I tried to get Steve to tell me what the problem was, but to be honest, he seemed somewhat distracted. Actually, so distracted that we nearly came off the causeway as we were crossing it. After that had happened the second time, I decided it was probably best not to distract him anymore.
When we got back to the Priory, I was surprised to see at least four cars in the yard that I did not know. I told Steve that if he wanted to speak with Dad, he’d better come in. He did. Mum was in the kitchen, cooking. She informed me that Dad was in his study, so I sent Steve through to him. Then I asked Mum where Granddad and Grandma were?
"They've gone home," she informed me. This surprised me as I thought they were staying till the middle of next week, a fact I stated. Mum set me straight on that. "They were only staying till Wednesday as that was the day that Ben was going up to Manston. He was going to take them to Manston, then Barnes was going to take them home."
"So, what's happened?"
"Some sort of problem at Manston. Ben and Phil have both had to go up. Phil went there directly; Ben came over and picked your grandparents up on the way. By the way, your grandfather left a packet for you. It's on the hall table."
I went through to the hall and picked up the packet that Grandpa had left for me. It was a thick envelope. When I opened it there were about a dozen sheets of notepaper. The top sheet was a short note:
Sorry, I said I’d tell you about how I mixed varnishes before we went back, but it seems I won't have time. Ben is coming over to pick us up early this afternoon. Here are some of the recipes that I use. That Steve you work with can probably show you how to mix them.
The remaining sheets in the envelope each contained one or two recipes for making varnishes and polishes together with notes on where and when to use them and what to use them for. There were two for beeswax polishes similar to what I had made this morning with Steve. One was named Warm Weather Polish the other was named Cold Weather Polish.
I was standing in the door from the hall into the long hallway when I saw Steve coming out of Dad's study. When he came up towards the kitchen, I told him I had something to show him. We both went into the kitchen, and I showed him Grandpa's recipes.
"That's interesting," Steve said as he scanned through the recipes. "I'd heard of different formulations being used for summer and winter but had never come across them. All our work tends to be in the summer. If you think about it, it makes sense. The colder it is, the harder the wax component of the polish will be, so you need more solvent to make it softer to use."
"I think there is more to it than that," I told Steve. "If you look at the Cold Weather Polish recipe, yes, it does have more turpentine in it, but look at this." I pointed at the line in the recipe: 'Add one teaspoonful of almond oil'. "Surely that makes a difference, as well.”
"Yes, it would. Though I am not sure what it will do. I'll get some almond oil in town tomorrow and will make a small batch up to find out what the difference is. In the meantime, I suggest you start to make your own recipe book up for varnishes and finishes. You can start by putting these in it, then add the ones that I have in my book."
"Thanks, I'll do that. How did things go with Dad?"
"He's going to try an organize a meeting with Martin," Steve informed me. "Hopefully, start of next week."
"What's going on?"
"To be honest, Johnny, I don't know. Hopefully, Martin will be able to make some sense of it."
Having said that, Steve left. I went to talk to Dad in his study.
"Dad, what's going on with Steve and Mr. Peters?" I asked as I entered.
"We're not sure," Dad replied. "It seems that the deal for the purchase of the Peters’ yard is falling through. To complicate matters, the Hampdens are saying that Mr. Peters made a false representation to them. As a result, they are demanding the deposit back. The problem is that it has already been spent. Steve thinks they are trying to push Mr. Peters into putting the yard into a forced sale so that they can get it cheaper and get the hundred grand back, saving them money."
"Sounds like George Jr.," I commented.
"From what I have heard of him, it does. Anyway, I need to get Martin involved. Steve wanted to know if we could put up the money to buy the Peters' yard. The thing is, we are already stretched on our current commitments. I'm not keen on pushing things further. The last thing I need to do is overextend myself."
"What about the trusts?"
"To be honest, I am not sure they have the liquid funds available to make the purchase. Also, I am not sure that as a trustee I could justify the purchase of the yard, at least not for the amount that the Hampdens were paying. That's why we need to get Martin in for a meeting, so we can find out where everything stands before we do anything. I've sent him an email. Hopefully, we can get a meeting arranged sometime next week. It seems that George Jr.'s solicitors have given Mr. Peters twenty-eight days to respond, so it gives us a bit of time to come up with an answer."
"Standard terms for a notice before action."
"What is?" Dad asked.
"Twenty-eight days. If you are threatening legal action, you have to give the other side reasonable time to respond. The courts generally accept that twenty-eight days is a reasonable time.
"Dad, when you arrange the meeting with Martin, make it sometime that I can be involved. This all affects me, and a lot of it is about my money, I think I should be involved."
"I agree, Johnny; it's likely to be your money, and it will impact on you one way or another, so you should be involved. Which days do you have late classes next week?"
I did not know off the top of my head and had to go and check my timetable. Once I had the information, I let Dad have it. He promised to arrange the meeting at the Priory around four on one of the days when I finished early.
