It took me a moment to realise that Anne had said our son.
"You mean that?" I asked.
"Mean what?" she replied.
"That Johnny is our son," I stated.
"Of course, I mean it," she snapped back at me. "Though I may not forgive him for pushing you into marrying me. Why should I be lumbered with an idiot?"
"Why am I an idiot?"
"Because you haven't realised that we are a family," she replied. "You, me and Johnny make up a family. If we are a family, then Johnny is our son. Not your son, our son. I don't care what happened in the past; we now have to think about the future, and that means our son's future."
That weekend I did not see much of Johnny and Joseph. For a start on Saturday, Johnny had to open the yard, and Joseph went with him, which meant they were up and out before I got down for breakfast. When they got back after lunch, I was ensconced in my study, going over my presentations for the conference. Sunday they were off getting some sail training with Steve. Again, they were gone before I even got down for breakfast. The only time I saw them over the weekend was at our evening meals and then only because Anne insisted we have a home-cooked, sit-down meal.
Monday was the start of Johnny's half-term, and I was determined to spend some time with him and Joseph, partly because Anne had already made arrangements for the day and would be out until early evening. Joseph had said he wanted to find out what was happening at the tide-mill site, so I took them over to the museum, I had phoned Dr. Portage on Friday and asked if we could have an appointment to talk about what they had found.
We got to the museum shortly after ten, and for the next hour, Dr. Portage was busy showing them the computer-generated graphics from the survey and photography they had done. One thing I had not been aware of was that they had gotten an aerial LIDAR survey done of the area. It was quite revealing and showed traces of what must have been quite an extensive building on the site at one time.
"We were lucky," Dr. Portage said when I asked him about it. "The university had just got its hands on this kit and they needed to test it, so they asked me for some known sites they could survey. Fortunately, your site was in a direct line of flight between the two fully mapped sites, so I gave it to them for a test. I asked them to scan yours when they overflew it."
"Have you found the Priory yet?" Joseph asked.
"I don't think there was one," Dr. Portage replied. Joseph looked a bit down with this information. "I suspect that this was a farm and mill connected with the monastery, but probably not run by them. It was probably tenanted, and the tenant would pay rent to the monastery, which is probably why we do not find it in the records of the dissolution.
"Alternatively, it may be that the mill race got silted up well before the dissolution and the place was abandoned, maybe around the time of the Black Death. John Kelly, in his work, The Great Mortality, gives the level of mortality amongst clerics at around forty-two percent. That is far higher than the general population. Several monastic establishments ceased to operate around that time. It may be that the monastery that ran this site no longer had the workforce available to keep it going. There is a lot of work for us to do to find out."
"But that brickwork is Tudor," Joseph pointed out.
"Yes, the brickwork on the back walls of the house is early Tudor, but there is nothing to say that it was done as part of the tide-mill system," Dr. Portage commented. "Actually, I suspect that the building of the Priory was well after the tide mill ceased to operate. The tithe barn is certainly linked to the tide mill. I suspect that after the mill was abandoned, the Priory was built as part of a farming complex to make use of the tithe barn."
Joseph and Dr. Portage started to discuss architectural-history detail. I looked over at Johnny, who had a slight glassy-eyed expression, so I made my excuses to Joseph and Dr. Portage and said we would be back in a bit but wanted to look at the exhibits. With that, I guided Johnny out, leaving Joseph talking about things that neither Johnny nor I understood.
"A bit over the top for you?" I asked once we were out of Dr. Portage's office.
"Yes," Johnny replied. "I liked finding the tide-mill race and helping with the survey, but Joseph… He goes off into a world of his own over it. I just can't keep up. He's so clever, much cleverer than me. There are times when I have no idea of what he is talking about."
I laughed. Johnny looked at me as if I was stupid.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"Well, that nearly the same thing as Joseph said about you on Saturday after you got back from the yard. You had been talking to Steve about a boat, and Joseph said he had no idea what you were talking about.
"You see, you know about boats, you've read about them, you've studied them, and you work with Steve on them. You have a passion for boats, so you want to know all about them. It's the same with buildings; they are Joseph's passion. He reads about them; he studies them; he has worked with Matt. When he is talking about them, he is talking about his passion."
"That's going to be a problem, isn't it," Johnny stated. "If we have two completely different interests, how can we be a couple?"
"It only becomes a problem if you make it one," I advised him. "You are two separate people. There is no way you can be the same, have the same interests, do the same things all the time. You like Joseph for who he is; that includes him being an architectural geek. I have no doubt, Joseph likes you, even if you are a boat geek. The thing is, you have to respect each other's interests. Take an interest in them and learn to enjoy them. You do not need to become an expert in them, but you should know enough that if you see something that might interest him, you can point it out.
