I realised I might have a problem when I woke Tuesday morning. It was raining and raining hard. Although I had told my parents that my French exam had been the 17th of December, that was only half the story. The other half was the oral examination. That was today.
Why I had not said anything, I do not know, but I had not, and that omission was to come back to bite me. I was not worried about the oral exam. I had virtually grown up in France. So long as I could remember, I had spent nearly every holiday in France. By the time I had been shipped off to preparatory school at eight, I was already proficient in oral French — at least as proficient as any French-speaking eight-year-old can be expected to be. Nowadays, I was proficient in both Parisian French and Provençal, which is the variety of Occitan spoken around Arles. I even knew some Spanish. For some reason, mother had put me in a four-week, total-immersion course in Cancun when I was ten. I think it was to get me out of her way one holiday when she could not send me to France. In any case, I was not worried about the oral exam.
What I should have thought about was how I was getting to college to take it. Normal classes did not start till tomorrow, so neither Marcia or Mum would be going in, and I definitely did not want to try going in on my moped in this rain. Not that I was that worried about it as I got showered and dressed. The exam was due to start at ten and could be up to three-hours long, though I had been told normally it would last about an hour to an hour and a half.
When I got down to the kitchen, Mum was sitting at the table drinking her coffee. I poured myself one and grabbed a couple of Danish from the plate on the side.
"You're up early," Mum stated, looking up at the clock. It had just gone quarter past seven. She looked at the backpack I had put on the chair. It was the one I used for college.
"Yah, any chance you could drive me into Southmead?"
"Sorry, no, I am taking Jenny to the hospital for a checkup. Have to be in Chelmsford for nine. Need to leave shortly to pick her up."
"I'm surprised James is not taking her."
"I am sure he would have offered to if he could. However, he left for Cambridge last night. Didn't you notice?"
I had to admit I had not. Though that is not surprising; we have hardly seen James since the weekend after Christmas. He has either been out with Jenny and the boys, or he has been over at Jenny's. From something that Lee had said, I thought that JayDee was getting a bit jealous of the time James was giving Jenny.
"I’d better ask Dad," I stated.
"Ask Dad what?" Dad asked as he came into the kitchen.
"Can you run me into the college? I need to be there for half-nine."
"Sorry, Johnny, I can't. I'm booked to do a telephone interview for the Today programme. Am on standby from eight onwards. Why do you need to go into college? Your classes don't start till tomorrow."
I realised that he was looking at the calendar on which we are supposed to write things, such as having an exam today. I had not put anything on it about the exam. "I've got my French oral exam this morning at ten."
"Why didn't you put something on the calendar?" Mum asked.
"I forgot. I put my written exam on last year; just did not get round to putting today's down. There's been a lot going on. Suppose I will have to ask Arthur to run me in."
"Not much chance of that son; he and Neal left about half an hour ago. Said they'd be back about twelve," Mum informed me. "I suppose you could ask Maddie to run you in on the back of her bike."
That was not an option I contemplated taking. I was running short of ideas, then remembered Jim and Steven. I called Jim's mobile. He answered on the third ring. Once I had explained the problem, he said he could drive me in. He said he could pick me up after my exam as he needed to go into Romford and would be a couple of hours over there. He also told me to stay where I was, he would bring his van round to the back door when he was ready to leave, which would be in about half an hour.
In fact, it was more like three quarters of an hour, and I was grateful for the car porch that Dad had got his architect, Matt, to put in over the back door. It meant that I could get to Jim's van without getting totally soaked. It was pouring down with rain still.
"How come you've got an exam today?" Jim asked as I got in the van. "College doesn't start till the morning."
"It's an external exam; I am just taking it at the college. Did the written part before Christmas. Now I have to do the oral."
"What's it in?"
"Rather you than me."
"It's a good job for me that you're going to Romford today."
"Wasn't planning to, but there is no way we can work on the garden in this rain, and we need some supplies. I need to go into Romford to open an account with the suppliers. Just hope they will open it for me straight away so this is not a wasted trip."
"I hope so. They know us from when we were working at Steven's parents' place. We always went over to pick stuff up. At least we did since I could drive. Phoned them Friday and explained we were opening our own place, and they said no problem, just go in and sign the paperwork and they would open an account for us. The thing is, they did not say if it would be opened immediately or if it had to go to their head office for approval."
"Can you buy what you need without the account?" I asked, thinking that this may be one of those places where you need to have a wholesale account in order to purchase from them.