"There could be a problem getting back as I know Mum has a late class on a couple of those days."
"Don't worry; if you can't get a lift, either Lee or I can come over to pick you up."
"Any idea why there are so many vehicles in the yard?" I asked.
"Yes, Neal and Maddie have called in support. I'm not sure what they are doing, but Neal says they will explain it all when they have finished, though that is likely to be late this evening. Neal reckons about eight; Maddie says more likely ten."
I told Dad about The Lady Ann being moved down whilst we were in the Netherlands. I also told him what Steve had said about me not having the skills yet to restore her.
"He probably has a point there," Dad agreed. Actually, when I thought about it, I had to agree, too.
In the end, it turned out Maddie's guess was more accurate. They came over to the house just after nine thirty that night, both looking worn out. Before they said anything, Mum insisted they have something to eat. As it turned out, they had only had a couple of sandwiches during the day. Fortunately, Mum had done a stew for dinner and there was plenty left over. As a result, it was gone ten by the time we were assembled in the living room. Neal proceeded to explain what had gone on.
"Sometime yesterday, somebody managed to replace the mail-server software on the server that manages one of the networks on the Priory site. It was done with a Trojan version of the same software. Fortunately, our security software alerted us to the fact that the file had been changed and we were able to deal with it. However, we have a big problem."
"What's that?" Dad asked.
"We can't work out how they managed to get the software installed on the system. As far as we can tell from all the logs and other things we have checking what goes on, there has been no unauthorised access to the system," Neal stated.
"But you've removed it now?" I asked.
"No, we haven't," Maddie stated.
"What have you done?" Dad asked.
"We've isolated it. If we had removed it, whoever placed it would have known that we had found it. In all probability, they would probably have tried again, no doubt with something more sophisticated that might have escaped our detection. As it is now, we know it is there, and we know what it is doing."
"What is it doing?" I asked.
"It is copying any outgoing email that passes through it and sends a copy to an anonymous mail server in Bulgaria that no doubt is forwarding it to another mail server. I have no doubt that there will be a chain of them," Neal said. "Fortunately, the server they installed the software on only serves one part of the Priory network."
"Which part?" Dad asked.
"Mike Carlton Productions and Dunford Film Services," Maddie supplied. I took me a moment to realise that Dunford Film Services was Tyler's business.
"Technically, it also serves the businesses in the Art and Craft Centre, but as none have moved in yet, none are connected," Maddie continued. "I suggest that if you have any confidential stuff, you use your private email address, not the MCP email addresses."
"I already do that," Dad informed her. "I do any confidential stuff in here and use my private email. The MCP stuff is mostly fairly mundane: arranging meetings, confirming times — that type of thing.
"Though, we do get some confidential stuff sent to us, offers of work, etc., and contracts for signature."
"That's not a problem," Neal stated. "It was only copying outgoing mail."
"What about Tyler's business?" I asked.
"Sorry, but I do not think we can risk letting them know," Neal stated. "Tyler has got new people working for him, and we do not know them. They have to be suspects."
For the next half hour or so, we discussed what the implications of it all were and also who should be told. The big question was: should Dad tell Lee? In the end, Dad overruled any objections and said that he was going to tell Lee.
"It will look as if I do not trust him if I start to do confidential emails from the study all the time without any explanation. Anyway, he accesses my private email through Gmail to deal with any routine stuff that there might be, so he would see that I am dealing with MCP stuff on it."
In the end, Neal had to agree that leaving Lee out of the loop of those who knew about the breach would be difficult. Dad said he would speak to Lee in the morning about it.
"That's going to be a bit difficult," I informed Dad.
"He's gone into Town with Simone. They are going to a musical and staying in Town overnight."
"I must be paying him too much if he can afford London hotels," Dad commented.
"They're staying at a friend's flat," I commented.
"How do you know?" Neal asked.
"Simone told me yesterday when she gave me a lift home."
Sunday morning, I was up early for some reason I could not explain. It was not as if I was going into the yard. It is Sunday and I am sixteen, with nothing urgent to do. I should be under the duvet till gone eleven at the earliest. The clock in the kitchen told me it was ten to seven as I removed a couple of slices of toast from the toaster.
I had just finished my toast when Neal's motorbike roared into the yard. I opened the back door and called across to him, offering a mug of tea.
"Don't mind if I do, mate," he replied, as he crossed the yard.
"Nha, she stayed in the spare room in the apartment. I had to make do with a room at the Belmont."
"So, she can face her grandmother and honestly say we're not sleeping together. Maddie's determined that we will not sleep together until we are married."
"But does that mean…?"
"Don't go there or you might end up getting too much information. Any chance of some toast; the breakfast at the Belmont does not open till eight on a Sunday."
I made him some toast. Once that was done, I sat down across the table from him.
