Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 40

I grabbed my cola and went up to my room to get changed. Once there, I called Lee and told him that the uncles were here and had the keys to the sheds. He asked if he should come over.

"Don't know. They're in the kitchen, at the moment, talking to Dad," I told him.

"Will leave it for a bit, but can you ask them to call me when they're free?"

I told him I would. I got changed, then made my way back down to the kitchen.

"I thought you would be in the yard this morning," Uncle Phil commented.

"Not my Saturday; I'm there tomorrow. I'm due to meet Joseph this afternoon in Town. Lee asks you to call him when you've finished whatever you're talking about."

"Not sure we'll have time; have to be in Southmead for eleven. You'd better get him over here now."

I called Lee and told him to come over. He said he would come straightaway. I passed the news onto the uncles, then informed them I had to get a move on as I needed to get into Southminster to get the train.

"How're you getting there?" Uncle Phil asked.


"Bit of a run on the moped, isn't it?" Uncle Ben commented.

"Yes," I replied. "But it is a lot cheaper than taking a taxi."

Having said that, I went to leave. As I did, Lee came through the back door.

"Where you off to?" he asked.

"Southminster, going into Town to meet Joseph."

"If you don't mind waiting a bit, I'll give you a lift into Town," Lee informed me. "I'm picking up Simone at twelve; she's got tickets for the matinee of Priscilla. We're going to a club later if you want to join us, though we can't stay late. Simone is on reception from eleven tonight. So, I can give you a lift back."

The offer was too good to turn down.

Uncle Ben gave Lee a set of keys to the workshed that they were going to use as a dojo.

"Matt's people are going to work on the apartments next door first, so we will have to use it as it is for the time being. Can you have a look at what's there and see if there is anything urgent that needs doing," he told Lee.

"It's all sorted then, is it?" Lee asked.

"Not quite; there are some planning issues to sort out, but the sheds are cleared. We completed on everything last week. Now Bernard is having to sort out the split of title; that may take a few weeks," Uncle Ben replied.

That settled and whatever they needed to see Dad for out of the way, the uncles left, saying they had to be in Southmead before eleven."

"What are they doing in Southmead?" I asked once they had left.

"I think they're buying the airfield," Dad replied.


"Buying the airfield," Dad confirmed. "If they can get it cheap enough, it makes sense. Phil's needs a location for Fly Boys, and he has got a couple of other projects in the pipeline where they could use it. Given that it is a liquidation sale, they are hoping to get it cheap."

"They'd better be lucky," Lee said. "That place is prime for redevelopment as a housing estate."

"Can't be built on," Dad stated. "The runway is still listed as an emergency landing zone. It has to be maintained and kept available in case there is a closure of London airspace."

"Is the runway long enough?" Lee asked.

"According to Phil, it is; he says it is getting on for nearly two miles."

"I wouldn't have thought it was that long," I commented.

"Oh, it is," Mum stated from where she was working by the sink. "According to my gran, they used to have two planes taking off from it at the same time during the war."

"You mean side by side?" I asked. I had seen film of fighters taking off in this format.

"No, they had a double setup there. One station was at the end of the runway, the other halfway down. They both had an access onto it, so they could have a plane taking off from the halfway point and another taking off from the end of the runway. The Yanks built it that way; also, they needed a long runway for when they took off towing gliders."

"So, the uncles have gone to look at it, then?" I asked.

"Oh, no," Dad stated. "They've gone to buy it. It's being auctioned off today. That's why they were in a hurry to get to Southmead. The auction starts at eleven-thirty."

Lee said he had to get some things sorted out but would pick me up about twelve. That imparted, he went off back to his apartment. I went up to my room to look at my emails. There was one from Luuk; it was actually to Joseph but copied to me. It was basically saying he had received an email from Matt formally offering him an internship for July, August and September to work on the studio designs. I guessed now that the sale of the sidings had gone through, it was all go for that.

Lee called me at ten-to-twelve to say he was ready to set off, so I went down and met him in the yard. We had to go to Southmead to pick up Simone. We were kept waiting for a bit at the Hall. Simone apparently was not quite ready when we arrived. When she did come down, she looked fantastic in a dark-blue dress with a light mac thrown over her shoulders. She was wearing a pair of stiletto heels that must have been a good four inches, if not more.

The delay waiting for Simone meant we were later than Lee had wanted us to be, but he then made good time into London. I had arranged to meet Joseph at Liverpool Street Station, so Lee dropped me off at Tottenham Court Road so I could catch the Tube to Liverpool Street. I wondered where he was going to be parking the car, though I was fairly certain that Simone had probably got something arranged for that.

