Living with Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 56

Martin joined me on the trip back to Southminster. By some unspoken agreement, we avoided any mention of Beryl on the trip back. He did tell me that he had written to Lee with directions on how to get from Chelmsford to Dunford. Martin had told him that once he had arrived in Dunford to find a phone box and call the house.

"He'll be lucky," I said. "I don't think there is a working phone box in the town. The one in the square has become a tourist-information centre. Hasn't he got a mobile?"

"He's probably got one, but it will have sat in his property for over a year, so the battery will be flat. Also, the SIM will have been voided as it has not been used for so long. If it was on a contract, he will have defaulted on that as it would not have been paid while he was on remand."

"Christ, I never thought of that," I admitted. "I'd better send him one. I've got plenty of spares and a pile of SIMs I can activate."

"Don't send it to the prison," Martin warned. "Sending a mobile phone or a SIM card to a prison is a criminal act. Have it ready to be collected tomorrow afternoon. I'm taking Marcia to the pictures."

"What about the kids?" I asked.

"I'm taking them, also, but they will be going to see a different picture, I hope," he said. "I'll pick the phone up off you. There is a firm of solicitors I've used as agents in Chelmsford a few times. I'll leave it there for Lee to collect. I'm in HMP Chelmsford on Wednesday, seeing another of my old cases. I'll get a legal visit with Lee and let him know where and how to get the phone.

"How come you've got phones to give away?"

"I do some technical-review writing for a couple of serious electronic mags. There was a stage about eighteen months ago when I was getting nearly two phones a day to review. They never seem to want them back," I informed Martin.

"Are you still getting as many?" Martin asked.

"No. Now I get a couple a month to review," I replied. "For a start, there are now more of us who can do technical reviews of smartphones. Also, the manufacturers have realised that the online media is more important than the printed media, so now only the high- circulation mags get free samples to review. The others get sent to social-media trendsetters. Unless there is some special geeky feature that would only make sense to electronic buffs and scientists, I tend not to get them these days."

"What was the geeky feature on the last one?" Martin asked.

"Battle-hardened," I informed him. "They claimed it could resist a tank driving over it."

"Could it?" Martin asked.

"I don't know, never got that far in testing," I told Martin. "Gave it to Tommy and Susan to play with and they broke it in five minutes."

"Who are Tommy and Susan?" Martin enquired.

"The four and five-year-old foster kids of some friends," I replied.

Martin laughed. "It reminds me of a watch advert we looked at in law school. It stated that the watch was resistant against g-forces up to twenty-g, pressure up to two hundred atmospheres and all, and a pile of other things. Then in small print at the bottom it said, not guaranteed against damage by children under ten years of age."

"Why were you looking at watch adverts in law school?"

"We had to say if the exclusion clause in the advert was valid or not," Martin told me.

"Was it?"

"Oh, yes."

Just then, my phone went. I checked who was calling and saw it was Irene, so I took the call. We exchanged a few pleasantries, then she got to the point.

"Mike, don't be surprised if Martin is quite pushy about you stepping down from the series because of the news about your ex and your brother-in-law."

"Why should he do that?" I asked.

"To be honest, he wants you off the series if he can manage it without it costing him too much," she told me.

"Why?" I asked. "I thought the feedback had been good."

"It is good, Mike. The thing is that the Beeb are about to sack a big name and Martin thinks he can get him for the rest of the series and the next. Being realistic, a known name on the series would pull in more viewers."

"What about the stuff I've already done?" I asked.

"Oh, they will keep that. Probably bill you as co-presenter for the first series and what you've done on the second. They'll just put pieces in with the name."

"He must be fairly certain that he will get the name," I commented.

"He is, Mike; it's his cousin," Irene told me.

"What do I do?"

"Sit tight and point out you have a two-series contract. Let them know you are not prepared to budge. They will probably still want to bring in the name, but it will force them to use you as a co-presenter. That could be of benefit to you, and it will imply you are on a near-equal footing to him," Irene informed me. "There will have to be a new contract, but I'll deal with that."

We finished off the call with Irene giving me some advice on how to handle different types of approaches that Martin Shelt might use.

Neither Johnny nor Anne were in when I got back to the Priory. Not that I was surprised. I knew Johnny had a late class, and Anne would use the time to study in the library. Also, I had got back earlier than I had expected. It was not quite seven. I did not expect them back until about eight.

That given, once I had put my stuff away, I started to prepare dinner. By the time they arrived just before eight, it was nearly ready.

Over dinner, we talked about our day. I told them about the recording and going in to see Bernard. I also told Johnny I needed to talk to him after dinner about what Bernard had told me.

Both Anne and Johnny were informative about what was going on at college. It seemed with the end of term rapidly approaching, minimal actual teaching was being done. Anne said they spent most of their time going over techniques for university-entrance interviews. Johnny said most of his classes were concentrating on getting project work finished.

Dinner over, Johnny started to clear up, but Anne told him she would take care of things and he should go and have his talk with me. We moved into the study.

"What's this about, Dad?" Johnny asked.

