by Flaulus

Chapter 11

For once Sebastian spoke firmly, brooking no argument and Rick, surprised at the speed of the appointment, found himself facing a barrage of tests.

"Since we're spending your money, and not relying on the NHS we've done more tests than we need to bump the bill up." Doctor Richards smiled, "Some of the blood tests will take a time but you've already had most of them and I don't expect any sort of discrepancy. Now as you know, the Blatcherfields have an inherited heart problem. There's no indication you've inherited the degenerative part of it, but you have inherited something, but don't worry. As you get older, it will protect you."

"I don't get it." Rick said.

"Just remember the less concerned Doctor Richards is, the more facetious his explanations become." Sebastian said.

"It's all to do with blood pressure and in your cases it's lower than normal. In Sebastian's case there are narrow veins around his heart which together with the low blood pressure restricts blood flow. In your case, the veins are healthy. But in both the cases you described, you were in a stressful situation so your blood pressure was up, and then it was over so your blood pressure dropped. In your case, it drops a bit too far before it recovers. You probably had a similar reaction after an exam, but you're sitting down so you might not have noticed."

Rick nodded, "So how is it good for me?"

"As you get older, you'll be less prone to strokes and heart attacks."

"Why don't I have problems with sport?"

"Again, you possibly do but after, you're physically tired and so are the others around you. Man is an animal hunter. He is adapted to intense bursts of physical energy but coping with mental stress is less of a survival asset, so he's less well adapted. There aren't complete answers to this sort of thing, but for now, I think breathing exercises to cope with stress and a warning to sit down if the serfs start revolting are sufficient for today."

"Thanks, Doctor. I guess I was a bit worried."

"You're adapting to a new life which may well be making a small problem worse. In other words, as you relax and settle in, the problem will fade."

Rick's mother was out of bed sitting in a chair when Rick visited again, but the atmosphere was frosty.

"When are you going to end this nonsense?" His mother snapped, "Your Cousin Robin is such a nice man, and he was so upset when he visited. Why don't you listen to him and be reasonable?"

"Mum, I've been investigated by social workers, the College of Arms in London is taking me seriously and the Islanders watch every move I make. Don't you think it may be Robin who is wrong?"

"Oh, Sebastian is clever and as slippery as an eel, but he groomed you and made you think you're gay. Let's get you to Robin's villa away from it all, and you'll see; you'll start thinking straight again."

"Mum, I'm not going. School starts in a couple of weeks, so I can't go to Italy anyway for a long stay. How's this for thinking straight, I'm trying to catch up on the work I've skipped because I need good grades in my exams."

"Until Robin wins his case. Then where will you be?"

"What case?" Rick asked.

"Where he proves he can sort out the mess Sebastian has made and takes over."

"Let's leave it, Mum. When you can travel, you can come and stay on Bovaline and see for yourself."

Rick was cheered by the news that tests were showing that the cancer had not spread, and the staff were talking about nursing homes rather than hospices but the argument with his mother had upset him.

Will greeted him at the helipad with, "Uncle Roger is back on the island. He phoned me, but he seemed more interested in a day watching the races with Uncle Sebastian."

Sebastian was also worried when he greeted Rick.

"I'm sorry to add to your problems, Richard, but our solicitors have phoned. Cousin Robin is seeking some sort of order removing us from the island's business affairs. He's claiming financial mismanagement and fraud, claiming to have witness statements, a list of islander's grievances and denies you're the Earl. Even if you're not an imposter you're too young and inexperienced, and are being corrupted by the island ways which includes everything from under-age sex to pimping rent boys."

"OK, but a case like that is going take months or even years to get to court. Can he afford it?"

"No, but he's seeking an order to remove us while investigations are carried out. It could mean us being barred from the island in case we tamper with witnesses. I'm not sure if we can fight something that sounds so reasonable."

"Mum mentioned something, and I was thinking about it on the way back. I watched a TV series about a law firm. It was American and I don't think lawyers behave like it in real life, but I'm getting an idea. How many islanders would actually help to keep things as they are?"

"I'd say a third would actively help and 85% would support us in a simple vote."

"Is it possible to call an island meeting? I mean all the residents? I only want a few minutes."

