Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 46

"What is it?" Mum asked.

"Later," Dad replied, pushing the envelope and its contents into his inside pocket.

The limousine pulled up, and we climbed into it. The ride back to the hotel took about five minutes. Dad was silent the whole way and clearly worried about something. During the ride, he pulled out his phone and sent a couple of text messages. As we were getting out of the car at the hotel, I heard his phone ping, so there was a reply to at least one.

Once we got up to our floor, Dad told Tyler that he would not be going down to the reception; something had come up which had to be dealt with, but he would text Tyler when we were looking to leave, and we were still good for giving him and Jenny a lift back to the Priory. Dad then suggested to me that I should get changed and then join him and Mum in their room. I took the suggestion and about ten minutes later was knocking on the door to their room. Dad called for me to go in.

I was rather surprised when I entered to find Miss Jenkins and Uncle Bernard there. Dad handed them the envelope. They both read the contents, then after returning the contents to the envelope, passed it back to Dad.

"You need to read this," Dad said, handing me the envelope. I opened it, withdrew the contents, then read:

Mr. Carlton,

Your son has acquired by inheritance a quantity of gold that he has no right to. The gold is ours; your ex-wife was only acting as our agent. We are aware that the gold is in a trust of which you are a trustee. We are also aware that you and your friends have been involved in thwarting our activities in your country. Unless you cease such actions against us and return the gold to us, its rightful owners, the consequences for yourself and your family will be dire.

There then followed a set of instructions on how to assign the certificates of allocation to a third party, who was named in the instructions. The letter was just signed, if you could call it signed, with a stamped mark in the form of a sigil made from the letters D and V.

"Who's this from?" I asked.

Dad looked at Miss Jenkins.

"From the sigil stamped on the letter, we must assume that it is from Die Vereinigung," she said.

"And who are Die Vereinigung?" I asked.

"Not who but what. It is a group of ethnic German criminal families based in South America," she stated. "At their core, they are the remnants of a Nazi group that fled Germany at the end of the Second World War."

She paused, as if thinking about how much to tell us, then continued. "During the war, a very unpleasant man named Oscar Dirlewanger formed a special brigade inside the Waffen-SS. It is generally known as the Dirlewanger Brigade; its full title is SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger. It was made up of men who had been convicted of some of the worse sorts of offences, mostly sadistic rapes. They went on during the war to carry out some of the worst atrocities of the Second World War. They were regarded with horror by many within the Waffen-SS, and there were numerous attempts made to have the brigade disbanded. However, they had the protection of senior members of the Nazi party."

"How high up?" Uncle Bernard asked.

"Difficult to say," Miss Jenkins replied, "but very close to the senior party members, at the least. Himmler certainly knew about them."

There was another pause. It was as if she was reluctant to tell us what she was going to tell us. After a few moments, she resumed.

"At the end of the war, Oscar Dirlewanger was captured in June 1945 and taken to a French internment camp. There he is supposed to have been killed by Polish and Jewish refugees who had suffered at his hands. There has always been a bit of a mystery about his death and a constant rumour that he actually escaped. According to the French, he died of a massive heart attack and was buried in an unmarked grave. We will probably never know the truth.

"What is known is that a number of members the Dirlewanger Brigade managed to escape from occupied Germany and got to Argentina. It seems they used criminal connections, mostly in Italy, to get not only themselves but some senior Nazis out of Europe. Once in Argentina, with the tacit approval of the Peron government, they started to carry out criminal activities in the Americas, eventually spreading to Europe and Asia.

"In the last seventy years, they have become a considerable force in some areas. They are behind a number of the right-wing nationalist groups that are around. However, their interest is not so much in neo-Nazi ideology but in using them for their criminal activities.

"Most of the ultra-nationalist groups in Europe and the United States are tied in with Die Vereinigung in some way or another. The majority of them, though claiming to be political organisations, are little more than groupings of petty criminals who like to think they are something special. Most of them are thugs who like to dress up. Unfortunately, they are dangerous thugs with no morals."

"And they want the gold?" I asked.

"It seems so," Dad replied.

There was a knock on the door. Dad called for whoever was out there to come in. The door opened. Neal and Maddie entered.

"Got your message, Aunty. What's up?" he said as he entered.

"Give Neal the letter please, Johnny," Miss Jenkins said.

I handed Neal the letter, which he read. He then passed it to Maddie. She read it, then handed it back to me. I passed it over to Dad.

"There's one thing that puzzles me," I said. "What do they mean by 'thwarting our activities in your country'? What have we done?"

"That's a long story," Miss Jenkins stated. "For the time being, just accept that, by coincidence, between us we have put a stop to three different operations which Die Vereinigung were connected with. One of these my family broke up with assistance from Maddie. That's how Maddie became connected to my family. You and your father last year took down the Hendersons. Like many such right-wing churches they were part of Die Vereinigung…well, let's say associates of. Then, Johnny, last week you caused three members of the Aryan Defence League to be arrested. It seems that two of them were senior members of that organisation. There are links between the Aryan Defence League and Die Vereinigung."

