The kettle boiled. Jim swung the trivet off the fire, letting the kettle stand and go off the boil. While it was doing that, Steven went over to the shelf in the corner of the room and grabbed three mugs and placed them on the table before putting a pile of instant drinking chocolate in each one. He then added some creamer, making the comment that it made it a bit richer. With the kettle by now being well and truly off the boil, Steven poured a bit of hot water into each mug and stirred vigorously; then he topped them up with more water. He went back to the shelf and picked up a bottle, which he held up so I could see it.
"Fancy a slug?"
"Why not?" I replied. It was Amaretto, though not Disaronno, the best-known brand. Jim added a glug of the golden liquor to each mug before returning the bottle to the shelf. Then he brought the mugs over to the chairs by the fire, handing one to me.
"How are things progressing? Must be good if you can afford Amaretto," I commented.
"It’s own brand and a Christmas gift from my aunt. Actually, though, things are quite good, all things considered. At least, we will have something to sell by Easter. I was not sure when we started if we could manage that, but we have. Also, the garden centre on the Dunford Road in Southmead has asked if we can supply them."
"Ivy plants," Jim laughed. "They've ordered a hundred for Easter."
I could not see that being a problem for them; there was ivy growing over most of the estate. All they had to do was pull some off, chop it into small chunks and pot it up, and they would have an ivy plant growing in a few weeks.
"Though, I think we may have a killer for Christmas," Jim continued.
"Rooted Christmas trees."
"You know the area we need to clear at the Sidings Lane entrance and along the drive?"
"Yes, you said you couldn't do it yet as conditions were dangerous underfoot for using a chainsaw."
"Well, there are a lot of small, self-seeded spruces along there which we will have to remove."
"I don't think Dad will be pleased if you leave it till the start of December to cut them down."
"We're not going to, Johnny. The idea is to dig the small trees up, then put them in pots. We can line them along the back wall. Hopefully, most of them will survive the experience, and we will have rooted Christmas trees for the end of the year. I reckon we should be able to get between five and ten pounds each, more if we decorate them."
"It seems like a lot of work, Jim."
"It is, Johnny, but then everything is in this business. If you don't want to work, don't go into horticulture."
"Talking about work, you don't know anybody who is looking, do you?"
"What type of work?"
"Tyler is looking for an office manager for his new business."
"Is that going to be based here?"
"Yes, in the Stable House offices."
"Any idea what the hours will be?"
"No, you would have to ask Tyler about that. Why?
"My cousin Lily is looking for a new job. She's the customer-service manager at Dunford Ceramics, but they have brought in a new shift pattern, and it does not fit with her commitments."
"Tell her to contact Tyler," I instructed.
"Johnny, be realistic; how do I tell my cousin that she should phone a film star. Anyway, I don't have his number."
"Don't tell her who it is; just say that you know of a job going and give her this number. It's the business number he has set up."
I searched in my phone's contacts for the number, then gave it to Jim. He wrote it down in the little notebook he always had in his pocket.
We chatted a bit more whilst we finished our hot chocolates, then Jim said he had to get back to work. I also needed to get back to the house. It was past the time that Mum had set for lunch, not that she would be too upset; I had told her I might be late back.
Lunch was over when I got back into the house. Mum was just washing up the pots.
"There's a bowl of soup for you in the fridge; just zap it. Grab yourself a couple of rolls from the bread bin," she instructed as I entered the kitchen.
I did. It was not bad soup, one of Mum's homemade ones rather than something out of the can.
"Where are Jenny and Tyler?" I asked.
"They've gone around to Tyler's place. It should be warmed up by now."
I did not comment, but considering how cold it was outside, I somehow doubted if the housekeeper's cottage would be that warm yet. I did not think it was that well insulated.
I had just finished my soup when the phone rang. It rang a few times. I had left it, as I expected Dad would pick it up in the study.
"Your Dad's gone out. Can you get that?" Mum called from the snug. I got up and answered the phone.
"Johnny, is your dad there?" Uncle Bernard asked when I identified myself.
"No, I don't know where he is."
"Damn. I don't suppose you know if Martin is with him, do you?"
