I quickly got up and followed Johnny out of the pub. Getting to the carpark, I looked around for him, expecting him to have gone back to where the minibus had dropped us off. The minibus, with the driver, was there, no doubt waiting for us to come out from our meal. There was, though, no sign of Johnny.
I looked around a bit but could see no sign of him. Then I went and spoke to the driver, asking him if he had seen a sixteen-year-old come out of the pub.
“Yes, there was a lad ran out,” he replied. “Shot off down towards Manston Woods like a cat with its tail on fire.”
Not a good sign, I thought. If he had taken off along the road, I might have been able to have caught up with him with some help from the minibus driver. If he had gone into the woods, then there was no chance. The only good thing was that there was a public footpath through the woods to St. Peter's on the Hill, which was in the estate grounds. It was only about a ten-minute walk from the church to the hall. I did not think it was much more than that from the road to the church along the footpath.
Getting back to the bar, I found myself faced with a shouting match between Joseph and Trevor. The two were standing up facing each other across the table. Ben was trying to calm them down without much success. What was disturbing was that several other diners had clearly recognised Trevor and had their mobile phones out filming.
Walking up to the table, I shouted, "Sit down". They did. Maybe it is something to do with being a father that gives you an authoritative edge to one's voice. It was something that Ben had not got. The moment I shouted, they sat down.
"Right, all of you calm down," I instructed, including Ben in the look I was giving the boys. "Now, what happened?"
They all started to talk at once. “Stop. Arthur, you tell me what happened.”
“We were talking, and Joseph mentioned that Johnny’s mother wanted him to move back with her. Trevor asked him about it, and Johnny said there was no way he was going back. Trevor asked what if she tried to get full custody in the court; after all, she is a barrister. Johnny said if she tried that, he would tell how her boyfriends had sex with him and say that she knew that they did.
"Trevor said that he should tell the police about it, anyway. That's when they started to argue. Johnny said it was nobody's business, and he wished he had never said anything. Trevor was saying that if he did not tell the police, other boys could be abused. Johnny was saying he was not abused. Trevor said he had been, he just was not facing up to it. He said that if Johnny did not tell the police and other boys were abused by those men, then he would be responsible."
Just then Phil came over and said he had paid the bill and it would be a good idea for us to leave as we were attracting attention. Trevor looked around and saw the mobile phones. He went white.
We quickly got the party out to the carpark and into the minibus. Trevor was apologising profusely to Phil.
"Look, Trevor," Phil snapped. "It's done. There is no use going over things. We just have to be ready to handle the fallout, if any. We won't know about that till the morning. At the moment, we need to get back and find Johnny."
When we got back to the hall, we looked for Johnny but could find no sign of him. I decided to walk down over to St. Peter's on the Hill as the path through the woods from the pub came out there. Joseph wanted to come with me, but I dissuaded him. Anyway, his mother was quite insistent that she wanted to spend some time with her son.
As I walked towards the church, I saw no sign of Johnny and started to worry. I had presumed he would come along the path through the wood to the church, then up to the hall. Given that it was now getting on for over half an hour since he had run out of the pub, he should have been back by now.
Coming round the corner of the churchyard wall, I made out the figure of somebody sitting on the codger’s rest in the lychgate. His shoulders were slumped, and his head hung down. I called Johnny's name as I walked down the front of the churchyard. The figure looked up; I let out a sigh of relief, identifying it as Johnny.
“What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you,” I answered.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because I was worried about you.” Johnny looked at me, somewhat surprised.
“You were worried about me?”
"Yes, Johnny, I was. You ran off, and I could not find you. Then you were not back at the hall when we got back there. Of course, I was worried. What else should I be?"
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Nobody’s ever worried about me before.”
“I’m sure that’s not right. Surely your mother worried about you. I know I used to worry when I heard reports of what you had been up to at school.”
“Mam never worried about me,” Johnny stated. “She worried about the impression I would make on her friends, about me being presentable and nice. She worried that she might lose her investment in me and that I might tarnish her reputation. Yes, she worried about all those things, but she never worried about me or what I was up to so long as it did not impact upon her.”
“Well, I was worried about you tonight. Joseph was worried, as well, as were your uncles, your godfather plus Trevor and Arthur. Trevor was apologising for upsetting you until Phil told him to shut up.”
“Did he really?” Johnny asked.
“What?” I responded. “Trevor apologising or Phil telling him to shut up.”
"Uncle Phil, telling him to shut up," Johnny said.
“Yes, he did,” I replied.
“I always thought directors had to be careful not to upset their stars,” he answered.
"Phil treats Trevor more like family than a star," I pointed out.
"You’re right there, Dad," he responded. "Was Trevor right in what he said?"
“I can’t answer that,” I replied.
“First, I do not know what Trevor said,” I pointed out. “I know the gist of it, but I do not know exactly what he said. Second, I do not know the full context in which it was said.”
“He told me I was being abused and I wasn’t acknowledging it,” Johnny stated.
“What’s your opinion?” I enquired.
“Well, it was my choice,” he answered. “They never tried to get me to do things, other than the lot in France. It was always me that started things.”
“It may well have been you that started things,” I told Johnny. “You may have been a fully willing partner. That does not mean there was no abuse. Different people see things in different ways; you do not see yourself as being abused. However, someone looking at the situation from the outside will see something different. They will see an adult taking advantage of a child, taking advantage of the child's naivety, sexual confusion, need for love.