"Your mother's estate," I told him. "It looks as if you are going to be coming into quite a lot of money one way or another."

"What money?" Johnny replied. "She always said we were short of money."

"Well, for a start, there is the life insurance she took out. It is for ten million, and you are the beneficiary," I informed him. "Then there is the house in Islington and the villa in France. The Islington house must be worth over two million these days."

"I don't want it," Johnny insisted. "Anyway, she said your father paid for it, so it should be yours."

"Dad paid the deposit for it," I replied. "I paid the mortgage while I was living with your mother, then she took it over."

"It still should be yours," he insisted.

"Not sure I would want it," I commented. "It was her house, she chose it, and she lived in it. She made it her place.

"Anyway, all that is beside the point, legally it is your house — at least, it will be once probate is settled — though it will be held in trust for you till you are eighteen. I'm not sure what the situation is regarding the French place. They have different property laws."

"I think I'd like to keep that," Johnny stated.

"Any particular reason?" I asked.

"Marcel's family have the cottage in the grounds. It was part of the deal that the mother made with them when she bought the villa off them. If someone else took the place over, the deal would not stand and they would be out of their home. Wouldn't mind that for Marcel, but it would hurt Oncle Jacques and Marcel's parents. They were always kind to me."

"Well, we will just have to see how things work out," I stated. "A lot will depend on your mother's will. Bernard is going to see her solicitor about it tomorrow."

Johnny then informed me he needed to get an assignment finished before the end of term and went off to his room. I checked in the kitchen to see if Anne needed any help, but she had just finished clearing up and was closing the dishwasher door. She informed me that she was going to read, then have an early night. I needed an early night as I had an early start in the morning, but first, I needed to check my emails.

There was one which jumped out as requiring my attention immediately. I opened my email reader up. It was from Miss Jenkins. It was very polite, expressing regret at the news of Beryl's murder, indicating that if Johnny or I needed any assistance, we should let her know. Then, as a footnote, came the stinger. She would be in Dunford on Thursday and was inviting me to join her for lunch. It was a very polite invitation:

I am in Dunford on Thursday and, if you are free, it would give me pleasure to have your company for lunch at the Belmont. I will be lunching at one o'clock. Hope to see you then.

It was not the sort of invitation one could turn down without a very, very good reason. I tried to think hard if I had one, then decided I did not and made an entry in my diary that I was having lunch with Miss Jenkins.

Most of the other emails were very quickly dealt with. Though there was one that did need some attention; it was from my accountants informing me that Mike Carlton Productions Ltd. had been formed and giving me details of the registration number, etc. They pointed out I would need the attached documents to open a bank account for it.

I sent an email acknowledging receipt of their email and attached pdfs. I even remembered to add details about Lee and that he would be an employee of the company as from the first of January.

That dealt with, I closed my emails down, shut down the computer and sat back in my chair and scanned a couple of journals that had arrived in the day's post. There being nothing else of interest, I decided to get the early night I had promised myself, especially as I had to be in Dartford for seven-thirty in the morning.

* * * * *

I was fuming by the time I left the Dartford studio a little after one. Martin Shelt was probably not in a good mood, either. The plan had been for us to do green-screen shots of me explaining things for two episodes. I doubt if we managed to get even one completed by when our studio time ran out.

Just about everything had gone wrong with the shoot that could go wrong. At least, that is what it appeared like to me. For a start, there was a confusion over the studio booking. Shelt said he had booked Studio Three, with its full-size surround, green screen. The studios insisted that the booking was for Studio Five, which was a set up to film talking heads against a green screen.

Add to that there was a problem with the autocue. At least Martin Shelt said there was a problem with the autocue. One of the technicians let it slip that Shelt had brought the wrong digitised scripts with him. Fortunately, I had brought printouts of my script, and I do have a reasonably good memory. It did mean, however, that after I had done each piece, I had to read the next bit of the script. That involved a break in the shooting which slowed everything down.

Then there was a problem with the lenses for the camera. It seems the lenses they had brought with them were not the right ones for use in the studio we had. So, the camera crew had to send somebody back to their base to get the right lenses — an operation which took the better part of an hour and a half.

Unfortunately, that hour and a half gave Martin Shelt plenty of time to get onto me about stepping down from the series. I made it clear to him that I was not interested in doing so. I also pointed out to him that I had a fairly cast-iron contract. He pointed out that it was already known that Beryl was my ex-wife. In response to that observation, I advised him that the operative word in that description was 'ex'.

He did not let up. Every moment during the shoot when there was a break in shooting, he was back onto the subject. Eventually, when the operators insisted on a tea break, I took a toilet break to get away from Martin. Once somewhere quiet, I phoned Irene.

"Don't worry about it," she told me. "I expected something like this. I'll phone him."

She did, there and then. By the time I got back into the studio no more than five minutes later, they were just serving the tea. Martin was looking white.

"Did you have to set Aunty on me?" he asked.

"Aunty?" I asked.

"Aunty Irene. You know she's my aunty, don't you?"

"No. Though, it does explain why she was so confident," I stated.