"More importantly, share your interests with him and let him share his with you. Being a couple is not about being the same; it is about sharing what you have between you; that includes sharing your interests."
"What about when I don't understand what he is going on about?" Johnny asked.
"You don't need to," I replied. "All you have to do is be interested in what he is saying. If you listen to him, you will find that you will start to understand some of what he is saying, which will only make it more interesting. Anne can talk for ages about craft beers; I can hardly tell a lager from a bitter. I've still picked up enough from Anne though to know the difference between a true craft beer and some of the fakes put out by the big brewing companies."
"Are there some fakes?" Johnny asked.
"Of course," I replied. "Just because something has a funny-sounding name does not mean it is not mass-produced in a factory brewery somewhere outside Newcastle."
We spent the next twenty minutes or so talking about relationships and how you had to work on them before Joseph re-joined us. After looking at a couple more things in the museum, I took both boys for a highly unhealthful lunch at a nearby burger bar.
Over lunch, I was pleased to notice that Johnny was questioning Joseph about what he had been doing with Dr. Portage after we left. Joseph spent most of the lunch explaining about medieval and Tudor buildings to Johnny, who appeared to be interested. At least his eyes did not glaze over.
We were just discussing what to do for the afternoon when my phone beeped, informing me that I had a text. Not only that, it was a text from a family member. That particular beep was restricted to very few numbers, all of which were on my Do Not Disturb ignore list. Seeing one was sitting opposite me, and I knew Bernard was in court, it only left Anne or Ben. I pulled out the phone and checked. It was from Ben, asking me to get on Skype as soon as I could.
I sent a text back saying I was out for the afternoon but would get on Skype as soon as I got home. Ben texted back to say it would be useful, as they had contact with JayDee.
Johnny asked me what was going on, so I told him.
"We’d better go straight back," he told me.
"I was going to take you to look at some boats," I informed him.
"Dad, I can go and look at boats some other time," he replied. "I can get Steve to take me some time. That would be a lot better, as he can tell me more about them. Finding out about JayDee is a lot more important."
It took us a good hour and a quarter to get back to the Priory. As soon as we were back, I went to my study and started up Skype. Ben must have been waiting for me to come online because as soon as I opened up Skype, he called me.
"Hi Mike," he said. "Thanks for getting back quicker than you indicated. We have a lead on JayDee but also a problem."
"What's the problem?"
"Well, he is with a gang of street kids. It seems they are protecting him. The church group that he ran away from have been trying to get their hands on him. As a result, the gang is somewhat wary of any enquiries about him, and he is very suspicious. He wants proof that we are acting for his father and Tariq."
"What type of proof?" I asked.
"Well, the answer to two questions," Ben replied. "From Tariq, he wants to know what name he used for Susan Gells when they were in the fifth year. From his father, he wants to know where they went for his tenth birthday. I have sent his father an email but do not have a contact for Tariq. Can you ask him?" I made a note of the questions.
"I will," I assured him. "I will ask his father as well; he is due to Skype me this evening, anyway."
"Good," Ben replied. "Text me the answers when you've got them."
Once I was off Skype, I sent an email to James, reminding him about our Skype call, I then called the apartment, but there was no answer. Going through to the kitchen, where Johnny was starting the prep for dinner, I mentioned that it looked like Tariq was out.
"Blast!" Johnny exclaimed. "I forgot; he's got an appointment at the hospital today; they arranged it so he did not have to take time off school."
"Ok, I'll keep an eye out for them returning," I stated. "Why don't I take over prep and you can go and play video games with Joseph, or whatever you do? By the way, where is he?"
"He's gone to the tithe barn with his sketchbook. He wanted to sketch the beam joints. Apparently, they can date the barn by the form of the joints."
"I think you’d better go and join him there," I replied. "Not keen on either of you being in there on your own. We're not sure how safe the place is, and Matt still needs to do a full survey."
Johnny went off, and I took over the prep work. It was about half an hour later when I saw Marcia's car pull into the yard. I opened the back door to call to her as she got out of the car, asking her and Tariq to come over. I noticed that Jasmin was not with them.
"Where's Jasmin?" I asked as they entered the kitchen.
"She's staying with my parents this week," Marcia replied. "I've got to go up to Leeds for a couple of days, and she did not want to go."
"But you're going, Tariq?"
"Yes; want to try and link up with some of my old friends up there if I can," he replied.
"Talking about friends, I need some information from you which may help find JayDee."
"You know where he is?" he asked.
"No, other than he is on the island of Trinidad," I replied. "My brother's people have, though, made contact with people who are in contact with him. The thing is that they do not trust us. They suspect we might be involved with the church people who took him to Trinidad and are also looking for him. So, we need to prove to them that we are working for you and his father."