“The thing is that the adult in those sorts of relationship, whether or not they think they are doing so, is abusing the minor. They are taking advantage of the child in one way or another. It does not matter if the minor is a willing participant or not; that is beside the point. If they are going to be doing it with one minor who is willing, might they not do it with another who is not willing?
“It is so easy for an adult to put a minor into a position where the minor feels that they need to go along with things because that is the way it is. The child feels they have to do what is being suggested because of the situation they are in. It may be that the only way they think they can be loved is that they enter into sex with the adult.”
“So, I am wrong in saying that I was not abused?” Johnny asked.
"No, you are not wrong. Only you can say if you felt abused or not," I replied. "What I am trying to say, though maybe not in the best possible way, is that there was abuse. It may not have been an abuse of you, as you may have instigated and wanted what took place. It would have been an abuse of the trust that all adults are put in with relation to children."
“But it was what I wanted,” Johnny stated.
"Johnny, the fact that it is what you wanted does not make a difference. It is still wrong. A young child might want to see if he can fly by jumping off a cliff, but the adult can't allow him to try, because the child will be hurt.
“Just because someone wants something does not mean that you should give it to them. Sometimes you have to say no because that is for their own good. This is why an adult should say no to the minor. In all probability, if the minor is pushing for sex, it will be OK, no harm will be done. However, that is not always the case, and it is because of those exceptions that the rule must be enforced."
“So, I should tell the police about Mam’s boyfriends?”
“That is for you to decide,” I replied. “Nobody can make that decision for you.”
“Trevor thinks I should.”
"I know," I answered. "However, he is coming at this from a different direction. Trevor was used and abused. He feels complicit in the abuse, and as a result, he feels responsible for those who were abused after him. He thinks if he had spoken earlier, he could have stopped things.
“Trevor is carrying a heavy burden of personal guilt because of that. His guilt should not affect how you feel or the course of action you take.”
“So, what should I do?”
"I can't tell you," I replied. "What I can tell you is that I think you need to talk this through, but I do not think this is the time and place to do that. Now, how about we get back to the hall? This drizzle seems to be getting heavier."
Johnny jumped down from the codger's rest and shoved his arm out from under the lychgate. A moment later, he pulled it back. "I think you're right, Dad." He turned and started to walk towards the path back to the hall. I fell in alongside him. "Dad, could we go home tonight?"
“Do you think that will be a good idea?” I asked.
“I’m not sure how to deal with Trevor,” Johnny replied.
“What about Joseph?” I enquired. “Would it be fair on him if you just upped and left tonight. After all, he’s been around for you since Wednesday.”
“S’pose, you're right," Johnny stated with a resigned sigh. "But can we get away first thing in the morning?"
"Well, not quite first thing, I want some breakfast first," I told him. "But we were going to have to leave in the morning; I have Matt coming to see me at two.”
By the time we got back to the hall, the drizzle had turned into rain, and we were both pretty well soaked. It was now getting on for eleven, and most of our group had retired to their rooms. Joseph, though, was sitting in the entrance hall waiting for us. As soon as we entered, Joseph ran up to Johnny and hugged him.
“You’re all wet,” he stated.
“And I’m cold,” Johnny added.
“Serves you bloody right, running off in this weather. Why didn’t you just clock Trevor one?”
Both of us looked at Joseph with amazement.
"Well," Joseph continued. "He was being a prig and deserved it. By the way, there is a coffee and chocolate in the conservatory if you want some."
O o O o O
Anne and I were up fairly early on Sunday morning. With having to meet with Matt at two, we would have to leave by half nine at the latest, and I suspected there might be a few repercussions from last night which would have to be sorted out.
The first met me when we walked into the conservatory. Ben was already there with a pile of Sunday papers on the table in front of him. As I entered, he called me over, then handed me the News of the World. I looked at the front page.
“Film Star Barracks Hero”, the headline read. The photo underneath showed Trevor and Johnny standing at the table and Trevor shaking an accusative finger at Johnny.
“Are the others as bad?” I asked.
"No," Ben replied. "Fortunately, the others do not seem to have picked up on the story. Also, though they have the photo, they do not seem to know what the argument was about."
Just then Johnny and Joseph came in. Johnny came over and looked at the piece.
“Shit!” he exclaimed. “This makes it look as if he was bullying me.”
I had to agree that it is precisely what it looked like. The piece read that during a meal, an argument developed between teenage-film-star Trevor Spade and gun incident hero Johnny Carlton. After an exchange of words and Spade apparently threatening Carlton, the younger boy ran out of the pub.
“I’ll speak to publicity,” Ben stated. “I think they can sort this. We can make it clear that Trevor and Johnny are ‘family friends’ and that this was an argument between friends — that Trevor was not threatening Johnny. Might be useful if we could get some photos this morning to show you are friends.”
“Are we?” Trevor asked from the doorway as he pushed Arthur in.
"Yes," Johnny answered, going over to help Trevor manipulate Arthur's wheelchair through the tables, mostly by moving the tables and chairs to one side to create a clear passageway for the chair. There was a click behind me, and I turned to see Ben taking photos on his phone.
"That should do it," he stated. Turning the phone so I could see the photo. It clearly showed Johnny helping Trevor; it also showed the News of the World with the offending headline on the table in front of them.
In the end, it was gone ten before we were able to get away. I had to phone Matt and delay our meeting. It turned out that it was not a problem as he was running late also.
Johnny was relatively quiet all the way back to the Priory. He spent most of his time reading the Sundays, many of which had comments about his interview on Friday. From the comments he did make as we made our way down the M1 and onto the M25, he did not appear to be that happy about what was being said about him.