"You seem to know a lot about them," I stated.

"We and some of our associates have been keeping tabs on them over the last couple of years. It's our belief that they are preparing for something big. The thing is, we don't know what," Neal said.

"So, what do we do about this?" Dad asked, holding up the letter.

"Well, at the moment, there is not much we can do," Uncle Bernard stated. "The police have started POCA proceedings for the certificates, and HM Customs and Excise are after a cut of them. Until the court has established who owns them and if there are any death duties to be paid on them, they are in the hands of a court-appointed officer. Even if we wanted to let them have the gold, there is no way we can give it to them. It will be at least three, more like five, years for this case to proceed through the court system. I am fairly certain it will go all the way to the Supreme Court."

"And do we want to give the certificates to them?" Dad asked.

"No!" I answered.

"Well, that's definite," Miss Jenkins said. "Neal, I want you to take responsibility for security at the Priory, make sure everything is up-to-date, and scan everywhere. I don't know what resources may be available, but I'm off to Cambridge in the morning to speak to some friends.

"Mr. Carlton, I do not think you or your family are in any immediate danger. They will certainly try to get you to hand over the certificates of deposit without resorting to direct action, so for the time being, you are safe. What I would ask is that you keep Neal informed of your plans and your movements. Maddie, dear, could you have another look and see if you can find a weakness in their servers."

Both Neal and Maddie assured her that they would do what they had been asked to do.

"Well, if there is nothing else, I'd better get back down to the reception," Uncle Bernard said. "When I left, Debora was talking with Dame Grace. The last time those two got together I found I had promised to donate ten K to a charity I had never heard of."

"That's the thing with retired judges," Miss Jenkins stated. "They need something to occupy their time, and sitting on the boards of charities is an ideal occupation for them. They are always trying to get funds for their pet causes as, that way, they feel that they are earning their position."

"Dame Grace is a judge?" I asked.

"Was a judge," Miss Jenkins corrected. "A Lady Justice of Appeal."

Uncle Bernard left; so did Miss Jenkins. Dad sent a text to Tyler and Jenny to let them know that we would be moving out soon. I went back to my room to get my bags. I realised the I had not said goodbye to Patrick and Cliff. They would be down in reception, so I sent them a text saying that something had come up and we had to get back home earlier than expected.

Tyler and Jenny were just coming down the hallway, going back to their suite when I came out of my room. I told them we were about ready to leave. Tyler said they just needed to change, so would not be long. They were not. It was only about ten minutes later that they were knocking on the door of my parents' room.

It was getting on for one in the morning by the time we got home. I was glad to get to bed; it had been a tiring day, even though I had not done much.

Wednesday morning, I was able to have a lie-in. I was not due in the yard today. At least, I should have been able to have a lie-in. The thing was, just because I was able to have a lie-in, does not mean I had one. I woke up at the time my alarm would have gone off had I been going into the yard. To make matters worse, I just could not get back to sleep, no matter how hard I tried.

It was totally unfair. I had planned a lie-in. I deserved a lie-in. I got up about twenty-past-seven, giving in to the inevitable, and showered, dressed and went downstairs. There was, of course, no one in the kitchen. No one else had even got up. So, it was up to me to get the coffee started, a task which I necessarily had to complete as I was now up and in need of coffee.

Twenty minutes later, by which time I had consumed two mugs of coffee and a bowl of cereal, Mum came into the kitchen.

"Couldn't sleep?" she asked.

"No," I replied. "Even though I am not due in the yard today, I woke up at the time my alarm would have gone off if I had been going in."

"When are you going in next?"


"I bet I have to come and bang on your door to get you up."

"Doubt it. I'm not going in till late. Promised Steve I would lock up for him. Peter is taking him out to dinner."

As we were talking, we heard the roar of the Lamborghini as it backed out of the garage into the yard. Mum glanced at the clock.

"He's cutting it a bit fine if he has to get Jenny to Luton airport for ten."

I checked the clock. It was ten-past-eight. Definitely cutting it a bit fine. The drive to Luton was a good hour and a half if there were no traffic problems. However, rush hour had started, which meant there would almost certainly be traffic. I suspected Tyler might be pushing past the speed limit to make it on time. Not a good idea in a car that attracted attention like the Lambo.

I chatted with Mum for a bit, then went and walked down to the nursery to see the lads. Steven was busy watering the plants when I got there.

"No Jim?" I asked.

"No, he's taken your grandfather over to an auction in Aylesbury; they left before seven."

"Why leave that early? Why go to Aylesbury?"

"Well, it is nearly a two-hour drive, and viewing starts at nine, with the auction starting at ten-thirty."

"What've they gone in?" I asked. "The van's still here."

"Jim borrowed the Luton van in case they get what they've gone after."

