Living with Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 8

Dinner that evening was a fairly noisy affair. Jack and Flora had been seated at one end of the table, the boys at the other end. Considering the normal situation where one might have expected the boys to be chatting with each other and the adults to be talking amongst themselves, I suppose this would have made sense. The only problem was that Jack and Flora were in a rush to catch up on the fifteen years they had missed from their grandson's life. This resulted in questions being asked from one end of the table and answered from the other. As it was quite a long table, it also required some fairly loud voices. It was useful to me, though, given that Flora had a knack of asking questions which I had never thought of — and more importantly getting answers. In the half hour or so of that meal, I think I learnt more about Johnny than I had in all our talks over the past couple of weeks.

After dinner, the party retired to the billiard room, where, somewhat to Phil's surprise, he found that Jack was an excellent billiard player and even a better snooker player. "W'at 'ou think we got up to in the Miners Welfare: bloody flower arrangement?" was Jack's comment.

"Actually," Phil replied, "I thought you were doing watercolours."

"Only on Tuesday evenings; that's when the missis is off doing Ikebana."

They were playing pairs, Jack having paired off with Joseph, leaving Colin and Johnny as a pair and Phil with Ben. This surprised me as I would have expected Jack to pair up with his grandson. When I mentioned this to Flora, she informed me that Jack could teach his grandson more about snooker beating him than by playing on the same side. Made sense, somehow, though I am not quite sure how.

After a few games, Phil and Ben left for the Dowager House, where they were still staying. Ben had commented that it did not make sense to be moving back into the main house when they would have to move out next week with more visitors coming. Phil had agreed and added that at least in the Dowager House they did not have Mrs M running their lives — a comment that got a look from Mrs M, but I knew full well she was very fond of the pair.

Jack and the boys joined us by the fire, and we chatted about general matters till Jack turned to Johnny and asked, "What's this I 'ere 'bout you dropping 'ut of skool?" Johnny explained about wanting to become a yacht builder and that he did not need to go to university for that; what he needed was hands-on training. "Well, if that's w'at, you want then you better get it, but w'at got you into yachts?"

That question got Johnny telling him about the book I sent him one Christmas and how he had started to build models of yachts. After that, I got totally lost in the discussion between Jack and his grandson. I had forgotten that Jack was a keen modeller and had an interest in the Georgian navy, building models of ships of the line from battles such as Trafalgar. The pair of them were quickly engrossed in a conversation which involved technical terms that I did not understand and did not want to follow.

Colin and Joseph had settled down to a game of chess. From what I could see of them, they were relatively evenly matched. Flora and Anne were, as I could have expected, discussing the wedding. So, I leaned back and enjoyed a few minutes of relaxation.

"SHE W'AT?" Jack's voice reverberated through the room. Everybody stopped what they were doing and looked towards him.

"She threw all my stuff away. I was working on a model of America," Johnny replied.

"How far had you got?"

"I was just about to start rigging it — was planning on doing that over Easter."

"And that daughter of mine threw the lot away." Jack turned to face me. "Did you know about this?"

"Yes, Jack," I replied. "When Johnny's modelling tools were not in the stuff she sent, I emailed her, and she told me she had thrown them away. I did not know Johnny was modelling the USA."

"Not the USA, y'u gump, America, the yacht that wun the 'undred Guinea Cup in 1851, and so started the America's Cup. The cup is named after the yacht, not the country.

"If this son of y'urs can model America, 'e's bloody good — provided 'e's not using a kit?"

"No, granddad, I was working from plans I got from Free Ship Plans online."

"Good for y'u son. I can't abide kits; that's the lazy way to do it. Anyway," Jack continued turning to me, "what are we going to do about it?"

"Well, I've told Johnny that I'll get him a new set of tools."

"Good," Jack responded, "we can go up to Leicester in the morning and start sorting the boy out."

"Leicester?" I queried. "I thought we would have to go to London."

"No," Jack said, "the best place for modelling tools is Proops Brothers, and their warehouse and showroom is in Leicester. We can be there in an hour." I rather doubted that; driving into Leicester meant the Narborough Road, probably the only road in England that can beat the M25 for traffic jams. However, I knew from experience that arguing with Jack was a bad idea. He had told me the night before I married his daughter that I was making a mistake. He was right, though it was a mistake worth making; at least I had Johnny.

The following morning the five of us — the three boys, Jack and myself — set off in the direction of Leicester. It turned out that our actual destination was Fleckney, which is just outside of Leicester, so no Narborough Road. How come Colin and Joseph were with us, I did not know, except that it seemed I was also committed to taking them all to the National Space Centre. Somehow, I got the feeling that this was far more for Jack's benefit than for any of the boys, who were just tagging along for the fun of it.

I had not realised precisely what was required to build models. There seemed to be all sorts of specialist saws, hammers, knives, shapers and I don't know what else that was absolutely essential. That, at least, is what Jack was saying. I must admit that even Johnny looked a bit puzzled by some of them. When I queried the growing mound of tools that was building up, Jack looked at me. "Ever heard the saying that 'a bad workman always blames his tools'?"

"Of course," I responded.

"Well ever wondered why a good workman doesn't blame his tools?"

"No." It had never crossed my mind.

"Because a good workman knows w'at tools are required for the job and makes sure they 'ave them before they start the job."

That told me, and the tools continued to pile up — to such an extent that I started to worry about how we were going to carry them all back in the car. At that point, Jack insisted that Johnny also needed a wheeled tool case to store them in. I took a look at the price tag of everything and started to wonder just how much this lot was going to cost me. Johnny must have had the same thought on his mind. "Granddad, I don't need all this. It's going to cost way too much."

"Don't be stupid, grandson. Yes, you can get away with about 'alf of it, but if y'u want to do a gud job, make sure y'u 'ave the rite tools. Anyway, Flora and me 'aven't gave y'u anything for fifteen years; we've sum catching up to do." With that, he pulled out a credit card and insisted on paying for the lot, which came to just short of two grand.

Later, while the boys were busy with the attractions in the National Space Centre, I asked Jack about paying for the stuff and that I had intended to buy it for Johnny. "Look, Mike, Flora and me have nothing else to spend it on, so it might as well be on our grandkid. That bitch of a daughter of mine denied us contact for fifteen y'ars, so we've a lot of birthdays and Christmases to make up for. It's not as if we're hard up. Phil's seen to that. Let the two of us spoil the lad; ain't as if there'll be any great-grandkids who'll need it." I looked at Jack a bit surprised. "Don't look surprised. We both 'now 'e bin like our Phil, it runs in the family. Flora's older brother bin the same, though we nay talked about it in those days."

