Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 31

"What the fuck!" I exclaimed. "It's my money, why can't I use it?"

"I know, Johnny, but as your trustee I have to protect your interests. The risks at this stage are just too great."


"Listen to me, Johnny. I've spoken to your father, and I agree with him; there is a story there that needs to be told. However, to proceed with a full-scale documentary production without a buyer for the result would not be prudent. I have agreed to put up enough to produce a treatment that Mike can then go out and sell the idea from. It will cover the cost of the guy your father's got to do the research."

"Luuk," I interjected.

"Yes, that's it. It will also cover the cost of some filming being done. However, I will not approve covering the costs of the complete production."

"How much will it cover?" I asked.

"I've agreed that the trust will put up fifty thousand to get the ball rolling," Uncle Bernard told me. "If you father can get expressions of interest, we will put up more."

"OK, I suppose that's better than nothing."

"Johnny, if what your father says is correct, I have no doubt he will get the expressions of interest. He might even get some advance sales or even a production commission. If any of those happen, I have no problems in funding the whole deal.

"So, what did you think of the property list?"

"What property list?" I asked.

"I sent you the list of properties that were held in the trust your uncles set up. Remember you asked for it. It should have been with you last Saturday."

"Sorry, Uncle Bernard, I've not seen it. I haven't looked at the post since we got back."

"Look at it. I have made some comments as I think there are some pieces of property that should be disposed of; your uncles are not using them for any of their businesses, and to be honest, they are not bringing in the best of returns."

I went down to the kitchen. Mum was busy finishing off cooking Sunday dinner. I asked her about the post.

"To be honest, I've not looked," she stated. I suddenly got visions of piles of post piling up behind the front door in the hall. Neither of us, I was fairly certain, had been in the front hall since we had got back. I went through to have a look.

There was no pile of post behind the door. Instead, there were three piles of post on the side table with one letter by itself. I looked at the letter first. It was addressed to Dorothy Richards, c/o M Carlton, at this address. Who the hell was Dorothy Richards? There were a few letters for me and a small pile for Mum. The large pile was for Dad. I took mine and Mum's through to the kitchen.

"Mum, there's a letter in the hall for a Dorothy Richards, care of Dad. Any idea who she is?"

"Ah, your Dad's dirty little secret. He'll be embarrassed that's come out. He thinks I don't know about it."

"About what?" I asked.

"About Dorothy Richards," she replied. "I'll let your Dad tell you about it when he gets back. Don't think he's told anyone. Though he must have told Lee; otherwise, he would have returned it 'Not at this address'."

That was as much as I got out of Mum, even though I tried to press her about it a couple of times over dinner. Dinner over, I decided to get to a clear answer, so went up to my room to phone Dad. I think Mum must have got onto him first; his phone was engaged.

I really wanted to find out who Dorothy Richards was, so I went online and did a search. There were over nine-million results, so I narrowed the search down and put in 'Dorothy Richards Lynnhaven'. I guessed she must come from somewhere around here. Bingo, I had a hit.

Dorothy Richards, romantic writer. I noticed there were no biographical details, only that she lived a few miles outside of Lynnhaven, overlooking the Blackwater. There was very little else. However, there were links in the search listing to pieces she had written, so I opened one.

It was bloody mush. The type of writing which makes Mills and Boone look like literature. She looked into his eyes and was entranced by their depth as she felt the heat of his manhood press against her womanhood. I felt sick.

Just then my phone rang. It was Dad.

"Anne said I should call you," he stated when I answered.

"Yes, who the hell is Dorothy Richards?" I asked.

"This is difficult, Johnny, could we leave it till I'm back?"

"No, we can't. There is some trash writer out there, and I want to know what your relationship is to her."

"How do you know she's a trash writer?" Dad asked.

"I found A Pirate's Dream online."


"Right, Dad, so who is Dorothy Richards?"

"It's not that simple, Johnny."

"That's your problem, not mine. If you're involved with Dorothy Richards, I want to know how, why and when," I stated, having very little sympathy for my father. "Now, who is she?"

"That's the problem, Johnny, she is not a she."


"Dorothy Richards is a nom de plume," Dad stated.

"Who the hell for?"



"It's me, Johnny. I've been writing romantic fiction as Dorothy Richards since your mother divorced me."


"Well, back then, I wasn't well known as a technical writer. In fact, I was hardly known at all. Getting work was a problem, and I needed to live. Your mother was demanding eight hundred a month for you. So, I tried my hand at romantic fiction, and it sold. It also paid well back in those days. In some ways, it still does."