For the rest of the shoot, Martin was sulking like a small boy who was not going to get his way, leaving his assistant to take charge of everything. By the time we were finished, I had a strong feeling that the whole shoot would have to be done again — something I was not looking forward to.

The drive back on the M25 was a disaster. A lorry had shed its load on the anti-clockwise carriageway, reducing it to one lane. A trip that should have taken just over an hour and a quarter ended up taking nearly twice that time.

It was gone three when I got home.

"Switch your phone on," Anne instructed as I came through the door. I did.

"I thought you were at college all day," I commented.

"So did I," Anne replied. "Power went down just after lunch, lorry ploughed into the substation, so they cancelled all classes this afternoon and evening."

"Didn't the same thing happen a few weeks back?" I asked.

"Yes," Anne responded. "They come down that hill too fast and can't manage the corner. Their trailer swings out and hits the substation."

My phone starting beeping as it connected to the network, informing me that I had messages. I went through to the study to deal with them. Most of them were texts asking me to call. Nothing appeared to be particularly urgent, so I started to work through them in the order that they arrived.

As a result, it was gone four before I called Bernard.

"About bloody time," he said as he answered the call.

"I was filming, so the phone was off," I stated.

"So Anne informed me when I called the landline," he replied.

"Ok, what's up?" I asked.

"Just about bloody everything?" Bernard replied. "First, Detective Superintendent Lawlan called to inform me that they have arrested two suspects. He is going to want to interview both you and Johnny, but there is no urgency. I have said I would arrange things with the two of you.

"Met up with Beryl's solicitors this morning. They've got Beryl's will. Everything goes to Johnny, so not much of a problem there. The big problem is what else they had."

"What was that?"

"It was a letter addressed to me, to be handed to me only in the event of her violent death," Bernard stated.

"But that implies—"

"Yes, Mike, she suspected that she might be murdered. I need to speak to you and then to Johnny. Best if I came out there. How are you fixed Friday afternoon?"

I opened my diary. There was a note about Lee arriving, and I noticed I was due to do an online call with Chris at two but otherwise had the day free.

"I should free from about two-thirty onwards," I stated.

"That should work," Bernard said. "I've got a meeting in Romford in the morning; it is bound to go on into lunch, so will be at your place around two-thirty to three. If Johnny has finished with college for the term, can we do the Lawlan interview Thursday?"

"I have a luncheon engagement for one on Thursday," I stated.

"In Town?"

"No, in Dunford," I replied.

"Can you put it off?" Bernard asked.

"Not really, it's with a lady," I stated.

"I'm sure she won't mind you postponing for another day — or make it dinner," he stated.

"It's with Miss Jenkins," I informed him.

"Right, you can't get out of it. I'll tell Lawlan nine-thirty at your place to interview you; he can do Johnny afterwards. Martin will be there to act for you."

"Right," I replied.

"I'll see you tomorrow at three," he said, then rang off.

Returning to the kitchen, I asked Anne if Johnny was around. She informed me that he had come back with her but had gone out on his moped. She thought he might have gone to the yard.

"Where's Tyler?" I asked.

"He's in the housekeeper's apartment, helping the workmen," she informed me.

"I hope he's not getting in the way," I stated.

"Actually, from what Matt said earlier, I gather he is actually quite skilled. It seems he did some construction work in the States between advertising jobs," she informed me.

I decided to walk round to the apartment and see what was going on. I was a bit amazed when I got there to find Tyler in coveralls helping to hang a door.

"Uncle George is a builder; they call them contractors in the States," Tyler informed me. "Got his own business in Edison, New Jersey. I worked for him when I went over there after things went pear-shaped here while I was auditioning for parts. Then, when I was getting advertising parts in the States, I worked for him between jobs. I enjoyed it and learnt some useful skills."

"I didn't realise your uncle was American," I stated.

"Yes, my dad's younger brother," Tyler said. "He went to college in the States and stayed there."

I reminded him that we had Zach coming to dinner and asked if he had the figures all together. Tyler assured me that he had.

"How're they stacking up?" I asked as we walked together back round to the house.

"Good. I'll show you when we get in," Tyler stated. "I can't believe they made the housekeeper walk all this way round to get to work!"

"Originally, it was not so far," I pointed out. "The apartment was a self-standing cottage. It did not get attached to the house until the guest wing was built. Anyway, I think the housekeeper then would have lived in the house, probably in what is now the lounge. I suspect that the cottage was used for the estate steward or whoever ran the place for the owner.

"It only became the housekeeper's apartment, from what the agent said, when the previous owner Mr Laughton needed a housekeeper, one who insisted on self-contained accommodation."

As we turned the corner at the end of the coach house and entered the yard through the side gate, Johnny pulled into the yard on his moped. He parked it in one of the garage spaces in the coach house below the apartment.

Pulling off his helmet, he turned as we walked up to him. "Dad, where are we going to park the cars when you turn these into your offices?"

I pointed to the row of dilapidated buildings on the far side of the yard. Matt had told me they were the remains of pigsties. In the old days, they had been near the kitchen so the pigs could be fed the kitchen scraps.

