast of tea and toast, I left the two ladies and went into the study to start dealing with emails. There was one from Bob asking me to phone him when I had the chance. It did not say it was urgent, but I got the feeling from it that there was some urgency. So, I phoned him.
For once, I had problems getting past the switchboard. I did not recognise the voice of the person who answered, which was unusual as I thought I knew most of the staff. Worse still, they refused to put me through to Bob but directed my call to his executive assistant. So far as I knew, Bob did not have an executive assistant.
After about five minutes of speaking to a very efficient and exceptionally pushy young lady who clearly did not want one of their authors speaking to the director, I gave up. Fortunately, I had Bob's mobile number and rang him on that.
"You're a hard man to get through to," I commented when he answered the phone.
"What do you mean?" he asked. I gave him a rundown of my call on the company number.
"Shit," he continued. "I've been here all morning wondering why things were so quiet. I wonder how many more calls have not got through?"
"What's going on?" I enquired.
"Ritter-Landau purchased Martha's shares over the weekend; her daughters sold their shares to them yesterday. I was informed that the other shareholders would be getting notices of required sale by the end of the week. They have already appointed two directors. Also, they have moved some of their staff in. The receptionist and my executive assistant are examples."
"I thought you were trying to buy it," I commented.
"I was. There was a group of us who were trying to put a deal together. Martha phoned me on Friday and asked if I could make an offer, and I had to tell her that we were hoping we could, but it would be the beginning of September before we could make a firm bid."
"Why so long?"
"The main funding source that Zach had lined up wanted to see the half-year accounts; they are still with the accountants."
"So, what's the position now?" I asked.
"Well, they have offered me the managing-director position here and a seat on their main board. That will come with a big jump in salary. It also comes with a block of shares and some nice options. I'm not going to take it."
"What are you going to do?"
"Actually, Mike, I am going to go independent, start my own agency," Bob informed me. "The money I am getting for my shares will give me the capital to do it, and I hope I can get some of the staff and most of the authors to move with me."
"Can you do that? More to the point, can the authors do that?" I asked.
"Nothing is stopping most of the senior staff here or me," Bob answered. "When I took over after Martha's stroke, one of my conditions was that my contract was rewritten without the non-competition and that the senior staff had the same type of contract I had. I always feared Martha might sell out. Also, most of the authors are on representation contracts, the same as yours. Remember, Bernard insisted that a clause be inserted allowing you to terminate your representation if there was a major change in ownership or management. Since then, I have made sure it is in all representation contracts when they have come up for renewal. Doubt if Ritter-Landau knows that."
"It sounds as if you have been planning this for some time," I said.
"Well, I always knew it was a possibility after Martha was taken ill. Just thought it was a good idea to make things easy for myself if it happened." Bob laughed.
"So, what should I do?"
"You could sit tight and wait for my new executive assistant to contact you and tell you about the change," he stated. "Or, you could send us a letter saying that you have heard about the takeover and are therefore executing clause …" There was a pause and the sound in the background of some papers being riffled through. "Ah, here it is, nineteen in your agreement. It is number twenty-two in most of the others."
"OK, I'll do it now and get it in the post this afternoon; should be the first to hit them," I stated.
"No, it won't be," Bob informed me. "Spoke to Mark Dowland, and he has the same clause in his agreement. He is getting his secretary to write up the letter and then bring it round by hand. Should be here about two."
"I did not know you represented Mark," I stated. Mark was a leading personality scientist on both television and radio. A professor at Sheffield University, he had become a prominent figure on our screens in the last ten or so years and had written several successful books. I had met him a few times at different conferences and society meetings.
"Yes, he moved over to us at the start of the year from Landau, James and Corbin. Said you had spoken highly of me. I suspect that might be one of the reasons behind Ritter-Landau's move. We've taken a few names off them in the last two years."
I remembered that Ritter-Landau, the scientific publishing company, owned Landau, James and Corbin. Indeed, Landau, James and Corbin had been my first agents some fifteen years ago and had royally shafted me. That was why I had moved to the agency where Bob worked, on Bernard's recommendation.
"Well, you’d better send me a new representation agreement as soon as you have got set up," I told him. "Will you still want the metrology book?"
"Yes," he answered. "More than ever; need to get some new works out ASAP."
I finished off the call with some general chat. Bob wanted to know how Trevor was doing, which put me in a slightly difficult position. I did not feel it was my job to tell him that his son was moving into a flat-share. That is something I thought Trevor should deal with.