"It would have to be open air and in the evening. I'm not sure you would be heard though. What are you planning?"

Rick grinned, " You like talking about battles. Let's make the battlefield very muddy where it can get all bogged down, unable to move. "

"It's your call, Richard. I'll see to the arrangements."

Always amazed at how quickly things could be done on the island, the following evening Ric k was on a sound stage, loaned by the youth activity centre, in a field and before an audience of two or three thousand people. Ric k guessed it was the majority of year round residents.

Nervous, but less nervous than when he faced his future classmates, he began.

"Good evening everyone. I guess you all know. Cousin Robin is having another a go at taking over the island. Would all those who want him to, please raise your hands."

Rick was surprised at how few people raised their hands.

"OK. A harder question. How many would like the mainland authorities to have more control of the island?"

More, maybe 10% of the crowd raised their hands.

"This is the scary question for me. How many think I should be replaced?"

Rick was sure it was the same 10% that raised their hands, but a woman stepped forward and asked for a microphone. Rick helped her onto the stage and waited for trouble.

"Most of us have lived or worked on the mainland at some time, so I bet you've all been told what a terrible place this is when some petty tyrant forbids us from owning cars. Well, we know the cost of setting up a car ferry that would run often enough to be useful, the cost of improving our roads to take them and for what? We've got Eric's electric cars when we need one, and we've got a train service. My car is o n the mainland in a car-park the island owns, I park for free, and I use it when I have to go into the office. My point is, the outside world sees us as deprived, but we' re not because we have solutions that suit us, and I don't want outsiders fitting us into their ideas of what's right. I say Richard needs our support, and we should give it."

Even Sebastian was surprised at the applause, and it proved difficult to stop but when it did, Rick took the microphone and said, "Thank you all. I now need to speak to the secretaries of as many committees as possible, the secretary of the Wardens of the Watch, Jeff and Mrs Wreakin. I would also like anyone interested in history and historical research to be in the conference room at ten o'clock tomorrow morning."

As the people Rick asked for gathered around, Rick handed out sheets of paper.

"I giving you a template for an AGM. I know a lot of committees just meet and chat, and I don't want it to change, but I need something for the lawyers. The other sheet is a questionaire asking about projects in the pipeline and future projects. Mrs Wreakin, would any of your top English students help?"

"Yes I'm sure, they would. Where did you get these forms?"

" Mr. Wright ."

"Let me get this straight. You're going to use school students to take on the best legal minds in the country."

"I did learn when I was actually at school." Rick chuckled, "At Agincourt, the English were outnumbered, but French got bogged in the mud. There's the royal charter and that's where the Wardens of the Watch come in. You provide some sort of legal basis for the island. Jeff, I want you to work with the historians. Find as many legal whatsits as you can. If each guy works on one point and makes it as long and as detailed as possible, the better. I don't care how fanciful they are, I want quantity not quality."

"Perhaps you would explain your reasoning." Sebastian said, "I'm not sure what you're trying to do."

"Remember that TV programme I mentioned. Big firms tried to break up lawsuits so smaller people had to fight lots of small claims instead of one big one. Each one took up nearly as much time as the big case, so it became far too expensive. Now, if each committee wants to give evidence about how much it's going affect its members, if the Wardens of the Watch are complaining their authority is being ignored, then we can do the same. We can swamp the court with so much paperwork it won't be able to handle it. We'll be working with volunteers because we don't have to win while Cousin Robin will need lawyers to handle every case."

Sebastian grinned, "And I thought watching trash on TV was a waste of time. It doesn't have to succeed, just give them work."

"That's right. Jeff I don't need to attend that meeting tomorrow. You use it to get started."

Tom was standing beside Jeff.

"That's right, you've done your bit, go away and play. Look after your blood pressure until we need you again."

But Rick had noticed, Will's Uncle Roger in the crowd, and beckoned him over.

"I'm not here for trouble, sir." Uncle Roger said, "I'll tell you straight. Your cousin was going to pay me for a statement saying how Will had been corrupted, but I saw the podcast, and I can't get through to him now, so I'll warn you. He's got some nasty people wanting their money, and they're going to get it. Here's the deal, I stay on the island and no-one knows I'm here while I put out feelers and see what I can learn. Y ou should stay put as well because you're the one keeping them from their money if you understand what I mean. "

Rick was also thinking about his blood pressure, and the problems piling up. He contented himself with a nod and turned away. Will looked on. Tonight would be one of holding and cuddling, not raunchy sex, but he did not mind. He loved Rick and would willingly offer whatever support he could.