"How are you going to do that?" Tariq asked.
"By giving them answers to questions, which, they believe, only you and his father know the answers to. The first is for you. What name did you call Susan Gells when you were in the fifth year? I think they mean a name you only used with JayDee."
Tariq looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled. "I called her Smelly Jelly."
"That's not nice," Marcia commented.
"I only used it with JayDee," Tariq responded defensively.
"Which," I pointed out, "is why JayDee can now use it to confirm we are acting for you and his father."
We chatted for a few more minutes, with me assuring Tariq that we were doing everything we could to get JayDee back home. Marcia informed me that they had to be in Leeds on Wednesday morning to meet up with the administrators of the company and a local solicitor who was acting for Bernard. She was looking to see if they could get the business running again and the staff back employed. From what she was saying, it seemed that the bank had been somewhat cavalier in the way they had foreclosed on the loans and put the business into administration. It also looked as if the administrators had not been acting in the best interests of the majority of the creditors, only those of the bank. Bernard, it seemed, had issued all sorts of threats and had both the bank and the administrators on their back feet.
"So, you might be moving back to Leeds?" I asked.
"No, I think we will be staying down here," she replied. "I wasn't that much involved in the business. To be honest, it mostly ran itself with the staff we had. They are now out of work and are finding it hard to find work unless they move. If I can get it restarted, they can run it. Bernard has come up with some ideas of how to do it."
"How are you going up?" I asked. "Driving?"
"Yes, but in easy steps," Marcia informed me. "We are leaving in about an hour and driving up to Leicester. The chap who started the business with Chawish is there. He had a major falling out with Chawish a couple of years ago and left, though he still owns a block of shares. I want to ask him if he would be willing to come back to the business. I'm seeing him tomorrow, so have booked us into the Holiday Inn Express for the night. Once I have seen him, we will go up to Leeds and stay with friends for the next couple of days while we sort out what we can do about the business."
I asked Marcia what the business did. She informed me that they produced high-precision engineering and medical parts using three-dimensional printing and other computer-controlled machining processes. Her husband and another student at Leeds University had come up with a computer program which had significantly increased the speed and accuracy for generating the plotting points and had started the business while in their final year. Initially, they had just produced the plots to be used by the three-dimensional printers or the CNC systems for customers but had then gone into doing their own machining.
Because Chawish's family had put up the initial capital to start the business, Chawish held most of the shares. The other student, Bob, only owned thirty percent of the company and had left it just over two years ago after an argument with Chawish. Marcia was hoping that if the business could be restarted, he would come back, though she acknowledged that she likely would have to give up some shares to him to get him back.
"Look, Mike," Marcia explained. "At the moment the shares are worthless, so I have seventy percent of nothing. If I give Bob half of what I have and he can get the business back up and running, I will still have more than I have now, and he will have majority control."
It was a good point, one with which I had to agree. With that, Marcia said they had to go and pack as she wanted to be on the road before too long.
I texted the Smelly Jelly answer to Ben. He texted back acknowledging receipt.
I returned to preparing dinner, not that there was all that much left to do.
Johnny and Joseph came in about half an hour later. Johnny put the kettle on and made some tea.
"Marcia is loading cases into her car," Johnny stated as they sat down at the table.
"I know," I replied. "She and Tariq are going up to Leeds for a few days to sort some things out; should be back on Thursday or Friday."
"We'll be in Paris then," Johnny pointed out.
"Yes, we will," I agreed.
"How did the sketching go?" I asked Joseph. He opened his sketchbook and showed me what he had done. I was impressed; he had captured a lot more detail about the construction of the joints than I had seen in any of the photos of the inside of the barn.
"What are we going to do with the barn?" Johnny asked.
"That's a good point," I stated. "Originally I was going to have it demolished so the area could be used as parking for the workshops and offices when the buildings at the back are redeveloped. However, that is out of the question now.
"The logical course would be to turn it into an events venue, but that would mean having to manage it and arranging catering and stuff. Not sure that I want to go down that route. I've seen what's involved in running events at Manston."
"You could offer it to the county museum," Joseph stated.
"It's an idea, but I do not think I would like to lose ownership of it, though I suspect it is likely to be expensive in upkeep once it is restored."
"How about asking Mary if she would like to run it?" Johnny said. "She was complaining a couple of weeks ago about not having a function room at the Crooked Man."
That idea appealed to me, and I made a note to talk to Anne about it, which reminded me I had to get on and sort out dinner.
"Good idea, I will talk to Anne about it," I stated. "Now I’d better get back to the cooking as she will be home in about an hour."
They got up from the table and made their way out of the kitchen. Just as he got to the door, Johnny stopped for a moment, then came back to speak to me.
