"And what does Stanley Porter being Neal's father have to do with things?" Anne asked. I looked at her, surprised by the question, then remembered she had not grown up in Golders Green.
"Stanley Porter, is the son of George Porter, one of the biggest moneylenders in London," I told her. "He used to lend to the youngbloods in the West End."
"Youngbloods?" Anne asked.
"Yes, you know the sons of the rich who would spend their time in nightclubs and gambling dens till they ran out of money and had to wait for their allowance to come in. Sometimes, they could not wait, and then George would help them out until it came. Of course, it was expensive, borrow five hundred, pay back seven."
"Over how long?" Anne asked.
"Couple of weeks, month max," I told her.
"That's extortion," Anne stated.
"Yes, particularly if you could not pay it back," I informed her. "There were stories — none of them was ever proved — but there were stories.
"Stanley was at the same junior school that Bernard and I were at. For a couple of years, we were quite close friends, though he was a year ahead of us. Still, there were only a few weeks between our birthdays. He was the youngest in his year; we were amongst the oldest in ours. We were a bit of a gang until his family moved to Islington."
"Why is this important?" Anne asked.
"It's not really; it's just that I have been racking my brains since I met Neal as to why he seemed familiar. He is just like Stanley but a bit older.
"The one thing it does mean is that I am a lot happier about the money that Miss Jenkins is putting into Arthur's business."
"Why? What difference does it make?"
"Because when the Consumer Credit Act came in, George went legit. Ended up providing funding to finance houses. He did quite well at it. I presume Stanley followed his father into the business. As such, there are legitimate sources for the money. Minimal risk of it getting labelled as POCA funding."
"POCA?" Anne asked.
"Proceeds of Crime. If the police can show that assets or funds are derived from criminal activity, they have the right to go after them under the Proceeds of Crime Act. I was worried that Miss Jenkins might be using Arthur's business to launder funds. Now I know the Porters are involved, I am quite confident that the funds are legit."
"I know you were worried about Miss Jenkins' involvement," Anne stated. "Somehow, I get the feeling you are mellowing to the old bird."
"Well, she had done nothing to make me question her actions. In fact, she has gone out of her way to make me feel comfortable about things. That is what I am worried about. Why?”
I had not really expected an answer and certainly did not get one. The question did keep me from sleep for quite a bit. As a result, I was somewhat tired when my alarm went off at seven in the morning. My first instinct, once I had silenced the alarm, was to roll over and go back to sleep. Who in their right minds gets up at seven on a Sunday morning? Then I remembered why I had set the alarm. I had arranged a Skype call with James for eight.
I dragged myself out of a warm, comfortable bed into quite a cold room. That puzzled me; the heating should have come on at six. By now, the place should be nice and warm. I reached over to switch on the bedside light, no light. No power?
I pulled on some clothing then grabbed a nice thick dressing gown.
"What's up?" Anne asked groggily as she attempted to move to a waking state and get out of bed.
"Stay in bed," I told her. "Power's out, and there is no heating."
Making my way down to the kitchen, I checked the power in different locations just in case it was a circuit breaker that was flipped. By the signs of it, everything was out. Once in the kitchen, I found a torch and checked the circuit board in the utility room. Everything looked fine. I went to phone the apartment, then realised that the phone system was not working; the system-exchange required power.
Digging around the storeroom, I found a camping stove. Using that, I managed to boil some water to make a pot of tea.
I was just pouring myself a second mug when Johnny came into the kitchen.
"You're early," I commented.
"Could say the same for you," Johnny observed. "I thought you regarded Sunday as a day of rest."
"I do but have a Skype call arranged with James for eight this morning. What's your excuse?"
Johnny looked at the clock. "You’d better get a move on if you are going to drink that tea before your call, it's ten to eight now."
"Not much point. In case you have not noticed, there is no power," I stated.
"Dad, the internet here has UPS, so it is still working, and your laptop has a battery in it. You can still use it."
"Forgot about that," I stated. "Anyway, you have still not said why you are up so early."
"Steve's doing a boat survey for a customer who’s looking at buying a Sunseeker Tomahawk but wants an opinion about it from Steve before he commissions an official survey. Steve's taking me along; then I'm going into Town to meet Joseph. Steve said he would pick me up at eight-thirty."
"So, the yard’s not open today?"
"Nah, we're officially on winter hours as from the first. Steve's only opening up on a Sunday by appointment. You have to phone in advance to arrange it.
"Is there any news on JayDee?" he asked.
"I just thought… with you having this call with James."
"This just was the only time we could find when we could fit it in." Just then, the alarm on my phone beeped telling me it was time to take the call. I went through to my study, started up my laptop and opened Skype. It had only just opened up when the call came in from James. We chatted for a bit; he informed me that he had been in contact with Marcia and arranged that JayDee could stay with her if he were found.
"Any news on that front?" I asked.
"No," James replied. "Spoke to the British High Commission in Trinidad a couple of days ago, but they had no information. To be honest, I don't think they are in a position to do much."
"It seems quite a lot of West Indian families send troublesome youngsters back to the islands to be 'sorted out'. From what they were saying, a number of them run away once they are on the island. Generally, they turn up after a week or two. It was made particularly clear to me that the High Commission has neither the time nor the funds to go looking for one boy. They have made it clear if he turns up there asking for help, they will provide it, but they are not going to go out looking to give it."
I told him that Phil and Ben were now out there, and they had said they would see what they could do.
"Yes," James informed me. "Had an email from some chap called Allen, asking if I had a photo of JayDee. They wanted something they could show around."