The judge looked at the line of lawyers arrayed in front of him, then at the row behind, more concerned to see Rick sitting there amongst junior lawyers and solicitors.

"Could someone explain the young man sitting among you, please?"

A barrister stood up.

"I'm Mr. Harrington and I represent Sebastian Blatcherfield . I can also speak for my learned colleagues on matters of mutual interest. The young man is Richard Blatcherfied, Earl of Westmark . Mr. Carstairs is representing the Wardens of the Watch, my other colleagues represent various committees on the island. Since this is an emergency application, we are not as fully prepared as we would like to be, and His Lordship can supply background information on the committees. "

Cousin Robin's barrister tried to stand, but the judge said, "A moment if you please. You seem to be somewhat outnumbered so would some explanation help you as much as it would me?"

The barrister smiled as he stood long enough to say, "Indeed it would, My Lord, but I must object to the young man being referred to as the Earl of Westmark. According to my bundle , the Earl is a gentleman in his fifties, and the boy present in this court is an imposter."

"I am beginning to wonder whether this court is being taken seriously. We'll deal with the learned array opposing you to start with. Mr. Harrington, a number of committees you say? How many?" the judge asked.

"Twenty-two, My Lord."

"Twenty two? Could you explain, please?"

"Certainly, My Lord. The organisation of the island is somewhat more complex than an outsider may realise. There are, for example, a transport committee, a vintner's committee, a youth centre committee, a transport committee. Now, the application before you mentions further integration with the mainland authorities so each committee is applying for an assessment on how the changes would impact on their areas of expertise. There is a joint request for a further assessment on how the present coordination would continue."

"Let me get this straight, your learned colleagues will be asking for two assessments."

"No, My Lord, twenty-three.

" This is going to take some time. Now, the confusion over who is Earl. "

"Mr. Carstairs has an application to make on behalf of the Wardens of the Watch committee."

Thank you, Mr. Harrington. I may have made a mistake challenging a stranger in your midst before Mr. Powers presented the plaintiff's case . However, I understand that the CEO of a large organisation is losing his faculties and needs to be replaced to allow a proper investigation. Is that the substance of your application?"

Mr. Powers stood and replied, "It is My Lord. The CEO in question is the Earl of Westmark, and the organisation is the island of Bovaline. We cite how easily he was duped by an imposter, the woeful under-use of resources and the general disorganised way the business is run to the detriment of the shareholders."

Mr. Harrington stood, "My Lord, the Earl of Westmark is a fifteen-year old boy. I can assure you, he is not losing his faculties.

Mr. Powers stood, "My Lord, we contend the claim by Richard Blatcherfield is false, and he is definitely not the twelfth Earl. We present it as evidence of the Earl's failing faculties that he was so easily hoodwinked."

Mr. Carstairs stood up.

"Mr. Carstairs?" the judge asked.

"Thank you, My Lord. The Charter of 1365 requires the earl to be in residence for at least six months of every year and permanently in times of emergency. He must also be in full control of his faculties. Whether it turns out the real earl has been absent for forty years or the eleventh one is losing his faculties then control of the island falls to the Wardens of the Watch. The allegations made in the plaintiff's application should be directed against them, and they request that the current application be set aside."

"Mr. Harrington, you said you represent Sebastian Blatcherfield . Although he was recognised as the eleventh earl, he accepts Richard as the twelfth."

" Yes , My Lord. I do have copies of the necessary documents."

"I was afraid you would have. Where are the originals?"

"They are being examined by the College of Arms, My Lord."

"Mr. Powers, the application before me assumes that the Earl, as major shareholder and his position as managing director, has full executive powers. Is there any part of your bundle which refers to these committees, the Wardens of the Watch and the charter? Do you wish to challenge their authority?"

"No, My Lord. I received no instructions about them."