Once off the phone, I typed up a letter giving notice of my intention to terminate my representation by the Hartmann agency. I printed it off and signed it, then scanned it before putting it in an envelope ready to post. That done, I emailed the agency attaching a copy of the scanned document. That way, it would be in before Mark Dowland got his in. It would be nice to be ahead of him just once for a change.
After I had dealt with the rest of my email, I managed to get down to some writing. Did quite well and got more done than I expected. I was still in full flow when Anne came in just after one to tell me lunch was ready. Over lunch, I told her about my conversation with Bob. She was a bit worried about whether the changes would impact on my cash flow, so making it difficult to pay back Zach. That is something I had not thought about and decided I needed to consider.
We were just finishing lunch when Doctor Portage phoned. He had persuaded the PhD student, Sarah Colman, to carry out an initial survey. We talked about what was involved, and it was agreed that she would start the survey the following Monday, an arrangement that worked out well for me as it looked like I would be busy for the rest of the week.
Once I got back to my study, I phoned Bernard, only to be informed that he was in court. I left a message that I would call back later. Then I phoned my accountant. She was available and helpful. When I explained the situation concerning Hartmann's, she told me not to worry. The notice of termination would come into effect at the end of the year, which was after the monies I was relying on were due. She was reasonably sure that Bob would have to give at least three months' notice, so he would still be looking after my interests there. It was only after I came off the phone to her that I realised she seemed very well informed about the whole situation.
By three-thirty, I had finished another chapter of the metrology book and had happily drafted one of the new chapters for my maths book. Thought I deserved a cup of tea for a reward. Found Anne and Jenny in the lounge and asked if they would like tea or coffee. They both opted for coffee, so I went through to the kitchen to make some.
Looking out across to the Stable Block, I noticed the van was back, so Arthur and Trevor must have returned. My first thought was that I should ask them to let us know when they were back but then realised that now they were living, or at least about to live, in the flat, they were independent, and it really was none of my business. I had just finished putting some cakes on a tray to take through to Anne and Jenny when Trevor came into the kitchen.
"There might be a bit of noise in a bit," he warned.
"Why?" I asked.
"Well, we've been working on the alarm bell; think we have got it connected up. Arthur's just oiling all the joints; then we are going to try it. Arthur thought we should warn you first."
I thanked him, told him there was tea or coffee if he or Arthur wanted it before trying the bell, then took the tray of coffee through to Anne and Jenny. When I did, I also warned them about the alarm. Getting back to the kitchen for my tea, I found that Arthur had come over to get some coffee. We chatted about what they had been doing. Arthur told me that it would be at least two days before they could start on the clock. It seemed that they needed some cleaning fluid and had been unable to obtain any in Chelmsford. As a result, Arthur had ordered it online. They had, however, been able to get the releasing and lubricating oils they needed. This they had used on the parts for the alarm bell. Arthur told me that as soon as they had finished their coffee, they were going to try it.
Shortly after Arthur and Trevor finished their coffees and left the kitchen, there was an unholy racket. It was quite clear that the alarm bell worked. Fortunately, they did not test it for too long. Probably a good job as I dread to think what it must have sounded like standing below it.
Seeing that Anne was busy talking with Jenny, I decided I would make a start on dinner. Having already established that Arthur and Trevor would be joining us tonight, I decided to make a lasagne, though that did leave me with a question of what to prepare for Joseph. I was just pondering that question when Johnny and Joseph returned.
"What the hell was that noise?" Johnny asked. "It sounded like a dozen old-fashioned fire engines."
"You heard it?" I asked.
"Yes," Johnny replied. "We were at the bottom of the hill and heard it from there." That meant they were over a mile away, so it was clear that the alarm bell served its purpose. However, I made a mental note to go down and explain to Mary at the Crooked Man what the noise was; they were a lot closer than the boys were, and no doubt heard it.
Once I had explained about the alarm bell and that Arthur and Trevor had got it working, I asked Joseph what he wanted for dinner.
"What are you having?" he asked.
"I'm doing a lasagne with a leaf salad to accompany it. But I know that is not kosher, so I will cook something separate for you."
"Don't bother," Joseph instructed. "It's Mam and Micah who are observant, and they are not that strict. Dad and I could not be bothered. I love lasagne, so you’d better make plenty."
That out of the way, I filled Johnny and Joseph in on the news from Doctor Portage. Both said they would help with the survey, though Johnny pointed out he would be back working in the yard for three mornings in the week. Johnny then asked me if we could have a talk after dinner.
In the end, it was well after nine when Johnny came through to the study to talk with me. After dinner, Arthur had offered to show Johnny and Joseph how the alarm bell worked. Fortunately, they did not try it out.