"Yes, if we had the cash. At the moment, we just don't have it. Steven's uncle has said he would cover any invoice from them till Easter, so ordering on the account will not be a problem. However, cash is."
"How much are you looking at spending?"
"A couple of hundred."
"It's not that much."
"It is when you have only fifty between you, and I am going to have to put twenty quid’s worth of petrol in this to get me there and back and do the college runs the rest of the week."
We chatted a bit more about how things were going with the nursery. Seemed that with Granddad's help they were a lot further forward than they had expected. Jim told me that Granddad had also stopped them making some mistakes.
"There are things you just don't learn at college," Jim stated. "Only experience teaches you, and your grandfather has got that."
"I would have thought you and Steven have it with the years you worked in his parents' nursery."
"Yes, but we never did everything in the nursery. There were some jobs that we are having to do, like the rebaring of the glasshouse, that we have never come across before.
"Your Granddad stopped us making a big mistake there. We will miss him when he goes back to Stoke at the weekend."
Just before we got to Southmead, Jim pulled into a petrol station to fill up. I noticed they had a cash machine, so while Jim went inside to pay, I went and drew out the max allowed: three-hundred quid. When Jim got back to the van, I handed him thirteen twenty-pound notes; I kept forty back for my own use.
"What's this?" he asked as I gave it to him.
"Late Christmas present to the nursery, a large tip for taking me into the college, or a loan to help friends out. You've got the cash if you need it at the wholesalers."
He started to argue, but I told him that he had a legitimate need for some cash, and I was a lot better off than he was and could afford it. I then told him he’d better drive on as I did not want to be late. I also told him that if he did not need it, he could give it back when he picked me up.
It was just gone quarter past nine when he did drop me off at the college. Fortunately, the rain had eased off by then, and I managed to dash into the college without getting totally soaked.
Once inside, I found Dr. Laurent, my French tutor, in her study. She introduced me to the three members of the examination panel who would be conducting the exam. Now I knew why the examination fee had been so high. There were two men and a woman. The examination took place in Dr. Laurent 's study. It had a table which could seat three on each side and one at the head. There was no room for anyone at the tail as a chair there would have blocked the door. I was seated on one side of the table, and the examining panel sat opposite. Dr. Laurent sat at the head of the table. Apparently, she was invigilating the exam, though she assured me that was something of a technicality.
The exam started with Dr. Laurent reading out the exam regulations in English. After that, she changed to French. At first, I was asked to tell the examination panel about myself, why I learnt French and why I was sitting this examination. It then progressed onto more technical usage of the language, with a number of scientific and technical issues raised in the discussion. That gave me some problems, as at times I did not know the correct scientific or technical term to use. However, I was mostly able to cope. I did much better when it came to discussion of art and literature. The discussion got a bit heated when I started to talk about Jean Genet's A Thief's Journal. However, I thought I held my own. I also got the feeling that the man challenging my interpretation of Genet's writing was putting up arguments to see if I could shoot them down.
I was glad that Dr. Laurent had provided a jug of water on the table. By the end of the first hour, my mouth was dry from all the talking. By the end of the second hour, I was starting to wonder how long this would go on, but it went on. Then the woman on the panel — her name was Sylvia — asked me what I thought of Arles, so I told her. That led to a conversation about the city and its history. It seemed that what I was saying amused her. Dr. Laurent looked puzzled about something.
After about ten minutes of me discussing Arles with the woman, the man who had been introduced to me as Professor Allington laughed. Then he turned to woman, saying in English, "Sylvia, that is really a bit unfair and not part of the examination."
The woman laughed as well. She then told me what was so funny. "Do you realise that for the last ten minutes or so we have not been speaking French."
I shook my head, then thought about it, realising that I had been speaking the Provençal dialect of Occitan. I started to apologise, but Sylvia held her hand up.
"It was my doing. Your French has a distinct accent to it, which is that of the region around Arles, so I took a gamble and asked you a question in Provençal. I wanted to know if you could identify and understand the dialect. It was a bit of a surprise when you responded in fluent Provençal, but I decided to keep the conversation in that language to see how fluent you were."
"It seems young man that you have the ability to switch automatically to respond to a question in the language in which it is asked. Do you speak any other languages?" the professor asked.
"I've done German up to GCSE."
"Excellent. You said you wanted to go to university so you could learn to design yachts?"
I confirmed that I did.