Then I refuse the emergency order. The application centres around Sebastian Blatcherfield's failing faculties. I see nothing wrong in how he is handling Richard Blatcherfield's claim, and in any case, I would defer to the College of Arms verdict. Neither could I accept that the Earl, whoever he may be, could be held responsible for any mismanagement without understanding the role of these committees. On the matter of costs, I feel that both sides have tried to ambush this court so each side will bear their own."

Rick hurried to Mr. Harrington.

"Your plan is working." Mr. Harrington said, "But we have a problem. The judge was more concerned about you than anything and allowed the Defence to speak before the Plaintiff. It could be grounds for appeal but basically, he made the right call deferring to the College of Arms. The Plaintiff could have challenged it and now he has a chance to examine the charter, if it comes to court again."

"Is it a big problem?" Rick asked.

"No. The plaintiff also made a bad mistake. He hoped that by keeping to the business arrangements he could keep to simple malpractice. An investigation would have been reasonable, and he would have got his foot in the door. The incident at the harbour would have paved the way for other investigations and you would have become the villain supporting corruption and immorality for your own pleasure. I would suggest, the resulting scandals would hit tourism which is a major source of income, strengthening the business case against you. The charter could have been dismissed as an anachronism against modern business interests, but you have made it the key to your argument. I suggest the most argumentative part of your strategy is how much legal standing these committees have. Local authorities would also like them dismissed as just pressure groups, but the charter requires the Lord of the Manor to administer the island in the sovereign's name, and the Earl relies on them, so we can turn the argument into: how much power is reasonable in the 21 st century? That will create a long-drawn-out legal case which will drag on for years to gain what?"

"Go on." Rick said, "I've got so much to learn."

"Very well. The Lord of the Manor owns businesses and everyone else just rents. Similarly, everyone is employed by him, at least on paper. Now if the farms run at a profit, but the ferry runs at a loss, the net profit is greatly reduced which means less tax. It's a very simplified notion but that's the principle. Now, if it was run the mainland way, the farms would pay their full whack of taxation while the local council would have to subsidise the ferry. Coming back to the old chestnut of cars being banned, the subsidised ferry would have to be a car ferry and if nothing else, the village roads would have to be relaid to take them. Now, a sudden influx of cars would cause gridlock which means the authorities would need to create parking and one-way systems and it'll all be very expensive. If you maintain your role as a reactionary, domineering monster who's more of a dinosaur than a pervert, the mainland can claim to be trying to help the island without actually spending any money."

Rick grinned, "I get it. I guess I need to become an accountant to really understand how it all works."

"Before he retired to the island, my father was a top corporate lawyer. He's as straight as a die and would never take on anything he considered shady or corrupt, yet he persuaded me to take instructions from you. He suggests you are the oil that keep the machine running smoothly, and you are more showman leaving the business to experts."

Later Rick described events to his friends with Sebastian also there.

"Your plan worked very well." Sebastian said, "Bovaline is a private limited company set up years ago when death duties became a big issue and income tax rocketed. Close relatives are invited to invest, but the most distant relative must hand over to a closer relative when asked. Aunt Sybil, Robin and myself are investors. My shares must pass onto you because usually they pass onto the next earl in the previous earl's will. The share value comes to £100. The earl owns £30 pounds, the Warden of the Watch owns another £30's worth. Between us we own sixty per cent of the vote."

"I don't get the £100 bit." Rick said, "We've got doorknobs worth more than that."

"Supposing you and Will pooled 50 pence each out of your pocket money. It would allow to you buy a ring from a stall. An expert then tells you it's worth £6. Your partnership is still worth £1, but it has assets of £6 which you would split equally. Will then decides he wants to make up the money for an ice-cream and asks for 25 pence back. Now when you sell the ring, you get £4 while Will only gets two. You get two votes and Will gets one on whether to sell or hang onto it."

Rick nodded, "I get it. It's fractions and percentages. So Robin wants to control your 30% and if he's got 20% on his own, then he can make the decisions."

"Except he's only got 10%. Aunt Sybil has another ten, and she could be another target for a proxy. The other twenty belong to distant relatives who Robin could well be contacting."

"The articles of association are quite clear. The company must be run for the benefit of the island. Despite me handing everything over to you, one position I keep until the next AGM is managing director. In that role, I suggest to you as the major shareholder we buy back from the distant relatives and maybe offer them to Will and Steve, providing they promise to remain on the island."