While they were receiving instruction on the operation of the system from Arthur, I took a quick stroll down to the Crooked Man and told Mary what the noise had been.
"Thanks for letting me know," she said. "I wondered what the racket was. It could, though, be useful. We are a bit isolated out here, and that sound should travel clear across the marsh."
When I thought about it, that was probably exactly what the bell was meant to do. In the old days, no doubt most of the farm workers would be out somewhere on the marsh, so if there were an emergency, they would have to be called in.
It was a somewhat sullen Johnny who came into my study just before nine-thirty.
"Been busy," I asked.
"Thinking, mostly," Johnny replied.
"What I am going to do," he answered. "Not sure I can do what I want."
"Why not?" I asked.
"It looks as if it is going to be harder than I thought," Johnny replied. "There was a yacht that came into the club moorings this afternoon. Really sleek, new build. It was having its sea trials. The designer was with it. I got a chance to talk to her."
"Learn anything?" I enquired.
"Yes," Johnny responded. "Designing yachts is a lot more technical and a lot harder than I thought. She tried to explain how they calculate the sail loading in relation to the characteristics of the mast and hull. Not only did I not understand the mathematics she was using, I have never even heard of them.
"I thought that all I would have to learn to design yachts was how to make them and how to sail them. It seems I need to know a lot more. The thing is, I just don't know where to start."
"Well, for a start, you could talk to Steve," I replied. "I know he is a boat builder rather than a designer, but he must know something about it."
"That's another thing, Dad," Johnny said. "There are only about six weeks of the season left. The yard virtually closes from October till March; Steve's not going to want me working there then."
"Have you talked to him about it?" I asked. Johnny shook his head. "Well, why don't you suggest to Anne that she invite Steve and his wife for dinner at the weekend? We can ask him about it after he has had a good meal and something to drink."
We chatted a bit more about options for the future; then he went to seek out Anne, who I told him was probably in the lounge. Shortly after I heard peals of laughter sounding out from both Anne and Jenny, so I went through to the kitchen.
"So, what's so funny?" I asked.
"Johnny just asked—" Anne broke down, laughing again.
"He asked if Anne could invite Steve and his wife to dinner on Saturday," Jenny advised.
"What is funny about that?" I enquired.
"Well, Steve's gay," Anne supplied. "Everyone knows that."
"For a start, Anne, I did not know," I stated. "I am certain that Johnny did not know. What I do know is that you said Steve had two kids, I just presumed he was married when I told Johnny to ask you to invite them over."
"I did not realise you did not know," Anne stated. "I'm sure I told you I had a gay uncle who lived with a doctor from Maldon."
"You did," I stated. "It was when I told you about Ben and Phil's relationship when we first started going out together. You never said it was Steve. Anyway, where did the kids come from?"
"The kids are my aunt's; she’s Steve's older sister," Jenny stated. "The bitch dumped them on Steve when she went off for a long weekend. That was what, four or five years ago. She never came back. Steve's been looking after them ever since."
"I suppose there is a reason for wanting me to ask Steve to dinner?" Anne asked.
"Yes, Johnny and I need to discuss what options are available for Johnny in the next couple of years: what he should do if he wants to become a yacht designer. Thought it would be easier to talk about it here than at the yard. Also, I thought it would be a chance for him to look at this place. Last time I saw him, he said he had always wanted to see inside it."
"OK, Mike, I'll arrange it, though he will have the kids in tow. You've been warned," Anne said. "Not sure if his other half will come, that will depend on his work schedule. He's a consultant at St. John's Hospital."
I went back to the study and got on with some work, then the phone rang. It was Bernard.
"Got a message that you were going to call, but you haven't. Just checking there is nothing seriously wrong," he said.
I apologised and filled him in on what I had heard from Bob. Then I told him that my accountant had been able to answer most of my questions.
"Now, that is interesting. Bob called me yesterday afternoon and asked if I could recommend a good accountant. I recommended Jane. I suspect he has been in touch with her."
"You are probably right, Bernard. That would explain how she was so well-informed," I said.
"Look, I've had a shit day in court and am still in the office. If I don't get home soon, Debora is going to kill me. Can we discuss things in the morning? You will be at the court?"
"Look, Bernard, I'll get an earlier train and meet you at the office. I'll even buy you breakfast."
"We can go to Tony's and have bacon butties," Bernard replied. I laughed.
The train from Southminster got me into Liverpool Street just after eight. It was getting on for eight-thirty when I got to Bernard's office. He quickly grabbed a pile of papers, shoved them into his briefcase and led the way out and round a couple of corners to Tony's.
We did not have bacon butties. Bernard insisted on full English, then ordered a couple of bacon butties to take away. I looked at him questioningly.