"Well, if you change your mind and decide to do French, drop me a line. I would very much like to have you at my place. Your opinion of Genet is definitely not conventional, but you argue your case well and you understand his writing, which is more than can be said for most of the undergraduates that we teach. I strongly suspect that they read him in the English translation, not being prepared to put in the effort into dealing with Genet's use of French. It seems you have not had that problem with him. Didn't you find his French difficult?"
"No, not really; it was the French I heard every time I went to savate classes."
The professor laughed, then stated formally that the examination was finished.
"Officially, we have to put in our report, and it will be judged with your written examination to decide your final mark," the professor stated. "However, we have all read your written examination, and I can assure you that you have passed that as you have passed this. The only question now is what level of pass you have achieved."
He turned to Dr. Laurent and continued. "Marion, thank you for pushing this young man into applying for admission to the institute and for pushing that we make an exception with regard to requiring applicants be studying their language at least at degree level. I think this young man has more than adequately demonstrated that we may have to review our guidelines."
Before leaving Dr. Laurent's office, I checked the time. It was ten to one. Once outside, I switched my phone on and connected to the network; it beeped to let me know there was a text message. Jim was at Marge's and told me to text him when I was ready, and he would pick me up. The rain had eased off quite a bit, but it was still raining. I had my umbrella with me, so under its cover, I made my way to Marge's. I rather fancied one of her fry ups, though I was a bit worried that Jim might be in a rush to get back to the nursery.
I need not have worried. As I entered Marge's, she was just placing a plate of fish and chips in front of Jim.
"Didna get any breakfast, did I," Jim stated, looking at me. I shrugged my shoulders and ordered a breakfast special and a mug of tea as I sat opposite Jim.
"How'd it go?" he asked, having consumed a mouthful of fish.
"OK, I think, though it was not what I was expecting."
"What was you expecting?"
"Well, someone who would be asking me questions in French from a pre-set list, to which I would have to respond in French."
"So, what did you get?"
"A three-person examination panel and nearly three hours of free-form French conversation. Then to really mess things up, one of them started asking me questions in Occitan."
"What's Occitan, and how come you speak it?"
"It's the language spoken in the south of France and northern Spain. I've spent a lot of time around Arles, and most of the kids I mixed with spoke the local dialect of Provençal Occitan. The thing is, I did not realise I had slipped into it until the professor laughed."
"You had a professor on the panel?"
"Yes, and two doctors," I replied, at which point we both fell silent as Jim continued to attack his plate of fish and chips and my breakfast special arrived.
When we had finished and were ready to start for home, I insisted on paying for Jim's meal. The only reason he was there was he was waiting for me. Once in the van, Jim started to apologise, stating that he had to use the cash I had given him.
"So, you could not get goods on account?" I asked.
"Oh, we could, but only for stuff that would be delivered later in the week. By then, the account will have been approved and set up on the computer system. However, the stuff we needed urgently I had to pay cash for."
"So, what did you get?" I asked, as there did not seem to be much in the back of the van.
"A heated propagation mat. That's it rolled up in the back." Looking in the back I could see what looked like a roll of black plastic. "I also got some seeds. Had to pay out one eighty for the lot, so I can give you eighty back."
"Don't be stupid, Jim. There are bound to be other things that you need. Just hang onto it for the time being until you've got the nursery on its feet."
As Jim was driving us out of Southmead, my phone rang. It was Joseph wanting to know how the examination went. I gave him a rundown of it and my impression. I told him what the professor had said about me passing.
"That's good," Joseph said. "I did think you might be pushing yourself somewhat with taking the extra courses that you are."
I rather agreed with Joseph. To be honest, I had been finding the number of courses I was taking a bit of a pressure, especially after the John Henderson incident and my increased profile around the college as a result. It appeared that I was something of a hero, and everybody wanted to know me. At times, it got a bit tiring.
I asked Joseph how Uncle Bernard was doing.
"Don't really know. Not been in to see him today. Mum's gone out to a meeting for some charity she's on and will not be back till about three. We're going in then to see him. Probably just a well as he was scheduled for a pile of tests this morning. He also texted us to say that he had a meeting with Martin this morning so did not want to be disturbed."
"Are they still operating tomorrow?"
"So far as we know, yes, but I will know more after we see him."
We finished the call by making plans for the weekend. It was my turn to go up to Joseph's. We would be staying at the London house.
It was getting on for twenty past two when we got back to the Priory. Jim dropped me off in the yard and thanked me for the loan of the money. I did not argue with his use of the term loan. We could sort that out in the future if it became an issue.
