Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 9

"Yes, it should be arriving about the end of July," Mum informed Dad.

"Er… I…" Dad spluttered.

"I think I'd better get a bottle of champagne," I said.

"I shouldn't bother," Mum stated. "I'm not drinking, and I think your father would be better off with a stiff whisky."

On that point, I agreed with Mum. To be quite honest, I could do with a stiff drink myself. The idea that I was going to be an older brother came as something of a shock.

"But how?" Dad asked.

"Dad, if you don't know how, I think it is time you and me had a talk."

Mum laughed, then told me to get the whisky, which I did. When I got back with the drinks, whisky for Dad and a fine brandy for me, Mum and Dad were talking about the details.

"Well, I missed my period last month, but at my age one starts to expect that to happen. The thing is, the last few days I have felt sick in the morning. I decided to go into see the gynaecological service in Chelmsford. Jenny had to go into Chelmsford, anyway, so I had a good excuse for the trip even if it turned out to be a false alarm."

"Which it wasn't," Dad observed.

"No, Mike, it wasn't. I had a pregnancy test, and it was positive. They then did a second just to confirm. They found a foetal heartbeat when they checked. The nurse reckoned I was six- to eight-weeks pregnant. Probably closer to eight than to six. They can't really tell without a scan, but at this stage there is not much to see, so I did not go for one."

The conversation continued for a bit. I could see that Dad, once he had got over the initial shock, was very happy with the situation. I was not sure how Mum felt — or how I felt, either. I'm nearly seventeen and shortly going to be having a baby brother or sister.

What I did know was that this development was going to mean some changes, not just to how things were but also to how things were planned. What about Mum's plan now to go to university? Would she even continue at college to finish her course?

One thing I was certain of, both Dad and Mum were happy.

Dad had told me not to say anything about the baby until they officially announced it. I found that a bit restricting when I was chatting to Joseph on the phone later. As a result, I decided to push Dad into making it official as soon as possible. However, in the end, I did not need to push.

When I got down to the kitchen on Sunday morning, Dad and Mum were seated at the table discussing who should be told and when.

"Well, I'll have to tell my brother," Dad stated, then pointed out to Mum that her sister already knew. Of course, letting Uncle Ben know would also mean letting Uncle Phil know. The question was: who else should they let know? The pair of them discussed options whilst I made a fresh pot of coffee and some toast. Eventually Dad asked my opinion.

"Look, if you tell only a few, you are bound to upset somebody. Put together an email flyer and let everybody know."

Dad and Mum looked at me with surprise, but after thinking about it for a few moments, they both agreed that it was the best way forward. So, Dad went to send out the email to friends and family. Fortunately, we had an email list of everybody who should be notified; it was the Christmas-card list.

Well, there had to be a snag, and, of course, there was. No sooner had Dad sent the email out than the phones started ringing. Both the landlines and Mum's and Dad's mobiles were ringing virtually nonstop all morning and into the afternoon. They were so busy accepting congratulations and answering questions about what they were going to do about the baby that I had to sort out lunch and the prep for dinner.

Fortunately, I did not have to cook dinner. Just after six, Dad came into the kitchen and told me to put the lot in the fridge; we were going out. He took us to a steak house on the road to Chelmsford, where we each had a nice steak dinner. I did, though, wonder why Dad had suddenly decided to take us out for dinner.

I got the answer when my phone went. It was Dad's agent, Bob, wanting to know where Dad was. He had tried both Dad's mobile and the landline but could not get either. It did not take me long to realise that both Mum and Dad had switched their phones off. After that, I switched my phone off.

Once we got back to the Priory, I got hold of Dad whilst Mum had gone up to change.

"Dad, why don't you give Mum the jewels now?"

"Johnny, they are not mine to give, they are yours."

"That, Dad, is a technicality," I protested. "They were your grandmother's, and you know what her intentions were. If she were still alive, she would give them to Mum, wouldn't she?"

Dad nodded. We spent a few more minutes discussing it, then we heard Mum coming down the stairs.

"Go on, Dad, get it sorted."

He smiled, then went off to the study. I went to the kitchen to make some drinks. Once they were made, I took the tray of drinks into the living room, where I knew Mum would be. I had just put the tray down on the coffee table when Dad came in with the box of jewels.

"Anne, as you know these were my Grandmother Olga's. They were passed to her from her mother, and so far as I know, they go back many generations. These are for you to keep and use, but to pass on to our daughter when she marries, and if we do not have a daughter, to the wife of our son when he marries."

He handed the box to Mum, who opened it and looked at the contents in amazement. For the next half hour or so, Dad had to explain the whole of the history of the jewels, or at least as much of it as he knew. He also had to supply a lot of family history, which it was clear Mum did not know.

"Michael Carlton, how come you've never told me you're descended from Russian princes?"

