by Andrew Foote

Chapter 25

On the journey home I briefly thought on Alison's comments but Jus seemed animated enough so rather than go spoiling things I decided to let it drop, concentrating on the positive.

Primarily the conversation was to do with the mill, its conversion and the generator.

"So does that mean we will be independent of the Electric Company?"

"I think so unless that is, we get a dry spell and there's not enough water to turn the water wheel. The other good thing is your Granddad thinks it might be possible to sell any over capacity back to the Electric Company which would offset the cost when we have to use them. Rather clever I thought!"

"Exciting as well! When are we going to be up and operational do you think?"

"Whoa! That's a question I asked but I was told there was a lot to be done first like stripping out the old mill equipment, working out the best way of mounting the generator and then my Dad will work out the gearing ratios so it will spin fast enough to give out the right amount of current, whatever that might mean. First though there's still plenty of clearing up to do. We've hired an industrial vacuum cleaner to suck up all the dust we haven't been able to sweep up, whitewash the inside, create some office and storage space and so on."

"Rushing my fences aren't I!

What's going to happen to all the old mill gear? Sell it for scrap maybe?"

"Your Granddad has suggested we keep it. That way if we decide to stop production or move to somewhere larger, it can be reinstated as a working example of a traditional water mill. I get the impression he doesn't like chucking anything out!"

Jus laughed at this comment.

"You've only got to do down into the cellar to know that's very true! Anyhow, what's on the cards for this weekend?"

"More of the same I suppose. Fish and chips up at the house tonight, studies tomorrow morning but if you'd rather go up to the mill or do something else, I'd understand."

"No. I want to do the studying too Alex. We can go to the mill in the afternoon and maybe get on with the clearing up then we can walk the dogs."

"Nice. I want you to be with me as much as possible. I miss you like crazy during the week, did you know that?"

"I hoped you would but no more than I miss you, at least you've got family around you to turn to which is more than I have. Oh God! I've got to stop being so negative!"

"It's understandable Jus and if you need to talk about it then fine but if you'd rather not, well that's fine too. I'm not going anywhere."

Jus kissed me on the cheek. "Maybe tonight when we're in bed. I want to tell you then again I don't. I don't want to worry you."

"Oh fine! Just that one comment has got me bothered now!"

"Sorry. It's just there shouldn't be secrets between us. Let's drop it for now, huh?"

The evening up at the house was nice enough but whether it was my over-active imagination getting the better of me, it seemed like nobody seemed in any rush to ask Jus about his school week, the occasional passing reference but nothing more.

At the first polite opportunity we said our good-nights and wandered back to 'Spook'. To say Jus was less than conversational is an understatement so once back on board I suggested he used the shower as I'd already done so earlier when we'd got back from the mill while I uncorked a bottle of wine, one presumably left for us by either my Mum or Dad.

Once Jus reappeared we assumed our normal position with me sitting on the couch and him laying on it, his head in my lap.

"C'mon Jus? I'm sorry but this is breaking me up. Please tell me what's going down?"

Jus smiled up at me. "It's me who should apologise to you, I'm sorry. There really isn't much to say, just that I knew this was coming ever since I smashed that fat fuck's kneecap. He has this little band of mates who are out to get me. They rough me up a bit, never when there's anyone else around so there are no witnesses so it's my word against theirs and given I'm not exactly popular, there's nothing much I can do."

"Shit Jus? What about the boys in your dorm? Don't they look out for you?"

"If circumstances were different then I'm pretty sure they would but what you have to remember is that these kids are like sixteen years old to our fourteen so the odds are stacked against them. Actually the girls are better at thwarting their attempts at bullying me. They dare not lay a finger on them, the reprisals would be massive."

"So stick with them why not."

"I do, during the day, but we're not allowed to fraternise with them once supper is over so that's when they make moves against me."

"That's just plain cowardly Jus?"

"Yeah well that's what they say isn't it. Inside every coward is a bully trying to get out.

C'mon. Let's drink our wine."