Joseph and I had agreed that we would go to the cinema this afternoon. What we had not agreed on was which film we were going to see. This turned out to be something of an issue. I wanted to see Angels and Demons a film based on the Dan Brown novel; Joseph was all for seeing some foreign-language film that was showing at an obscure cinema on the far side of London. He prevailed. To complicate matters, when we got there, the film was in Spanish and not subtitled. Joseph, it turned out, was doing Spanish at school as his modern language. One reason he wanted to see the film was he thought it might help with respect to his Spanish exam which he had on Tuesday. Unfortunately for Joseph, it was in Latin-American Spanish, which helped me. My mother had dumped me in a four-week total immersion course in Latin-American Spanish when I was about ten.

In the end, I enjoyed the film. I could just about follow what was going on but thought I would have preferred Angels and Demons. I got the impression that Joseph had trouble with the Spanish. He admitted later that he was not too bad with written Spanish but had major problems with the spoken language.

What I did find a bit annoying was that when we were not watching the film, Joseph seemed to want to talk about Luuk. It was clear that they had been emailing each other quite a bit. They had also had a couple of Skype calls. I suppose with Joseph's interest in architecture, it was not surprising.

The film finished just before five, and it was nearly six by the time we got to Leicester Square, where I had arranged to meet with Simone and Lee. That also created a bit of a problem. They suggested that we join them for dinner, then go on to a dance club for the evening; however, it turned out that Joseph had other plans. So, in the end, after dinner at Garfunkel's, Simone, Lee and I went off to the club; Joseph went home. He seemed a bit annoyed that I was not going home myself, but I did point out to him that I was dependent on Lee for transport.

The dance club was a short walk from Leicester Square and on the edge of Chinatown and Soho. It was in a basement which was entered via a side alley, the type of place that, if this had been the States in the 1920s, would have been a speakeasy. What was noticeable about the place was the treatment that Simone got when we entered. She went directly to the door, ignoring the queue that was waiting to get in. The rope barrier was raised for her; she indicated that we were with her, and we passed through the barrier, down a short flight of steps and into the club. There, we deposited our coats in the cloakroom just inside the door. The girl in the cloakroom addressed Simone as Mademoiselle Simone. I guessed this must be one of the places owned by the Thompson family. When I mentioned this to Simone, she laughed.

"Christ, no," she said with a laugh. "This place is owned by Solomon Grundy."

"Who's he?" I asked.

"Let's just say he is a business associate of Auntie's. He and Aunty have many business activities in common but they prefer to co-operate rather than be in competition with each other," Simone informed me.

"Then why are you being treated like royalty?"

"Because as far as Solomon's concerned, she is royalty," a familiar voice from behind me said. I turned to find Neal and Maddie.

Just then a small, overweight man waddled across the room to us.

"Mademoiselle Simone, Mr. Neal, it is so good to see you."

"Good evening, Solomon, may I introduce a friend of the family, John Carlton-Smith," Simone said, indicating me. "And this is my fiancé, Lee Sanderson."

"Fiancé!" both Neal and I exclaimed.

"Yes, Lee proposed to me at the theatre, and I've accepted."

"Then there must be champagne," Solomon announced loudly. Somebody must have heard, for within moments a waiter was bringing a large bottle of champagne to the table; another was bringing glasses. Neal told Simone not to worry about getting back to the hotel; he would sort it. He then went outside, clearly to make a phone call. I do not think coverage was very good in this basement.

In the next half hour or so, a number of people arrived to join our party. Some I recognised from the party at Neal's; others, like Tony, I knew. Most were complete strangers to me. Strange, though they all seemed to know who I was.

"Of course, they do," Tony informed me when I mentioned it. "Aunty has expressed her desire that you're kept safe. That means we all have an interest in keeping you safe."

I wondered if that was supposed to comfort me.

It was a couple of hours and about six bottles of champagne later that, as I was talking to Tony, I heard Lee exclaim, "Shit!" I turned to look at him, then turned to look at where he was looking. Three black men had entered the club. From that moment on, I got a distinct impression that Lee was trying to stay out of sight. He seated himself towards the back of the table, out of the lighted area. Not long after, he suggested to Simone that we really ought to start getting back. I was glad he did as, unlike Lee or Simone, I had to be at work in the morning. Like in just over eight hours.

I went and retrieved our coats from the cloakroom, handed theirs to Simone and Lee, then we made our way out. We had not got more than five yards down the alley when a large black man stepped out of the shadows in front of us.

"Slipping away, Lee? Donny phoned us and said you were in the Ladybird. Now what were you doing in there? Looking for a job maybe. You were told to come and work for me, weren't you?" he said, pushing his face forward till it was inches from Lee's face. Then he looked at Simone. "Your bit of white pussy? Well, Lee, you know the rules. Any white bitch is shared around. I'll take this one for tonight."

