I was working through my emails when I heard the sound of a powerful sports car pulling into the drive. As it came up towards the house, the security lights went on. Somewhat to my surprise, rather than following the drive round to the left and to the parking spaces in front of the house, it took the right turn that took it to the yard at the rear of the house. I went through to the back of the house and opened the back door as a Mercedes AMG pulled up next to Marcia's car. Even more of a surprise was Anne and Johnny getting out of it. The driver, who got out of the far-side door, was somebody I did not know.
Anne indicated that he should follow her as they walked across the yard. Entering the kitchen, she introduced him.
"Mike, this is Marcia's cousin…brother? Not sure which, but this is Chris; he's something to do with Marcia."
Chris held out his hand to me, which I took. "I'm Marcia's cousin but also her foster brother."
"He's also an auto mechanic," Anne added. "He's identified the problem with my car, and we went to Halfords to get a spare part."
"I hope it's nothing major," I commented.
"No, it's not," Chris assured me. "Just a problem with the distributor. I'm coming to see Marcia again tomorrow; will fit it when I come over."
"What time will that be?" Anne enquired.
"Not sure. I'm free all afternoon, though I suspect I will have to wait for you and Marcia to get back from college," Chris stated.
"Not necessarily," I commented. "I'm around most of the day tomorrow. So, come anytime in the afternoon. Just ring the bell at the back door."
"I will," Chris said. "It will be easier to fit it in daylight."
"Enough chat," Anne said. "I promised Chris a coffee, so I’d better get the kettle on."
"It's already on," Johnny said. "And the coffee is in the cafeteria. Dad, I'm making some hot chocolate; do you want one?"
I informed him I did.
Sitting around the kitchen table partaking of our drinks and some snacks that Anne had laid out, the conversation drifted to universities. It was clear from what was said that there must have been some discussion of them in the car before they got here.
"What's Southampton like?" Johnny asked.
"The town or the university?" Chris replied.
"The university," Johnny replied.
"It's good, though it can be a bit cliquey at times. Especially in engineering. Each group of engineering students tend to think that their engineering discipline is better than the others."
"You studied at Southampton, then?" I asked.
"Yes," Chris replied. "Did my B.Eng there, though did my masters at the Open University. My employers paid for that."
That surprised me as Anne had said he was an auto mechanic. Yet it seemed that he had a master's degree, not something I would associate with an auto mechanic. There again, I could not imagine many garages paying for an employee to do a degree with the Open University.
"You had generous employers," I commented.
"Maclaren were; they wanted their staff well-trained," Chris replied.
"You said were, does that mean you are no longer with them?" I asked.
"No, I joined Williams F1 a couple of years ago," Chris replied. Now the car and the degree made sense. He was an auto mechanic — on Formula 1 cars.
Chris told Johnny more about Southampton University, though he did point out that it had changed quite a bit since he had left. Then he said he had to be on his way but would be around sometime tomorrow afternoon to fix Anne's car.
"I suppose that means you need the Santa Fé again tomorrow," I stated once Chris has left.
"Sorry, Mike," she replied.
"It's fine; I am not going anywhere tomorrow," I replied.
"You really ought to get a third car," Johnny stated, "for when something like this happens." After which comment, he went off to his room, stating that he had an assignment to finish for the morning. He did say he would come down later to finish the pasta bake.
I told Anne about the outcome of my meeting with Janet and that it looked like I needed to get an assistant.
"We probably need to get more than an assistant for you," she stated.
"While I know we said we would look at a housekeeper later, but that is for when you're at university," I replied.
"I think we need a house manager," Anne responded. "That's in addition to your assistant, and we will need a cleaner."
"Why a house manager?" I asked.
"You said that the holiday apartments are ready, so they need to be managed. Somebody has got to handle the advertising and bookings. Then there are the workshops. They can't be far behind."
"They're not," I informed Anne. "Matt said they would be another two to three weeks for completion."
"So those have to be rented out and the tenancies managed," she stated. "When we decided to set up the apartments and workshops, we both expected to be here most of the time, but we are not going to be. You have a media career that is growing. I've got college and, hopefully, university. Anyway, we did say if I get into one of the London uni's we would live in Golders Green during the week. We're not going to be here to manage the property."
I thought about it for a bit, but she was right. Things had changed since we made our original plans — changed quite a bit.
"OK, but I think the term is estate manager rather than house manager," I stated.
"I don't care what you call it; we need somebody. Preferably starting soon."
I promised Anne I would look into it and try and sort out a job specification in the morning.
It was well past eleven when Johnny came down for his pasta bake. Anne had gone up to bed, and I was just finishing off some correspondence when I heard him coming downstairs. Going through to the kitchen, I found him getting the bake out of the Aga warming oven.
"Finished the assignment?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied. "Shouldn't have left it so late. Had to rush it, and I don't think I've done my best."
"How long have you had it?" I queried.
"Got it last Thursday; should have done it at the weekend, but things came up." He looked at me, almost defying me to say something about the weekend. I decided it was best not to.