"How did you know?"

"That daughter of mine made sure we 'new; probably hoped we'd drop him from our wills. As if we w'ud. She ain't in them, though." The final statement was made with emphasis; it also was made with a tone of finality, which indicated that it would not be a good idea to pry further. I had known Jack for nearly twenty years, and in that time I had become used to his tones of voice, and when he used the tone he just had, you did not follow up with a question, at least not if you didn't want your head bitten off.

"Y'ur Anne ain't wearing an 'gagement ring," he commented, making a complete change of subject.

"No, I haven't given it to her yet."

"Ah, yu' got her one then?"

"Of course, Jack. It's just I have not found the right moment to give it to her."

"Well, if it bin fine Friday, take 'er out to the island for a picnic, it's a good place to give it to her." I had not thought of the island with its folly of a Greek temple in the middle of the lake. It would be a romantic place to give Anne a ring. Somehow, though, I had a feeling that there was some reason that Jack wanted Anne and me out of the way on Friday. Wasn't certain why but decided it was probably best to play along with it — anything for a quiet life.

We got back to Manston just after four, having stopped at a greasy spoon so that the boys could fill up on unhealthful food. I was wondering what we were going to do with the boxes of tools in the back of the car, but Jack had already sorted that. It appears he had told Ben that he would be using one of the garages as a workshop to show Johnny how to use and how to care for them.

As soon as we pulled up at the front, Colin jumped out and dashed around the side of the hall to reappear a few minutes later with a trolley onto which the Joseph and Johnny loaded the boxes they had removed from the car. I knew there had been a lot but had not realised exactly how many. Once I got that into my head, it became clear to me that Johnny would need a bigger workshop to use them than I had planned.

Thinking about it, that would not be a problem; there were plenty of outbuildings and old farm buildings at the Priory. It would be easy to convert one of those into a workshop for Johnny. However, thinking about that set off a new train of thought. What should we do with all those outbuildings? It would be a waste of space and money to leave them unused, but what to do with them? I decided to discuss that with Bernie when he arrived on Friday. In the meantime, it might be a good idea to speak to Matt. I knew that his main activity was as a Chartered Surveyor and architect, but I remembered him telling me that he also did some property-management work. He might be able to give me some advice about the outbuildings.

Once the boys had got all the boxes moved to the garage, they were off on the quad bikes to have some fun around the estate. Jack looked at me, then made a comment that he thought we should find the women. I hazarded a guess that they would be in the Conservatory, a guess that proved right. Once more, I found myself drawn into a discussion about the wedding, which appeared to be growing in size since Flora had joined Mrs M and Anne in the planning committee. Jack quickly made an excuse that he felt a bit tired from all the shopping we had done and thought he'd better lie down before dinner. I said that I needed to send some emails and could do with catching up on some work, so I also made an excuse to leave.

Once in my room, I phoned Simon, the clerk at Bernie's firm who I knew was dealing with the Priory purchase for me, and asked him to check what restrictions the covenant put on the use of the outbuildings.

"Actually," he responded, "I don't need to check as I was looking at it this morning. The covenant is worded in quite a specific and somewhat unusual way, so I had to get some guidance on it. The wording is such that it applies only to the main building; even the kitchen extension is excluded, so the outbuildings certainly are, probably because they were added to the estate after the covenant had been put in place. You can do what you like with them, subject to planning regulations." I thanked him and then rang Matt. I explained my idea for the outbuildings, and he said he would look into things for me but did not think there would be a problem as they were already listed as farm buildings, which could cover a plethora of usage.

Dinner that evening was quite lively with a lot of discussion going on between Jack and the boys and with Phil and Ben getting dragged into the debate from time to time. From what I could tell, it was a discussion about fishing — some disagreement on what was the best type of lures. Ben, it appears, had told the boys that there was a massive pike in the lake, and the boys seemed to be quite determined to catch it. Phil, at one point, quietly informed me that he thought the enormous pike was actually a figment of Ben's imagination, forming a useful excuse when he came back empty-handed from a day's fishing. "That damned pike was around my end of the lake again" was, it appeared, a favourite comment of his.

After dinner, the boys joined Jack and Phil in some games of snooker, while Ben joined me to make a pair for cards against Anne and Flora. A big mistake. I knew Anne was good, but I had forgotten Flora's reputation. Phil had told me never to play cards with her; I found out why and left the table some fifty quid lighter. When one considers we were only playing for ten pence a point, that is an awful amount to lose.

Thursday was a quiet day. Ben and Jack had gone fishing with the boys, and Phil had taken Flora into Rugby to see the optician and do some shopping. Anne and I had arranged to get a pair of hacks from the estate riding school and spent the afternoon hacking around the local area. Neither of us are especially good riders, but we are both competent enough to be able to spend the day at a gentle walk around the various bridle paths which seem to lead from one pub to another.

It had been suggested that rather than us all meeting up for dinner that we should make our own arrangements, Ben saying that he would take care of the boys. The point was made by Mrs M that this would give a chance for the staff to have an evening off while there were no guests in the house. She also said that there was a nice restaurant that had recently opened that Anne and I might like to try out. Once more, I got the feeling that I was being manipulated but went along with it.

So, once we had finished our ride, which had taken all of the afternoon with stop-offs at each of the pubs we encountered, we returned to Manston just after five and got showered and changed. Then we set off shortly after six in Phil's Morgan, which he said we could use for the day rather than going out in my Santa Fe. The spring sun, though still weak, was welcome, and we had the top down as we drove down to the A46, following the instructions Mrs M had given us to find the restaurant that Mrs M had recommended.

The food was good but not exceptional, which made me think there must have been something more to Mrs M's recommendation than an excellent place to eat. I knew of five or six places closer to Manston which served food as good or even better, so why here? Then it struck me; the other places were closer to Manston; this place was a good hour's drive away and probably longer driving back, considering we would be driving rural roads in the dark — not the environment for any degree of speed. By reserving a table for us here, Mrs M had ensured we would be away from Manston for a good four hours. In fact, it was nearly eleven by the time we got back to the house, which was in darkness and silent.

When we got to our room, we found a note on the bedside table informing us that Phil and Ben were giving a brunch at the Dowager House in the morning, and breakfast would not be served in the Conservatory. Tea, coffee and toast would be available from eight in the morning room, but we were expected at the Dowager House at ten.