"Dad, do you think Anne would mind if I called her Mom?" he asked.
"You'll have to ask her," I replied. "Why do you want to call her Mom?"
"Because she has been more of a mother to me these last few months than that Bitch was my whole life."
With that, he turned and left the room, going upstairs, no doubt to play with Joseph — on the Xbox, I hoped.
Anne arrived back just after six. Once she had a chance to freshen up, she came down into the kitchen, and I told her about the day's events, including Johnny's idea for the tithe barn.
"That's not a bad idea," she stated. "It can't be that far from the tithe barn to the Crooked Man."
"Think about it, Mike. The Crooked Man car park must back onto our property."
"Yes, I suppose it does," I stated.
"The only place it could do that is at the back of the tithe barn, beyond the yew hedge. There is a yew hedge at the back of the car park; they must be the same."
I thought about it, Anne made sense. "In that case—"
"Yes, there can only be a few yards between the back of the Crooked Man's kitchens and the tithe barn. There is no reason why a covered walkway can't be put between the two. We can go down and talk with Mary after dinner."
"I can't," I pointed out. "James is due to Skype me about then."
"Okay, I'll go," Anne stated.
We agreed that Anne would go out and sound Mary out as to whether she was interested in the idea before we spent any money looking at the logistics of it.
I was just about to put dinner on the table when Johnny and Joseph came down. Johnny immediately asked Anne if he could have a word with her. The two of them went into the hallway. A couple of minutes later, Anne came back smiling. As she did, she suggested to Johnny he should get a bottle of red from the wine rack.
"Yes, Mom," he replied as he slipped into the pantry.
"Wine with dinner?" I commented.
"Yes," Anne replied. "I'm celebrating a son."
Throughout dinner, Johnny made a point of addressing Anne as Mom whenever he could. In fact, it became a bit irritating, though it had a certain amount of charm to it. We did discuss the idea of getting Mary involved with managing the tithe barn as an events location. The more we discussed it, the better the idea became. Anne, Joseph and Johnny had quite a few thoughts about it.
As Joseph pointed out, if we developed it as an events location, we would have to provide car parking and vehicle access. However, if the Crooked Man did it, they could use their carpark, and access could be put in from that end rather than go through the whole of the Priory grounds.
After dinner, the three of them went off to the Crooked Man to float their ideas past Mary. I cleaned up and then went to my study to do some writing and await the Skype call from James. I did not have to wait long.
"You're early," I commented as he came online.
"More like late," he replied. "Just pulled an all-nighter. There was a major traffic accident just before I came off duty yesterday; stayed on to help. Finished about an hour ago. Boss has told me not to go in till tomorrow."
"Yes, driver of a school minibus had a heart attack at the wheel, collapsed and lost control. The minibus went across the lanes and head on into a lorry coming the other way. A bloody mess."
"Many dead?" I asked.
"Fortunately, not," James replied. "Though some of the kids have life-changing injuries. We had to do amputations on a couple at the scene to get them out.
"If you don't mind, I would prefer not to talk about it. From your email and the one I got from Ben, I suspect there have been some developments."
I told James what I knew and what was being asked.
"Can't say I can blame the kid," James stated. "I think I would be a bit paranoid if I were in his shoes, though I can't think what he means about his tenth birthday. We were in Blackpool with his mother, so she would know where we were."
"You didn't go anywhere without her?" I asked.
"No, except for the Wax Works, she and her sister went to get their nails done…. Bloody Wax Works, that's it. I took him into the Chamber of Horrors; his mother had told me not to, but he wanted to go. I made him promise not to tell his mother that I allowed him to go there."
"That sounds like it, something that only you and he would know," I stated. "I'll text Ben now with the information. Hopefully, they can get it to JayDee fairly soon."
"I'll Skype you the same time tomorrow to see if there is any news," James said.
"Sorry, won't be here," I stated. "Off to Paris in the morning. Attending a three-day conference. Will be back on Saturday."
"Oh. Can you ask Ben or Allen to email me if they get anything?" he requested.
"I will," I confirmed. We chatted a bit more, then terminated the call.
I texted the answers to Ben and sent him an email giving a bit of an explanation. Then I set about going over my notes for the conference on Wednesday. I had just finished going over them when Anne and party arrived back from the Crooked Man.
"How did it go?" I asked.
"Good," Anne replied. "Mary is all for the idea as long as we can sort out an agreement that will work for both sides. I had not realised that if you go to the back of their kitchen, you can see the tithe barn through the hedge.
"Mary told me that she had tried to buy the place from the old man before he died, but he had refused to sell it. She is more interested in taking it on now."
"Where do we go from here, then?" I asked.