"I'm going to make a drink; do you want anything?" I said.
"No, I'm fine," he said, indicating a glass of water he had poured himself. I started to make my tea. "Dad, you know next year you and Anne will be living in London during the week?"
"I was wondering about getting to college. Anne and Marcia won't be there so I can't cadge lifts off them, and if the weather is bad, going in on the moped is a pain."
"So, what did you have in mind?" I asked.
"Well, I'm seventeen in May," Johnny reminded me. "If I can pass my driving test, and if we had a third car, I could use it to get to college."
"Thinking about what the insurance would be for a seventeen-year-old, first-time driver, I think it would be cheaper to get you a place near the college for use during the week," I stated. Johnny's face dropped a mile.
"Look, Johnny, let's see how things are when you are seventeen," I interrupted. "For a start, you may not pass your driving test. Only about twenty percent of under-twenty-fives pass the test the first time."
"I thought it was more like fifty percent," Johnny stated.
"No, about fifty-one percent of under-twenty-fives pass their test in any year, but a lot of them are taking it for a second or third time. Some more."
"That's not good," Johnny said. "I thought I had a good chance of passing if the odds were fifty-fifty."
"Don't worry," I assured him. "When you turn seventeen, I'll get you booked in for an intensive driving course up in Blackpool. You can do it the week after college finishes."
"Why Blackpool?" he asked.
"For a start, a friend of your uncles runs a driving school there. They're quite good and have a successful intensive-driving course. Last time I heard they were running at eighty-nine percent pass rate. That's where Trevor got his licence. Also, even with all the holidaymakers, the driving conditions up there are better than down here."
With that piece of information imparted, he got back to eating his pasta bake. I took my tea through to the study.
Thursday morning, Matt arrived just after ten. We went to outbuildings beyond Stable House to view progress. The buildings were a mix of stables, small barns and workshops. Most were two-storey, though a couple of the workshops were single storey. Matt explained the work that had been carried out.
"Basically, Mike, we have two mirrored wings that come out of the central barn space, though they are not exact mirrors. The west wing is slightly longer than the east wing and contains two more units."
"Why's that?" I asked.
"The first floor of the west wing was used for workers' lodgings. To accommodate this, there are stone staircases at each end giving access from the ground floor. With the east wing, there were no staircases; all the access to the upper story was by ladder, which probably indicates they were used only for storage. The existing staircases in the west wing somewhat restricted what we could do at that end. As a result, we put in three single-bedroom apartments and two studio apartments. In the east wing, we have four double-bedroom apartments."
"What about the workshops?" I asked.
"In each wing, you have three workshops — below the apartments. Although the west wing is longer, the stone staircases take up some of the ground-floor space, so we could only get three workshops in. There is also the central barn, which is quite a large space and the two small barns, which are at the ends of the wings."
We spent the next hour going through all the apartments and the workshops. I was a bit concerned about the second bedroom in the two-bedroom apartments. It seemed a bit small to me, but Matt assured me that you could get two single beds in there and still have space for some furniture.
I rather liked the solution they had come up with for the studio apartments. Matt explained that they had initially tried to configure them as a single-bedroom apartment. However, when they had put the studs in for the walls, it became clear that the bedroom would be too small to be practical. Instead, they had configured the space as an L-shaped living and sleeping area. The bathroom, consisting of a toilet, hand basin and shower, was off the short end of the L, which was intended as the sleeping area. The small kitchen off was off the long end of the L.
As we walked through the apartments, Matt kept making notes of things that needed to be corrected. I made one or two comments about things that I thought were not quite right; he added them to his list. When we had finished looking at all the apartments, he informed me that he would get the things on his list corrected and the apartments would be ready to hand over early next week.
"What about the workshops?" I asked.
"They should be finished in two to three weeks," Matt replied.
I was somewhat surprised when Matt took me into the large central barn. I had expected to walk into an open space; instead, we entered a vestibule off which were two small rooms on each side. The ones on the left were ladies' and gents' toilets. One of the rooms on the right was marked as a disabled toilet. The room at the front on the right was undesignated but would make a nice little office. I mentioned my surprise to Matt.
"Didn't have much choice," Matt informed me. "There were four large pens here. The dividing walls were loadbearing, so we would have had to put steels in if we removed them. If you wanted to use the barn as an events space, you needed to have toilets, so putting them here made sense."
"What's above?" I asked.
"We've made that into a mezzanine," Matt informed me. "Come through and have a look." I followed him through the double doors at the end of the vestibule and into what was a surprisingly large space. Last time I had been in here, it had been divided into a lot of small storerooms.
We did not look at the end barns, as work was still going on in them, and Matt informed me that both were hard-hat areas.
"So, you're nearly finished here," I commented as we walked back to the stable yard.
"Yes, the workshops and barns will be finished within two to three weeks max."
"That only leaves the forge," I commented.
"To be honest, Mike, I would suggest you leave that as it is," Matt commented. "Clean it up and rewire the place, but don't do anything else."