Anne read the note and handed it to me. Once I had read it, I looked at Anne, who smiled at me questioningly. "I think," I observed, "we are being kept out of the way."

"You think? I bloody know. The question is why?"

"I'm sure we are going to find out."

Friday morning, we got to the Dowager House just before ten. Ben greeted us and told us that Phil had had to slip down to the local supermarket but would be back shortly. A likely story. Phil could never have slipped anywhere, at least not locally; he was too well-known. His arrival in the small country town nearest to Manston would cause traffic jams that would reach back to the M1. I know; it had happened. The weekend they moved into Manston, Phil had gone to the local supermarket to get some supplies and was trapped by fans there for nearly two hours signing autographs before the local constable was able to get reinforcements from Warwick and clear a path out to his car for him to get away.

Ben led us through the house to the terrace; a couple of serving tables had been set up at the one end. Johnny and Joseph were also there, placing some dishes on one of the tables. I enquired about Colin and was informed he had gone with Phil to give him a hand. A hand with what, I wondered.

As soon as he and Joseph had finished setting out the dishes, Johnny came over and asked if we had a good time yesterday? Joseph, I noticed, went back into the house, only to reappear shortly after with a tray laden with plates. He called across to Johnny for some help, which Johnny quickly left to provide. As Johnny went over, I noticed the way that Joseph was looking at him. It was a look which told of hope, desire, need; it was one to which Johnny was totally oblivious. I probably needed to have a talk with Johnny just to make sure that Joseph did not get hurt.

Just after that, Phil and Colin arrived, the latter carrying a big basket of fruit which I was sure had not come from the local shop. It was far more the type of thing that Mrs M or her staff would put together. Thinking of whom, who should arrive just then but Mrs M, escorting Jack and Flora, no doubt having given them a lift down in one of the golf buggies that the estate kept for the use of guests for whom some of the walks were a bit too far.

It was then that I realised I still had the keys to Phil's Morgan; they were on my dressing table, and the Maserati was sitting on the drive outside the Dowager House. Phil had used the golf buggy they kept for the estate, so there was no way he and Colin had gone to the local supermarket. They must have come up to the house before we left and were no doubt ensconced somewhere in the working innards while Anne and I were making our way down here.

With the arrival of Jack and Flora, Ben called for the boys to give him a hand and went back into the house. A few minutes later, they emerged carrying chafing dishes which they set over the heated bases that were already on the other serving table. A couple of the house staff then came out carrying more food to be set alongside the food in the chafing dishes. I looked at it and reckoned there was probably enough food to feed twenty or thirty. There were only nine of us. Then I remembered three of that nine were teenage boys, which set me wondering if there was enough.

Ben told us we'd better help ourselves and tuck in, then escorted Flora to the tables and assisted her at the buffet. The boys, of course, dived straight in, loading their plates with bacon, mushrooms, beans and, I noticed, even some kidneys. I had always thought modern youth detested offal; clearly not. Then, they were Manston devilled kidneys, so probably some of the best in the land.

Once they had all helped themselves to what appeared to be a massive pile of food, the boys made their way to a table at the far end of the terrace and got halfway there before Flora called them back, telling them that they should spread around a bit and that she wanted to talk to Johnny. As a result, Johnny went and sat with Phil and Flora, while Colin got lumbered with my brother and Jack, which left Anne and me at the table the boys were originally aiming for with Joseph.

Throughout the brunch, I kept noticing the glances that Joseph was giving Johnny, which confirmed my thoughts that I would have to have a talk with Johnny about the situation. The problem was: what was I going to say? I did not know if Joseph had told Johnny he was gay; I could be giving away Joseph's secret. Besides, I had to be careful saying anything to Joseph in case I gave away the fact that Johnny was gay. I know Johnny was very open about being gay — he did not seem to mind who knew — but it was for him to say, not me to tell.

After brunch, we sat around on the terrace chatting. The boys wanted to try their hand at kayaking, so Phil took them down to the boathouse and organised it for them. Soon the three boys were out on the lake, paddling around and splashing each other; good job it was a warm day.

Flora, Anne, Ben and Phil were talking about wedding arrangements, most of which went straight over my head, Jack looked across at me. "Fancy a walk around the lake? I'd like a smoke, but this lot all complain about my pipe." His eyes quickly scanned over the company discussing the wedding. I guessed it was an excuse to get away from the talk, so I agreed.

As we left the terrace, Jack took his pipe out of his pocket and placed it in his mouth. We followed the path along the edge of the lake and into the woodland that reached down to the water. As we walked, I commented on the fact that Jack had not lit his pipe. "Nah', I've not lit the thing now for a couple of ye'r, but it's nice to have something at hand w'en y'u need it." I nodded in agreement.

"Now, Mike," he continued, "don't tak' affence but Johnny be telling us 'bout this boatbuilding college y'ur looking at fur him."

"Yes, the International Boatbuilding Training College, I'm planning to go there and have a look round when we get back from our honeymoon."

"I 'ear 'ow it's a bit expensive there."

"I believe it is, but from what I've learnt about the place, it seems to be good value for money. Though I will have to see how Johnny gets on in the yard before I commit to those sorts of fees."

"Well me and the missus would like to 'elp," Jack stated.

"There's no—"

"'Ear me 'ut lad. Me and Flora want to 'elp. Nay, that's not right, we need to 'elp. We've got our grandson now, and we need to make good on the time we nat 'ad with 'im, and we nay be short of a bit."

For the next three-quarters of an hour as we made our way around the lake, we discussed the issue. I was not happy about letting Jack and Flora pay for Johnny, but Jack convinced me that it would be no hardship to them. It seems that both he and Flora had been quite prudent in their younger years, and Phil had been quite generous to them once he was in the money. As a result, they were comparatively well off. Not only did they have their pensions and the house that Phil had bought for them, but they also owned the house that Phil and my ex had grown up in. That was now rented out and bringing in a nice little income along with income from a couple of other properties they owned, courtesy of Phil and my brother.

By the time we were on the final leg of the walk back to the Dowager House terrace, we had reached an agreement. I would pay Johnny's fees if he went to the College, but Jack and Flora would cover his living expenses. It was not something I was pleased about, but I felt that Jack and Flora needed to feel that they were part of Johnny's life.