“They’re making me out to be some sort of martial-arts expert,” he stated, as we pulled in the Newport Pagnell services.
“Aren’t you?” Anne enquired. “You know Savate.”
"I know it, yes," Johnny replied. "I've trained in it for over six years but only during my summer holidays. There is no way I am an expert; Marcel can knock the socks off me any time he likes. And even he is not an expert.”
It was just gone twenty past two when we got back. There were no reporters camped outside the gates, though I noticed the security Ben had put in place was still there, as was Mutley. Neal was just walking him up the drive as we pulled in.
“How’re things?” I asked Neal as we got out of the car.
"Not bad," he replied. "Aunty phoned me last night to say the deal is on; we are getting ready for it. I'm off down to the boat on Tuesday to talk things through with Arthur. Will take this girl home on the way." He patted Mutley on the head. “She’s a bit disappointed; didn’t get to lick a single reporter, aren't you girl.”
“Noticed there were none around,” I commented.
"No, they’re all pissed off after Johnny's interview on Channel 4. Once there was no chance of a scoop, there was nothing in it for them."
Johnny asked if I could drop his bag off in his room, which I agreed to do. Then he walked off with Neal and Mutley. I guessed he probably wanted to speak with somebody closer to his own age who was not directly involved in things.
Anne and I made our way up to the apartment. The first thing Anne did was put on the kettle for a pot of tea. I dropped Johnny’s bag in his room, then put Anne’s and my bags in our room. When I got back to the kitchen, she was just warming the pot.
“Do you think Johnny’s going to be alright?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Why?”
"He seems awfully quiet," Anne replied, putting the tea into the pot. Just then the kettle came to the boil, so she added the water to the pot. It was good timing. Just as she put the lid on the pot, the bell rang announcing that Matt had arrived. He was quite happy to join in a cup of tea before we started the house inspection.
We spent the rest of the afternoon going through the house looking at the work. Our part of the house seemed to be completed except for the master en-suite, though Matt kept making notes of things he wanted doing. He did, though, say he thought it would all be finished by the end of the week, except for the en-suite. Apparently, the wrong tiles had been delivered, and it would be a couple more weeks before the correct ones could be obtained.
“If you can cope with using the second bathroom, you could probably move back in next weekend,” Matt informed us. Both Anne and I agreed that we would have no problem using the second bathroom until our en-suite had been sorted out.
It turned out that there was no such problem with either the en-suite for Johnny’s room or the one for the ground-floor bedroom, which we had put in for when Anne’s sister came to stay.
The guest wing, though, was going to take quite a bit longer. There was still quite a lot of work to do there, partly because I had asked Matt to get the workshops wired up and fitted earlier than planned. However, Matt assured us that everything would be finished by the middle of October. I, for one, was not so sure.
It was after Matt had left that Anne raised a point which I had not given any thought to.
“What’s going to happen about Arthur?” she asked.
“What about Arthur?” I answered.
“Well at the moment he is on that houseboat with Trevor,” Anne replied. “From what he said Saturday night, it is basically all on one level, and, with the exception of getting on and off the boat, he can fairly well manage. However, Trevor is going on location in two or three weeks and will be away a good eight weeks. How is Arthur going to manage?”
“I strongly expect, dear, that you are about to tell me.”
“Well, Jenny is not going to be staying until Christmas,” she informed me. This was news to me, I was not aware that Anne’s sister would be staying at Christmas, but then why would I expect to know? "Arthur should be out of plaster by then, so I thought we might as well let him use the downstairs bedroom until he can manage the stairs to the Stable House flat."
I agreed it made sense and said I would email Arthur with the idea.
Monday was a busy day. I had an appointment with Chris Klempt at the BBC to sort out some contractual issues and go through some ideas that Chris said he wanted to float past me. I also had to meet up with Bob to discuss a number of issues, mostly about the new edition of the maths book. I had just about finished all the revisions and had written two of the new chapters and had drafts in place for the rest. With a bit of hard work, I would have it finished by the end of the month.
I had agreed to meet with Chris at eleven, and we had decided to have a working lunch. Then I would be meeting with Bob at three. Hopefully, that would not go on too long as I had said I would pick Johnny up from college on my way back. He had a five-o'clock class, so would not finish till six, and Anne’s last class was over at three.
I did offer to drive Johnny in that morning. His first class was at nine, Anne’s at eleven, but Anne said it wasn’t necessary; she wanted to spend some time in the library. She said it was not that busy in the morning, so it was better to do library work then than in the afternoon, when possible.
The meeting with Chris went in a totally unexpected way. I knew we had to go over some contracts for the work that I had agreed to do. Instead of having individual contracts for each job I was doing, it had been decided that I would have a freelance contract with them for everything. That way, they could call me in for a job without having to sort out a contract for it. Sorting out the details of that took just about thirty minutes, so I was surprised that Chris had asked for two to three hours for our meeting.
After we had got through the legalities and sorted out the contract, Chris took me to a nice eating establishment not far from Broadcasting House. There, he introduced me to Martin Shelt, who I was informed was a producer with an independent, TV-production company.
Martin explained, over quite a nice lunch, that they were about to go into production on a thirteen-part series about the industrial revolution. This had been commissioned by Channel 4. The problem, at the moment, was they did not have a presenter, and Chris had suggested me.
"I'll be upfront with you, Mike, we originally wanted Guy Martin for this," Martin explained. "However, it quickly became clear that it was not going to work with him."
“Why not?” I enquired.