"Does Mum know about this?"

"Yes, she does. Apparently, she has known for ages, though I never told her. Dorothy Richards is one of her favourite authors."

"I really need to have a word with her about her taste in fiction," I stated.

"Don't knock it; it's paying our way."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Johnny, I can turn two or three Dorothy Richard short pieces out in a night's writing. They sell anywhere from seven hundred to a thousand pounds. I've even written some Dorothy Richard's novels when work's been slow. None of them took more than a week. All of them have sold over a hundred-thousand copies.

"You asked me a few weeks ago if we could manage with the costs of the Priory and everything. Well, it is Dorothy who has been paying the day-to-day living expenses and more."

That was a surprise. I spent about fifteen minutes more talking to Dad about it. Turned out that most of his all-night writing sessions were spent churning out turbid romantic fiction for Dorothy's readers.

"The thing is, Johnny, there is no reason for anybody to write to me using my pen name. I've got some people in London who handle all the fan mail."

"You get fan mail?"

"Yes, there are usually a couple of hundred letters a week, I am informed. Dorothy sends them all a nice handwritten reply. Got a machine which churns them out."

I laughed.

"So, Johnny, could you open that letter and find out what it is about, and if it is important, give me a call back."

"OK," I told him. Dad terminated the call. I went downstairs.

Mum was in the living room reading when I got downstairs.

"Your Dad's spoken to you?" she asked.

"Yes, he said you knew."

"Oh, I've known for ages but never let on that I knew," she laughed.


"When I first started cleaning for your father — Christ, it seems a lifetime ago — he must have been doing one of his all-night sessions. I let myself into the bungalow to find him asleep, slumped at his desk. There was a Dorothy Richards story half-written on the computer. There was another in the printer."

"What did you do?"

"Went out and came back in making a lot of noise so your dad would wake up before I got to the study."

I told Mum that Dad had asked me to find out what was in the letter. Then I went and got it. I returned to the living room to open it.

"Bloody hell!" I exclaimed when I got halfway through the letter.

Mum looked up. "What is it?"

"Some idiot wants to buy the TV rights to the Caroline Banks series. What's the Caroline Banks series?"

"A young Edwardian lady who is a bit wild. She fled England and travels the world finding the most adorable lovers, who unfortunately seem to have a tendency to die so she can find another.

"How much are they offering?"

"One-hundred grand."

"You'd better let your father know, then."

I went back to my room and phoned Dad. When I informed him of the letter's contents, he told me to send one back to them, using a Word template for DR on his computer, saying that Dorothy Richards was not available at the moment but that the communication would be passed on to her when she returned. He told me to just initial it N.I.

"What does N.I. stand for?" I asked.

"Nobody Important."

On that note, I rang off and went downstairs to write the letter. When I opened a new document using the DR template, I noticed it gave the address as c/o The Priory. Once the letter had been written, signed and prepared for sending, I checked my own mail. There was an acknowledgement from the language institute of my acceptance of their offer of membership of the institute and a receipt for the membership fee I had sent them.

There was a notification of the result of my woodwork practical. I was surprised to get it so soon but then realised it was only the marking from the college. It was subject to confirmation and possible revision by the exam board. Not that it mattered, I had a pass with distinction, so even if I was knocked down a grade, I would still be in the upper half of the pass marks.

The third envelope was a large one, which I guessed was from Uncle Bernard. I guessed right. When I opened it, there were some twenty landscape-printed pages of details about properties owned by the trust. On the left-hand side of the page was a description of the property, often with a note underneath from Uncle Bernard. On the right-hand side of the page were three columns giving the market value of each one, any mortgages or loans secured on it, and the equity remaining in it. Skipping to the last page to look at the totals I found that the trust was, as of ten days ago, worth just over twenty-five million in property values. However, it was carrying just over twenty-two million in mortgages and secured loans. So, the actual value of the trust was only about three million. Even so, on the figures that Uncle Bernard had provided, it looks as if it was producing about a hundred and fifty thousand a year after covering expenses and servicing the loans. Uncle Bernard had suggested that, as I had no critical need for the income, the most of it should be used to pay down the loans faster.

I did not really fancy reading through it all now, so decided to leave that until I was more in the mood. I did, though, scan through the pages. It turned out I had properties in Morocco, Spain, France and the Netherlands. Looking at the properties in the Netherlands, I noted that two seemed to be commercial units in Hilversum ; the third was an apartment house in Amsterdam. What were my uncles doing with those? I made a note to ask them when I spoke to them next.