Just before we got back to the terrace, Jack turned to me and said, "now 'ow 'bout y'u take Anne 'ut on the lake. There is a beautiful island for a picnic. I told Mrs M to put a hamper in one of the bo'ts." I looked at him a bit surprised. "Y'u still got to give 'er that ring." I just nodded in acknowledgement of Jack's comment but wondered why it was so crucial for me to give Anne the ring. He did, though, have a point: the island in the middle of the lake, or to be more precise, the Greek temple folly on the island, would be an ideal spot to do it. After all, it was supposed to be the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Though I could not help remembering, she was also a goddess of war in her form as Areia! I had known enough of that in his first marriage.

Back at the terrace, it was clear that people were moving on. The boys were in their kayaks splashing about in the shallow water below the terrace, Mrs M was gone, and Flora was quite clearly packed up and ready to go somewhere. There was no sign of Ben or Phil. When I mentioned this, Flora stated that they had gone up to the big house, but that Phil would be back in a few minutes to pick her and Jack up. It was clear there had been no arrangement made to pick Anne and me up. Apparently, all agreed we were to have a picnic out on the island. So, I decided that it was probably best to go along with it and broached the subject to Anne.

"I suspect we are being kept away from the House," she responded.

"I guessed that, but the question is why?"

"That, Mike, is something we will just have to find out in due time. Now, though, you said something about a picnic on an island."

I rowed us around the lake for a bit then put in at the island. Actually, there are three islands in the middle of the lake, but they are connected by bridges and just called the island. In total, they must cover just over three acres with a mix of wooded areas and grass meadow, the latter being cropped by the geese.

Although the temple folly is situated upon the largest of the three islands, there is no easy landing on that island. There is, though, a landing stage on the smaller of the islands, and it was there that we tied up. Once I had helped Anne out of the boat, I retrieved the picnic hamper, and we made our way to the Temple island.

"Did you know that there used to be a Roman temple here?" Anne asked as we crossed the bridge to Temple Island.

"No, are you sure?"

"Yes, Mrs M told me about it. There were some excavations done a couple of years before Phil and Ben bought the place. There were signs of a small Roman temple and also of an Iron Age shrine."

"That would mean the lake must have been here for all that time," I commented. "I'd always presumed it was man-made — you know, something constructed by the landscape gardeners when the park was laid out." When I thought about it, the fact that the lake was natural made sense. If it had been part of the landscaping of the park, I would have expected it to be visible from the house. As it was, only a small part of the far end of the lake was visible from the house.

We got to the Temple, and I opened the picnic hamper while Anne laid a blanket she had brought from the boat out on the grass in front of the Temple. I was surprised to see that there was a bottle of bubbly in a cooling sleeve in the hamper as well as a couple of glasses. I removed the food and utensils from the basket and laid them out on the blanket. Anne looked at me when I put the glasses and bubbly out.

"What's the champers for?" she asked.

"This, I think," I responded, taking the ring box out of my pocket. I opened it and held it out to her. For a moment, she just looked at the ring, then reached out and took it from the box. After a moment or two, she slipped it on her finger and held her hand out so she could view it on her hand. The sunlight caught the stone, which burst with light as if from some inner fire.

"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed. "Mike, it's beautiful. I've never seen a stone like this. It's as if it's on fire."

"It's an Asscher cut," I told her. She leaned over and kissed me. I opened the champagne and poured out two glasses. We toasted each other, then set about demolishing the picnic that Mrs M had provided for us. We started to talk about the Priory, but that led us to speaking about other things. What we wanted to do and what we thought we should do.

Things brought us back to talking about the Priory. I mentioned that the first-floor turret room would make a perfect nursery. Anne went very quiet, a look of sadness passed over her face.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Sorry. I was just thinking about children. Always wanted some but John getting cancer put a stop to that."

"Well, there is no reason you can't have some, is there? You're not forty-three till September, and I recall reading the peak of childbearing age in the UK is thirty-five to forty-five."

"Are you serious?"

"I bloody am. I missed out with Johnny. It would be nice to get it right this time around."

She leaned over and kissed me. I put my arms around her and pulled her to me, pressing my mouth against her mouth. Our lips opened, and our tongues sought each other.

An hour later, we made our way back to the boat. It was starting to get a bit chilly. I rowed us back to the Dowager House. When we got there, there was no sign of the boys. I had expected them still to be splashing about in the kayaks. There was no sign of anybody. Just a note telling us to leave the picnic hamper in the boat and to get up to the house. There was a postscript that they were leaving a golf cart for us. Very kind of them.

It took us just over fifteen minutes to get from the Dowager House to the main house. I am a bit surprised to see Bernard's Bentley parked out front next to my Santa Fe. Of course, he was expected to arrive today, but the driveway in front of the house usually is strictly reserved for family. More interesting, there were a couple of other cars parked at the front which I did not know. However, the Aston Martin parked next to the Bentley looked vaguely familiar. For the life of me, though, I could not think whose it was.

After dropping Anne off at the front, I drove the golf cart round to the stable block and parked it at the side mews where they are kept. From there I intended to make my way back into the main house via the mews' door. I was surprised to find it locked, which forced me to walk round to the front of the house and enter through the main entrance.

Mrs M was in the hall when I entered. She appeared to be sorting the tourist-information leaflets that were on the table just inside the door. As I entered, she looked up.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Michael. Mrs. James has just gone up to change. Mr. Ben and Mr. Phil asked me to let you know that they would like you to meet them in the Green Room at five." I glanced at my watch; it was not quite twenty to. It would be a bit of a rush, but I could make five. After assuring Mrs M of this, I made my way up to our room, to be greeted by Anne just coming out of the shower.

"All yours," she stated, indicating the bathroom with her head.

"Thanks," I responded. "Wonder what the rush is?"

"I am sure we will find out in about fifteen minutes.".

It was actually more like twenty minutes before we were finally ready to go down. When we got back to the hall, we found Gerald, the house manager, waiting to show us to the Green Room.

Originally a withdrawing room from the ballroom, it was now decorated with a green-patterned wall covering that led it to being called the Green Room. Since Phil and Ben had taken the place over, it had become the room where entertainers, guests and VIPs could and did relax and have a drink before going out into the ballroom. In the entertainment world, such rooms were known as green rooms — the decoration of them traditionally being green, a colour that is supposed to be relaxing. Phil and Ben, being from that world, had applied the term to the withdrawing room.

They were waiting for us when we got to the Green Room. Both had that slightly satisfied look on their face which hinted to me that they were up to something and it was going the way they expected. My brother looked exactly like he did just before I put my foot into a hiking boot filled with jelly.

"So, what are you up to?" I asked.

"Us?" they replied in unison.

"Yes, you two. You both look not only like the cat that's got the cream but the one who's left the dead mouse where it will cause the most annoyance."

