Living with Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 58

"Being followed?" I exclaimed. "Are you sure?"

"Pretty sure," Lee replied. "I noticed as you left the coffee shop that a bloke who was standing across the road, turned and walked down on the opposite pavement. I followed you out about half a minute later. I was in time to see him stop across the way from the shop you went into.

"When you went to pick up the car, I noticed the same chap walking back up the road on the opposite side. As we were loading the car up, he was in a car that passed us and stopped a bit further up the road. I spotted the same car in the mirror a few times as we were on the way here; it is now parked over at the other side of the square."

"Which one is it?" Johnny asked.

"The dark-blue BMW 3 Series," Lee stated. "Quite an old model, eighty-seven or eight, I think."

"You know your cars," I commented.

"So, what do we do about it?" Johnny asked.

"Nothing," I stated, starting up the car. "Just keep an eye on them as we head home." I pulled out into the road and headed home.

"They've pulled out," Johnny informed me. "They are two cars back."

Checking in the mirror, I could just make out the BMW a couple of cars behind us. As I turned onto the hill, the two cars between us proceeded along the main road; the BMW turned onto the hill behind us. Getting to the top of the hill, I turned into the Priory's driveway. As I did, I looked in the mirror and saw the BMW pass by the end of the drive.

"We were being followed," Johnny commented.

"It looks like it," I replied. "We're lucky that Lee spotted it."

"How come you did spot it?" Johnny asked Lee as we swung through the gate into the yard.

"Where I come from it is the sort of thing you get used to," Lee replied.

I told them both not to say anything to Anne or anybody else, then helped Johnny to unload the boxes and took them into the house. Once inside, I suggested to Johnny that he should take Lee over and show him the studio apartment. Johnny did not seem too happy with the suggestion but took the hint. Once they had left, I went through to the study and phoned the number on the card Miss Jenkins had given me. A female who did not identify herself answered; she just asked who was calling and what was the problem. I gave my name and an outline of what had happened. She thanked me for the information and said that somebody would call me within half an hour.

It was, in fact, just over ten minutes when my phone went, the caller display showing Miss Jenkins. We spoke briefly about me being followed.

"Mr. Carlton, do you have any reason to go out again this afternoon?" she asked. "Maybe to do some shopping — somewhere fairly busy."

"Well, I could do with going to Office World; they're in the retail park at Southmead."

"That will do," Miss Jenkins replied. "I suggest you set out for there about three. Everything should be in place by then. If for any reason they are not, I will give you a call."

I had to point out to Miss Jenkins that I was expecting Bernard about that time in the afternoon.

"That could be a bit difficult," she stated. "Can you just go down into Dunford for something." There was a pause. "Look, I'll have a parcel for you to pick up from the Belmont, but park your car in the marketplace so you have a short walk to the hotel. I'll phone you as soon as I have got everything in place. With a bit of luck, I might be able to get it sorted fairly quickly."

We finished the call, and I set about making something for lunch. Johnny and Lee returned just as I was putting the kettle on.

"Coffee or tea?" I asked.

"What're we having to eat?" Johnny asked.

"There are a couple of pizzas in the oven," I replied. "They should be ready in five minutes."

"In that case, I would prefer Coke," my son informed me. "How about you, Lee?"

"I'll go with a coffee, if you don't mind," Lee responded.

"What did you think of the studio?" I asked. "Will it do for you?"

"Christ, yes," he replied. "It's six times the size of the cell I was in, and I do not have to share it. I just hope I can do the work you want me to do."

"I don't doubt your ability to do that," I informed him.

The timer on the oven pinged, so I got the pizzas out, grabbed a can of Coke from the fridge and handed it to Johnny, then poured a coffee for Lee and a tea for myself. Over lunch, I told Johnny and Lee about my phone conversation with Miss Jenkins. That resulted in having to give Lee a bit of background information about the lady.

"You mean the Miss Jenkins as in the Thompson family?" he asked.

"Yes, I think so; her nephew is Neal Thompson," Johnny stated. "Why? Do you know her?"

"No way, man, I kept out of the illegal stuff," Lee asserted. "However, you hear a lot inside, and I heard her name a few times. Not somebody to get on the wrong side of. What are your associations with her?"

It took me a better part of an hour to explain to Lee how we came to be involved with Miss Jenkins. At the start, he looked quite worried, but when I had explained about Ian and about Miss Jenkins investment in Arthur's business, he relaxed.

"It's all legitimate and above board?" he asked.

"So far as I can tell, it is," I replied.

"Good, I can't afford to be involved with anything that is questionable," he stated. That was a sentiment I could fully understand.

We had just finished lunch when Anne returned. I introduced her to Lee. She handed him a bag of groceries, telling him they were some basics to tide him over till he could do some shopping. Just then, my phone rang. It was Miss Jenkins to tell me that there was a package for me to collect from the Belmont.