"It can be a long day at the Bailey, and one can get peckish," he informed me. I laughed. "It's all right for you lot; you can pop out and get something. We're stuck in the building until the case is over. Fortunately, at the moment we are number two on the list, but that can change."
"That's a point," I said. "Where is Ian."
"He spent the night at Ben and Phil's place. Allen Davidson, their security chap drove him down yesterday. Allen will have him at the court in plenty of time."
On that he was correct. When we got to the Old Bailey, we found Allen and Ian waiting for us. Bernard took Ian off to one of the interview rooms. Shortly after, he came back alone. I asked where Ian was.
"He has surrendered to his bail," Bernard replied. "As such, he is now in custody and down in the bowels of this place. Don't look so worried; he'll be OK."
"Where's Sir Henry?" I asked.
"I believe he is in Manchester," Bernard replied.
"But who is going to represent Ian?"
"Look, Mike, this is a plea-and-directions hearing. Nothing heavy. Henry has arranged for one of the juniors from his chambers to cover it. A nice girl and very au fait with how things work here; she spends a lot of her time doing plea-and-directions for Henry. If there was a problem, I could appear for Ian."
"I thought solicitors did not appear in the Crown Court," I stated.
"That used to be the case, but it is now possible for solicitors to qualify as advocates, which means we can appear in the Crown Court."
"Are you qualified as an advocate?" I asked.
"Yes, I qualified a few years ago, not long after it became possible. It is useful occasionally to be able to represent your client in person rather than having to instruct a barrister. Anyway, we’d better get into court."
The actual hearing took slightly less than ten minutes; the charges were read out; Ian pleaded not guilty to each of them. A young barrister who looked like he was reading from a script objected to bail. The young woman who was representing Ian, stood up and made a case for bail. She pointed out that the submission by the prosecution that Ian was unemployed and of no fixed abode was incorrect. It came as a surprise to me to learn that Ian was an assistant hairdresser at the spa in Manston Hall, and he was resident with his mother at the Lake Cottage, Manston Hall, Manston Estate, Northamptonshire.
When asked by the judge if this could be confirmed, the young lady stated that the head of security for the Manston Estate was in the court. In the end, bail was granted with no increase. The judge ordered a date for the trial, and that concluded things. Ian was led from the dock. I had to go down into the bowels of the court with Bernard to fill out some paperwork, and we left with Ian about twenty minutes later. Allen was waiting for us at the exit.
I suggested that we should go somewhere and get a coffee or something, but Allen insisted that he needed to get Ian back to Manston. Bernard, though, accepted my offer. We went to a small, independent coffee shop just off Covent Garden that Bernard knew. It was easy to see why Bernard recommended it; the cakes were out of this world. They were rich, luscious German cakes, not the petite fancies found in shops pretending to be French patisseries. I tucked into a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, while Bernard demolished a couple of Strumwaffles.
We chatted for a bit over the situation regarding Martha Hartmann and Bob's plans. The feeling we both had was that it looked as if Bob had suspected this day might come for some time and had laid his plans accordingly. Bernard divulged that Bob had approached him about being solicitor to the new business, but he had to decline due to conflict of interest. He not only represented me but a couple of other authors who were with Hartmann's and who were expected to move to Bob's new agency. Bernard had, though, recommended a firm that had been set up by one of his juniors who had left to start her own practice.
"They're out of town, but I do not think that will be a problem for Bob," Bernard stated. "Most of the work will be contract review; I see minimal scope for litigation. Louise Malton is excellent when it comes to contract reviews; she goes through them with a fine-toothed comb.
"Anyway, what is that son of mine doing up at your place? He seems very excited about things."
I explained to Bernard about Joseph's discovery of the millrace and the other finds that had followed. I also told him about the planned survey that would start on Monday and the fact that I did not know how long it would take, but I thought Joseph might want to stay until it was finished.
"Probably best if he does," Bernard stated. "Things are a bit difficult for him at home."
I looked at Bernard with surprise. The statement that things were difficult for Joseph at home had come totally out of the blue. I had picked up no hint of it from Joseph or from Bernard in the past.
"What's the problem?" I asked.
"Micah," Bernard replied. "He is always teasing Joseph about getting a girlfriend. Some of it has gone a bit too far in my opinion. I've had a word with Micah, but it does not seem to have done much good, and Debora just ignores it."
"That doesn't sound very much like Micah," I stated.
"I think he suspects that Joseph is gay," Bernard stated. Once more, I found myself in an awkward position. I knew Joseph was gay, but I also knew he was not out to his parents. He was, so far as I knew, not out to the boys at the Priory, and they did not particularly hide their sexual orientation despite Trevor's coming out having been splashed all over the national press.