There was a sound of a snigger behind us. I glanced back; there were three black men standing there all holding knives in a manner that suggested they knew how to use them.

"Look, Mr. Dee, I never said I would work for you. I've got a job, and I'm keeping well away from your activities," Lee stated.

"If I say you're working for me, you're working for me."

Up to then I had been concentrating on Mr. Dee. However, for a moment my concentration wandered, and I noticed there were three more men standing behind him. Two were white, the third black. Like the men behind us, they were holding knives in a way that indicated that they knew how to use them.

Mr. Dee moved forward, his hand coming up to grab Simone's breast. She took a half-step back. Mr. Dee laughed then screamed as a four-inch stiletto heel, with the full force of Simone's kick behind it, embedded itself just below his sternum. The men behind Mr. Dee started to move forward. There was a phuff sound from behind us, and the leading man of the three was knocked back. I turned and looked behind us; the three men who had been there, were no longer there. Neal, Maddie and Tony had taken their places. Behind them stood Solomon Grundy, with a small pistol in his hands. There was a large silencer on the pistol. By the way he was holding it, double-handed, I was fairly sure he knew how to use it.

"Drop the knives!" Maddie instructed.

"Who the fuck are you?" one of the men said.

"The second-most-dangerous woman in London," Maddie replied. There was a movement of her arm and a knife appeared embedded in the man's right shoulder, causing him to drop the knife he was holding. The other man just dropped his.

Solomon walked forward and stood over the prostrate form of Mr. Dee.

"Barry, my boy, you've made a big mistake," Solomon stated, looking down at the man on the ground. Blood seeped out from where the heel of the shoe was embedded in his abdomen. "What do you want done with him, Mademoiselle Thompson?"

"Thompson?" The man on the ground groaned.

"Yes, Barry, one of Aunty's nieces, in this case her favourite niece and her fiancé, Lee," Solomon stated. The man on the ground seemed to physically shrink at that news.

"Get him to a doctor, and those two as well," Simone instructed, indicating the two other injured men. "Make sure he understands he owes me a pair of Jimmy Choo's."

Solomon nodded, then made a sign. A couple of men appeared and started to move Mr. Dee.

"Grundy," Mr. Dee moaned as he was being moved. "Can you deal with Donny for me? He never said Lee was with the Thompsons."

Solomon indicated he would. Lee said he would go and get the car. He would phone when he was at the end of the alley. Neal suggested that he let one of the others get the car, that Lee was needed back inside the club.

"There are things we need to sort out, and we need to sort them out now," he told Lee. Lee nodded, handed the car keys to Neal, who gave them to an older chap whom I remember being introduced to but whose name escaped me.

Simone and I re-entered the club. The woman at the cloakroom was able to provide Simone with a pair of pumps to wear. I commented that it was convenient that they had some.

"Many of the ladies who frequent my club do not fancy walking home in high heels after an evening of dancing," Solomon stated. "Having some pumps for them to use is all part of the service."

I made a comment to Simone that it was an expensive service he provided. She responded with the information that, for most people, this was an expensive place to get into.

Lee had hung back a bit to talk with Neal. As we walked in, I looked across to the table where the three black guys had been seated. One of them looked at us and smirked. He was not smirking for long. Two guys, one black and one white, appeared behind his chair, hauled him out of it and dragged him across the dance floor to where we were and pushed him down onto his knees. Solomon, who had come in with us, stepped forward.

"Hello, Donny," Solomon stated.

"You can't do this," Donny replied. "Mr. Dee—" Solomon had nodded. One of the two men who were holding Donny gave him a kick in the back.

"Mr. Dee, at the moment, is in no position to do anything," Solomon stated. "In fact, he may well be permanently in no position to do anything. I think we'd best continue this discussion upstairs."

A look of horror spread across Donny's face. The guys holding him down now physically picked him up and carried him off towards the back of the club.

"Who is he?" I asked. As I did, I realised two things. First, the sound of conversation that had been underlying the music all evening had stopped. Second, the majority of the people in the club were looking, not in our direction but towards something behind us. I turned, and the moment I did, I knew why so many in the room had a worried expression on their faces. Miss Jenkins stood there.

"Good evening, Solomon," she said.

"Good evening, Edith," he replied.

"Simone, Johnny, I told Lee, Neal and Maddie that we would meet upstairs. I hope I did not presume on your hospitality, Solomon."

"Of course not, Edith; there is something I have to deal with up there in any event," Solomon replied.

"What's going on?" I asked Simone as we followed Miss Jenkins out into the foyer of the club.