"Why?" I asked.
"Well, you've got a traditional forge there, and I am sure there are some young blacksmiths around who would love to be able to work in a place like that," Matt stated.
"And I am sure you probably know one," I replied.
"I do, though it's two, not one," he answered. "They are two women, both trained at art college, who then did their blacksmithing apprenticeship. They make wrought-iron fittings and sculptures for gardens. At the moment they share a forge with some other art blacksmiths just outside of Romford. I am sure they would like a chance of a forge of their own."
"Alright, talk to them for me, can you, Matt," I told him. "See if they are interested and what they will pay. If they want to look at the place, you can show them; just don't commit me for doing anything. My time is getting pretty full these days.
"How is the alternative access going?"
"Fine, we've got it all levelled and put down hardcore. I am just waiting now on the surfacing people to come and surface it and for the gates for the entrance at Sidings Lane. Not sure we are going to get those this year."
"Why not?" I asked.
"We only finalised the access details with the highway department a couple of weeks ago. Until we got that, we had no idea how wide the opening onto Sidings Lane was going to be, so we could not order the gates. We put the order in as soon as we knew, but they do have a sixteen-week waiting list. So, we are looking at the end of January for delivery. Not much we can do on that. Though the front gate is going to be sorted out on Wedneday.
"Have you any plans for the walled garden?"
"No, though I suppose I need to get it sorted out," I commented. The walled garden lay beyond the outbuildings, its three acres now fairly overgrown. Against the wall at the far end was a series of rather dilapidated greenhouses. On the other side of that wall was a building which Matt had told me was the old boiler house for the greenhouse heating and the head gardener's cottage. Both of which were now in a rather bad state.
"Why not turn it into a garden centre?" Matt asked.
"Because I do not have green fingers," I replied. "You saw my garden in Lynnhaven, and I had people coming in to do that."
"I know," Matt replied. "What I was going to suggest is that you do a profit-share deal with someone. They get the garden and the buildings rent-free for five years and are responsible for all repairs and maintenance. In return for which, you get a share of the turnover. I suggest turnover rather than profit as I do not think there will be much profit for the first couple of years."
"And I suppose you have somebody in mind to take this on," I stated.
"Actually, I don't, though I can put feelers out if you like. I know a lot of people in the landscaping and gardening business," he said.
"Do that, please," I replied. "The walled garden is something I was dreading having to deal with. To go back to the apartments, you have a good idea what the holiday-lets business is like around here; how much should we be charging for them?"
"Well, for high season, which is mid-June to mid-September, I think you can charge four hundred a week for the doubles, three-fifty for the singles and probably three hundred for the studios. Low season, which is basically Easter to mid-June then mid-September to end of October, you can knock fifty a week off those figures. For the rest of the year, get whatever you can."
"How about the workshops, what rent can we get on those?" I enquired.
"You really need to speak to one of the local estate agents about them," Matt replied. "My guess would be about two hundred a week, a lot less than the apartments, but remember, they will be used year round. I doubt if you will get more than fifty percent occupancy on the apartments."
I thanked Matt for the information. Even if it was not precise, it gave me some ballpark figures to work with. I needed to calculate how much the staffing was going to cost to run things.
I persuaded Matt to join me for lunch at the Crooked Man, not that he needed much persuading. Over a pint and a cob, we discussed what work was left to be done at the Priory. Originally, Anne had intended to run the main house as bed and breakfast, but that was no longer on. Also, I had decided to keep the properties fronting onto the stable yard for our own use or long-term lets, such as to Marcia. With Trevor now in residence at the Stable House when he was in the country and my increasing media profile, privacy was a bit of an issue.
I mentioned my concerns to Matt, who pointed out that with a couple of gates and a short piece of fencing, we could cut the house and the yard complex off from the rest of the grounds. That sounded like a good idea, and I told him to get it done.
"There is one problem, though," Matt stated.
"What's that?" I asked.
"The stairs from the studio apartment at the end of the west wing open out into the area between the outbuildings and the Stable House. That would be inside the secured area."
"I don't suppose it's possible to change them round?" I enquired.
"No, they are the old stone stairs. To change them would require a complete rebuild of that end of the block."
"In that case, I suppose we will have to live with it. Just get gates and fencing installed."
It was just after one-thirty when we got back from the pub. Matt had a site meeting in Lynnhaven at two, so had to get a move on to get there. I decided to sort out a job specification for whoever was going to run things for us at the house.
It was a decidedly chilly day outside, not surprising for this time of year, so the warmth in the kitchen, pumped out by the Aga, was more than welcome. Unlike the rest of the house, my study was positively freezing. A quick check showed me that I had not put the heating back onto “all day”. I had switched it to a timer yesterday knowing that nobody would be in till after six. As a result, the heating had gone off at nine-thirty and would not come back on till five-thirty. I hit the boost button, then decided that while the house was warming up, I would work in the kitchen.