Monday morning, it was off to college again for both Mum and me. It was only four weeks now before my exams started. Alright, they were not the final, A-level exams, but they were still important. A good grade at AS-level would not guarantee me a good grade at A-level. However, a bad grade at AS would indicate a bad grade at A-level. I had to really get down and do some work, which I did.

Joseph was also busy with studying. He had his GCSEs starting soon, and we had agreed that for the next few weeks, until the exams were over, it was going to be a bit difficult for us to get together. The only time would be to meet up in Town on alternate Saturday mornings. We did need some breaks from studying. However, we also agreed that we would phone each other every day.

I was a bit surprised during the day that Simone did not turn up. We shared nearly all our classes, so I was a worried when she was not there, especially given how critical were these next few weeks. Most of the tutors would have attended conferences over the Easter period, and it was well known that they often picked up hints about the exams when they were there. They would never be told any details of the questions, but it was not unknown for an examiner to say that this year's exam placed more emphasis on one area or another.

Although Simone was missing, Antonio was not. He seemed to be around more than he was last term, and that was saying something. He turned up in the library when I was revising, then came over to Marge's when I went for lunch. When I came out of my maths class, he was standing by the door to the refectory, looking down the main corridor to where I came out of the classroom. It was almost as if I was being followed.

That evening, I phoned Joseph as soon as I got home. I had a pile of revision to wade through and wanted to get the call out of the way before I started on it. Not that we had much to talk about, though he did tell me about dinner at Aunt Sarah's. He was a bit disappointed; she had not made apple pie. He did ask me if I had looked at the DVD which Luuk had given us of the TV broadcast. I told him I hadn't.

"Well, you should. There is a bit about us at the start, and then there is the interview with your dad."

I told him I would, but I was not sure when. I did mention it to Mum at dinner, and she suggested that I take a break from revision at nine and we could watch it.

"We can fast forward through the show; we saw that. Just watch the bit with your father."

I agreed as I knew I would need a break from revision. Before starting, though, I checked my emails. There was one from Luuk. He sounded depressed and was worried about where he was going to stay when he went back to university. He had agreed that he could not go back to Wim's. Apparently, there was a break in filming on Wednesday, so Gert was going to go with him to get his things from Wim's flat. Lee had told him he would go along as well, as he wanted to see Amsterdam. He also told me that they would be filming Henk on Saturday, when there was another break in filming.

I sent an email back asking how the work on the documentary was going. Had he been able to start on the research yet?

That done, I looked at my next email. It was from Simone. She was stuck in France; there was an air-traffic-controller strike. Now, there was a surprise. It was the start of the holiday season; they always go on strike then. She was getting a train to Paris, then would get the Eurostar to London but doubted if she could get back before Wednesday. Could I take notes for her? I could; I would just photocopy my notes and hope she could read my handwriting.

Surprisingly, the revision went better than I had expected, and by nine I was more or less finished. Mum called up the stairs to ask what I wanted to drink: tea, coffee or chocolate. I opted for chocolate but asked her to give me fifteen minutes so I could finish off the revision.

When I got down to the living room, Mum was just coming through with a tray of drinks and some cake, which surprised me as I did not think she would have had time to get to the shop.

"I emailed a list to Marcia on Saturday, and she got it in for me Sunday morning whilst we were in the air. Picked it up off her while you were at the yard."

"How is she?"

"Good. Martin took her out to a dance on Saturday."

"I suppose Lee babysat."

"Apparently. He took the boys ice skating again. Jasmin was at her grandparents." She said that as she loaded the DVD into the player.

Of course, we had both failed to realise one thing. It was a Dutch gala show being broadcast on Dutch television. It was in Dutch! The programme started with the camera scanning over the audience in the auditorium while the presenter made comments about the gala, then it started to move over the boxes. From what I could make out, I guessed the commentator was saying who was who in the boxes. It came as something of a shock when I heard, 'Michael Carlton, de beroemde expert op het gebied van klimaatverandering'.

"What did she say?" Mum asked. Before I could reply the presenter continued. ' Zijn vrouw Anne en zoon John, een gedecoreerde held.' I recognised Mum and my name, but what was said, especially what was said about me, I had no idea. I also had no idea what they said about Joseph, who they also named along with Gert and Luuk. I did, though, intend to find out. I pulled out my phone and sent an email to Luuk.