"What's that?"

"A quantity of horticultural glass. Hopefully, enough to repair and properly finish the other glasshouse and maybe put up a couple more."

"Where would you put them?"

"Along the north-facing wall. They would be cold greenhouses. We would not heat them, just keep them above freezing so we could overwinter tender stock without taking room up in the heated houses. We need the space in the heated houses for growing the stock for spring.

"If you look over there, you can see there used to be something built against that wall."

I did look over at the wall, and indeed, there were signs of what looked like the bases of lean-to greenhouses.

"Won't it be a bit shady there?"

"Yes, but that is not important for the stuff we are overwintering. In summer, we can use them for orchids and such, which don't like strong sunlight."

We chatted for a bit longer, then Steven had to get back to his watering. I walked back toward the house, then turned down the row of workshop/studios that now formed the arts-and-crafts centre. This time of the morning, very few of them were open, though Marius was in place, dipping pots into slip before firing. I stopped and had a short chat with him. He asked how I enjoyed the premiere yesterday.

"How did you know I'd been to a premiere?" I asked.

"Your photo is on the front of the Sentinel," he informed me, pointing to the folded paper on a stool at the far end of the workbench. He indicated that I should have a look at it. I did and nearly hit the roof. There on the front page was a photo of Uncle Phil on the red carpet, with Cliff, Patrick and me behind him. That was not the problem. The problem was the headline above the picture. 'Matthew Lewis with Boy Harem at Premiere!'

To say I was not happy was something of an underestimate. I was furious, as demonstrated by the stream of explicit expletives I issued forth from my mouth after reading the headline.

"Impressive," Marius commented. "Not heard language like that since I was in barracks."

"You clearly never went to an English Public School," I responded.

That said, I apologised to Marius for my language. An apology he accepted.

"Actually, it was most interesting to hear you. I recognised the English, French and Arabic terms, but you used a language I did not know. What was it?"

"Provinçal," I told him. "It's a dialect of Occitan."

"Always useful to be able to swear in more than one language," Marius commented.

"How many do you swear in?"


"You speak seven languages?"

"No, Johnny, I can swear in seven languages, only speak five."

I laughed at that comment, then left to get back to the house. Mum and Gran were in the kitchen when I got there. There was no sign of Dad, a fact that I commented on.

"Don't think he will be up till late this morning. It was gone three before he came up to bed," Mum informed me. "He was doing research into the people behind that bloody letter."

"Shit, I wanted to speak to him. Look, I'm going down to the paper shop," I told her. "Won't be long, but if Dad is up before I get back, tell him I need to see him, and it is urgent."

"What's going on?" Mum asked.

"The Sentinel is at it again."

"Blast! I suppose you are going down to get a copy?"


"Just be careful," Mum warned. I said I would. I grabbed my helmet and then went and got my moped. I know I've got a car now, but it was far easier to park my moped in town than trying to park my car.

Twenty-odd minutes later I was back in the Priory with a copy of the Sentinel. Mum looked at the headline.

"You need to speak to Bernard about this," she stated.

"I'm going to as soon as I've spoken to Dad."

"Don't bother. Doubt he'll be up before eleven. Phone Bernard now." She glanced up at the wall clock. "He should be in his office."

I went up to my room and called Uncle Bernard's office. The receptionist put me through right away. It was almost as if she was expecting my call.

"Morning, Johnny," Uncle Bernard said when the phone was connected. "I presume this is about the headline in the Sentinel. Was expecting your father to phone."

"He has not seen it yet," I commented. "He's still in bed."

"Lazy bugger. Writers have an easy life; no court deadlines to keep them on their toes."

"I'll tell him you said that," I commented.

"I've already told him that to his face."

"So, Uncle Bernard, what do we do about the Sentinel?"

"Sue the socks off them. I am preparing proceedings on behalf of Phil and yourself now."

"What about Cliff and Patrick? Don't they have a case?"

"Yes, they do. I've just come off the phone with James Felton. He will be initiating proceedings on their behalf this morning, as well. He is, after all, their solicitor. However, he has asked me to act as his London agent; it is so much easier for me to serve papers on the Sentinel."

There was a hint of laughter in Uncle Bernard's voice. I think he was enjoying this.

"Get your father to call me as soon as he is up," Uncle Bernard said. "I need his formal instruction to proceed on your behalf as you are still technically a minor."

"What about Cliff? He's a minor as well."

"No problem there. James spoke to his foster parents this morning and got all the authorisations needed."

I went over a couple of issues with Uncle Bernard, then finished the call. Then I checked my emails. I know I can do it on my phone, but I prefer to do it on the computer; it is far easier to type a reply.

There was nothing important.

Actually, Mum was wrong about Dad not being up before eleven. He was up and in the kitchen when I got back down. It was clear that he had read the paper. Dad was far from happy.

"Why do they keep going at Phil like this?" he asked.