So it was that I was at the kitchen table thirty minutes later when the bell at the back door went. I called for whoever was outside to come in. It was Chris. He took one look at the pile of papers I had on the kitchen table and commented that I looked busy.
"I am trying to word an advert for somebody to run the house and the lettings for us," I informed him.
"Part-time or full-time?" he asked.
"Part-time, not sure we could afford full-time, not sure there would be enough work," I stated.
"Well, if it is part-time, my ex is looking for a job, and she knows the hospitality business," Chris informed me.
"Your ex?" I queried. "You're still on speaking terms?"
"Yes, we are," he stated. "We are quite good friends, and I'm Uncle Chris to her seven-year-old. That's why she needs part-time. Being single and having a seven-year-old restricts one's availability time-wise."
"How come you're not still married?" I asked.
"To be honest, it was a mistake from the start," Chris replied. "I'd known Jan from school. We'd been friends since the first year of secondary school. We both ended up at Southampton; she was doing a marketing degree. Her parents used to run the Belmont for the previous owners; it was sold a few months ago."
"I know," I stated.
"Her idea was that she would go into marketing for the hotel and hospitality industry. Anyway, we got married at the end of our first year. Looking back now, I can see it was a mistake; neither of us was in love with the other; we were just good friends. Once we graduated, the problems started. For a start, I had a job offer based in Woking, but all the jobs she could find were in central London. She had quite a long commute, and we hardly saw each other. Once I was moved onto the race team, things got worse. I was away for most of the year. Even during the European races, I was only able to get home about one weekend in three. That's not conducive to a happy domestic life.
"Anyway, just after the end of my first season on the race team, she got offered her dream job up in Scotland. We agreed to separate. Three months later, I met my present wife. She's in F1 so knows the lifestyle. Although we work for different teams, the race schedule means we are usually in the same town at the same time. Me being involved in a new relationship meant that Jan could go for a divorce on the grounds of adultery, which I did not contest. We got the divorce nine years ago, and I married Clair.
"About six months after the divorce came through Jan met Henrik, and within six weeks they moved in together. He was talking about marriage and a life together. Then Jan found out she was pregnant. She also found out that Henrik was already married, had a wife in Bern and there was no way he was going to leave her for Jan. He pushed her to have an abortion, but she wouldn't. She packed her job up and came back to the parents.
"Since she got back, she's been doing events and marketing for her parents. That was until the hotel was sold and she found herself out of work."
"I'm surprised," I said. "I thought that the new owners had kept the old staff on."
"I believe they did," Chris replied. "The thing is, Jan was not on the payroll. She was working freelance."
"Get your ex to ring me," I stated. "I'm getting nowhere with sorting this job spec so I might as well leave it for a day or two."
"Thanks, Mike. I'll call her this evening. Now, I’d better sort Anne's car out. She said she would leave the part for me."
"I think it is in the Halfords' bag on the floor by the door behind you," I stated.
Chris turned, picked up the bag, looked inside, then nodded.
"By the way, if you work in Woking, how come you're here?" I asked.
"Not at Woking anymore; moved to Grove when I joined Williams," Chris replied. "I always come and visit Aunty Miriam for a week after the season finishes. She and Uncle Abe brought me up; I think of them as a second set of parents.
"Anyway, it looks like it might rain, so I’d better get out and get this fitted," he stated, holding up the Halfords'bag.
Some twenty minutes later he rang the bell at the back door, I answered it to be informed that Anne's car was fixed. I asked Chris if he would like a tea or coffee, but he refused, saying he had to be in Maldon shortly.
I sent Anne a text saying her car was repaired. Got one back by return saying she was happy that she would not have to drive a tank anymore. That did get me thinking about having a third car. I know technically we had a third car in my Morgan, but it was not a practical one. We needed something that was practical to drive in all weathers and would not cost a fortune to drive or insure for other drivers. I decided to talk it over with Anne sometime when Johnny was not around.
Just before five, Irene phoned. She had an enquiry for me from a Dutch television company to do a programme about how climate change could impact on the Netherlands.
"I don't speak Dutch," I informed her.
"Not a problem," she informed me. "Ninety percent of the Dutch, if not more, speak English. Anyway, they will subtitle it. What they want is a recognisable expert to front the programme."
"Don't they have any Dutch experts?" I asked.
"Yes, they do, and they will be using them. The thing is, Mike, they do not have a name to front the programme. Your book has made you a name in regard to climate change. It's in the Dutch top ten of non-fiction books, even though it is in English, so you are known out there."
"Alright, I will want to see the script first, but where is it to be filmed and when, and how much will they pay?"
"It's to be filmed at five locations around the Netherlands, but the company are based in Hilversum. They want you for five days shooting spread over two weeks. As to the when, they are flexible and will fit in with your schedule. Anytime in March or April. As to money, we are talking, but it will be more than forty thousand Euros."
"How do you know?" I asked.
"That was their opening offer. I expect to get fifty, minimum."