I entered the kitchen through the back door. I sometimes wonder why we have a front door; nobody seems to use it. Then I remembered Miss Jenkins. She uses the front door, so I suppose we need to keep it.
Mum was making a pot of tea when I entered, so she put another mug on the table for me. Dad was already sitting at the table with his mug in front of him.
"How did the exam go?" Dad asked. So, I spent the next ten minutes or so giving them an account of the exam and answering their questions about it.
"Seems a bit heavy handed for an A-level-grade exam," Mum commented. Dad agreed with her.
I reminded Dad that we had a meeting with Martin and Steve at four thirty. He informed me that it was on the calendar. Then he went off to do some more writing. As he said, somebody had to earn money around here. He also commented that teenagers were expensive to upkeep. I told him that if he needed a loan to help with expenses, I was sure the trust could provide one. His response was to laugh.
With nothing else to do, I went through to the library. After talking about Genet this morning, I felt in the mood to re-read one of his books. I was sure I had seen a copy of The Thief's Journal in Dad's library. It would, of course, be in English. I was somewhat surprised to find that there were both English and French copies of the book in the library. Then I realised that when my mother had sent all my stuff up, she had included my books. I had only put the ones I wanted to keep close at hand in the caravan, which I was using to sleep in at the time. Everything else had been left in their boxes till we moved. When we got here no doubt all the boxes of books had been placed for unpacking in the library. I wondered who had sorted them, then realised it must have been Arthur. He had been housesitting when Dad and Mum were on their honeymoon in Necker. I had been off doing my GCSEs at the time.
I had only just started reading Genet when Trevor came into the room.
"Sorry. I'm not disturbing you, am I?" he asked when he saw me.
"No. I'm just refreshing my memory of Genet's writing."
"French writer – petty criminal who turned to writing. An openly homosexual writer for his time."
"When was his time?"
"Well, most of his books were written in the 1940s. After them, he moved into writing for the theatre and was involved in films.
"What have you been up to today?"
"Saw my shrink. Actually, I've just got back," Trevor informed me.
"How'd it go?"
"Not too bad, really. We just sat and chatted for an hour. I expected her to be asking all types of difficult questions, but there weren't any."
"Oh, there were questions but nothing deep or probing. Like, how did I like living where I was, did I see many people, what did I do when I was not working? Got to see her again on Thursday." He was looking around the library, looking puzzled.
"Johnny, your dad said that there were some DVDs in here, but I can't see them."
"They're in the cabinet between the end windows," I told him. "Looking for anything in particular?"
"Yes, The First of the Few. Do you know it?"
"No. Heard about it. Leslie Howard's in it, isn't he? Wasn't he shot down while they were filming?"
"No, he was shot down flying back from Lisbon, a few days before the premier. Filming had been finished well before he died. Bloody lucky, really. At least the film was complete."
"So, you've decided to take the part in The University Flying Club, then?"
"Don't know that I will definitely, but I have told Phil I will consider it. Depends on how my recovery goes. Can you imagine a fighter pilot with a gammy leg?" Trevor laughed at his own joke.
"I don't know; Bader managed it with a couple of gammy legs," I pointed out.
"Bader? Who's Bader?"
"Douglas Bader. The World War II flying ace. He was quite famous at one of the schools that expelled me."
I got up from my chair and went over to the TV cabinet, opened it and looked through the DVDs on the shelves at the base. It took only a minute or two for me to find what I was looking for: Reach for the Sky, the 1950s film about Douglas Bader.
"You should watch this," I stated, handing it to Trevor.
"Would you mind if I watched it here?"
"No, actually I would not mind watching it myself. Never seen it."
Watching a film with Trevor was a bit of an experience. He was not watching the story line but mostly the film technicalities — how things were shot and how the lighting was set. Trevor kept making comments about them. That was quite informative, though I found the commentary a bit annoying at times as I was actually enjoying the film itself. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the end. Dad came along to tell me that Martin and Steve had arrived and I was expected to join them in the study.
Dad had arranged teas and coffee, so by time I got to the study, they were all ready to talk business. Martin informed us that he wanted to first deal with the matters that involved Steve. That would allow Steve to leave, hopefully early. After that, he needed to speak to Dad and me about my mother's estate, then he would deal with Dad's action against Ritter-Landau.
"By the way, Johnny, thank you for the email; it was helpful," Martin stated.
"So, what did you find out?" I asked.