"We're not. Grandma Olga was from a minor branch of the family; her father was the younger son of a younger son."

"If you go back far enough you will find an elder son," Mum pointed out, then laughed.

The next hour or so was taken up in a discussion of what to do with the jewels. Mum pointed out that she did not go to the type of event where such pieces would be worn. Anyway, we needed somewhere to keep them safe. I suggested to Dad he would have to install a safe like the one he had in mother's house. That then required Dad to give Mum an explanation. In the end, though, they agreed that such an arrangement would probably not work here. As Dad pointed out, there was not a convenient chimney breast running up through any of our bathrooms. They finally decided to use one of the two safes Dad had got installed in the study. At least they would have to move the bookcase to get at one of them. The other was a floor safe under the rug by the window.

Monday, Lee had to drive over and pick me up from college. Mum's morning sickness finally kicked in, and she had been in no fit state to go into college in time for my early class, so I cadged a lift from Marcia. I was not going to use my moped as it was bloody cold and there was a forecast of snow. Unfortunately, Marcia's classes finished at two and I had a late class this Monday. I had asked Dad to pick me up, but he sent Lee.

According to Lee, as he started to drive me back, Dad was busy trying to get a script sorted for tomorrow's shoot.

"I didn't know he had a shoot tomorrow," I told Lee.

"Neither did your father," Lee replied. "Seems there was some sort of fuckup at the studio, so they have had to bring the shoot forward to tomorrow. It is either do it then or not till the middle of next month. The problem is that your father was planning on working on the script on Wednesday, so it would be ready for review at the script meeting on Friday for shooting next Tuesday."

"It sounds like chaos."

"At times, it is, Johnny. I'm not sure how your father managed before he got me working for him."

"I'm not sure he did manage. How are you finding working for Dad?"

"Bloody fantastic. I didn't think I would be able to get a job like this without going to university. Now I am production assistant to a TV personality and successful non-fiction author. My cousin Bert graduated last June; he got a first in English with media studies. Joined Channel 4. Spent the last four months delivering packages and making tea.

"Here I am, no qualification, and I have been on a live set three times in two weeks. Got told to handle the arrangements with the Dutch for the Easter shoot. By the way I'm going over with you for that."

"What Easter shoot?"

"Didn't you know about it?" I shook my head. "Your father is doing the commentary on a series for one of the Dutch TV channels. Most of it is green-screen work, so can be shot over here. However, they want some location shots of him in the Netherlands — four to six days of filming — so he has to go over there. He said he would only do it if they could arrange accommodation including you and your mother. This morning, he told me to get me added to the list of who is going over and also told me to sort out the timetable and how we get there and everything. He wants to drive over."

"When is this?"

"The week following Easter. You're off college," Lee said, as he missed the turn for the back road to the Priory and got onto the bypass. I commented on that but was told he had to pick up some printer supplies. Arthur had them in stock, but they were down at the new place.

"But Joseph was coming down that week."

"I know; there is accommodation arranged for you and Joseph. They have got a five-bedroom vakantie huis for us."

"What's a vakantie huis?"

"From what the girl on the phone said this morning, it is a cabin in a group of log cabins in the woods where the Dutch go for short breaks. Apparently, the one we've got is quite a luxury one. It's in some woods at a place called Beekbergen. The TV channel owns it, and it is used by their executives and stars. They sometimes use it as a set."

"Where's Beekbergen?"

"Not sure. Told it's close to Apeldoorn, but I don't know where that is, either. Suppose I should look it up. All I know is it is close to the highest waterfall in Holland."

"Do they have waterfalls in Holland? I thought it was all flat."

"Apparently they do; it is one of the locations for filming."

"Besides work, how's everything else going?"

"Other than not being able to train, good. Having the apartment is fantastic. It's good to have my own space."

"What's the problem with training, I thought you were training with Uncle Ben."

"I am, but it is a pain going over to Uxbridge; it's getting on for a two-hour drive. That's four hours travelling for a two-hour session. Anyway, the club is closing down soon. Ben was hoping to be able to set something up in the Stable House, but it's not worked out."

"I thought he was going to buy the railway workshops at the end of the sidings," I commented

"He's trying to, but it is going to take months to sort out. Even when he has bought them, they have to be converted. I need to find somewhere that I can put some mats down a couple of times a week for practice."

"Who would you train with?"

"Well, your uncle, of course, when he can get over. Then there is Joseph when he comes over, and Steven and Jim have expressed interest. Apparently, there used to be an Aikido club at the Methodist Hall that Jim went to, but it closed down a couple of years ago when the instructor moved. Then there's Simone; she's trained with one of Ben's students, as have the two girls working with Arthur."

I bet they have, they were all part of the Thompson/Porter family, and I knew from what Dad had said that Miss Jenkins had trained with Uncle Ben. Actually, Dad said that it was Miss Jenkins who got Uncle Ben started as a martial-arts teacher.