"That Donny guy broke one of the rules of this place," Simone informed me. "This is a neutral zone. Opposing groups can meet here and discuss their problems. There is one strict rule: what goes on in here is never communicated to anyone outside of here. That Donny guy broke that rule; he let Mr. Dee know Lee was here."

"Who's Mr. Dee?"

"A small-time crook who thinks he is a big-time operator," Simone replied.

We caught up with Miss Jenkins and Solomon in the foyer. A side door was opened, and we walked up some steps into what was clearly the entrance hall for the office block above the club. Solomon led the way over to the lifts, Miss Jenkins on his arm. The security man at the desk by the door glanced over, then looked away.

Solomon pressed the call button for the lift. There must have been one on the floor already as a set of lift doors opened immediately. We all entered. As the doors shut, Solomon removed a key from his pocket, inserted it into the lift control panel, then turned the key.

Thirty seconds later, the lift doors opened onto a marbled vestibule; Lee, Maddie and Neal were seated on some chairs. As we exited the lift, they stood and joined us. Solomon led us across the vestibule and opened a set of double doors into a hallway. Along the wall of the hallway were paintings, good-quality paintings. I might not know as much about art as Joseph does, but I could tell that these were quality.

At the end of the hallway, a pair of double doors opened into a large room, which I guessed must be a good twenty-feet square. One wall of the room was a floor-to-ceiling window looking out over London's West End. I was not quite sure where we were but did know we were at the top of some prime real estate. To the left, looking out of the window, I could see the lights of Piccadilly Circus. Solomon went over to the window and pushed a button. A set of Roman blinds lowered, closing off the view. At the same time, the lighting in the room became brighter.

"I hope you do not mind a bit of a delay before we deal with the business in hand, but I thought it would be advisable for Mama Simon to join us," Solomon stated.

"A most acceptable arrangement," Miss Jenkins said. "It will avoid any unwarranted unpleasantness.

"Would it be too much of an imposition to request some tea?"

"Not at all, Edith. I'll arrange tea and coffee for those who would like some," Solomon replied.

Solomon indicated that we should be seated. Then he left the room. We all took seats — Lee and Simone on one of the two-seater sofas, Neal and Maddie on the other. Miss Jenkins took ownership of a high-wingback leather chair that looked exceptionally comfortable. There were a couple more next to it and I thought I might take one, but a look from Miss Jenkins encouraged me to think again, and I ensconced myself in a chrome-and-leather chair that was situated between the two sofas. It not only looked uncomfortable but was.

Solomon returned in a couple of minutes, saying tea and coffee would be arriving shortly.

There was that slightly awkward silence when everybody wants to say something just to break the silence, but nobody does, not wishing to take the risk of saying the wrong thing. Then there was a chime, like a doorbell. Solomon pulled out his phone, swiped the screen to open an app, then looked at something before entering some data.

"Mama Simon has arrived," he stated as he stood up out of his chair. "I will go and meet her."

When he returned, he was accompanied by a small black woman. At least, she was small in stature. That was about the only thing that was small about her. She was wearing a full-length skirt which was vivid orange, topped by an emerald-green jacket. The moment she entered the room, one was aware of her presence. Nothing was said, but everybody in the room stood for her.

She looked around, smiled, then nodded towards Miss Jenkins. "Edith."

"Mary," Miss Jenkins replied. "Allow me to introduce people." Miss Jenkins moved over to be beside the woman. She guided her to the sofa where Simone and Lee were standing. "You know my niece, Simone, of course." Mary smiled, then spoke to Simone briefly.

"This is her fiancé, Lee Sanderson," Miss Jenkins said, guiding Mary along. "Lee, this is Mary Simon." A look of awe passed over Lee's face.

"I see you know of me," Mary stated.

"A bit hard not to, madam," Lee replied. Mary laughed.

"This is John Carlton-Smith," Miss Jenkins stated as she guided Mary Simon to me. "He is a friend of the family."

There was something in the way that was said which implied a lot more than was actually said.

Mary shook hands with me, her handshake being surprisingly firm for such a small woman. Then she turned to Miss Jenkins and stated, "I'll make sure that is understood."

They proceeded on to the next sofa, where Neal and Maddie were waiting.

"Of course, Mary, you know Neal," Miss Jenkins said.

"Yes, but it is some years since I see him last. Last I saw him, he be on that skateboard, taking a load off you in Bond Street."

Miss Jenkins bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement of the correctness of that statement. "This is his fiancé, Madeleine Atkins, better known as Maddie."

"I have heard of her," Mary Simon stated. "A most interesting young woman."

"She is indeed, Mary," Miss Jenkins stated. "You will have to join Maddie and me for tea sometime soon so we can discuss things."

I got the feeling that everybody else in the room knew what 'things' were. I was fairly sure I did not want to know what they were.