"What's got you so worried, Neal?"
"How do you know I'm worried?"
"You've got an expression you only get when you are worrying about something," I commented.
"You're as bad as Maddie. She always knows when I am worrying." He paused for a moment before he continued. "The thing is, Johnny, we do not know how that Trojan got placed on the system. Those servers have some very-high-grade security on them. If anyone had got into the system, they should have left traces that we should be able to see. They did not."
"So, it must have been done from inside," I commented. "Somebody using one of the networks."
"Not going to work. As far as the servers are concerned, the networks are external. Everything coming in and out must go through security."
"Then, somebody with access to the server room," I pointed out.
"That's the problem," replied Neal. "The only people who can get in there when it is unmanned are Arthur, the girls, me and Maddie. It can't be Arthur because he's in Africa. Maddie and I have been with each other since Wednesday, so we’re out, so it leaves one of the two girls. The thing is they are family and I trust them."
I could see the basis of Neal's concern. From what I had heard of the Thompson/Porter family, trust was an important thing. For him to find that part of the family was not to be trusted would be a terrible revelation.
"Couldn't somebody else have got into the server room? It's unattended most of the time. The girls are usually down at the Craven place. They only come up here for an hour or so a day. Sometimes, they do not come up here at all."
"I don't see how they could," Neal stated. "They would first have to get access to the apartment, then to the server room. There is a five-lever mortice lock and a Yale lock on the door to the apartment, then there is a numeric-pad lock on the server door."
"On the outside door, you are right," I pointed out. "How about the door to the apartment from the top of the internal stairs? I'm sure that's only a Yale lock."
"Fuck! You're right. We never use that door, so we don't think about it."
"And, Neal, the server-door lock is only a simple code-lock type. I can crack one of those in about five minutes."
"You can? How?" Neal asked.
"I'll show you."
Ten minutes later, after Neal had finished his mug of tea and the toast, we were in Arthur's apartment, looking at the door to the server room.
"What are you two up to?" Maddie asked from the kitchen. She was making herself some breakfast.
"Johnny says he can crack this lock in five minutes," Neal replied.
"That's what I am here to see."
Maddie came over and stood next to Neal. I pulled out my notebook and pen from my coat pocket. Luckily, I always carry one in my work coat. Often have to make notes at the yard. Then I pressed the row of numbers on the lock, then pushed down the unlock button and held it. I tried the first number button on the code lock. It clicked down. There was a bit of resistance. I then pushed down the second number button. This time the resistance felt very different. I noted down the number, tried the next number, that was more like the first. I then cleared the pad and pressed the second number key before proceeding to the next row of numbers. By time I had tested all the number buttons I had four numbers written on the pad. I cleared the pad, entered the four number, then turned the lock. It opened.
"I can see how you found the numbers," Maddie said. "But how did you know the order?"
"The order is unimportant. The lock is mechanical, so long as the four correct number buttons are depressed the lock will activate. The order the numbers are entered is irrelevant."
"We’d better get the lock replaced by something better," Maddie stated.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," I replied.
"Because, Maddie, whoever did this is going to find that the Trojan they set is getting nothing useful. Then it will occur to them that they set it on the wrong server, so they will try again."
Maddie nodded, then she said, "Also, it will tell whoever did this that we know something is wrong."
"They probably suspect that anyway given all the activity that was going on," I commented.
"Hopefully not," Neal stated. "We put the story out that we had a server crash."
I hoped that would work but suspected that probably it would not.
"We should set up some video security in here," Neal commented.
"I'll get David onto it," Maddie replied.
"Make sure he knows that we want it hidden," Neal stated.
"I thought you had to warn employees that there was CCTV," I said.
"You do, but you don't have to tell them where it is," Neal pointed out. "There are notices all around the property that it is covered by CCTV."
He had a point there. There were bright yellow signs at each of the gates into the property saying it was covered by CCTV. There were also ones on the gates to the yard and the end wall of both the workshops and the nursery. I suppose as long as you said there were CCTV cameras around you did not have to say where they were.
I left them to it and returned to the house. When I got back, Dad was in the kitchen, drying things from breakfast. There was no sign of Mum, a fact I commented on.
"She's taken off over to Jenny's; taking her into Tesco's to do some shopping," Dad informed me.
"Don't they usually go on a Monday after Mum's classes."
"Usually, yes, but Anne's got something on tomorrow evening. Which means it is up to us to sort Sunday lunch."
"Yes, Johnny, us. I have a Skype call booked with James for when he gets home from duty. He's due to Skype about eleven our time; he's on a late shift so won't be back at his place till about ten Australia time."
"What's up?" I asked.
"Nothing," Dad replied. "We're just trying to sort out some logistics."
"I suppose JayDee will be going out at Easter."