Phil turned to look at Ben. "Do you think he suspects us?"

"He's my brother," Ben responded. "He's always suspected me since he caught me in the bedroom with Mike Taylor."

"You and MT?" Phil queried.

"Yes, but only the once, and Mike interrupted us."

"You'll have to tell me more later," Phil commented. He then looked back at us. "Come on, you two. We've got something for you." With that, he turned and walked to the double doors that led into the ballroom. Pushing them open and stepping aside, we were greeted with a big cry of "Surprise!". There were about sixty or seventy people in the room, all holding glasses of champagne. As Anne and I stood in the doorway, Ben handed us each a filled champagne flute. Then he picked up and raised his own glass and announced: "To Anne and Mike, Happy Engagement."

"Happy Engagement!" the throng echoed. I looked around the gathering. Bernard and his wife, along with their children, were there. So was my agent Bob Southern and his wife, Sue. My two aunts and their broods were also present, together with my uncle and his family. There were some faces though that I could not place, though I thought I recognised them.

There was one face though that completely puzzled me, not that I did not know the young man standing with Johnny and his friends. I doubt if there was anyone in the country who did not recognise Trevor Spade, the child star of a series of fantasy films, who was now making a name for himself in television and on the West End stage. So far as I could remember, I had never met him or had anything to do with him. As we entered the ballroom, Johnny came over to us, his mates following, including Trevor, who hung back behind Joseph and Colin.

Johnny came up to me and gave me a hug and then turned to Anne, giving her a hug and a peck on the cheek. He then caught hold of Trevor's arm and pulled him forward.

"Dad," Johnny announced, "this is Trevor. He tells me he is your agent's son."

"What?" I looked at Trevor.

"Yes, he is," a voice stated from behind me. I turned to see Bob and his wife, Sue.

"But your name's Southern," I stated.

"Yes," Sue responded, "Spade is my maiden name. When Trevor started in the profession, he found there was already a Trevor Southern on the Equity books, so he took my maiden name for his professional name."

"Look, Dad," Joseph interrupted, "would you mind if we slipped off for a bit. I've promised Trevor we'd show him the quad bikes." I assured him there was no problem. The four boys turned and made their way towards the exit at the rear of the ballroom. As they did, I noticed Trevor slipped an arm across Johnny's shoulders, which resulted in a black look from Joseph.

The next morning, my head was suffering somewhat when I made my way to the Conservatory. The champagne, the congratulations, meeting friends and family had all been fine. Unfortunately, Ben had persuaded me to join him and Phil in toasting Anne with Russian Nitro-glycerine. Phil, it seems, had been over in St Petersburg and brought back not only some fine Russian vodka but also some Russian champagne.

I had drunk Russian champagne, technically champagne doux, in the past and found it too sweet for my taste. However, mixed fifty/fifty with a good-quality Russian vodka, it made a splendid drink — not too dry, not too sweet. Unfortunately, it was far too strong, and I remembered this morning why this particular mixed drink was called Russian Nitro-glycerine. To make matters worse, Ben had persuaded me, together with Bernard, Bob and my cousins to join him in several toasts. I could not recall how many, though; I had a somewhat vague recollection of being assisted to my room by my son and Trevor Spade whilst singing 'Men of Harlech'. I was sure that must have been a dream; at least, I hoped it was.

The look on Anne's face when I entered the Conservatory told me it probably was not a dream. I poured myself a coffee, took a quick look at the food that was on offer, decided against it, then sat down opposite her.

"How bad was I?" I asked.

"Pretty bad," she replied.

That statement was followed with a full description of my activities the previous evening. In the end, I was somewhat relieved to find that I had not done anything outrageously stupid, other than trying to sing 'Men of Harlech'.

"Well, at least I did not make a total fool of myself," I stated, guessing that Ben and my cousins would have been in as bad a state as myself.

"Oh, I don't know," Anne responded.

"What did I do?"

"You told Bob that you would write that book on meteorology for him."

"I did what?" I exclaimed.

"You agreed to write—"

"I'll kill that brother of mine."

"Oh, you might have to wait on that," Anne stated.


"I think Phil wants to kill him first — or at least he will when he remembers."

"Remembers what?"

"That he told Bob he would take the lead in some play that he is hawking about and that you could write his biography." After dropping that bombshell, she leaned back in her chair with a self-satisfied smile on her face. Serves me right for allowing my brother to organise my drinks.

"But I don't do biographies," I pointed out.

"It seems you do now; you'll have to fit it in with the history."

"What history?" I asked her.

"Oh, the history of Manston that you agreed to write."

"Let me see if I understand. Yesterday evening, sometime after my brother got us drinking Russian Nitro-glycerine, Phil agreed to take part in some play, and I agreed to write three books."


"Anything else I should know?" I asked.

"Not that I can think of," she responded. "Except you said your cousin James can take the boys and Trevor up to Stony Cove for a day's diving." For I moment I thought I should panic, then remembered that James was a professional diving instructor.

"Have they gone?"

"The left about half an hour ago. Oh, Bernard said he would like to speak to you when you surface."

"I suppose I better go and find him then."

"Don't think you need to; they are just coming in." I turned and looked at the door. Bernard did not look that much better than I felt, indicated by the fact he made a beeline for the coffee and ignored the food. For Bernard to ignore food, he must have felt bad. Debora grabbed a couple of Danish pastries and an orange juice; then the pair of them came over and joined us at our table.

I looked at Bernard questioningly. "Bad?"

"I expect you to feel worse. I only had two of those damned things; you had about half a dozen. You know, I might kill your brother."

"You'll have to get into the queue," Anne advised him. "Phil and Mike have already reserved their places."

"What queue is that?" a familiar voice asked from the direction of the door.

"The queue to kill you," I responded, turning to view my brother. It was disconcerting to see him walk in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. "And why aren't you suffering like the rest of us after imbibing that devil's concoction you presented us with last night?"

"Simple," he stated, leaning over to kiss Anne on the cheek. "I ate five rashers of raw streaky bacon before the party and drank a glass of water between each glass of whatever I was drinking. Old Russian custom — and they know something about drink."

"It's not fair," mumbled Bernard.

"Why not?" Ben asked.

"I'm not allowed pork, so bacon is off the menu," replied Bernard.

"That," Anne commented, "has never stopped you drooling over my bacon sandwiches."

"Was that bacon?"

Anne just shook her head. Debora gave Bernard a clip round the back of his head.

