by Flaulus

Chapter 12

Roger realised he had been lucky. Already wanted in connection with a smash-and-grab at a bookie, being involved in a murder however remotely would have got the police too interested. His own victims had been villains, and any police investigations had been with the idea the world was better off without them. Robin Blatcherfield was too respectable, a foreign police was involved and an explosion attracted far more interest than his favourite stab upwards under the ribs. He was still unused to the peaceful, friendly world of Bovaline but his guard was lowered far more than he realised as he discussed it with Mrs Dawson.

"Will will be there for His Lordship." Mrs Dawson said, "He's not going to start trusting you, but he needs to know which side you're on."

"You know I'm a villain, why do you put up with me?" Roger asked.

"Why not? I'm lonely and I could tell you a few stories about the castle lot. I'll make it simple, are you for Bovaline or against it?"

Roger smiled, "I must be for Bovaline then. I've got other commitments though, so I can't stay here."

"And you knock a woman into place, don't you. Don't try it with me." Mrs Dawson said, and there was menace in her voice.

Roger was tempted, no woman was going to order him around, but he continued washing dishes as Mrs Dawson dried them and said, "Will knows you're here, and he can find you if he needs you. Leave it at that. I'm ready for my afternoon lie down. Come on!"

Steve had accepted paperwork and ID checks as part of moving onto the island and being involved with castle business, but he had not realised he now possessed a passport.

"It's the most secure way of identifying yourself." Mrs Wilson explained, "Even if you're not carrying it, we can email details and it can be verified at the Passport Office. Never claim that you have the full weight of Castle Bovaline and the Earl of Westmark behind you because you'll put people's backs up, and the Earl does not have any real power these days, but unofficially your address can make people very cautious."

Steve nodded, "It's a lot more real on the island, isn't it, but that's only because we all like it here."

Mrs Wilson nodded, adding, "We'll look after your mother, but she doesn't need much. There always seems to be some strapping lad willing to help her."

Steve blushed, "I can't believe she behaves like that."

"Don't worry. Let her enjoy herself. She cleans a couple of pensioner's homes, and she's proud of you, so you look after Ryan."

It was the Sergeant of the Watch who completed the arrangements.

"Two wardens will go with you when you visit your mother." he said, "Ti knows what you need, and he'll instruct the other. We'll have a third on the pontoon supporting Jimmy and Charles. They're pretty observant but no fighters."

"Wow!" Rick exclaimed, "It feels like an army battle."

"Legend has it, we invited archers from Agincourt to move to the island and join the watch. Ex-soldiers are still invited to settle. Has it been explained, you're the Captain of the Watch so you command your own trained army?"

"No! Wow!"

"It's better if you just say, 'Carry on, Sergeant', and leave it to us, but some hostile force is sniffing around, has killed your cousin and may be a threat, so we need your permission to draw firearms."

"Wow!" Rick exclaimed yet again, "I didn't know. Is it risk assessment or reconnaissance but I'd rather know more about what's happening before I think about guns."

Rick shook his head to clear it, feeling as if he had slipped into some weird video game.

"I'm thinking of TV. Kidnap and ransom? Could that be biggest risk? What about Earl Sebastian when he's in France? I can't stop him going though."

"As Captain of the Watch, you can order him to stay. It comes back to the charter but you might still face a kidnapping charge if you implemented it."

"I'm not an Earl. I'm not a Lord of the Manor and I'm not a captain. I'm a housing estate kid here because my mother is in hospital. God, I hate this fucking charter."

"I understand, sir. It must be overwhelming, but we are talking worst cases here. My suggestion is, a warden could go as a responsible adult for Steve and Ryan, and act as a bodyguard. He may be more useful than Earl Sebastian in looking around. At the moment, we don't know who we're dealing with, but again, worst case could be a gang thinking an island is a good base to bring drugs into the country. Ships could bring it in and small boats distribute it around the coast."

"They're welcome to try on this island." Rick retorted.

"Agreed but trying could get messy. We need to avoid it, and for now, we need to keep it all from the visitors, so I agree, no guns."