We watched the arrival of the royals in the Royal Box then fast forwarded to the interview with Dad. I was not sure if it would have been cut, but it appeared very much as I remembered it. What I had not noticed at the time was Luuk standing just behind Dad and slightly off to one side. He had been in the same position when the prince had been talking to Dad. I was not surprised that Wim was upset; he had certainly been upstaged by somebody he had been putting down.

My phone pinged, telling me I had an email. It was from Luuk. I generally do not like reading emails on my phone, but this time I opened it. "Michael Carlton, the famous climate-change expert, his wife Anne and son, John, a decorated hero who holds the George Medal, the third highest award for bravery in the UK."

"How the fuck did they know that?"

"Know what?" Mum asked.

I read the email to her.

"I suppose they looked us up on the internet. It's not as if we are unknown."

"But I thought Dad said the George Medal was the second-highest award for bravery."

"It is, Johnny, but most non-Brits, and a lot of Brits, think the Victoria Cross outranks the George Cross."

"Doesn't it?"

"No, Johnny, they are equivalents; one is for military action, the other for civilian. They are both awarded for bravery beyond the call of duty."

When I went up to my room, I sent a longer email to Luuk asking for a fuller translation. He replied that he would get the video subtitled.

Mum shouted up the stairs that Dad was on the phone and wanted to talk with me. I went down to take the call. There is no extension in my room, and I did not feel comfortable going into the rents' room to take the call in there.

"How's the filming going?" I asked when I took the phone off Mum.

"A lot better today. De heer Wilhelm fired the chap who was supposed to be organising the shoots and put Gert in charge. Things ran a lot smoother; we not only got done what was planned but were also able to do some fillers that can be slotted in if they need them.

"Johnny, I need to check if you are sure that you want to put up the initial funding for the documentary about Henk and his friends?"

"Of course, I do. Why?"

"Luuk's been finding stuff. He did some local research here in Apeldoorn this morning and found two other gay men who were survivors of the camps."

"How did he manage that?" I asked.

"There's an organisation here known as CoC. Each region has its own branch; then there is a national organisation. The local branch put Luuk in touch with a group that provides support to the survivors of the camps. Through them, Luuk was able to contact two men. We interviewed one of them this evening on camera. Gert's just shown me the rush of the interview and translated it for me. If anything, it's more powerful than Henk's story. He saw his lover tortured and executed in front of him. It seems like the Germans had a policy that when they knew they had a pair of lovers in the camp, they would sadistically kill the one in front of the other.

"The thing is, Johnny, I need to start to spend some money. Once filming this climate-change documentary is finished, Gert is free. I want to contract him to work on the project, but I am looking at a two thousand a week plus expenses."

"Are you going to use Luuk?" I asked.

"I am when he is free to do anything; he goes back to classes next Monday."

"Fine, just as long as you use him where you can. I'm up to fund it, though Uncle Bernard will have to release the funds."

"I know. I'll speak to him tomorrow; just wanted to clear it with you first."

Tuesday morning, I did not have a class until eleven, so I did not have to leave until ten. I was going in on the moped. That gave me time to phone Uncle Bernard to tell him what I had spoken about with Dad and to ask him about the properties and his suggestions.

"Look, Johnny, to save complications, I suggest you draw fifteen thousand from the trust. Put five into a deposit account to cover tax and then let your father have the other ten to cover immediate expenses on the film. It is not the most tax-efficient way to proceed, but it saves a lot of complications until I can sort things out."

"What are the complications?" I asked.

"The fact that your father is one of the trustees of the trust and this is beneficial to him. What we really need is a production company for the documentary, and you invest in that. That, though, will take time to sort out, but I have started work on it."

"Right, can you sort that out so Dad has some funds for what Gert and Luuk are doing at the moment?"

"I will. I'll get the funds to your father today."

"Good. Now about the properties."

"What is it you wanted to know, Johnny?" Uncle Bernard asked.

"You are suggesting in the report that the trust should sell some off. Why?"

"Well, there are a number of properties that are no use to your uncles' business activities and are not let to any of their companies. They are mostly pieces that they got by accident. If we sell them off, we can probably realise a couple of million, which could be used to pay down some of the higher-interest loans. The overall equity in the trust would remain the same, but the level of debt service would be reduced, so the income ratio would increase."

"Uncle Bernard, how do you get a property by accident?"

"Well, you know the two warehouses in Chiswick they bought for the CGI business."

"Yes, we're going to sell them to finance the digital studios here."