"Actually, no. That is one of the things we need to talk about. James was hoping that JayDee and Tariq could go out over the Easter holiday, but the court will not allow it. James' ex is contesting the grant of sole custody to James. Until that is settled, the court will not give consent to JayDee leaving the country.
"It could mess up James' plans for the summer, as well, if it is not settled before then. However, the main thing is sorting out about Jenny going out there."
"Jenny going to Aus! Brilliant, wish I could go."
"You probably will, Johnny," Dad informed me. He then proceeded to tell me about getting Jenny out under cover of it being a family trip.
"No need, Johnny, I've already spoken to Bernard, and he says Joseph can come with us."
"It's going to cost," I pointed out.
"I know, but some of it is going down as business expenses, and my publishers are covering some of the costs. In fact, with a bit of luck I will only have to fork out for you."
"What about Joseph?"
"Bernard said he'd pay for his son, but you're not to tell Joseph anything yet. It might all come apart."
"Is it likely to?"
"Who knows? I, for one, don't think so, but remember what Robbie Burns said about the best laid plans."
"Yes, I remember, Dad, and there is no need for you to quote it. Your Scottish accent is worse than your Welsh one."
"I don't do a Welsh accent," Dad protested.
"Precisely, you don't do a Scottish one, either. It sounds like a Cockney with laryngitis."
Dad, who had just finished drying the last of the breakfast dishes, screwed up the tea towel and threw it at me. I ducked; he missed.
In the end, I ended up making Sunday lunch. Dad got tied up on phone calls. First, his Skype call with James went on till well past twelve. He had just finished and come into the kitchen to take over preparing lunch when the phone went. It was John Duprei, the chap whose book Dad was turning into a TV series. Seeing that it must have been early morning in Canada, I gathered it was something urgent. Whatever it was, it took Dad back into the study for over an hour, leaving me to get dinner cooked.
He was still in the study when Mum arrived home just after one thirty.
"Where's your dad? He said he would do dinner."
"He's on the phone. John from Canada phoned over an hour ago; he's been stuck in the study ever since."
Mum took off her coat, packed away some groceries she had got whilst at Tesco's and then started to give me a hand to finish off dinner. It was about twenty minutes later that Dad came through from the study. He did not look happy.
"Problems?" Mum asked.
"Yes. Had John on the phone. He's just got back from British Columbia last night to find a letter from some lawyers in the States. They are claiming that their clients own the rights to John's books. He thought he’d better let me know as soon as possible."
"How can they?" I inquired.
"John was involved with a research project with a U.S. university four years ago. It was a twelve-month study of technology relevant to climate change. He was lead author on the paper that was presented at a conference three years ago. The university is claiming that his book is an expansion of the paper, and as such, they own the rights to it."
"That could make life difficult," I commented.
"You're bloody right about that. In fact, it could sink us," Dad stated.
"How?" Mum asked.
"Anne, Mike Carlton Productions received three-hundred grand up front for pre-production work on a series based on John's book. We got that on the basis that we had the TV rights to John's book, which John agreed to us having. If John does not own the rights, then we do not have the TV rights. People will want their money back, and we have already spent a lot of it."
"Well, you'll just have to fold the company," I said.
"Won't help," Dad told me. "I had to give personal guarantees regarding some aspects of the deal. One of which was that we would acquire the TV rights from John and no funds would be dispersed until we had them."
"But you had them," Mum pointed out.
"That's it; we thought we had, but if this claim stands, we did not, so all the funds that have been dispersed will have to be paid back, which means I will have to come up with them."
"How much?" I asked.
"Can't say exactly, though it is over a hundred grand."
"Fuck! Dad, how did you manage to spend that much so fast?"
"We haven't actually spent it yet, but we have committed to spending it. We have had to commission designers, graphic artists, and I don't know who else to produce treatments as to how the series will look. Whether or not the series goes ahead, they have to be paid."
"Where does all this leave Lee?" I asked.
"Lee stays," Mum stated. Both Dad and I looked at her. "Look, Mike, even if this all goes to pot, you've still got your TV and radio work, and you have your writing. You need Lee to keep all that lot sorted out. It may be tight, you may have to cut his hours, but you keep him on. Even if it means letting out your nice new office to cover his wages and the pair of you moving back into the study."
"Well, if there is no production, we do not need the offices," Dad said.
"Good. Now, let's get lunch served; then, Mike, you can phone Bernard. I am sure he will be thankful to have something that needs urgent attention."
"What makes you think that?" Dad asked.
"Because Debora told me on Thursday when she phoned that her sisters are visiting her this afternoon."
"Yes, he probably will be thankful for the call," confirmed Dad.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"Ask Joseph about his aunts," Mum instructed.
That would have to wait till Monday; Joseph would not have his phone back until then.
After lunch, Mum sent Dad into the study to phone Bernard. She told me that she would clean up as I had cooked the meal. So, I went up to my room. Steve had given me a booklet yesterday which he said I needed to study. Had not looked at it when he handed it to me. When I did look at it, I was in for a shock. It was about hull loading; the maths involved made my eyes water, but I set about trying to understand it.