As Mary Simon was talking to Maddie, a young man pushed a tea trolley into the room. Solomon suggested that we should take our seats. Miss Jenkins guided Mary Simon to the third wingback chair before taking her seat in the middle chair. That placed Mary on one side of Miss Jenkin and Solomon on the other. It reminded me of three judges sitting in the Court of Appeal.

Tea and cakes were served or, in my case, coffee and cake. I think Lee was the only other person to go for coffee. We sat around for about ten minutes consuming our refreshments and making fairly idle talk. I wondered what was going on and got the impression that Lee was just as puzzled, though he seemed to be very respectful to Mary Simon.

Then Solomon looked at his watch, sighed, stood and moved to the centre of the room. He pulled out his phone and called somebody, telling them to bring him through. A couple of minutes later Donny was brought into the room. His hands were now fastened behind him, I think by some cable ties. He was forced down on his knees before Solomon.

"Donny, Donny, you have been a naughty boy, haven't you?" Solomon said. He sounded like he was speaking to a six-year-old who had just trampled mud through the kitchen. "So, what made you think you could violate the Ladybird's rules?"

"Mr. Dee wanted Lee to work for him," Donny stated.

"And he told you to break the rule about the Ladybird being neutral territory? I suggest you think twice before you answer."

There was a long pause before Donny spoke.

"It didn't seem important; Lee's a nobody."

"He's my niece's fiancé," Miss Jenkins stated in a loud and firm voice. Donny looked surprised. I realised from where he was being held, just in front of Solomon he would be unable to see the two ladies seated in their chairs.

"Yes, a good point," Solomon stated to Donny. "You came into my club; you saw Lee there. Why did you come to the Ladybird tonight?"

There was another pause before Donny replied. "I had a message to deliver to Moses Goldstein."

"Did you deliver that message?"

"No, your goons pulled me out before I could."

"So, you failed to deliver Mr. Dee's message," Solomon said. "I will make sure to let Barry know, if he survives."

"Survives?" Donny asked.

"Yes, Donny. Due to your actions, Barry Dee ended up with four inches of steel embedded in his abdomen. It was attached to the shoe of Mademoiselle Thompson."

"Thompson?" Donny stuttered.

"Yes, Donny, Thompson. Lee is the fiancé of Mademoiselle Thompson. They were in my club as my guests celebrating their engagement, as I am sure you knew."

"I didn't know, Mr. Grundy; how could I have known? I only came into the club to see Moses, and I see Lee there with this white girl, so I let Mr. Dee know."

"So, you did not try to find out why Lee was here or what was going on?"

"No, why should I?" Donny asked.

"Because, Donny, that was your fucking job!" Solomon snapped back. "You're Barry Dee's eyes. You find out what is going on and let him know. An eye who does not keep his boss informed of all the facts is useless. He's worse than useless; he is a positive danger.

"If you had asked any of the club staff, they would have told you who the woman with Lee Sanderson was. The very name Thompson should have set off alarms with you. It would not have taken long for you to check if she was a member of the Porter/Thompson family.

"Donny, you fucked up big time. You have caused major problems. Because of you, Barry Dee insulted the niece of Miss Jenkins. Now, you know what that means?"

Donny hung his head.

"The question is, Donny, what are we going to do with you?" Solomon asked. "Ladies?"

Solomon stepped aside giving Donny a clear view of Miss Jenkins and Mary Simon sitting in their chairs, like assize judges about to place the black cap upon their heads.

"Now, boy, you've really messed up, haven't you?" Mary stated, rising from her chair and walking over towards Donny. "You broke the rules of Mr. Grundy's club, rules that are there to protect all of you when you're in there. More, you dan't do your job right, so Barry Dee, he insult someone he had no business insulting. That showed you have no respect, boy. You had no respect for those you should respect, and you have no respect for the man you were working for. If you had respect, you would have done your job properly, man, not messed it up as you have. Now, Barry Dee is in hospital; he's the man who is the grandkid of my little sister's best friend. How I am to tell her that her grandkid lies in hospital because you could not respect him?"

"So, what should we do with him, Mama Simon?" Solomon asked.

"That's not for me to say, Mr. Grundy," Mary Simon stated. "He cause insult to Mademoiselle Thompson, and he caused costs to them and to Barry Dee. Maybe he even caused the grandkid of my little sister's best friend to die. That's an awful lot to put right; that's going to cost big time. Not sure a brat like him can make good that costs. What would you do for him?"

"Maybe send him water skiing," Solomon suggested.

"Now that be right good of you," Mary Simon replied. "Right good. It would let it be known that not having respect has consequences."

Donny was blabbering by now. "Please, I'll make good the costs; I'll do anything."