"Well, your uncles needed them for the business, but they were offered for sale as part of a bigger property bundle. It was a property company that had got into trouble and had to offload a lot in a hurry. There were a couple of houses and a commercial garage that were on long leases included with the warehouses. You uncles bought the lot.

"Well, the houses quickly sold, so they were got rid of at a profit. The garage, though, was on a twenty-year lease with fifteen left to run at a piss-poor rent. Nobody wanted to buy it, so it's stayed in the portfolio."

"So, what has changed now?"

"The garage owner wants out of the lease. Actually, he wants to sell the business, but he can't unless he can gets a new lease. Nobody is going to buy the business with just a few years left on the lease to run. Remember, on commercial property, there is no right to renew."


"If we give him a new lease, it will be at a commercial rent, with regular rent reviews. That then becomes a cash-generating investment for somebody; it is now worth a lot more."

"Is that how they got the place in Amsterdam?" I asked. "Was that another accidental purchase?"

"In a way, it was," Uncle Bernard informed me. "When your Uncle Phil set up the CGI business to finish production on the film he was having problems with, he needed certain facilities. The CGI studios in the States who were messing him around put pressure on the software houses over there not to sell him licences for the stuff he needed. So, he went out and bought a small business that already had the required licences."

"And the business was Dutch," I guessed.

"Yes, it was," Uncle Bernard said. "Actually, the CGI business is still technically a Dutch company, and it does have an operation in the Netherlands. It's just most of its operation is now run from over here."

"So, the Dutch properties are used by the CGI business?"

"Well, the two premises in Hilversum are; that's where the Dutch broadcasting businesses are mostly based. The townhouse on the Herengracht used to have the offices of the CGI business on the ground floor; it has holiday apartments above. The ground floor is now let out as a design studio. However, the CGI business still has a post box and its official address there."

"How do they handle the mail?"

"Don't know. You will have to ask your Uncle Phil about that. I suggested they should sell the Herengracht property a couple of times, but they said it would cause too many problems with the CGI business."

"Why did you suggest selling it?"

"Well, while the design studio is paying a decent rent, we are not getting that much of an income from the holiday apartments. They tend only to be let from April to September, and we are lucky if we get sixty-percent occupancy. There is a holiday letting agency that manages them for us, and to be honest, I do not think they do that good a job. The top flat has only been let for two weeks in the whole time I have had oversight of the properties, and that been four years."

"So, it hasn't been used the rest of the time?"

"Well, your uncles have used it a few times when they've gone over to deal with things at the Dutch end of the business. I suppose they probably use it twice a year or so."

"Couldn't we just rent them on long-term lets?"

"That's what I asked, Johnny, but apparently that would require a change in the Dutch equivalent of planning consent. It would also require a lot of investment. From what the Dutch agents told me, while the property is deemed fit for holiday accommodation, it would not be approved for long-term accommodation."

"Why not?"

"You would have to speak to somebody in Amsterdam to find that out."

We discussed the properties a bit more, but it became clear we were not going to sort anything out over the phone. Uncle Bernard suggested he have a meeting with Dad and me when Dad got back from the Netherlands.

In the meantime, I decided I wanted to find out more about the Amsterdam house. I went to email Luuk to ask him if he could find anything out about it for me. However, when I opened my email software, I found there was an email from him; it was to Joseph and me. He was just letting us know that Florence had said he could stay at her place till the end of the academic year, though he would have to sleep on the couch. He said it was not too bad as he had slept there a couple of times in the past when there had been problems with Wim.

At least, that was one problem out of the way. I sent him an email asking if he could find out why we could not let the flats in the Herengracht house out on a long-term basis. Then I set off for college.

There was still no sign of Simone, so I assiduously took notes during the ninety minutes of Miss Leonard's physics lecture. Actually, it was not that difficult as Miss Leonard handed out good class notes to us at each of her lectures. I just made sure I got an extra copy for Simone. Of course, I had to explain to Miss Leonard why Simone was not in class. Miss Leonard was a bit concerned as she knew Mr. Bell had an important demonstration to show us in the lab this afternoon and felt it important that all A-level students attended. I got the feeling she knew this would be relevant to our AS-level papers.

Once out of class, I made my way over to Marge's for a good fry-up lunch. I had not had that much breakfast, and it had been four hours ago. Antonio appeared not long after I had sat down and ordered. He joined me at my table, then gave me an interrogation about my trip to the Netherlands. I was somewhat surprised when he asked about the gala. How had he known about that? When I asked him, he mentioned he had heard that we had been there when he was at work yesterday. I suppose Mum must have said something to Marcia about it, and it had got out that way.