A bit after five, Mum called up to let me know she was making tea. I was not that hungry, given how late lunch had been so did not go down immediately but went down in the end, anyway. I might not have been hungry but could kill for a mug of tea. It seemed I timed it right. Mum was just putting the pot of tea on the table. When I asked where Dad was — he had not been in the study when I passed — she informed me that he had slipped over to see if Lee was back. Apparently, his phone was off. I wondered what was going on.
Did not have to wonder long. Dad came back about two minutes later with Lee in tow. Mum put another mug on the table, together with an additional plate, then told Lee to help himself to tea and any of the cakes or pastries she had put out.
"So, what's up?" Lee asked as he piled his plate up. Dad proceeded to tell him about developments.
"Shit! So, I'm out of a job?"
"No!" Mum exclaimed. "You’d better explain it, Mike."
Dad did, explaining to Lee that although he might have to cut Lee's hours, he still had a job and would still have the studio apartment that he occupied.
"Look, Lee, I can't guarantee that I will have enough work to keep you occupied for twenty hours a week, but I will pay you for twenty hours a week. Though I think in the next few weeks you are likely to be working a lot more than that."
"How come?" Lee asked.
"Well, for a start, we need to get this mess sorted out one way or another. Bernard is looking into things, and he is going to get a Montreal firm of lawyers involved. He's used them in the past, so knows them. He is also going to use some he knows in the States. So, there is likely to be a lot of work going on sorting information out for them," Dad told Lee. "Then, we have to be prepared for the worst, so that means putting things on hold until we know what the situation is. At the same time, we need to notify all the other parties who have an interest in the series.
"Bernard is coming over on Wednesday to discuss things. He should be here about four. By the way, Johnny, Martin is coming with him, so I've arranged for Steve to join us after dinner so we can discuss the other issue. You will need to be here for that."
"I need to be here for both," I stated.
"Why?" Dad asked.
"You may have forgotten, but my trust put some money into Mike Carlton Productions. It's not a lot, considering everything, but it is still ten grand, and I want to make sure my interests are protected."
Dad just nodded. The rest of tea was spent with Dad and Lee discussing what other MCP work Dad had on and what additional work could be picked up if the worst came to be. According to Lee, there was about eighty grand worth of pre-production commissioning that they would not be able to avoid having to pay for. He promised Dad he would have a detailed list ready for the morning.
Tea finished, Lee and Dad moved to the study to discuss what needed to be done. I gave Mum a hand to clear up the tea things. We had only just finished when Neal came over from the Stable House.
"Just thought I’d better let you know that we will be wrapping up soon. I need to get back to London, and Maddie's off to Cambridge. We've both got lectures in the morning, and they are both bloody early. Not much we can do here now. My cousin, David, will be coming out either tomorrow or Tuesday to do some work, but the girls will deal with him. They know to let him in and to lock up when he leaves. No need to know more."
I noticed he did not say what cousin David would be doing, though from our earlier conversation I could guess.
Monday and Tuesday were regular college days for me, except I stayed late on Tuesday to cover a presentation of what would normally have been my Wednesday afternoon physics class. Fortunately, the same tutor took the evening, A-level, night-school class, and he kept the two classes in sync, so I would not be missing that much taking Wednesday afternoon off.
The one good thing was that I could speak with Joseph Monday evening. He was back at school, so his confined-to-room status was now lifted, and he had use of his mobile again. I had been hoping to go up to Town at the weekend and spend it with Joseph, as Steve had already told me the yard would be closed. Steve and Peter were taking the children to see the Lion King as Peter had a full weekend off. Unfortunately, Joseph informed me that it was his cousin's Bar Mitzvah, and he had to go up to Manchester on Friday. Apparently, Aunt Debora was allowing him to take Friday afternoon off school so they could travel up before the start of Shabbat.
"That's a pain," I said when Joseph told me.
"Bloody right, it is," Joseph replied. "We've got a set of mocks next week and I could do with doing some more studying. Anyway, I can't stand Aunt Leah or her brat of a son."
"That's a bit harsh."
"You've not met Ari. He was an obnoxious five-year-old who has got worse over the years. He's always sucking up to Granddad. No doubt, he will inherit everything when Granddad pops it. From Granddad's point of view, he is the perfect Jewish boy."
"He's not me," Joseph stated. I could not help laughing at that remark but realised there was probably a lot of truth behind it. I had only met Joseph's maternal grandfather once, but once was enough.
Wednesday morning, I used my moped to go into college so I could get back without having to rely on cadging a lift. It was a mistake. Going in was not too bad, but going home was a nightmare. I remembered the old saying about March winds and April showers. There were definitely March winds, blowing full strength from the North Sea. Not only were they cold, but they were gusting with some force, and I nearly lost control of the moped in a couple of the gusts.