"I would not have thought of Micah as being homophobic," I commented.
"He's not," Bernard asserted. "His best friend is gay. I'm fairly certain that he and Micah had a bit of a relationship before Micah discovered women at fifteen."
"Oh, yes. You remember the Ledermanns?" Bernard asked. I nodded. Ab Ledermann had been in the year behind us in junior school. He lived a couple of shops down the road from us, his father being the greengrocer.
"Well Ab's wife, Ruth, and my son worked on a relief project when Micah was fifteen," Bernard continued. "Ab and Ruth have been together for twenty years and for the first sixteen of them, there were no children. Then Ruth starts to swell. The thing is, their now four-year-old boy looks the spitting image of Micah at that age."
"So, you think—"
"Mike, I don't think. I know. Micah confessed to me when Ruth became pregnant. He was terrified that Ab would throw her out and he would end up having to look after her and the child."
"Do you think Ab knows?" I asked.
"It is almost certain he does — at least that the child is not biologically his," Bernard stated. "Not that it matters, he dotes on the boy. There was some talk at the Schol when the boy was born, but Ab stopped it. Declared that 'a child in the family is a blessing from the Lord — a boy child doubly so.'"
"But if Micah has gay friends and is not homophobic, why is he teasing Joseph?" I asked.
"I think he is trying to push Joseph into declaring that he is gay," Bernard said. "He thinks Joseph would be better out of the closet than in it. On that point, I think he is correct. The problem is I do not think he is going about it in the right way. Joseph will tell us one way or another when he is ready."
"I suspect you have already made up your mind about the boy," I said.
"Of course, I have. I'm not blind. I could see the way my son looked at yours when we were up at Manston. Also, how he looked at Trevor when Trevor was close to Johnny. If looks could kill, we would have one very dead movie star.
"It's not a question, Mike, of whether Joseph is gay or not; it is a question of when he feels ready to tell us. I suspect he has already told you."
I started to say something.
"Mike, don't answer that," Bernard said. "If you try to, you will be breaching a confidence one way or another. Even if you say you can't say, you are confirming that Joseph has told you.
"He needs time to sort out his feelings. He also needs to sort out how he feels about your son. A few weeks staying with you might be the best on both counts. However, I am sure Debora would appreciate it if you could persuade him to come home for Shabbos."
"I will try," I said.
We finished our coffee and cake, then Bernard returned to his office. I phoned Hartmann's and asked to speak to Bob, only to be informed that Mr. Southern was no longer with the company. I was put through to the girl who had been his executive assistant but was now apparently his replacement. When she asked what she could do for me, I said I was phoning to check that they had received my notice of termination of representation. That did not go down very well with her.
Not being able to get Bob at the office, I called his mobile. He answered and informed me he was in the Lamb and Flag celebrating and suggested if I was in town, I should join him. I told him I was just around the corner and that I would be with him in a few minutes.
When I got there, I found Bob along with at least five other people from the office, though only two I knew by more than sight. I asked Bob what had happened.
"When I got into the office this morning — and I was early; it was just after eight — I found Ms. Brettman — that's the bitch they brought in to understudy me — was going through the mail. She was only about halfway through and already had over thirty notices of termination of representation. Now, as a percentage of our total number of authors, that is not many. Probably under two percent. As a percentage of earnings, it is massive. From what I saw, I suspect it is probably about fifty percent of the agency's income. I know that eight of the top ten earners were in that pile. The other two sent their notices of termination in yesterday."
"Does that mean—" I started to ask.
"Yes, Mike, you were one of the top-ten earners for the agency," Bob replied. "You weren't always; you were down in the middle ranks for a long time, but since that maths book of yours took off, you are in the top ten."
"So, how come you lot are here celebrating?"
"Well, Jan Ritter came in just after ten," Bob said. "He must have got the first flight from Frankfurt to City. I think Ms. Brettman phoned him last night to report what was going on. He came into my office and said there was a rumour that I was going to start my own agency. I told him it was not a rumour, that I intended to do so. He then fired me on the spot. Ritter handed me a letter of dismissal. He also had letters of dismissal for most of the senior staff. We were told to pack our stuff and get out with immediate effect."
"Painful," I commented.
"Oh, it's going to be very painful for them," Bob replied with a smile as he took another sip of his pint.
"Well, when I left yesterday, Ms. Brettman was going through the personnel files. She was no doubt looking for the contracts of employment."
"That makes sense," I stated. "They would need to know what terms you are all on."