"Don't ask me. Ask their accountants; they must know this is going to be expensive," I told him. "I've spoken to Uncle Bernard, but he needs you to phone him to give authorisation for me to start an action against them."

"I'll go and do that now," he stated and picked up his mug of tea before heading for his office.

I headed for my workshop. Thought I could spend some time working on my models. By eleven-thirty, I was bored stiff. For some reason, I could not get my head into the right mindset to get engaged in the minutia of model construction. To be honest, I could not get my mind off the headline in the Sentinel. So, I decided to give up on trying to work on my model and go in and get a drink.

Somebody must have made a fresh pot of coffee as there was almost a full jug on the hotplate. I filled a mug and dumped in a whole pile of sugar before going to see if anybody was around. Gran was sitting in the snug, knitting. She informed me that Mum had gone to the supermarket to do some shopping, and Dad had gone over to his office. Then she told me that there was a message for me on the board. I went back to the kitchen and checked the board by the phone. There was a message from Colin asking me to call him.

So, I did, or at least I tried to. Got my phone out to dial, then realised it was dead. I must have forgotten to put it on charge last night, a fact that, at least, explained why Colin had not called me on my mobile.

I used the house phone to call Colin. I was lucky; his mobile rang; he must have been up at the Salvage Yard.

"What's up?" I asked when he answered.

"Bike's broke," he told me. "Could you pick me up and take me to Halfords? Steve said I can finish early."

"Of course, I will. What time?"

"About three?"

"Good, but what about seeing your psychologist?" I asked, knowing he had an appointment on Wednesday afternoon.

"She's moved it to Friday this week; that's why I'm in work. Told Steve I could do extra. Need tomorrow off and Friday."

I finished the call, had my mug of coffee, then went to find Dad. As I was crossing the yard, it occurred to me that Colin would probably need to take the bike into Halfords, and I did not have a bike rack on the car and there was not enough space in the back to get it in. At least I did not think there was. I decided I'd better check. With the back row of seats down, I doubted there was enough room, but with all the passenger seats down, I could probably get Colin's bike in. Not that I was all that happy with the idea. The interior of the car was immaculate, I did not want to get it dirty. I decided I would get a couple of dust sheets to put in the back just in case I needed them.

I found Dad in his office. He confirmed that he had spoken to Uncle Bernard and given the go-ahead for the action.

"Your Uncle Phil has also initiated proceedings," Dad informed me. "He's going for ten million."

"Doubt if he will get it, but what am I going for?" I asked.

"You boys are going for five million apiece."

I expressed surprise at the amounts they were going for. Dad informed me that Uncle Bernard was going to show that the Sentinel was being malicious in their actions, which would bump up the damages.

"By the way, Johnny, we have finalised arrangements for the Australian trip," Dad informed me. "Lee, can you print off details for Johnny?"

Lee, whose desk was across the office facing Dad's, indicated he would. A moment later, the printer whirred into life and spewed forth a couple of sheets of paper. I went over and took them.

"Pity you're not coming with us," I told Lee.

"No chance, not with my conviction. I told your Dad from the start that it was not on, but he insisted we try to get a visa for me."

"But they turned you down," I commented.

"No, they just said it would be three months' minimum to process the application, probably longer. You will have gone and come back well before then. I got the feeling it was a standard fob off they give rather than refuse a visa, which might be challenged in the Australian courts."

"How come we are flying out on the Tuesday?" I asked Dad. "I thought we were going out for two weeks."

"Your Uncle Phil's appeal is being heard on the Monday. I thought we should stick around for that."

That was something I could not disagree with.

I left Dad's office and popped in to see Tyler in his office.

"Did you get Jenny to the airport on time?" I asked.

"Just. Got held up on the way, so had to belt the last bit. I certainly triggered a couple of speed cameras."

"So, now you have to wait for summonses to arrive," I commented.

"Don't have to worry too much; the car's got Italian plates on it."

I had not noticed.

"Is that legal?"

"I've been assured it is. The car is only on loan, and Jenny only has it for so long. Actually, I think it is due back at the end of next month."

"That's a shame," I commented.

"To be honest, although I enjoyed driving it, I will be glad to see it go. There was no way it was designed for driving on English country roads — or city roads, for that matter. Once you were off the main roads or the motorways, it was murder to drive. The ground clearance is so little, it is far too easy to beach."

I went back into the house and grabbed myself some lunch. Then, not having anything else to do for a bit, I went to Dad's study and pulled the next volume of my mother's diaries off the shelf and started to read it. The notebook I used for keeping a record of things I found was on the shelf with them. I'd left it there so I did not have to go looking for it when I found something interesting.

Of course, I was looking to see if I could find anything referring to Die Vereinigung, though so far I had not come across that name. There had been a lot of mentions of different people, like Andrew Mayers and a Rolf who kept turning up. Every time there was a mention of a phone call from Rolf, there was a numeric sequence, which I added to the list in my notebook.