"Sorry, Uncle Bernard, I don't. Why?"
"I know Martin is supposed to be meeting with your father today. I've been trying to get Martin on his mobile, but it goes straight to voicemail, and I need to contact him urgently."
Uncle Bernard sounded very worried, not like him at all.
"What's up?" I asked.
"Joseph's been arrested."
"Joseph's been arrested. All I can find out is that he attacked some youth outside of the school. They only had a half day today. There was a police constable nearby who saw the whole thing and stopped it, but it seems Joseph had knocked some youth to the ground and was kicking him.
"I need Martin to get into London and find out what is going on."
"Where is he being held?"
"At the moment, he's at Dale Grove Police Station, but I do not know how long they will keep him there. We're up in Manchester. No way can I get down before six."
"Look, Uncle Bernard, I'll phone Dad on his mobile and see if he knows where Martin is."
"I've tried that, it goes direct to voicemail."
That made me think. I pulled my phone from my pocket. I knew Dad and I were on the same network, and I thought Martin was on it as well. Checking my phone, I saw there was no signal available.
"What is it, Johnny?"
"The telephone network must be down. I don't have a signal on the mobile. Look, Uncle Bernard, if Martin turns up, I will tell him to call you urgent-like. In the meantime, you need to get one of your staff down to that police station."
"Already set that in motion. I would, though, prefer Martin to get onto it. All my senior staff are out of office this afternoon. Had to send a wet-behind-the-ears junior. Would prefer Martin to be on it."
I finished off the call by promising to pass the message on to Martin if he turned up and to Dad when he got back. Then I went through to the snug and asked Mum if she knew where Dad was.
"He's gone to take the Santa Fe into the garage. There was a problem with it. Lee's followed him to bring him back. They should be back soon, as your father's got an appointment with Martin."
"I know. That was Uncle Bernard trying to contact Martin."
"Yes, Joseph's been arrested."
"Whatever for?" Mum asked.
"Apparently, he attacked someone outside of the school."
"That's not like Joseph."
"No, it's not."
About ten minutes later, Dad arrived back. I passed on Uncle Bernard's message. Dad informed me that he was expecting Martin at half-past. There were some papers he had to sign regarding the Salvage Yard.
I inquired why he had taken the Santa Fe in. He told me that he was getting a transmission stutter, which worried him. The garage was going to look at the car in the morning. However, he had a phone interview with the Beeb then so had to take the car in today.
We were talking about the interview for the Beeb when Martin arrived. Dad immediately gave him the message to contact Bernard. Martin was surprised that Bernard had not called him, but I told him to check his mobile. As I had suspected, he had no signal; the network was down.
Martin called Bernard. Then he apologised to Dad, saying that he had to get into London as soon as possible, and could he call back tomorrow to sort out the papers?
"That's not going to delay things, is it?" Dad asked.
"Not really, as I can't do anything with them till Monday, anyway," Martin answered.
That sorted, Martin set off for London.
He had not been gone long when Granddad and Grandma arrived. Leni brought them over.
"We were expecting you middle of the week," Mum said as they came in the back door.
"I know, luv, but we be caught up in London with all those lawyers; had to go to court this morning to see some judge," Granddad stated. He then looked past Mum and saw me sitting at the table.
"Now, Johnny, me and the missis have some news for you."
Granddad then proceeded to tell me what they had done about the trust, handing over control to Uncle Bernard and Dad. I was not happy about it, though, and told Granddad. He had an answer for me.
"You see, Johnny, it makes sense. Now me and my Flora, we ain't as young as we have been, and now we be getting on a bit. If something was to happen to one of us, well the other would be in a right mess, and I don't want my Flora to have to worry about all this stuff over the trust."
When I looked at it from that point of view, it made sense. I might not be happy about the way things had been done, but I could see the reason for what they had done and, in truth, could not really criticise it.
It was well after dinner before we heard anything about Joseph. Uncle Bernard phoned and talked with Dad. After a bit, Dad asked me if I could go into Town tomorrow afternoon. I told Dad that I had agreed to cover the yard in the morning till 12 but could be free after that. Dad passed on the information. After a bit, he said that four o'clock it is, then. Then he rang off.