Ignoring the boys' startled looks, Rick asked, "Why not you?"

"Because I am ill." Sebastian replied, "Robin could repeat his claim I'm losing my faculties and as an adult he should become the responsible adult. I am tired, and I do need to rest more, so he's partly right."

Sebastian paused then added, "Once the College of Arms makes its decision we can tidy up the paperwork. In the meantime, you have the island's goodwill and that counts for everything except for paperwork going to the mainland."

"So we could have stopped him anyway. My court case idea was a waste of time."

"No! First it showed the island you had your own ideas on how to deal with things, and you took control. Second, if we were barred from island affairs it would affect voting numbers. Supposing a mainland accountant voted for me by proxy. He's more likely to vote for Robin's business plans and to pass a bigger share of the profits to the shareholders which could well sway the distant relatives. The island accounts are in good order, satisfying independent auditors and HMRC, but we come back to underused assets and low share dividends because we reinvest so much. A judge could agree with Robin. In military terms, he wants to attack and occupy the castle, and he expected to get close enough to climb the ramparts. You opposed him in the fields beyond, so he used up considerable resources and has not even got close to the walls."

"Even if I didn't know what I was doing?"

"Great commanders don't always have the best intelligence, but they do have luck. Involving the committees and the requirement to act in the island's best interest are going to create your legal mud deciding how much authority they have. It's all draining his resources for very little progress."

"That's what Mr. Harrington said." Rick said, "Can we hire a private detective to investigate him?"

"It's already done. Before you arrived, all he had to do was wait until my heart gave out, but he's desperate for cash, and his creditors do not appear to be the nicest of people. He's in bad trouble because he was borrowing on the prospect of becoming earl."

"And that's what Will's uncle said, but Will and Steve are not relatives. How can they be given shares?"

"By living on the island. Remember, it all goes back to Bovaline being a major fortress. Unless the charter is annulled, everything has to fit in with its requirements. Robin hoped to quietly forget it but it works to our advantage because even a modern limited company has to comply."

"Will, Steve, what do you say?" Rick asked.

"I'm thinking of Mum working so hard. Would there be any of this dividend thing?" Steve asked.

"Yes. Once the island knows what we're doing, she'll be looked after."

"OK! What about me and Ryan? We're not boyfriends, but we get on. If I move here for good, we won't be able to do stuff, will we?"

"Your mother might have a problem with your relationship and pray Cousin Robin never finds out, but I'll repeat, it's Ryan's room, and he can have whoever he likes in there. It's not because you're some outsider, it's his protection because of his age."

"Mum's settled in the chalet, and she knows about me. All she said was: I thought so. She's going home at the weekend, because she needs to get back to work, so we've got to sort things before then."

"Steve, you have much better prospects if you're part of the island. I'm talking about education, job prospects in an environment where drugs are a not viable venture. You may find that approach a pretty strong argument. Rick has got off to a good start looking out for the island, but he is still an unknown quantity, so it's watching him. He's got a lot of approval for remembering his friends and not just dumping them. He's also solved a number of problems which makes him popular."

"But Ryan and I will still have to keep our relationship secret." Steve said.

"Good luck with that on this island." Rick chuckled.

"Your mother is not an islander, so no-one will discuss it with her but if you want to walk down the road hand in hand islanders won't mind." Sebastian said, "Whatever nasty little secret you can think of, an islander has done it, the rest probably know, and your secret isn't nasty as long as you respect Ryan's age."

"Can I stay here for good?" Ryan asked, "I don't want to go home. Dad always seems angry and upset about business then starts a row with Mum, and she starts drinking. I hate Shane and wish Steve was my big brother."

"If you're serious, you'll need to convince a lawyer you have a case. The lawyer would then have to convince a judge." Sebastian replied, "It could get very messy."

Ryan nodded, "I know. I think Dad will want me to say Rick raped me. I would have to say what Shane did and Steve looks out for me. Dad would go after Steve and Rick, but not Shane. I get it! I can't ask, can I?"

"You can ask, and we'll see what we can do. What worries me, is that if your Dad's affairs are as bad as we think they are, he's going to go bust. The trouble is, every time we beat him, we push him closer to the edge."