"I was thinking of getting those converted into garages," I told him. "Anyway, I am only going to be using the first two garages for my offices, that still leaves four; so you are OK for a bit, given that we never use them."

We did not use them as it was a bit of a tight squeeze to get the Santa Fé in. The only car in the garages was my Morgan. Anne and Marcia preferred to leave their cars parked out in the yard rather than risk putting them in the garage.

"How about putting a car porch over the back door?" Johnny asked as he joined us in the yard.

"Why?" I asked.

"It would make life easier when it's raining and you have a carload of shopping in the Santa Fé. You could park it under the porch, as you never garage it."

"What about Anne's car?" I enquired.

"Well, make it a double porch, and you could get both under," he informed me.

I told him that I had already mentioned the idea to Matt but would do some more thinking about it, but at the moment, I had far more critical things to deal with.

"Like what?" he asked.

"Going over Tyler's figures with him before Zachery arrives," I said.

"What figures?" Johnny asked.

"I'm trying to start a business," Tyler explained. "Hiring out specialist film equipment. Need to borrow some funds to start up, so we are talking to Zachery Mayer."

"Can I sit in on it?" Johnny asked. "I need to start learning about business."

I looked at Tyler questioningly; he nodded.

"Alright," I told Johnny. "We'll be in the study in about half an hour. Tyler needs to get cleaned up first."

"Good, I'll see you there," he said, running off ahead of us and in through the back door.

"You don't mind, do you?" I asked Tyler.

"No, actually it could help," he replied. "You never know; he might come up with some insight into the business."

Half an hour later, we were all in the study. Tyler had brought his laptop to display the spreadsheet he had put together. It was a good study; he had the figures for the existing business on one side and what he expected on the other.

"Exactly what is the business?" Johnny asked.

"It's hiring out specialist equipment to film units," Tyler replied. "Most of it is for technical and scientific filming, but some of it is for the entertainment industry."

"I would have thought they would have had their own specialist cameras," Johnny stated.

"No, they only tend to have the standard equipment; anything special, they hire," Tyler replied. "It makes sense; a specialist, high-speed, video camera will cost somewhere around fifty to sixty grand. Most film units might only need one for a couple of days a year. It is a waste of capital to have that sort of money tied up when you can rent one for around a thousand a day."

"Surely they need them for more than one day?" Johnny asked.

"Actually, on scientific and technical filming they often don't," Tyler answered. "If they do, they can do a week hire; that would cost two-and-a-half grand. A month's hire is five grand. If they need it for more than a couple of months, it starts to get economical for them to look at buying the equipment."

"Why is the day-hire so out of proportion to the week hire?" I asked.

"Basically, because of the upfront costs. It costs as much for us to insure a piece of equipment for one day as it does for a month. There are about three hundred pounds of costs associated with any hire, no matter how long it is for."

"Looking at these figures, it appears that your friends are losing about five-hundred thousand a year. How do you intend to make it pay?" I asked.

"If you look at the figures, you will see that they are paying nearly three-hundred thousand a year for rental space. They have enough storage space in downtown Manhattan to store every piece of equipment they have got. They do not need all that. At least half of their stock is out on hire at any one time. They could halve the rent by having less space. Also, they do not need to be in central Manhattan.

"My plan basically is to reduce overheads in three ways. First, using flexible-storage options — only rent the actual storage space that I need, not more for the worst-case scenario. Flexible storage may be more expensive per square foot than fixed storage, but as I will be paying a for a lot less, I will save on overheads.

Second, I am not in central Manhattan. What's the going rate around here for commercial premises? Ten pounds per square foot? They are paying over sixty. Pounds, not dollars, I did the conversion. By a combination of renting in a location with lower rents and using flexible storage options, I think I can get the annual rent bill below fifty thousand pounds.

Third, there are bank-loan interest payments. I am looking to get any capital I need at a much lower interest rate. From what I have found so far, I should be able to get it at least five-, if not six-percent lower. I hope Zachery might be able to get me even cheaper long-term capital. With that, I can save over fifty thousand on interest payments.

Finally, there is the whole staffing plus the sales and marketing operation. They have five salesmen out on the road, flying around the world, visiting clients. That's not the way to do business these days. It can all be done online. I think it should be possible to run the business with a staff of five or six, not the twenty-two they are now using."

For the next half hour, Tyler and I went through the figures he had prepared with a fine-toothed comb. If he was right about the staffing numbers, then the business did seem viable, provided he could get the funding he required at the right cost. That was something we would have to discuss with Zachery when he arrived.

"What do you think of its chances?" Johnny asked me.

"If Tyler's figures are right, I think it could be a good little business," I commented.

"Right, I would like to put some money into it, then," Johnny stated.

I looked at Johnny, surprised.

"With what money?" I asked.

"Well, there is the money you said I am getting from mother's insurance," he informed me. He was right; I had not considered that.

"How much were you thinking of putting in?" I asked.