"What's all that about?" I asked.
"We're invited to have dinner with Bernard and Debora tomorrow at the Hampstead house. We are going to leave here at two to be there for four. That, Johnny, gives you time to get back from the yard, then shower and change."
"You didn't check if it was OK with me," Mum said.
"Sorry, but this is one of the times when I just had to agree and then get everybody to fit in."
"Why?" Mum asked.
"Because the police have agreed to not proceed with any action against Joseph on condition that Joseph meets with his victim. Joseph has agreed to the meeting so long as Johnny is there."
"Why me?" I asked.
"That, I don't know, but the meeting is taking place at Bernard's at four tomorrow, so I have to get you there. Sorry, Anne, if you have something planned for the afternoon, I suggest you cancel it if you can."
"What about Flora and Jack?" Mum asked.
"What about us?" Granddad asked from the snug doorway. He was just coming back into the kitchen carrying a tea tray. Mum explained about having to go to Uncle Bernard's.
"Not a problem. We're not planning on being here for dinner tomorrow. Me and the missis are planning on taking the lads down to the Crooked Man for dinner."
"Really?" Dad asked.
"Yes. Need to have a good chat with those boys about what they are doing and what they want to do. Need to have a good chat with you two, as well, but can do that in the morning."
Dad just nodded, then turned to Mum and asked again if it she wanted to come with us to Uncle Bernard's.
"Not got anything planned, but I would like to have been asked first. I'll go and chat with Debora. I've no doubt we can get in a couple of hours shopping while you men talk."
At that information, Dad blanched.
Saturday morning, I set off early for the yard. Steve would be coming in later, but he had to go over to Romford this morning to pick up some supplies. It was time to start making the varnishes and waxes he used on his high-end finishes. The yard was pretty quiet; in fact, it was dead. No one came in, and there was just one telephone enquiry, which I soon dealt with by telling them that this was not the Pizzeria Italiano and we would not be delivering three large pizzas.
Steve got back just after eleven thirty. I told him how quiet things had been. He informed me that it was not really worth opening the yard this time of the year; he only came in to do the yard-maintenance work. The problem was if people saw him in the yard doing maintenance work, they expected the yard to be open. However, he did tell me that he was planning on mixing his varnishes and polishes next Saturday and hoped I would be able to make it in to see how they were made. I promised that I would be in, then set off back home.
It was gone twelve thirty when I got home. Mum told me to go up and get washed and changed and that she would have lunch on the table by the time I got down. Lunch turned out to be a pile of bacon butties which Grandma had made. Mum made bacon sandwiches; Grandma made butties.
I noticed that Granddad was not at the kitchen table when we sat down for lunch, so I mentioned it to Grandma.
"He took a pile of the butties down to the lads." I presumed she meant Jim and Steven. "By the way, he wants a word with the three of you before you go off to London."
"Well, he’d better hurry back, then," Dad stated. "I want to set off at two."
"Told him that," Grandma confirmed. "Told him he better be back by one or save what he 'ave to say till morning."
I was just about to say something when Granddad came through the door. He grabbed a chair and pulled it up to the end of the table before sitting on it.
"If you want a butty, you'll have to make yourself one," Grandma stated.
"Nay, lass, I'm fine. Had a couple with the lads.
"Now, Mike, how would you feel if me and the missis moved down 'ere?"
"What? To the Priory?" Dad asked.
"Nay, lad. Our Phil and your brother be buying those old work sheds back of your property. They plan to turn one into two or three apartments; they'll be taking one. We thought we would take one of the others."
"But why?" Mom asked. "You've got your friends and family up in Stoke."
"None left these days," Grandma stated. "Our Lily and her husband have gone off to live in Spain. Say it's cheaper to live there and the climate is better. We'd have gone if it had not been for Phil and then there was the language. That put Jack right off going."
“Jack’s sister is down Bristol these days to be near her boys.”
"But what about your allotment?"
"Not going to be one soon. Council are selling the land off to some housing developer. Going to put up boxes for people to live in. They nay be houses; they be hutches. There'll be nought room to swing a cat."