A rather bedraggled Simone came into Marge's about quarter past one. She was dragging a suitcase with her.

"Just arrived?" I asked.

"Yes, thought it was easier to get off the bus here rather than try to get to the Hall and come back."

"Do the buses run up to the Hall?"

"That's the point, Johnny, they don't. The nearest they get is the Chelmsford Road roundabout. I would have to get off there and drag the case the mile up to the Hall. Then I would have to get back here. Doubt if I could get back in time for class. Thought it best to come straight in, though I don't have any of my books."

"Not to worry, you can share mine. We only have physics lab this afternoon. How did you get back?"

"Night train to Paris, then Eurostar to London. The thing was everybody is trying to get on the Eurostar with the air-traffic-controller strike being on, so there were no seats. Had to wait six hours to get a train to London. Was lucky, there was a direct train to Southminster when I got to Liverpool Street. Got the bus from there."

"Sounds like quite a journey," I heard Mum's voice say. I looked up to see Mum and Marcia by the table. "Mind if we join you?"

I had no objections; neither did Simone. Fortunately, we were at the round table in the corner, which seated six, so there was plenty of room.

"I was just about to tell Marcia about our trip to the Netherlands," Mum informed me. I must have looked a bit unhappy about that, and I think Mum picked up on it. "But I think I will spare Johnny the embarrassment. I can tell Marcia later.

"Simone, are you taking that case into classes with you?"

"Yes, don't have much choice."

"What time does your class finish today?" Mum asked.

"Three-thirty. We have a double period starting at two," Simone informed her.

"Well, we finish at four. If you don't mind hanging around for half an hour, why don't you dump the case in my car before we go back in? Then, I'll run you up to the Hall and drop you off when we finish."

Mum and Marcia placed their orders, then started to ask Simone about her holiday. It turned out that she and her mother had gone to Corsica for a five-day break. Simone should have flown back to London from Bastia on Sunday, but the strike intervened. As it was, she had to get a ferry to the mainland, which meant she was not back in mainland France till Monday afternoon. Antonio seemed very intrigued by the fact that Simone had been in Corsica and was asking a lot of questions about the place. What had they been doing there?

"My mother's cousin Francis runs a boat charter over there, so we went to visit him. It was his eldest daughter's wedding last Wednesday, so we were there to celebrate."

I got a feeling that there was a lot Simone was not saying. Something I mentioned when we were in class.

"You're right, Johnny, I just don't feel comfortable talking with Antonio around. He asks too many questions."

I realised she was right. Antonio was always asking questions.

We were a bit late getting out of Mr. Bell's physics class; he wanted to give us some revision guidelines, and the class overran slightly. Not unusual with Mr. Bell. I hung around with Simone till Mum and Marcia got out of their class, then I started off home.

The first thing I did when I got home was check my email. There were not many and nothing of importance. I quickly dealt with them and got down to physics revision.

Dad phoned just before we sat down to dinner. By the sounds of it, everything was going well. He told Mum that he would phone me later, but they were going out to follow up a lead Luuk had found.

It had gone nine-thirty before Dad phoned me. The first thing he did was thank me for the ten grand that Uncle Bernard had put into his private account that afternoon. He told me that he had signed Gert up to do two months' work on the documentary as soon has he had finished with the climate-change film.

"That's sixteen grand," I pointed out. "I've only funded you for ten."

"I can cover the extra six if needed, but by time Gert comes onto the books officially, Bernard will have got the legal side of things sorted, so more funds can be made available. I reckon I'll need Gert for about six months, so the fifty grand Bernard agreed to will just about cover that. Hopefully, we will be able to get more funding in by then, anyway."

"How's filming going?" I asked.

"A lot better now that Gert is organising things. However, we've lost too much time already. I'm going to have to come out again to finish some shoots. That's one thing I need to know. When is your half-term? Anne didn't know off hand."

"Spring bank holiday," I told him. "That's the twenty-fifth of May to the following Friday."

"Right, I'll tell De heer Wilhelm I can come out on the evening of the twenty-third and stay till…what date is the Sunday?"

"The thirty-first."

"I'll tell him I will have to finish filming on the thirtieth. Will Joseph want to come out?"

"Don't think he can. They only have a long weekend for the half-term. Friday, Monday and Tuesday off."

"Right. How are you fixed on the Friday, the twenty-second?"

I checked my exam timetable. I had an exam on the twentieth but then was free till the fourth of June.