"That's their head of security," I informed James. "He's a good chap."
"Well, I hope they have some success," James stated. "From what the High Commission said, the local police are not interested in looking for him. He is just another one of the street kids, and I gather there are quite a lot of them."
With that, we closed down our conversation. I knew Johnny would want to know if there was any news, so I went back to the kitchen and gave him a synopsis of what James had said.
"Well, I just hope that Allen can get a lead on him," Johnny stated. "Tariq is far more upset about things than he is letting on." Just then a car drove into the yard and pipped its horn twice. Johnny glanced out of the window, informed me that Steve was here, and grabbed his coat before exiting from the kitchen.
I made myself some toast and a fresh pot of tea. Whilst I was in the middle of pouring the water into the teapot, Anne came in.
"Make us a coffee?" she requested. I did. Once that was done and we were seated at the table, I asked about plans for the day.
"Not much," my wife informed me. "Have to write up a report on some data analysis, but that should not take long. Not sure how I am going to get that done with no power. Why?"
"I was thinking of going into Colchester," I replied. "Thought I might upgrade my laptop."
"You should talk to Arthur first," Anne commented. "Anyway, why do you want to upgrade it? You've not had it long."
"Think I need something a bit lighter and not so bulky to take with me when I am going on location," I replied. "Look, from what Ben and Phil have told me, a lot of time filming is sitting around waiting for something to happen. Might as well use that time to get some work done."
Anne nodded in acknowledgement. We then got onto other things. I did, though, make a mental note to speak with Arthur before I got a new laptop, a task I was able to undertake quite shortly, as Arthur came through into the kitchen. Anne got up to make him a coffee, indicating that he should take a seat. I asked him about the power situation and the servers.
"We're fine for twelve hours; got a massive UPS," he informed me. Anne asked what a UPS was, and Arthur told her it was an uninterruptible power supply. Just then, the lights came back on. Power had been restored.
"How long before you get that off?" Anne enquired, indicating the cast on his leg.
"Ten days, at least," Arthur replied. "Doctor said it would be off by Bonfire Night."
"Is that important?" I enquired.
"Yes, Trevor has asked me to join him on Necker."
"Lucky you," Anne commented.
"When?" I asked.
"They are scheduled to be on Trinidad for three weeks," he replied. "Once they have finished there, they move to Necker, so that should be the first week of November. Trevor's arranged tickets for me on the sixth, flying from Heathrow. I will get to Necker sometime on the seventh."
"Do Ben and Phil know you're going?" I asked.
"Yes," Arthur answered. "Trev's got no calls during the first week of the shooting schedule. I'm only going out till his parts start being shot. Actually, from what he was saying, his scenes are the last to be shot, so it may be well into week three there before he is needed. However, I am coming back after the first week. Too much to do here."
"Like what?" I asked.
"Getting the new place set up and the gear installed," Arthur replied. "From what Neal was saying, we should be all ready to move by the middle of November."
"You are moving the gear from here?" I enquired.
"No," Arthur answered. "The cost of moving it and getting it set up would probably be more than the cost of installing the new kit. Anyway, we need to keep most of it here for the wireless-ISP operation. We have a contractual obligation to support those customers for at least another year. Can't see it lasting much longer than that, though. What we will be installing at the new site will be backup systems, both for backing up our ISP servers here and for the client servers that we are providing support for."
I nodded, not that I understood what he was on about, but it seemed to make some sort of sense. "I'm looking at getting a new laptop, Arthur. Thought about going into Colchester later to have a look at some. Any advice?"
"Why do you want a new laptop?" he asked.
"I want something that is light to carry around and does not take up much room," I informed him. "From the start of next year, I will be travelling quite a bit and want to be able to work from wherever I am, but I do not want to be carrying too much luggage. The laptop I have is nice, but it is heavy and not that easy to carry around."
"What are you going to be using it for?" Arthur asked.
"Word processing, emails and browsing?"
"You're not looking at running any of the graphics software you use for illustrations?" he asked.
"No, why?" I responded.
"Because graphics software and the analytical processing software you use are memory hungry. For those, you need a machine that you can easily put more memory in. Remember, back in August, I put four memory expansions into your machine." I confirmed that I did remember. It had been taking me ages to get some graphs drawn for an article I needed to get finished. I had complained to Arthur that my laptop was slow, and he had looked at it, then told me it needed more memory.
"If you just want something for basic word processing, emails and browsing, then one of the newer machines with solid-state disks in will probably work for you. Want me to come in with you?"
I informed him that I thought that would be a help, and we agreed we would go into Colchester around eleven.
"Make it eleven-thirty," Anne commented.
"OK," I replied. "Any particular reason why?"
"I need to speak with Debora about the wedding before we go in," she stated. "Must make sure I get a dress which does not clash with hers."
"Wedding, what wedding?" I asked.
"Micah's and Bethany's," Anne informed me.
"I did not know they were getting married," I stated.
"Oh, they've not announced it yet. Debora told me they are going to announce it next weekend. They are coming down for Bethany's birthday and will announce it then."
"A bit quick," I pointed out. "They've only been together a few months."
"I believe there was an accident with a condom," Anne stated.
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "Isn't that going to mess up her studies?"
"Hopefully not," Anne commented. "It's due in June, hopefully, late June. Her last exam is the first week of June."
"When's the wedding?" I enquired.
"Not decided yet," Anne informed me. "The best time would be during the Christmas vacation." With that, she went to get changed and, no doubt, phone Debora. I sat and chatted with Arthur about things. It had just gone quarter past the hour when Anne came back and informed us she was ready to go.