"OK, I responded. Make it the two weeks after Easter, and I will do it, provided they supply a two-bedroom accommodation so I can bring my wife and son over. Johnny will probably want to take his partner, as well. They might as well get a holiday out of it."
"I'll do my best," Irene replied and rang off.
Opening my diary for next year, I went to pencil in the provisional dates for the Dutch shoot. Then, I realised I had already committed to doing two days shooting in that period for Martin Shelt. Fortunately, they were both studio shots against a green screen. I phoned him and asked if it was possible to move the shooting dates. It was, provided I was prepared to spend three days in the studio before Easter. Actually, Martin seemed rather happy to get that out of me.
Having dealt with that, I was about to get back to writing when my phone beeped, telling me an SMS message had arrived. Almost at the same moment, I got an email notification on my screen that there was a new email from Ben. I checked my phone first; there was a text from Ben, 'Skype me.'
I opened Skype up and called Ben.
"You know you could have called me," I pointed out when he answered.
"Wasn't certain where you were," Ben replied.
"So, what's the problem?"
"Trevor and Tyler are on their way back to the UK," Ben informed me. "Called Leni to ask him to pick them up, and he has problems. It seems he is being followed by reporters. They are arriving at Luton by private jet, early hours Saturday. Can you pick them up? Also, can you accommodate Tyler? According to Leni, the London flat is under siege from reporters."
"I can pick them up, but aren't they going to be recognised at immigration or customs? You know what the crowds are like at Luton."
"Yes, Mike, we know," Ben replied. "That's why the plane is flying into Prestwick first; they will land and clear immigration and customs at Prestwick. When they arrive at Luton, they will be on a domestic flight and can walk straight out."
"Nice thinking; whose idea was that?"
"Allen's, of course; he's flying back with them. Don't worry; you do not have to accommodate him; he's going straight to Manston."
"Thanks," I replied. "That does though raise a question about security at the Priory. Some people already know that Trevor lives there."
"Actually, they seem to think he is living in Lynnhaven; at least, that is what is posted on social media. Allen has been keeping a close watch on that," Ben informed me.
"OK, but it is near enough."
I spent the next quarter of an hour going over arrangements with Ben. Their arrival time at Prestwick was uncertain, but I should be ready to set off for Luton after eight-thirty on Saturday morning. As soon as they landed in Prestwick, they would call me. Then I would set off for Luton. By the time they cleared formalities at Prestwick, I should be well on the way to Luton Airport. Ben guessed that both the plane and I should arrive at the airport at about the same time, though he admitted the odds were that I would arrive first. I was to wait for Trevor and Tyler to approach me and take them straight to the car. The really odd instruction was that I should ignore Allen and anyone with him.
Ben further informed me he and Phil would be arriving at Heathrow late Saturday afternoon. I pointed out that I thought Phil was staying on for a week or so. Ben informed me that given what was going on, he was returning early and letting the second-unit director finish off all the shots that were left. It was then requested that I provide accommodation for them as well.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"I'll let you know on Sunday," Ben responded.
That evening over dinner, I informed Anne and Johnny what was going on so far as I knew it.
Friday morning, I cleared up in the kitchen after breakfast, then went through to the study to get some work done. I was increasingly finding it difficult to find time to write. There were so many other things I had to sort out. For a start, I had been asked to suggest subjects for the second in the industrial-archaeology series, it being understood that I would be doing the scripting, though there had been no formal discussion about that. All of which meant I had to send an email to Irene to check what was in the contract, what I should be doing and what they had to pay extra for me to do.
That dealt with, I then had to sort out my diary for next year to make sure I had no conflicts on my shooting and recording commitments. Unfortunately, I found that I did have some. It took me a couple of hours and several phone calls to sort those out.
Before I knew it, it was half-past eleven, and I had not done any creative work. Janet was right; I needed a production assistant, somebody who could take over the drudge work, like keeping my diary in order so I do not end up booking two things on the same day.
I was mulling this when Bernard rang. He informed me that his clerk, Darren, had been through all the Kilpatrick stuff I had supplied and marked up a lot of interesting pieces. However, this was Darren's last day with them. Could I look at the material and produce some sort of reference list so that things could be looked up quickly? Essentially, what Bernard wanted to be able to do was find something in Ms. Kilpatrick’s writings that he could use to contradict her assertions in the witness box. If she said one thing, he wanted to be able to quote from where she had asserted the opposite.
I pointed out that it was only five days now to the trial.
"Don't worry, it will be at least two weeks before she is called," Bernard assured me.
"How can you be so sure?" I asked.
"Simple. The trial starts on Wednesday," Bernard stated. "Beryl has already filed a motion to the court to have the material seized during the search of Mayers' flat excluded on the grounds of an error in the search warrant. Discussing the legal ins and outs around that will take a day, probably a day and a half. She is almost certain to object to witnesses giving evidence from behind a screen. Again, we will get, at least, half a day's legal argument. Then, of course, she will object to you being in the court, though that can be dealt with fairly quickly. She would disappoint me if she did not come up with at least two more objections before the trial started.