"I'd like Earl Sebastian to go after all." Rick said, "Arrange a bodyguard for him as well. I know I've changed my mind, but it'll be good for his health if I can handle things here. It means I should take on being Captain of the Watch but I've already been upset and changed my mind. That's bad isn't it."

"No sir. It is not. You have to adapt, and your planning is sound. Hopefully, we're making a big fuss about nothing,"

A little later, Rick was discussing it all with Will.

"I thought I was bringing everyone to a theme park holiday." Rick said, "We've had an arson attack and now Cousin Robin has been killed. What gives?"

"Loads and loads of money." Will replied, "One day, you'll have to find out how much you've actually got in the bank. I reckon it's enough to make a few deaths worthwhile, but you're a true noble Blatcherfield, aren't you. You're defending the islanders and their way of life."

"I'm being serious." Rick retorted.

"OK, and I was being a little sarcastic. There's nothing wrong with protecting the island, just don't get up-your-arse better than us for doing it. You're protecting your own nice little set up as well, and others want it. I'm on your side because I could see the island being turned into a hotel for drugs gangs collecting supplies as well."

Rick nodded, "Your Uncle Roger is on the island. Should we be worried?"

"He'd send me to get treatment for being gay, and he'd use me to wriggle through a window during a break-in." Will replied, "He'd have sold us out to Robin if the money had been good enough, but this is out of his class, and he knows it. He's offered to help, but I'm not going to trust him. I hear that Mrs Dawson has a bit of a past on the mainland, so they're suited to each other. That's enough."

"OK! Let's hope there're no more problems." Rick said.

"It's all so tiring isn't it." Will said softly, "Maybe we should go and lie down for a while."

"I'd like that, but there's something." Rick replied, "The island hasn't caught up with the electronic age."

"I thought it was pretty clued-up."

"It is. Someone orders a package online, delivery firms know to book it onto the ferry, and Tim does nicely delivering them around the island. It's all innocent and above board so visitors don't know about his uncles, but it's getting too well known. Jimmy's got his clients on the side, and other kids hang around on the off-chance or because they've had a message. Like everything else on the island, it's got a well-organised communication system. It's even got its own history for fuck's sake."

"How do you mean history?" Will asked.

"The island has always relied on trade, ships would come from all over. After being cooped up on board, let's say the sailors needed entertainment once on shore. Normally that meant a lot of single Mums and hungry babies to feed. Gays could be hanged in Royal Navy ships because captains were terrified of any sort of association between seamen leading to mutiny. Now, we protected our girls and offered a substitute which made captains nervous of us. Throw in anti-gay religion and ships avoided us unless they smelt a good profit in trade. That's what Sebastian told me, and he said something else, 'It's always useful when the enemy has a weak point we can exploit'."

Will smiled, "So Tim's uncles will do us favours if we need them."

"It's blackmail and it's nasty." Rick replied, "It would be even nastier if it was used all that often, but I bet if any of Tim's uncles are police officers, the Wardens of the Watch are learning more about Robin's business friends than we'd get officially."

"You're in charge." Will said, "Don't you know?"

"It's called plausible deniability. If I don't know, I can't lie."

"OK, but you said it's worrying you."

"I'm worried about blogs and social media, Will." Rick replied, "I get the island sees Tim as gathering intelligence but I see problems."

"How about a spot of sunbathing on our tower? We'll just be quiet and you can rest or …"

Rick smiled, giving in to Will, but he was uneasy. Cousin Robin had stirred up too much interest in the island. Maybe it had survived and been prosperous for a 1,000 years but could it cope with the modern world?

The following morning, Mrs Wilson handled their morning session and Rick talked about his doubts.

"We have got computer nerds, you know. We've paid for a couple of them to go to university, and even they understand the barter system." Mrs Wilson said as Rick looked puzzled, she added, "They get their university fees paid, we get their expertise, and they're already looking."

"I'm missing something." Rick said, "I just don't get how this island is so organised and it still sticks together."