I drove down to the town centre and parked in the Market Square, then walked down to the harbour, turning right onto the quayside and along to the Belmont Hotel. Going up to the reception, I stated that I believed a package had been left for me to collect. The girl behind the reception desk asked my name. Once I had identified myself, she went into the office behind reception and returned a few minutes later with a half-case of wine.

"Miss Jenkins asked us to give you this and to ask if you could give her your opinion on the wines?"

I looked at the wines in the box. There were two bottles of each type. Once I had thanked the receptionist, I returned to the car and drove back home. I had not been in the house for more than three minutes when my phone rang. It was Miss Jenkins.

"You were being followed; there seem to be three of them — one watching the house, the other two tailing you," she told me. "I am informed they are not very good at it. Should know who they are by tomorrow. I'll call round to see you about eleven."

"Good, I can return the wine to you then," I stated.

"Oh, I would much prefer it if you would try them and let me know what you think of them," Miss Jenkins said. "It's from the family vineyard, and we are looking at putting them on the UK market."

I assured Miss Jenkins that I would let her have my opinion about the three wines.

"Trouble?" Anne asked as she put a mug of tea down in front of me.

"It appears I'm being followed," I stated.

"Who by?"

"I don't know, Anne, but Miss Jenkins is looking into it," I replied. "Where's Johnny?"

"He's helping Lee sort the apartment out," Anne informed me. "I told Lee he could take that old computer desk we had in the storeroom. They're just moving things around to fit it in the apartment."

"Oh, Lee's got a computer?"

"He has now; Johnny gave him the spare laptop he had," Anne stated.

"I did not know he had a spare laptop," I said.

"If you recall, when your ex dropped him off on your doorstep, he did not have a computer," Anne advised me. I nodded in agreement. "You purchased one for him, didn't you? Then you got him the deskstop." I repeated the nodding. "The laptop he used for school eventually turned up in the stuff your ex sent onto Johnny. It was an older model, so he had no use for it. That's what he has given Lee."

"I was planning to get Lee a laptop as he will need one for work," I stated.

"A tablet might be more useful as he will have to take notes while following you around."

That made sense, and I made a mental note to get a tablet for Lee. Then I went over to the studio apartment to check on how things were going. As I walked around, I noticed Jim's van by the end of the outbuildings. He was helping Steven move into the other studio apartment. I asked if they wanted to join us for dinner. They declined saying they were having dinner with Jim's parents. Jim said they were taking his parents to the Belmont as a thank you for putting Steven up.

When I got to Lee's studio apartment, I found Johnny on his knees trying to fix the slide for the keyboard back into the desk. He looked at me as I came in through the open door. "We had to take it apart to get it up the stairs," he stated.

I could understand that. The stairs were the original stone stairs to the hayloft. They were quite steep and had an awkward bend in them halfway up.

Looking around the studio, it seemed that everything had been sorted out. I noticed that the bed had been made. Piled up in the corner was a quantity of packaging.

"You'd better show Lee where the bins are and the recycling area," I told Johnny.

"Yes, Dad."

"Oh, Lee, you are expected to join us for dinner this evening; we don't expect you to be self-sufficient for a few days," I informed him. Then I took hold of the computer desk on the side opposite to him, pulling it slightly towards me, which allowed Johnny to spring the keyboard slide into place. That done I left them and went to see Arthur to get Lee access to the network he was setting up for Mike Carlton Productions.

"Can't at the moment," Arthur informed me. "That network will not be in place till the new year. You said you were not starting till then." I agreed that is what I had said.

"Can you give him any network access?" I enquired.

"I can connect him to the same main router you are using, though outside of the house router. I'll just put a router in for him. He will be able to see the house router but none of the systems behind it."

"That'll do," I assured Arthur and told him to arrange it.

I then made my way back to the house. Anne was preparing dinner; I reminded her that Lee would be joining us.

"So will Tyler," she informed me.

"I thought he was in London until Christmas?" I responded.

"He is," Anne stated. "However, he just phoned. He has got tomorrow off and wanted to know if it was OK for him to bring some stuff up for the apartment. I told him fine and that he can have the guest room. There is no point in him making a temporary bed up in the apartment for one night."

"Hasn't he got a bed in there?"

"No, Mike," Anne replied. "They are delivering his furniture on Tuesday."

"But he won't be here," I stated.

"No, but I will, and we are going over everything in the morning, so I know what goes where. For the amount he is paying for the furniture, the deliverymen can set it up and place it."

"You may think that, but will they?"

"Oh, yes," she replied laughing. "Tyler's giving me a ton to tip them with."

"Don't you mean bribe them?" I asked.

"No, tip them," she responded. "Tyler has already done the bribing. Originally, they weren't going to deliver the furniture till the new year. He's got it before Christmas so he can move in."

I set about helping Anne with the dinner preparations. We talked about the preparations for Christmas and what needed to be done. I mentioned that I did not know when Donna and Richard were arriving or even if they were coming.

"Yes, they are coming," Anne informed me. "I was speaking to Donna on Tuesday. They arrive Wednesday evening — Richard has to work on Wednesday — so they can't get away before."