"Even in the best of cases, I can't see a single prosecution witness being called before Monday. Just in case a miracle does happen and the prosecution is asked to start on Friday, Sir David does have an opening address which will take a good half day to deliver. In an emergency, I am sure he can stretch it to a full day. He’d better be able to; all the prosecution witnesses have been told they will not be needed till the Monday."
"I just hope you know what you are doing," I commented. Something told me that this prosecution was being led by Bernard Le Brun, not Sir David or the Crown Prosecution Service. I had a feeling it was something of a personal crusade for him. The question was: who was the crusade against? Andrew Mark Mayers or my ex-wife, Beryl Carlton-Smith. I suspected it was the latter.
"I do; I know exactly what is at stake here," Bernard assured me.
"Right," I replied, trying to sound happy with things. "How am I going to get these papers?"
"Martin is bringing them over tonight," Bernard stated. "I gather he is taking his girlfriend to the theatre. He tells me my godson is babysitting the children."
"That's the first I've heard of it," I commented.
"Of course, it is," Bernard told me. "You're the father; everybody knows the last person to learn what their son is up to is the father. I know, I've got two of them." I laughed at his comment.
Once the call was finished, I went to the kitchen to sort out some lunch. It was while I was having my lunch that the next call came in. I definitely did need an assistant. This call was from Chris' ex, Jan. I asked her if she could come in for a discussion about what we needed. She said she was free that afternoon until three and could be with me by one.
Given that my writing plans for the day had gone completely to pot, I decided there was nothing to be lost by meeting her. I gave her directions on where to come when she got here — specifically, to take the right turn on the drive and follow it round to the yard entrance, then to park in the yard and ring the bell at the back door.
I finished my lunch and managed to get some emails processed before the bell rang to announce her arrival. Opening the door, I was somewhat surprised to be facing a woman I knew as Catherine. I had dealt with her a couple of times when I had to book rooms or tables in the restaurant at the Belmont.
"I thought your name was Catherine," I stated as I invited her into the kitchen.
"It is Janet Catherine," she explained. "My mother is also a Janet — in her case, just Janet. Having two Janets around could have got a bit confusing, so when I was working at the Belmont, I always used my middle name."
First of all, I showed her around the property, both the house itself, the stable yard and its associated buildings and the outbuildings with the holiday-let apartments. After three-quarters-of-an-hour guided tour, we ended up back in the kitchen with me offering her a choice of tea or coffee.
"Tea, please," she stated.
That settled, I explained what we were looking for. She listened and made some notes in her notepad.
Once I had made the tea, I poured a couple of mugs and set one before her. She looked down at her notes.
"From what I understand, you need to have this house cleaned, the laundry done, and a major weekly shopping done. Is that correct?" she asked.
"And you also need the holiday apartments run, something done with the three barns and the workshop rents administered. Am I correct?"
"You are," I confirmed. "It sounds quite a lot."
"Can I ask what your plans are for that large barn off to the side that is not part of the main-building complex?" she enquired.
"The tithe barn. Well, we are talking to Mary at the Crooked Man on her taking it on as a wedding venue and for dinners and such-like. Why?"
"I was wondering where it fitted in, but the Crooked Man taking it makes sense," she replied. "Mike, I could do what you are looking for, but it probably would not fit well with my commitments at the moment. I have a seven-year-old son and need to be fairly flexible, which is why freelancing has suited me. Unfortunately, the people who bought the Belmont also bought four other independent hotels in the area. Three of them were my clients. The new people have their own in-house events team, so my services are not needed."
"That must irk a bit," I said.
"It does, but what the new people have done makes perfect sense. The hotels they have bought are far enough from each other not to be in direct competition but close enough to each other that they can work together and use shared resources. Making them into a single group is a good move. Unfortunately, it has put me out of work.
"I've been in the hospitality industry in one way or another since I was old enough to help make beds. I know how it works and what is needed. The apartments you have are not viable as holiday apartments. They are in the wrong place."
"What do you mean?"
"To be effective as a holiday apartment, a place needs to have direct access to some facility that holidaymakers want—the sea, the countryside, a holiday destination — something that draws in the holidaymaker. You do not have that. Yes, you have the sea but no direct access to it, and it cannot be seen from the apartments. I doubt if it can even be heard unless there is a gale-force wind. You are, what, a mile and a half outside of Dunford, and it is doubtful if that can be called a holiday destination even though it has a marina and a harbour.
"Access to the countryside? No way. You have railway sidings behind you which have been derelict for years. Down the hill between you and Dunford is an industrial estate, and if you go the other way you hit some not-very-nice marshes and mud banks."
"So, I have wasted my money on building the holiday apartments," I said.
"If you want to use them as holiday apartments, yes," Jan replied. "What was your idea concerning the workshops?"
"Well, we were thinking of letting them to local business — you know, start-up and small businesses.”
"How about letting them as studios to local artists?" Jan asked. "You would get a lower rental income, but I think overall, you could increase your total income."