"On paper, most islanders struggle on the minimum wage. In reality, you have to add in the barter system and bursaries like the one for university fees. Islanders don't buy house insurance, you do, and because it's such a big policy, you have companies competing to offer the lowest rates. You charge high rents but since it includes a much smaller insurance premium, the combination is much lower. Islanders can claim benefits based on the high rent figure if they need to, or their disposable income is much higher. Probably what is unique is the transparency on the island. They know how much you're worth, how much the castle earns and even what keeping you as a feudal master is worth. You've mentioned gay pride events. You can bet most of the island has looked up the pink pound figuring how much it's worth and whether it'll mean six weeks in the Caribbean instead of four."

Rick gripped Will's hand, "It's such a romantic life living in a castle, isn't it. I bet all couples wish they could learn about tax fiddles on their dates."

"Yeah, they leave that bit out of stories." Will chuckled, "At least we've got our own tower away from the world."

"Security will warn you if it detects activity on frequencies drones use." Mrs Wilson said.

"Let's go for a walk." Rick grunted, "Surely that's harmless."

"It still is a fairy tale." Will said as they strolled down to the village, "I'm not sure if you're Robin Hood or the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham, though."

"That's not a fairy tale." Rick retorted, "Besides, I take from the poor, do things I don't really understand so the poor get it back while I make money taking from the rich on the stock-market. Poor old Robin Hood would get a headache dealing with that lot."

They headed for the pontoon to be greeted by Charles, dressed in cut-off jeans and hi-vis top.

"Paul says I shouldn't be better dressed than Jimmy." Charles chuckled, "Dad would have a fit though."

"Will reckons you're overdressed, and I guess I do too, but we can't upset the tourists by having you work naked."

"I mentioned His Lordship appointing me secretary to the harbourmaster to Dad. He wants to know if he should send more suits."

"Just what you need. How do you get on with Tim and his friends?"

"No problems. Ask any holidaymaker, and they'll talk about how helpful they are. If you've got bags for a family and a couple tired kids, a free taxi service to the holiday camp or B & B is welcome. Their uncles seem OK too when they arrive. It's as if they've been briefed and only regulars just turn up." Charles paused, "It's Bovaline, there's probably a criminal check on them."

"I wouldn't be surprised." Rick chuckled, "This place gets weirder every day."

"Talking of weird, I take it you're worried about organised crime trying to move in. I know how to check bookings, and most are flagged as regulars. There's nothing wrong here."

"Yeah, Nothing wrong except I'm talking to this sexy hunk and I'm more worried about who's coming for us."

"Paul says I should make friends with someone my age. You're his age and off limits."

"I am Lord of the Manor, so maybe I can get you arrested and taken to the dungeon. I could play with you all I like then. I doubt we can do that sort of thing any more though."

"You sound like Sebastian now." Will laughed.

He might have said more but Jimmy joined them, waiting for the next ferry. Charles filled him in on the conversation.

"The taxman is always trying to figure the barter system, and we get more of them snooping around than anything. They might look like tourists, but they always look so serious and have a bag that seems especially important. We'll watch out for reporters, but they might be harder to spot if they're undercover."

Rick led Will over to Tim and a few other boys as Jimmy and Charles helped passengers off the ferry. A couple of the boys smiled in recognition and walked off with passengers. Others seemed to shrug and offered to act as guides. Rick saw a family, three children tired and irritable and a harassed mother, trying to deal with the luggage. Curious, he offered to help.

"Thanks." the mother said, "It's one reason I like coming here. You boys are so helpful. Janine had a temperature so, we've lost a few days of our booking, but the holiday camp people said they'd sort something."

She paused not expecting a young teen to be interested, and watched as Rick and Will loaded a car. None of the children were over ten-years old and were content to sit on the flatbed with the luggage. Rick got in the driver's seat and the mother watched but was content Rick knew where to go. Will followed on foot, arriving just as Rick was trying to refuse a tip.

"I know how it works." She said, "It's your holiday job so please take something."

Rick shrugged and took the money. It was part of the island economy, and other youngsters needed the money. Not taking it seemed to undercut them.

As Will and Rick drove back, Will said, "Holidaymakers don't know do they?"

"Not unless they want to." Rick replied, "I'm wondering about those taxmen snooping around. How many end up in Tim's clutches."

"Do you reckon?" Will asked.

"I don't know." Rick replied, "It's barter again. Adults let kids do it so what do they get?"