The following morning Jus was back on form, the worries of the previous evening, a distant memory helped in no small part by us making love for hours that night and again in the morning. We were getting pretty good at delaying our climaxes especially as we'd discovered for ourselves a new and better position, me laying on my back with my feet over Jus's shoulders. Penetration was deeper, he was able to hit my prostate at will and the added bonus of being able to kiss.

We sailed through the morning then after lunch we elected to walk the dogs before going up to the mill. A good plan given the evenings were fast drawing in because we now had lighting in the mill house so we could work through into the evening.

Yet again Jus wanted to go up to Balmore Hill and on the way back, again he wanted to visit the family tree.

"It's hard for me to explain Alex. I just feel good here, safe, contented, at peace somehow."

We then headed directly to the mill and once inside began the process of vacuuming, working through until almost nine-thirty when my Dad appeared.

"Might I suggest you boys call a halt for today? Come back to 'Casio', Mum's kept some supper for you both."

He cast his eyes around the place then remarked on our progress.

"I tell you what? Another stint like that and we'll be ready to start painting! Well done!"

After a huge amount of food we headed back to 'Spook'. That night after we'd showered, Jus showed me his dick.

"I'm rather sore Alex! Look, it's all red and puffy! I'm afraid I'm not up to it tonight?"

"That's okay! We don't have to be at it every night! Just cuddle me. That will be more than good enough!"

The following morning we went back to the mill but this time my Dad came with us which made our progress even faster and by eleven in the morning we were standing back looking at a clean and tidy workshop.

"Next week may I suggest you Alexis get on with the painting and I'll make a start on stripping down the mill gear. That way if I need help you'll be here. I'm going to go and get the car then come back and collect the vacuum cleaner. No point in hanging on to it now. You guys wait here for me, okay?"

While we were waiting, we heard a knock on the door and standing there was the lad who'd picked up the tennis balls over on the opposite bank.

"Hello. I hope you don't mind but I had to see what was going on here. You see I used to play in here when I was a kid."

"No it's okay. My name is Alexis and this is my best friend Justin. You are?"

"Oh yeah. Sorry! My name's Joe or Joseph if I'm in bother! What's happening here?"

Jus looked at me, I shrugged my shoulders as if to say 'okay, tell him'.

"You remember us lobbing those ball over to you? Well we plan to manufacture the device that made it possible to get them across the river."

"Oh cool! That's what I studied at school, Manufacturing Sciences."

"Really? We sort of know a guy at the University, Professor Standish. That's his area of expertise as well."

"Wow! You've actually met him? We used his text books at school!"

"Yeah we've met him a few times. Justin had the brainwave and Professor Standish helped us to perfect it.

You said you 'studied' Manufacturing Sciences like you don't anymore?"

"Nah. I'm sixteen now, done my exams and waiting for my results then it's out to join the scary world of work!"

"Sixteen? Sorry but you don't look it!"

"Don't sweat it. I've always looked younger than I am so I'm well used to it!"

Jus interjected.

"Got anything lined up yet? You know, job-wise?"

"Nope not yet. I need my results before anyone will even interview me and besides, completion is fierce and as I'm not particularly academic, I don't know if I'll get much of a job. Don't get me wrong, I'm not stupid, it's just I prefer the practical side of things although I really liked the course I was on and so I'm pretty sure my results will be good."

Again Jus looked at me and as if I was reading his mind, I nodded.

"When do you get your results Joe?"

"Oh not for another six weeks yet. Why do you ask?"

"No promises but we will be looking to take someone on, someone who is practical, think on his feet and well, basically run the production side of things here. I'm mostly away at boarding school and although Alexis is normally around, I'm only fourteen and Alexis thirteen so if things really take off, we will need somebody reliable to help us manage production. Would you be interested?"

"Far out! Yes of course I'd be very interested!"

"Like Justin said. No promises yet but if you want, why not come and help us to get the pace ship-shape. We can't pay you as yet but there's loads to do like the inside has to be painted, my Dad has to strip out all the old mill gear and repair the water wheel and so on and especially the last two jobs, my Dad will need someone with practical skills to help him."