I was about to make a suggestion to Lee as to alternative places he could look at for a dojo when he turned into the parking area in front of Arthur's new place. Lee went in and came out a couple of minutes later carrying a small box, which he put on the back seat of the car.

As we drove off on the way to the Priory, I suggested he should talk to Jan, who ran the craft and art centre and see if he could use one of the small barns. I did not think she had anything planned for either of them till later in the year. Actually, from what she had said, I got the impression that even after June she would only be using one of the small barns. Lee said he would talk to her.

As we pulled into the yard, I noticed Simone's car was parked at the end of the Stable House, a fact I commented on to Lee. He glanced at the clock on the dash.

"She's a bit early," Lee responded. "We don't have to be there till seven."

"Where's there?"

"St. John's on the Sea. There is an organ recital on tonight; I've got tickets for it."

Lee dropped me by the back door, which was good as it was raining. He asked me to give the box from the back seat to Dad. I got it and took it in with me. Dad was in the study.

"Ah good, Lee picked up the supplies," he commented as I placed the box down on his desk.

"I thought you had got a pile of inks and stuff before Christmas."

"I did, Johnny, but I've had a lot of printing to do with all stuff I printed out for the Mayers trial and then printing copies of the scripts. Now, I need to print stuff out in duplicate so Lee can have a copy."

I did think about commenting he was being a bit old fashioned, reading printouts rather than on screen, then realised that I did the same with anything complicated or technical.

"By the way," Dad continued. "We need to have a chat about the yard."

"What about it?"

"Well, do you still want the trust to buy into it for you?"

"God, yes."

"Well, that is what we need to discuss. Martin has emailed me with a lot of things we need to make a decision on."

I had homework to deal with so said I was going up to get that dealt with now, but that I would talk to Dad after dinner.

Actually, it was a good hour after dinner that I got to talk with Dad. The homework took me longer than I expected, and I still had quite a bit to do when Mum called me down for dinner. Had to apologise to Dad and go back up to finish it off before I saw him.

When I did get down to see him, Dad suggested I get a couple of Grolsch out of the fridge. I did. The fact he wanted to have a beer with our chat indicated it was serious. When I got back to Dad's study, he was seated in one of the armchairs. He indicated that I should take the other.

"What's up?" I asked. Handing him a bottle of Grolsch. I popped the cap on my bottle and took a swig from it. I had not bothered to bring glasses.

"I wanted to talk to you about your trust buying into the yard. Now, with Steve in control, in any event, do you still want to do so?"

"Yes, why? Can't the trust afford it?"

"Oh, the trust can afford it; at least, it can from a capital perspective. It is just cash flow that is a bit of a problem. We probably need to act fairly fast on this, and at the moment, there is just not the spare cash in the trust."

"Look, Dad, I know Uncle Bernard went over the trust with me last year, but he never really got into finances. Just how much is there?"

"Well, Johnny, the trust owns five companies, which between them own property worth in the region of thirty to forty million pounds, though the purchase value of the properties, as shown on the books is just over twenty-five million." I think I must have gasped at that information. Uncle Bernard had given me an outline of the trust and that it held property that my Uncles Ben and Phil used for their businesses. He had also explained why they had put the properties into the trust. What he had not told me was the amount involved. I had thought it was probably a couple of million, maximum.

"What you need to understand Johnny is that most of the properties in the trust are pretty heavily mortgaged. In fact, the trust has about twenty million of commercial mortgage that it has to service. This means that most of the income we get from rents from the business occupying the property is taken up paying off the mortgages. Then there are the upkeep and maintenance charges, not to mention the professional charges for running the trust."

"I'd forgotten what Uncle Bernard charges," I commented.

"Johnny, Bernard does not charge for doing the administration of the trust. It would be a conflict of interest, given he is one of the trustees. The administration of the trust has been given to a specialist firm he knows up in Watford. It costs just over two grand a month, which Bernard assures me is reasonable given the size and complexity of the trust."

"So, what's left?" I asked.

"On present estimates, about one-hundred-and-fifty thousand a year. Twenty-five grand of that is earmarked for your 'reasonable expenses', like your allowance. Bernard suggested, and I agreed, that twenty grand should be put into a reserve account for emergencies; that leaves about a hundred grand that can be used for investment, like in Steve's yard. The thing is, the trust has only been fully running for half a year, and at the moment, we only have about fifty grand in reserve. So, if we are going to try and buy into Steve's yard, we will need to borrow the rest until the next lot of rent receipts come in on Lady Day."

"What about the money from mother's insurance?"

"Johnny, that is not likely to be paid out until after the inquest is finished. That could take ages."

"Why's that? Anyway, when is the inquest?" I asked.