I laughed and asked how much space you needed to swing a cat? Granddad explained that the cat was a cat of nine tails, the scourge used in the navy. The handle was about a foot long and the nine whips thongs were about three feet, so to swing one you needed a clear six foot, given the length of your arm.
"Look," Grandma added, "There's not much for us up there, and to be honest, the house is getting a bit big for me to keep tidy. A nice flat with no stairs will suit me down to the ground."
"And them lads need some guidance with their nursery, and that is way better than any allotment," Granddad stated.
"So, when do you think you'll be moving?" Mum asked.
"Don't know," Grandma stated. "Though, I would like to be in before Christmas. However, we wanted to ask you if you could put us up for a bit until the flat's ready."
"Of course," Mum stated. "Why?"
"We've had an offer on our place. Way more than it's worth."
"Somebody must like your place, then," Dad commented.
"No, they don't," Granddad replied. "They could not care less for it. They're going to demolish it. They own the plot of land behind us, but they do not have access. Our place can give them access."
Dad, Mum and my grandparents discussed things for another twenty minutes or so. It turned out that the developers wanted possession of the house by the end of June, but Uncle Ben did not think the development of the workshop shed would start till August at the earliest."
We discussed it briefly, or rather Dad and Grandpa discussed it, but then Dad pointed out we had to get to London. However, both Dad and Mum said there would be no problem putting my grandparents up in the Priory until my uncles got the flats sorted out. That decided, we set off for London. On the way, I asked Dad about the land that Uncle Ben had been on at him to buy.
"Well, we've put in an offer, though not what they are asking," Dad informed me.
"I thought you and Uncle Ben thought it was a good price?"
"Yes, we did, but that was before I realised the full implications of the ransom strip we own. Also, it was before your Uncle Phil came up with another mad idea."
"What's that?" Mum asked.
"He's suggested we should build a set of digital studios on the site," Dad replied.
"Is it big enough?" I asked.
"Actually, it probably is for the type of work they are thinking about. From what Phil was saying, they do not need so much room as they do for a traditional film studio," Dad stated.
"But how much is it going to cost?" Mum asked.
"That's what Phil is looking into at the moment, but he thinks it will be about a million."
"Can you afford that?" I asked.
"At the moment, no, but if a couple of things come off which are in the pipeline, I probably could. It would mean delaying paying off Zach, but that is not that much of a problem. I spoke to Sheila the other day. She suggested that rather than trying to mortgage the place and pay Zach off, I just pay off four hundred K and use the assured facility, which requires Zach to provide finance for the remainder for another two years. That would leave me with enough to put in what would be needed. The big question, Johnny, is, do you have enough?"
"Why should I need to have enough?" I asked.
"Because Johnny, Carlton-Smith Properties, the company that owns the properties that your uncles use for their business activities, is owned by the trust they set up for you. I presume that it is the entity through which they will do the purchase. I know they want to speak to you about it."
They would need to speak to me about it. It was my trust fund. I was a bit miffed that they had been working things out without consulting me. As a result, I was not in that good a mood when we got to Uncle Bernard’s.
It had just gone quarter to four when we had found somewhere to park and got to the house. Aunt Debora answered the door and told us to go into the drawing room. She said Uncle Bernard would be with us shortly. I asked where Joseph was.
"He’s confined to his room," Aunt Debora stated. "And don't think about going up to him. He's been stupid and needs to learn a thing or two. Being confined to his room will help him learn."
There was a severity in her manner which assured me it would not be a good idea to challenge her over the issue. Anyway, just then Uncle Bernard came in. He told us that Joseph would be joining us in a few minutes. That stated, we just sat in the drawing room, nobody saying anything. About five minutes later Joseph came into the room. He did not look very happy at all, and his eyes were red. I guessed he had been crying. I started to stand up to go to him, but Dad put his hand on my shoulder, indicating I should stay seated.
Uncle Bernard told Joseph where to sit. I was a bit surprised when Micah came in with a tray of tea things.
"Thought you'd be at Manchester," I stated as Micah put the tray down on the coffee table in front of me.