"To be honest, not much, but we suspect quite a lot. The gist of the matter appears to be the ownership of High Marsh. Unfortunately, the land registry was not very useful. It appears there has been no transfer of ownership or charges on most of the properties since 1990. Also, the properties are not deemed to be agricultural, so they are not on the rural-property register. The only transfer is the property known as the salvage yard. That was subject to a mortgage in 1990 and, as such, was registered with the land registry. We know that the Hamden yard is owned by George Hamden, Ltd., of which, Steve, you currently own thirty five percent of the shares. Also, from what Johnny was told by Mr. Peters, the Peters yard is also owned by its occupant.
"From the probate records, we can show that the Elmchurch estate owned the whole of the High Marsh in 1959 except for the Nase. That also appears to be the date when John Hamden purchased the land that the Hamden yard stood on. He incorporated the business the following year, and the property is clearly shown as an asset in the accounts for 1961."
"I'm surprised you were able to find copies of the accounts going that far back," Dad commented.
"Actually, Mike, that is where we had a bit of luck. They were in with the pile of company documentation that Steve brought me, along with the paperwork for the agreement for Steve to buy the business."
"George put that lot together," Steve said. "Said if anything happened to him and his sons started to create problems, I should take the whole lot to a solicitor."
"I think George Hamden may have expected something like what has happened if he died before you controlled the company. There is a lot of material in that file, which I suspect the other side does not know about. That however—" Martin was interrupted by the ringing of Steve's mobile. He looked at it, then stated it was a number he did not know and asked if we minded if he took the call.
Steve answered the call and identified himself, then started to look puzzled.
"Could you hold a moment, please?" he asked. "Martin, it is a firm of solicitors calling about George Hamden's estate."
"It might be best if I deal with them," Martin said.
"Thank you for holding, I am with my solicitor at the moment. Can I pass you over to him?" There was a brief pause, and then Steve handed the phone to Martin. Once Martin identified himself and confirmed he was acting for Steve, there followed what was something of a one-sided conversation with Martin replying every now and again with a yes, no or a ‘can you give more information?’. At last, the call seemed to be approaching its end. Finally, Martin said, "I do not think that would be advisable. Mr. George Hamden, Junior, and his brother have issued a notice before action against Mr. Johnson, and we are currently in litigation with them. That being the case, I do not think it is advisable for Mr. Johnson to attend an event where the other parties are likely to be present. Particularly so, as the outcome of the event may have a major impact on the litigation. I will, therefore, suggest to Mr. Johnson that I attend as his representative."
That said, there was clearly agreement from whoever was on the other end of the call. Martin thanked them and then disconnected and handed the phone back to Steve.
"Look, Steve, I have no idea as to what it is, but it seems that George Hamden has left you a legacy," Martin informed Steve. "It seems that the family are insisting on a formal reading of the will, not something we normally do these days. Normally, we will just send copies of the will to everybody who is mentioned in it or benefits from it.
"George had used Munroe and Claymore in Dunford for his will, somewhat to the surprise of the family. Apparently, the family solicitors, or at least the solicitors for the Elmchurch estate, are Broden and Dunstar in Southmead. From what John Munroe said, it came as a bit of a shock to them to find that another firm had George's will and were executors of the estate. The will, in accordance with the family wishes, will be formally read on Thursday. I will go along to represent you. I do not think it is advisable that you should be there."
"If you think that best, fine," Steve said. "You were telling us about the ownership of High Marsh."
"Yes, as I said we know the Salvage, Peters and Hamden yards are on land owned by those businesses. We also know that at least two of the other properties occupied by yards are owned by Elmchurch Estates, Ltd."
"How do you know that?" Dad asked.
"There have been planning applications, and in each case they needed to be signed off by the owner of the land giving his consent for the application. The stated owner in each instance has been Elmchurch Estates.
"We have reason to believe that they also own the other four properties. As a private limited company, the Elmchurch Estates does not have to file full accounts, only a profit and loss statement and a balance sheet. However, back in the 1980s they applied for a land-improvement grant. Applications for the grant are a matter of public record, and a requirement for making such an application is that a full set of accounts for the previous three years must be submitted. My clerk got a copy of them this morning. They clearly show rental income being received from six properties on High Marsh.
"From the information we have, I think we can assume that the Elmchurch estate owns all of High Marsh, excluding the Nase, except for the three properties, being the Hamden, Peters' and Salvage yards. We can also assume that, for some reason, George Hamden, Junior, wants to reestablish Elmchurch ownership over the whole of High Marsh."
"That seems to be the case," Steve commented. "But why?"