"How about Jack and Flora?" I asked.

"They'll be here Thursday. Phil has to go up to Manston on Wednesday, and he'll bring them down with him on Thursday morning. Your brother is arriving Wednesday evening, along with Tyler and Trevor."

"So, we will have a full house," I commented.

"Yes, especially once Debora and Bernard get here with their crew. By the way, Micah's girlfriend is joining us."

"Have we got enough room?" I asked. Anne laughed and assured me we had, though she suspected it would be a tight squeeze around the dining table. I suggested we should get a bigger dining table.

"Good idea," she replied. "You can go looking for one on your way to Heathrow to pick up James." I pointed out that I did not need to pick James up; Peter was dropping the Jag off for him to use.

I turned up the heat under the pan of water on the stove. Then, when it came back to the boil, I threw in the beans I had been topping and tailing. As I did, I spied Bernard pull into the yard. I went out to greet him.

I told Joseph that Johnny was in the studio apartment helping Lee, so he went off to give a hand. Bernard walked back with me into the kitchen.

"Something smells nice," he stated to Anne as he entered.

"Gehaktballen met saté," she replied.

"I suppose you've used half and half," Bernard stated.

"Of course, half beef, half pork, especially for you," she laughed.

"Shame on you, tempting this poor kosher boy."

"Bernard, you've never been kosher as long as I've known you," she responded.

"How do you know?"

"The three packets of pork scratchings you ate at the bar the night Mike brought you into the Crown and Anchor to meet me."

"Well, I had to be sociable and fit in with the crowd," he said.

"It was a wet Thursday in January, there was no crowd," Anne replied. "If you and Mike had not come in, we would have closed and I would have had an early night."

I wondered for a moment how she could have remembered it was a Thursday nearly fifteen years ago, then realised Anne normally did lunchtime bar. She did not do evening bar except for the third Thursday of the month when Jack's wife went to a licenced victuallers' function.

"Anyway, where's that wife of yours?" she asked.

"In Manchester. Had to go up to see her parents. Managed to escape Hanukkah but forced to put in an appearance before Christmas. Poor Micah's been summonsed as well. Did not manage to get away from uni in time."

"That's bad planning. How did you escape?"

"Had to be in court; unavoidable, no way I could get out of it," Bernard stated.

"Bit of bad planning on your part," Anne commented.

"What do you mean bad planning. It took me weeks of negotiations to get the other side to agree to a hearing today. They've been pushing for a hearing since the start of the month."

"How did it go? Did you win?" I asked.

"Oh, no; we had already lost. My client had not a leg to stand on," Bernard replied. "This was just to get the judge to agree to the settlement. All a formality. A bloody useful one, though, as it meant I could not catch the train for Manchester, and I was not going to travel on a train after sunset on the Shabbat."

"But you are quite happy to drive up here," I commented.

"Of course, I could not have my younger son pining for his loved one," he laughed.

Then Anne told me I'd better tell the boys that dinner would be ready soon. I went to the phone to call the studio apartment, then realised it was not on the internal telephone system. I would need to speak to Arthur about that. I called Lee's mobile number and gave them the message.

"It's a bit early to call them over, isn't it?" I commented.

"Not really. They will need to clean up, and I want Johnny to set the dining-room table."

"The dining-room table? Why?"

"Because we can't get nine round the kitchen table," Anne responded. She looked at me as if the answer had been obvious.

"Nine?" I replied. "I only make seven, who are the other two?"

"Trevor is coming back with Tyler," she informed me. "So, he will be joining us for dinner. If Trevor is joining us, so is Arthur. That makes nine."

She had just finished speaking when there was the sound of high-powered motorcycles drawing into the yard. I looked out as the security light came on.

"You better make that eleven," I stated. Anne looked at me. "Neal and Maddie have just turned up."

"Well, were OK for meatballs and chips, need more veg. Grab a bag of mixed veg from the freezer and nuke it," she instructed. She then went and opened the back door, calling out to the two motorcyclists that dinner would be ready in ten minutes, and they'd better get cleaned up. I heard Maddie laugh.

Maddie and Neal came through the door a few seconds later.

"Aunty told us to get down here," Neal informed me as he entered.

"Where were you?" I enquired.

"Cambridge," Maddie replied. "Managed to get some time on one of the supercomputers, so thought I'd better make the most of it. We're due to go to Cromford tomorrow, but Aunty thought we would be useful here until the reinforcements arrive."

"Reinforcements?" I asked.

"Yes," Maddie replied. "Simone and Antoinette. Aunty seems to think that Arthur needs more staff for a couple of weeks."

"So, what is going on?" Anne asked.

"Don't really know," Neal replied. "All we have been told is to get down here and keep our eyes open for a couple of days. The experts arrive on Monday."

"You'll need a room," Anne observed.

"We thought we could crash at Arthur's," Maddie replied.