Meanwhile, Steve was impressed Ryan could speak fluent French.

"Shane and Vanessa don't bother but locals seem to like me trying. We spend most holidays here so it made sense to learn." Ryan said, "A good phrase is, 'Plus lentement si'l vous plait. Je suis Anglais'. It means: More slowly please. I am English, and some people will really take time to teach you."

"Just stay close." Steve said, "I'm a bit lost here."

"You'll be fine. Let's find Mum."

They were all staying at Ryan's family home which Robin claimed was in Cannes. In fact the town was just outside Cannes and inland so it was far less popular. Shane looked at Steve with undisguised hatred while, Vanessa found Steve far more interesting, not realising she could not compete with Ryan. Their mother just seemed lost. She stared at Sebastian, not recognising him and ignored Joe, their bodyguard. All three had cuts to their faces and Vanessa had some on her arms as well.

"Cousin Richard says you're all welcome to stay at Bovaline." Sebastian said, "Is there anything keeping you here?"

"The funeral?" Shane sneered, "Dad's right. You are a stupid old fool."

"So! You have explained that there is something keeping you here, your Dad is not going to be taken back to the UK and you're as horrible as everyone says you are." Steve said, "Thank you. That was a very helpful answer."

Everyone could see Shane struggling to control his temper. He could see Steve was laughing at him, but not understanding how, but snarled, "Dad's lawyers are going to take that fucking island and I'm going to sell it. You'll all be out then."

"Ah yes." Sebastian said, "There's the matter of the shares, but now isn't the time to discuss them. I'm more concerned about your mother."

"There's nothing wrong with the stupid cow."

"Yes, there is." Vanessa said, "You're just too stupid to see it. Can you help, Uncle Sebastian. Are we really going to live in a castle? Is Rick still gay? Maybe I could straighten him out. He'll have to get married some day."

Ryan stood up and hurried out of the room. Steve followed and Ryan grabbed him, hugging him tightly.

"God! Dad's dead, and they're still at it." he sobbed, "I wish we could stay at a hotel."

"I'll talk to Sebastian." Steve said, "If they do come back to Bovaline, Shane's going to spend a lot of time stuck in the mud, isn't he?"

Steve was pleased to see Ryan look up and giggle happily, but Shane rushed through the door to stare at them.

"God, more fags. What's wrong with this family?"

"Nothing a good mud bath won't cure." Steve replied.

Shane looked at him, again struggling to hold his temper.

"Sebastian wants you. He's found a letter from our lawyers. I bet it's saying I've inherited the castle."

"I'm sorry to bother you, Ryan, but your French is better than mine."

Back in the room, Ryan looked at the letter, reading it face screwed up with concentration.

"It's from the bank. 'Insuffisance de fonds': is that not enough money? 'De retenir les paiements': is that not paying someone? I don't get it." Ryan said, "Who's not paying?"

"I'm sorry Ryan, I forgot you're not used to business letters, but you've confirmed the keywords. If I read this correctly, Cousin Robin had insufficient funds in his account and the bank has stopped automatic payments — direct debits I think and standing orders. It wants someone to contact them." Sebastian turned to Hayley, Ryan's mother, "Would you like me to."

Hayley nodded, still not speaking and still just staring.

Sebastian found a telephone in the bedroom and spoke alone. When he returned, he said, "I need to go in. Ryan would you come too, please? And Steve. It may prove difficult but I think an immediate family member should go with me and you speak French."

When they reached the bank, they were shown into M. Gerrard's office where they sat down after making the introductions.

"It's a very sad affair." M. Gerrard said in excellent English, "My condolences to young M. Blatcherfield."

With four Blatchfields involved, could we use Christian names. It might be clearer." Sebastian said.

"Yes of course, I am Lucas. Robin's English bank had instructions to transfer funds here for local expenses. Unfortunately they stopped the transfers because of insufficient funds, and I've been unable to pay local creditors."

"I see." Sebastian said, "Robin's death is a shock for all of us. My priority is to see his family is provided for. It would embarrassing if they had no credit for food until the funeral."

