Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 26

"You recognised someone?" Neal asked.

"Yes, him, that's the Master," Colin stated, pointing at the picture of a man in his late fifties or early sixties. Neal picked the photo up and turned it over.

"It's an unknown, copied from the CCTV," he handed it to Maddie. As he did, I got a good look at the photo and took a sharp intake of breath.

"Do you know him, Johnny?" Neal asked in response to my reaction.

"Yes, he visited mother a number of times," I told him. "His name is Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar."

"That is almost certainly a pseudonym," Colin stated.

"What makes you think that?" Maddie asked.

"Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar is the name of El Cid," Colin replied.

"How come you know that?" I asked.

"Grandma was Spanish. She always was telling me tales of El Cid when I was younger. Mum did, as well, till she died. The Master is Spanish, though."

"How do you know?" Maddie asked.

"I heard him speaking Spanish a couple of times to the crew on the boat; the boat had a Spanish name, too."

"You did not tell the police that," Neal said.

Colin looked at him puzzled, no doubt wondering how Neal knew what he had said to the police. "They did not ask."

"Typical of Manley, always missing the important issue," Maddie commented.

"Unless he already knew," Neal pointed out.

"That's possible; he has sources we don't know about. Colin, what was the name of the boat?"

" La Reina des Espadas," Colin replied.

"The Queen of Swords," Maddie said.

"I did not know you spoke Spanish," Neal said.

"Did it at GCSE," Maddie stated. "That was enough of it for me.

"Do you recognise any of the other photos, Colin?"

Colin looked at the photos again.

"That's Master James," he stated, pointing to one of the photos. "And that is Blackie; can't see Master Hans though."

I looked the photograph that Colin had identified as Blackie. Somehow it seemed familiar. There was this feeling that I should know the man, but I could not place him.

"Well, we know Master James; we put him in prison," Neal stated. He picked up the photo identified as Blackie and turned it over. "This is Daniel Talbot; Solomon identified him."

"I suppose we'd better let Manley know about the identification?" Maddie said.

"I think Aunty will want to let Manley know and we will probably have to do it, but we do not have to do it today. Let's speak to Aunty first."

Maddie nodded. "Colin, I don't suppose you can describe the flag the boat flew."

"Never saw it flying; it was always furled when we went out to the boat. I could see that it had blue and white stripes," Colin said.

"Light blue, sky blue or dark blue?" Neal asked.

"More sky blue, I think."

"Were they horizontal or vertical?"

"Horizontal," Colin replied. "Why?"

"Trying to work out which flag it was," Neal replied. "Were they broad or narrow stripes?"

"Narrow."

Neal just nodded.

"Any idea?" Maddie asked.

"It could be Greek, but with a Spanish name, I doubt it; more likely to be one of the South American countries. My guess would be Uruguay, but without knowing what the symbol is in the upper-hoist canton, I can't be sure.

"Look, we'd better get a move on if we are to get back to Town at a reasonable time. Colin, thanks for what you've told us; it's been very useful. Johnny, I'll text you later once I'm home, though it is likely to be late, so you may not see it till the morning."

With that, Maddie and Neal left. I heard Mum asking them if they wanted to stay for dinner as they went through the kitchen, but Maddie declined the invitation, saying that they were due to meet Aunty.

Mum came through to the living room to tell Colin that he was staying for dinner and that Arthur and Trevor would be joining us. She also told me that Dad and Lee were on a conference call, so dinner would be at least an hour away.

Dinner was fairly quiet. I got the feeling everybody wanted to say something, but nobody wanted to be the first to say it. However, Dad did make it clear to Colin that there was no problem with him staying with Trevor and Arthur as long as they did not object.

After dinner, Colin went off over to the Stable House apartment with Trevor and Arthur. Dad said he needed to speak with me about developments. So, we went to his study.

"It looks as if Bernard's gambit is working," Dad told me.

"What gambit?" I asked.

"The one over applying to the court in London over the rights to John's book. The university has come back and said that they are prepared to waive all claims in return for twenty-five-thousand dollars."

I laughed. "I bet Uncle Bernard's turned them down."

"Yes, how did you know?"

"It's obvious; they've just realised that they are on a losing side. If I had been Uncle Bernard, I would have pushed for costs."

We spent a bit of time going over a number of issues relating to my trusts. The main thing was to review which trust was paying for what.

"Wouldn't it be easier to unite them all into one trust?" I asked. "After all, you and Uncle Bernard are trustees of every one of them."

"Not quite, but we soon will be," Dad stated. "Actually, I suppose it would be easier if we united them. I will have to speak to Bernard about it."

There being nothing else to discuss, I went up to my room and phoned Joseph. I had not been able to get him last night. When I had phoned, it had gone straight to voice mail. He had texted me later to say he was at a school event. Tonight, he answered almost on the first ring.

"Was just about to phone you," he stated when he answered.

"What happened last night?"

"Got pulled in as a reserve for the for the year-eleven quiz team," he replied.

"How did you do?"

"We won, more by luck than anything else."

"How so?"

"Three of the starter questions were related to architecture, and I got them all." He sounded quite pleased with himself.

Joseph spent the next twenty minutes giving me a question-by-question account of the event. I gathered he had not done badly in the quiz. Once that was exhausted, I told him about Colin and events here. He was most interested.

"So, there is another waif and stray in residence," Joseph said.

"It's only temporary," I pointed out.

"Johnny, your father tends to collect them, he got you to start with," Joseph laughed. "Then there was Arthur, Trevor, Lee …"

"You forgot yourself," I pointed out.

"Good point, but I think that proves my case."

"How are things with your parents?"

"Well, at least they are speaking now," Joseph said. "For the time being, Dad is living in London and Mum is staying in the Kent house. I'm not sure if they are going to get back together again anytime soon, but at least they are not going for divorce, at least not immediately. Micah tells me Granddad is really upset. Apparently, Mum is not taking his calls."

"Serves him right," I commented.

It was way past eleven before we finished our call. We only stopped then because Joseph remembered he had school in the morning. Unlike me, he only had two weeks' Easter vac. That reminded me that I had an exam in the morning.

Fortunately, I had already arranged for Dad to take me into college. Better still, the exam did not start till ten, so a late night was not that much of a problem, though I still felt as if I could do with another hour in bed when I got up Wednesday morning. On the way into Southmead, Dad told me that Lee would be picking me up at twelve-thirty, which was a good job; it was chucking it down with rain.

The exam was tougher than I expected, not in what it was asking me to do. The pieces I had to make were relatively simple. A four-sided box with a solid base and fitted top. Each of the joints had to be done using a different joint type. The thing that was the problem was the time. Two-and-a-half hours may sound like plenty of time but not when you have to select your wood, prepare it, make the joints, assemble it and finish it. I think I was the only one taking part who got around to sanding down the piece I had made.

I spoke to Miss Cooke about it after all the exam pieces had been collected up.

"To be honest, Johnny, I am surprised anyone got anywhere near making a finished piece. Only two students in this exam round have got anywhere near finishing. You're one, and Bran Jeffries is the other."

"Bran Jeffries took the exam?"

"Yes, do you know him?"

"He works at the Hamden yard, same as I do," I told her.

"That probably explains it. I think Steve Johnson is probably teaching the pair of you more than you are learning here."

"I didn't see Bran in any of the classes," I stated. It was possible he had gone to some of the night-school classes, but I had attended a number of those.

"No, he did not do any classes this year; he took them last year. Personal problems stopped him being able to complete the course and take the exam then," Miss Cooke informed me. "So, I arranged for him to take the exam element this year. He took it last Thursday evening, though it was not exactly the same as yours."

"What did he get to make?"

"A set of drawers for a kitchen cabinet."

I nodded. Although the joints would be easier, making the runner would be a pain.

It was still raining hard when I got to the doorway leading to the carpark. Fortunately, Lee was parked close to the door, so I made a dash for the car, hoping the passenger door was unlocked. I was in luck; it was.

"How did the exam go?" he asked as I got into the car.

"OK, but I could have done with an extra thirty minutes."

"I think that is true about all exams," Lee said. "At least, every one I've taken."

Lee started the car and pulled out of the car park. However, he turned right towards Southmead centre rather than left for the bypass.

"Where we going?"

"Office World; got to get some printer paper. Was going to call there before I picked you up, but the weather delayed me."

"That bad, is it?"

"Not too bad here, but the other side of the rise is really bad."

"Damn, I was hoping to get into the yard this afternoon," I told Lee.

"Sorry, not on, Johnny. Your uncle phoned just after you set off this morning. He's coming over to see you. Will be at the Priory around three."

"Which one?" I asked.

"Bernard."

I wondered what he wanted.

Once we got home, I had a nearly two-hour-plus wait to find out. It was past half-three when Uncle Bernard arrived. Then he needed a tea before we got down to any business. As Dad had not got back from London, we went and used his study.

"Johnny, Yaland Insurance has settled the claim on your mother's life cover. The money was paid into the designated account this morning. Now I need to know what you want done with it?"

"I thought it was in trust," I stated.

"It is, and if you want to do anything outrageous with it, I would stop you. But it is only in trust till your eighteenth birthday, which is twelve months away. It is probably a good idea for you to have some part in arranging how we handle the money and what we do with it."

For the next hour and a half, I was discussing options with Uncle Bernard. One thing I did suggest was paying Zachary Mayer off for this place, but Uncle Bernard put the kibosh on that.

"Joseph, your father is making enough money these days to cover paying Zach when Zach needs paying. You do not need to help him. Anyway, that is one thing that the trust could not allow."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because your dad is a trustee; it is an act that would be financially beneficial to the trustees," Uncle Bernard informed me. I had not thought of that.

In the end, we agreed on an investment strategy for the money, though I did get Uncle Bernard to agree to keep two million of it in funds that were easy to liquidate if we needed cash quickly and a hundred thousand in cash deposits.

"Have you got your eye on something?" Uncle Bernard asked.

"Well, I will need a car in a couple of months."

"I hope you're not looking at spending two million on the car."

"No, I was thinking more about the cost of insurance."

Uncle Bernard laughed.

We had just about sorted everything out when Dad arrived home. Uncle Bernard explained what we had planned out. Dad looked at the figures and said they made sense.

All that sorted, Uncle Bernard asked if Colin was around. To be honest, I did not know, but I knew somebody who would: Mum. She did. She told me to phone the Stable House apartment. I did, and a few minutes later Colin came over. I introduced him to Uncle Bernard, who said he was Colin's solicitor.

"I thought Martin was my solicitor," Colin stated, looking at Uncle Bernard with some suspicion.

"Actually, we both are, as Martin works for me," Uncle Bernard replied. "However, Martin is in court today, and there are some papers we have to get signed to get things sorted out."

Seeing it was legal matters I went to leave, but Colin asked me to stay, with Uncle Bernard having no objection. Probably a good job, as it fell to me to translate Uncle Bernard's legalize into English that Colin could understand. I don't think Uncle Bernard realised that Colin had missed out on most of his education. Yes, he was technically literate in so far as he could read the Sun, but I doubt if he would have got very far with the Guardian.

What Uncle Bernard needed was fairly simple: just Colin's signature on some forms.

"Right, Colin, this form is an application for permission to appeal to the Crown Court. It needs your signature here," Uncle Bernard informed him.

"Why do I need permission to appeal?" Colin asked.

"It is more than twenty-one days from the date of your sentence, so you can't appeal without permission. However, seeing how you were charged with the wrong offence and you did not have legal representation, I think we have a good chance of getting it."

Colin just nodded in acknowledgement of the information supplied and then signed where directed.

"Really, I should have got you to sign this first, this is a letter instructing my firm to act as your legal representatives in the matter of your appeal."

"I thought I signed one of these yesterday," Colin said.

"Not quite. What you signed yesterday was a letter of instruction for Martin to assist in the matter of the interview with the police. That is technically a different matter."

"Is this going to cost?" Colin asked. "I don't have any money."

"Don't worry about that; the costs are being covered," Uncle Bernard explained. I noticed he did not say how.

It took the better part of half an hour to get everything signed that Uncle Bernard needed to be signed. I was pleased to note that Colin wanted an explanation as to what each form was before he signed. Once Colin had signed the lot, Uncle Bernard placed them in a folder and returned them to his case.

That finished, I left Uncle Bernard with Dad and went to show Colin out. As we got to the kitchen, Mum asked Colin what he had planned for dinner.

"I don't know; Trevor said they would probably get something in."

"Well, tell those two boys I expect them here—and you—for dinner at six-thirty. I need a word with Arthur, anyway."

Colin said he would let them know. Then he left.

"I expect Bernard will be joining us as well," Mum stated, more to the stove than to anyone in particular.

"I don't know," I said.

"Be a dear and check for me."

I went back to the study and asked Uncle Bernard if he was staying for dinner. He declined the offer, saying that he had to be back in Town by eight at the latest.

About ten minutes later, Dad and Uncle Bernard came into the kitchen. Uncle Bernard thanked Mum for the offer of dinner but said his mother was expecting him. She had arranged a family dinner for this evening, and he'd better get a move on. I checked the clock; it was close to five-thirty; he definitely would need to get a move on.

Once Uncle Bernard had left, Dad went to help Mum with the dinner prep, but she told him to sit down. He did. It was clear Mum wanted to talk to him, so I went to leave but was told to sit down as well.

"Mike, Johnny, I got an unconditional offer from Imperial today," she informed us.

"Unconditional?" Dad asked.

"Yes."

"So, you're starting in October?"

"Yes, Mike. We need to get the Golders Green flat sorted. I've asked Arthur over to dinner so I can talk to him about networking. Somehow, we need to link the Golders Green flat to our network here."

Dad agreed that would need to be sorted as he would be working from the Golders Green flat at least half of his time.

"That leaves what to do about you, Johnny?" Mum stated.

"What do you mean? I'll be here and going to college next year."

"I know, Johnny, but there is the running of this place to consider. Jan's people will be doing the cleaning and stuff, but what about your meals and laundry?"

They were good points. I did not mind being responsible for cooking my own meals. I enjoy cooking and am fairly good at it. However, my laundry and sorting out the ironing were, to be honest, not things I fancied doing. I did point out that my grandparents would be moving down shortly, but I got the distinct impression that Mum was a bit loath to hand control of the house over to Flora. This surprised me as I thought that was one of the options that had been discussed when Mum and Dad had first thought of moving into the Golders Green flat.

Nothing was decided other than we would have a good talk about things over the weekend. In the meantime, Dad said he would phone my grandparents and find out what their plans were.

Thursday morning, I had to be up early as I had promised Steve that I would open and cover the yard from eight till eleven. Steve had a survey to carry out on the other side of the Blackwater, and it would make a lot more sense for him to go straight there from his place in Maldon rather than coming into the yard and going out again.

I got to the yard about ten to eight and found Bran already waiting. I apologised for not being there earlier, but Bran told me it was his fault. Steve had told him it would not open till eight today, and he had forgotten and got there as normal for half-seven. I unlocked the gates and let us both in; then Bran went off to do the yard inspection whilst I got on with the essentials, like putting the kettle on and getting tea made.

That started, I pulled out the folder with today's worksheets in it to see what jobs were booked in. There were three for this morning. One was already in the yard and up on the slip: a twenty-one-foot Sea Ray powerboat. It was in for a good spring clean and power wash of the hull. I could never understand how some people could spend close on a hundred grand to buy a boat to show off with, then leave it in the water unattended all winter. They deserved the bill they would be getting for the clean-up.

The other two jobs were essentially chandlery business: equipment checking. The boats would come into the yards' docking area. One of us would go on board and check the expiry dates on all the supplies just to make sure they were in date. Any out-of-date items, like fire extinguishers and distress flares, we would replace. Also checks would be made on the essential safety equipment. I say that one of us would do it, though in fact, most of the checks would be done by Steve; he was the only one qualified. I could do the expiry-date checks, but the was no way I could check the radio or the navigation equipment. I wondered if Bran could.

The tea was just brewed when Bran got back to the office. I asked how things were going with the Salvage Yard.

"Good. The lads are coming in at ten and working through to four. They are getting on a bit quicker than I expected. Hopefully, we can start to move the winch engines over after the weekend."

"You talked to Steve about it?" I asked.

"Yes, he came and looked at them yesterday and agreed that it would be quickest to swap them over. That way, we will have the main slipway open on time. No telling how long it will take to get replacement parts; that is, if we can get replacements; they are pretty old models."

We spent a good twenty minutes going over the worksheets and discussing what had to be done. It turned out that Bran was qualified to do the radio and electronic testing, however, he could not certify the navigational aids.

Tea finished, the two of us went out to attack the hull of the Sea Ray with pressure washers. Bran agreed with me about owners who allowed their boats to get in such a state. Considering the cost of the boat, the cost of taking it out of the water and putting it into storage for the winter was minimal, certainly less that they would now have to pay for us to clean the boat. I had seen on the worksheet what Steve was charging per man-hour.

While we were working, I asked Bran why the lads clearing the Salvage Yard were only doing ten till four.

"Most of them are porters at the wholesale market," Bran informed me. "They work midnight to eight there. Coming in at ten gives them time to get breakfast and the like. Then they finish at four, so they can get some kip before they are back at the market."

I was surprised they wanted the work if they worked at the market.

"The thing is, Johnny, the market porters are casuals. They are not assured of work every day. They just have to turn up for twelve and hope to be picked for what work is going. Sometimes they'll have work; other times they won't. Last week, three of the lads got nothing; this week, just because they have this on, they've all been picked for work every night. Typical, ain't it?"

Just before ten, Bran said he'd better get up to the Salvage Yard to let the lads in and get them started on jobs. He would then be up there till four, supervising the work. We were just putting the pressure-washer gear away when the first of the boats that were booked in for equipment checks pulled up against the yards dock. I went down to help them moor.

The boat was a 1930s power launch, all wood and polished brass. It was clear that this boat had not been in the water over the winter. It had almost certainly been stored in a boatshed. It needed replacement rope fenders but nothing else, though the owner had to wait for Steve to arrive to check out its radio and sign off on the insurance certificate. Steve had told me that, in the UK, there was no legal requirement to have the equipment checked annually, but a lot of insurance companies insisted on such checks as part of their insurance policies.

Steve arrived while I was sorting out the new rope fenders for the boat. Fortunately, they were fairly standard, and we had suitable replacements in stock. Unfortunately, they were not identical to the ones currently on the boat. This meant that the owner had to choose between having mismatched fenders or replacing all of them. This owner took pride in the appearance of his boat and replaced all the fenders, so he had a matching set.

Once that was done and the new fenders were in place and Steve had done his checks, Steve signed off on the paperwork for the insurers, and a happy boat owner left the dock. I commented that it would be nice if all our jobs were as easy.

Back in the office, Steve suggested I make some tea while he microwaved some pies he had brought in for lunch.

"I dropped some off at the Salvage Yard for the boys there," he informed me. "We need to talk about the Salvage Yard."

"What about it?" I asked, pouring the boiling water into the pot.

"Well, you own it, but I'll be using it. I need to sort out about slipway fees and boatshed hire. What are you going to be charging me?"

To be honest, I had not thought about that. Over the next half hour whilst we had our lunch, we had a discussion about it, which resolved nothing. I really needed Dad in on this conversation. When I stated that to Steve, he agreed. So, I phoned Dad and arranged for Steve to call in at the Priory after he closed the yard so we could go over the issue.

"By the way, Johnny, I have three more staff starting next week," Steve informed me as we were cleaning up from lunch.

"Who?" I asked.

"Well, you know Tom; he was here last year." I nodded. I remembered the guy, though I did not particularly like him. He always seemed a bit surly. However, Steve said he was a good worker and needed little supervision. "Two of the lads from Long Creek Fibre are joining us. The brothers have found a new yard on the far side of the Blackwater. They are moving their operation over there after Easter. These two don't drive and live past Lynnhaven; it is not feasible for them to get there on public transport."

"How are they getting here?"

"Bike mostly, though they can use the bus as the Dunford bus goes along Marsh Road."

I had to nod in agreement; after all, I was biking in from Lynnhaven when I first started at the yard.

Steve continued. "The thing is, they are both experienced with fibre and composite work, which will mean we can take more of that type of work on."

"Do we want to?" I asked.

"Not really, but commercially, we can't afford to turn it down," Steve pointed out.

Shortly after lunch, the second boat that was booked in arrived. This was a large Sun Seeker. The owner had apparently only just purchased it, from what he said, sight unseen. Always a mistake. The boat needed a lot of care and attention spent on it. It also needed nearly every piece of safety gear from flares to life jackets replaced. I could understand people letting flares go out of date. How often do you look at them? Most of the time they are in the designated locker, and you will not look at them unless you need them. Life jackets are a different thing. If you are out on the water, you should be wearing one. So, there is no excuse to have perished life jackets sitting in a locker. Though, from the state of them, I guessed they had probably sat in that locker unused since the boat was originally purchased.

The owner was not pleased with the news I gave him. He was even less pleased when Steve told him that half his electronics were faulty. It was going to be an expensive job to sort the problems out, and until it was done, the boat was not insured. This was a good reason for having a survey done before you buy a boat. To make matters worse, there were also a number of other problems visible which needed attention, though they were not part of the insurance check list. When Steve pointed these out to the owner, he got very annoyed and accused Steve of just failing things so he could bump up the bill. In the end, he left without having any work done and with no certification.

Steve asked me if I could cover the yard for an hour as he wanted to check on what was being done at the Salvage Yard. As there was nothing outstanding booked in, I said that was no problem but that I did want to discuss something with him before he went up to the yard. I then told him about the idea of moving the wood store to make room for The Lady Ann. Steve assured me that planning permission was not a problem as such roofed storage areas did not require it since they were classed as temporary structures. He said he would have a look at the location when he was at the yard. He then took the runabout to go up the creek to the Salvage Yard.

Whilst he was away, I had a couple of people come into the chandlery after supplies. There was also a chap who wanted a price to get his boat redecked. By the looks of it somebody had had a bonfire on his foredeck. The thing was, he wanted the work done by the weekend. I had to tell him that it was impossible. It would take at least a couple of weeks to source the wood for the decking. He was not happy about that. However, he hung around for Steve to get back and give him a price. When Steve did, he said that it was more than he had paid for the boat. Steve did point out that the damage was only to the foredeck and that one option would be to just redeck that part using a contrasting wood from what was used on the rest of the boat. Even so, it would still take us a couple of weeks to source suitable wood, but it would be far less work and require far less wood. The owner went for that option, and Steve booked the boat to come in the week after Easter.

"First job for Katherine," he stated at the boat chugged its way down the creek back to the Blackwater.

"I thought you were going to have her working on Bob's barge," I commented.

"I am once the restoration starts. The thing is, before then, there is a lot of specialist work to be done which neither Katherine nor I can do; the experts will have to come in for that."

"Like what?"

"For a start, Johnny, Bob wants a complete archaeological report done on the barge before any restoration is undertaken. He's getting some experts in to do that. From what Bob was saying, they'll be doing laser scans and other imaging procedures on it, not only to find out what is there but also to understand how it was made.

"That's why I need to sort out the slipway fees with your dad. Bob will be paying for the use of your slipway and the boatshed. It could take months before any actual restoration work will start. I need to know what to charge him."

What Steve had told me made sense, but it also raised a question.

"Steve, if we are not starting work on the barge immediately, is there enough work for all the skilled people you are taking on? You've got Katherine; from what I've seen, Bran is pretty skilled, and now you have these two new lads from the Lees' place. Is there enough work for everybody?"

"I hope so. In fact, that we are not starting the restoration of the barge for some months means I will be able to keep Bran on through the winter. Not been in a position to do that before. I must admit I am taking a bit of a gamble with the two lads from the Lees' yard, but they know it. It is either work here or the dole for them. Hopefully, I will be able to pick up enough fibre and composite work to keep them busy. In the past, we've had to turn that type of work away because we did not have the skills in the yard. Now with the Lee brothers moving, there is no specialist fibre yard this side of the Blackwater. So, I can pick up some of that work."

"But where will you do it, Steve? I thought you told me last year you needed special facilities for that sort of work."

"I did and we do, but provided the purchase of the Peters yard goes through, we will have them. I know he has done fibre work in the past, and one of his sheds is set up for that, though he has not done any since the lad that did it emigrated; that was about four years ago."

Shortly after four, Bran came down to the yard with good and bad news. Slipway One and the first boatshed were now clear. Everything that Bran thought might be useful was stored under cover behind the boatshed. He said there was a big pile of rubbish up by the gates, which would have to be dealt with. That was the good news. The bad news was that the winch engine in Boatshed Two had different mounting points to the one in Boatshed One, so it was not going to be an easy task to swap them over. He had, though, been able to confirm that the winch engine in Boatshed Two worked. At least, that was something.

Before I left the yard, I checked with Steve if he needed me in on Friday as nothing had been arranged. He told me that he did not think so. He did, though, confirm that he wanted me to run the chandlery on Saturday. He also asked if I knew when Colin would be coming back as he expected things to start to get busy this weekend. I said I would check and try to let him know when he came to see Dad later.

It had just gone five when I got home. Mum informed me that dinner would be at seven and that it was in the slow oven; she was off to pick up Jenny. I had to wait till later for an explanation. When he came in, Dad informed me that Jenny had gone into the hospital today for one of her routine check-ups. Mum was going over to the hospital to pick her up and then would bring her here for dinner before she took her home.

"How come Jenny hasn't got a car?" I asked. "You know one of those adapted for disabled drivers."

Dad laughed. "We looked into those a few years ago. Bit of a Catch-22 situation. There is a scheme for her to get an adapted car, but it is designed to support disabled people who need transport for getting to and from work. Until Jenny gets a job, she can't get a car, but out where she lives there is no way she could get a job without having a car. She can't afford to pay for an adapted car on the benefits she is on at the moment."

Dad wanted to know what Steve wanted to see him about, so I gave him a quick outline. Once I had done that, he expressed the opinion that he probably had as much of an idea about what to charge as I had, which was no idea at all.

That sorted — or not sorted as a matter of fact — I told Dad that I was going up to my room. He told me not to get too comfortable as Martin was calling in to see Colin, and he thought Colin would probably want me present. I guessed he was probably right about that.

Martin arrived just after six, and Dad called across for Colin to come over. As expected, he asked me to stay with him when he saw Martin, but it really was not necessary. There was nothing complicated in what Martin had to tell him. It came down to two things. First, he had been given permission to appeal against his conviction. Second, that whilst he was awaiting his appeal, he was on bail. The probation order and suspended sentence were lifted.

"Can I go to the hostel and get my things?" Colin asked.

"Yes, but probably best to leave it till after tomorrow," Martin recommended. I wondered why?

I found out the next day; it was on the midday news. Police made raids across this part of the county, with three probation staff and two serving police officers being taken in for questioning. Amongst them was the boss of the hostel where Colin had been required to stay.

The reason I had asked Steve if he needed me on Friday was that Jim and Steven had asked if I could help them. All they had told me was that they were expecting a delivery and wanted help getting it unloaded. What they had not told me was that they had a large articulated lorry that was loaded with over twenty-thousand plants. It had come from Hengelo in the Netherlands. It took us the better part of two hours to unload it. That was just the unloading. At the end of two hours, we had twenty thousand plants along the side of the driveway by the walled garden. It took the whole of the afternoon to get everything into the garden. Fortunately, the lads took me down to the Crooked Man for a pie and a pint at lunchtime. As I was having a meal and Jim was buying, I was able to have a pint.

"Did you have to get so much?" I asked as we squeezed the last box of plants into a corner.

"Blame your grandfather; he bought them," Jim told me.

"He what?"

"You heard, Johnny; your grandfather bought this lot. We only have to sell them," Jim stated.

"First, we have to put price tags on them," Steven pointed out. "That's going to take most of next week. I hope we can do it before we open."

"When do you open?" I asked.

"Good Friday," Jim replied. "We're going to open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays — though we can't open Easter Sunday — and Wednesday afternoons. We will be open Easter Monday and any other bank-holiday Monday."

"Can you do it?" I asked.

"It's not a question of can we; we have to. Could do with some help if you're free next week," Steven said.

"Don't think I can," I told them. "I'm in the yard all day tomorrow and Sunday, then I am going up to London for a couple of days."

"Seeing Joseph?" Jim asked.

"Yes, but I also need to sort some things out regarding my mother's house. Dad and I have a meeting with some estate agents on Tuesday to hand the house over."

"Rather you than me," Jim said. "I hate estate agents. Have to deal with them all the time on the building work."

"On the subject of building work, what's the situation on the cottage? You're due to move out of the apartment next week, aren't you, Steven?"

"Moving out on Monday," Steven confirmed. "Going to have to move into the caravan; your dad is moving it into the yard on Sunday for us. The cottage is all insulated and weatherproof now. Uncle George is waiting to hear from the lawyers what they have sorted out on the legal front. Said he'd agreed to something with your father, but it was taking time to sort out all the legal issues. He does not want to commit to a lot of extra expense if it can't be sorted."

"I'll speak with Uncle Bernard when I see him on Monday and see if I can find out what the delay is."

It had gone five when I got back to the house. Mum took one look at me and told me get cleaned up. As I went up to my room, she shouted after me that we were going out for dinner. That was all I needed. I was supposed to be training with the lads in the dojo this evening.

Turned out that out for dinner meant a mixed grill down at the Crooked Man just after six. Dad was taking Mum to the cinema, so they were having an early meal. They drove off to Maldon just before seven, and I walked back up to the house, then across to the dojo to get thrown around for a couple of hours. By ten, I was back in the Crooked Man. This time, though, I could not get a pint as I was not eating a meal, so was stuck with a shandy.

Joseph woke me by phoning at half past seven Saturday morning to wish me a happy birthday. He apologised for not coming over today, but we had agreed that I would go to his place on Sunday. When I went down to the kitchen, I found a small pile of presents waiting for me on the table. Dad also told me that they were taking me out to dinner to celebrate my birthday, so I'd better not be late getting back from the yard.

The presents were all small, but nice. Dad had got me a new phone. Mum had given me some book tokens. I got the same from the uncles — all three of them. From Joseph there was a book about the America's Cup races with details of the design of each of the competing yachts.

Although it was my birthday, I went into the yard, so I missed the excitement when Colin went to get his stuff from the hostel. Arthur took him in the van. When he got there, the woman on duty was insistent that Colin was in breach of his probation and called the police. When the police turned up, Colin showed them the bail documentation from the court; the police had to check it out. In the meantime, Arthur had rung Martin, who, luckily, was staying at Marcia's. He turned up at the hostel five minutes after the police. Apparently, there was quite a confrontation between the hostel manager and Martin, which resulted in her taking a swing at him. Not a good idea when you have two police officers there. They ended up taking her into custody while Colin packed his stuff. Not that he had a lot to pack.

I got told all this Saturday afternoon when Colin came into the yard. We were a lot busier than Steve had expected, so he asked me if there was any way we could get Colin in. I phoned Arthur and asked if Colin could come in, and half an hour later he was there. I made a note that it might be an idea to ask Dad if he had any spare phones to get rid of, though I knew he had a pile. On second thought, I sent Arthur a text asking him to see Dad and sort a phone out for Colin. The lad needed one. I knew Arthur would get him set up on Giff Gaff. Was not sure that Colin was capable of that.

Though really, I should not cast aspersions upon Colin. He worked hard Saturday and came in Sunday as well and did a good day's work. Although he was not much good at serving in the chandlery — he just could not add up — he was really useful for getting things. By the end of the second day, I only had to ask for something and he knew where it was. Steve commented that having Colin getting stuff from the stores definitely speeded things up; it would be worthwhile keeping him on just to help in the chandlery.

Saturday evening, Mum and Dad took me to the Chinese in Chelmsford, which is one of my favourite places to eat.

Sunday evening, Dad drove me into Chelmsford to get the train to London. It meant I did not have to change trains. It also meant Dad did not have to drive me to Southminster, taking him out of his way. He was taking Mum out to dinner, then to the cinema, this time in Chelmsford.

Uncle Bernard was down at the Kent house when I got to Joseph's, so we had the house to ourselves. Micah and Bethany were visiting Bethany's parents.

"They are buying them a house in Manchester," Joseph informed me.

"That will upset your grandfather," I stated.

"What will?"

"The fact that Bethany's parents can afford to buy her a house."

"They say it's a good investment. They are also getting a nanny for when the baby is born; they don't want Bethany's education to be upset."

"I bet she still has some sleepless nights," I stated.

"Probably," Joseph agreed.

Monday, Joseph and I spent most of the day at the Victoria & Albert Museum, though I did pop over the road to the Science Museum when Joseph wanted to sketch part of the cast of Trajan's Column that was on display in the Casts Room. He was still sketching it when I got back an hour later.

Monday night, I asked Uncle Bernard what the delay was on the lease of the nursery and cottage. Uncle Bernard confirmed that all the terms and rights of way had been agreed and granted. The problem was the restrictive covenant on the Priory estate. Although, in counsel's opinion, it did not apply to the Green Farm property, the other side's solicitors were not sure, so they were asking for a judicial declaration that there was no obstacle in the covenant to the lease.

"How long is that going to take?" I asked.

"That's a good question; we are on the list for a hearing, but we are waiting for a date."

"Not good. Steven's going have to move into the caravan today because the cottage is not ready. They can't do any more work on it till they know if they are going to be extending or not."

"Sorry, there is not much we can do," Uncle Bernard informed me.

Tuesday morning, Joseph and I went shopping. For a start, we both needed things for our trip to the Netherlands. Also, I had grown quite a bit since I moved in with Dad; the stuff I had got last year was now tight on me. I suppose it was all Mum's good food and the work I was doing in the yard. I had put on about ten kilos, most of which was muscle. I had also put on about seven centimetres. I hoped that was my last growth spurt.

Uncle Bernard treated us to lunch at Roule's. Then it was a dash back to Joseph's. He had to get ready to go to his grandmother's for Passover. I had to grab my bag, into which I had to put my shopping, then get a cab to Islington to meet Dad and the estate agent at mother's house now that the inquest was completed, death certificates had been issued and the probate awarded. As such, Uncle Bernard was now in a position to dispose of the estate. The first thing to be dealt with was the house. Dad and Uncle Bernard had insisted I keep it; actually, I had no choice as it was in trust until I was twenty-five. So, they were letting it. This meeting was to do a final walk-through with the agent to agree on the inventory of the house before new tenants moved in.

The house had been thoroughly cleaned and redecorated. Somebody had gone to a great deal of trouble to professionally design the interior, using the furniture that was there plus some new stuff. I suppose that was what was required to put it on the market at the sort of rent that was being asked. When Uncle Bernard said what the rent on the place was, I thought he was joking, but the estate agent assured me that was the going rent for a property like this. As she pointed out, it did have a double garage.

It took nearly three hours to go through the house, checking everything off from the inventory. At the end, both Dad and I had to sign a copy of the inventory. Then it was back home. I was glad to find that Dad had driven in, so he had the Santa Fe. No need for me to grapple with all my shopping on the train. Unfortunately, Dad spoilt my enthusiastic recounting of what I had bought by pointing out that there was a weight limit on what I could take on the plane. He did, though, stop on the way out of town at a specialist photographic dealer and told me to get a couple of video cameras. I queried why a couple, but Dad pointed out that Joseph would need one to use. He also suggested I get a couple of good digital pocket cameras for the trip.

It had gone seven before we got home, and, to be honest, I was starving. Lunch had been early, and I had not eaten since. I am a seventeen-year-old; starvation sets in after an hour of no food. It was, therefore, a bit of a disappointment to find that Mum was out. However, the situation was righted by a note telling us that there was a casserole in the oven with some baked potatoes.

There was also a note for me that Steve had phoned to ask if I could cover Wednesday afternoon rather than the morning as had been arranged. Apparently, he had tried to call my mobile, but it had gone straight to voicemail. I checked my phone and saw that it was flat. I phoned Steve and confirmed that I could do the afternoon. I also agreed to do all-day Friday. After all, I would be off all next week.

After I had finished speaking to Steve and had dinner, it was still relatively early. Although the sun had set shortly before eight, there was still a hint of light in the sky, so I guessed that the lads would still be in the nursery, probably packing up for the day. I was right. They were in the glasshouse, tidying up under some LED lights. Steven invited me to join them for a beer in the caravan, an invitation I did not turn down. The caravan was a lot colder than I remembered it, but then when I had been using it, it had been sheltered by the car porch. There was not that much shelter in the boiler-house yard, a fact I commented on.

"We've been thinking of putting some fencing up around the yard," Jim said. "Probably need to do that anyway as we will be storing kit in here once we get the cottage sorted. Any news on that?"

I filled the lads in on what Uncle Bernard had told me and that it was now all a case of waiting for the judicial declaration. That, though, could take time.

"In that case, I think I'd better talk to Dad and see if we can put something up more solid around the yard," Jim stated. "We will need to do it sooner or later, and if we do it now, it will give Steven some protection from the weather. Actually, we could put a corrugated roof over this section of the yard; that would help, too."

I had to agree it probably would.

Two bottles of Pilsner Urquell, on top of the Grolsch I had at dinner was probably a bit much for me. It was a good job Steve had asked me to go in late on Wednesday. I slept through my alarm. In fact, I did not wake up till gone ten when Mum banged on my door to let me know there was a phone call for me. At least, I blamed sleeping in on the Pilsner. Mum said it was probably the effect of the late nights with Joseph.

I grabbed my robe and pulled it on before going downstairs to the kitchen to take the call. For the life of me, I could not think who would be phoning me on the landline. All my friends had my mobile number.

It turned out that it was the International Boatbuilding School. They wanted to check if I was looking at registering for the next course. I told them that I still had a year to do on my A-levels, so it would be the following year's course that I would be registering for. The person on the phone thanked me and said she would make a note on my file. She also advised that I should apply for a place before Christmas as they tended to fill up fast. I made a note of that. In fact, I added it to my calendar so I would get a reminder in October.

Whilst I had been on the phone, Mum had done some toast for me, and there was a pile of buttered toast and a mug of coffee sitting on the kitchen table when I finished. I told Mum what the call was about and mentioned that it was a bit strange that they had called on the landline. She informed me that they had originally asked for Dad, but he was away filming this morning, so they had then asked for me. I realised that Dad must have given them the landline number when we visited last year.

Once I had consumed the toast and finished my coffee, I went and showered, then dressed for work, though there was no point in going in before twelve at the earliest. So, I went to my workshop and resumed the task of reassembling my model of the yacht America. Actually, I had most of the reassembly done and would soon be starting to add the finished details, work I had not got around to when I was living with mother. I was fairly engrossed in the work when the alarm on my phone went off. Checking it, I saw that it was time to start for the yard. First, though, I popped into the kitchen and grabbed myself some lunch. Well, it had been over an hour since I had eaten.

I was just in the middle of my lunch when a text came from Steve; it asked if I could call in the pub and get some pies to take out. He wanted six steak-and-kidney and two chicken-and-mushroom. I texted back to say I was just leaving and would do so. Going by the Pig and Whistle took me out of my way. I had to ride along Marsh Road to the top of the marsh, rather than cutting across the marsh using the paths and footbridges. At the top of the marsh, by the footbridge that crossed over behind the Salvage Yard, I had to carry on up the hill till I came to the roadside pub. Once I had obtained the required take-out, I had to cycle back down the hill to the footbridge and then cross over onto the start of High Marsh Lane, which would take me down to the Hamden Yard. I arrived there just before one with the six steak-and-kidney pies and the now three chicken-and-mushroom. Well, after all that cycling I needed some food.

I had texted Steve from the pub when the pies were ready. As a result, he had a pot of tea ready when I got to the yard. Bran was waiting to take five of the steak-and-kidney and one of the chicken-and-mushroom pies up to the Salvage Yard for the lads who were working there. He would be at the Salvage Yard supervising things all afternoon, which left Steve, Colin and myself in the Hamden Yard. Once we had consumed our pies and finished our teas, Steve gave Colin and me our job for the afternoon.

There was a yacht, the Beagle, pulled up on the Number Two slip. It was steel-hulled with a wooden deck. Somebody had spilt a tin of paint on the foredeck. Unfortunately, whoever had tried to clean the spill up had used spirits on the wet paint, which had probably made things worse insofar as it had spread the paint around and mixed it in with the deck varnish. Best thing in such cases is to mop up what you can with dry rags, then let the remains dry. With a bit of luck, you will only have to refinish one section of deck. As it was now, all of the foredeck would have to be redone. That was our job for the afternoon, strip it down then refinish some sixty square feet of wood decking. I was glad that Colin was there to help.

The first thing we had to do was establish what the current deck sealant was. If it was one of the modern polyurethane varnish finishes, we would have to take the deck back to bare wood and refinish it. However, if it was a traditional varnish, we could cut it back a couple of layers then revarnish. A quick test showed it to be a polyurethane, so it was a strip-back-and-refinish job.

Since Steve had taken over management of the yard, he had invested in some cordless tools, one thing which made life a bit easier. I showed Colin how to use the mouse sander and got him sanding back around the edge of the deck, where I could not get with the rotary sander. Then I started on the main body of the deck. After a couple of hours' work, we had the foredeck stripped back to bare wood. Steve came and checked it and was happy with what we had done. He specifically complimented Colin on getting into all the nooks and crannies around the deck with the mouse sander. As it was now just past three, Steve suggested we take a tea break, something that both Colin and I were happy to agree to.

Seated in the tearoom with our mugs of tea and a plate of biscuits, Steve asked Colin if he thought he could increase his hours. Colin was a bit worried about doing so as it could impact his benefits, something Steve understood. However, he made it clear to Colin that he was prepared to take him on fulltime from the week after Easter.

"That would be nice; I could look at finding my own place," Colin said.

"Might be a bit difficult to find somewhere around here," Steve observed. "I would have offered you our granny flat, but our new boatwright has already taken that. Anyway, it is a bit far from here if you haven't got a car."

"I don't drive, anyway," Colin said.

"You should get a provisional licence and get some lessons," I advised.

"No use; my eyesight is not up to the required standard," Colin supplied.

"But you don't wear glasses," I said.

"I'm OK with close-up stuff, but anything more than about ten metres away is just a blur."

"Must be a bit dangerous on the bike, then," Steve commented.

"That's why I ride slowly," Colin replied.

Tea over, we got back to sorting out the decking for the rest of the refinishing job. Colin started to clean it down, sweeping all the fine dust from the sanding before I went over it with a vacuum cleaner. Once that was done, we covered the whole of the foredeck with a plastic sheet, which we tied down well, to protect it from any rain or even a heavy dew. Steve came out to check what we had done and was pleased with it.

"The forecast is for light showers tomorrow and Friday, so we can't risk refinishing it then unless we can get it into the boatshed. However, the cruiser in Shed One will take at least another couple of days to finish and Shed Two is booked till Sunday by the chap doing the repaint."

At this time of year when there was not that much work around, Steve often hired out the sheds and slipways to people who wanted to work on their own boats. Currently, both our boatsheds were rented out.

"Couldn't we use Shed One at the Salvage Yard?" I asked. "From what Bran was saying, they have got it fairly clear, and it is not like we need any of the shed gear for this job."

"There's no winch there," Steve pointed out.

"No, but there are four guys plus Bran up there clearing the yard. I'm sure we could haul it in with that many."

Steve looked at me then thought about it. "You know, that might just work. If we used a block and tackle, we could haul her up into the shed. I'll speak to Bran about it. If it's on, we can try to get her in, in the morning."

Given that the lads at the Salvage Yard finished at four, Bran was at the office when we got there. Steve asked him about hauling the boat into Shed One, and he seemed to think it would work. Actually, he said there were a couple of blocks in Shed One, so he thought it may have been done that way in the past. He pointed out, though, that there was no rope. With a pair of three pulley blocks we would need seven times the length of the slipway to rig the block and tackle. That would be about three hundred and fifty metres of rope. The longest rope we had in the chandlery was two hundred metres; also, that was not suitable for this job. In the end, Steve decided that, although it was a good idea, the cost of getting the rope to do it, was probably not economic at this time. It would cost more than what he could charge for the job. Bran did, though, point out it might be useful to have such a rig available in future in case any of the winches broke down. Steve said he would take note of that.

Thursday morning, I got to the yard early. I had made a couple of phone calls when I got home and managed to find what I wanted. The only problem was, because of the tides, they were going to have to deliver early. However, I was able to get Colin to ride in with me, so we were both at the yard just after seven when the lorry arrived. Steve arrived half an hour later, just as we were unloading the last of the scaffolding poles.

"What's going on?" Steve asked.

"I bought some scaffolding," I informed him.

"I can see that, but why?"

"Well, you suggested using it for a temporary frame to protect The Lady Ann," I pointed out.

"Yes, but she's not here yet, and you won't need it till you start work on her."

"I know, but the Beagle is here, and we can use it to build a shelter for her so we can work on her now. There are plenty of tarps up at the Salvage Yard; I've texted Bran to bring some down."

Steve admitted that it was an idea, one he would not have gone for as it involved buying the scaffolding. However, as I would need the scaffolding for The Lady Ann it made no difference to me if I bought it now or in six months' time. In fact, it made slightly more sense for me to buy it now as I had found it going cheap in a liquidation clearance. As a result, I was feeling quite pleased with myself until Steve pointed out that I had not got the required hex tools to assemble it. That resulted in Brad, when he arrived, being sent to ScrewFix in Maldon to get the required tools. Luckily. he was on his motorbike.

In the end, things were not as easy as I thought. Assembling a scaffold structure over the foredeck of the Beagle was a bit more complicated than I had expected. Fortunately, Larry, one of the lads working on the Salvage Yard clean-up had experience putting up scaffolding, so Bran sent him down to give us a hand, but with the three of us working on the job, it still took the better part of the morning to assemble the scaffolding and affix the tarps so we could work under some cover. I was quite happy.

I was not so happy in the afternoon after Steve had a go at me over lunch. Once he got me alone by taking me with him to the Pig and Whistle to pick up the pies, he pointed out that I should have spoken to him about getting the scaffolding first. I pointed out that it was my money, and I was going to have to get it anyway; I had just brought the day forward.

"That's beside the point, Johnny. It is my yard. Nothing should be done in it that I have not approved. Yes, it was a good idea, and I would have agreed to it if you had talked to me about it. Going off and doing it without clearing it first, that was wrong. There are all types of things that could have gone wrong."

"Like what?" I asked.

"The fact that our insurance specifically excludes work on scaffolding. I had to phone up this morning and get extra cover. That has cost the yard more than we will probably make on the job."

So informed, I apologised and offered to pay for the extra cover.

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