"I should be. Came down with the 'rents yesterday to see what sort of mess Joe was in," Micah informed me. He then addressed the room. "Well, I've done my bit. I'll leave you to sort this mess out."
Just then, the doorbell rang. "Could you answer that please, Micah, and send whoever it is in here?" Uncle Bernard asked. Micah confirmed he would. Shortly after, a tall, well-dressed woman entered the room followed by someone who was hidden from view. She looked vaguely familiar. Uncle Bernard stood up and greeted the woman.
"Mrs. Richards, I'm Bernard LeBrun. Thank you for coming. This is my wife Debora, and these are family friends whom Joseph asked to be present." He then proceeded to introduce Mum, Dad and me. As he did so, I realised who she was, a fact confirmed when she stepped further into the room, revealing her son in the doorway: Tony. He had a black eye and a swollen lip. It was clear he had come off worse in the fight. As he moved into the room, it was also clear that he was in some discomfort.
"What the fuck happened?" I exclaimed.
Tony looked at me with a half-smile. "Your boyfriend."
"Your boyfriend," Tony repeated. "I went to straighten things out with him, but he did not give me a chance."
I turned and looked at Joseph.
"I'm sorry, but I saw him standing there, and I was so angry."
"Just shut up a moment," Uncle Bernard ordered. "Mrs. Richards, Tony, why don't you take a seat? I'll sort out refreshments, and then we will try to sort this mess out."
Uncle Bernard then proceeded to find out what everybody wanted, starting with Mrs Richards. That done, he asked Tony if he would explain why he wanted to talk to Joseph.
"Well, I just wanted to tell him that it was not what he thought," Tony stated.
"What wasn't what he thought?" Uncle Bernard asked.
"Me kissing Johnny at the party. I've always kissed Johnny from when we were at prep school. I met him at my cousin's party, and we talked for a bit, then he said he had to go and find his boyfriend, so I gave him a parting kiss. I kissed him. He did not kiss me."
"That's not what it looked like!" Joseph spurted out.
"Maybe not, but that is what it was. If you had given me a chance, I would have told you."
"So, you were at the school to talk to Joseph?" Uncle Bernard asked.
"Yes. I had seen my cousin a couple of days before, and he had ripped me off a strip for causing Joseph and Johnny to break up. Neal said they were a perfect couple and I had messed everything up.
"I didn't mean to. It's just I am used to kissing Johnny when I see him. We've done it since prep school, and it had been ages since I had seen him."
"You were lovers at prep school?" Joseph asked.
"No, we were competitors," Tony stated. "We both fancied the same boys. I think we still do." He said this looking at Joseph with a smile.
"Keep your hands off," I commented.
"I will," said Tony. "He is far too dangerous for my liking."
That said, Uncle Bernard started to ask questions of Tony, me and Joseph. I realised as he did so why Uncle Bernard was so good in court. He seemed able to ask just the right questions to get the information he wanted out of you. By the time we had finished, it was clear that Tony had gone to Joseph's school yesterday to seek Joseph out and put him straight on things between Tony and me. Namely, that there was nothing going on, that we were just old friends, and that it was Tony who had kissed me, not the other way around.
After about twenty minutes or so of questioning by Uncle Bernard, he started to sum up. "So, basically, Tony and Johnny know each other from prep school initially, then public school. They were close friends at school but also rivals. They also had a practice of kissing one another. Am I right?"
We all agreed. Then he continued, "Johnny and Tony have not seen each other for nearly three years, since Johnny was forced to change schools."
"I was expelled," I stated.
"Right. To continue, they met up again at Neal's party. Joseph was dancing, and Johnny had gone to the buffet to get refreshments. Tony was at the buffet, and he kissed Johnny. Joseph saw this, got the wrong end of the stick and took off. Am I right so far?"
Both Tony and I agreed. Joseph was uncommitted.
Uncle Bernard continued, "Joseph broke off contact with Johnny, feeling that Johnny was betraying him."
"He was," Joseph said. "I saw them kissing."
"Yes, son, you saw them kissing, but you did not bother to check what was going on, did you?"