Ben loaded a plate up with bacon, sausages, mushrooms, kidney and the rest of a Full English breakfast. The smell of it, as he put it on the table, was just too much for my stomach. I made a rapid departure from the Conservatory and found a quiet corner in the library near the coffee pots. One good thing about Manston is that there is always plenty of excellent coffee around when you need it, and this morning I needed it — a fact that was somewhat surprising as I usually drink tea. There are some things, though, that only coffee will address.

Bernard joined me a few minutes later.

"All those pork products too much for your kosher sensibilities," I quipped.

"To hell with my kosher sensibilities. Could never make head or tail of the rules anyway. It was my stomach's sensibilities that could not cope."

I smiled. Bernard had never been a very observant Jew. Even as a youngster, he would always be round our place on a weekend morning so he could scrounge some breakfast — with its bacon and pork sausage. A fact well known to Aunt Sarah, who conveniently looked the other way when she popped round to chat with my mother and found her son tucking into a plate full of distinctly non-kosher food on the Shabbat. She did, though, make him promise to observe the Shabbat whenever he was at home. That was a promise he had kept, which I suspected was why he took every opportunity to be away from home for the Shabbat.

"Anne said you wanted to talk with me," I said.

"Yes," Bernard confirmed, "Rachel rang just before we left to drive up. LV have asked for a meeting with her and David. Rachel has set one up for Monday."

"So, it looks like a bid is in the option," I stated.

"I expect so. There may be some dancing around before a bid is made, but I suspect one will be put on the table fairly soon." After imparting that piece of information, Bernard stood up and moved over to the coffee pots. "Want another?"

I nodded, then asked the question which had come immediately to mind. "Any idea how much it will be?"

"Well, David reckons the company's worth is seventy-six pounds eighty pence a share," Bernard answered.

"Christ, it was down to thirty-five twenty when I got my last block of options. I only paid ten for my shares at issue."

"I know," Bernard commented, returning with two cups of black coffee. "David and Rachel will be looking for a premium as well, so I think they will be looking at around eighty-five a share. However, if it comes to a bidding war, it could go a lot higher.

"David thinks that if a second interested party comes in, they could be looking at over a hundred a share."

I thought about the implications of that. With options on just over fifteen-thousand shares at all under forty-pounds a share not to mention my five thousand original shares I was looking at making well over a million. There would be capital gains to pay, but it was still going to leave an awful lot of money.

"So," I stated, "we just have to sit back and hope that a second bidder comes in."

"Oh," commented Bernard, "I can think we can be fairly sure about that."


"Well Rachel has set up the meeting with the LV executives as a working lunch at the Lamb and Flag on Monday," Bernard informed me. I knew there was something significant about that, then I remembered.

"But Frank Talbot always lunches in the Lamb on a Monday. If he sees Rachel and the LV people there, word will be all round London before they have finished dessert," I commented. Frank was a freelance financial journalist who grew up in the same area as Bernard and me. In fact, in our younger teenage years, we had formed a bit of a gang together. That was until Frank's alter ego, Ms. Dolly, started to make an appearance. Three fifteen-year-olds hanging around together was one thing; three fifteen-year-olds with one in drag was something different. Neither Bernard nor I could quite cope with it. Anyway, Frank found himself an Australian sugar daddy around that time and moved up in the world. It also got him into journalism.

"I think that may be the point," Bernard stated. "We know that Frank has some close friends in Gucci. Who better to see them?"

"You know, Bernard, your sister is devious."

"I thought you knew that from when you played Monopoly with her. Why do you think I don't?" Bernard glanced at his watch. "I'd better get going. Promised Debora that I would run her into Warwick this afternoon."

After he had left, I poured myself another cup of coffee and sat back and thought about things. One way or another, it looked as if I was going to end up being rather well off.

Half an hour and yet another cup of coffee later, I decided that I might be able to rejoin the human race. The primary indicator for this improvement in my state was a desire for a cup of tea and an increasing distaste for coffee. A sure sign that things were getting better.

I went in search of Anne, guessing she would probably be with Debora. As I entered the hall, Mrs M spotted me and informed me that the ladies were taking elevenses on the terrace. My response was that I thought it was a bit late for elevenses. Mrs M gave me a look which suggested that my opinion was not that important, then turned her attention back to an arrangement of lilies which, apparently, did not conform to her high standards. I pitied the flowers; they were bound to lose.

Making my way through the house, I arrived at the Orangery, which led to the terrace, just as Anne came in off of it.

"I was just about to come looking for you," she stated. "Debora and Bernard have gone off to Warwick."

"Bernard said they were going."

"So, you've been speaking with Bernard?"

"Yes, dear. It looks as if I'm going to be better off than I thought."

"Good," Anne said. "I can be a good wife and start spending it."

"You'd better not," I responded, "I've a feeling sixteen-year-olds are not cheap to maintain."

"Damn, I forgot about that. Trust me to end up marrying a man with a son."

"Don't knock it, Anne; if it hadn't been for the son, we would probably not be getting married.

"I know. Why do you think I like him?" By some unspoken agreement, we made our way out to the formal gardens. Anne slipped her hand into mine. I sensed that she wanted to say something but was uncertain about what to say.

"What is it, Love?" I asked.

"Look, I knew you were doing well with your writing. That's why I said I would like to go to college. Didn't have a choice when I left school; it was work or starve. Anyway, somebody had to look after Jenny. Ma couldn't." She went quiet for a moment; I gave her hand a squeeze. "The thing is, Mike, it seems you are a lot better off than I realised." I nodded, remaining silent, giving her space to say what she wanted to say. "I don't want you to think I am just some wife latching onto a rich husband so I can swan around."

"Why should I think that?"

"Because I'm packing my job in and going off to college. You'll be paying for it all."

"So?" I asked.

"I heard one of your aunts talking to the other and asking if they thought I was after your money."

"Anne, we've been together before you thought I had any money. Hell, it was before I had any money. Why should I think anything has changed now?"

"Because, Mike, it is clear that you are rich."

"I'm not as rich as my brother — or Bernard, for that matter."

"You're a damned sight richer than anyone else around Lynnhaven or Dunford."

"I somewhat doubt that, Anne. There's been an awful lot of smuggling around that coast over the centuries, and I'm sure some of the families have squirrelled away piles of ill-gotten gains."

Ann seemed mollified.

The late morning was bright and sunny, and although not unusually warm, provided you had coats on, it was pleasant in the formal garden. The thing was, neither Anne or myself had our coats on, so we quickly started to feel chilly and made our way back into the house. I guided Anne to the library, where we spent the next couple of hours discussing what we would like to do with the Priory.