"Well, the only contracts in those files are our original contracts of employment. Since Martha's illness, all the current contracts are kept in her private files at her place. So far as I know, no one has collected them yet. When they do, they are going to be in for a nasty surprise."
"What?" I asked.
"We are all entitled to one year's notice; actually, for a couple of us it is three," Bob stated.
"And they don't know?"
"Not unless they have looked at the current contracts, which are in Martha's files or in copies here." He tapped his briefcase. "I took them in to give to Ms. Brettman this morning but never got a chance to open my briefcase."
I spent the next hour and a half talking to Bob and the other members of staff who had been fired by the agency about their plans. Most were joining Bob at his new agency. They were becoming partners. Two of them were planning to emigrate; this had been in the cards from the start of the year; they were just waiting for their visas to come through.
Bob told me that they were planning on locating the new agency in Wood Green. Susan and he owned a property there, which would be ideal for the agency. He was talking to Susan about getting it as part of the divorce settlement.
"So, you are talking to Susan?" I asked.
"Oh, yes. We've remained friends. To be honest, for the last couple of years, that is all we have been. Everything is quite amicable. If anything, we seem to be falling over backwards to help each other out. Susan's agreed to come and work with me as an office administrator."
I expressed surprise at this development.
"Well, she was my secretary when we met, and she has done a business-administration degree," he told me.
I left Bob and his friends celebrating and made my way to the British Library to check out a couple of references that I needed to clarify. Fortunately, I had ordered the works on Monday, so they were ready and waiting for me when I got to the reading room. I spent a bit more time in the library than I had intended to, so it was gone eight before I got home. Anne welcomed me with the news that Jan Ritter had phoned several times trying to contact me.
Thursday morning, I got a chance to talk to Joseph before he and Johnny went out sailing. I told him that his father had suggested it might be an idea for him to go home for Shabbat. He was a bit reluctant but agreed. We arranged that I would drive him to Southminster Friday afternoon so that he could get a train that would get him home in time. I sent Bernard an email letting him know what was going on. Got one back saying thanks and it would help to keep the peace.
Just after noon, Allen Davidson phoned from Manston. His first question was whether Trevor was still staying with us. I told him yes, then asked him why.
"Andrew Mayers was arrested at Heathrow at seven-thirty this morning. Immediately after his arrest, the police executed a search warrant on the Mayfair property. They have found far more than even they hoped for.
"At the moment, Mike, they are trying to keep a lid on everything. They have a whole list of people who were apparently involved, and warrants for their arrest are being obtained as we speak. Mayer's had everything on encrypted drives, then had his passwords written down in a book in the desk drawer.
"The thing is that a lot of the parties who are named are outside of the UK, mostly in the States. If this breaks over there, we are not certain how long Trevor's name will be kept out of things. The thing is, victims of sexual offences do not have the same protection in the States as they have over here. If it goes public over there, some papers over here are likely to pick up on it, claiming the information is already in the public domain."
"How long have we got?" I asked.
"Don't know. A lot depends on whether the cases go to trial; they are far more likely to try and do a plea bargain and get a lesser sentence. Not an option over here, at least not in theory. We are probably safe till one of the cases goes to trial, but then the press may have a field day."
I thanked him for warning me, then asked if I should tell Trevor. Allen advised against it. He said that they were planning a full briefing for him when they had more information, but that would probably be next week.
On the news that evening, there was a brief mention that a thirty-six-year-old man had been arrested at Heathrow on suspicion of rape, sexual activity with a child and production and distribution of indecent images of children. Nothing more was said, and there was nothing in Friday's papers.
Trevor did not seem to be concerned about it at all. I knew he had heard the item on the news, but it was as if it did not affect him. He spent all Friday morning helping Arthur clean the clock. When I looked in on them late in the morning to see how things were going, they seemed to be washing it down with some sort of soapy liquid. I just hoped Arthur knew what they were doing.
Arthur did inform me that they had signed the lease. He said Trevor had paid for it to be checked by a solicitor, who had told them it was all OK. Trevor informed me that he would be moving in over the weekend. He planned to drive up to London that night and pack some things to bring here and pick up some stuff he needed.
I asked them if they wanted to come over for lunch, but Arthur informed me that they had some bread and cheese in the kitchen so would sort themselves out. He also pointed out that the stuff they were using to clean the clock mechanism was rather pungent and they did not think Anne would appreciate them coming over to the house smelling of the stuff. That was a point I could agree with.
Johnny and Joseph had been sailing in the morning but arrived back at the Priory in time for lunch. I then ran Joseph down to Southminster to get the train for London, telling him to make sure he phoned me to let me know which train he was coming back on.