When I got home, Dad berated me for not calling him to come and pick me up, though I had to point out that I did not think the moped would fit in the back of the Santa Fe. He pointed out that maybe it would not, but it could go on the roof rack. I had not thought of that.
I got home from college just after three; Uncle Bernard was due to arrive around four; Martin was already at the house. He had a pile of papers for Dad to sign for the completion on the Salvage Yard. I asked Martin how things were going.
"Good. We got both surveys done on Monday. Got the reports this morning; all are OK, so your Dad's just signed off on everything. I'll get Bernard to countersign when he comes. Once everything is signed, we can complete in seven days. That will be the eighteenth, then you, or rather your trust, will own the Salvage Yard. Are you going to rename it?"
That was a point I had never thought about. Martin then asked me when Arthur was due back.
"I'm not certain," I informed him. "I know Trevor had three weeks’ filming to do but don't know if they intended to spend any extra time out there."
"Don't think they did," Dad stated. "Arthur's booked a board meeting for a week on Saturday, so they have to be back by then."
"Well, I know that Arthur said they were flying back on a Sunday, so I think they will be back this Sunday then," I stated.
"I hope so," Martin said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Can't say; it's client's confidential information. It's just that something has turned up which I suspect is going to alter quite a few things."
Once it was clear that there was no way Martin was going to tell us anything extra, we got back to discussing the Salvage Yard and whether we should change the name. Although we discussed it for nearly half an hour, we got nowhere. Personally, I saw no problem leaving it as the Salvage Yard.
Uncle Bernard arrived shortly before four. At first, he was only going to speak with Dad with Martin present, but I pointed out that my trust had an interest in the project and Dad agreed I should be present. Dad also insisted that Lee was present. As Dad pointed out, he would have to tell Lee what was going on, and having him there saved having to repeat everything. Anyway, Lee could take notes.
"Right, I spent quite a bit of time on Skype talking to John Duprei and my associates in Montreal and New York," Uncle Bernard informed me once he was settled down with a mug of tea and a cake. He took a large bite out of the cake and consumed it before continuing. "It is all rather messy, but I think you will be in the clear, though it is going to take some time to sort out."
"Time, though, is one thing we have not got," Lee pointed out. "We have a shooting schedule which we are supposed to start in September."
"That, I admit, might be a bit awkward," Uncle Bernard stated.
"So, what is the situation?" Dad asked.
"Well, John Duprei was involved in a project at Delmoan University, Rhode Island. It was a year-long, funded research project into the viability of carbon-capture technology. At the end of the year, the group, which consisted of John, Klaus Rüller, Leon Carter and two members of Delmoan's faculty, published a paper on the feasibility of carbon capture with regard to global warming. There was also a presentation done of the paper at a conference on carbon capture that took place in Pittsburgh.
"John's publishers had sent preview copies of John's book to the faculty members he had worked with. The university is now claiming that his book is derived from the work he did as part of the funded research and, as such, is covered by the agreement he entered into for the research funding. That agreement gives the university the rights to all work published as part of the project or derived from the project."
"But there is only one chapter on carbon capture in the whole book," Dad pointed out.
"I know, Mike, John made that point to me. The thing is, in a letter that John sent to one of his colleagues at Delmoan, he stated that the research he had done with them had given him the idea for the book. As such the university is claiming that the book is a derived work."
"Sounds messy," Lee commented.
"It is. There is, though, one thing on our side," Uncle Bernard stated.
"What's that?" Dad asked.
"Well, there were two other parties involved in the project. One is a German research foundation; the other a Swiss research group."
"How does that help?"
"It means that the original research agreement which John signed is an international agreement. Such agreements have to define which legal system covers them. Actually, all contracts should do that, but many do not. In this case they did, and they specified that English law would apply."
"Isn't that a bit strange, as none of them are English?" Lee said.
"Actually, it's fairly standard," Uncle Bernard replied. "Most international contracts where more than two jurisdictions are involved, usually plump for legal jurisdiction of the State of New York or of England. Many law firms have established international-law practices in both places."
"How does that help?" I asked.
"Well, it used to be pretty standard for employers to put terms into their contracts of employment that said the employer had ownership of all writing and any inventions made by the employee during their period of employment. However, since the nineteen eighties, UK courts have tended to throw such clauses out as being unfair or unclear. Now, they will only enforce such clauses if it can be shown that the work or invention is directly derived from the employment. As such, if this gets to court, I expect it to be thrown out.
"The thing is, I doubt if whoever is dealing with the legal side of this for the university has understood the impact of it being subject to the laws of England. My New York associates have informed me that the jurisdiction issue would probably arise in a Rhode Island court."
"Where does that leave us?" Dad asked.