"Better stay over on this side," Anne stated. "Trevor's coming back this weekend; I think they could do with some privacy. Look, grab your stuff and take the third room on the first floor of the guest suite. That's not needed until Thursday. It's got a small room off that's got a single bed in it. Neal can use that." Maddie laughed. Neal looked disappointed.

As we were speaking, Trevor drove into the yard; he had Tyler with him. I opened the back door to let them in. Tyler came across the yard and into the kitchen, Trevor headed for the Stable House. I called after him to tell Arthur that dinner would be in ten minutes and they were both expected. Tyler greeted Anne, then went up to the guest room to change. I went and laid a couple of extra places at the table.

I had just finished when Johnny, Joseph and Lee came in. Lee had obviously showered and changed, but Johnny clearly needed to, so I told him to hurry up about it. In the meantime, I sat with Lee in the kitchen, asking how the day had gone.

"Well, we've most of the furniture assembled," he stated.

"Only most of it?" I asked.

"Have you tried following IKEA instructions?" he responded.

"So, what have you got done?" I asked.

"All the important stuff," he replied. "The bed is put up; the computer desk, chest of drawers, the table and the two chairs are all assembled."

"What's left?" I asked.

"The leather armchair and the wardrobe," he replied. "The wardrobe is half-built, but we seem to be a fitting missing."

"What about the armchair?" I asked.

"Well, until we get all the other packing out of the way, there is no space to unpack it."

I was just about to suggest that we go over after dinner to sort the final pieces out when Tyler walked into the room. I started to introduce Tyler to Lee but stopped as Lee spluttered, "You were in that advert, the coffee one with the hang glider."

"Yes, I was," Tyler replied. "But how did you see it; it's only been shown in the States."

"We went over to Orlando about two years ago. Mum won a trip to Disney World," Lee stated. "So, what are you doing here?"

"I've been working on a film and am due to start a TV series in March; don't have a place over here now, so am taking an apartment here. Till I move in, Anne lets me stay in the guest room when I'm around."

At that point, Arthur and Trevor walked in. Lee's jaw practically hit the ground. Johnny came into the kitchen and looked at me.

"You didn't warn him, Dad?"

"Warn him about what?" I asked in defence.

"That we had film stars floating about the place."

"Not to mention the gangster," Neal stated as he came into the kitchen from the guest wing. Lee looked at him in horror.

"Lee, this is Neal," Johnny said. "Neal Thompson. I believe you know of his aunt." Lee's jaw dropped. "Don't worry Lee, Uncle Bernard is here; he's the family solicitor, so everything will be legal."

"It's getting a bit crowded in here," Anne stated. "Get off into the dining room. Dinner will be five minutes."

We started to move, with Johnny leading the way.

"Not you two," Anne shouted. "I need you to help serve."

A few minutes later, Johnny and I were helping to put dishes of veg and chips on the table. Anne followed us through and placed a large dish of meatballs in a saté sauce in the centre of the table.

"There should be enough for all of you," she commented, taking her place at the table. "Help yourselves."

Johnny indicated that Maddie should start. She took a couple of the meatballs from the dish and then passed it on clockwise. Neal looked a bit depressed. He was sitting on her right; it would have to go all around the table before it got to him.

"How long are you back for?" Johnny asked Tyler.

"Only till Sunday afternoon," he replied. "You bloody uncle wants us in the dubbing studio at seven-thirty Monday morning, so we have to go back to Town Sunday night."

"It could have been worse," Trevor stated.

"How?" Tyler asked.

"Well he could have put us on standby in case they finished with the minor scenes early or somebody did not turn up," Trevor pointed out.

"I'm surprised he didn't," Tyler replied.

"Which one of them is the slave driver?" Johnny asked.

"Both," Tyler and Trevor replied at the same time.

"So, both your uncles are involved with the film?" Lee asked Johnny.

"Yes, they are both producing it," Johnny replied. "Technically Uncle Phil is the producer/director and Uncle Ben is co-producer and I don't know what…"

"General troubleshooter," Tyler supplied, helping himself to some chips from the bowl that was passed to him.

"Actually, of Johnny's uncles, he is the one who keeps the production going," Trevor stated. "If it were left up to Matthew, we would probably still be shooting the first scene. He is a stickler for getting things just how he wants them."

"I'm confused," Lee stated to Johnny. "I thought you called your uncle Phil."

Johnny laughed. "Yea, it can be confusing. Phillip Smith is my uncle's real name, so I call him Uncle Phil, but everybody outside the family knows him as Matthew Lewis. That's his stage name."

"Matthew Lewis is your uncle?"


"Then your Uncle Ben is Ben Carlton?" Lee asked.

"Yes, Lee, you are working for Mike Carlton Productions. Didn't that ring a bell?" Johnny asked.

"So, Ben Carlton's your uncle because he's your father's brother and, of course, Matthew Lewis is married to him, so he's your uncle by marriage."

"No, he's actually my uncle, my mother's brother."

"I'm confused," Lee admitted.

"Don't worry," I told him. "You will soon get it sorted out, hopefully, before they arrive for Christmas."