It was four hours later when we got back with a pile of bags from various clothes store and sans laptop. I had looked at quite a few but not found anything that met with my requirements. My requirements were for something that I could easily slip into my messenger bag. As a result, it needed to be fairly thin. At the same time, I needed a relatively hefty amount of memory and storage. Most of the thin laptops we found were only four gigabytes of memory, which could not be expanded and had limited storage. Arthur said I would be better off getting something online. In the end, I told him to go ahead and sort something out for me. It occurred to me as we drove back that it would have made more sense to have handed it all over to him to start with.
I was a bit surprised to find Johnny in the kitchen when we got back.
"Thought you were off into Town?" I stated.
"I was," he replied. "Joseph cancelled on me. Says Micah and his girlfriend have arrived."
He did not sound pleased about things. I thought about telling Johnny about the forthcoming marriage, but before I could say anything Johnny's phone rang. He looked at the screen, mumbled something that sounded like Joseph, and vanished off to his room.
I started to get Sunday dinner ready. Well, somebody had to, and knowing Anne, she would be busy for the next hour or so sorting out all the clothes she had bought this afternoon. Once I had got the basics started, I checked with Arthur to see if he would be joining us for dinner. He told me that he had already made arrangements to eat with the girls at the Crooked Man. Apparently, he needed to brief them about the outcome of his discussions with Neal.
When Johnny came down to dinner, he seemed a bit happier than he had earlier. I mentioned that fact to him. He just shrugged his shoulders, then blurted out, "Bethany is preggy."
"What?" Anne stated.
"Bethany is preggy; Micah put a bun in her oven," Johnny stated.
"Johnny, if you are going to say something, at least say it in English," I stated. "I presume you are trying to inform us that Bethany is pregnant."
"Yes, Dad," he replied. "That's why Joseph had to go down to the Kent house. There was a big family do, and Micah and Bethany announced their engagement. They're getting married at Christmas."
"But they didn't say she was pregnant, did they?" Anne pointed out.
"Well, why else would they get married?" Johnny stated.
"Maybe they love each other," I commented.
"Well, if they do, they could have just shacked up with each other," my son opined. "That's what most couples do."
I decided that I probably needed to talk to my son again about relationships sometime. The thing was, I was not too sure as to when or how I should go about doing so. He seemed to have a slightly cynical view about marriage, though he had pushed me into marrying Anne.
We had just finished dinner when the phone went. It was Bernard to officially inform us of the engagement and to get us to book a date in our diaries for the wedding, which would be on the fifth of January. Bernard told me that they had wanted to have a Christmas wedding, but it would have been impossible to get the family together before the new year.
"Might be a bit awkward," I informed him.
"Why?" he enquired.
"We are already committed to spending Christmas and New Year’s at Manston."
"I wonder if we could use Manston for the wedding?" Bernard asked.
"Not sure you could," I replied. "They usually close down after the Christmas Gala, the Saturday before Christmas, and are then closed till the start of March. Whenever we go up for Christmas, we stay at the Dowager House, as the main house is being cleaned and refurbished for the next season. You would need to speak with Phil and Mrs M, but I doubt if they could put on a big wedding then."
"It's not going to be big," Bernard advised me. "Immediate family and a few close friends. Bethany's grandparents are all deceased, and she is an only child of only children. Debora's father has made it clear that he and his sisters will not attend, as Micah is marrying out of the faith."
"Well, you can ask," I told him. "Though it might be an idea to get a firm grip on numbers first."
"Don't worry, I will," he responded.
We chatted a bit more, and I arranged to have lunch with him when I was in Town on Wednesday.
Although I was busy all the following week, nothing much happened. I had a series of meetings in Town to discuss the script that I was now writing. Went up on Wednesday morning and stayed in Town overnight as I had a screen-test call for early Thursday morning. I had suggested to Anne that she should come up to Town Wednesday evening and we could take in a show, but she had an early class on Thursday and did not think it advisable.
Whilst in town I did call in to see the agents who managed the Golders Green property for me and told them that I would probably be needing it later in next year. I also called in at the property to tell my tenants personally what was going on.
"Thanks for letting us know," Bill, my tenant responded to my information. "It's probably the kick we need to move on. To be honest, we've been discussing getting our own place for the last couple of years but have not got around to it; this place is just too convenient."
"I can understand that the prices around here are mad," I stated.
"Wouldn't be looking around here if we can help it," Bill stated. "Janet's keen to start a family; actually, we both are, and London is not the best place to bring up kids. A lot, though, is going to depend on that brother of yours." I looked at Bill with surprise. He knew Ben; that I knew; they had been at school together, but why should he be involved in their decision about getting their own place.
"How come?" I asked.
"I thought you knew; I work for Ben," he replied.
"But you and Janet are graphic artists, aren't you?"
"Yes, and we are both working in Ben and Matthew's computer-generated-graphics business," he informed me. "They have been talking about setting up a production facility at the Rickyard, some property they've got at that country house they own."
"I know it," I responded. "It's a set of old farm buildings on the east side of the Manston estate. The buildings are just used for storage at the moment; they're not practical for modern farming. I know he said something about developing them last time we were up there."
"Well, I hope he makes up his mind soon," Bill stated. "What we've saved up as a deposit down here would almost pay for a place around there."
We chatted a bit more. I assured him that we would not be issuing any notice to quit till August. However, their present tenancy was up at the end of June, and we would not be renewing it. I also told them that if they wanted to move out early, we would not enforce the lease or the penalty clauses.