"Anything?" Miss Jenkins asked, rising from her seat and crossing to where Mary and Solomon stood in front of Donny.

"Anything," Donny said.

Miss Jenkins looked at Solomon. "Mr. Chau?"

Solomon nodded.

"Mary?" Miss Jenkins asked.

"I don't like such work, Edith, but it be better than water skiing," Mary Simon answered. "He make good money there. Couple of year, he be able to pay what he owe if he work well, but I don't want that boy back here when he be done. You understand, don't you?"

"Of course, Mary," Miss Jenkins responded. "It would be dishonourable to all if he was around. Does he have a record?"

"Not so that I know of," Mary Simon stated. "Though he is not from my patch, you know, only came on it to work for young Barry."

"I understand," Miss Jenkins replied. "Donny, do you have a record? Have you been in trouble with the police?"

"Trouble yes, charged no. Been pulled in a couple of times when I was younger for questioning but never charged," Donny stated.

I wondered what he meant by when he was younger. He could not have been that much older than I was.

"Good, then you'll go to work for Mr. Chau, understand?"

Donny just nodded. Miss Jenkins continued. "You'll work for Mr. Chau for three years or until you have paid off what tonight's event have cost to all the parties, whichever is less. When that is over, you don't come back to England. Mr. Chau will arrange work for you in Australia or South Africa. He has contacts in both places."

"If you are lucky, some rich Arab will buy you from Mr. Chau, and you can live in comfort from then on," Solomon Grundy stated. "You're prepared to do what's needed to put things right?"

Donny confirmed that he was. Then he was taken out of the room. Neal informed Lee that the Merc was waiting for us downstairs. We were told to go down to the basement garage where it was parked. When we got there, a man was standing by the Merc. He handed Lee the keys.

It was about half an hour later, as we exited the last confines of London, when I asked the question that had been on my mind.

"Just what went on back there?" I asked.

"That's what I would like to know, too," Lee stated. He turned his head to look at Simone.

"Keep your eyes on the road," she instructed. He did. "I'll try to explain, but it's complicated."

"I bet it is," Lee said.

"For a start, you must understand that the Ladybird Club is an old club. It's been around since the 1950s. I think Solomon got ownership of it back around 1960. Ever since, Solomon's had it, and I think even before, it has been neutral territory for the London gangs. They could meet there and discuss issues, make deals, settle disputes without things getting nasty.

"There were two strict rules. Nobody told anyone what went on inside the Ladybird, and nobody touched anyone in the area around the Ladybird. Once you were out on the main roads, that was your lookout, but on the side streets on each side of the club or in the alley, you were safe. That is, until tonight. Donny broke the first rule; Mr. Dee broke the second."

"That I understand," Lee stated. "What I don't understand is how Neal and Maddie suddenly turned up and what happened up in Solomon's penthouse?"

"Well, Neal, Maddie and the rest were close by when I pressed the alarm."

"What alarm?" Lee asked.

"On my watch," Simone told him. "All the family members have a watch which contains an alarm system. When I press the two buttons on each side together, an alarm is triggered. A message goes out to all our phones."

"But there's no reception down in that basement," I pointed out.

"Wouldn't need to be. You would need Neal or Maddie to tell you how it works. Probably Maddie, because she sorted it out for us last year. The app on our phones is always running; it also connects to whatever local internet services are around. Somehow, Maddie found a way for them to connect even if they are password protected. There may not be a phone signal down there, but there is wireless internet."

"So, Donny broke a rule, and so did Mr Dee in ambushing us there, but why did he want Lee to work for him?" I asked.

"I knew too much about their activities, didn't I?" Lee replied. "That's why they set me up to take that rap so there was no chance of me going to university and getting out of life on the estate."

"That, we are going to have to do something about," Simone stated.

"What?" Lee asked.

"Not sure yet, but Barry Dee owes us, and he owes us big time. I think somebody may have to start spilling the beans on exactly what happened that night, and a few of his people are going to be doing time."

"That's not going to make me popular," Lee stated.

"It's going to make you feared," Simone replied. "They have to know that touching one of our family is not good for their health."

"As Donny found out," I said. "What was all that about water skiing? Also, who is Mr. Chau?"

"Water skiing is when they cuff someone's hands to a rope and pull them along behind a high-speed boat. No matter how hard they try, water will be forced into their lungs and stomach every time they go under. They are then cut loose and allowed to float away. Even if the water skiing has not killed them, they will die from secondary drowning."

"They were going to kill him?" I exclaimed.

"No," Simone stated. "Don't think anyone's been water-skied since the 1960s. In fact, the last instance I know of it being used was in the 50s. They would never have done it, but they did need Donny to agree to the alternative."

"Working for Mr. Chau. What's that?" I asked.