"Right. Now let me see if I have got this piece clear. Tony, you learnt that Joseph was upset about things and went to Joseph's school to talk to him. Is that right?"
"And Joseph never gave you a chance to speak, did he?"
"No, he came running at me and clobbered me. One moment I was standing outside the school scanning the crowd coming out; the next, something hit me in the face, and I was on the ground being kicked."
"So, Joseph, what did you think you were doing?"
Joseph looked at his father, not saying anything.
"Joseph," Uncle Bernard announced. "I think you need to sort things out with Tony and Johnny. It looks as if you owe both of them an apology. However, I don't think it is going to be very helpful if we just sit around here going over things. You three boys need to sort it out among yourselves without us adults putting in our three-pennies worth. So, Joseph, take Tony and Johnny down to the games room." There was a short pause, then Uncle Bernard shouted, "Micah, you can stop listening from out there in the corridor. Go with your brother, Tony and Johnny and try to keep them from killing each other."
With that, Joseph stood up, then he looked at Tony. "You’d better come down to the games room; you too, Johnny." Then he started to move towards the door. There was a moment's hesitation on Tony's part, then he stood and started to follow Joseph. I stood and followed both of them. Micah was standing in the hallway, looking at Tony as Joseph and he passed.
"Did my brother do that?" Micah asked me as I came level with him.
"Apparently. It appears that he has a good right hook," I commented.
"As I know," Micah replied. I recalled that Joseph had flattened Micah with a right hook last year when Micah had been teasing him. "Wish mine was as good."
"Well, you should train with Uncle Ben," I commented. Micah shrugged his shoulders, then followed me down to the games room.
Uncle Bernard's Hampstead house was late-Georgian and had a massive cellar. At one time, I supposed the kitchen had probably been down here, also the coal hole. There were at least five or six rooms, most with small windows high up, which let in a minimum of light. The largest of these rooms, which Joseph had once told me had been the servants' dining room, had become the games room. There were a half-sized snooker table, a table-tennis table and a dart board. More importantly, there were a number of comfy chairs spread around the room.
Joseph indicated that Tony should take the armchair in the corner by the side of the fireplace, which once heated this space. Once Tony was seated, Joseph took the chair on the opposite side of the fireplace. I just grabbed another chair, leaving Micah leaning against the snooker table. We sat there. No one said anything; no one did anything. We just sat in silence.
"For fuck’s sake, will one of you say something?" Micah exclaimed after what seemed like half an hour, though, in reality, was probably only about five minutes. "You two are supposed to be sorting this out by talking to each other, so talk. Otherwise, I will take you over to the gym in Hackney and you can sort it out in the ring."
"I don't think I would stand much of chance," Tony commented. I had to agree with him. He might be a good six inches taller than Joseph, and he weighed a good ten kilos more. That was ten kilos of muscle, not fat. The thing was, Tony was a rower, not a fighter. In the whole four years we had been at school together I did not think that Tony had been in a single fight. Seeing we were together at a couple of boys boarding schools, that was something unusual. Then again, none of the other boys would have a reason for having a fight with Tony; he was one of the nicest and kindest boys around.
"You should learn to defend yourself," Joseph stated.
"Why? Do you think I need to?"
The two of them then started to talk. It seemed that they were mostly talking about me. Micah looked at them and, seeing that they were deep in conversation, looked at me, then at the snooker table. I got the hint, and soon Micah and I were deep into a game of snooker. To be more accurate, he was thrashing me at snooker with an opening break of fifty-two, and then, after I failed to pot anything, a break of thirty. Somewhere during Micah's performance at the table, I realised that Joseph and Tony were standing, watching us — at least, watching Micah. Tony was leaning into Joseph, whispering something to him.
Micah, having pocketed the black, looked up at them. "Sorted?"
"Yes," Joseph replied. Tony just nodded in agreement.
"Fancy a game?" Micah asked Tony. Tony smiled. I felt sorry for Micah; I remembered Tony playing snooker at school.
"What's the stake?" Tony asked. That should have warned Micah.