"I'm not certain," Johnny replied. "I would need to discuss that with you, but I think I could put up some capital to get the business started. I could also put some funds in as a loan. Will probably be able to get more interest than I would from a bank."

"You'll get more interest, but you are also carrying more risk," I pointed out.

"I know, Dad, but at least the money will be doing something helpful."

"OK, but you will have to speak to your grandparents about it; they'll be trustees, and it will be up to them how you use the money."

Johnny just nodded.

"Tyler, how much money do you think you will need?" I asked. "How much will be capital investment and how much loan?"

"Well, Jack and Sue have indicated they are looking at something like one-point-three million dollars for the business. That is effectively buying all the stock they have. That will let them get out and get clear," he informed me. "They've not updated their equipment for the last few years because of funding issues, so I really need to look at spending about another three -hundred thousand on buying some of the latest kit for the inventory. I will probably need the same again to cover staff costs for the first year, plus a hundred thousand for overheads.

"In total, I am probably looking at somewhere around two million. I've got two hundred thousand, and Trevor has said he will put in a hundred thousand. Your friend Bernard has indicated he will invest but has not said how much."

"I'll check with Bernard before Zachary arrives," I told him.

We spoke for a few more minutes over the financials and then took a break. Tyler and Johnny went off to the kitchen to get a drink. I phoned Bernard and then explained why.

"Was thinking of a hundred grand," Bernard informed me. "Though could go a bit more if needed. Why?"

I explained to Bernard how Tyler's figures were looking and that Johnny wanted to put some money in.

"It sounds good," Bernard said. "Tell Tyler that I'll go in for a hundred grand, and there is another fifty if he can convince Zachery to invest."

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Well, if Zachery puts his own money in, you can be fairly certain it will be a good prospect."

"I wish I had some spare cash," I stated.

"Well, you've got your insurance money from Beryl," he stated.

"What insurance money?" I asked.

"The life insurances on the mortgage," Bernard informed me. "When you took the mortgage out for the Islington house, you and Beryl took out twenty-year-term, joint-life insurances to cover the mortgage. Even though the house was paid off, the life cover is still in place. You will be getting three hundred thousand."

I had completely forgotten about that policy. For some reason, Dad had insisted we take out fixed-term-life cover when we set up the mortgage. He also insisted that we pay for it entirely when the policies were put in place rather than renewing annually. Then he had paid for it.

"When do you think that will be paid out?" I asked.

"It will take a few months," he informed me. "For a start, the insurance company will want to be sure you were not involved in the murder. Until we get the death certificate, we cannot proceed with a claim on the insurance, and we will not get that until at least the inquest is opened. Probably not till it is ended. Until then, the most we can get is a Coroner's Certificate of Evidence of Death, and most financial firms will not accept those. It is a case of having to wait until we get the full death certificate. I should think you should be looking at pay-out the end of January or early February."

"I think Tyler's friends are hoping to have everything sewn up before the New Year," I stated.

"Well, if you want to invest, I can lend you some funds until the pay-out takes place."

"I might take you up on that if Zachery gives it the green light regarding funding. How much could I borrow from you?"

"How much would you think about investing if you had clear funds?" Bernard asked.

"Probably about fifty grand, maybe a hundred."

"No problem, Mike, I can cover both those sums, though if what you have told me about the business is right, a hundred grand sounds the better investment. I think that Johnny should look at putting that in as well; will recommend it to Stan and Flora as they are his trustees."

"Won't he have the same problem getting funds?" I asked.

"Probably, but I am sure we can sort some short-term funding with Zachery to cover a few months," Bernard replied with a laugh.

The front doorbell rang. I presumed it was Zachery, as anyone else who was likely to be coming today would come into the yard. I told Bernard I had to answer the door and rang off. Anne got to the door before me.

"You must be Zachery Mayer," she stated to the man outside the door.

"No," he replied. "My name is Phillip Sanston; I'm from Yalend Insurance. I am looking to talk to Jonathan Carlton."

"Could I ask what this is about?" I asked, walking up behind Anne.

"And you are?" he asked.

"Jonathan's father," I replied.

"Well, we have been notified of a claim on a life-insurance policy, and I have been asked to do an initial investigation."

"In that case you need to speak to Jonathan's solicitor," I informed him. "He is Mr. Bernard LeBrun, and I am sure you have his contact details."

"Now look here," he stammered at me," I did not come all this way to get brushed off. I have to see Jonathan Carlton."

"If you need to see him, you will have to make an appointment through his solicitor," I replied, pushing the door shut in his face. I watched on the CCTV monitor by the door as he walked back to his car and got in. Johnny came down the stairs.

"What was that about?" Johnny asked.

"Some insurance guy wanting to see you," I replied. "I told him he needed to make an appointment via Bernard."

"Why does he want to see me?" Johnny asked.

"Because, my boy, you are about to become quite rich at their expense. Whatever you do, don't talk to anybody about insurance or your mother without Bernard or Martin being present."