"The insurance company have refused to pay out on the coroner's Certificate of Evidence of Death. That, of course, is their right. They are insisting on a full death certificate. That can't be issued until the inquest is finished. The coroner opened one last week and immediately adjourned it for police enquiries. It could be months before they are finished."

"So, I do not have the money to buy into the yard. Why the hell did Uncle Bernard suggest it in the first place?"

"Oh, you have the money, it is just the case that you do not have it as liquid funds at the moment. As Bernard pointed out to me, either I or Bernard could easily loan you what you need till the funds come in on Lady Day."

"You've been speaking with Uncle Bernard."

"Yes, he phoned me this afternoon; this is one amongst other matters he wanted to sort out with me."

"What were the other matters?"

"Well, there was the situation with Tyler, where you have also said you want to invest, and there were some things about my funding of this place."

"No problems, I hope?"

"No, Johnny, everything is fine, though I will have to do a bit of creative accounting to move funds from one tax year to another if I am going to be able to afford everything."

"You're not getting into tax evasion, are you?"

"No, in fact I may end up paying slightly more tax than I would if I did not move funds around. It is a question of not getting a big tax hit this tax year, when it would hit my cash flow. Far better to put the income into the next tax year and have it taxed there. By then, my cash-flow situation should be a lot better.

"Anyway, back to your situation. You still want to buy into the yard and invest into Tyler's project?" I nodded my head. "Right, I'll speak to Bernard tomorrow, and he can arrange something with Zach so the funds are available for you to do so."

"Talking about Tyler, I've not seen him around for a bit."

"You know, I've haven't, either." We looked at each other, then stood up and went to see the one person who, no doubt, would know what was going on. She was in the lounge reading.

"Mum, any idea what Tyler's up to? We haven't seen him around for a bit."

"He went up to Town last week for a meeting with Zach — something to do with the finances for his new business — and is staying there for a few days. His girlfriend is in Town. He said he would be back at the weekend."

Well, that explained Tyler's absence. He was with his girlfriend. It suddenly occurred to me that except for Trevor, none of us had ever seen or met her. I made a mention of it to Dad. Even Arthur had not met her, and he had been on the same island.

"I know, but it seems she has a fairly busy job and is travelling a lot of the time," Dad informed me. "They just have to get together as and where they can."

"What's her job?"

"You know, I don't know. Tyler's never said."

That led to Dad saying he needed to talk to Matt about the progress on Tyler's offices and those for Dad's production company. From what I had seen, both seemed to be coming along. I would be glad when they were finished as it would also mean my workshop would be finished and I could get my stuff set up.

Mum's morning sickness became a bit of a problem over the rest of the week. Fortunately, she did not have too many early classes, so did not miss that much. I did have early classes, so ended up having to scrounge a lift into college from Steven. His Uncle George had given him a car to use. Technically, it was one of the auction-house cars and had the auction-house name on the side. Steven's uncle had put Steven on the payroll, and the lad went in to help his aunt Grace in the office on auction days and in the afternoon sometimes after class.

Simone had the same timetable as I had. She also seemed to have numerous reasons for visiting the Priory, all of which boiled down to Lee. As a result, I was often able to get a lift home with her. That was convenient as it meant that Mum was able to attend the late sessions of the classes she had missed in the morning.

Friday, I had to get home early as Martin had phoned earlier in the week and asked if it was possible to get a meeting with Dad and me. He also wanted Steve along. Fortunately, Simone was able to give me a lift home. It turned out that she was picking up Lee, and the pair of the pair of them were going over to the martial arts club in Uxbridge. Seems that Uncle Ben was doing a grading course over the weekend, and they were both attending.

I made a comment about the cost of hotel rooms but was informed that there was only one room required and it was in one of Aunt Edith's hotels, anyway. The impression I got was that most of the participants in the course would be members of Miss Jenkins' family.

When we got to the Priory, I invited Simone in for a cup of coffee. Good job I did, as Lee was ensconced in the study with Dad going through a pile of papers. It turned out that Dad had a film shoot on Monday, and Lee would not be back till late Sunday, so they had to finalise everything today before Lee went off for the weekend.

Lee had not been gone long when Martin arrived, followed a few minutes later by Steve. We decided to hold our meeting in the lounge as it was decidedly cold today and there was a warm fire blazing in the hearth.

"I had a phone call from John Munroe on Wednesday. As expected, they had received papers from Broden and Dunstar acting for George Hamden, Jr., and his brother, challenging the will. It seems the two sisters had chosen not to be part of the action. In the meantime, I had written to the family stating that as you, Steve, now controlled the yard, you had no interest in buying the rest of the shares held by the family for the figure set in the agreement. I also stated that there was a third-party buyer who would be interested in the rest of the shares at a price subject to valuation. I believe you had a visit from a valuer on Monday, Steve?" Martin said while he was sorting his papers out.

"Yes, I did," Steve stated. "Munroe and Claymore sent him."