That evening, I emailed Ben explaining what I had done and asking him what was going on. Got a reply the next morning telling me that I had pushed Phil and him into deciding about the Rickyard. They were going to develop it into a production facility for CGI work. There was also a note at the end that they would Skype me Friday evening.
Being in Town Wednesday and Thursday disrupted my writing schedule, so Friday morning, I got down to doing some serious writing. Anne had a full day at college and would not be back till about six; Johnny would not be back at all; he was going directly from college to Southminster to get the train into Town and would be spending the weekend with Joseph. So, as soon as breakfast was over and the students were on their way to college; I ensconced myself in my study and started writing.
I did quite well, having got a couple of articles finished, a good first draft on a technical report done, and had completed a rewrite of the script about Coalbrookdale and the use of coking coal. Although not my field, I had found coking coal interesting, so had started to draft a chapter about it for the book. I had just got the main points down and was beginning to think I should probably make a move to start dinner when Arthur knocked on my study door and asked if I had a minute. I told him I was just finishing up, and could he give me fifteen minutes? I had just closed down files when he came back fifteen minutes later carrying a laptop bag, which he passed over to me.
"I think this should work for you," he stated. I opened the bag and pulled out an Apple MacBook. I looked at him, surprised.
"Well most of your Linux applications are available for it, the battery life is longer than most Windows laptops, and it's cheap," he continued.
"The MD at Matchinson's got it because it is trendy to have a MacBook, then found he could not run any of the software he needed to use on it. Did him a deal on a laptop."
"So how good a price to me?" I asked.
"To you, four hundred," he stated. "Try it first for a few days and see if you like it. If you do, I'll expand the memory for you. If you give me a list of the software you want on it, I can get it installed. Most of the Open Source stuff is available for Mac."
"Right," I replied. "I'll look at it over the weekend and let you have a list on Tuesday. I will need to check if Johnny needs anything specific on it as he will probably be using it sometimes, but he will not be back until Monday."
"Gone to see Joseph?" Arthur asked.
"Yes," I answered.
"Good. Hope they can sort things out," Arthur commented.
"Sort what out?" I enquired.
"The way things are working with their relationship," Arthur stated. "Johnny's having problems with this long-distance thing. He is not very good at it."
I expressed my surprise to Arthur. The impression I had was that Johnny had quite a lot of experience, and he certainly had a long-distance thing going with Marcel.
"Those weren't relationships," Arthur informed me. "They were sex mates. The only thing in them was sex. From what Johnny has said, I suspect he was being used as a sex toy by some of those lads, never mind the blokes he was going with."
He must have noted the look of surprise on my face. "Look, Mike, Johnny had it rough in many ways before his mother dumped him on you. He used sex to get what he wanted, but in doing so, he allowed himself to be used. That's why things did not work out between him and me. He thought he had to offer mainly sex; what I needed at that time was companionship and some comfort. To be quite honest, the idea of sex just then, especially sex with a minor, was the last thing I wanted. That's why things worked out with Trevor; we both needed a shoulder to cry on, and the rest just followed."
"Thanks for telling me," I said, feeling somewhat deflated. "I had not realised."
"I don't suppose you did."
"Will you be joining us for dinner tonight?" I enquired.
"No, it's Friday," he responded. "Having fish and chips in the Crooked Man with the girls. We are making it a regular meet-up so that we can review the week. Works well for us."
With that, he left. I went through to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and decide about dinner. Thinking about it, fish and chips at the Crooked Man sounded like a good idea. I sent Anne a text, got one back a few minutes later, agreeing. That sorted, I went back to the study and started up Skype to leave a message for Ben that we would be out till gone nine.
Actually, we were back from the Crooked Man before nine, as there was a programme on BBC Four which Anne wanted to watch. It was about a band she had been involved with somewhat when she was a teenager. I left her to watch it and went to my study to do some more writing until Ben called.
It had just gone nine-thirty when he Skyped me. He apologised that it was only him. Phil was busy trying to smooth out the ruffled feathers of some minor star who had suddenly found out that his part was being cut even more.
"Personally, I think we should drop him and get some local in to play the part," Ben commented. "We would have to reshoot a couple of scenes, but we are probably going to have to anyway. He's been a pain in the arse since we got here and started shooting. Because he is a big TV star in the States, he thinks he is the bee's knees and treats everybody like shit and wants everything done his way. He's been particularly nasty to the two Ts. It's not as if he has a major role in the film."
"The two Ts?" I asked.
"Trevor and Tyler," Ben informed me. "They seem to have worked out their differences and have become almost inseparable. When they are not on set, Tyler is showing Trevor round the island."
"Is that safe?"
"Oh, yes," Ben replied. "Allen's got the security side of things sorted. Before we got here, he had arranged for one of the local gangs of street kids to act as messengers and runners for the crew. He put a couple of the local security guys in with them as liaison. The street kids now regard us as their property. I suppose what we are paying them is a small fortune — to them — though it is far less than what extra security would cost us.
"Anyway, as a result, whenever Trevor and Tyler go anywhere, they have not only their own personal security people but at least a couple of the local security people and cover from the street kids. By the way, they've also given us a lead on JayDee."
"You've found him?" I asked.
"Not yet," Ben replied. "He's up at the other end of the island with another group. However, contact has been made, and messages have been passed. Allen is trying to arrange a meeting with the leaders of the other group. It's all about giving them assurances."
We chatted for a bit longer. He wanted to know how my industrial-archaeology project was going; I wanted to know how the film was going.