Having dealt with that, I returned to my study and sent an email off to Bernard, letting him know what had happened. I then phoned Stan and filled him in about the situation regarding the insurance money. He said he and Flora had not got any idea about being trustees, but he would do whatever I advised regarding Johnny.

I had just put the phone down on Stan when Bernard rang me, wanting to know what happened. I told him.

"I advised them of our interest in things this morning and that all communication was to be via me. They are trying to pull something. Warn Johnny not to speak to them. I'm applying for a High Court injunction first thing in the morning; might try to get a temporary injunction tonight."

"Is that necessary?" I asked.

"Yes, they're hassling a minor," he replied.

At that point, the front doorbell went again. I told Bernard I had to answer it and rang off. This time it was Zachery.

Dinner was going to be another forty-five minutes, so I introduced Zachery to Anne and Tyler and offered him a drink. Then I suggested we could go over my affairs in the study before dinner. They were not particularly difficult; I just wanted to know what was going to be the best option for me: to pay off the loan I had used to purchase the Priory and the associated work or to refinance it with a mortgage. Zach's advice was that I pay off the loan, partly from the income I had coming in and partly with a mortgage on the property. He was reasonably sure he could get me a mortgage and a lower rate than I was paying on the current loan. That would leave me with more free cash flow for starting my production company. Zachery suggested that we should meet up once I had my end-of-year royalty statements, so we agreed to meet up in the new year with my accountants to sort out the details.

Over dinner, we kept conversation off the subject of finances. Zachery was asking Anne about the access course she was taking. It seemed that his wife was talking about going back to college once their youngest started school in the coming September.

"What did she do?" Anne asked.

"Well, she was a nurse when we got married," he stated. "She's done a degree with the OU while she's been raising the kids but is now thinking of going to medical school."

"Being a nurse should make admission easier," Anne commented.

"Unfortunately, her nursing qualifications aren't recognised in the EU," Zach stated. "My wife is from Belarus and got her training there."

For the rest of dinner, he was telling us how they had met.

After dinner, I suggested to Tyler that he and Zachery might like to use the sitting room to discuss his project. Tyler asked if I wanted to join them, but I declined, saying I thought it was better if he and Zachery went over figures first, but I was happy to come in later to talk about investments. It was nearly an hour before Tyler came to the study and asked if I could join them.

When I got to the sitting room, Tyler's laptop was open on the coffee table, and Zachery was looking at the spreadsheet that Tyler had put together.

"What do you think of it?" I asked.

"Well, the figures look good," Zach stated. "That is, provided he can get the business for the price that he has entered in the business model. He also needs to be able to cover about five hundred thou from capital. He says you have some knowledge of what's available."

"I can't say for sure, but I've been present when some people have offered to put up funds," I replied.

"How much?" Zach asked.

"Now on that, I cannot be so specific," I answered. "I know Trevor Spade said he was willing to put up some money, but I can't remember him stating a sum."

"He told me one hundred and fifty thousand," Tyler said. "I spoke to him about it the other day." Zach made a note on his note pad.

"Bernard LeBrun also said he was interested in investing," I said. "Though he has not mentioned a sum."

"That's fine," Zach commented. "I know what Bernard is looking at; he asked me to review the figures for him."

"My son, Johnny, has also indicated he would like to put some money in when he gets the insurance settlement on his mother. He's told me he is looking at putting in one hundred thousand as an investment and would be prepared to put more in as a loan. That though would depend on his trustees agreeing to it," I pointed out.

"Are they likely to?" Zach asked.

"If I recommend it, they are," I stated. "They are coming down here for Christmas, so I will be discussing it with them then. Already mentioned it to Stan — that's Johnny's grandfather — and he says if I think it is worth the risk, he is prepared to go along with it. Though he does not want any more than five percent of Johnny's money in any one investment."

"How much is five percent?" Zach asked.

"One million," I replied.

Zach looked at me, surprised.

"A twenty-million-pound insurance settlement?" he asked.

"That's what it's looking like," I stated. "Once things settle down a bit and we know what's going on, I need to get Stan and Flora to talk to you, they are going to need some help."

"I'm back from New York on the seventh?" Zachery stated.

"I'm looking at putting fifty to a hundred thousand in if the figures look OK," I stated. "It depends on how my personal funding works out."

"That wasn't in the figures you showed me before dinner," Zach observed.

"Sorry," I apologised. "It's some money coming in that I was not aware of when I put those figures together. There was a term-life-insurance policy on both Beryl and me to cover the mortgage if either of us died. It's for three-hundred thousand. The mortgage is paid off, so the full benefit comes to me."

"Then it looks like you have somewhere in excess of half a million in funding, Tyler," Zach said. Tyler acknowledge that seemed to be correct.

"In that case," Zach continued, "I can see no problem in raising the rest. The only problem may be in the timescale. When do these people in the States want out?"

"As soon as possible," Tyler answered. "Though they are stuck with their current lease till the end of April."

"I'm in New York next week," Zach pointed out. "If you appoint me your business agent, I can go in and start talking figures and timings with them for you. I am pretty sure we can put something together before I have to fly back to the UK on the sixth."