"They're coming here?"

"Yes, we are having the whole family here for Christmas," I stated.

"And we expect you to be part of it," Anne said to Lee.

"What?" he asked. Anne smiled at him.

"How come you're here?" Trevor asked Neal. "I thought you and Maddie were spending Christmas up in the wilds of Worcestershire."

"Not sure Worcestershire has wilds," Neal replied. "We are going there for Christmas. Aunty asked us to pop in here for a few days."

"Why? What's going on?" Trevor asked.

"Somebody is following me," I stated.

"Who?" Trevor asked.

"Probably press, but we need to find out," Neal commented. "That's why we're here."

"So, Miss Jenkins does security for here?" Lee asked, looking a bit worried.

"Nah, the Manston crew do the security for here," Neal stated. "Aunty just likes to give a hand a time or two."

"Who are the Manston crew?" Lee asked.

"Manston is the country house that my uncles own," Johnny informed him. "They have their own security organisation as Manston often hosts events with a lot of VIPs. If we need security down here, they provide it." Lee was getting confused, so I told him that I would give him a rundown of the whole setup after dinner.

"And I need to have a word with you and Johnny," Bernard said. "Neal, it might help if you joined us as well; saves me having to repeat it."

Neal gave me a look; I just nodded agreement.

As we were clearing the table after dinner, I apologised to Lee for not filling him in on things but said I would do it after I had met with Bernard. Anne informed me that she would do it. "I probably know more of what's going on than he does, anyway," she commented. She was probably right.

I went and joined Johnny, Neal and Bernard in my study.

"So, what is the score?" I asked nobody in particular.

"Well, we have a large body of wealth that we cannot account for," Bernard stated.

"How much?" Neal asked.

"Seven hundred certificates of deposit for standard gold bars, a total of seven hundred bars," Bernard informed him. "Neal, I know you've been looking at the computer. Have you found anything to indicate where they may have come from?"

"Not as yet," Neal stated. "Though, it is taking time to get through everything. There are over six terabytes of data, and I doubt we have got through more than a couple of hundred gigs yet. Also, that is not the information we've been looking for."

"I understand," Bernard stated. "However, if you could ask your aunt if her people could start looking for it, it would be appreciated."

"I will," Neal responded. "By the way, if you've got any shares in Demain and Tonque, I suggest you sell them on Monday." I wondered what was going on with one of the most prominent High Street retail groups.

"Why?" Bernard asked.

"Charles Demain was one of Master James' backers," Neal informed him.

"I'll get sell orders out this weekend," Bernard responded. "Anything more that we need to know?"

"No," replied Neal. "At least nothing I know about; however, I've not been involved since Wednesday. Though, if anything important had come up, I am certain Aunty would have let me know."

"I'm sure she would," Bernard replied. "So, that brings us back to Johnny's estate."

"Not sure that I want it," Johnny stated.

"Johnny, you're a minor, you don't have much choice in this," Bernard informed him. "There is the Islington house. That's worth over two million; could fetch three on a good day. It's left to you in trust till you reach twenty-five. The trust is fairly watertight. All you can do is either live in it or let it."

"I suppose I'd better let it, then," Johnny stated.

"Good," Bernard replied. "There have already been a couple of enquiries, and I think we can get at least six grand a month."

"What am I going to spend six grand a month on?" Johnny asked.

"You aren't," Bernard replied. "The money will go into your trust.

"Neal, the place is still a crime scene, and I think it will be a couple of weeks before it is released. Once it is, could you arrange for some of your people to give it a good clean?"

"No, problem," Neal stated. "I'll give Uncle George a ring about sorting it."

Bernard nodded, then turned to me. "The life insurance on the mortgage is straightforward. I've submitted the coroner's confirmation of death, and they have accepted that. Should be getting the cheque for it next week.

"Now, Johnny, the big problem is the life insurance that your mother took out. They are not too happy about paying out on that, so we might have a fight on our hands."

"Don't want it, don't need it," Johnny replied.

"Maybe not," answered Bernard. "However, I am the responsible trustee in this, and I have to look after your best interests, and at the moment that means chasing the money for the trust, which is what I am going to do.

"However, we still have the problem of the gold."

"What's it worth?" Johnny asked.

"Well each gold bar is four hundred troy ounces, that's two-point four kilos. At current prices, just over half a million a bar."

"Shit!" Johnny exclaimed. "That's three hundred and fifty million."

"Yes, and it is three hundred and fifty million we can't account for," Bernard pointed out. "The house, the insurance policies, the money in her bank account — all that can be accounted for. The seven hundred gold bars are another matter. To make matters worse, they are not liable to death duties."

"How come?" I asked.

"They are outside of the UK, all deposited private banks in Switzerland, Lichtenstein and similar places, so count as offshore assets. Not part of her UK estate."