"I said that we would go down and see her next week once we are back from Paris and the weekend is over. She's usually fairly quiet on a Monday or Tuesday at this time of year."
Tuesday morning was a bit hectic with last-minute packing, me checking that I had everything prepared for my speech to the conference and phoning Bob to confirm all the arrangements. At least, he did keep the publisher's representatives away from me. I was worried that we might be late getting off, but, in the end, we made it, if not on time not more than a few minutes past my target time of eleven. It was just past one when I parked the Hyundai in Bernard's garage. As he did not have the Bentley now, he had said I could use it. I saved a fortune on long-term parking at the airport. Debora had a light lunch prepared for us, which we consumed while she and Anne discussed shopping opportunities in Paris. I had a feeling that this trip was going to be expensive.
On the trip up to London, we had discussed how things had gone at the Crooked Man the night before. It seemed that Mary was quite interested in doing some sort of deal to take over the management of the tithe barn as an events venue. After the old man had died, she had spoken to the estate about buying the building just for that purpose, but the price they were asking was too high. The restricted covenant on the site meant they could only sell the estate as a whole, not split it up. What Anne had suggested was that we would refurbish the barn, then do a profit-sharing lease of it with her. Mary would manage the place and run the events; we would get a basic rent for the premises plus a share of the profit of the events business.
I was not too happy about the idea of having to pay out for the refurbishment, considering it was about to be Grade One listed. However, I realised that Mary probably did not have the capital to take that on. In the end, I told Joseph just before we dropped him off to speak with Matt and find out what needed to be done and how much it would cost.
The flight from London City to Paris Orly was uneventful. We got to our hotel just after six-thirty. As my presence at the conference was being used to launch my metrology book, the public-relations department at the publishers had booked my accommodation for me. They, after all, were picking up the bill, or at least most of it. I had to pay the difference between a single and a two bedroom suite. I also had to pay for Johnny's airfare. I was, therefore, somewhat surprised to find that they had booked us into an upmarket hotel not far from the Eiffel Tower. Dinner that evening was in the hotel restaurant and, to be honest, was somewhat disappointing. As has been my experience in the past, a lot of French food does not live up to expectations.
Wednesday morning, I had to go to the conference venue to register and get ready to give my address. Anne wanted to go shopping; Johnny agreed to guide her. It seemed he knew Paris reasonably well, having visited it on several occasions with my ex and her French friends.
My speech and presentation to the conference were well-received. Afterwards, I did a book signing and must have signed nearly a hundred copies of my metrology book, which was being launched at the conference. It was almost six by the time I managed to get back to the hotel. Anne and Johnny were waiting for me in the hotel café. We quickly agreed that once I had been up to our rooms to get changed and freshened up, we would go elsewhere for dinner. Johnny stated he knew a place in the Rive Gauche which had good food without extravagant prices.
The bistro that Johnny took us to was actually down a small street, almost an alley, running off a side road that ran down to the Rive Gauche. It was in the Latin Quarter, not far from the Sorbonne. The place had the feel of somewhere a place that might be used by students or academics from the university. When we arrived, it was fairly empty. We were still a bit early for the main Parisian dinner rush. It did, though, start to fill up quickly, mostly with what appeared to be students.
The food was good, far better than what we had the night before in the hotel and about half the price. Over the meal, we discussed our day. I could not help noticing that Johnny seemed a bit distracted and kept looking up towards the door every time anyone came in. All of a sudden, he smiled, then stood up. I turned my head and looked towards the door. A group of students had just come in. One of them, a young man of about twenty, was looking towards us with a somewhat shocked expression on his face. After a moment, he smiled, said something to his companions and then walked towards our table.
"Bonjour, Marcel, comment vas-tu?" Johnny said as the youth approached.
"Bonjour, Johnny, je vais bien, et toi?"
"Anglais s'il te plait, Marcel; mes parents ne parlent pas français," Johnny stated.
"Your parents?" the youth replied.
"Yes, Marcel," Johnny responded, a smile on his face. "Can I introduce my mother, Anne?" He turned to Anne. "Mom, this is Marcel; he is the son of the friend that the Bitch used to dump me on during the holidays."
"And this is Michael Carlton, my father and the brother of Ben Carlton, the film star."
The look on Marcel's face was priceless. I have never used my connection with Ben to impress people, to be quite honest; I had never given it that much thought. For most of his life, he has been my annoying little brother. Tonight, though I saw just how it could be used and to what effect.
Marcel acknowledged both Anne and me, then turned back to Johnny.
"So, what are you doing in Paris?"
"Dad was invited over by the Académie des Sciences; he gave the opening presentation at the conference on climate change." There was a smile on Johnny's face, which suggested something more than enjoyment. "It was half-term at college, and I did not fancy sitting around in the house all by myself, so it was either come over here with the parents or go to stay with Uncle Ben and Uncle Matthew."