"There's a shooting-schedule clash," Martin stated. "Guy's committed to shooting some of the new Speed With series at the time when we would need him for some of our shoots. More importantly, though, once we started to get the bones of the series in place, it became apparent that Guy's persona was not quite right for what we were trying to do."
The next hour and a half were spent in talking over what they were aiming to do, how much my involvement would be and my availability. They would need me from the end of the month onwards for at least seven days a month. For that, it appeared they were prepared to pay me ten thousand pounds per episode plus residuals.
To be honest, it was too good a deal to turn down, though I would have been stupid to jump straight in. I told Martin that he would need to speak to my agent and gave him Bob's number. The moment I left the restaurant, I texted Bob to let him know of the possible call.
An hour later, I met Bob at his offices in Wood Green. Not as plush or as nicely appointed as the Hartmann offices but a whole lot roomier. I mentioned this to Bob; he laughed.
I told him about my meeting with Martin Shelt.
"Look, Mike, you need a theatrical and TV agent for this; it's not my field," he stated. "I can handle the immediate stuff, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty, you need an expert.”
“I thought Janet Long was your film and television person,” I commented.
“She is — for scripts,” Bob responded. “Though I am sure she knows someone in the talent field.”
“Talent?” I asked.
“Yes, Mike, that’s what you are: talent,” Bob replied. “People who appear on the radio or television presenting or taking part in programs are known as talent. What you need is an agent who works with the type of talent that does documentary work. I am sure Janet will know somebody. Give me a moment.”
With that, he left the office. I looked at the sheaf of papers he had pushed over to me when I had come in. Quickly reading through them, I established that they were initial contracts and advances for the metrology book. I leafed through them, noting that there were contracts for the USA, Canada, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Uganda; there were also translation rights for Spanish, German, French, Dutch, Russian and Japanese. I was about to put together some funny question asking why Bob had not tied up the Chinese rights. Then I turned to the last page; it was a summary of the advance and terms in the preceding contracts. My eye fell on the number at the bottom of the page.
“Impressive isn’t it,” Bob stated. I had not realised he had come back into the office.
“It can’t be right,” I stated.
“I can assure you it is,” Bob replied. “Two hundred thousand pounds, all to be paid by the end of October. I think Susan and I can go on a nice holiday on our share of the agency fee."
“You and Susan?” I asked. “Does that mean you are back together.”
“No, we are not,” he replied. “However, we have found that we get on a lot better as friends than we did as a couple. Trevor’s not going to be around at Christmas, so we have decided to go on a Christmas cruise. Same boat but different cabins.
"Anyway, I have found you an agent who handles talent like you; she'll call you in the morning. Her name is Irene Kaufman. She's out of the country at the moment, but Janet just rang her, and we passed on your details.”
“What about these figures?" I asked, putting the sheaf of papers back down on the table. "How come they are so high?"
"It looks as if everybody thinks you have written this Christmas's non-fiction bestseller. I got you a fifty-K advance for the UK rights; they are doing an initial print run of fifty thousand."
“Is this legal? My contact with Hauptmann does not end till December the thirty-first,” I stated.
"Oh, it's legal," Bob replied. "I double-checked with Bernard as your legal agent to make sure. Although their right to represent you on existing work runs to the end of the year, it terminated for any new work twenty-eight days after the notice was served. Bernard was bloody clever putting that in for you."
“So, where does that leave us?” I asked.
“Basically, provided you sign these agreements, on the 31st of October you get paid two hundred thousand in advances, less our ten percent. I suggest you put eighty grand to one side for the taxman, but I am sure your accountants can advise you on that."
I asked Bob for a pen and got signing.
It was just after four when I left Bob's office. The last thing he told me as I was going was to make sure I got the rights to write the book for the television series. I could almost see the pound signs flashing in his eyes as he said it.
On my way to the station, I texted Johnny saying I thought I was going to be late picking him up. I was on the train when I got a reply saying that was fine; he would be waiting for me in Marge's. When I got there, he was seated with a couple of girls, drinking cola and laughing about something. I said hello to Marge, then extracted my son. On the way home, I asked him how things had gone in college.
"It's been a funny day," he replied. "Everybody seems to want to know me; they've all got questions."
“About Wednesday?” I asked.
“No, that’s the funny thing,” Johnny replied. “Nobody seems interested in that.”
Johnny’s comment that nobody seemed interested in Wednesday’s events surprised me.
“So, what were they interested in?” I asked.
“How come I knew Trevor Spade, for a start?” he replied. “They also wanted to know if I was his boyfriend.”
“What was your answer to that?” I enquired.
“That Trevor was in a film my uncles were making,” Johnny replied. “Oh, that was a mistake. A number of the girls and some of the boys worked out that meant that Matthew Lewis was my uncle. It got even more confusing when I referred to him as Uncle Phil. I also told them I was not Trevor’s boyfriend, that I had my own, who was much better than Trevor.”
“Is he?” I asked.
“Is he what?”
“Is Joseph much better than Trevor?” I answered.
"Yes, Dad, he is. Trevor's OK; he's nice to be around and fun to be with, but he is fairly one-dimensional. He does not really know much outside of acting and gaming. Once you go outside those areas, he is pretty lost. With Joseph, I can sit and talk about things for hours. We are always coming up with new things to do and things to try out."
I decided I might not want to pry into that much further.
When we got back to the Priory, Anne informed me that Matt had been on-site most of the day and had left a message that it looked good for us to move into the main wing of the house at the weekend. There was also a package that had come for me by special delivery.