"A fiver," Micah replied. There are times when I wondered how Micah ever managed to get into university. Could he not see that Tony was setting him up? Twenty minutes later, Micah understood. Tony cleared the table with a break of one-four-six. It would have been a maximum, but he had taken the blue for his first colour.
Later as we made our way back to the ground floor to get some drinks before seeing Uncle Bernard, Joseph mentioned that Tony seemed a good snooker player.
"Bloody well should be; I grew up over a snooker hall," Tony stated. "Granddad runs the place, just off Walthamstow Road."
"Your grandfather. Are you named after him?" Micah asked.
"Anthony Richards, world champion back in the Fifties?"
"Yes, he taught me to play. Wants me to go professional, but Dad's not up for it."
"Why not? You're bloody good," Micah stated.
"Not that good," Tony replied. "I can play a good game, and on a half-sized table, it is easy to make good breaks — no really long shots. But I'm not up to the standard I would need to go professional. On a full-sized table I tend to miss the long shots, which, as a professional, you can't afford to do. Dad knows it. I think Granddad does too, but he wants to dream."
"So, what are you going to do?" Joseph asked.
"Banking. Dad's in it already, and I think I would like to be a trader."
"It's not that easy to get into these days," Micah stated. "Not like back in the 1980s."
"I know, but Aunty owns the bank, so it should not be that much of a problem."
For a moment, I was surprised by Tony's statement, then I remembered who Aunty was. After all, he was Neal's cousin, which reminded me: "Tony, just how are you related to Neal?"
"My mom is his mom's sister," Tony answered.
"So, are you a Porter or a Thompson?"
"Porter. Grandmother – that's Dad's mother — is a Porter, as is my mother."
"How come you're at a public school and Neal was at a comp?" I asked.
"Is that what he told you?"
"No, I just assumed…"
Tony laughed. "Don't let Neal's East End boy act fool you. He was at the same place your Joseph's going to. Got four A-levels, all at grade A; he also speaks three languages in addition to Cockney and English."
"Yes, French, Italian and Swiss German."
I looked at Tony in surprise. They seemed to be an odd mix. Tony enlightened me. "He used to spend most of his winter holidays skiing in Switzerland. He also spent a number of summer holidays out there. They are the three national languages."
"He did not learn Romansh then?"
"What's Romansh?" Tony asked.
"It's the fourth language of Switzerland."
"If it is spoken in Switzerland, then Neal probably speaks it," Tony offered.
By this time we had grabbed some tins of Coke from the fridge and were standing in the hall outside the drawing room.
"Have you sorted things out?" Uncle Bernard asked from within.
"Yes," Joseph replied.
"Then you’d better come in and explain."
We did, and for the next twenty minutes Joseph and Tony gave an explanation about events. Joseph also apologised to Tony for attacking him. Tony said there was no need to; he probably deserved it for not thinking first before kissing me. Uncle Bernard then informed us that Tony and his mother were joining us for dinner, which would be in about half an hour.
I really needed to know what had gone on between Tony and Joseph, what they had said to each other. I know I had been in the room whilst they had been talking, but Micah had distracted me with the snooker game. Anyway, after the first couple of interchanges between them, their voices had dropped to a whisper, and I could not make out what they were saying from my position on the other side of the room. The thing was, Joseph and Tony almost seemed friendly with each other. That was a bit of a change. When Tony had arrived, you would have needed a ton of ice to warm up the interaction between them. Now, you would need it to cool things down. Just what was going on?
"Right, Joseph, you are still confined to your room until dinner," Uncle Bernard announced. "You’d better go up there. I'll call you down when it’s ready. It might be an idea to take Johnny with you. I think you owe him an apology, as well."
Joseph just nodded, turned to me and cocked his head indicating that I should follow him. I did.
When we got to Joseph's room, he turned and looked at me. For what seemed like an eternity, neither of us spoke. We just stood, two feet apart, facing each other, not saying anything. I was not certain what to say; it would be too easy to say the wrong thing in a situation like this.
Finally, Joseph broke the silence. "Sorry."
I did not reply. I just opened my arms. Joseph stepped forward. I closed my arms around him.
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