"You call Matthew Lewis uncle?" Marcel asked. I had forgotten how big a star Matthew was over here. He had been in some French-language films.
"Oh, yes, he's my uncle," Johnny confirmed. "He is the Bitch's brother."
"Ce n'est pas une façon de parler de ta mère,” Marcel snapped, reverting to French.
"Non, c’est trop bonne pour elle. Je ne devrais pas insulter les chiennes."
Marcel suddenly turned and walked away, joining his companions at a table down at the far end of the bistro.
"What did he say at the end?" Anne asked.
"He said, 'that is no way to talk about your mother'," Johnny replied. "I told him, ‘no, it was far too good for her’ and ‘I should not be insulting dogs'. I think I have upset him. He always sucked up to the Bitch."
We finished our coffee, settled the bill and left. Johnny insisted that we should get a taxi back to our hotel.
"It's not far," I stated.
"No, it's not," Johnny replied. "But this is not the best part of Paris at night. It's fine during the day and early on, but much past nine at night, it is best avoided." I glanced at my watch; it was twenty to nine. I nodded to indicate my agreement. Johnny smiled, then led us around a couple of corners to a taxi stand. There, we got a cab back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel, Anne informed me that she was going to take a long soak in the bath. Her feet were killing her from walking around Paris all day. Somehow, I suspected that it was just an excuse to try out the jacuzzi bath in our en-suite bathroom.
I said as much. Anne laughed. "Look, why don't you two go to the bar and have some father-and-son time. I'm going to relax and enjoy some of the high-priced bath oils I purchased today." With that, she left us.
Johnny and I made our way into the hotel's café-cum-bar. I ordered a couple of glasses of red wine along with two slices of apple tart. We had not had dessert at the bistro, and suddenly I fancied some. Johnny did not disagree.
Having finished dessert, we sat enjoying our wine. I looked across at Johnny and asked, "Are you going to tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
"What was going on between you and Marcel." I replied.
"It was nothing," he responded.
"I don't think it was. What was going on?"
He took a sip of his wine, then looked over at me.
"Dad, for twelve bloody years, since I was four, the Bitch would drop me off with Marcel and his family whenever I had a holiday from school which lasted more than a couple of weeks. Lately, it has been every holiday unless she needed me to be with her somewhere.
"Marcel always bugged me by saying that nobody wanted me, that I was a nothing. He said that my father was a worthless hack writer — that's what the Bitch told her friends — that you were a nobody; therefore, I was a nobody. So today I dropped it on him.
"It's a bit hard for him to say I'm a nobody when you're here to address a conference organised by the Academy of Sciences or when my uncles are Ben Carlton and Matthew Lewis. The look on his face when I said that was priceless. For years, he has told me that Uncle Phil was a great actor, a real action man. Then he turns out to be my uncle."
"I noticed you refer to my ex as the Bitch," I commented.
"It is the best way I can describe her," he replied. "She was never a mother. Anne has been more of a mother to me than she ever was. That's why I call her Mom, just to let her know."
"So, what about Marcel and his uncle?" I asked.
"They used me," Johnny stated. "They fucking used me."
He was silent for a moment, taking a draught from his glass of wine, looking at me as if expecting me to say something, though there was nothing I could say. For five minutes or so there was silence between us, then he continued.
"Marcel told me I was worthless, nothing, that my mother did not want me. That's why she left me with them. I was too much trouble. Then they offered me the thing I did not have; they offered me love. I could have their love so long as I showed them I loved them.
"It was the price they put on giving me their love, but they never loved me. They lusted for me, but they did not love me. They wanted me, but they did not love me. They just used me, as I used them."
"Did you use them?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied. "I bloody well used them. I used them to get what I thought I wanted."
"Did you get it?"
"No," Johnny replied. "They liked me enough, they enjoyed using me for their pleasure, and they gave me gratification. But they did not provide me with love. Love can never have a price attached to it. I've learnt that now. Wish I had known that before.
"I always thought I had to give something for somebody to like me. That's why I wanted to have sex with Arthur. I wanted him to like me, so I wanted to give him my body. I thought I had to do that. In the past, I always had. That's how I got to be friends with Colin."
"But Arthur wouldn't play that game," I stated. It looked like there was just a slight change for the better in Johnny's attitude for his past sexual activities.'
"No," Johnny sighed. "I offered it, but he would not take it. At first, I thought he did not like me no matter what he said, but then I realised that he really did like me. Then there were you and Mom. You never demanded I be something that met what you envisioned; you just accepted me as being me. It's the first time that anyone has liked me for being me, not for what they can get out of me or what I could offer them.