On opening the package, I found it contained the contract and information from Ben for using the exterior as a location for the film. There was a note that he had copied the contract to Bernard. I gave the whole lot a quick scan, then decided I would leave it for Bernard and Ben to sort out between them.
Over dinner, I told Johnny and Anne about the advances on the metrology book and the approach to do the TV series. Anne was a bit worried about how much time the shooting on the TV series would take, especially over the need to get Johnny to college.
Johnny did point out he now had his own transport, namely the moped he had bought a couple of weeks ago. I pointed out that he had not yet tried riding to and from college; in fact, he had hardly ridden it at all. That produced a response from Johnny that he would start to use it. In fact, he would use it tomorrow to go to college.
I can’t say I was particularly happy about that, especially as Tuesday was a day when both Anne's and Johnny's classes fitted well with each other. They both started at the same time, and Johnny's late class finished only thirty minutes after Anne’s. So, it made sense for both of them to go in together.
I may not have been particularly happy about Johnny’s decision, but I did have the good sense not to argue against it.
Tuesday morning saw Johnny setting off on his moped just after eight; Anne followed in her car about ten minutes later. I got a strong impression that once Anne caught up with Johnny, she was intent on following him, just to make sure he had no problems.
I settled down to do some writing and was quickly working on one of the draft chapters for the maths book. It went a lot better than I expected, and just after ten-thirty I saved a final version of the chapter. It was then that Irene Kaufmann phoned.
She apologised for not meeting me in person but explained she was in Berlin at a European television event. We discussed Martin Shelt’s offer, and Irene said she would be happy to represent me and asked if it was OK for her to contact Martin on my behalf. I said I had no objections.
Irene pointed me to her website, specifically the page with the standard terms and conditions for her representation. I told her I would get my solicitor to look at it. She asked me who my solicitor was; I informed her it was Bernard.
"Well," she answered. "If he has any problems with it, then it's his problem."
“Why?” I asked.
“He drafted those terms and conditions in the first place.” We laughed over that, but I had some worry that there might be a conflict of interest for Bernard regarding her. As soon as we finished the call, I phoned Bernard and left a message for him to phone me. I then got back to writing and wrote pretty solidly for a few hours, eventually stopping just after four to start preparing a meal.
Bernard phoned shortly after I had started cooking. I explained the situation regarding Irene Kaufman.
"No worries there, old chap," he assured me. "Yes, we did work for Irene a few years ago. Most of it was done by one of my juniors, and when she set up her own practice, Irene went with her — with my blessing, I might add. She has been Sarah's client effectively for the last couple of years before Sarah moved out to set up her practice.”
“You did not offer Sarah a partnership?”
“Oh, I did, Mike,” Bernard replied. “However, she was marrying a chap from the law department at the OU and wanted to settle in nearer Milton Keynes, so she moved to Aylesbury and started her own practice in Watford. Doing quite well for herself — specialises in artists’ rights. We use her for some of our clients. She’s the one I recommended to Bob for his agency work.”
That sorted, I got back to cooking dinner.
The next few days settled into something of a rhythm. Johnny and Anne would go to college. I would write till about four. If Anne was still at college, I would then start on dinner, if she was back, she would start on dinner, and I would sit in the kitchen chatting with her.
Friday afternoon, Matt called round to do the final check on the main wing of the house. He declared everything finished and said we could move back in, so the weekend was spent moving the three of us back into the main house. We had just finished getting everything sorted on Sunday when Miss Jenkins rang to ask if it was alright for her to visit on Tuesday. I told her there was no problem. I should have kept quiet.
It was pouring down with rain Tuesday morning, so clearly it was not a good day for Johnny to go in on his moped. Not that this was a problem. Tuesday was the one day where Johnny’s and Anne’s classes fitted with each other quite well, so Johnny would go in with Anne. That was the idea, at least.
The problem was that when Anne went to start her car, there was a very nasty noise from the engine compartment, and it was quite clear the car was going nowhere. That meant I had to take Anne and Johnny into college. It also meant that I had to go to the supermarket and do the shopping that Anne had planned to do on the way home that evening.
The one good thing was that by the time I got back to the Priory, it had stopped raining. The downside was I only just got back before the time I had agreed to meet Miss Jenkins. As a result, I was still unloading the shopping from the car when Miss Jenkin arrived with two young ladies, one of whom I recognised as the girl Johnny had spoken French with at the café some months back. Miss Jenkins introduced them to me as Francis and Miriam. She informed me that they would be helping with Arthur's business, and she had brought them over to see how it was run. I suggested they really needed to see Neal and Maddie about that. Just then Neal came from behind the Stable House.
“Sorry I’m late, Aunty. The phone rang just after you called,” he said.
“Where’s Maddie?” Miss Jenkins asked.
“She’s on her way to Letterman Engineering,” Neal stated. “They’ve had flash floods and the server room’s been flooded. She’s going to effect the rescue.”
“Can she do that?” I asked.
"Yes," Neil responded. "There is only a foot of water in the room, and the servers are rack-mounted a good four feet off the ground, so they are OK. It is just that all the power points have been blown. She'll get the servers moved to one of the upper floors, reconfigure the network, and bingo, once they get power back, they are in business.
“Why firms insist on putting the servers in the basement I don’t know. They should be on the top floor.”
"Right, Neal, why don't you take Francis and Miriam and show them the setup here,” Miss Jenkins instructed. “I need to chat with Mr. Carlton.”