"That is probably the big question," Dad stated.
"Now, the Hamdens have issued a notice before action indicating that they intend to contest the agreement between you and George Hamden on the grounds that you exercised undue influence on the late George Hamden," Martin stated. "That being the case, I suggest that you do two things. First, you withdraw your offer to sell your interest in the yard for one point five million. Second, you start proceedings to apply for an order of specific performance to force the sale of the twenty percent of the shares to you.
"Although full litigation has not started yet, I have obtained barrister's opinion on this, and given the supplementary documentation that was in the file you supplied to us, which we can be sure the other side do not know of, the barrister's opinion is that you have a fairly solid case.
"The costs in this are likely to be high. However, Johnny has an interest in the outcome of this, so Mike and Bernard have agreed, as trustees of one of Johnny's trusts, that the trust will cover the costs up to one-hundred thousand. Are you agreeable to this course of action."
"Do I have much choice?" Steve asked.
"There is always a choice," Martin informed him. "You could give up the yard and take what they are offering you."
"And lose all the work and money I have put into it. No, I will fight them, where do I sign?"
"In that case, you can begin by signing here," Martin said. He removed some sheets of paper from the file he had on the table and passed them to Steve with a pen, in the process advising Steve that there were three copies to be signed. He also told him that these were instruction for Uncle Bernard's firm to represent him and instigate action in the courts.
That done and the signed copies placed back in the file, except for one which Steve was to keep, Martin produced a letter for Dad to sign. He informed Dad that this was a letter from my trust to the firm saying that trust was underwriting the legal costs of Steve's action up to the sum of one hundred thousand pounds. He also told Dad that Bernard had already signed it. Dad checked and showed me. Uncle Bernard had signed it. So, Dad countersigned it.
Martin discussed a couple of administrative issues with Steve and asked him to sort out having a valuation done of the elements at the yard which he owned personally. That done Steve asked Martin what would happen next.
"Well, tomorrow we will start the process of litigation that is initiated with a notice before action. The next thing, I will be attending the reading of the will. It is possible that something may come from that which will affect things, so I will need to see you, Mike and Johnny as soon as possible after."
"Why me and Dad?" I asked.
"Your trust is underwriting the action. As such, you have the right to know what is going on."
"When and where is the will being read?" Dad asked.
"Three o'clock on Thursday at Munroe and Claymore chambers in Dunford," Martin replied.
"So, why don't we all meet here say at four?" Dad suggested. Steve and Martin agreed with that.
That out of the way, Steve left. Dad suggested he get the tea and coffee replenished, so we took a break. When we got back together, Martin started to go over the administration of my mother's estate.
"Now, Johnny, the police have applied for a proceeds of crime order against your mother's property. There is an interesting piece of law at play here. Whilst it is likely that a lot of your mother's estate was the result of criminal activity, it was not activity on your part. In fact, you have come into possession of the estate by legitimate means, namely inheritance. As such, the law is unclear as to whether or not POCA can be applied. The purpose of POCA was to deprive a person of the assets they had acquired by criminal activity. As that person is no longer in possession of the assets, it is our opinion that the POCA regulations cannot be applied," Martin informed me.
"So, what does that mean?" I asked.
"It means that you can't touch the majority of your mother's estate at the moment. It is subject to a POCA order, and there are going to be a few years of legal arguments over it. To be honest, I fully expect this to go to the Supreme Court, but it is going to take its time getting there. The other side have no interest in pushing it. In fact, they would rather come to some sort of deal with you over it."
"I'm quite happy to do a deal with them; I never wanted it to start with."
"That is not a choice you can make, Johnny. The proceeds of your mother's estate are in trust for you, and it is the duty of the trustees to maintain the value of the trust. As such, they could not, without a court order, come to an agreement that would reduce the value of the trust."
"Does that mean that everything is locked up for the time being?" Dad asked.
"Not everything," Martin said. "We can show that the Finsbury Park house, the French villa and a number of investment properties were purchased using legitimate funds. As such, these have been exempted from the POCA order. Also, the insurance payment, when it is paid out, is also exempt as it is technically not part of the estate."
"Will they pay out?" I asked.
"Oh yes, they will pay out. They will probably try to delay as long as possible and certainly until after the inquest, but they will pay out. Bernard has already made them understand that we have the funding available to fight them in the courts. The last thing they want is that sort of publicity. I expect the next thing they will try is to make a reduced offer to you. That will have to come via us; we have already obtained an injunction to stop them approaching you directly or indirectly on any matter regarding your mother's death or any benefit therefrom." There was a rather satisfied smile on Martin's face as he said that.