I was getting to see a side of my mother that I had not considered even existed. Sometimes the things she wrote really surprised me. When I was expelled from my first prep school, she wrote:

Well, Johnny's school has had enough of him and expelled him. I really wish I could have him at home, but it would be too much of a risk. For his own safety I need to find another school to take him. It's at times like this I miss having Mike around.

I was trying to work out what she meant by that when the alarm went on my phone, reminding me that I had promised to pick Colin up.

It was a few minutes before three when I pulled up at the yard. Steve was talking to Bran when I got out of the car.

"Johnny, I was just about to phone you," Steve called over. "Can you spare a minute?"

"Yes, I'm just driving Colin to Halfords in Southmead. What's up?"

"Can we talk in the office?" Steve said, leading the way and indicating to Bran that he should join us.

"You've used the steam box, haven't you?" he asked as we entered the office.

"Yes. We used it for forming the wood for the Pendleton repair last October. Then you had me doing the forming for ribs in that Norwegian boat back in February."

"Good. If I remember right, there is a long steamer up at the Salvage Yard."

"It's behind Boatshed Two," I told Steve. "But if you are thinking of using it, I don't think it has been used for ages. Why?"

"I can get Tom on cleaning it up tomorrow, and I'll have a look at it. There's a vintage yacht come in. Some idiot in a powerboat slammed into its side as it was tacking. Did a lot of damage," Steve informed me. "The thing is, most of the planking for it was steam-formed. It's the only way they could have got the hull shape. At the moment, Katherine is doing a major restoration and using the steamer we've got. Bran's been working with her.

"The owners want this done as a rush job, and they are paying for it. I was going to put Bran on it and ask you to work with him on the steam-forming. You've probably done more of it that Bran has. Before he started to help Katherine, he had not done any."

"There's a job in Shed Two at the moment," I pointed out.

"I know, but it does not need any specialist facilities. Bran will get that moved to the Peters Yard this afternoon. Then you can move the new job into the Shed Two tomorrow. Is that doable, Bran?"

"It's doable," Bran agreed. "Though it is going to slow down the workflow for Alan and Mark as they will be restricted to one shed."

"I know, but this takes priority," Steve stated.

"Why?" I asked.

"The yacht is being used in a TV shoot. For every day it is out of commission, the shoot is on hold, and that is costing a fortune, according to the guy who placed the order. They've offered us a massive bonus if we can get the repair done before the next time it is scheduled to be in a scene."

"When's that?"

"Monday. Any chance you can work the rest of the week?"

"No problem. At least it will give me something to do."

"Getting bored?" Bran asked.

"Not half," I exclaimed.

Colin was waiting by the car when we exited the office. He had his bike, the front spokes of which looked somewhat bent, the wheel was totally out of shape and the chain was draped across the handlebars.

"What happened?" I asked.

"I don't really know. Just came off the causeway this morning, and as I turned, the wheel seemed to bend; then I went over the handlebars," Colin informed me.

"That's exactly what happened," Bran told me. "I saw it as I came down High Marsh. Think he got the front wheel caught in a rut as he tried to turn."

"Any injuries?"

"No. Ended up landing in that deep patch of marsh grass," Colin told me.

I was about to say that I did not think it would be worthwhile mending the bike but decided against it. I just helped Colin get it into the back of the car, then we set off for Southmead. Once there, I parked up in the Halford's car park, and Colin took the bike in to see about getting it repaired. I followed him in. The news was not good. Basically, they could not do the required repairs due to the damage to the forks. Also, the cost of the repairs they could do would be considerably more than the bike was probably worth. The assistant told Colin he would be better off buying a new bike, but if he did want to get his repaired, he should try BikeMania.

We did try BikeMania, which was on the other side of Southmead. The message was basically the same. It would cost more to repair the bike than it would to buy a new bike. That was not news that Colin wanted to hear. We returned to the Priory with Colin's broken bike in the back. As we were unloading it, Granddad walked into the yard.

"How did things go at the auction?" I asked.

"Good," he replied. "We got the lot of horticultural glass, which means we can get the other glasshouse sorted. We also got a couple of lean-to greenhouses and some other gear. Just got back. Came up to tell the missus that I'm back, then going to give the lads a hand unloading. You wouldn't care to help, would you?" He looked at the bike, then continued. "That's in a mess. What happened?"

Colin told him and explained that the bike-repair people had said it was not worth repairing.

"With what they charge an hour, it probably isn't," Granddad stated.

"At least I can give you a lift in and back tomorrow," I told Colin.

"Not working tomorrow," Colin informed me. "Nor Friday. Got two full days off."

"In that case, come and find me in the morning; we'll have a go at fixing the bike," Granddad stated. "Johnny, is it OK for me to use the tools in your workshop. Mine have not arrived yet."

"Of course. Though, what's happened to your stuff? Where's all your furniture?" I realised that Gran and Granddad had arrived with just a few suitcases.