"They would need to for probate," Martin said. "They have not received the written valuation yet, but John told me he has spoken to the valuer, who had indicated that the valuation would be under one-hundred-and-fifty thousand."

"That seems a bit low," Steve commented.

"It probably is," Martin responded. "However, you need to keep in mind that the chandlery is excluded from the valuation, as that is yours, not the company's. Also, most of the modern equipment in the yard is also excluded; it is either yours or it is on lease. It seems, according to what John said, that the valuer had discounted most of the equipment in the yard, saying it is not suitable for modern boat building or repairs, so has little residual value in a working yard."

"But it's vital for the type of work we do," I stated.

"Yes, it is, Johnny," Steve commented. "However, we are probably the only yard left in the area that can work on wooden or steel-hulled boats. All the other yards are working with fibreglass or other composites."

"But we can do that," I replied.

"Yes, but most of the equipment for that is either mine or leased."

"But that means—" I started to say.

"What it means, Johnny, is that the maximum the trust is likely to pay out to buy the rest of the shares is around sixty-eight-thousand pounds," Martin said. "In fact, I think it is likely to be a lot less."

"Why?" Dad asked.

"The valuer has valued the yard essentially as a brownfield site. As such, the value reflects its potential for redevelopment," Martin informed us. "It seems that George Hamden, Jr., had an application for outline-planning permission to change the usage of High Marsh from commercial and industrial to residential housing. It went before the planning committee on Tuesday."

"How did it go?" Steve asked.

"Was turned down," Martin replied. "Whoever did the application either was taking George Hamden, Jr., for a ride or did not know what they were doing."

"What makes you think that?" Dad asked.

"The whole of the marsh including High Marsh and Long Creek is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is virtually impossible to get a change of use for any SSSI," Martin explained. "I can't understand how anybody expected to get a change of use for them."

"I can." We all looked at Steve, waiting for an explanation. He continued. "I've known that the marsh was an SSSI for ages. There was some talk about draining it and building a housing estate there years ago, but it got blocked because of its status. I do not think it occurred to anybody around here that High Marsh and Long Creek were included."

"They would have to be," Dad stated.

"Explain?" I asked.

"Johnny, Long Creek supplies the landward drainage for the marsh. If it was not there, the marsh would quickly become a lake. High Marsh is the barrier which maintains Long Creek as a free drain for the marsh. Without High Marsh the marsh would quickly encroach on Long Creek and block it, which would lead to it becoming much more of a lake rather than a tidal marsh.

"Long Creek and High Marsh had to be included in the designation to protect the Marsh. Any variation in their usage could detrimentally affect the marsh."

"Where does all this leave us?" Steve asked.

"I'm not sure where it will leave us," Martin stated. "Things are still a bit up in the air there. However, I believe it is going to leave Mr. George Hamden, Jr., in a bit of a mess. He was banking on being able to develop the High Marsh for executive waterside housing. Now all he has is a pile of undevelopable land.

"John informed me that Broden and Dunstar were supplied with copies of the supplementary papers that old George had drawn up, which support the current will. I've seen those papers and, given their contents, I do not think any court would overturn the will. If Broden and Dunstar have not already advised their client to drop their action, I think they will do so on Monday, at the latest.

"My advice is that the moment we know that the action has been withdrawn, which should be by the middle of next week at the latest, and the written valuation has been received, which Munroe and Claymore are obliged to make known to all parties, we make an offer on behalf of the trust for the shares."

"How much?" Dad asked.

"I suggest we go in at fifty-thousand. My expectation is the trust will end up paying just over sixty. However, Steve, Bernard has asked me if you are still happy with the trust buying the shares. At the expected valuation, if you like, we could put together a deal for you to buy them in your own right."

"No. Martin, I don't want to take on more debt. Got enough as it is. All I want is to get the Hamden family out of the yard. Having Johnny buy in, albeit through the trust, is the ideal solution."

"I believe they are now styling themselves as Elmchurch, not Hamden," Martin stated. "If that is how you want it, Steve, we'd better get it sorted out. Mike, I have some papers for you to sign to authorise the trust to make the bid on behalf of Johnny."

Steve confirmed with Martin that he was not required for anything else. I then showed him out, confirming with him as I did that I would be at the boatyard in the morning. As I was showing Steve out of the back door, a black Honda Civic pulled into the yard. It was a car I did not recognise, but it must be someone connected with the house who had to either know the gate code or have one of the remote controls for the gate to get them to open. Otherwise, they had to use the intercom to get let in, and I had not heard that buzz.

My puzzlement over the vehicle was answered when I saw Tyler getting out of it.

"New car?" I asked.

"No, it's Jenny's, but she's never in the country long enough to use it," Tyler answered.

"Then why did she buy it?"