"Uncle Mike, would you mind if I came back on tomorrow evening after Shabbat?" he asked.
"It might be a bit difficult, there is not a good train service in the on a Saturday evening," I pointed out.
"I checked. Sunset is at twenty thirty-seven. I can walk from the house to the station then get the twenty fifty-five. The train departs after the end of Shabbat, so Mam can't object."
"What time does it get into Southminster?" I enquired.
"Twenty-two oh-seven," Joseph replied.
"So, you want me to come out late on Saturday just to pick you up?" I asked. "You know that would mean I could not have a drink if we had dinner at the Crooked Man."
"Sorry, Uncle Mike," he replied. "I suspect I'm being a bit selfish.
"Look, Joseph," I told him. "I don't care when you come back, just so long as you phone me and make arrangements in advance so you are not left stranded somewhere. So, promise me, no last-minute calls to say you are on your way and want to be picked up."
"OK, Uncle Mike," he said, sounding a bit down.
"Yes, I promise."
Once I had dropped him off at the station, I phoned Debora to let her know he was on his way.
"Thanks, Mike," she said. "Sorry to put you to this bother, but I do like to see the family together for Shabbat when I can. Soon it is going to be impossible."
"Why's that?" I asked.
"Micah's going to be up in Manchester. Not very practical for him to come home for the day, is it?"
"By the way, Joseph said you were in Highgate; thought you would be down in the Kent house," I stated.
"Joseph's demand. He phoned last night and said he would come back for Shabbat but only if it was in London; said it was too much travelling to get to the house in Kent."
"I can see that. It would have been difficult for him to get back here till Monday. Are things actually that bad?"
"Not really, but I think Joseph is feeling it," she stated. "I just wish Micah would lay off him a bit."
I finished my call and walked back to the car. There was something about the whole situation with Joseph that was making me feel decidedly uncomfortable. Both Debora and Bernard had indicated that they suspected that the boy was gay. I knew he was — he had told me so — but so far as I was aware, he had not told anybody else.
The problem was I got a strong feeling that both Bernard and Debora thought that I knew that Joseph was gay. As such, they were hoping that I might be able to resolve the situation for them. All well and good except for the fact that I did not feel that it was my job to do their work for them. I might be Joseph's favourite uncle, but there was only so much I could do in that role. The most important thing, though, from my point of view, was that I had to stay firmly on Joseph's side just in case everything went pear-shaped.
I was reasonably sure that it would not go pear-shaped. Both Bernard and Debora had made it clear that they would love and support Joseph even if he were gay. They would prefer it if he were not, but they would accept him if he were. Unfortunately, they had failed to make Joseph aware of how they felt, and Joseph was uncertain how they would act — a potential source of problems. If things did not sort themselves out, especially with Micah acting the way he was, there was a good chance Joseph might just decide to leave home. If he did, I wanted him to feel there was a safe place for him to come to.
I got home to a message from Anne that Jan Ritter had phoned. She had told him to try after four. That gave me about an hour.
Johnny was in the library — or at least the room that was designated to become the library — using his netbook. I noticed he seemed to be peering at the screen. When I mentioned the fact, Johnny stated that the screen was small, and it was difficult to read. I looked over his shoulder and had to admit he had a point. However, it was not that small, and I suspected he probably needed an eye test. Mentioning that did not go down well.
"No way am I wearing glasses," he snapped.
"Who said anything about glasses?"
"You said I should have an eye test," Johnny responded.
"That does not mean you have to have glasses. It is just to see if there is a problem. If there is, then corrective measures may be needed. Glasses are one such measure; there are also contact lenses and laser surgery. You might only need help for something like reading," I stated. "Like me."
"But you don't wear glasses," Johnny replied.
"Actually, Johnny, I do. Only for reading and then only if I am reading something that has small print, like some academic journals."
"But how come I've never seen you wearing them?" he asked.
"I think you have seen me wearing them but not noticed," I stated. "I only tend to wear them when I am working, and if you have come into the study, I would probably take them off to speak to you. After all, they are reading glasses and not speaking glasses." My feeble attempt at a joke failed.
Johnny looked a bit uncertain about something, then made up his mind. "Actually, Dad, I have some glasses. I'm supposed to use them for reading. Mam got them for me, they are by some big-name designer and s'posed to be very fashionable, but they make me look stupid, so I don't wear them."
"Have you got them here?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied.
"Well, go and get them," I told him. He went off to his room with a certain amount of reluctance and returned a few minutes later with a glasses case in his hand.
"You’d better put them on," I told him. "I need to see just how bad they are."