"The main asset that we have to deal with is the Finsbury Park house. We have managed to find tenants for it, and they will be looking at moving in as soon as possible. At the moment, the property is still technically a crime scene, but the police have assured us they will be finished with it this week.
"We are looking at letting the place furnished. Of course, before it is let, we have to have it completely cleaned and all personal items removed. What I need you to do, Johnny, is to go through the house and sort out anything that you want from it."
"I don't think there is anything," I said. "Mother sent all my stuff that she did not throw away to Dad's old place. I've got it here now."
"That may be, but from a legal point of view, it is incumbent on the trust to make sure your interests are best served. As such, we need to make sure there is nothing in the house that you want or need."
I nodded. I might not like it, but I understood where Martin was coming from.
"You’re back at college tomorrow, aren't you?" Martin asked. I confirmed I was. "In that case we will need to do it at the weekend. I don't suppose you could make it next Saturday?"
I told Martin that I would be in Town next Saturday, in any event, so I could do it on Saturday. Dad suggested that it might be an idea if he was there as well. He did say there were a couple of things from the house that he would like to have if they were still there. Apparently, they were wedding gifts from his parents. Martin pointed out that technically they were now mine, but if I had no objections, he did not see why Dad could not have them. I stated that I had no objections.
That settled, I left Dad and Martin in the study to find Mum and let her know that Dad and Martin were still discussing legal issues in the study. It was now past six, and I was sure she would be thinking about dinner. Turned out that it was Grandma doing dinner, and it was a casserole with baked potatoes. As Grandma pointed out, the longer they had to cook, within reason, the better.
In the end it was not that long before Dad showed Martin out, saying he would see him on Thursday. Some twenty minutes later, we were seated at the kitchen table tucking into a really nice casserole and baked potatoes. Dad seemed to be in a very good mood.
"What's put you in such a good mood?" Mum asked.
"It looks as if Ritter-Landau are going to settle," Dad stated. "Their solicitors have spoken with Martin, testing the waters with regards to a settlement."
"What are they offering?" I asked.
"Can we talk about it later? I can fill you and Anne in on things after dinner."
Over dinner, Granddad started to ask me what I knew about the lads' situation. He knew that Steven had been thrown out by his family but did know any details. I filled him in on what I knew, though it was not that much.
"But his uncle is supporting him?" Granddad asked when I had finished.
"Yes. From what I have gathered, I think his uncle and his aunt have been more like parents to him than his parents were."
"Sometimes that's the case," Grandma said. It seemed from her tone of voice that this was something she had some knowledge of.
"Why the interest in the lads?" Dad asked.
"Was thinking of investing in the nursery," Granddad replied.
For the rest of the dinner, Dad and Granddad discussed different options by which Granddad could help Steven and Jim get the nursery off the ground. Not that they reached any conclusion, but I was fairly sure that Granddad was going to do something; he was just trying to work out what he was going to do.
After dinner, Dad and I cleaned up. Mum went into the lounge to do some reading. Granddad and Grandma went to the sitting room to watch something on television.
Once we had cleared up, Dad asked Mum to join us in the study.
"Johnny, you asked what they are offering. Well, so far they have not offered anything. They have indicated what they are prepared to look at, but there has been no offer. However, Martin is certain that they will settle. The only question is how much?"
"How much for what?" Mum asked.
"How much in the way of damages. Despite the injunction, they did not pay the royalties on time. Seems someone in their accounts department decided that as they are not a UK company, they were not subject to the order of the UK courts."
"They've paid them now?" Mum asked.
"Oh, yes. To be honest I had not noticed that they had not gone into my account, but Bernard had. Apparently, he got quite heavy-handed over it. Got a judgement in contempt against them, then a court warrant to seize goods and assets. However, he did not have it served on what had been the Hartmann agency; he served it on Ritter-Landau Publishing's UK office. The bailiffs seized everything. That got them quickly paying up."
"What's left?" I asked.
"Well technically, their representation of me did not finish till the end of the year, so there are the royalties for the last half of the year. Strictly they are not due to be paid till the end of March."
"Why the delay?" Mum asked.
"To allow for returns," Dad informed her.
"Returns. When bookshops order books from a publisher, they generally have the right to return any unsold books and get a refund. That often is only a partial refund or there is a limit to the number they can return, but they can get a refund. In any period's sales, there are likely to be some returned for refund.