"She didn't. It was given to her as part of the promotion she did for the dealers. They wanted her to be seen driving it around. Been stuck in a garage in Hammersmith for the last year and a bit. The storage was costing a fortune, so she added me to the insurance and told me to make use of it."

It occurred to me who Jenny must be. There had been a big advertising campaign on the television about a year ago. A really fantastic-looking woman with Oriental features had been driving the car around locations in Europe. I did not think her name was Jenny, though; something more like Mai Li.

When I mentioned this to Tyler, he confirmed that it was Jenny. The name I remembered was one that had been used for the adverts, not her real name, which was Jenny Wong. Jenny was Sino-Caribbean. Her family were from Jamaica, though she had grown up in Crouch End district of London. Apparently, Tyler had met her at dance school, and they had subsequently worked on a couple of films and a lot of TV adverts together.

"She was in the coffee adverts that we did in the States," Tyler informed me. "Now the agency behind the adverts wants to recreate them for the European market. Been in meetings with them all week. Jenny flew in to attend them, but she had to fly out to Madrid today. She's got a major fashion shoot on."

I persuaded Tyler to come into the house for a coffee. I was going to make one as I was sure Martin could do with one. I certainly could. I rather suspected Dad would want tea. Tyler did say he needed to unload the car as he had a pile of shopping in the boot, but I pointed out to him that coffee would not take that long, and I could give him a hand unloading the shopping. It was then I realised there was no vehicle access to Tyler's apartment. Only a paved path from the end of the yard, around the guest wing, then down the side of the building. I decided I should mention the problem to Dad. It would not take much to extend the front drive round to Tyler's place. It would mean he would be able to park at the side of it and not take up parking space in the yard.

When we got into the kitchen, Martin was just about to leave, so he declined the offer of a coffee, saying that Marcia would have one waiting for him. Dad joined Tyler and me at the kitchen table, and, surprisingly, had a coffee rather than tea.

Dad asked Tyler how things were going with buying the business.

"Well, Mike, everything is in place to buy it. I had a meeting with Zachary on Monday to go over the figures. Zach's managed to arrange all the finance that I require, though some of it is costing a bit more than I would have liked to pay, but it is doable. It is now a matter of due diligence. Zach is dealing with that for me. It looks as if the whole thing is going to cost a lot less than I thought."

"Why's that?" I asked.

"Zach was able to do some negotiations while he was in New York. Turned out he knew the owners of the property that Jack and Sue are renting. It also turned out they had some potential tenants for the property who wanted to be in as soon as possible. In fact, they were prepared to buy out Jack and Sue's lease to get in. That means that Jack and Sue need a lot less to get out of the business with no loss. We don't have a final figure yet — a lot is going to depend on the final stock valuations — but Zach reckons that I will only require about one and a half million in finance."

"So, when will you be taking it over?" Dad asked.

"I'm aiming for the beginning of March, if possible. Matt told me the offices will be ready next week, so I can start getting them kitted out. I am going to be looking for staff next week with a view of them starting in February. Then I can spend March getting them trained."

"Don't you start work on The Dodge in March?" Dad asked.

"Yes, but I only have four days' filming in March, and that is two days at the end of one week and two days at the end of the following week, so I should be OK for March. April is going to be a bit of a pain. I'm required on set nearly every day. Hopefully by then, I will have them trained up, so everything will be running. That's if everything goes ahead according to plan."

"So, what is the plan?" I asked.

"Basically, I set up a new UK company to take over the operational business. From the beginning of March, all new hires will be done through the website and booked via the UK company. Jack and Sue will send the stuff out from New York, but any returns will come here. By our calculations, a good eighty percent of the stock will be out on hire by the end of April, when the official transfer of the business will take place. That means the amount of stuff that will have to be packed up and shipped over will be reduced.

"Fortunately, I am not scheduled for any shoots for The Dodge in May, have two weeks at the start of June, then I am off till the next series. Start filming Snowball the last week in June. That is going to be fairly full time till August, but by then I hope the staff here will be up to speed."

"What are you doing about staff?" Dad asked.

"I've sorted the main staff I need; they are a husband-and-wife team. both experienced camera operators, so they know the kit. They were working on That Woman's Son."

"If they are experienced camera operatives, I am surprised you can afford them," Dad stated.

"If they had wanted camera-operative wages, I couldn't," Tyler admitted. "They are both in their late fifties and want to pack in freelancing camera work. They bought a house near Purleigh last year and were looking to retire. I think they have a nice little retirement fund. However, the idea of sitting around all day with nothing to do terrifies them. So, helping run this business is ideal for them. Although they are going to be earning a lot less, what they are getting is basically pin money for them. Zach suggested I make them both directors and given them a small holding in the company with an option to get more over time. His idea is that we get them to buy into the company with their expertise, which we need."

"Is that doable?" Dad asked.