"Well, my suggestion is that you just carry on as you are on the basis that John owns the rights. In the meantime, I am going to write on John's behalf to the university informing them that the laws of England apply to the contract; as such, unless they make a formal declaration renouncing all claims within twenty-eight days, we will seek a judicial declaration as to the ownership of the rights. That should put the frighteners on them."
"Why?" Lee asked.
"Well, the costs of applying for such a declaration are relatively low. The total sums involved if it is uncontested are only a couple of thousands. However, if they want to contest the application, they are looking at least at ten thousand and probably a lot more; it could go into the hundreds of thousands. It is just not worth their while to contest the matter."
"You hope it isn't, Bernard," Dad said.
"Remember, they only know about the book; they have no idea about the TV series; there has been no publicity about that."
"What if they fight it?" Dad asked.
"They will lose. First, John can show that the research he did on the book, even on the carbon-capture chapter, was done after he had finished the collaboration with the university. More importantly, under English law the interpretation of the terms of the contact that the university is putting on it are considered unfair and would be dismissed. In actual fact, if it was to go to court, the court will strike out the terms involved."
"You seem very sure about that," Dad commented.
"I am. That's why I've told John to fight them. I don't think they understand the differences in legal systems and that they are dealing with English law."
What followed was about how Dad should proceed with the production work. I got the impression that the discussion was going around in circles.
"How much more will you be committing to if you carry on for the next three months?" I asked.
"Not sure," Dad replied.
Lee looked for something in his notebook, then looked up. "Rough guess, but I think it would be about twenty thousand, max."
"How much would you lose if you have a three-month delay?"
"Well, we could lose the lot," Dad stated.
"How?" I asked.
"Well, the TV companies have pencilled us into their schedules for next year. On the basis of that, they have agreed to a certain level of funding to get the series into production. The thing is, their funding is based on us being able to have something for them to show next year. If we put a three-month delay to the production, there is a good chance that the series will not be ready for autumn next year. We can't be sure there will be space in the schedules for it the following year. If there isn't, then they will pull the plug on it."
"Well, Dad, as I see it, at the moment you are in for about a hundred K if things go belly up." Dad nodded. "If you keep things running for three months until this is sorted, you are risking another twenty K, right?" Again, Dad nodded. "But if you do not keep it in production for the next three months you will not be able to meet the broadcasting schedules, and they could pull the plug on you altogether. Am I right?"
"You are, Johnny."
"Then, I don't see that you have much choice. It's not as if you can't afford the risk. Alright, you might be out a hundred and twenty grand and there would have to be some belt tightening for a bit, but I am sure we could manage somehow."
Dad looked at Uncle Bernard.
"Johnny's right, Mike," Uncle Bernard told Dad. "If you put things on hold till this is sorted out, you could end up a lot worse off than if you just continue for the next three months."
"But what if it takes longer than three months to sort out?" Dad asked.
"Well, I think there are good grounds for going for an expedited hearing on grounds that to delay will cause hardship," Bernard stated with a laugh.
That settled, the discussion turned to the mechanics of getting the case into court as quickly as possible. I decided that, as money issues had now been dealt with, I would go and give Mum a hand preparing dinner.
"What's for dinner?" I asked Mum as I entered the kitchen.
"What do you think? Bernard's here."
"Then it is either mixed grill or pork."
"Dead on. Pork chops in a cider and cream sauce."
"Anything I can do?" I asked.
"No, I prepped it all last night, and the chops are in the oven. I'm aiming dinner for six."
I glanced at the clock; it had just gone five.
"You could lay the table," Mum suggested.
"Good point. You’d better check who is staying for dinner."
I went back to the study to ask. Martin informed me that he was going to Marcia's but would be back in time for the meeting with Steve at seven. Dad suggested that Lee should join us for dinner, but he declined, informing us that he was having dinner with Simone before they started training. He then asked me if I would be joining them. I left that open. It depended on how long the meeting with Steve lasted.
We had just finished dinner when Steve arrived. Mum told me not to bother with the clean-up; she would deal with it; I should join Dad, Uncle Bernard and Steve in the study. So, I did. Shortly afterward Martin joined us.
"Martin, your note said you had spoken to Mr. Peters, so maybe you’d better brief us on what the situation is," suggested Bernard. It was more an order than a suggestion but one delivered in a very polite tone of voice.
"Of course, Bernard," Martin replied. "Over the Christmas period, George Hampden, Jr. made an offer to Mr. Peters to purchase his yard for the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. That is about a hundred thousand over the value of the yard. However, George Hampden wanted a delay on completion till the end of April.
"Mr. Peters was not prepared to sell on those terms. He had a fairly immediate need for funds. In the end, he agreed to sell to George Hampden but only if he got a non-returnable deposit of forty percent, which amounts to one hundred thousand. Apparently, Hampden objected to this but, in the end, agreed to pay it.