He put them on. All I could do was agree with him. They made him look stupid. What possessed my ex to get her son a pair of glasses that would make Elton John look weird in them, I do not know. In my opinion, foisting them on him amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
I tried not to burst out laughing, though. "Well, son, tomorrow we will have to go into Maldon and find an optician's. We may be able to reuse the lenses, but those frames have got to go. What was she thinking?"
"But they cost over a thousand pounds," Johnny informed me.
"Well as Barnum said, 'there's one born every minute', and as far as glasses frames are concerned, your mother is undoubtedly the one."
This resulted in a talk about my ex-wife's relationship with fashion. It appeared she insisted on everything being the height of fashion, which usually meant she got lumbered with the stuff that nobody else would want.
Unfortunately, it was not only Beryl who got lumbered with the stuff; she also bought high-fashion clothes for her son, most of which he would not be seen dead in.
That piece of information set me thinking. I knew that when my ex had sent Johnny's stuff, there had been several hanger boxes for clothes and at least four other boxes marked clothes, yet he always seemed to be in a combination of the same shirts and jeans. I asked him about it.
"Dad, nine-tenths of the stuff she got me, I would not be seen dead in. The other stuff is just not for wearing around here."
"So, you need some more clothes?" I asked.
"Well, I could do with some new jeans and a couple of work shirts."
"What about all the stuff that Anne took you to buy the first day you were in Lanhaven?" I asked.
"That's what I've been wearing for most of the last couple of months," he replied.
I went with him to see what he had in his room and to make a list of what he required. He had been wearing his school uniform when Beryl had dropped him off, and he was in it the next day when he went shopping. It seemed that Anne had got him three pairs of jeans, six shirts, underwear, tee shirts, a couple of jackets, two pair of trousers and a couple of coats which, with the right pair of trousers, could pass for a suit if he required formal wear, a light pair of trousers and a blazer, one overcoat and a long waterproof jacket. Satisfactory, but he needed more casual clothes than that.
"Where the other stuff you've got, the stuff that came in those hanger boxes?" I asked.
"I dumped all that in one of the spare rooms," he responded. So, we went to have a look at it. There were probably somewhere close to a hundred shirts, twenty or thirty trousers and about the same number of jackets, a whole pile of tops and other items of clothing I just did not recognise. One thing was sure, there was no way a sixteen-year-old would wear any of it. I thought Johnny was generous when he said that ten percent he just would not wear around here.
"Johnny, I would suggest you dump this lot at the charity shop. Unfortunately, I think they would end up paying you to take it back."
"You wouldn't mind if I got rid of it?"
"The only thing I would mind is if I saw you wearing any of it," I commented. "You might just about get away with some of it if you were posing as a tourist in Naples or Sicily; even in Rome, it would not be acceptable. What was she thinking?"
"Do you want me to answer that?" Johnny asked. I shook my head. No doubt, my ex had dressed her son to impress her fashionista friends.
"It looks like we need to go either to Chelmsford or Romford tomorrow," I stated. "That is, if you want to get a decent selection."
Johnny looked at me. "You don't mind, Dad? Mam was always complaining about how much clothing me cost."
"I'm not surprised if she was buying the sort of rubbish you have in here. I could probably clothe you for the next five years for what this lot must have cost for a couple of months."
"She kept telling me I had no dress sense," Johnny stated.
"That is beside the point," I replied. "One thing is certain; she has no fashion sense. Let's see what we can sort out tomorrow."
I was about to tell Johnny he should bag up all the stuff he did not want and we would drop it off somewhere tomorrow. The problem was, I could not work out where to drop it off. I was certain the local charity shop would not want it. In the end, I was saved from deciding by the phone. Anne called up the stairs to tell me that Jan Ritter was on the phone and I’d better take the call.
I spent the next half hour listening to Jan Ritter telling me how they were going to improve the Martha Hartmann agency and what their plans for it were. He assured me that they could offer me far better terms than I had been on and that they would make sure I got the best possible deals. After listening to his diatribe for longer than I should, I responded.
"Mr. Ritter," I said.
"Oh, please call me Jan," he stated.
"I don't see why I should," I responded. "I don't know you personally, and I don't regard you as a friend. That, though, is beside the point, Mr. Ritter. One of your subsidiaries represented me before I moved to the Martha Hartmann agency. To put it bluntly, they completely fucked over me. I am still paying the price of a couple of the deals they put in place. Did very nicely for your publishing arm; did very little for me.
"That is one reason I had the change of ownership clause put in my agreement with the Hartmann agency, just to protect myself from exactly this situation. I am leaving, and nothing you can do will persuade me to stay."