We spent the next half hour or so going over a lot of details of Beryl's estate. It seemed there were a lot of things that Bernard wanted help from Neal's family in one way or another. I still was not quite sure as to what was going on. In the end, though, everything seemed to make some sort of sense, and Bernard had a pile of documents he needed either Joseph or me to sign. A couple needed to be witnessed, which Neal was able to do.

When we had finished, Johnny went off in search of Joseph. Bernard said he needed to get back to Town.

"I see you are still driving the Jaguar," I commented.

"Decided to keep it," he informed me. "It's not the one I had after the crash. Same model, same colour; just that this one is new. Decided I preferred it to the Bentley."

"What's happening about that?" I asked. "Haven't heard anything."

"That's because there is nothing to hear at the moment. It turned out that the van driver was not insured, and the lorry's insurers are denying responsibility as it was the van that pushed me into the load. At the moment it is insurance companies arguing about it with each other.

"That's one reason I've gone for the Jag. I can afford to pay for it; a replacement Bentley is going to cost more than I can afford offhand without the insurance money."

"What about the Motor Insurance Bureau uninsured-driver scheme?"

"That's where the holdup is," Bernard replied. "Not too bothered, I rather like the Jag; its all-wheel drive, makes it fun on the roads around here."

We chatted for a bit longer, then he departed, saying he had to be back in town for an early morning meeting on the morrow. He did, though, remind me that he would be picking Joseph up on Sunday. I pointed out that Trevor and Tyler would be travelling back into town Sunday evening, so they could give Joseph a lift.

"I need to get some papers signed by Jack and Flora," he informed me. "They tell me they are coming down on Sunday, so might as well kill two birds with one stone. Going down to the Kent place after; I've finished in London till the new year."

Saturday morning, I called Lee and asked him to come into Maldon with me. We went to a couple of second-hand-car dealers before I found what I was looking for, a three-year-old Mercedes C-Class Estate. It was a bit more expensive than I was hoping to pay, but with low mileage, it would more than do the job. Once I had sorted out payment and temporary insurance, Lee was able to drive it back to the Priory. I went off to pick up some shopping that Anne had given me a list to do.

I got back just after one-thirty. There was a van in the yard that I did not recognise. Turned out to be Lee's father bringing Lee's stuff over. He was sitting in the kitchen having a cup of tea with Anne when I entered.

"Mike, this is Lee's father," she informed me as I came in through the back door. "Johnny and Joseph are giving Lee a hand to unload the van. He's brought Lee's stuff over."

Lee's father introduced himself to me as Roman Sanderson, then thanked me for giving Lee a job and somewhere to live.

"If the boy had come home, he'd be in for it," Roman stated. "Those lads who dropped him in it know that he knows who they are. They would be worried he might say something. It would be either him in the gang or they would be out for him. He'd be no better off if he went to the smoke. At least here, he might have a chance."

"I hope he will," I told Roman.

"He says you're making him do Open University?"

"Yes, it is part of his conditions of employment," I told him. "I'm a technical writer; I need somebody to assist me who can understand what I am talking about."

"Seen you on TV a couple of times," Roman stated. "Could follow what you were saying. It was bloody interesting, especially that piece about the massive steam engine which was built to pump sewage."

I admitted that it had been one of the better pieces I had done.

Johnny and Joseph came in and informed Roman that they had unloaded the van. Johnny said he would take Roman over to see Lee's apartment. Roman accepted the invitation.

I made myself a sandwich for lunch. Anne said that she had done lunch for everybody about an hour earlier. I was just finishing, when James pulled into the yard in the Jag. JayDee must have been looking out for it as he was down in the yard before his father was out of the car. Tariq was not far behind him.

Once James had unloaded his bags and taken them through to his room in the guest wing, he joined us in the kitchen. I commented on the fact that he was earlier than we expected.

"There was a technical problem with the plane," he stated.

"That usually means delays, not getting in early," Anne pointed out.

"I know," James replied. "We had a stopover in Dubai, and they got us onto other flights there. As I had no checked luggage, they got me on the first flight going to Heathrow, which left thirty minutes after we landed. So, I got in three hours ahead of schedule."

"At least, you did not have to wait to be picked up," I stated.

James laughed. "By the way, I hope you don't mind, but is there any chance you could put me up a few days extra?"

"I don't see why not," I replied. "What's brought about the change?"

"There's a major conference on trauma care in Cambridge the week after New Year's. One of my colleagues was supposed to be attending. He broke his leg surfing on Wednesday. As the conference tickets have already been booked and paid for, the department thought I should cover for him since I am already in the UK."

"So, you are here longer?" JayDee asked.

"Yes, son. Though I will be in Cambridge for three days, I will have an extra weekend with you."

"Good," replied JayDee. For the next hour, the two boys were telling James everything that had happened at the Priory while he had been away, at least everything that they knew of. One thing they did tell him about was Lee. How big he was and how strong he was.

"How do you know he is strong?" James asked. "Just because he is big does not mean he is strong."

"He lifted the end of the stone trough up, so we could get our ball out," Tariq informed him. "That thing weighs a ton."