Neal turned and led the two young woman towards the Stable House. I led Miss Jenkins into the kitchen, putting the kettle on to make a pot of tea. Miss Jenkins took a seat at the table.
“I know the legal niceties are going to take a couple of weeks to sort out,” she informed me, “however, I felt it was advisable to get as long a handover as possible, so I am putting the girls in at my expense until everything is sorted out.”
“Where are they going live?” I asked, dreading that she would ask us to put them up. I had no doubt she knew we had the apartment free now.
"I have them in Belmont House at the moment," she replied. I looked at her a bit shocked. Belmont House was a hotel, slightly back from the harbour, very upmarket, and popular with the Yacht Club set. Miss Jenkins must have seen the look on my face as she continued. "My family are in the process of acquiring it. We have several hotels, so it fits in with our portfolio. It seems a couple of the shareholders are finding themselves in need of funds urgently. Fortunately, the family seems to have some spare funds at the moment."
I laughed. The old bird was using the money I was reasonably sure she had taken from the Hendersons to buy a business from the Hendersons.
"I had their systems checked out over the weekend, and they are somewhat woefully out of date. I rather need Arthur's business to take on their upgrading and thought that it might be useful for the computer systems of all our hotels to be both upgraded and integrated. I am going down to speak with Arthur about it tomorrow."
“Just how many hotels do you own?” I asked.
“Eight, Belmont House will make it nine,” she replied. “We are also looking at the Fairview in Southmead, which we believe will be on the market shortly.”
“I am sure you did not come here to discuss your acquisition of hotels,” I stated as I poured the boiling water into the pot.
“No, I did not,” she responded. “Actually, I wanted to talk to you about your son.”
“Yes, Mr. Carlton,” Miss Jenkins replied. "For the last six weeks, we have had protection around Johnny and Arthur. I regret that it has not been as effective as I would have wished, but it has been in place. However, I now believe that any threat to either of the boys has been considerably reduced, if not eliminated. As a result, I intend to withdraw the cover that is in place. It seemed advisable that I should inform you in advance." I went to speak, but Miss Jenkins held up a hand to stop me and continued. "We will, of course, from now on have a presence in this town, and if we discover any sign that there may be a threat, the cover will be put immediately back in place. I doubt, though, that it will be necessary.
“The Hendersons as a whole are a rather unpleasant lot, but they are not particularly vicious. Ruthless? Yes, but not vicious. I am sure they have committed murder when it suited them or found it expedient. That, unfortunately, cannot be said of John Henderson. He was, to say the least, a vicious bastard who had a far higher opinion of himself than was justified.
“He had created a climate of fear amongst the younger elements of the Henderson clan and their associates, whom he appeared to be running as his own operation. A lot was going on which I am reasonably sure the older Hendersons did not know about. I am fairly certain that it was John Henderson, who organised the attack on Arthur. From what I know, I believe the older Hendersons were not even aware of it.
"With the death of John Henderson, a number of the younger elements within that family and their associates are reconsidering their interests. I can assure you that some are being encouraged to turn Queen's evidence."
I got the distinct impression from the way Miss Jenkins said that, that the encouragement was not coming from the police or prosecuting authorities.
“By the way,” she continued. “I believe Chief Inspector Manley is coming to see you later this week.” That was news to me. “You might like to mention to him that you have heard that the Hendersons have some units in that new storage facility on the way to Maldon.”
"Interesting," I commented. "May I ask how you came to know that?"
"A friend of the family owns it," she responded. "But back to what I was saying. I believe the main threat to Arthur, and by association to Johnny, was from John Henderson. With him out of the picture, I do not think there is now any credible threat to either of the boys.
"However, should you ever suspect there may be a danger to them, I want your assurance you will contact me immediately. My family and I will do all we can to assist you."
“But why?” I asked.
"Mr. Clayton, Ian and Terry Jenkins are my great-nephews. Their grandfather was my brother. Unfortunately, my brother and I did not get on, and I lost contact with him in the 1950s. He died in a car crash in 1970. I was aware that he had a son, but at that time I was not in a position to do anything for him, and to be honest, I did not pay the attention to my own family that I should have. It was only when I came to appreciate the strength within my Albert’s family that I came to understand what I was missing.
"You and your son and his friends acted to help Ian, somebody you did not really know, without hesitation or question. It was clear to you that an injustice was taking place, and you acted to prevent it. In doing so, you helped a member of my family whom I should have been protecting. As such, I have a debt of honour to you and your family, one which I will probably never be able to repay fully.
"I think I need to leave the girls with Neal so they can get some idea of what is involved in the business. All the legal work should be sorted out next week, and I gather Arthur will be coming back here then, so no doubt I will see you when I come to finalise things with him.”
“Oh,” I stated. “I did not know that.”
“Well, shooting at the studio has to finish this week,” Miss Jenkins informed me. “I understand they have a few days break before they start shooting externals here.”
That reminded me. I needed to sort through the pack of paperwork that Ben had sent me.
Miss Jenkins assured me that Neal would get the girls back to their hotel and, with that, left. It was a good job she did as no sooner was she out of the door than the phone rang. It was Anne. Apparently, there had been a flash flood at the college, and all classes were cancelled. Could I pick Johnny and her up? I said I could and would be there in about twenty minutes—a major underestimate.
The moment I got out of Dunford I hit heavy rain. It was coming down so fast that the drains could not cope with it, and there was a couple of inches of water on the roads, often more. Fortunately, there was not much traffic around, and I was in the Hyundai, with its four-wheel drive, something I was very grateful for when I got to the bypass. Several cars were stuck in the water, which was over a foot deep. I was able to make it through, though it was slow-going having to weave in and out of stranded cars. When I got to the end of the bypass, I noticed that the police had closed the road to Lynnhaven.