"Fortunately, I don't get that many on the maths books as it is a textbook. However, the climate-change book is more mass market, so there are likely to be more returns on that."
"But Hartmann's did not handle that," I pointed out.
"No, that's all through Bob's new agency," Dad replied. "Anyway, Bob is only a managing agent, not a complete service agency like Hartmann's was."
"What's the difference?" I asked.
"Well, a managing agent manages the sale and promotion of your work," Dad replied. "A complete service agent not only does that, they also handle the collection of your royalties, your accounting, generating the information for your tax returns and a number of other things. The main difference is with a managing agent, your royalties are paid directly to you in full, and you then have to pay your agent their share. With a complete service agency, your royalties are paid to them, and they then pay you what is due after taking their cut."
"Any idea what is outstanding with them?" I asked.
"Well, there will be the last half-year sales on the maths book. That is likely to be quite high as it will include the start of the academic year, when sales are at their highest. What they are, I do not know. Ritter-Landau do not offer an online accounting service, so I have no idea what my sales have been for the last half of the year. However, I do know at least eight universities are listing it as a set text for BSc students, so it is likely to be over a hundred-thousand copies."
"That's going to be over a quarter of a million in royalties. How much do the agents take?" I asked.
"Ritter-Landau are on fifteen percent."
"Shit, Dad, that's thirty-seven thousand. No wonder they are pissed off at losing you."
"What is Martin going to press for?" Mum asked.
"Advanced settlement of my half-year royalties. They are to be paid to me by the end of the month, Ritter-Landau to carry the cost of returns. They are to pay all my legal expenses, which Martin has assured me will be high. In addition, Martin is looking for a five figure in damages, and he emphasised an upper five figure."
"How are we fixed for paying your financier off?" Mum asked.
"We are well on the way to paying Zach," Dad replied. "I put most of the money from the sale of the bungalow into a high-interest, fixed-term account. I can't make any drawings on it till it matures, which is February of next year. When I got my royalties, I added most of those to it, less a third I held back to cover taxes. I have also put in most of the money from the TV work I have been doing."
"So, what have we been living on?" Mum asked. It was a good question as I knew the upkeep of this place was not cheap, and we had not exactly been living like paupers. I know Dad did not go in for the sort of expensive living that my mother had gone for, but neither did he scrimp.
"My writing and radio fees," Dad replied. "It is surprising how much my fees have gone up since I became a TV personality. Two years ago, I wrote a two-thousand-word article for a paper and got two hundred pounds for it. Last week the same paper paid me three grand for a fifteen-hundred-word article for their Sunday supplement."
"You have more expenses now, though," Mum pointed out. "For a start, you have to pay Lee."
"Lee's costs for this year are already covered. The advance production fee for the series on John's book more than covers it. Which reminds me, John and Marc will be visiting later in the year. John has final script approval."
"How late in the year?" Mum asked.
"Looks like it will be after Easter."
"Remember, you’re recording in Holland the week after Easter," Mum reminded Dad.
"I know; that's when they would have liked to have come, but that does not appear to be doable. So, we are looking at probably the last week of April or first week of May."
"What about Marc's schooling?" I asked.
"I believe he will have completed all the requirements to graduate by then," Dad informed me. "He's coming over as he wants to discuss the translation of my maths book to French. Apparently, he has already got a lot of it done, but there are some parts where he wants to clarify things. A strict translation of the English into French does not work."
"That's probably where you are cracking your mathematical jokes," I commented.
"So, you have read it?"
"Of course, Dad, I'm using it in college."
"You never said."
"Didn't want to boost your ego," I replied. "Anyway, I doubt you wanted this talk to inform us of the Ritter-Landau situation or current finances. So, what is up?"
"My brother is looking at buying those two railway sheds that back up against our land at the far end."
"I know that," I commented. "What's it got to do with us?"
"It turns out that the property for sale is a lot more than the two railway sheds, it is the whole of the shunting yard across Sidings Lane."
"That's a lot of land," I commented.
"Just under twenty acres. The thing is, it is classed as a brownfield site. They are asking half a million. That's a sum Phil and my brother do not have available at the moment. They've just committed themselves to redeveloping the Rickyard complex at Manston into a commercial unit."
"Why are they talking to you about it?" Mum asked.
"Well, Ben wanted to know if I would be interested in going in on the deal."
Making these stories available to you online is not cost free. Help keep AwesomeDude going by making a donation to it. Click on the DONATE button on the AwesomeDude homepage.