On that, I had to agree. It was an old stone watering trough that was at the far end of the yard. Anne had plans to plant it; though, when that would be done, I had no idea. Thinking about it, I decided to mention it to Steven when I saw him.

James went off with the boys to the apartment. He needed to pick up the bag of clothing he had left with JayDee. I went off to my study to get some work done. Just before seven, Anne called to let me know dinner was ready. I went through to the kitchen.

"Where's Johnny and Tyler?" I enquired.

"Johnny, Joseph and Arthur are at the youth club," Anne reminded me. "Tyler and Trevor have gone to Romford. Said they would be back about nine."

I was surprised that they had gone to Romford until Anne informed me it was one of the cast's birthday, and they were going to celebrate it with her and some others from the cast. A private dining room had been reserved for the event.

Both JayDee and Tariq stayed with us for dinner. I did insist that they go up and let Marcia know that they were.

James spent most of dinner catching up with JayDee and how he was doing at school. It turned out he was having problems in a couple of his classes as he had missed so much school while in Trinidad. I was busy checking with Lee how he was settling in.

"Doing fine, though it is a bit of a squeeze getting all my stuff into the studio," he commented.

"Well if there is anything you don't need immediately, we have plenty of storage space," Anne pointed out.

We had not long finished dinner when Johnny and Joseph came back. There had been no disco at the youth club this evening, so Arthur had not been staying late. They decided to come back with Arthur in the van rather than having to get a cab back later.

Lee excused himself, saying he still had some unpacking to do. I asked him before he left to come over in the morning so I could give him an outline of what was going to start happening in January. Then I went to check my emails.

There was one from Irene. She had agreed on a new contract for me with Martin. I was to continue for the rest of the series. The name would also be joining the series but as a co-presenter. The idea was that I would do all the technical presentations, and he would do the social-history aspects of what we were looking at. It was a setup I was more than agreeable to, given that a lot of my time would be working on the new production through my own company. The good news was that the new arrangement would not make any difference to my fee. I would still be getting what I would have under the original contract.

I made a note to phone Irene on Monday.

There was also an email from my cousins Donna and Richard. I always found it a bit strange that they were both my cousins. Donna was the daughter of my mother's sister, Carol. Richard was the son of my father's sister, Joan. My Aunt Joan had married a Dutch diplomat in nineteen sixty. I had known both of them separately for as long as I could remember, but for some reason, they had never met each other. That was until Donna went on a long weekend to Amsterdam, got on the wrong train and ended up in Leiden. There she had met Richard. It was some months before the pair found out that they had relatives in common.

I had expected the email to give me details of their travel arrangements and when they would be arriving, normally the day before Christmas Eve. Donna just loved being part of the Christmas-tree-decorating team. I did not. The email informed me that Aunt Joan and Uncle Henk had been in a car crash and were both in hospital. As a result, Donna and Richard were staying in the Netherlands rather than coming to stay with us.

To be honest, it was a bit of a relief as I was starting to worry about the number of people who would be at the house this Christmas. By my count we had eleven staying in the house; that was Johnny and Joseph, Bernard, Debbie, Micah and Bethany, Tyler, Ben and Phil, James, and, I'd better not forget, Jenny. Then there would be Lee, Trevor and Arthur joining us for meals. The house was going to be full. All right, we had the accommodation for them with a couple of bedrooms to spare, but looking after that many people would take some work. I made a note to discuss getting some help in over the Christmas period.

"And just where do you think you will find help for the Christmas period this late in the year?" Anne asked when I mentioned it to her later in bed. "Most of it was already booked up by the end of June."

I must admit I had not thought about that. I did express concern about how much work it would mean for her.

"You'll be working as well," she informed me. "So will Johnny, and I might as well include Joseph in the work schedule as he is virtually part of the family. Your brother and Phil can get stuck in as well. They count as family, and the only reason we are holding it here is because they can't at Manston."

It occurred to me then that Anne had Christmas all worked out, so I turned over and went to sleep.

Sunday morning, I walked around the estate with Lee, explaining what was going on. When we got to the kitchen garden, Steven was busy measuring up, so I went to introduce Lee, but it turned out they already knew each other. They had both gone to the same high school, though they had been a year apart.

Once I had given Lee the grand tour, we went to look at the carriage spaces below the apartment which I intended to turn into offices for the production company. As we were talking about how I wanted things to work and what he would be doing for me, Lee made a couple of suggestions which made sense, and I made a note to contact Matt and ask him to change the plans.

We were still looking around the proposed office space when Ben's Maserati pulled into the yard. Lee looked at it in surprise, no doubt because Ben had the hood down and it was not that good a day.

Leaving the planned office space, I called across to him. "Where's Phil?"

"He's coming down in the limo with Jack and Flora; Leni's driving them. Any chance you could put Leni up for the duration?"

"Don't see why not," I replied. "By the way, this is Lee Sanderson. He's coming to work as my PA in the new year. Lee's living in the studio apartment over the workshop, so he'll be with us for Christmas."