There was plenty of Manston notepaper in the library, and I quickly found myself making notes on our plans. By one-thirty, I had about twelve sheets of notes about the changes we would like to make. There was a lot of work.

"You know," I commented after looking at the pile of notes. "There is a lot of work here. We will be living in a construction site for quite a while."

Anne nodded and sat quietly for a bit. I did not think either of us really fancied the idea of living in a construction site. On the other hand, I did not believe either of us was really up to not having the Priory like we wanted it. I just hoped Anne was not about to suggest that we look for somewhere else.

"You know, Mike, we don't have to do the work in that order."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, the Priory is liveable at the moment. It may not be like we would like it, but it is liveable." I agreed. Anne continued. "Well if we can get the planning permission to allow the haylofts over the stables to be converted and the garage to be made into apartments, we could do that first. Then we could move into the apartments while the work is being done on the house.

"I know they are not going to be large, but by using the two of them, we will have more room than we have in your bungalow."

She had a point there. I went back and checked the notes. The idea had been to make a two-bedroom apartment over the stable block and a one-bedroom over the garage. The garage had originally been the coach house, so it abutted the stable block. It would be quite easy to have a connecting door put in between the two so we could use them as one living space for a few months. When we were finished with it, the door could be boarded over and skimmed, turning it back into two separate apartments.

Having thought about it, the plan made a lot of sense. I discussed the details with Anne for a bit, then left her to have a wedding-planning meeting with Mrs M. Apparently, this time Flora was getting involved. The last thing they needed was a spare man around, so I went up to our room and typed up the notes and sent them to Matt, though I did not expect him to do anything with them till Monday.

In that, I was wrong. About twenty minutes later, my phone rang. It was Matt.

"Hi, Mike, how was the party?" he responded when I answered.

"Don't remember that much of it," I replied.

"That good, was it? Sorry, I could not come, but as I told Ben when he phoned, I had a R.I.B.A meeting last night. Been booked in for ages, and it was one I could not miss.

"Anyway, about your idea of converting the stable block and garage lofts to apartments should not be a problem. Old man Loughton had the same idea before he was taken ill. He got planning permission, but I am not sure if any work was started. If it wasn't, the permission will have expired, but it should not be a problem to get it reactivated. If it was started, then you would probably only have to apply for any changes you wanted to make to the permission. Could probably argue for those on the grounds of changes to building regs since the original permission was granted."

"Good. Could you get us some rough quotes for doing the work?"

"No problem. I've got the old Loughton plans here, so I'll get onto it first thing on Monday. Oh, Marge says I have to ask you and Anne for dinner next Saturday. She's complaining that she is missing out on all the gossip."

I accepted the invitation, subject to confirming it with Anne.

Having finished the call with Matt, I checked my emails and dealt with a couple of urgent ones, then made my way downstairs to see who was around. I found my aunts, uncle and various cousins in the Orangery. Aunt June informed me that they were going to have tea before setting off back to London. It seems they had only come up for the one night.

She also reminded me that she would be ninety in September and expected me to attend her birthday party. It was a subtle way of telling me that I should take a more active part in family events. Since I had moved to Lynnhaven, I had not kept in close contact with the family. I stayed in touch — birthday cards, the odd phone call or letter — but I had not attended many family functions. In fact, the last one I could remember going to was the wedding of Aunt June's granddaughter Mary, and that was at least eight years ago.

When I mentioned that to Aunt June, she corrected me. It seems that Mary had been married ten years and now had twin girls aged nine.

"Mike," she told me, "I know that woman hurt you, leaving you and taking your son. You've got your son back now, and you are getting a new woman, one I think will be good for you no matter what Hilda says. Your son needs to know about the family he has. So, don't get stuck out there in the middle of nowhere so much. Come to family events and bring your wife and son with you."

"What has Aunt Hilda said?"

"Oh, you know Hilda. She is always looking for some motive for anything. Thinks the only reason Anne is marrying you now is that you must have come into some money."

"Well, she's partly right," I answered.


"Well I have come into some money, but Anne and I were together before I knew that."

Just then my cousin Stan, Aunt June's eldest, came over to tell her that they would have to get a move on as the taxis to take them to the station would be arriving in ten minutes. Most of my family still lived around the Golders Green, Highgate area, and like many living near the centre of London, did not see much point in having cars.

The taxis — actually, three minibuses — arrived precisely on the ten minutes. The family, though, were not ready, and it was a full half-hour before everybody was boarded and on their way. I expressed concern that they might miss their train. Mrs M assured me that they had open, off-peak return tickets so that would not be a problem.

I found Anne, Flora and Tara, my cousin James's wife, in the Conservatory. Anne informed me that they were about to order afternoon tea, and would I like to join them? I enquired about Stan, but Flora advised me that he had gone off with the gamekeeper to walk the estate and was not expected back till dinner. I expressed some surprise that Stan was friendly with the gamekeeper. After all, I had always had the impression that Stan was a bit of a poacher.

"Mike, lad," Flora responded, "any good poacher is as interested in the rearing of game as much as a good gamekeeper. They are both after the same thing, just from opposite sides of the coin."

James was about the only one of my cousins not living in London. He had built himself a successful career as an underwater cameraman and then as a dive instructor. He and Tara had met when he had been filming out in Tobago, and they married shortly after. They were based down in the West Country on the border of Somerset and Devon, so for them, a car was essential. Tara informed me that they were leaving later in the evening to visit relatives before they went back home.

Over tea, we chatted mostly about the Priory. Both Tara and Flora wanted to know what our plans were for it. Fortunately, I had several photos of the place on my phone, so I could show them what things were like when we explained our plans to them.

We were just finishing tea when Bob and Susan came into the Conservatory.

"Don't tell me you've just recovered from last night," I commented.

"No, though I would prefer not to be reminded about last night," Bob replied. "We've been over to Stratford to see Susan's sister. Took longer than I thought."

"Only," Susan interjected, "because you got into discussions with Peter about his new book." I vaguely recalled that Susan's sister was married to a well-known writer.

"Well darling, I have to try to pick up business where I can."

"OK," Susan replied, "but there is pitching, and there is pitching. Trapping you own brother-in-law in his garden shed for two hours while you pitch being his agent for his next best seller is not the done thing."

"Actually, I was not pitching for his next best seller for two hours," Bob responded.

"Then, what were you doing?"

"Persuading him to write a book on English gardens. I have a publisher Stateside who would really go for one. Especially with Peter's name on it."