Ryan shifted to sit on Steve's lap, kissing him on the cheek.

"I know." he said, "Am I wrong because I feel safe here? It scared me when Dad got angry and Shane was always nasty. I like the way Rick helped his friends, and I want to be his friend too."

"I'll ask Mrs Wilson to examine the share issue." Sebastian said, "As long as we stick to horses, Roger is pleasant company. I have no objections to cultivating him as an ally, but Will, please do not be upset if I say, I do not fully trust him."

"I reckon the police are after him again." Will said, "He wants to protect his hideout."

"It seems there's a policeman coming to the island." Mrs Dawson, Roger's landlady said, "He wants to see Earl Sebastian. Do you think they've heard rumours you're on the island."

It took Roger time to process Mrs Dawson's comment: she knew about the policeman, she knew about him, she knew too much. Or did she? The island seemed to know his business so had someone grassed? Somehow he did not think so, but although Sebastian was a decent guy, he was not going to lie to the police.

"If they were looking for me, I think there'd be more than one." he replied.

Mrs Dawson nodded, unconcerned about a virtual admission he was wanted. That was mainland business, and Roger understood. It was a mystery though, and he thought of the night he had spent with Mrs Dawson. He was getting to like the island, so he hoped it did not mean trouble.

Sebastian hoped so too as he and Rick greeted the policeman who introduced himself as Inspector Harris and his colleague as Constable Smith.

"I'm sorry to bring bad news, but we've had a phone call from the police in Cannes. There has been an incident, and Robin Blatcherfield is missing. The family were returning from a party, he went on board his boat to open up and it exploded. There are reports of a body but it's still early on in the investigation. Mr. Blatcherfield's wife and two of his children were still on the quay, but they were injured."

"Whoa!" Rick grasped, "Sorry, but I only met him once, and we had a row. Since then, he's been trying to get control here. Who did it? His business partners?"

"Who said it was murder?"

"I just assumed." Rick said, "We were sending him bankrupt, and he was mixed up in some shady stuff."

"I see."

"I can let you have a copy of our investigator's report. He was desperate for money and his last attempt just left him with a massive legal bill and no gain." Sebastian said.

"Thank you. I'll forward a copy to the Cannes police. We'll also investigate of course, but your insights may be helpful. I should have said, one of his children is unaccounted for. We can't find him or even any record of him being in France."

"If you're talking about Ryan, the younger son, he's staying here for the summer. Do you need to talk to him?" Sebastian asked.

"The French police may need to ask him questions, and someone has to tell him. It's not a job I particularly want to do, but I should confirm he is here."

Sebastian picked up the phone asking Mrs Wilson to find him as well as Steve and Will. While they waited Sebastian asked, "What about other family? I'm thinking of Hayley's."

"She was an only child and her mother is dead. Her father just isn't in the picture." Inspector Harris replied, "It's still a bit of a muddle and it was lucky Constable Smith here speaks French.

"Oh! Richard?"

"What?" Rick snapped, "Sorry. It's a bit of a shock. This sort of thing doesn't happen in real life, does it?"

"Unfortunately Richard, it does. I must explain, Inspector, Richard is the Earl and nominally in charge. I'm the responsible adult but it helps if we can avoid a conflict in decisions.

"I'm thinking about Ryan." Rick said, "We need to look after them for his sake, but how? Could you fly out with him?"

"I could, but I'm not sure about leaving you. I'm still your responsible adult as well."

"Mrs Wilson will still be running the business, Jeff will run the castle and the Wardens of the Watch will draw pikes from the armoury to protect me from hostile tourists. How many responsible adults do I need?"

Sebastian smiled, "Good point."

Inspector Harris observed, fascinated. Although the task in hand was unpleasant, visiting a castle was unusual, and given half a chance, Constable Smith would disappear on a tour. Luckily it did not take Ryan long to arrive.

Inspector Harris was a little uneasy at the way Ryan clung to Steve who hugged, almost cuddling him and when they sat down, Ryan sat on Steve's lap. In theory their relationship seemed a little too intimate with Ryan just twelve but when it comes to teenage romances, Age of Consent laws could be a nightmare. Ryan certainly needed Steve just then.

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