"Hey I'd love to! I don't have to attend school anymore as my course is over but I go there anyway just to kill the boredom of sitting around doing nothing. I like to keep occupied! When do you want me here?"

"Any afternoon after about one o'clock. I'm home tutored so my mornings are taken up with studying but once you know what has to be done or if my Dad spends a morning up here you can come up on your own or with him."

"Start tomorrow?"

"Sure thing."

"See you tomorrow at one then! I'd better be going now. See ya!"

Sunday lunch over and before too soon we were driving back to Down House.

Understandably Jus was a bit subdued but not upset.

"Do you have plenty of cash for the phone Jus"

"Yeah, loads. Why?"

"'Cos I want you to promise to call home every night, that's why. Call it my peace of mind if you like."

"I promise. Anyway it'll be nice to hear how things are progressing and also how Joe shapes up."

"Not to hear my sweet voice then!"

"That goes without saying you idiot!"

Alison and Katie were once again waiting for us and greeted us with hugs and kisses. Once Jus was out of earshot collecting his case from the car, Alison questioned me.

"How is he Alex? Did he say anything to you?"

"He's not too bad at the moment. We had a long talk, he told me what was going down so I've asked him to call me every night just so I know he's okay and by the way. Thanks for being there for him. You've no idea how much that means not only to Jus but also to me."

"No thanks needed. That's what friends are for. Look out, he's coming back."

Jus dumped his case on the floor and took me in his arms and then to my complete surprise, kissed me full on the lips.

"I'll call you right after supper, alright? I love you Alex??" and with that the three of them walked away towards the buildings. He turned once to wave to me then disappeared out of sight.

I sat up front with my Dad on the way back to Mapledurham.

"It's almost like he's got a death wish Dad. Did you see what he did?"

"Yes I did and I thought it was rather touching actually. Maybe not the wisest thing to do given the circumstances but very sweet all the same."

"That's just it though. He had a really hard time of it last week and doing that is like throwing caution to the wind, going for broke almost."

"I know it isn't very helpful but we can only wait and see what happens son."

Jus telephoned that evening and he sounded fairly upbeat which came as an enormous relief. I went off to bed relatively happy.

Monday came and went, my Dad hitting it off with Joe, kindred spirits when it comes to getting your hands dirty and enjoying hard graft.

"He's quite a catch son. Loves hard work and not only that, he'll make a fine engineer I recon. I thought you said he was thick?"

"No I didn't! I said he told us that he wasn't academic!"

"I was going to say! Academic? Maybe not but he's very bright, very perceptive when it comes to things mechanical and not only that, he's a very personable young man."

That night Jus telephoned as he did on Tuesday and Wednesday but come the appointed hour on Thursday? Nothing.

We waited and waited and I was getting to the point where I wanted to scream but then finally at ten-thirty the phone rang, Sir George answering it.

"Yes this is Sir George Appleby. Who am I talking to please?....... Yes, yes of course young lady. Hold the line, I'll put him on."

Sir George beckoned to me. "A young lady for you Alex. Alison I think she said."

I rushed to the phone and grabbed it, my heart pounding in my chest.

"Ali? What the hell?"

"Oh Alex! God I don't know how to begin? Jus got a real kicking tonight. The telephone is his dorm wasn't working so he slipped out to find another one when those thugs kicked the crap out of him. A senior prefect saw what happened and apprehended those boys but by the time he got them under control……… OH MY GOD ALEX? Jus had disappeared. For the last two hours virtually the entire school has been looking for him but so far………….we can't find him. It's……it's as if he's disappeared into thin air. Oh Christ! What are we going to do Alex?"

"Calm down Ali. Please, for me? Was he badly hurt do you know?"

"I'm not sure but apparently there was a lot of blood on the floor and the prefect said it looked as if his left arm might have been broken. That's about as much as I can tell you."

"Ali? Stay on the line. Please don't hang up. I need to talk with Jus's Granddad for a moment."

"I've loads of change. I'm not going anywhere Alex."