It was closer to an hour by the time I got to the college. Fortunately, by then the rain has eased off a bit. Johnny and Anne dashed out of the college just as I pulled into the carpark. What came as a surprise is that there was another woman about Anne’s age running with them to our car.
Anne pulled the rear door open and pushed the woman in, then climbed in after her as Johnny had to run around the car to get in the front passenger’s door.
“Mike, this is Marcia,” Anne said, as she climbed in. “She’s from Downshove — on the road to Lynnhaven.” That information was unnecessary as I knew where Downshove was. "The buses have all been stopped, so I said we would give her a lift back that way."
“That might be a bit difficult,” I informed them. “The police have closed the Lynnhaven road.”
“I suppose I’d better stay here,” Marcia stated, moving to open the door.
“Don’t be stupid,” Anne said. “You can come back to our place. We can probably get you to Lynnhaven from there, but if we can't, there are plenty of bedrooms."
I agreed with Anne, started the car and headed back to the bypass. As we got there, we were stopped by the police who informed us the bypass was flooded out. In the end, I had to drive inland until we hit the main road to Maldon, then drove into Maldon. Once we got there, we were able to follow the coast road back to Dunford and the Priory. The whole of the return journey took over an hour and a half.
Although the rain eased up a couple of times during the journey, it was raining hard again by the time we got to Dunford. Fortunately, the road from Maldon to Dunford was open. However, when we turned into Sidings Lane, we came to notices saying the road ahead was flooded. The turnoff that took us up the hill to the Priory was just before the area that was flooded, so it was not a problem for us.
Once back at the Priory, I pulled the car up as close as I could get to the back door, then told the occupants to wait in the car till I got the door open. It was only some eight feet from the car to the door, but by the time I got there and got it unlocked, I was soaked. The rain was really coming down hard. It did not help that I had two keys on my keyring which were virtually identical. As per usual, the first key I tried was the wrong one. Unlocking the door, I held it open for the others to make a dash into the kitchen. I was once more grateful that the car had remote locking.
Anne immediately put the kettle on to make some hot drinks. I phoned Jack at the Crown and Anchor to check what the roads were like around Lynnhaven. The news was not good. There was extensive flooding, and all the main roads were closed. I passed the information onto Marcia, who was visibly upset.
“Problems?” I asked.
"My son and daughter are at Letterman High," she replied. "If the road is closed, then the school bus won't be running. I'm not sure how they will get home. I need to be home for them."
“Isn’t there anyone else there?” Anne enquired.
“No, we live with my parents,” Marcia replied. “They’ve gone on holiday for two weeks; left a week last Sunday. I thought it would make life easier, but now this.”
“Why would it make life easier?” I asked.
“Well, it’s only a two-bedroom cottage,” Marcia replied. “My parents have one room, my daughter and I share the other bedroom, which leaves Tariq, my son, sleeping on the couch in the front room. It's not ideal, but we have had to manage given the circumstances."
I recalled the conversation with Neal this morning that Maddie had gone out to Letterman Engineering. If I remembered right, that was close to Letterman High, which was on the road from Lynnhaven to Southmead near Letterman Creek. I called Neal on the house phone and asked if Maddie was still out there.
“Yes,” Neal replied. “She just called in, hopes to finish soon but from the sound of it will have to come back the long way; all the marsh roads are flooded.”
“I know,” I replied. “Need her to do me a favour. Can you phone her and ask—”
“Why don’t you phone her?” Neal interrupted. He then gave me her mobile number.
I phoned Maddie and explained the situation. She said she was nearly finished and it would be no problem picking up Marcia's kids from the school; it was next door to where she was. We went over details of how Maddie was to pick them up, and, that agreed, I finished the call and asked Marcia to contact the school to give them a message to say that Magdalene Atkins would be picking her children up, and could they let her son and daughter know?
“How come you’re in limited accommodation?” Anne asked as she placed mugs of tea on the table, followed by a plate of cakes.
“Broke up with my husband beginning of August," Marcia replied. "Caught him knocking the hell out of my son, so took the frying pan to him. I knocked the bastard out, got Tariq and Jasmin out of the house and into the car. Took Tariq to the hospital, then found a hotel for me and the daughter. Once Tariq had been seen to at the hospital and I had dealt with the police, I drove down here to my parents. Now we are waiting for the divorce. Though that is going to take ages; he’s gone back home to Pakistan.”
“So, he’s Pakistani?” Anne said.
“Technically, he’s British,” Marcia stated. “Born in Bradford. Grew up in Leeds, but he always considered Pakistan to be his home. Went back to visit the family out there whenever he could.
"I should have seen it coming and done something earlier. As it was, he really hurt Tariq."
“Why should you have seen it coming?” I asked.
“Chawish is second-generation immigrant," Marcia replied. "Like many of that generation, he seems to want to proclaim his Pakistani heritage more than his Britishness. Particularly in religion. He's Muslim, of course. When we first met, it did not seem important to him. We were at university, and he was certainly not observant. Chawish would drink alcohol and eat pork with abandon. Over the last few years, he has become increasingly observant. A couple of years ago, he had a major argument with his business partner about doing work for Israel; it ended with his partner leaving the company. Since then, Chawish has got worse. With his increasing observance, he became increasingly intolerant and homophobic.