"Can you explain how you think that would work?" I asked.
"Yes, I can. You let the workshops as studios to local artists. That makes the whole place into an arts centre. Use the central barn as an exhibition space, with a constantly changing series of exhibitions. Not only of the artists from the centre but other artists brought in just to exhibit. That would draw people in. Use the two end barns as teaching centres running courses. People signing up for courses will require somewhere to stay; that is where the apartments come in. They can stay there. You can run courses all year round, so you don't have an off-season. You may not get as much for the apartments as you would for a high-season, holiday let, but you would probably be getting if for a lot more weeks than you would with holiday lets. Round here you are lucky if you get more than twenty full-weeks’ holiday lets in a year. Running it as an arts-and-crafts-courses centre, I would expect to fill it for about forty weeks a year minimum. In the end, you would make more."
"That sounds like a lot of work," I stated.
"It is, and probably more than you want to take on," she replied.
"I think you are right there," I told her.
"That, I expected," Jan replied. "I do have a suggestion, though."
"What is that?" I asked.
"Suppose I take on the lease of the whole complex, workshops, barns, apartments and run them as an arts-and-crafts centre. I would need to crunch some figures before I can make a final commitment, but I would be willing to pay something like twenty thousand a year for the lease plus a percentage of the take."
"Who would furnish them?" I asked.
"I would," she replied. "Mam and Dad have a whole pile of stuff in our storage barn. We had to keep a lot of stuff to use for the Belmont. I am sure we have enough to furnish the apartments. They've been pushing me to find a business for myself, and this is the type of thing I am good at: marketing and managing."
"That still leaves me with the problem of this place," I stated. "I still need it cleaned, laundry done and the other household administration."
"I will need housekeeping staff for the apartments. It would not be a problem in extending their work to cover here, though you would need to pay for it."
"How much?" I asked.
"I think two hundred a week," she replied.
We talked for quite a bit longer about the ins and outs of the idea. Finally, Jan had to leave to pick up her son from school. By then, though, we had come to an outline agreement, subject to figures being right and Anne and Johnny buying into the idea.
Anne and Johnny got home just after four, so I was able to discuss Jan's proposal with them before Martin arrived. On the whole, they were in favour of it, but Anne did say she would want to meet and discuss the ideas with Jan before she would commit. That being said, I phoned Jan and asked her if she could call round over the weekend to meet Anne. We agreed on Sunday afternoon at about two. It was only after I had put the phone down that I remembered that we had guests arriving over the weekend. Oh well, there was not much I could do about it now except to call back Jan and cancel, which I did not think was a good idea.
Martin arrived just after we had finished dinner with three legal boxes of papers. He had also brought Joseph over. I had forgotten that he was staying this weekend. It looked like we were going to have a houseful.
The three boxes contained a few thousand sheets of paper for me to go through. Darren had printed out everything I had sent, gone through the lot and marked up all relevant passages and marked them with stick-on tags. All I had to do was work out some way to quickly reference the relevant passages on any particular subject that might come up.
When I got around to looking at what Darren had done, I was quite impressed. He had done a very good job of highlighting Kilpatrick's main themes and noting where she contradicted herself. More importantly, he had also found sources external to Kilpatrick's papers which countered what she was proposing. These included trial transcripts from cases where Kilpatrick had given expert witness contrary to what was in her papers.
The problem I faced was to come up with some quick and easy indexing system so that if a point came up, we could find a counterargument in the papers. Fortunately, Darren had written a briefing paper for Bernard which summarised the main themes that Kilpatrick wrote about. It seemed that at different times and in different papers or articles, she had taken for or against stances on each of these themes.
Once I had got to grips with the fact that there were only five themes in Kilpatrick's work, a solution became apparent. I could produce a mind map for each theme, then assign any statement that Darren had highlighted to one of the themes — on one side of the argument or the other. I started the map immediately and got somewhat engrossed in it. So much so that it was eleven at night before I knew it. I only knew it was eleven because Anne came and told me that she was going up to bed and that I should too as I had an early start in the morning.
Saturday morning, my alarm went off at seven, which somewhat surprised me as I could not remember setting it. Anne must have done so. I switched it off and was about turn over and go to sleep when Anne nudged me and reminded me why I needed to get up early. My phone rang just after eight; it was Allen telling me that they had landed at Prestwick. I told him I would set out for Luton.
Traffic on the way to Luton was somewhat heavier than I expected, and it had gone quarter to ten when I finally arrived there. It was well after ten by the time I had found somewhere to park and made my way to arrivals. I was a bit concerned that I might be late, but looking around, I could see no sign of them. What was a bit concerning was a uniformed chauffeur standing there holding a sign saying Manston. I wondered what all that was about. It was not long before I saw Allen striding through the arrivals channel just in front of a group of Scottish rugby supporters. Trevor and Tyler following him. Yes, they had got dark glasses on, and their hats pulled down to hide their faces, but there was no mistaking them. A fact made clear by the murmuring of people around them. The three large, bodyguard types who were with them just made them more noticeable. Allen went up to the chauffeur with the Manston sign, spoke to him, and then the whole party left, with the bodyguards making sure any autograph hunters were kept well away.