"Yes, it will mean I will have to reduce my shareholding to just under fifty-percent, but it will still leave me the largest shareholder."

Dad and Tyler continued to talk about the business, I got up and started to do some prep for dinner. I had just got it finished when Mum got in. Dad and Tyler were still talking, so Mum suggested that Tyler should join us for dinner, an offer he accepted, but he did say he had to unload his shopping. That is when I remembered to mention to Dad about extending the front drive so that Tyler could drive up to his place. Dad said it was a good idea, but he would have to speak to Matt about it and get some costings. Tyler said he would pay for it as it was for his benefit.

It did not take much effort to unload Tyler's car, though by the time we did, I could appreciate the need for vehicle access to Tyler's apartment. Once done, we went back to the house and sat in the warmth of the kitchen. Mum had put the chicken masala I had prepared in the oven to cook. The scent of it was filling the room and making us both quite hungry.

Fortunately, it was not long before dinner was ready. Well, I had done most of the cooking along with the prep. It just took fifteen to twenty minutes to finish off in the oven whilst the rice was being cooked.

Over dinner, Tyler got interrogated by Mum about his week in London and his girlfriend. It turned out that she would be coming to stay with him for a couple of weeks in February.

"She's in Madrid for five days for a fashion shoot, then she is off to Paris for another shoot," Tyler told Mum. "After that she is booked for London Fashion week, which starts on the 20th of Feb. So, her present plan is to fly back on the 1st or 2nd and come and stay with me. I'm hoping she can stay till the 14th as I would like to take her out for a Valentine's dinner, but you never know, she could get a job come in at any time."

"Any special reason for the Valentine's dinner?" Mum asked.

"Anne, don't pry," Dad instructed. Tyler just laughed.

Just after seven, Joseph phoned. He was on the train to Southminster and was asking if somebody could pick him up. I asked Dad if he could run me to Southminster to pick up Joseph, but Tyler volunteered to take me over. Said it gave him an excuse to give the car a run. On the run, Tyler mentioned that he had to get his website translated into Spanish.

"Who's doing it?" I asked.

"The web developers I'm using have their own people to do the site translation. The problem I'm going to have is dealing with any enquiries in Spanish. I'm going to have to get some part-time help who speaks Spanish. I've got French and German covered, using the same crew that did it for Jack and Sue, but Sue was doing their Spanish translation as she's fluent in the language."

"There's a lad at college who is a native Spanish speaker. I could ask if he would be interested in any part-time work."

"Could you? It would be useful. There won't be any work till late March or April, but after that, I could do with somebody doing a couple of hours a day to deal with anything that comes in Spanish."

"He's from Uruguay, so it will be South American Spanish," I commented.

"Actually, Johnny, that might be better. There is a big film industry in Latin America and quite a bit of business there."

I entered a reminder in my phone to speak to Antonio on Monday and see if he would be interested. It seems that we had very similar timetables. Nearly every time I went over to Marge's, he would either be there or come in shortly after. Actually, thinking about it, he nearly always came in shortly after me.

Joseph's train was on time, which was unusual. I met him with a kiss by the ticket barrier, which resulted in some disapproving looks. As we made our way to Tyler's car, Joseph told me we should be more careful, that we should not upset people.

"Why not?" I asked. "They upset me with their bigoted attitude." Joseph looked at me like a boy would look at a disobedient puppy. He did not, though, make any comment.

On the drive back to the Priory, Joseph informed me that he would have to get an early train home on Sunday. He would be leaving shortly after lunch.

"Why?" I asked, a bit disappointed. I had hoped we could get some sailing in.

"Got some geography homework to do. I have to do some practical observations on the Heath, so need to get back whilst it is daylight. It is due first period on Monday."

I made a comment about doing it during the week, only to be informed that he had been down in Kent this week, commuting into Town daily. Apparently, Aunt Debora thought it would be easier to nurse Uncle Bernard down there.

"Is it?" I enquired.

"No. That's why we are relocating to the London house this weekend. At least he will be in easy messenger distance of the office."

"I thought Martin was covering the office for him," I commented.

"He is, but you know Dad, he wants to be in charge."

Although I was disappointed that Joseph would be going back to London early on Sunday, the weekend in general went well. We did manage to get some sailing in on the Saturday. I went into the yard to open the chandlery on Saturday morning, leaving Joseph sleeping. I am not sure it was worth opening as there was no business. Steve came in at midday to do some tidying up and admin work. Joseph arrived shortly after. When he did, Steve suggested we take out a dinghy that had been re-rigged, for a test sail. I was not very happy with the new rig, as I told Steve, but he pointed out that it was what the owner wanted, so it was what the owner got. He also expressed the opinion that the owner was an idiot for changing the rigging from its original format.