"Good, I know Anne is free on the Friday, so I thought we could drive over. I would like to bring some kit over for Gert to use."

"Can you afford to get it?" I asked.

"Don't need to; already have it. It's all packed away in the storage rooms."

I wondered what it was. Then I asked Dad how Luuk had got on.

"He's done remarkably well given he's only been working on things two days. He was off over to Den Haag this morning; brought a massive amount of information back. He talked this evening with a psychologist who has specialised in the treatment of the survivors of the camps. Most of them suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, though it was not called that back in those days. We are going to film an interview with her at the weekend.

"He is of course worried about what is going to happen when his classes restart. There is no way he can commute from Rotterdam, so he needs to find somewhere in Amsterdam."

Wednesday morning, I had to be in early. Had Mr. Spragg for metalwork, and this morning there was an assessment. Fortunately, Mum also had an early class, so I got a lift in with her and Marcia; it was raining. Just hoped I could get a lift home early as they both had late classes and I was due at the yard at four.

To be honest, I have never really got on with Mr. Spragg. He is somewhat bombastic and quite condescending at times. He seemed to regard all his students as the lowest of the low. I know that quite a few of those attending his class had to because they were on one or another of the youth-training schemes, sometimes as a result of a probation order. Tipper, with whom I shared a bench in metalwork, was probably a prime example. The only reason he was there was his probation officer insisted he enrol for some training.

One thing about Tipper was that he did take a real interest in the class and worked hard at it. I asked him why once.

"Well, I need to get the skills to build hidden compartments in the jalopy. Then I can go over and bring some drugs back in it."

The jalopy was a 1969 VW beach buggy, which Tipper had inherited from an uncle and which he spent an inordinate amount of time and attention on.

I pointed out to him that if he was caught using the jalopy to bring drugs into the country, he would lose it.

"Damn! Not thought about that. Think I will have to get another car for the runs."

Although the class did not start until nine, Mr. Spragg was already at his desk when I entered the workshop at five to nine. He looked at the clock as if intimating that I was late, even though there were five minutes before the class was due to start.

At nine o'clock, Mr. Spragg handed out worksheets for what we were to do in the next ninety minutes. He had to be bloody joking. To make what was required on the worksheet, you needed to use the lathes, but there were only two lathes for twenty of us. There was no way all of us could finish the work that was outlined on the worksheet.

Worse still from my point of view was that the work required a milled knurled finish to be applied to the outside of the turned piece. A process I had not done. I mentioned it to Tipper.

"Oh, he taught that the periods you were away. Your mum's inquest, wasn't it." Tipper then went on to explain how I had to do it.

"Mr. Jefferies, you will not help Mr. Carlton. If he can't be bothered to attend my classes, he'll find he will have missed things which are essential for the exam," Mr. Spragg called out with a definite smirk in his voice.

The only reason I had taken this course was because I had wanted to learn how to braze and weld, both of which we had covered in the first term. I could not see any need to know about machining. That being the case and it being clear that Mr. Spragg intended to fail me on the course, I started to put the tools I had out on my bench away. Then I took off my work apron and started to fold it to put it in my bag.

"What do you think you're doing, Carlton," Mr. Spragg yelled at me.

"I'm packing up," I informed him.

"If you leave the class now, you will fail the course."

"It is quite clear that you intend to fail me in any event, so why should I bother to finish the course," I informed Mr. Spragg.

"And how do you expect to get employed with no qualifications?"

I turned and looked at him. His face was red with rage. I do not think he ever considered the possibility that someone might stand up to him.

"What makes you think I need to be employed?" I asked. "I own two boatyards and have a forty percent stake in a third. I think it is I who will be doing the employing."

A bit of an inaccurate statement. I only owned the one yard — through the trust. That was the Salvage Yard. The Peters Yard was being purchased by Dad, and although it was agreed that I would take forty percent of the Hamden Yard, the deal was still in progress.

I left the workshop with Mr. Spragg looking as if he was going to have an apoplexy, then made my way to student affairs to formally drop out of his class. The registrar was concerned I was dropping out just when the exams had started.

"Well, there is no point in taking them as Mr. Spragg has made it clear he is going to fail me. This way, my transcript will show I dropped out of the class. It will not show a fail."

She looked at my student record, then commented, "Well, it looks like you're the only person in his class who is not required to attend it in some way or other. You realise, though, I am going to have to report this to the vice principal."


"He has flagged your file to say that I need to report any problems with Mr. Spragg."