"Phil's got it all stored for us at Manston. Plenty of storage places up there with all those old farm buildings. Once the apartment is ready, we will get it moved down. You'll be having my tools and stuff. Your gran's made it clear she is not letting me having a workshop at my time of life. Hope you won't object if I use yours now and again."

I assured him I would not.

Having agreed that Granddad could use my workshop and that he was going to help Colin repair the bike, I told Colin to put it in my workshop, then went to help the lads unload the Luton. Colin came along, as well, to give a hand.

The next couple of days were pretty full, with me working all day helping Bran in the yard. Most of Thursday was spent trying to find the correct pieces of wood to do the repair. We searched the wood stores at each of the three yards, finding some suitable pieces. Then we had to go to the wood merchants on Friday to get the wood for the pieces we could not supply from the stores. As a result, it was Saturday before we got down to doing any actual work on the repair besides removing the damaged section.

Once it was removed, though, the work went fairly quickly. We would cut the wood to the required length, shape the ends so we could chamfer it in, then place it in the steamer. When it was nice and flexible, we would clamp it in place and allow it to cool and dry, then finish fixing it in place.

I gave Colin a lift to and from the yard on both Saturday and Sunday. He told me that Granddad had managed to sort out the front forks of the bike and repair the chain. They were now waiting for a new front wheel. They had ordered it online, and it was supposed to arrive today.

"Why didn't you ask me to drive you over to get one?" I asked.

"Don't like bothering you," Colin stated. "You've done enough for me."

"You're a mate, Colin; I'm just helping you out. That's what you do for mates."

Both Colin and I were working over the weekend. Steve assigned Colin to work with Bran and me on the repair, which made life a lot easier. By Sunday, we had finished all the actual wood repair work and it was a matter of finishing off and varnishing to match the original. I will be honest and say that by Sunday when we were finished, I was rather tired of that boat repair.

What I was not looking forward to when I got back to the Priory was the fact that Gert and Luuk would be there. Luuk was flying back from the States, and Dad was going to pick him up from Heathrow. Then he was going to pick Gert up from London City on his way back. I just hoped everything was on time.

It turned out that things had not gone on time. Luuk's flight was delayed, so Gert had been left stuck at London City waiting for somebody to pick him up. They arrived at the Priory about half an hour after I got home.

Once we had got them unloaded and their luggage up to the guest rooms they would be occupying, Dad informed them that dinner would be in about an hour. He then asked me to join him in the study.

"What's going on with you and Luuk?" he asked. "I thought you got on well."

"We did."

"What's changed?"

"I don't know."

"Well, something changed. You were positively sharp with him just then."

I had not realised that I was. I did realise that I was not very comfortable with Luuk being around, though I could not really explain why. Now that Dad had drawn my attention to it, I made an effort to be nice to Luuk, at least over dinner.

After dinner, Gert showed us the first rough cut of The Unheard. Whilst he was getting everything set up, I got a chance to look at the Sunday papers, at least at the film reviews, to see that they were saying about That Woman's Son. As far as the reviews I read were concerned, they were all good. One reviewer described it as 'the must-see film of the decade'. Another said it was one of the best films made so far this century. Given we were only nine years into the century, I am not sure how good that comment actually was, something I remarked on to Dad.

"That's a good point, though all the reviews are generally positive. The only negative review is in the Sunday Sentinel."

"Now, why does that not surprise me?" I told Dad. He laughed. "By the way, Dad, what's happening about the defamation action against the Sentinel?"

"Bernard's filed the papers for you and Phil. I understand that James Felton has filed papers for Cliff and Patrick. Now, it is just a question of waiting till things get to court. Bernard said he is hoping to join the action to the one he already has against the Sentinel. Something about showing malice."

I was about to ask for more information, but Gert came through and told us everything was set up to see the rough cut of The Unheard, so we went through to the library, where he and Luuk had connected Gert's laptop to the TV.

The rough cut ran for nearly ninety-five minutes. Gert expressed an opinion that he thought it was too long for TV, though he was not sure what they could cut out, and we still had the Australian stuff to add it if it was suitable. The other thing was that there were no subtitles or dubbing at the moment. Luuk had to provide a translation as it was running. This resulted in us having a discussion over whether we should use subtitles or dubbed-over translations.

Luuk was all for dubbing-over. Gert was undecided, so I decided to put in my opinion.

"Look we've had this discussion before. Now seeing what you've got… Well to be honest, Dad, I think you should go for subtitles. You lose some of the emotion there is in the voice if you dub-over."

"You know, Mike, Johnny's made a good point," Gert said. "On balance, I think subtitles will be the better option."

"I think so, as well," Dad stated. "Can you look at doing some?"

"I've already have some for a couple of the interviews. The one with Henk, I've already done Nederlands subtitles for, and I have done English subtitles for one of the other interviews," Gert told Dad.