I briefly ran over the details of our conversation with the assembled adults then Sir George took the phone.

"Thank you young lady, umm sorry, Alison. We will start to rattle a few cages from this end but please will you do me a kindness and keep in close contact with Alex? I will reimburse any expense for the telephone calls naturally………….no I will and I must. Thank you for being such a good friend to the boys………. Yes of course. I'll pass him over."

"Alex? Try not to worry. Everyone and I mean everyone are trying their utmost to find him. I'll be in touch just as soon as I know anything."

"Thanks Ali. You're a star. Look I'd better go. I think Sir George needs to use the telephone."

"Right. Sorry. Bye. We're thinking of both of you." and with that the line went dead.

Sir George lifted the phone and dialled a number.

"Rolly? George here. Got a problem, a big problem."

He went on to explain the situation and could he please keep a weather eye out just in case Jus made his way to Cold Ash and the sanctuary of the pub.

Next was a very irate call to the school.

"Head Master? This is Sir George Appleby………..what the hell do you mean 'why am I calling at this time of the night!!' My grandson has been the victim of bullying and now I understand he's gone missing…………..to hell with how I found out, he does have a few friends left you know? What I need to understand from you is what the blazes are you doing about it!"

There was a pause or rather we couldn't hear the head master's reply but then Sir George went for him again.

"I assume you've called the police?............WHAT? Well if you won't call them, I WILL! Damn it man! One of your charges gets beaten up, he's bleeding, probably nursing a broken arm, possibly dressed in nothing more than his school uniform, it's cold and it's raining, so EITHER YOU CALL THE AUTHORITIES RIGHT THIS INSTANT OR MAY GOD HELP YOU. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME??"

Another lengthy pause.

"Very well. Just make sure that you do. I hold you entirely responsible for the safety and wellbeing of my Grandson and should you not take the necessary steps to find him, the consequences for both you and the reputation of the school as a whole will be dire. Now go and call the police and do it NOW!"

Sir George put down the phone, his face slowly returning from the purple colour it had become during the call to a more regular tanned hew.

"What an arse of a man! 'They will deal with this incident in their own way' indeed!

Do children regularly run away from there, injured and frightened in such a way to have procedures in place? I think not! I need a drink! How about everyone else?"

Lady Eleanor and my Mum accepted, my Dad didn't saying that if it became necessary to drive, he'd rather be stone-cold sober.

Sir George disappeared into the kitchen and moments later reappeared with a mug in his hand.

"Here you go Alex. This will relax you and help you to sleep. Also, if you like, we can put up a camp bed in here for you. That way if young Alison phones, you are right here to take her call."

"Thanks Sir. I really appreciate that."

I sampled my drink. Hot chocolate with a goodly shot of brandy.

I slept through until the phone rang at five-thirty.

"Mapeldurham 3232?"

"Alex? It's Ali. I just thought I'd tell you that the place is swarming with the boys in blue. They're going through the place with a fine tooth comb. The seniors have been out all night searching the grounds then after breakfast us juniors take over. Try and be realistic Alex? He can't have gone very far. We will find him."

"That's what I keep telling myself Ali but he's not daft. If he doesn't want to be found then he can be pretty ingenious.

Is Katie alright?"

"Frantic like the rest of us but otherwise okay. I'll tell her you asked. She'll appreciate that.

Look I'm going to try and get a bit more sleep. I'll call you later, news or otherwise."

"Thanks. You guys are too nice to be girls!"

"Ha-ha! I'll try to see that as a compliment Alex! Take care and try to be strong. Nite."

I went back to bed but sleep alluded me. Wherever Jus was, he'd been out all night, alone and probably frightened and then for the first time since Ali's initial telephone call, I collapsed into floods of tears. They were real, uncontrollable and somehow reassuring tears and I found myself crying out 'for God's sake Jus! Reach out to me. Tell me where you are? I can almost read your mind so please, give it a go?'


No bolt from the blue.

Just silence.

A feeling of emptiness that I would remember for the rest of my life.

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