"I've no problem with that," Tyler said. "The question is, how much is the funding going to cost?"

"Can't give you an exact figure at the moment. I need to talk to a couple of probable sources, but I would think we are looking at around eight to ten percent," he stated. "How does that sound?"

"I would like it to be lower," Tyler said. "Three grand a week is a lot to generate."

"Why would you need to pay out three grand a week?" Johnny asked, entering the room carrying a tray of drinks.

"That's what the interest on one and a half-million is likely to work out at," Tyler stated.

"Can the business carry that?" Johnny asked.

"Yes," Tyler replied. "It will be tight and means we can't expand till we pay the loan off, which will take two or three years."

"That's a problem. Talk to me after the weekend," Johnny said. I looked at him surprised, wondering what he was up to. He just smiled, put the tray of drinks down and left.

After Tyler and Zach finished discussing finances, with bits of input from me, Zach left. I then went in search of Johnny. I found him practising snooker in the games room.

"What are you up to?" I asked.

"With what?" he answered.

"With Tyler," I replied.

"Oh, I just had an idea, but I need to talk it over with both you and Uncle Bernard before I say anything to anyone."

"Right. Talk to me now," I instructed.

"Dad, can we leave it till the weekend? I want to speak to you and Uncle Bernard at the same time."

"It's going to be a bit busy at the weekend. James arrives on Saturday, and we have Jenny coming for Christmas, then the Manston crowd, including your grandparents, will be here on Sunday," I informed him.

"I know," he responded. "That's why Uncle Bernard is coming over on Sunday. He's got some papers for Stan and Flora to sign."

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Joseph told me," he replied.

He clearly had better information sources than I did, so I agreed to discuss it at the weekend. Anyway, I wanted to do a bit of looking into a few things myself.

Wednesday, Anne and Johnny were away early for college. It was the last day of term, and they both assured me they would be back early afternoon. Tyler went off to help the workmen in the housekeeper's apartment. I made a note to myself that we had to come up with another name for it.

I got down to doing some writing.

Shortly after lunch, Martin called me to let me know that it was all arranged for Lee to pick up the phone in Chelmsford. I thanked him.

Anne and Johnny arrived back shortly after three. It seems that there were no classes in the afternoon of the last day of term. Johnny stated that after the end-of-term, lunchtime drinks in the pub, the teachers were just too pissed to be bothered to teach them. Anne informed me that it was so they could do all the class administrative work before the college closed down.

"Can we have a chat, Dad?" Johnny asked when Anne went up to get changed.

"In the study?" I asked.

"Nah," he replied. "Thought we could go and look at the buildings back of the walled garden."

I wondered why it was he wanted to go to the old boiler house and gardener's cottage, but I saw no reason not to. "OK, but we will have to wait for Anne to come down so I can tell her we are going out."

"That's fine, I need to change, and I suggest you get your wellies on, it's pretty muddy up there," he stated.

"What about your wellies?" I asked.

"They're in the mudroom," he stated with a laugh as he exited the kitchen on his way to his room.

It took me a time to remember where I had put my wellingtons, but after a bit of thinking I worked out they had to be in one of the rooms off the connection to the guest wing. There were a couple of rooms there that did not work as reception or bedrooms, so we had used them as storerooms, mostly to store the furniture I had brought from the bungalow that we had not used in the house, which was most of it. After a bit of digging, I finally found my wellingtons, which I had not worn since we had moved into the Priory.

I carried them into the kitchen, intending to give them a wipe over before I put them on.

"Going somewhere?" Anne asked as I entered carrying the wellingtons.

"Johnny asked me to join him for a walk," I stated.

"Good. He needs to talk about things," she replied.

I sat down at the kitchen table to take off my shoes and put the wellingtons on.

"It's a bit chilly out; you'd better put on a warm coat," Anne told me. I glanced at the coat rack by the back door. My old duffle coat was hanging there. It would do, it had kept me warm since I was at university over twenty years ago.

I was just putting the coat on when Johnny came into the kitchen. He was wearing some cords and a parka.

"You'll probably need that," Johnny stated, looking at my old duffle coat.

"So Anne told me," I replied. "Well, where do you want to go?"

"Could we look at the buildings behind the walled garden?" he asked.

We walked across the yard in silence, down the side of the Stable House, then through the gate at the side of the outbuildings. There was a broad paved area beyond the outbuildings before the start of the walled garden. We turned left into it, and then through the archway in the wall, where no doubt a gate had once stood, into the walled garden. It was pretty much overgrown, though somebody, I presumed Arthur, had attacked it at some point with a trimmer.

"It's a shame this being like this," Johnny stated, as we walked through it.

"It is a bit," I agreed. "Though I have asked Matt if there was anyone, he knew who could take it on, maybe make it into a garden centre or a nursery."

"You need a lot of money for a garden centre," Johnny commented.

"How do you know?"

"There's a couple of lads at the college; they're doing horticulture," Johnny stated. "They were telling me about it."

"Were they?" I responded.