"On Friday, the sixth of March — that's last Friday — George Hampden's solicitors served a notice before action on Mr. Peters. In it, they are withdrawing from the offer to buy but also are demanding the return of the one-hundred-thousand deposit on the basis that Mr. Peters made a false representation."
"What's the nature of the alleged false representation?" Uncle Bernard asked.
"It pertains to the right of way over the road running along the back of High Marsh, commonly known as High Marsh Lane. They claim that road is a private road owned by the Elmchurch estate, and as such, there are no easements or rights of way granted over it. In fact, a notice to that effect was served on Steve on Monday, which he passed on to me."
"Is there any basis for their claim?" Uncle Bernard asked.
"Well, no right of way or easement is on the public record," Martin replied. "That is what the estate is banking on, a position supported by the fact that some twenty years ago there was an attempt to register the road as a public footpath and it failed."
"That sounds bad," Dad commented.
"Not as bad as it might have been. I looked into the application and found it failed because the paperwork had been incorrectly submitted. The party making the application had no standing. It really should have been redrafted in the name of somebody who had standing, and I am fairly certain it would have gone through.
"The thing is, the only property on High Marsh that is registered with the Land Registry is the Salvage Yard. That's only because they took out a mortgage after registration became compulsory. The Salvage Yard backs onto the foot bridge, which is a public right of way and then onto Marsh Road, so it does not use the track down High Marsh. So, there is no mention of any right of way or easement in their property registration, something of which, I have no doubt, George Jr. is well aware.
"What they are not aware of is the fact that we have a box of papers from George Hampden that he gave to Steve."
"I gather they are important?" Bernard commented.
"They are. Amongst them are the deeds for the Hampden yard. More importantly, it has got the original communications from the Elmchurch estate to George Hampden when the estate sold the yard to him. In it, the estate states that there is no public right of way along the access road known as High Marsh Lane. That's the track that runs behind the yards. It, therefore, grants an easement creating a right of way for the purpose of the business of the yard. The right of way as an easement is also indicated on the map that goes along with the deeds."
"So, they don't have a case," Steve commented. "But what are they playing at."
"First, they do not know they do not have a case," Martin pointed out. "As to what they are playing at, I think I can guess."
"I think I can guess, as well," Uncle Bernard stated. "I suppose they are aware that Mr. Peters has spent the deposit that was paid?"
"I am fairly sure they are," stated Martin. "He told George Jr. at the time he needed the funds to pay for a bungalow. His daughter has MS and has got to the stage where she is now confined to a wheelchair."
"So, the only way Mr. Peters can get the funds to pay back the deposit is to sell the yard in a forced sale. What would they get for it, Steve?"
"I'm not sure, Bernard. The equipment is all old and of little value. I’d guess the yard is worth just over a hundred grand, one-fifty tops."
"So, let's say it sells for top value of one fifty and the Elmchurch estate buys it. They then get the hundred-grand deposit back; the total cost for them getting the land is one fifty rather than two fifty." Having said that, Uncle Bernard leaned back in his chair, smiled, and twiddled his thumbs.
"What are you thinking?" Dad asked.
"That we, or rather Johnny, should get the land for one fifty," Uncle Bernard stated.
"I can't afford that, not with things the way they are at the moment, and the trusts don't have that sort of free cash available," Dad pointed out.
"I know you can't, and I know they don't, but I do," Uncle Bernard said.
"What are you playing at?" Dad asked.
"I'll put up the funds for Johnny to buy the Peters’ yard. We can assume that there must be similar documents in the deeds of the Peters’ yard as there are in the Hamden yard deeds, which acknowledge the right of way. Are there, Martin?"
"I don't know, Bernard, as I have not seen them. However, the sale of both yards by the Elmchurch estate was about the same time, so it would be reasonable to presume that the deeds are similar in structure."
"Doesn't matter," Uncle Bernard stated. "We can prove the right of way from the Hampden yard deeds. That being the case, we can register the right of way when we register the property with the Land Registry.
"Right, Martin, contact Mr. Peters in the morning and offer him one-hundred-fifty thousand for the yard. Also, offer him our legal services to fight George Jr.'s claim. If Mr. Peters accepts the offer, by the end of April, Johnny, you will own a sizable chunk of High Marsh."
"But what am I going to do with it?" I asked.
"With Steve, you have space to make one of the best boat yards on the east coast."
"If you are going to build yachts, you are going to need space," Steve commented. Then he laughed.
It was clear that things were just about coming to a close, so I made my excuses to leave. It had just turned eight, and with a bit of luck, I could still get some practice in at the dojo, so I grabbed my kit and went out into the yard on my way to the dojo. I was a bit surprised to see Antonio coming into the yard from the direction of the front gate. There was no reason I could think of which would put him at the front of the house.
He saw me and greeted me, informing me he had just been for a walk down to the Crooked Man. Why should he go down to the Crooked Man? Why was he telling me what he had been doing?
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