"All in all, we are probably about two days ahead of schedule," he informed me. "Though we will lose those if we have to reshoot the scenes if we have to drop the diva. Hope we do, as I can only see more trouble coming from that quarter."
"Would you have to reshoot?" I asked. "Can't you do some CGI magic with his scenes?"
"Mike, have you any idea how much CGI costs?" Ben asked. "It will be far cheaper to reshoot the two scenes than to try to CGI them."
"Talking of CGI, what's happening with Rickyard?" I asked.
"Well, we are about at capacity with our London base. We need more space if we are going to take on more work, and space down there costs a fortune," Ben stated. "We've got nearly twenty-thousand square feet in the Rickyard complex, which at the moment we can't use for anything other than storage. If we converted it into CGI studios, it would give us the space we need and a much nicer environment for the creatives to work in."
"Yes, but would they want to move out of London?" I asked. "Manston is a bit out of the way; you can't easily pop into Town for a show or exhibition."
"You've got a point there," Ben conceded. "Once we get back, we will be discussing things with the staff."
"That's a point. When are you back?"
"Hopefully, the first week in December," Ben informed me. "Actually, we will have to be finished by then, as Andrew Mayer's trial starts on the first Wednesday in December and Trevor's been called as a witness. If things stay on schedule, all his shoots will be finished by the third week of November, and he will be able to get back early."
"From what Arthur was saying, he has no shoots for the week from the 5th," I commented. "Arthur says he is coming out to you."
"That's right," Ben confirmed. "We've got the use of the Big House from the 5th to the 11th and will be shooting all the scenes there during that period. Neither Trevor nor Tyler are in any of those scenes. They were talking about taking the week off and flying home, but Phil suggested they fly their partners out for the week and enjoy the island. At least this way, there is no chance we will lose our stars somewhere while they are off galivanting around."
"You sound concerned," I stated.
"Well, it has happened," Ben replied. "Rumour has it that Burton and Taylor went missing for some days during the shooting of Cleopatra. It cost the production a fortune. Better to have the boys here on the island with their partners than off somewhere else."
That, of course, resulted in me asking about arrangements for Christmas and Micah's wedding. Ben informed me that there could be a problem there as he did not think they had the staff available to do a wedding. They tried to give as many of the staff as possible time off over the Christmas-New Year period. He told me he had suggested that they go for the first weekend in January. He knew there was staff coverage then as they had a conference on that weekend.
Saturday morning, Arthur asked me if I could give him a lift into Maldon. He wanted to get a bus into Chelmsford. In the end, I drove him into Chelmsford. It gave me a chance to talk to him about Johnny. It also gave me an opportunity to provide the Morgan with a decent run. Not had much chance to use it since we moved to the Priory. Anne is not keen on going out in it.
I did not learn anything particularly new about Johnny as we drove over to Chelmsford. What I did get, though, was some insights into things which, I must admit, put a different cast on Johnny's behaviour over the years. Apparently, Johnny had told Arthur a lot more about things than he had told me.
One of the most interesting insights was why Johnny got himself expelled from school so often. Not that I could understand Johnny's reasoning, but at least there was an explanation. That, though, left me with the problem of how to raise the issue with Johnny. As it turned out, it was nearly a week before I was in a position to do so.
As Joseph's half term was a week earlier and shorter — three days off, Friday and the following Monday and Tuesday — it had been arranged that Joseph would come up to stay on the Thursday evening. Bernard was bringing him, which would also give Bernard and me a chance to talk about some things.
In the end, things did not work out as planned. Bernard had been in court in Reading all morning and was driving back along the M4 when a lorry in front of him lost its load. Fortunately, Bernard was maintaining a reasonable distance and was able to stop in time. Unfortunately, the van behind him was not, and it ploughed into the back of Bernard's Bentley, pushing it forward into the mass of steel pipes that had come off the lorry.
The good news was that Bernard was relatively unscathed, except for some bruising from the seat belt. The bad news was that the car was almost certainly a write-off, and Bernard was stuck at an Accident and Emergency unit in Slough. There was no way he was going to be able to get back into Town, pick up Joseph and bring him to our place.
The result of all this was that I agreed to drive to Slough to pick up Bernard and then drop him off at the Highgate house, picking up Joseph to bring back to the Priory. Bernard told me not to rush, as he had no idea when he would be seen by the doctor. He had been triaged when he arrived and deemed not urgent; he was now into his second hour of waiting to be seen.
Johnny had gone into college with Anne this morning as it had been raining pretty hard, and he was planning on coming back with either her or Marcia. I decided to text him to say I would pick him up on my way to pick up Joseph. That got me a return text asking why I was picking up Joseph. After about ten text exchanges trying to explain the situation, I decided it was going to be easier to call him. Fortunately, he was between classes. Once I had explained the situation, he agreed to skip his last class, which was French, and I could pick him up early. Shortly after four, I met him in the carpark of the college, and we set off for Slough.
According to my satnav, the drive should have taken me just under two hours. It became apparent, once we hit the M25 that this was not going to be the case. However, our access onto the M25 gave me the chance I had been looking for to talk to Johnny about things. Just as we were about to exit the slip road onto the motorway, an Italian sports car came up on our right, lights flashing, horn blaring, cut across in front of us and into the gap that an obliging motorist had left open for us.
"Fucking Andreotti!" Johnny exclaimed.
"Michael Andreotti," Johnny explained.
"And who is Michael Andreotti?" I asked.
"The idiot driving that car," he responded, indicating the white sports car now trying to push its way into the centre lane.
"I gather you know him."
"He was in the year above me at Machenson House," he replied, naming one of the minor public schools from which he had been expelled.