"Could you get them put on for Wednesday?" Dad asked.

"Not a problem. Is there something special about Wednesday?"

"I have a meeting with Max Abelhome Wednesday afternoon," Dad said. "I would like to be able to show him something."

Dad then asked Gert if he could work with Lee over the next couple of days getting the rough cut into something Dad could show Max Abelhome. Gert assured Dad that he would.

I wondered what Luuk would be doing. However, that was quickly answered when Luuk apologised that he would not be able to help, but he had to be at Matt's office tomorrow morning at nine. I enquired how he was getting there, as it was the other side of town and no buses came along here.

"Matt's picking me up in the morning," Luuk told me. "He's going to borrow me a bike while I am here."

I could not resist correcting Luuk's English. Matt would be lending him a bike; he would be borrowing it. Luuk looked a bit confused, and Dad had to explain that in English there are two words for the parties in a loan. The lender and the borrower. A lender lends something to a borrower who borrows it.

Although I was not scheduled to go into the yard on Monday, I did. I got up early and took Colin in, then went up to the Salvage Yard to continue my survey of The Lady Anne. Katherine was in the boatshed doing a similar task on The Princess of Alba. When I took a break, I made tea for both of us.

"How's it going?" Katherine asked.

"Slowly, I never realised there was so much detail that you had to record," I stated.

"It's always the case. Once you start to record the construction details of a boat, you find there is far more to record than you ever thought about. Like what type of screws were used where."

"Christ, I never thought of recording the screw types. Is it important?"

"It can be. In some places, they may have used specific screw types because of electrogalvanic considerations."

"Fuck, I'm going to have to go back and check that. All I've noted is that a joint is screwed."

"You better check the screw types; same for keel bolts. Though, I suspect on a boat that age they'll be bronze."

"They are. How did you know?"

"Lead keel, you use bronze bolts. It's only later on you get concrete keels so cheaper, stainless-steel bolts can be used."

Katherine spent the next ten minutes whilst we took our break explaining to me what I should be make notes of. More importantly, she was telling me why I should take note of such things. We had just finished our tea break and were about to go back to work when Katherine's phone rang. She answered it. I guessed it was from Steve from the way she said, "Yes, Steve."

"He's with me now," she said, indicating that I should stay where I was. "Right, I'll get him to bring me down with him."

"That was Steve," she said, though I had already guessed that. "Lifeboat has called him to go and do a salvage. He wants us both down at the main yard."

I gave Katherine a lift. She had come with Steve this morning so did not have her car here. Once at the main yard, Steve explained the situation.

"A yachtsman got into problems on the sands. Tore his keel off and damaged the hull. It's taking water. Fortunately, the tide is going out and the boat has settled on the sands. The lifeboat has taken the crew off, but they are asking for salvage. The yacht will be a hazard where it is once the tide turns.

"Johnny, I want you to come with me in the jitty boat so we can get out there quickly. Katherine, can you and Bran come out with the salvage boat? We will probably need it."

Katherine said she could but pointed out they would need more than two to crew it.

"Grab who you can; we need to hurry. The tide is just turning now."

That said, Steve directed me to grab some buoys, flotation devices and rope. He was grabbing other items, including waders for us. Once we had what we thought we needed, we went down to the jetty and loaded it into the small runabout that we moored there. Twenty minutes later, we were on the far side of the Blackwater in about twelve inches of water, looking at a very forlorn yacht on its side, with a gaping hole in its hull and a keel hanging off it.

"Bloody hell!" Steve exclaimed as we rounded the yacht. "They've attached the keel directly to the composite."

The RNLI inshore lifeboat, which had been standing by, came up close alongside.

"It was a self-build," the coxswain informed Steve.

"Then, he clearly didn't follow the instructions," Steve commented.

"Said he was trying to save weight," the coxswain stated. "Lucky he hit the sands. If he had got out into the North Sea, it would have gone with the first real wave. With the speed the water would have come in, there was no way we could have got to him before he went under."

"Don't tell me, no life jacket?" Steve asked.

"You're right there. Guy has never sailed before, came out with his wife and two kids, nine- and seven-year-olds. Not one of them with a life jacket."

"How are they?" Steve asked.

"Rather shook up, but otherwise OK. The Clacton boat took them ashore."

"Two-boat shout?"

"Nah, we were both out on a joint exercise when the call came in, so both attended. Coastguard asked us to maintain station until somebody got here. You're first, though here comes support."

I looked where the coxswain was pointing; a coastguard RIB was just coming around the end of the sands. Steve checked the depth of the water; it was just over twelve inches. Once we had made sure our anchor was fast, that we both had our personal flotation devices on and our waders were secure, we got out and waded over to the yacht.

"Bit of a mess," I commented.