Sunday morning, we spent mostly in bed, with Joseph cuddled up against me, my arm around him. This is some of my favourite time with him. Do not get me wrong. I love sex with Joseph, and we have some great sex at times, as we had proved to each other Saturday night. However, at times it is nice just to lie in bed with your lover cuddled up at your side.

Comfortable as it was, we did need to get up around ten-thirty for brunch at eleven. As Joseph had to leave early, Dad had decided on doing a brunch rather than a breakfast and a lunch. Dad had also arranged for Lee to drive Joseph to the station. Lee was meeting his parents for the afternoon and going to the station would not take him too far out of his way.

It was a rather happy Lee who came over to the house just before twelve to see if Joseph was ready to leave. When he came into the kitchen, he thanked me for suggesting that he speak to Jan about the small barns.

"It worked out then?" I asked.

"Yes. Jan does not have any plans at the moment for the small barn at the far end of the outbuildings, she doesn't intend to start looking at that till later in the year, so she says I can use that till the end of June. She's not even charging us. That should give Ben more than enough time to get the railway workshops sorted. I sent Ben an email about it yesterday, and he phoned this morning to let me know he has ordered the mats for the place. They should be delivered sometime next week. Once they are in place, I can get something started."

"I'm surprised she's not charging you," Dad commented from his place by the stove.

"I think it is because Ben's got a couple of fight scenes to direct, and he wants to do the training for them down here. He told me to tell Jan that he would want to rent at least four of the apartments for two separate weeks."

Dad laughed at the news and observed, "I suppose that means we will have to accommodate my brother."

"Probably," Lee replied. "I have made a note in your diary about it."


That said, Lee set off to take Joseph to the station. I decided to go for a walk around the grounds. Mainly I intended to see how Steven and Jim were getting on with the nursery. It was something of a surprise when I got to the walled garden to find Jim working alone in the glasshouse.

"No Steven?" I asked as I entered.

"He's not feeling too well. Upset stomach," Jim replied. "Told him to stay in bed."

"Shouldn't you have stayed with him?"

"Can't, much as I would have liked to. These need to be pricked out and potted on," Jim stated, indicating the seed tray in front of him, which was full of green shoots. He was putting each shoot into a cell in a multi-cell tray. "With a bit of luck, we should have these grown into nice plants by Easter. They will sell for a fiver each."

"But what if Steven needs you?"

"He's got his phone and I've got mine," Jim replied. We chatted a bit more, and it was arranged that I would call in to check on Steven on my way back to the house. Jim admitted that he was worried about leaving him so long, but if they did not get the potting on sorted out today, they would not be able to do it till next week, which could mean losing the whole tray. Jim called Steven to let him know I would be calling in, then told me the door was unlocked, so I should go straight in. Steven was still in bed.

When I got to Steven's apartment he was, as Jim had said, still in bed. To me, he looked pretty bad, and Steven admitted that he felt a lot worse than he had a couple of hours ago when Jim went to do the potting on. He was complaining about a pain in the centre of his abdomen and nausea. Steven admitted to having been sick twice since Jim had gone out, though he had not told Jim. He also told me that the pain he had been feeling in his stomach had now moved, down to his right-hand side. That rang a bell with me, and I did not like what I was seeing as it was clear that Steven had a high temperature. Unfortunately, Steven did not have a thermometer that I could use to check. I knew we had one in the house, so told Steven that I would be back shortly and went to get it.

When I got to the house, Mum was in the kitchen, so I asked her where the thermometer was. She wanted to know why I wanted it, so I told her about Steven.

"That does not sound good," she stated. "Look, get the first-aid bag from the utility room, can you? I'll just put this lot in the fridge and come over with you."

I keep forgetting that Mum is a member of St John's Ambulance and has advanced first-aid training. By time I got back with the first-aid bag, Mum had packed all the food away and had her coat on. She was just telling Dad that she was going to check on Steven.

It took Mum about ten minutes to decide that Steven needed a doctor. It then turned out that he was not registered with a local doctor. He was still with the one from Southmead from when he lived at home. That resulted in Mum phoning Peter for some advice, and that resulted in Peter calling an ambulance. I was sent to get Jim from the glasshouse. That was where the problems started.

By the time that Jim and I got back to the apartment, the ambulance was just pulling up. The paramedics confirmed what Mum had suspected: possible appendicitis. Given that the ambulance call had been from Dr. Lovell, they wasted no time in getting Steven ready to be transported to the hospital. However, Jim could not go in with him, as he was not an immediate relative.

By this time, Jim was really worked up. Mum told him not be stupid and to calm down; then she said she would drive him in as he was in no fit state to drive. I was told to lock everything up and to tell Dad it was up to him to sort out dinner. The ambulance left, followed by Mum with Jim in her car. I locked up then went to find Dad. He was in his study and appeared to be deep into whatever it was he was doing. So deep in fact, that he did not notice me when I opened the study door. I decided not to disturb him and took over making dinner myself.

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