"Ricky Chau is a Singaporean who runs a top-of-the-range, male-escort and brothel service, mostly on yachts in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Most of his customers are oil-rich Arabs visiting Bangkok or Macao, men who want to indulge in pleasures they could never contemplate even thinking about at home. Donny is going to be a male whore until his debt is paid."

"But that's—" I got out.

"Johnny, he agreed to do it; he knows what's involved," Simone stated.

I decided to keep quiet. At least, about that. There was one thing that puzzled me. So, I asked the question. "Who is Mrs. Simon?"

"It's Mama Simon," Lee announced. "She's one of the Aunties."

"You mean like Miss Jenkins?"

"No, Johnny, Miss Jenkins is the Aunty, the head of the Porter/Thompson family. Mama Simon is one of the Aunties, the women who control the West Indian families."

"Women control them?" I exclaimed.

"Johnny, you need to understand that West Indian society is essentially matriarchal," Lee said. "West Indian families, well they are more like clans, are headed by women. The most senior in a clan is generally called Aunty, even if not related."

"So, they're female gangsters?"

"No, Johnny," Simone stated. "They avoid being involved in crime as much as they can. They basically run the clans. So long as the activities of the youths do not endanger the clan, they are ignored, but if they do anything that is a threat to the clan, the Aunties come down on them like a ton of bricks."

"Then why was she there?"

"Because neither Solomon or Aunty want trouble with the West Indian gangs. Mama Simon was there to see that everything was done proper, that Donny was not forced into anything, that he agreed to do what he agreed to do."

"Not that he had much choice," I commented.

"Oh, he had plenty of choices," Simone said. "He just did not know it, and Mama Simon decided not to tell him about them."


"Because he had broken the rules. His actions had resulted in Barry Dee getting my stiletto in his stomach. He had let down his boss. That is something you do not do. If your boss gives you a job, you do it right."

I was not sure that I wanted to know more, so leaned back in my seat and tried to doze. I had to be at the yard just after nine.

It had gone four when we got back to the Priory. As a result, I was suffering a bit from lack of sleep when I got into the yard on Sunday morning. A fact that was noticed.

"Rough night?" Steve asked. He then poured me a mug of coffee.

"You could say that. What do you need me to do today?" I asked, hoping it was nothing complicated. I was out of luck.

"Could you post up the worksheets that are outstanding?" Steve asked. "It's been busy all week and I've only posted up what needed posting to put the billing through. I'd planned to do it today as we've got a full staffing in the yard, but there's an urgent job that's come in that needs carpentry done."

By the way he said carpentry, I was sure it was more than just fixing some smashed planking. If it had been smashed planking, any of the other lads in the yard could have dealt with it.

"Who's in today?"

"Everybody except Katherine; it's her weekend off," Steve informed me.

That answered another question. As a boatwright, I would have expected Katherine to tackle any repairs to wooden-hulled boats that came in.

Steve continued. "She's going to be pissed when she comes in tomorrow to hear about this job. She would have loved it."

"What is it?" I asked.

"1920s friendship sloop. Got a damaged bowsprit which I'm going to have to replace."

"How come?"

"Some idiot in a motor yacht, forgot the rule about giving way to sail. Cut straight across her, taking the bowsprit off. Apparently did a lot of damage to his fibreglass palace, which serves him right." Steve left to make the repair.

I went over to the filing tray where we put our worksheets and pulled the pile out. There was quite a pile. For the next couple of hours, I sat at the computer entering all the times into a job-logging application. Steve had a piece of software called TACR where we could allocate time and costs to each job. The worksheets showed me how much time each of the lads had spent on each job.

Around one, Steve sent Colin up to the Pig to get some pies for lunch, which were consumed in the tearoom. Then I got back to entering worksheets into the computer. I finished just after three and went to see how Steve was getting on with the bowsprit.

I found him in the wood shop, attacking a massive piece of teak with a draw knife. Once I assured him that the worksheets were all sorted, Steve spent a good half an hour explaining why he was using a draw knife to shape the wood.

"Most people think a bowsprit is just a tapered piece of wood sticking out of the front of their boat, evenly tapered from the base to the end. On many modern boats that's the case. With older and well-built boats, that's not the case. The taper is different; it's uneven. Most of the taper is on the bottom of the bowsprit, with the top of the bowsprit having little or no taper on it. You can't put a piece of wood in a big lathe and turn it to size; that'll give you an even taper. You have to do it by hand."

"Or get a CNC machine," I commented.

"Don't spoil the fun," Steve replied. "By the way, we owe you for this wood."

"You do?"

"Yes, Colin got it for me from the storage sheds up at the Salvage Yard. Part of the stuff that was not included when we set up the company."