"Let me see." Guillaume said, studying his computer, before looking up, puzzled, "Forgive me, but you are Sebastian Blatcherfield, Earl of Westmark, are you not?"

"I was, but we've found a young man with a stronger claim than mine and since I have no children, he takes precedence. Robin wanted to contest Richard's claim but the courts rejected it a couple of weeks ago."

"Ah! I'm not sure I fully understand, but he obtained credit by claiming his case was a foregone conclusion. There's still considerable respect for an English milord, but we've had phone calls from worried creditors."

"Very well. I'll speak to Richard, another Blatcherfield, and we'll see about settling accounts with local tradesmen. If I said it was a goodwill gesture, and we'll not accept responsibility for any wider debts, would that be acceptable?"

"It would be most generous. We're not exactly poor, but we're not Cannes, just close enough for the less rich to claim to live there. Many creditors are our customers, and they will be badly hit, so can I be of any further assistance?"

"It's probably not your job but I need a list of locals who need paying."

"I'd be delighted to help. Let me make some enquiries."

M. Gerrard watched them leave, noticing Steve's arm around Ryan's shoulder, pulling him close, and nodded, understanding. He had wondered why the older boy had been present and now he knew.

With Sebastian away, Rick was more in charge. Mrs Wilson guided him to sit behind the desk, what he thought of as Sebastian's desk, and there was another chair for Will. Before leaving, Sebastian had sent for Will.

"You understand the island is a complex organisation. Richard has made an excellent start but he needs help. You are far more studious, so you make more sense of the paperwork. It may help if you ask Mrs Wilson the dumb questions that Richard feels embarrassed about not knowing. I think I'm trying to say: don't let him bottle up problems. It's too easy to start thinking you should know and asking is a weakness. In time, he could need you, as I need Mrs Wilson, and she will retire one day."

Will nodded, "I get it. What about you? How's it going to affect your heart?"

"It'll be a break and I'll be more detached, so it should help. It'll also be a good time for Richard to get used to being in charge, so I may be able to sit in the background more when I return. Thank you for asking."

Will smiled. It still did not seem real that his best friend was an earl while Sebastian seemed part of the castle set-up. For his family, a shop manager was a toff to be treated warily while they cased the shop itself. He was aware, of his Uncle treating him more respectfully, and Will did not doubt he was still figuring out how to make money, but even when Will was out alone, islanders would sometimes call him: sir, while Sebastian spoke to him as he spoke to Rick. His love of reading was now useful and not a pansy thing real men didn't waste their time with, his love of Rick was something he could openly display, and he even had a role he could enjoy. Not so long before, his goals had been to avoid being beaten up, and finding a job that would keep him out of jail, in other words, away from his family's clutches, and he had certainly achieved that.

"I'll look after him." Will said, "There's something bothering me. How do I know I love Rick and not living here?"

"Possibly because you're asking the question, but there's another one. Could you still love Rick if you hated living here? I don't see Richard as university material, but have you considered it?"

"No. I could never afford it."

"There are grants and student loans but of course, you now have Bovaline to support you. I could see you as island historian and established in your own right. You're both fifteen and still developing. You might fall out of love, but I doubt it, though it's more likely if you feel trapped or you're not reaching your full potential. Don't feel bad if part of your love is the chances it offers you. Richard loves you, is coming to love his position as Lord of the Manor and so you have a shared loved of your prospects."

Will nodded, "I guess it seemed wrong to think about it all, and you're right. I love it here and the history."

"Richard chose well when he chose you and Steve as his friends. The island's in good hands."

Nothing much changed for the final few weeks of the summer holiday. He agreed with Sebastian that they should cover traders bills run up Robin's family though they disagreed on one bill.

"If the landlord has given notice to quit, then don't pay him." Rick said, "You were going to give notice after the funeral, but he's not giving them time to get over it. Fuck him."

"I understand the sentiment if not the language." Sebastian said, "It's your call and I don't totally disagree."

It was the day before funeral that Rick got a phone call from Jimmy.

"A couple of suits have just landed. You're not expecting anyone, are you?"

"No. What do the bookings say?"

"They're cash bookings so no name and it's odd. You'd expect the business to pay and there'd be a name. Tim and the guys are following them. It looks as if they're heading for the castle."