"Yes, and this place would not be big enough for a garden centre, though it would make a good nursery," he informed me.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Stands to reason," he replied. "This was a kitchen garden, so it must have good soil, and you've got the glasshouse at the end."

"With no glass and half falling down," I pointed out.

"OK, it would need some work, but not as much as would be needed to make it a garden centre."

"All right, Johnny, why this interest in horticulture all of a sudden?" We came to the end of the central path, turned right to follow the path in front of the glasshouses.

"Can we have a look at the house first?" he asked. "This may not be workable."

"So, you do have something in mind," I commented. He nodded.

We got to the end of the path; the glasshouses stopped about six feet from the end. The gravelled area between the glasshouses and the west wall gave access to a side gate in the south wall. Johnny opened it. Beyond the gate was the old boiler house and what had been the head gardener's cottage. Both the buildings were in a pretty derelict state. Johnny pulled a bunch of keys from his pocket and unlocked the door to the cottage. It was a simple one-up/one-down design with a washhouse and privy in the yard.

Johnny surveyed it. "It's worse than I thought."

We went through the building. He unlocked the back door, and we entered the yard. The washhouse looked to be in much better condition than the cottage. I was surprised to find that the water was still on in there and in the privy — a fact that I commented on.

"It must have been used by people working on the estate," Johnny observed. That made some sense. I knew that old man Laughton had left instructions for a maintenance service to come in and keep things tidy after his death. That was one reason the family were prepared to sell the place so cheap. The expenses for maintenance came out of the estate funds, so it was costing them while they got no benefit before the sale of the property.

Just past the washhouse and privy were a pair of double gates, which puzzled me until I looked across the yard and saw a coal hole for the boiler house. They must have brought coal deliveries in through these gates.

"We probably need to sort something out so the pipes don't freeze in the winter," I commented.

"There are newish electrical sockets in the washhouse and the toilet; we could rig up a thermostatically controlled radiator," he suggested.

"What was it you wanted to talk about?" I asked.

"It's not going to work," Johnny stated. "This place is in too much of a mess."

"Well, run it past me, and we can see if there is a way we can make it work," I told him.

"Steven and Jim, the horticultural lads at the college — they're a couple," Johnny stated. "Steven's parents found out that he was gay and threw him out last week. He's staying at Jim's, on the sofa, but Jim's parents have said he has to find somewhere else to stay by the weekend."

"And you thought here?"

"Well, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone," Johnny replied. "They are due to finish their course in May, and both have worked in nurseries before they started, so they know the business. Jim used to work with his father's building firm in the past, so he knows about building and stuff. I thought we could offer them this place and the walled garden on similar terms as you've offered the housekeeper's apartment to Tyler. They get it rent-free for two years but have to sort the place out. They could start a nursery here, which would clean the garden up, and they would have a place to live."

"It's going to cost a bit to get this place cleaned up and habitable and to set the walled garden up as a nursery," I pointed out.

"I know, but I thought that if they were setting up a business, maybe I could invest in it," Johnny replied.

"How much were you thinking?" I asked.

"Don't know, would have to find out how much it is going to cost but I thought a few thousand pounds, maybe up to ten."

"How about if we let them use the caravan?" I enquired.

"But that's up behind the tithe barn," Johnny pointed out. "There's no water or toilet facilities there."

"I know, but there is in this yard, and by the look of it, there is electricity," I told him. "We could get the caravan into the yard through those gates. I could get Matt to get the electrics checked and a hookup point fitted. Could probably get the water connection sorted for the van as well."

"Could we, Dad?"

"I don't see why not, but I will need to meet these lads first," I told him. "How old are they anyway?"

"Jim is twenty or twenty-one," Johnny replied. "Steven is eighteen; he is nineteen on the first."

"You say they have experience in nurseries?"

"Yes, Dad. Steven's parents have run a nursery on the other side of Southmead towards Southminster since he was born. He's grown up in one. Jim's worked there part-time since he was fourteen. That's how they met. They started this horticultural course so they could be qualified to take the place over when Steven's parents retired. Now they are in a bit of a mess, and they are both out of part-time work, and Jim's father hasn't got any work for him at the moment."

"I can see that might be a problem for them," I commented. "When can you get them to come and meet me?"

"Jim's family live in Dunford on the Maldon Road, they can be here this afternoon," Johnny informed me.

"I presume you have their numbers?" I asked. Johnny laughed, pulled out his phone and called one of them. It was agreed they would be at the Priory in an hour.

Although the day was cold, the sun was quite bright, and there was little wind, though what there was did tend to cut right through you. However, we decided to walk around the rest of the grounds and return to the house via the pound pond. As we did, I warned Johnny about committing his money to things.

"I haven't committed anything yet," he pointed out. "Though, I don't want to spend the insurance money on myself. It just does not feel right."

"Why not?" I asked.

"It feels as if I'm to blame for her death because of what I did."

"Did you intend that to happen?" I asked.

"Of course not. Dad, how could I have known it would happen?"

"There you have it. You could not have known. You may be sorry that it did happen, but you cannot feel guilty over it. It was not your fault. Understood?"

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