"Welcome to the madhouse," Ben said, offering Lee his hand. Lee took it, and the two shook. There was a look of admiration in Lee's face. Ben noticed it.

"Don't get hung up on stardom," Ben told Lee. "In this place, you will be tripping over them all the time. Actually, if my brother's plans get going, you will be seeing quite a few, I expect."

"It's not that," Lee responded. "You graded me for my black belt a couple of years ago. I remember the demonstration you put on."

"What was it in?"

"Ki Ju Ryu Aiki Jujitsu," Lee replied.

"You're one of Martin's students?" Ben stated.

"Yes, how did you know?"

"He's the only person I do gradings for in that style. Most of those following the Ki Ju Ryu style follow the Atemi Jutsu path rather than the Aiki Jujitsu. Where do you train?"

"Currently nowhere, I don't know if I will be able to find a club around here; things got a bit sticky around home, and I've been out of circulation for a bit, so can't go to my old club."

"Why don't you come over to mine?" Ben asked. "I'll be training on Monday evening. If you can get into Town, we could meet up, and I can bring you back after."

"I'm in Town tomorrow. Got a recording to do. It would make sense if Lee came in with me, and we could meet up later," I stated.

"OK, we will sort things out later," Ben stated. "Right now, I need a bloody coffee; it's freezing in that beast."

"Well, you shouldn't have the hood down," I commented.

"What's the point of having a convertible if you have the hood up?" Ben asked.

We made our way into the kitchen, where I made coffee for Ben and Lee and tea for myself. For the next hour or so Lee and Ben were talking about martial arts. I excused myself and went to check my emails. It occurred to me that I had not seen Johnny or Joseph, so finding Anne in the lounge, I asked if she knew where they were.

"They went down to the yard to sort something out for Steve. It appears he did give your son a key to it; should be back about four," she informed me.

With that information, I went back into the kitchen to find Lee and Ben still talking about martial arts. What quickly became apparent was that Ben was recruiting Lee to be an extra in the next film that he and Phil were planning.

"Oy, come off it," I told Ben. "No poaching my staff."

"He's not your staff yet," he pointed out. "Anyway, it's only a small part, but I need somebody who knows the Bo kata and is black. There are not that many around."

"OK," I replied.

"By the way, I've been meaning to ask you. Do you have any space left anywhere?" Ben asked.

"Probably," I responded. "Why?"

"I could do with setting up my own dojo," Ben informed me. "The place in Uxbridge is closing down after Easter, and it would be far easier to have my own place to teach fight sequences and stuff. Having Lee on-site means, he could teach when I'm not around."

"You are poaching him, then," I stated.

Ben laughed. We sat and talked about what was required. It sounded as if they could use the other end of the first floor of the Stable House, which Arthur did not use. I would, though, have to discuss it with Arthur. I also wanted to talk it over with Lee, just to make sure my brother was not pushing him into anything he did not want to do.

Shortly after three, the limo arrived with Jack, Flora and Phil. Anne greeted them, making it clear to all that the important visitors were Jack and Flora, then Leni; Phil came well down the list. In fact, she was busy telling him where to put the luggage.

"That's Matthew Lewis," Lee stated.

"He is everywhere else," I informed Lee. "Here his is Phil Smith, my brother-in-law."

"And don't you forget that," Ben commented. "It's the reason that Tyler and Trevor like staying here; they are not treated like stars."

"That's a point," I stated. "I've not seen Tyler or Trevor all day."

"You won't have," Anne informed me. "They took Tariq and JayDee off to some rugby match this morning. James went with them."

"Rugby match?" I asked.

"One of Trevor's co-stars is playing in a charity match," Ann advised me. "Said he might as well give the boys a day out."

"I've noticed that pair tend to stick to Trevor when he is around," I commented.

"Well, I think Trevor's adopted JayDee as a younger brother," Anne stated.

I introduced the new arrivals, told Phil that Lee would be working as my PA as from the start of the new year and also warned Phil that there would be no poaching.

"Why should I want to poach him?" Phil asked.

"Your husband already tried," I stated. Phil looked at Ben questioningly.

"He's a first dan in Ki Ju Ryu Aiki Jujitsu," Ben responded. "He knows the bo kata."

"Poach him," Phil instructed. "Have you had a chance to talk to Tyler about taking the role."

"Not yet," Ben replied.

"Make sure you do. Anne, darling, can you phone the Crooked Man and see if they can sort a table out for all of us for dinner. I'm sure you don't want to cook."

Anne smiled.

"You'd better be paying," I commented.

"I will be," Phil replied.

Johnny and Joseph arrived back looking fairly filthy. Anne instructed them to get upstairs and get cleaned up.

Bernard arrived not long afterwards. Confirming he would join us at the Crooked Man for dinner, he proceeded to commandeer my study to go over some papers with Jack and Flora. While they were busy, Trevor, Tyler, James and the boys got back.

Shortly after six, we all made our way down to the Crooked Man; even Neal and Maddie joined us for the meal.

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