"I realised my son was gay a couple of years ago. If I had thought things through, I would have taken the children and left my husband then, but I didn't. I had a good life, a nice house, a husband with a good business; it seemed too much to walk away from until it was too late." With that, she started to sob.
Anne went over to her and put her arm around Marcia. As she did so, Anne looked at me, and once she was sure she had my attention glanced out through the window and up at the apartments. I got the message and gave her a slight nod.
After a couple of minutes, Marcia calmed down.
“You said you were at university when you met your husband,” I stated. “So, why are you doing a computer-science access course.”
Marcia laughed. “I’m not, though I share a lot of classes with that course. The course I am doing is the Computer Re-skilling course. My degree is in joint Environmental Studies and Statistics, but I did it twenty-plus years ago and never worked in the field. Nowadays, most of the work in that area requires computer skills, especially when looking at environmental data. Programming languages like R were not around in my day. I need to re-skill to get a job in the field now.”
“What’s happened to the business?” I asked.
“It’s folded,” Marcia answered. “Chawish was charged with grievous bodily harm, but he got bail, though he had to surrender his passport, which he did — his British one. I did not know he had a Pakistani passport. He emptied the business account, our joint current account and his savings account, then drove to Birkenhead and got the ferry to Belfast. From there he drove down to Dublin and got a flight to Amsterdam, then one to Karachi. He was there while I was still sitting at my son's bedside, wondering if he was going to live.
"Two days later, the office manager phoned me to say that she had been unable to put the bank transfers through due to insufficient funds in the bank account. That surprised me as we had a two-hundred and fifty-thousand-pound overdraft facility, and the last I knew we had been in credit with the bank to over a hundred thousand. He had taken the lot.
“The overdraft and business loans were secured on our house, so the bank foreclosed on it. It’s up for auction next month. Dad went up a couple of weeks ago and got all our stuff out and into storage — that which he did not bring down.”
"How are you coping financially?" Anne asked.
"Mam and Dad, mainly," Marcia admitted. "I got lucky and got a grant to cover my course fees, and I make a bit of money writing, though not much."
My ears picked up at that, and I had to ask. "What type of writing?"
“Articles for environmental and nature magazines,” Marcia replied. “I usually manage to pick up one or two a month. Did it mostly as a hobby before all this, but now I am reliant on it.” She went on to name some of the magazines she had written for. There were a couple I read, and I realised I had read some of Marcia’s work and been impressed by it.
“Who’s your agent?” I enquired.
“Agent? I don’t have one,” Marcia admitted.
“Then you’d better get one,” I stated. “Know anything about chytridiomycosis?”
“Yes,” she replied. “It is a fungal disease that is affecting amphibians. It’s quite devastating and a major threat to the amphibian fauna worldwide. Seems to have wiped out some species of poison-arrow frogs already.”
“Good, I’ll be back in a minute,” I stated, then left Anne and Marcia to go to my study. Once there, I phoned Bob. He answered immediately.
“Mike. Was just about to phone you,” he stated.
“Well, I have saved you a call. Do you have anyone in your office who would be willing to take on a freelance-article writer?”
“Don’t tell me you want us to handle that side for you?” Bob asked.
“No, but I have someone who needs representation,” I replied. I explained the situation.
“So, why the urgency to fit her up with an agent?” Bob asked.
“Robert Langley from Kingly and Dean approached me last week to write a series of articles for a new nature magazine they are launching. Initially, they want twenty-eight, three-thousand-word pieces, each on a different subject pertaining to the natural world. They specifically want an initial one about the threat of chytridiomycosis to the amphibian population.
"I was going to turn it down as it is not my field. I am more physics and engineering. Anyway, at the moment I have enough on. Thought I might recommend Marcia to do the work.” I spent a couple more minutes telling Bob about Marcia’s qualifications and background.
"Get her to ring me," Bob instructed. "I've got somebody in the office who could take it on. More importantly, I have got an enquiry in for somebody to ghost-write a book for a TV celeb on the impact of climate change. Your Marcia sounds ideal for it; can get a good advance for her.”
I finished off the call then went back to the kitchen and explained the situation to Marcia. She was quite interested, so I suggested she use the phone in my study and call Bob. While she was on the phone to Bob, I knocked up an email to Robert Langley regretting that I was not in a position at the moment to take on the level of work which I thought would be required to produce the twenty-eight articles in the time frame they were looking for. I did suggest that they contact Marcia.
Marcia was still on the phone to Bob when I had finished my email, so I left her and returned to the kitchen. Knowing Bob, she was likely to be on the phone for some time.
As I entered the kitchen, Johnny fired off a question at me. "Are you going to let them have the apartment?"
“What?” I responded.
“Are you going to let them have the apartment?” he repeated. “I saw the look that Anne gave you, and I saw your nod."
“Well, we need to talk about it,” I stated. “Can’t do anything at the moment until we have had time to discuss it. We have to think about whether she can afford it.”
Just then Maddie’s car pulled into the yard. Anne went and opened the kitchen door. It was still raining but not as heavily as it had been earlier. Maddie spoke to the boy and girl in the car, then pointed at Anne. They seemed uncertain about what to do. The girl opened the door, and Anne called across. “Your mother’s on the phone. You’d better come in before the heavens open again.”
The girl got out of the passenger seat, then opened the back door for her brother to get out. For a moment I thought that was strange, but then I saw when Marcia meant when she said she had left it till too late. The boy's left arm hung uselessly at his side, and as he walked towards the kitchen, his left foot dragged with each step, there was an eye patch over his right eye.