"Listening to Trevor talk about what those men did to him made me realise I was being used in just the same way. I decided it had to stop. That's why I wanted to come over with you so I could confront Marcel and send a message to Oncle Jacques."
"So, you took us to that bistro knowing Marcel would be there?"
"No, Dad, I didn't. I had no idea he would be there. I was going to see him tomorrow night at the dance club he goes to every Thursday. He talks about it on his Facebook page. I never expected him to be at that restaurant tonight."
"Then how did you know about it?" I asked.
"I ate there a couple of times when we came to Paris and met up with Magdalene; she's Marcel's cousin and a couple of years older. She's at the Sorbonne and took us there. Said it was a favourite haunt of the students who wanted to have a celebration meal. I liked the food, and it is walking distance from our hotel, so I thought it would be a good place for us to go tonight. Especially, as it is the only dinner we will have together in Paris. You and Anne are booked for Le Jules Verne tomorrow."
I had forgotten that Phil had got us a reservation for the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. How he had got it, I never asked. There is usually a waiting list for the place.
"What are you going to do while we are halfway up the Tower?" I asked.
"You're not that far up the Tower. It's at the second stage, which is just over a third of the way up," Johnny pointed out.
"High enough for me," I replied. "You have not answered my question. I presume you only asked Phil to get a booking only for Anne and me so you could be free to confront Marcel. Now you have done that, what are you going to do?"
"Not sure," Johnny replied. "I could go to the dance club still, or I could go and see a good French film. I'll decide in the morning."
"You know, you could go to the French police about Oncle Jacques," I pointed out. "What he was doing was illegal; I am sure it is just as illegal in France as it is in England."
"Dad!" Johnny exclaimed. "The last thing I want to do is get involved with the police. I'd probably end up being stuck here for a couple of years as a material witness as they try to sort the case out. Anyway, they take a much more lenient attitude to it over here if it can be shown that the boy was not forced. Not worth going to the bother of complaining."
I was not sure that Johnny was right there. In fact, I was reasonably sure he was wrong. It was not, though, my place to argue the point. Something was telling me that there was far more to Oncle Jacques than Johnny had let on. I had no idea what it was but had no doubt it would come out somewhere along the line.
Thursday morning, I left Anne and Johnny to another day's shopping in Paris, a chore I am sure they both dreaded. I had a conference to attend. I did, though, arrange to meet up with them for lunch at a bistro near the conference hotel.
During the morning coffee break a Canadian delegate, John Dupree, approached me and complimented me on my book. He informed me he had purchased a copy at the signing yesterday and read it that evening. We chatted for a few minutes about the book, then he invited me to join him for lunch, saying he had a proposal he would like to put to me.
I explained that I was meeting my family but extended an invitation for him to join us for lunch. At that, he apologised and informed me he had his grandson with him and the boy would be joining him for lunch; they were skipping the afternoon session and going for a bateau trip on the Seine later.
"How old is your grandson?" I enquired.
"Thirteen; he will be fourteen on Sunday," John replied.
"Well, my son is sixteen and will be at lunch, so bring your grandson along with you," I suggested. I also informed him that I would be skipping the afternoon session, as well. It was a series of presentations about the mathematics of climate modelling. I understand mathematics and can write on the subject, but long arguments about some obscure bit of climate modelling were not my field of interest.
John agreed to my suggestion, so we arranged to meet in the lobby at twelve-thirty.
The second session of the morning, immediately after the coffee break, was about the public understanding of the science of climate change. There were three presentations made during the session. What was pleasing was that two of the speakers referred to my book as an example of how information should be presented for the general public. It was clear that my publishers had distributed a lot of advance copies.
John was waiting in the lobby when I got there.
"Sorry, Mike," he informed me, "my grandson has had to go back up to our room; he's forgotten something."
We waited for a minute or two and then were joined by a young man whom I would have taken for a seventeen- or eighteen-year-old if I had not been told he was just shy of fourteen. He must have stood about one metre eighty, and unlike most tall youths, he had the build to go with the height.
"Mike, this is my grandson Marc Dube," John stated, introducing me to the young man. "Marc, the is Mike Carlton, the author of the book you have been reading this morning. At least, I presume you have been reading it, as you said you wanted to stay in our room to read it this morning, or was that just an excuse to get some extra sleep."
"No, Gramp, I read it," Marc replied to his grandfather. He then turned to me and extended his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, and can I congratulate you on your book? I learned more this morning from reading it than I have from either my grandfather or uncle, and they are both meteorologists."
"Thank you, though I am not sure what your grandfather might make of that comment."
"Actually, Mike, I agree with it," John said. "That is why I wanted to talk to you over lunch."