"That's fine. I'll just send a bill."

"Do so. You need to charge for this stuff. It's good teak."

"Isn't it a bit heavy for use as a bowsprit?" I asked.

"By modern thinking, yes, but I'm replacing like with like. The boat was designed with a teak bowsprit in mind, so if I was to replace it with something lighter, it would upset the handling."

That was something I had not thought about.

Bran came in looking for Steve to let him know that he had finished the job that he had been working on, and the owners wanted to settle up and take their boat. I took the worksheet off Bran, went back to the office and entered the details of the job, then generated the invoice. I had just finished generating it when Steve came in with the owners, so I handed Steve the invoice to check it. He did, then handed it to the man.

I hung on a bit to give Steve a hand with the lockup. As we were doing so, he asked me if I had been able to sort anything out regarding Colin. I had to inform him that I had not. I needed to see Uncle Bernard to discuss things with him but had not been able to since I spoke to Steve earlier.

"Don't leave it too long, Johnny. I know it is only the end of the first week in June, but the end of season will be on us quicker than you think. We are already starting to see a sign of slowdown in jobs being booked in."

I nodded and promised Steve that I would sort it out by next weekend.

When I got back home, I asked Dad if Uncle Bernard was due to come over anytime soon.

"There are some papers that I need to sign," Dad informed me. "Bernard said he would get them over to me, but I am not sure if he is bringing them or if Martin will drop them in. Bernard might even post them."

"If he does come over, let him know I need to speak to him."

"What about?"

"I need to know if I can do something with funds from the trust."

"What's that?" Dad asked.

"I wanted to know if I could use money from the trust to pay for the work on The Lady Ann. I would like to use Colin to do some of the work for me."

"Any reason why?"

"Because Steve can't keep him on when the season starts to slow down. If I can use him on The Lady Ann, I can pay Steve for Colin's time, get the boat sorted out quicker, and Steve can keep Colin on the payroll."

"So, you are going to restore it?" Dad asked.

"Not immediately. Steve suggested I build a replica first to find out how it was built before I try rebuilding her."

"That makes sense. Don't know if the trust can fund you paying for Colin, but if it can, I don't see why you shouldn't. It would be benefitting you and your plans for working with yachts."

That said, Dad informed me that we were going down to the Belmont for dinner, which would be at seven. I checked the clock and it had just gone five, so decided I would up to my room to shower, change and do some revision. Before I did, though, I told Dad that Simone and Lee had got engaged.

"About bloody time," he stated. "I suppose I'll have to give Lee a raise so he can get a place of his own. Though, where he is going to find one around here, I don't know."

"How about at the side of the walled garden?" I asked.

"There's nothing there," Dad pointed out. "Spoke to Steven about it last month to see what they could plant there, but he says the whole area is filled with rubble. Going to be hard to get anything to grow there."

"I know, Dad; Steven told me the same. Jim was even more uncomplimentary about it. That got me thinking."

"And what were you thinking?"

"Well, you know those vakantie bungalows we stayed in over in Beekbergen?"

"Yes, what about them?"

"Well, you could put three or four of them up in that area."

"You know, that's not a bad idea. I'll need to look into it and find out where they were produced."

"I picked up some information on them when we were over there," I told Dad, "I'll bring it down once I've showered and changed."

It was about half an hour later that I dropped the brochures that I had picked up in Beekbergen on Dad's desk. He thanked me and said he would have a look at them. I then went back to my room to study.

Just before seven I came back down to the kitchen to join Mum and Dad for the trip down to the Belmont. On the way down, I asked Dad why we were eating at the Belmont.

"Just doing a favour for a friend," he replied. I wondered who the friend was and what the favour was.

Over dinner, Dad thanked me for the brochures I had given him and said they had given him an idea but that he needed to discuss it with Matt.

"What brochures and what's the idea?" Mum asked.

"Johnny brought some brochures back from Beekbergen about those vakantie bungalows there. He suggested putting a few up on that area to the side of the walled garden."

"You mean where the old farmhouse used to be?" Mum asked.

"I suppose that was where it was," Dad stated. "That would explain all the rubble. Yes, that's the area."

"I was going to suggest some car-parking there," Mum said. "There really is not enough for the arts and craft centre now with all the business it's getting."

"To be honest, I was thinking very much the same," Dad replied, sinking my idea. "However, I did think we could use the vakantie houses up on the sidings site. It would be a way of providing low-cost housing for the area."

"That's needed," Mum agreed. "There are a lot of young families who just can't find anything local."

An hour and a half later after a pleasant but not exceptional meal, I was none the wiser. However, Dad had a somewhat satisfied smile on his face as if he knew something. The moment we got back to the Priory, he went into his study to make a phone call.

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