"Well, that worked well, Mike, didn't it?" a voice to my side said. I turned and found myself looking into Trevor's face. He was wearing some old jeans and a hoodie, partly pulled over his face. Tyler was next to him. I indicated they should follow me and led them to the car. Once we were in the car and out of the car park, I asked who the hell it had been with Allen.
"Our stunt doubles," Tyler stated. "They've had a lot of practice looking like us, so Allen thought we could put them to use."
"Why?" I asked.
"The News of the World had people in the Virgin Islands keeping track of our movements," Trevor stated. "They would have known we were flying to Prestwick. When we got there, apparently there were photographers and reporters waiting for us. However, we stayed airside. The flight plan for Luton was not filed until we landed at Prestwick, so it is doubtful that they could have found out where we were going till after we took off. Allen reckoned that there was no way they could get staff up from London in time to cover our arrival, so they would have to use local stringers. Barry and Dean got dressed like us and walked off with Allen, no doubt with the local press following them. They are on their way to Manston. We have to slum it with you."
"Thank you very much," I responded. "I'll tell Arthur that you consider him slumming."
"Don't you dare," replied Trevor.
"We were lucky there was a crowd of Scottish rugby fans getting off the EasyJet flight from Edinburgh that we could blend with," Tyler said.
"I'm not sure how much luck was involved," Trevor replied. "Allen seemed very insistent that we had to arrive at Luton as close to ten as possible. Though I can't see how he could have known that EasyJet flight would be full of rugby supporters."
"There is the small point that Scotland is playing England at Twickenham this afternoon," I pointed out. "That flight is the only one from Edinburgh this morning."
The trip back was a lot easier than the one going to Luton. Even so, it was getting on for twelve when we arrived back at the Priory.
Joseph and Johnny were in the kitchen cooking when we arrived.
"What are you trying to poison us with?" Trevor asked as we walked in.
Johnny turned from the stove. "Trev, Arthur's been over twice looking to see if you were back. You’d better go over to him. I'm doing a cassoulet for tonight; you are expected for dinner; it will be at eight, so don't stay in bed too long with Arthur."
Trevor blushed a shade of red at that comment but murmured he’d better let Arthur know he was here, then turned and exited via the back door. Tyler was laughing.
"What's so funny?" Johnny asked.
"Well, they have been texting each other what they were going to do when they were together."
"What was that?" Joseph enquired.
"Probably best you don't ask," I stated.
"Ask what?" Anne asked.
"What Arthur has been texting Trevor and vice versa," I replied.
"Probably best if you don't enquire too deeply there," Anne stated to Joseph. "How's the cassoulet coming on?"
"Good, Mom," Johnny replied. "Just about to put it in the slow oven; will be ready in six hours. Will keep in there up to twelve."
"Good," Anne stated. "Tyler, where's your luggage." Tyler only had a bag slung over his shoulder. I should have realised the lack of luggage when I picked them up but never thought. None of the crowd they came through arrivals with had any, though Allen had been pushing a fully laden luggage trolley.
"It will be arriving later," Tyler informed us. "It has to go to Manston first."
"Why?" Anne asked.
"We will explain later," I answered. "Now we could both do with something to drink and, I think, some lunch."
"Sorry, Dad," Johnny said. "I'll deal with it."
"By the way, Mike," Anne informed me. "There is a message from Ben; they will be here at about seven-thirty."
"I don't understand why they did not fly in with Trevor and Tyler," I stated.
"That's easy," Tyler told me. "They wanted to split the press coverage. Even the News of the World only has so many reporters and photographers."
Johnny put a teapot and a pot of coffee on the table; Joseph brought over the milk and sugar, followed again by Johnny, who brought over three mugs. We sat at the table.
"You’d better call across to the Stable House and tell them to come over for lunch," Anne told Johnny.
"I shouldn't bother," Tyler said. "I think they will be too busy."
Johnny made the call anyway, to be told they had made arrangements for lunch. As Joseph started to lay the table with plates and bowls, Johnny got busy preparing something with a huge pot and quite a lot of steam and some white wine. A few minutes later, a basket full of bread and a bowl full of mussels were placed in the centre of the table, with the instruction that we should help ourselves.
Over lunch, we generally chatted about how the production had gone, with Tyler telling some amusing stories. Mostly about my brother, who, it seemed, had an aptitude for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After lunch, Tyler said he needed to catch up on some sleep; he had not got much coming over. Johnny took him up to the guest room that had been prepared for him. Anne said she needed to go to the Farm Shop, and I went into my study to do some work on the Kilpatrick papers.
Just after three, I got a text from Ben. 'Landed Heathrow; now the fun begins. See you at about seven to seven-thirty.'
I sent a text back. 'What fun?'
The answer was. 'You'll see.'