"That's even worse. What in God's name made you think Peter would be interested?"

"Well," Bob replied, "he is a keen gardener. In fact, he liked the idea. We spent most of the time discussing details as to what it should cover and the timescale. Which reminds me, Mike, I need to talk to you about the meteorology book you said you would write."

I groaned. Bob looked at me without any sympathy.

"Look, it's not fair to hold a man to something he said when he was drunk."

"OK, I'll do you a deal, Mike. You do the meteorology book, and I'll let you off the biography and the history."

"OK," I replied. "I'll do the meteorology book for you, but no way am I going to write Phil's biography or a history of this place."

"That's fine. They weren't going to happen anyway."

"What!" I exclaimed.

"No, Phil did a deal with me this morning. He signed a letter of understanding to do the play on the condition I did not press the biography or history."

I slumped back in my seat defeated. It then occurred to me exactly why Bob was such an excellent agent. He was one of the most devious negotiators around.

"One thing," I asked, "exactly why is Trevor up here with you? It's not as if he really knows us. I don't think I have seen him since he was ten. He certainly never met Anne."

"You did send him Christmas and birthday cards, plus presents," Bob pointed out. "Actually, it was pure coincidence that he was here for the party. We were due to be here this weekend anyway to discuss Phil's next film. I don't suppose it will do any harm to say anything now as it will be in Sunday's papers. Phil's got rights to That Woman's Son. They are starting production in September. Trevor has been asked to play one of the leads."

It made sense. The book had been a sensation a year or so before, and I recalled that Bob had been the author's agent. It was about the gay son of the Prime Minister being kidnapped. It was a high-tension, high-action story which I could see would appeal to Phil.

"So, Trevor's going to play the son?" I asked.

"Yes. The press release went out on Friday with an embargo on it till Sunday."

"Brave of him taking on a gay role," I commented.

"That's the other reason for him being here this weekend. We have an interview with the Beeb tomorrow afternoon, going out on Monday. He is going to come out as gay in the interview."

"Trevor's gay?" I asked. "I thought he was involved with …"

"I know everybody thinks that. All a bit of studio hype. Trevor and Melissa are good friends. Christ, they have to be; they've been filming together since they were eleven when the first of the series was made. They have, though, never been a couple.

"Actually, we don't have that much choice about him coming out. One of the tabloids has been sniffing around a story they think they have got. To date, they have not had enough evidence to go into print with it, but I am sure they'll get it fairly soon. Coming out now is the best way he can spike the story."

Just then, I became aware of the sound of a helicopter approaching. Bob heard it as well.

"I think," he stated, "that is Trevor's co-star arriving. Phil went to pick him up this morning."

"I didn't hear a 'copter this morning," I commented.

"You wouldn't have heard anything the way you were snoring," Anne commented. "Phil got Bains to drive him to the heliport this morning. Said he had to pick somebody up from Gatwick."

From the Conservatory, we saw the helicopter fly overhead, then come into land. There was a landing pad for it just beyond the stable yard. A few minutes later, Phil walked around from behind the stable block and into view of the Conservatory. As he did, the helicopter took off and flew away in the direction of Coventry. With Phil was a strikingly handsome black man who I guessed must be in his early twenties. Tara gave a low whistle. I looked at her.

"Look, Mike," she stated, "I may be married to your cousin, but that doesn't mean that this black girl can't appreciate a hunk of male black flesh when she sees it."

Phil came in through the Conservatory door, followed by his companion.

"Saw you lot in here when we flew over, so thought I would come in and make the introductions," he informed us. "This is Tyler Lawrence, soon to be the star of my next film." Introductions were made, and Tyler was quickly chatting to Tara in some dialect of English that I could not follow.

Tara looked at me. "We're from the same island. Tobago produces the most beautiful people, don't you think?" I could only agree.

Tyler informed us that he had been on a modelling job in Barcelona that had run over and had not been able to fly back until this morning. The publicity launch for the film was starting tomorrow, so he needed to be here for that.

Phil commented that he needed to get Tyler settled in and excused both himself and Tyler with the information that Tyler would be joining us for dinner.

After Phil and Tyler left, Bob spoke with me about the meteorology book while the women discussed the arrangements for the wedding. There seemed to be quite a discussion as to what Anne should wear. So far as I could follow, it was a choice between a traditional wedding dress or a practical suit that would have uses after the wedding.

Just before five, James and the boys arrived back. From what I gathered, they had quite a day up at Stony Cove. I did question the fact that, so far as I was aware, Stony Cove was not really suitable for beginners diving. It turned out that none of the boys were beginners. Johnny and Colin had both learnt to dive at school. Joseph, it turned out had dived last year when on holiday in Thailand. Trevor had learnt to dive for the final underwater scenes in the fantasy series he had been in. I had always assumed that those scenes had been shot in a pool and green-screened. Trevor told us that they had actually been shot off Aruba, and he had been free-swimming after topping up with air from a tank. James also informed me that there were facilities at Stony Cove for beginners in any case.

That put me in my place.

Tara excused herself, saying that she and James would not be at dinner. They were leaving shortly as they had to visit one of Tara's aunts in Handsworth and would be staying there until they returned home. I mentioned that they could have gone over earlier if James had not taken the boys diving.

"Good God, no, Mike. There is only so much of my aunt's family that a girl can take."

With Tara and James leaving, there was a much-reduced party in the house for dinner, so Mrs M advised us it was to be in the family dining room. Even with fifteen of us at the table, it did not seem crowded. Phil had confided in me once that the table in the family dining room could be extended to seat thirty. Unexpanded, it sat twenty in comfort.

Stan, Flora and the boys were in the reception room when we arrived. I think Johnny was trying to get the waiter to bring them beers. Fortunately, the waiter was fairly insistent that he could not without Mr. Phil's permission. Johnny looked a bit downcast at his failure. I pointed out to him that these were licensed premises even if it was a private occasion, so serving him a beer before he sat down to dinner was not on. He was cheered up when I told him there was no problem for him to have beer or wine with his dinner.

Trevor came in a couple of minutes later accompanied by his parents, to be followed by Bernard and Debora. I was chatting with Johnny as they came in, and he waved for Trevor to come over to us. Being eighteen, Trevor was able to get a beer, much to Johnny's chagrin.

Everything seemed to be going along well until Phil and Ben entered, accompanied by Tyler. There was a gasp from Trevor, who suddenly went tense. Then I heard him mumble, "I'll kill the bastard."

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