That got me puzzled. There was, though, nothing I could do about it, so I went off to look and see if Simone had arrived yet, if she had she would be somewhere near the back hallway that led to the car park. We had a single-period maths class at quarter past eleven in a classroom just off that hallway. She had not, but Antonio was there.

It was really raining hard, so even a dash over to Marge's was out of the question. I found myself a table in the refectory and got an overpriced Coke out of the machine. I suppose I could have gone to the library and done some revising, but I was not in the mood.

Shortly after ten-thirty, Tipper and some of the other lads from the metalwork course came in. Tipper went to the machine and got a can, then came over to where I was sitting.

"What did you do to set the vice principal onto Spraggy?" he asked.

"I didn't do anything. Why?"

"About half an hour after you walked out, Mr. Taunton, the new vice principal, came in. He took Spraggy into the office and closed the door, but we could hear them shouting from outside. They were in there for a good ten minutes. Then Taunton opened the door and came out. As he did, he turned and told Spraggy never to presume that a student needed his class. The students were doing him a favour by studying with him."

"Did you say Mr. Taunton was the new vice principal?" I asked.

"Yes, it was in the papers last Thursday," Tipper stated.

"I was in Amsterdam then."

"Lucky you. Did you get any pot?"

I just shook my head. Did he think of anything else but drugs?

Simone turned up just before eleven. We had a chance to compare our worksheets before going into class. As we were waiting for Mr. Taunton to arrive, I asked Simone if she had heard he had been made vice principal.

"I knew it was on the cards," she informed me. "There was a governors' meeting the Tuesday after Easter. They probably sorted it out then."

Rather than collect the worksheets we had done, Mr. Taunton worked through them on the board, asking us to mark our mistakes as he did so. I was pleased to find that I had only made a couple of minor ones — leaving the answer in the wrong form on two questions. The last half of the class, Mr. Taunton talked to us about the techniques we should use in the exam.

"The important thing is to read the paper through before you start. Some questions are easier than others. Each question carries ten points, and there are twenty questions on the paper, in five groups. You have to answer at least one question from each group, and you should try to answer ten questions in the three hours. The best approach is to read through the questions and mark off the ones you feel most confident with. Then do one question from each group. You can then do what you feel are the easiest for you.


"Yes, sir," a small lad who sat at the back of the class replied.

"I suggest you leave the trig questions till last. You always have problems with that subject. You might want to take most of your questions from the geometry or calculus sections."

"Yes, sir, thank you, sir."

"And you, Harrison," Mr. Taunton continued, addressing a girl sitting at the front, "would be advised to do exactly the opposite. Take most of your questions from the trig section. I know you have to take at least one from calculus, but please just stick with one from there."

Claire Harrison laughed but assured Mr. Taunton she would take his advice.

"We've got just over two weeks before the examinations begin. I don't intend to spend a lot of time in class doing revision work for you. I'll be handing out revision worksheets, and it will be up to you to do your own. What we will be doing in class is concentrating on the techniques and methods you need to use in the exam. Remember, you can get more marks for doing the maths involved in a question the right way and getting the wrong answer than you can for doing the maths in the wrong way and getting the right answer."

At the end of the class as we were going out, Mr. Taunton called me over.

"I heard you had a problem with Mr. Spragg this morning. What happened?"

I told him, then asked him why he wanted to know.

"It seems that Mr. Spragg decided to swap the agreed assessment paper this morning for one he knew you would not be able to do as you had missed the class where that method had been taught. The problem was that there was not enough equipment in the workshop to allow the majority of the students to complete the assigned work. The assessment has been cancelled and a new one will be run, which, I have made sure, all the students on the course have covered the work for and for which there are sufficient facilities for the work to be completed. So, if you want to go back into the class you can."

"Don't think so, sir, but thanks for sorting it out for the others. He was being unfair to them to get at me."

"I think it was to get at me actually, Johnny," Mr. Taunton stated. "I had told him that he could not fail you for missing classes due to you being called as a witness at the coroner's court. He intended to make sure you failed just to make a point that he could. Unfortunately, he rather underestimated you. Doubt if he will do so again."

On Wednesday afternoon, I had a single period of physics, one-thirty to quarter past two. Normally, it would be a double period, but Mr. Bell had to cancel the second period due to exam requirements. As a result, at half past two I was standing by the main door, looking out at the rain and scrolling through my phone trying to find a local taxi firm who were free. So far, the earliest pick up I had been offered was after four. It seemed all the local taxi firms were booked fully up with school runs in the afternoon.

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