"Then we’d better make our way to the bistro," I responded. "I told my wife and son I would be there at one."
It was a short walk to the bistro, but Anne and Johnny were not there. The waiter tried to seat us at a small table in one corner. I tried to explain in my limited French that two others would be joining us. Apparently, without much success. Marc then joined in with what sounded to me like fluent French but did not do much better. Just then, Johnny spoke from behind us. I do not know what he said, but the waiter looked extremely embarrassed and quickly showed us to a much larger table.
Once I had introduced John and Marc to Anne and Johnny, I asked my son what he had said to the waiter?
"Basically, I told him not to be stupid and play the I-don't-understand game but to treat visitors to France with some respect. They do, after all, pay his wages."
"There were some words you used that I don't know," I replied.
"I don't know them, either," Marc stated.
"Dad, your French is essentially school French; words like those I used are not taught in school; you learn them in the playground."
"Not in our playground," Marc stated.
"Of course not," Johnny replied. "The French you speak is Québécois; what I spoke is the French of the slums. There is quite a bit of Arabic in it; it came over with the refugees from Algeria."
"How is it you speak slum French?" Marc asked.
"I studied Savate when I came over for my holidays," Johnny replied. "Most of the good Savate teachers are to be found in the rougher parts of the city."
"I did not think they taught outsiders," Marc commented.
"Oh, they do, but you need to be introduced. My friend's uncle was one of the teachers, so that's where I started." The way Johnny said friend had a distinct overtone to it.
We ordered our lunch, which was served quickly. Each of us had gone for a salad. While we ate, John put his proposal to me. He was on the advisory body that was putting together a syllabus to recommend for teaching about climate change in Canadian schools. One thing they had been looking for was a standard textbook for use across Canada. He thought my book would fit the bill, but they would need it to be available in French as well as English. As a result, he wanted to translate my book into French, a proposal that I found interesting, but I told him that he would have to speak to my agent about it. However, I was all for it.
"What about your maths book?" Johnny asked.
"You've written a mathematics textbook?" John queried.
"Yes, I have. It's a good seller," I responded.
"I would like to have a look at it," John stated. "Finding good math texts for students is always a problem. However, I am not sure if I would be interested in translating it. Not my field."
"I would be," Marc stated. We all looked at him; John went to make a comment. "Gramps, you know I am already doing advanced math at school, and I'm planning on taking mathematics at the university. Translating a math textbook would be a good exercise for me."
"It would," John stated. "Maybe we could discuss this some more over the afternoon if Mike and his family would like to join us on our boat trip."
As we had not anything planned for the afternoon, other than me missing the mathematical-modelling sessions of the conference, we agreed to join them. Before going to the boat, we popped back into the conference hotel. I was sure my publishers would have some copies of my maths book on their stand. In that assumption, I was correct, so I got a couple of copies which I gave to John and Marc when we got to the boat. It was only half-past two when we got there, and the trip did not start till three, so we found some seats and generally chatted whilst waiting. Marc took the time to browse through my maths book.
"This is good," he suddenly stated, somewhat taking us by surprise as he had been so quiet.
"Is it?" Johnny asked.
"Yes, it is really good," Marc confirmed. "It explains everything without presuming that you have the mathematical knowledge to understand the intermediate steps. For somebody who is not into math, it makes for a much easier read."
This resulted in Marc and Johnny chatting away in French about my book. John also took an interest in it. So much so that I am not sure how much of the ninety-minute Seine cruise any of us, except Anne, took in.
When the cruise finished, we disembarked. Anne and I had to get back to the hotel to change for our meal at Le Jules Verne. They have a fairly strict dress code. John stated he had to get back to the conference hotel as he had a presentation to do in the evening session. Johnny and Marc had come to some sort of agreement that they were going to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
The boys walked with us to the Tower but then had to go off to their own queue for the stairs. Before we went our separate ways, we agreed on a location where we would meet later.
Le Jules Verne has its elevator up to the second stage of the Tower. Once at the restaurant, we were quickly seated — fortunately, not in a window seat. I do not have a good head for heights.
The meal was delightful, though one would expect no less from an Alain Ducasse establishment. What made it beautiful was being able to look out across Paris, which is aptly named the City of Lights. Over dinner, Anne and I discussed our plans for the year to come. It started with a chance remark that it was nice to have a break. That led us to discussing the possibility of taking a holiday in the summer. I checked my calendar and found it was already looking pretty full. After a bit of discussion, I agreed to block out the last two weeks of July, though we put no thought into where we would go.
Dinner finished, we made our way up the Champs de Mars to the place where we had agreed to meet Marc and Johnny. They were there waiting for us. As we approached, Johnny spotted us and called out, "You’d better switch your phone on."