"I'm surprised he can get insurance on a car like that at his age," I commented.
"Doubt he has got insurance," Johnny stated. "I know he has not got a licence. Last I heard, he was barred from driving for three years."
"Anyway, shouldn't he be at school if he was only a year ahead of you?"
"Nah," Johnny answered. "He was expelled after he took the Head of House's car for a joy ride. That's when he got the ban for three years."
"Well, he seems to be doing fairly well for himself if he can afford to drive cars like that, unless it is stolen."
"It's probably his," Johnny stated. "He's got the money for it. His dad died when he was seven and left him a fortune; he came into it when he was sixteen."
"How much did he get?"
"Don't know, Dad, but the rumour was it was over one hundred million — not sure if it was euros or pounds."
"A bit stupid giving a lad that age control of that much money," I commented.
"Was a bit," Johnny concurred. "Once he got it, he went totally off the rails. Before then, he wasn't too bad. A bit of a bully at times but nothing serious."
"What do you mean a bit of a bully?" I asked as we edged our way into the mainstream of traffic.
For the next hour, as we crawled our way around the M25, I got an insight into Johnny's life at school. It was clear from what he was saying that he had been very sexually active.
"So, you used sex to protect yourself from the bullies," I stated in response to one of his comments.
"No, Dad," he replied. "I used sex to get what I wanted."
"You make it sounds as if you were a whore."
"I was no whore, Dad," Johnny responded. "A whore is honest. They offer a service for sale and state its price. With a whore, you know what you are getting and what you are paying for before you start. With me, they never knew what the price was until I started to collect payment."
"That's a very cynical attitude in one as young as you," I observed.
"It's not cynical, Dad; it's realistic. I knew what I wanted, and I knew how to get it, so I did. The first time Oncle Jacques ran his hand down my back as I lay in bed with Marcel, I knew I could get what I wanted from him, so I offered him something, just a little thing and got a great deal back."
"And who is Oncle Jacques?" I asked.
"Marcel's uncle," Johnny informed me. "Though, to be honest, he is more like an older brother. He is only a couple of years older than Marcel and grew up in Marcel's father's house after Marcel's grandfather died."
"So, what did you get from Oncle Jacques?"
"A family," Johnny responded. "Once I had sucked him off, he took care of me when the Bitch dumped me with her French friends. To be honest, I was a lot better off during the vacations when she decided to dump me in France than I ever was when she was dragging me off on one trip or another."
"And where did you learn whatever you did with Oncle Jacques?"
"From Marcel, of course," Johnny replied. "He's two and a half — nearly three — years older than me, and when we visited the farm, we had to share a bed in the attic. Marcel taught me a lot. Told me I had to learn, as being a street boy was the only thing I was good for, given that my mother did not want me."
"How old were you?"
"Nine, I think, though I might have been eight. Can't remember if it was during the Easter or Summer vac that he taught me how to suck cock. I know he fucked me at Christmas. Said it was my Christmas present."
"Shit!" I exclaimed. "You've been having sex, sex with men, since you were ten?"
"Yes, Dad, and I enjoyed it," Johnny stated.
"But you were being used."
"And I was using them," Johnny responded. "Look, Dad, don't get on your high horse about this. I knew what I was doing and what was going on. I'd been in prep school since I was eight, and I can assure you boys learn about sex quickly in an all-boys prep school. Marcel, Oncle Jacques, Sebastian, Dr. Cricks — each and every one of them had something I wanted, and I got it by giving them just a little of what they wanted. It is surprising what you can get from a guy when you have your mouth around his cock and are just not quite bringing them off."
"Christ, you sound hard."
"I am, Dad; don't forget that. I had to be; I had to survive a mother who did not want me except when I was useful to show off. Do you know that at prep school we had to write to our parents — or, in my case, parent — every week? She never answered one of my bloody letters.
"Oh, I could have anything I liked as long as it fitted her image of the son she wanted. If it was something I wanted or needed, like love, forget it, so I got what I could where I could get it."
I realised then that there was an anger in Johnny that was not that deeply hidden. Scratch the surface, and it would appear. What he had told me made me feel deeply uncomfortable. The thing was, I had no idea what I could do about it. My son had been sexually abused, but he did not see it that way. In fact, he saw his abusers as his victims, the men that he used. This did not fit with anything that I was aware of or understood.
It was getting on for seven when we arrived at the hospital. Bernard was still waiting to be seen. However, once we arrived, he decided to discharge himself, saying he could get seen by his own doctor quicker than he would be seen here. It took us just over an hour to get Bernard home. Once there, he insisted that we join Debora and him for a meal before we started back to the Priory. As a result, it was getting on for midnight when we got back home with Joseph.
The next day, Johnny had gone into college on his moped. I would much prefer he had gone in with Anne, as it was drizzling and the roads were quite wet. However, Anne had a late class, and Johnny could finish at twelve and wanted to be back to spend time with Joseph.
Joseph, it turned out, had arranged to spend some time with Matt. Shortly after Johnny had left, Matt pulled into the yard to pick up Joseph, who was not quite ready, so I offered him some tea and asked how the work was going.
"Guest wing will be finished on Tuesday," he informed me. "When I made the snag list last week, I found they had put the wrong outlet plugs in for the electricity; had to get them all changed. The suppliers did not have the right ones in stock; they are arriving today. Got a couple of sparkies coming on site on Monday; there are twenty-two outlet sockets to be changed, so they should get them done in a day. Will do a final check on Tuesday, and it will be all ready for you to start moving into.
"The apartments over the workshops will be ready end of November, first week of December latest. Workshops are going to be a bit longer. Can't get the three-phase supply sorted till the new year. I'm getting as much work done as I can, but a lot of it can't be completed until the wiring is sorted." Just then, Joseph came through. Matt thanked me for the offer of tea but said they had better get off as they had a busy morning, and he would drop Joseph off about one-thirty.
With that information I made my way through to the study and phoned Mrs M at Manston to ask where the best place was to advertise for a housekeeper.
"Don't bloody advertise," she advised me. "If you do, you'll get all sorts applying and have a massive job sorting them out. Is there accommodation?"
"Yes," I responded. "At least, there will be by the time anyone starts."
"Good," she responded. "I'll put the word out on the grapevine that there is something going."
"The grapevine?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied. "All the managers of country houses and such-like know each other or are in contact one way or another. Someone on the network is likely to know if there is anyone good out there who is looking for such a position."
We talked for another ten minutes as I told her what was required and what we were looking for. I pointed out that we were hoping in the future to be able to use the tithe barn for events.
I had just finished talking to Mrs M when the phone rang. It was Irene. She informed me that she had finished talking with both the production companies I had work with and had sorted out a shooting schedule for the next year. She said she had emailed me a copy, and I had to look through it and check there were no conflicts with my diary. Once I had, could I get back to her before the close of business today? I agreed to do so and got down to looking at it as soon as I got off the line to her.
The next hour and a half was spent going over the shooting schedule, checking the dates and entering them into my diary. Overall, it was not too bad. In the main, they had tried to make it so that I had two or three days out on location a month; the other work was voice-over or green screen which I could do in Town. What was clear, though, was I would have to be in Town at least two or three days most weeks. Using the Golders Green flat was making a lot of sense.
There was one set of dates though I could not make: the week of the late-May bank holiday. I was already committed to being at Manston for that week. I composed a quick email to Irene to let her know.
That dealt with, I got down to doing some writing. Shortly after twelve, I took a break for lunch. While enjoying a mug of soup, I phoned Bernard to see how he was.
"Not too bad," he informed me. "Got some bruising and a stiff neck but nothing to worry about."
"What about the car?" I asked.
"Oh, that's a write-off," he responded, sounding positively pleased.
"You sound as if you are happy about it."
"To be honest, Mike, I am," he stated. "Wanted to get rid of it for a couple of years now. Made a big mistake getting it in the first place."
"I never understood why you got it then," I stated.
"Debora's father," Bernard replied as if it was sufficient an answer. Thinking about it, it probably was an adequate answer. He was the type of man who did not believe you had made it until you had a Bentley or a Rolls Royce.
"So, what are you going to get now?" I enquired.
"Thinking about a Range Rover for down in Kent and having a Mini for up here in town." The idea of Bernard squeezing into a Mini was quite amusing. He must have sensed my thoughts. "Don't laugh, it's a practical car to have up here.
"By the way, is Marcia about? I've tried ringing her on her mobile, but it seems to be off."
"Probably is, Bernard. I know Anne has an exam this morning, and I think Marcia is in the same class, so she is probably in the exam as well. They have to hand their phones in as they enter the exam hall. It should be over by one; try her then. No problems, I hope."
"None, Mike, in fact just the opposite. The bank has admitted that they messed up putting the company into administration the way they did and foreclosing on the house. Now we need to agree on a settlement. I need to talk to Marcia about what she wants to do. For a start, is she going to stay there, or does she want to go back to Leeds?"
"I've got no idea," I commented. "Though I think with the interest she is getting from certain quarters, she may well want to stay down this way."
"Tell me more!"
"I will next time you are down here," I responded.
"Going to have to come down soon," Bernard stated. "Need to go over a few things with Johnny about the trust."
"What his plans are when he has finished college," Bernard informed me. "I know he wants to go to that boat-building place, and the trust can pay for it. However, I do need to know in advance what he is going to need so I can plan to have the right cash reserves available when he wants them."
We discussed this for the next ten minutes and agreed that Bernard would come up sometime the week after we got back from Paris. I was just finishing off with Bernard when Johnny got back from college.
"Where’s Joseph?" he asked as he got out of his waterproofs.
"Out with Matt; said they would be back about one."
Johnny glanced up at the clock. It was still only a quarter to.
"I forgot he was going out with Matt this morning," he stated. "They were going to look at the project that Joseph worked on in the office during the summer."
"So, they are actually building it?"
"Apparently, yes," Johnny replied. "It's on the road to Maldon." He put the kettle on to make some coffee and asked if I would like some tea.
"Yes, please." He put some tea in the pot. I almost told him he should warm the pot first but decided against it. He is not a tea drinker and does not know the niceties of these things.
"Dad?" he asked, placing the coffee in the cafeteria.
"Well," he paused for a moment, looking embarrassed. Fortunately for him, just then the kettle boiled. I was pleased to see he poured the boiling water into the teapot first, before pouring the water over the coffee. Tea needs boiling water; for coffee, it should be just off the boil.
"You know what I was telling you in the car yesterday — about the school, sex and stuff?"
"Yes, Johnny, what about it?"
"Are you angry with me that I did those things?"
"Not with you," I replied. "I'm angry that you felt you had to do those things. I am angry with Oncle Jacques and the other men you had sex with. Yes, you were using them, but they were using you, and they should have known better. If anything, though, I am angry at myself for not knowing what was going on. Every time I spoke to your mother about you spending some of your holidays with me, I was told she was taking you to France. She even told me you had close friends in France that you wanted to spend your holidays with. She never hinted at the fact that she was dumping you there. The fact I did not know is no excuse. I should have found out. I'm your father; it is my job to take care of you."
"The Bitch made sure you couldn't," Johnny observed.
I was just about to respond when the door opened, and Joseph came in.
"You're back early," I observed, seeing that it was not yet one. "I didn't hear Matt's car."
"He dropped me at the end of the drive," Joseph replied. "He got a call from a job in Lynnhaven; they've got problems with a delivery. He wants to get over there while the supplier's still on site."
"You’d better get Johnny to sort you some lunch then," I told him. "I'm off to the study to work."
I did not get very much work done. I spent most of the afternoon thinking about what I had said to Johnny. I had let him down. I should have done more to get involved in his life, to know what was going on. That fact that my ex had done everything in her power to keep me out of Johnny's life was no excuse. Johnny was being abused, and by not doing anything that would have allowed me to know about the abuse, I had failed him.
That evening Anne and I had dinner at the Crooked Man. Johnny, Joseph and Arthur had gone off to the youth club and were, no doubt, dining at the burger bar. Over dinner, I told Anne about the conversations with Johnny and how I felt I had let the boy down.
"Don't be stupid," Anne told me. "From what I have heard from Johnny, Phil and you, Beryl did everything possible to keep you out of the boy's life. You told me when we first met that she had fucked you over in the divorce — though I never understood how, given Bernard was your solicitor. Don't think he comes off second very often."
"Bernard wasn't my solicitor, he was over in the States at the time, qualifying for the New York State bar. Anyway, he did not have his own firm then. Only set that up when he got back from the States. They were out there for nearly four years, did not come back to the UK until Joseph was six months old."
"Joseph was born in the States?"
"Yes, he's an American citizen. Technically, he has dual nationality as both his parents are British."
"So, Joseph could stand for President if he wanted to?" Anne said.
"Doubt if that could happen," I observed. "They have enough problems with a black President; a gay, Jewish President would be just too much for them."
"Bernie Sanders was Jewish," Anne commented.
"Yes, and that was one reason why he did not get the nomination," I responded.
"You really think that?"
"It's been rumoured that it was," I replied. "There was a meeting at a New York hotel of some of the heavy hitters in the Democratic Party when it became clear the level of support that Sanders was getting, especially from the young. It was suggested that they should put their weight behind Sanders, provided he agreed to have Hillary as his Vice President. In the end, though, they decided to put their weight behind Hillary as they thought that there was no way a Jew could be elected President."
"How did Bernard end up working in the States?" she asked.
"After he qualified, he worked for one of the leading London firms in their entertainment department. He handled some pretty big names. Anyway, one of his clients got into a contract dispute with his recording company. A prominent New York legal firm represented the recording company. It turned out that the amendments that Bernard had put into the contract won the case for Bernard's client, who walked out of the contract being owed millions by the company.
"Anyway, Bernard's handling of the whole thing so impressed the senior partner in the New York firm that they set about poaching him. Basically, they wanted him to join them to handle contract work where the jurisdiction was defined as being England and Wales. A lot of people in the entertainment business, even the Yanks, prefer to use English jurisdiction for contracts, especially for things like film rights, when they are not U.S. residents.
"Bernard went out to the States on what for him was a bloody good salary. Debora joined him six months later once Bernard had got settled and found them a place to live. The offer to him stated that once he passed the New York State bar, he would be made a partner. Not that he was that bothered about that, as all the work he was doing was around English contract law. He flew back to England several times to deal with cases in the High Court.
"Bernard did a part-time master's degree with a law school in New York, then passed the New York State bar and was admitted to the bar there. Just after he was admitted, the partner who had set the whole deal up for him for his work in the States, died unexpectedly, which put everything into confusion. I don't know the details, but the firm had to raise quite a lot of money to pay the senior partner's family for the value of his share of the business — money they did not have at hand, so they merged with another firm. The newly merged firm was not prepared to honour the agreement that had been made with Bernard. He ended up suing them and won. He walked away with very substantial damages. His sister, Rachel hinted once that it was in the tens of millions.
"Anyway, Bernard packed up and came back from the States a wealthy man. Moreover, since a lot of his clients followed him; he went back to his old firm and was quickly made a partner; now, it is his own practice. Bernard is the senior partner. He is still a member of the New York State bar and sometimes goes over there to take cases, though his New York associates usually do that."
"That explains why he was not your solicitor," Anne stated. "So, who was your solicitor?"
"Guy Reames," I replied.
"Guy!" she exclaimed. "Since when was he a solicitor?"
"Since leaving university until he became a radio DJ," I said.
"What on earth possessed you to use Guy Reames as your solicitor?"
"Well, we were at uni together. We shared an apartment for two years. Anyway, most of the firms I approached would not take the case on due to conflict of interest. They used Beryl as a barrister."
"And Guy didn't?"
"No," I answered. "I don't think he took many cases to court; mostly he did conveyancing."
"That should have told you something," Anne pointed out.
"Probably yes, but I was not in a very good place just then. Mother had just had her first heart attack, and Dad had terminal cancer."
"By the time Bernard came over for Mum's funeral, everything was finished with the divorce."
"And what did he say about it?" Anne asked.
"That she must have been sleeping with the judge."
"I would not have put that past her," Anne opined.
"The judge was a woman.""What difference would that make to Beryl?" Anne asked. "Look, you got well and truly fucked over your divorce. Johnny's life to date has been pretty messed up; there is nothing you can do about that now. All you can do is make sure you do your damned best to look after the boy now; he's our son, and he deserves it."