"OK! Will and I will head for the beach. We'll spot them or Tim, but let's see how they react to a little chasing around."

Rick was right. The two men in suits were easy to spot but Rick and Will wore T-shirt and shorts and were just another couple of tourists.

The men reached reception and asked to speak to the Earl of Westmark.

"Will you tell me what it's about, please?" the receptionist asked, "We don't disturb him unless we can't handle the query."

"Yes of course. It's to do with his mother. We have some insurance papers for him to sign."

"In that case, Mrs Wilson may be more helpful. His Lordship is only fifteen so a responsible adult has to sign papers."

One of the men looked at her angrily, but the spokesman said, "I see. We're used to explaining clauses to the person who is going to sign. Some of our clients have a thing about privacy, so we developed our own procedures."

"Just one moment." The receptionist looked at her computer. According to GPS his phone is on the beach. I'll phone him, but if he's swimming or playing volleyball, it's unlikely he'll hear."

Mr. Black the spokesman nodded, content to wait. His colleague Mr. Brown was a good subordinate but impatient for the confrontation.

"Yes My Lord. You have two visitors about the insurance you're arranging for your mother. Would you phone me back as soon as you get this message." The receptionist said before turning to the visitors, "It's gone to messages. I'm sorry, you should have been warned to make an appointment."

Mr. Black knew it was a waste of time, and he had been badly briefed. A mention of Rick's mother and insurance was perfectly reasonable, except ninety years of bad gangster movies gave it just a hint of threat. Their names, Mr. Black and Mr. Brown, were obviously phoney and once alone, just a little knuckling can seem menacing. A declaration saying he owed money could seem pretty harmless when there was enough air of menace. So how had it gone wrong?

To start with, he was sure he was being followed by a bunch kids, but that didn't make sense. Why would they? Then they were told the boy usually spent the morning in the office, so why did he choose today to disappear? He had been chosen for this job because he understood smashing the boy's kneecaps wouldn't work in this case. He saved it for a punter who lost more than he won, first the threat, then the first kneecap, another threat and the other kneecap. In this case, with receptionists and secretaries around it was too public, it needed a one off visit and something in writing. It was what these toffs understood. Except, his mark wasn't a toff but a boy playing on the beach.

"I understand." Mr. Black replied, "I was warned about appointments, but I was in the area and a boat trip with a bit of a sea breeze seemed very attractive. Maybe we'll just use the time to look around."

The receptionist handed him a brochure, "There's plenty to see. I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself."

As they headed out of the castle, Mr. Brown said, "What gives? We're not going back are we? We're not finished."

"See those kids over there? They're following us. I wasn't sure before but there's more of them now. There're cameras everywhere and our info was completely wrong. For fuck's sake the boy's only fifteen. He could sign over the whole fucking island but the paper would be worthless. I'd bet money he's one of that gang, but how do we do anything out here?"

"Mr. Absolom isn't going to be happy." Mr. Brown said."

"Islands and castles aren't going anywhere. That guy Blatcherfield had a good plan for the place and Mr. Absolom can be patient. He'll be OK."

Roger also saw the two men walking back through the village. He smiled to himself as he watched the boys following them, his nephew, Will, and Rick included. He did not know who they were but guessed from their demeanour what they were. Whatever they wanted, they had failed, and he was still safe. Both his cronies in the betting shop raid had been arrested, so it was safe to assume the police were looking for him which gave him a choice. He could give himself up, do a couple of years inside and get on with his old life, or spend the rest of life trapped on Bovaline. He was already feeling smothered by Mrs Dawson's fussing, but he was also getting older and fighting to keep his position back home was less attractive. He might still find a way of earning some real money but for now, observing a while longer made sense.

There was another advantage in staying quietly on the island: Will. From despising Will as a poofter letting the family down, Roger had come to appreciate sitting in the castle library with him. For Roger, it was a quiet place to study racing form while Will pored over ancient books, often discussing topics with Jeff, the head tour guide. He felt an increasing pride in his nephew, and a pleasure when Will took the time to explain what they were talking about, but it still nagged him. Where was the money in it?

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