"Complete bloody write-off," Steve replied. I could not argue. There was a good twelve-foot tear in the composite hull where the keel had been attached. The whole point of having bolt attachment for the keel was that the bolts were the weakest point. If, the keel and the hull met irresistible forces going in opposite directions, the bolts would shear, with limited or no damage to the hull. Alright, the boat would lose stability and probably capsize, but it would, in all likelihood, stay afloat. To achieve this, the fixation point of the keel to the hull was generally one of the strongest points on a yacht, though not in this case.

Steve instructed me to fix ropes and flotation devices to the keel, which, he pointed out, was probably the most valuable piece of the whole thing. Looking at it, I had to agree. I am not expert, but my guess was that this was a pre-war lead keel. What it was doing on a new composite hull, I had no idea.

While I was affixing the flotation devices, Steve was busy unbolting the keel from the hull. What was surprising was that he was able to undo the nuts by hand. They had clearly not been fully tightened. I could hear Steve muttering all kinds of profanities under his breath. I just hoped he would hurry up and get the keel loose. The water, which had been halfway up my calf when I entered it, was now approaching my knees.

Katherine and Bran arrived with the salvage boat. I was surprised to see Colin with them. All three were in waders, which reached up to their armpits. Once they got close and Bran had checked the depth, Colin came over the bow of the barge with an anchor, which he rammed firmly into the sands. I noticed Bran was doing a similar operation with the stern anchor. With the salvage boat secure, Katherine clambered over the side and directed Bran to start to cut the rigging whilst she aided Steve. Colin was told to help me.

"Didn't think you liked the water," I commented as he floundered across to me.

"Got used to it," Colin said. "Bran's been taking me out at lunchtime. That psychologist your uncle got for me suggested it."

"I'm glad she did," I replied.

"What're we doing?"

"Fastening flotation devices to this keel so we can float it over to the barge when Steve's got it released."

"Be about five minutes," Steve called out. "Is it ready to float?"

"Not sure, but hopefully," I told him. "I'm out of floats."

"There should be plenty in the barge," Steve replied.

"I'll get some," Colin said.

"And get the lump hammer," Katherine instructed.

It was probable more like ten minutes and the water was past my knees when we were ready. By now, we had added a half dozen more floats to the keel.

"Move clear," Steve called. He then asked us all to confirm we were clear. When we did, he knocked out the bolts. As the last bolt plonked down into the water, the keel separated from tongue of composite that had held it attached to the hull and floated free. Colin helped me to float it over to the barge and tie it firmly to the side.

It was now something of a race against the tide. Steve pushed the tongue of composite back into place in the hull. A sheet of waterproof material was then laid over the gash in the hull. Ropes were passed under the hull and an attached canvas pulled under on one side. The opposite side of the canvas was pulled tight and fastened off on the top side of the hull. I knew the theory; Steve had explained it to me. The waterproof material and the canvas would seal the hull sufficiently that when the water was pumped out, the input of water into the hull would be less than the pumps would be pumping out.

By now, Bran had cut the rigging and released the sails. He called Colin to give him a hand. The two of them were folding the wet sails and tying them up and attaching flotation devices to them. Wet, the sails would be too heavy to lift into the boat, but they could be towed. A large-diameter pipe was brought over from the salvage boat and pushed down into the hull of the yacht. Katherine clambered up the side ladder onto the salvage boat and started the pump.

By now, the water was up to my groin. Steve indicated we should return to our vessels. Lines were attached from the salvage boat to the yacht. Bran asked about cutting the mast away.

"No time, Bran," Steve told him. "We'll just have to hope that the water in the hull is sufficient to counterbalance it."

Bran nodded, and he indicated to Colin that Colin should precede him to the boat. Steve and I made our way back to the runabout. I glanced at the boat to see Colin climbing the side ladder, then wished we had one. When Steve and I had got out of the jitty boat, the top of the sides had been about level with our waists, now it was above our heads. Steve told me to wait till he was at the stern, then pull myself up using the bow anchor rope. Easier said than done, but eventually I managed it. Then I went to the stern and helped Steve get aboard.

Water was gushing out of the pump on the boat. The yacht was partly righted and was bobbing on the water, a clear sign that it was now free of the sand. Colin and Bran pulled in the lines connecting the yacht to the boat until the yacht was tight against the side of the barge. All three of them were quick to tie her off as tightly as they could. Once it was secured, Katherine took the helm of the barge and started its main engines. Slowly it started to move across the Blackwater.

It was gone five by the time we got it safely stowed in the Long Creek. None of us had had any lunch or anything to drink since the morning's tea break. The first thing I did once I was out of the waders and back in the office building, was to go to the tearoom and put the bloody kettle on. We all needed a cup of tea. I think we could all have done with something stronger but I had to remember I was driving home. Also, I did not think that Steve had anything stronger in the yard.

I made the tea and broke out the biscuit tin. We all needed something to eat. Steve was in his office on the phone. I took a mug of tea through to him. As I opened the door, he slammed down the phone.

"Fucking hell!" he exclaimed.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead