There were only Lee and Simone in the dojo tonight. Of course, by the time I got to the dojo, Lee and Simone were hard at it, going through some weapons routine. Lee told me that they were practicing their katas but would finish off soon and be with me. I told them not to bother; I could do some stuff on my own. Moving to the far end of the mat from where they were swinging long heavy staffs and wooden swords around, I started to practice some of my Savate moves. I do not know how long I had been at it, but I suddenly became aware that Lee and Simone were watching me. I stopped dead in the middle of a kick, which resulting in me wobbling a bit.
"Impressive," Lee commented. "At least, it was till you wobbled at the end. I'll have to get you to teach me some of that."
"I wouldn't mind having a go at it, either," Simone stated.
"I would have thought you would have studied it, living in France," I commented.
"No, did not have the right contacts to get into a school. You know what traditional Savate can be like. A lot of the schools that claim to teach it are teaching nothing but bad Mauy Thai. The real Savate schools are very restrictive on who they let in."
"I would have thought with your connections you would have had no problems," I commented.
"Sorry, Johnny, I'm from the wrong class of criminals."
I laughed. Lee looked at me as if I had gone mad.
I spent the next half hour showing Lee and Simone how to so some basic Savate moves. They both caught on to how to do them quickly, but both had problems doing them, which I found difficult to understand.
"The underlying philosophy is so different from what I know from Aiki-Jujitsu," Lee commented.
"How?" I asked.
"Your use of power, it's different. It just feels funny compared to what I am used to."
That led into a discussion about the differences between the hard and the soft martial arts. It got quite technical at points, and I really did not understand half of what Lee and Simone were talking about. However, I understood enough to be interested. As a result, it was gone ten thirty before we packed up, and it was well past eleven thirty before I got to bed. Not a good move when I had an early class in the morning. I also had problems getting to sleep. I just had this nagging feeling that something was not right.
My alarm went off just after six fifteen; it was set for six thirty, so I was not happy with it. I hit the snooze button; at least, I thought I did. The next thing I knew was Mum knocking on the door telling me I had to get up; it was ten to eight. I had an early class, and both Mum and Marcia did not start till late today. Mum would have taken me in and worked in the library, but I had told her not to bother. I could go in on my moped. However, being late meant missing breakfast. I just had time to shower, dress and get started on my moped ride to college if I was going to be there for nine.
Going in on the moped was a mistake. It was cold, and just after I started off, it started to rain. Even with my waterproofs, I was soaked by time I got to Southmead, so was not in the best of moods when I arrived at the college Thursday morning to find Simone looking at the notice that informed us that our first-period class had been cancelled.
"Late night?" she asked.
"No, early morning."
"You're dripping," she stated, looking at the puddle that was forming at my feet.
"And you came in on your moped?"
"It wasn't raining when I set out."
"Let's go to Marge's. I'll buy you a hot chocolate."
Unsurprisingly, we had not been in Marge's very long when Antonio arrived. How he always manages to turn up when we are over there, I do not know. He joined us at our table and ordered himself a breakfast. For the next half hour, we chatted amongst ourselves about nothing in particular whilst we consumed our respective repasts: a croissant with jam for Simone, a full English for Antonio and a pile of toast for me. I made some remark about Antonio's full English.
"My uncle’s not much of a cook, nor one for breakfast, so I get one here in the morning when I can," he informed me.
We chatted a bit more about the local social scene — of which there was not much, as Antonio pointed out — college and what we had being going on recently. Simone gave me a run-down how training was going in the do-jo. Antonio finished his breakfast and glanced at his watch, then stated he had a meeting in fifteen minutes.
"You know, Antonio, if you want something to do, you could always join us in martial arts, we train Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays," Simone informed him as he stood to leave.
"No, not my thing. Not into anything violent," he stated. This surprised me as earlier he had expressed interest in the fact that we were training. He went over to the counter, paid and left. Simone watched him through the window as he walked back over to the college.
"Funny," she commented. "Antonio says he is not into martial arts, but he walks like a martial artist."
"Look at him, Johnny, notice the way he walks, the way he plants his feet. They are always pointed slightly outward."
I watched; she was correct; they were. "What about it?"
"That's the walk of someone who is trained in combat. Any time both feet are on the ground they are at right angles or nearly so, to each other. The classic stance of a fighter from English Boxing to Tai Chi.
"Antonio does not have to think about it. He automatically assumes that posture; for him it is second nature. That only comes about from a lot of training. He's a high-grade martial artist. The question is, in which martial art and why is he keeping it a secret?"
An interesting question but one we did not have time to explore. We needed to get back to the college. Our-first period maths might have been cancelled, but the second period was still on and was due to start in fifteen minutes. We got over to our classroom just as Mr. Taunton was unlocking it. No one else was around. Mr. Taunton asked if he could buy us lunch at Marge's when the class ended. Simone said that was fine as she nudged me in the ribs preventing any objection, even though I had intended to spend most of my lunch period in the library.
Once the class had assembled for the second period of the two-period maths lesson, Mr. Taunton apologised for the cancellation of the first period. He informed the class that he had been called to deal with an administrative matter by the principal. There was something in the way he had said principal which indicated he was not very happy about the person.
We may have missed the first of the double periods, but Mr. Taunton was determined that we covered the work he had set out for this double period, even if he had to fit it all into one period. I was grateful for my dad's maths textbook. Without it, I doubt I would have understood no more than half of what was being taught. Not sure I understood that much of it even with the book, but I would at least be able to ask Dad about it when I got home.
When that very intensive period of maths finished, Simone and I had a single period of physics. As we were leaving the classroom, Simone confirmed to Mr. Taunton that we would see him over at Marge's for lunch. He said that he would get Marge to reserve a table for us. I thought that was a bit strange, then remembered that Mr. Taunton was the partner of Marge's cousin.
We got over to Marge's a bit earlier than expected. The physics class had been quite short. Not an unexpected occurrence. I noticed that Miss Leonard often kept the Thursday-morning physics class short. After all, she was just explaining the theoretical basis for the experiment we would be doing that afternoon in Mr. Bell's lab class.
At first, I found it funny that we only had one teacher for A-level maths but two for A-level physics. That was until I realised that Miss Leonard taught all the theoretical classes and Mr. Bell took all the practical classes.
Even though we were early getting to Marge's, Mr. Taunton was at a table in the window corner, waiting for us. We joined him. Marge came to take our orders; she was not looking pleased.
"I hope you two can sort this mess out," she commented as she took our orders.
"What mess?" I asked.
"Len can tell you." With that, she returned to her position behind the counter.
"Tell us what?" Simone asked before I could get a word in.
"I've been fired."
"What!" we both exclaimed.
"The principal asked to see me first period this morning and advised me that they would not be renewing my contract when it expires at the end of June," Mr. Taunton stated.
"Did she say why?" I asked.
"She said they were reorganising GCSE and A-level courses for the next year and had decided to reduce the number of maths places. Actually, they are not going to be doing any GCSE maths teaching. Anybody who needs a basic maths qualification will have to take one of the vocational maths courses with Mr. Eastman."
"God help them," Simone stated. "That man cannot teach."
"How is it you know that?" Mr. Taunton asked.
"Because we had him substituting for you when you were suspended earlier this year," I said.
"So, that's officially what they are saying. What do you think is going on?" Simone asked.
"I think they are taking a 'no smoke without fire' look at things. I was accused of a sexual offence with a student. It was disproved, but they do not want any chance of the stigma sticking, so they have decided to get rid of me. It is easy for them to do so; I'm fairly new teaching here and still on annual contract."
"Why don't they get rid of Mr. Eastman if they want to reduce the maths department?" I asked just as Marge brought our meals to us.
"Because, luv, he's Mrs. Lowcroft's nephew," Marge informed us. Mrs. Lowcroft was the college's principal. "Been there for years. Doubt he could get a job anywhere else from what I hear about him."
"Is that right?” Simone asked. "Is Mr. Eastman incompetent?"
"That depends how you define incompetent," Mr. Taunton stated. "As a mathematician, he is brilliant. Actually, he should be called Dr. Eastman; he has a maths PhD. Technically, he is far higher qualified that me."
"I sense a ‘but’ there?" I stated.
"You're right. Peter Eastman is a brilliant mathematician but an awful teacher. He has no idea how to explain maths to others. He just presumes that people understand mathematics the way he does, which, to be honest, most don't. The thing is, he has been at the college for years. It would be almost impossible for them to get rid of him, even though that might be the best for the students."
"So, Dr. Eastman should not be teaching maths," Simone commented.
"Oh, he should be teaching maths, alright, just not to college students. He should be teaching at some postgraduate institute where everybody has a first degree in maths and understands what a reciprocal power is.
"He would have been fantastic if he had been where I was teaching before I moved here."
"Where was that?" I asked.
"Imperial College London," Mr. Taunton replied. "I was one of the maths tutors."
"Why on earth did you step down to teach here?"
"My mother. My father died suddenly just over three years ago. Mother has severe arthritis and is housebound. I moved back to Southminster to care for her. Mother refuses to move out of the house that she spent the whole of her married life in and her children grew up in. If she would move, my sister would have her living with her. As it is, I look after her during the week and every other weekend. Jane, my sister comes over to stay the weekends I have off.
"Living in Southminster and working at Imperial was not on; the travel time was too much. So, I resigned from Imperial and took the teaching post here."
"So, what do you want us to do?" Simone asked.
"Don't want you to do anything. Don't think there is much anyone can do. I just wanted to give you an explanation about why I will not be teaching here next year, given the support you provided to me earlier this year over the Nancy Carver incident."
"Well, I think we need to do something," Simone stated, "if only to make sure we get a decent standard of teaching."
"Just be careful, Simone," Mr. Taunton advised. "Mrs. Lowcroft and her family have some very powerful connections in the county. Having friends in high places is very useful to her."
Simone laughed. "Sometimes, friends in low places are even more useful."
I looked at Simone wondering what she was thinking. One thing I was certain of was that she would tell me when she was ready.
The rain, which had seemed set for the day, had stopped late morning, so it was dry when we went over to Marge's at lunch, and I hoped it was going to stay dry the rest of the day. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. Just before my metalwork class finished at four, the heavens opened and it started to pour. I was standing in the main door watching the cascade of water when a voice behind me asked if I wanted a lift?
I turned to find Jim standing behind me. "I'm on my moped."
"There's no way you can ride your moped in this weather," Jim told me. "Where is it?"
"In the bike sheds." There was a row of bike sheds that ran down the side of the car park, the last two sections of which were reserved for mopeds and motorbikes.
"Right, go and get your moped, I'll meet you at end of the bike shed in ten minutes. I've got the van; the moped can go in the back."
"OK." Though I was a bit doubtful that we could get my moped in the back of Jim's van.
Five minutes later, I had walked my moped to the end of the bike sheds. A large transit-type van pulled up, with Green Farm Nursery on the side. The window rolled down, and Jim leaned across and informed me that the side panel door was open and to just load my moped in. I did. Then, once the moped was secured, I climbed out, shut the panel door and opened the passenger door, climbing into the passenger seat.
"New van," I commented.
"Yes, picked it up this morning from Steven's uncle. It was in last Thursday's auction, and he got it for us. He also sorted out the sign writing. Dropped my old van off at the auction this morning with all the paperwork and picked this up. Steven's uncle is going to get rid of the old one for us."
"Where is Steven?"
"It's auction day today, so he's working for his aunt and uncle till late. I'll be going down there at eight to help out and get some dinner with them after the auction. Need to do a few jobs in the glasshouse first, though."
It was just before five when we got to the Priory, Jim insisting that he drop me off in the yard. Fortunately, Dad had given Jim and Steven the codes to the security gates that cut off the house from the Green Farm complex. As Dad said, they needed them as they were now responsible for maintaining the grounds, which included the private area around the house.
"I see he got the van, then," Mum said as I entered the kitchen.
"You knew about it?"
"Yes, he came over at the weekend to discuss the summer planting out front and mentioned they were getting a new van."
"It's not that new," I pointed out.
"Compared to that ancient wreck he was driving, that thing is new. At least the user manual is not written in hieroglyphics."
On that she had a point. Jim's old van was probably older than he was. This one, I would guess, would be five- to six-years old at the most.
"By the way, there is some post for you," Mum stated, indicating a couple of letters on the table.
The first was a brown, official-looking envelope. I opened it to find a notification that I had been admitted to the institute as a full member but that my membership would not take place till my eighteenth birthday. There was also a covering letter from Professor Arlington, stating that Dr. Laurent and he had proposed me for membership of the institute on the basis of my examination. The proposal had also been supported by Mrs. Makepeace and Dr. Greenlay, who had been the other two examiners when I did my oral examination. Given that four eminent members of the institute had put my name forward, the institute’s board had granted me admission to membership. However, they were not prepared to change the rules, so my membership would not commence until the date of my eighteenth birthday. Until that time I was granted associate membership. Apparently, they had been prepared to change the rules over that.
The second letter was from Tony, inviting Joseph and me to join him camping over the Easter break. He wrote that he had also sent an invitation to Joseph. I would have to write back to him and decline as we were due to be in Holland that week. What was more interesting was that he was asking if we would like to join him and his friend at the Glastonbury Festival in June. He had said that his brother and his brother's girlfriend had had to drop out. His brother had landed the job of a lifetime in the States but started on the first of June so could not do Glastonbury. As a result, they had two spare tickets.
I phoned Joseph to see what he thought, though my mind was made up that we should take the tickets. Joseph agreed.
"You know it'll probably rain," I said.
"The mud is part of the experience. If you have not been stuck in the mud you have not been to Glastonbury," Joseph informed me.
"Sounds as if you've experienced it?"
"Went with Micah a couple of years ago," he told me. Lucky bastard.
We chatted a bit longer, mostly about how Joseph was not looking forward to the weekend.
"They will be holding Ari up to me as an example of how a good Jewish boy should behave."
"So, Joseph, they do not think you are a good Jewish boy?"
"No, they don't. My aunt has already been onto the phone to my mother about me. Says that I should be sent to a Yeshiva."
"What's a Yeshiva?" I asked.
"It's a Jewish school where they teach you about the religion; good Jewish boys are supposed to go to one."
"And you don't."
"No, I don't. Therefore, I am, by definition, bad."
"Good, I like my bad Jewish boyfriend," I stated.
Joseph laughed. It was good to hear him laugh. He did not seem to do that so much these days.
Dad came in just after I had finished speaking with Joseph. I told him about the letter from the institute and that I was admitted to membership with effect from my eighteenth birthday. I also told him about the Glastonbury tickets.
"You're going, aren't you?"
"Of course, I'm going."
"Just remember to take a couple of pairs of wellies," Mum told me.
"Why a couple?"
"Because you are likely to lose at least one in the mud."
"She's got a point there," Dad stated.
"It comes from long experience," Mum said.
"You've gone to Glastonbury for the festival?" I asked.
"Went every year that John was alive. First went in 1982; was only a slip of a girl then."
I went up to my room to do some homework before dinner, also to write to Tony. I would have phoned him, but there were strict rules about using mobile phones in his school. You could have them, but they had to be kept locked in your locker during the week. The only time you were allowed to have them out and to use them was Saturday after prep and Sunday after chapel or when you were going off school premises. It was rare that you got permission to go off school premises unless it was to some inter-school sports fixture. With a first-class stamp on it, my letter would get there before I could phone him.
Lee joined us for dinner. Apparently, Dad had left him updating some stuff in the office that needed to be sent off first thing in the morning at the latest. Lee had been working on it and brought the results over. He and Dad were going to go over things after dinner.
During dinner, I got Mum to tell me about her times at Glastonbury. To hear her, you would think they were rolling about in the mud all the time. Surely there must have been some dry Glastonbury festivals? When questioned, Mum assured me there had been but said they were nowhere near as much fun.
Friday, I only had a half day in college, and Mum had said she would give me a lift home. She technically did not have a class but was going in that morning to spend some time in the library and chat with her course supervisor. It seems that Mum now had received three provisional offers from universities and wanted advice about which offered the best course. We had agreed to meet up in the library when I finished my last class, and we would go home together.
However, when I arrived for second-period physics, Simone informed me that she needed to speak to me and would see me at Marge's for lunch. I was buying.
"Why am I buying?"
"Because you can afford to."
"But I don't have a part-time job. You do," I pointed out.
"Johnny, you don't need a part-time job. I know what you're worth. I bet your weekly allowance probably matches what I make a month. Anyway, you work at the yard."
"That's not a job; it's work experience," I stated.
"Yes, at a yard you own what, fifty percent of?"
"That is my point exactly. You're paying."
I gave up trying to argue with her. In the recess between second-period physics and maths, I slipped up to the library, found mother and told her I was meeting with Simone so would not need a lift home.
"How are you getting home?" Mum asked.
"Simone is bringing me; at least, she’d better be. I'm buying lunch."
"OK, but call if there are any problems. I have to go to Tesco's this afternoon so can always swing round this way if necessary."
I assured her that I would, then hurried off to my physics class. Fortunately, it was Miss Leonard who was teaching; she is nearly always late getting to class. I made it in just before she arrived.
Once third-period physics was out of the way, I was free for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, Simone had to meet with her course advisor. Mine had given up on me the first week of my course. We had disagreed over my plan to go to the International Boatbuilding School for a year before university. She was very keen to point out it could jeopardise my plans for getting into university. I pointed out that getting into university was not vital for my plans, I could always do a B.Eng with the Open University. Getting a boatbuilding qualification was vital.
Before Simone went off to her meeting with her course advisor, she gave me her order for lunch and said she would be over in about fifteen minutes. Somehow, I doubted that. I knew how course advisors were keen to fill up their time so they looked busy.
I was right; it was getting on for half an hour before Simone arrived. Fortunately, I had told Marge not to start on our order until Simone arrived. Neither of our orders would take long to prepare.
"Sorry, I'm so late. Bloody course advisor has only just realised that I have registered to do French A-level, but I'm not doing a full French-language course, only attending the literature classes."
"What's the problem? I suppose you've registered as an external student."
"I have, Johnny, which I had to point out to the course supervisor. All she was worried about was that I might fail A-level as I do not have French GCSE and am not doing a full course."
"Did you point out that you speak fluent French?"
"Yes. I also pointed out that I have French qualifications, but you know what advisors can be like; they want everything ticked off their checklist."
"I suppose so. Anyway, what did you want to talk to me about?"
"You've got to start a petition to keep Mr. Taunton," Simone instructed me.
"Me? Why me?"
"Because, Johnny, you're the most high-profile student on the campus."
"But I'm not on the Student Union committee," I pointed out.
"Good bloody job, they’re too busy talking obscure socialist theory to do anything useful. Now, we need to start on Monday. I'll get the forms printed and stuff, but you need to be the one approaching people to sign, at least until we get it off the ground. Once it is running and people know you're involved, we can get others collecting signatures."
"And you think this will work?" I asked.
"What are you two planning?" Marge asked, bringing our meals over.
"Getting a petition going to keep Mr. Taunton as a maths teacher," Simone told Marge.
"Good. When you start it, let me have some forms. I'll get those coming in here to sign it."
We carried on discussing things over lunch. Simone let me know that there were other things going on, which it was probably best if I did not know about. However, for them to work. the governors needed an excuse to intervene in the actions of the principal. A student petition could give them the reasons they need.
"Is there anything else I need to know?" I asked.
"Not now, but do you or your father still have contact with that local journalist?"
"You mean Steve Webber? Yes, so far as I know. Though I am not sure how local he is now he has gone freelance. He got a nice scoop with the article he did on Trevor earlier this year. I think that has landed him quite a bit of work."
"Well, can you get this to him?" she passed me a USB stick.
"What's on it?"
"You don't want to know, but Mr. Webber probably will."
Lunch finished and paid for — I paid — Simone drove me over to the Priory.
When I got in, Mum informed me that there was a letter for me from the Palace. I asked how she knew it was from the Palace. She pointed out the coat of arms on the back of the envelope. I picked up the envelope. Just then, Dad came in.
"Saw Simone drop you off. You found your letter, I see."
"Yes, Dad." I realised both Dad and Mum were standing there, looking at me, waiting for me to open the envelope. So, I did. Inside was a letter, together with what looked like instructions. I read the letter.
Then I looked up at Dad. "It's the date for my investiture and a list of instructions regarding it."
"When is it?" Mum asked.
"Thursday 7th of May," I informed her.
"Good, your Dad and I can go into Town when we get back from Holland."
"Why do we have to go into Town?" Dad asked. I looked at him, thinking he cannot be that dumb, can he?
"I'll need a new dress," she told him.
"You better read the rules and regulations first," I told her. "There's a lot of stuff about how one has to dress. Apparently, I need a morning suit."
"I suspect that means Moss Bros. for us, then," Dad stated.
I went to hand him the guidance notes about dress for the event, but the phone went. Dad answered it. It was Uncle Bernard. Whatever was the reason for the call, Dad was not happy. He was just answering yes and no, but his face told a lot.
"What's wrong?" I asked as he put the phone down.
"That was Bernard."
"We gathered that," Mum stated.
"He has the date for Beryl's inquest."
"I thought they could not do that until the criminal case had finished," I stated.
"They can't; the case is finished, except for sentencing. There was a plea-and-directions hearing on Wednesday, and the two men, to everybody's surprise, pleaded guilty to all charges."
"So, when is it?" I asked.
"Wednesday the 25th. They expect it to last about a week. Bernard said we will be getting witness summonses early next week."
"Fuck!" I exclaimed.
"What's wrong?" Dad asked.
"My woodwork practical exam is that afternoon."
"Shit, that will mess you up. I suggest you go and see your woodwork tutor first thing on Monday and see if you can sort something out. How about metalwork?"
"No problem there. The exams are not till after Easter. They are the last week in April."
"Why the difference in dates?" Mum asked.
"Different examining bodies. Totally different qualifications."
Mum just nodded at that information, then informed us she needed the kitchen as she had a lot of work to get done for dinner.
"We're not expecting anybody, are we?" Dad asked.
"Not as far as I know, but I have a heavy study load this weekend, so I am going to prep for the next three days so I can spend time studying. Got my first assessment exam on Monday."
"I can take over dinners if you like," Dad said.
"It's all right, love, I've got it sorted. Anyway, Lee says you have to be in Town tomorrow."
"I do?" Dad said, somewhat surprised.
"Yes, dear. You’d better check with Lee; he's got your diary."
Dad went back out, no doubt across to his office to check his diary.
"Does he have to be in Town tomorrow?" I asked.
"Oh, yes," Mum said. “He has a meeting with Aunt Sarah, which is no doubt why he forgot about it."
I went up to my room and set about doing the homework I had for the weekend, which was not much. I had finished it by the time Mum called dinner. After dinner, I asked Dad about Steve Webber. He wanted to know why I wanted to contact him, but I told Dad that I had been asked to pass something to him by Simone.
"If it’s from Simone, then it is almost certainly something from Miss Jenkins. You’d better pass it on. Give him a ring. Here's his number." Dad jotted it down from off his phone.
I called Steve Webber and got his voicemail, so I left a message saying I had been given something to pass to him. He phoned me back about five minutes later. As he was in Town till tomorrow afternoon; we agreed he would call by the Priory early Saturday evening.
That dealt with, I went over to the dojo to train. Lee and Simone were there with another lad, who was about my age, height and build. Simone introduced him as her younger brother, Marcel.
"He's flown over for a long weekend," she told me. "He's still at school in France."
Lee paired Marcel up with me, saying we should be about matched in skill level. He must have been joking. Marcel was a lot better than I was. Not surprising, since he let that out that he had been studying with his big sister since he was eleven. I must say, though, I learnt a lot that evening practicing with Marcel. By the end of the evening, I was confident in doing the four basic throws in the kata-one form.
Uncle Bernard was wrong. The witness summons arrived on Saturday. Dad was required to be in attendance for only one day. I was called for the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and was advised I might be needed for the first three days of the next week.
With Joseph off up in Manchester for his cousin's Bar Mitzvah and the yard closed, I did not have much on. I had been hoping that Joseph would phone me but then remembered his grandfather was pretty observant, so Joseph would not be allowed to use a phone, even his mobile, while he was there. I had heard that in some Jewish households, the kids were required to surrender their mobile phones at the start of Shabbat and did not get them back until sunset on the Saturday. It would not surprise me if Joseph's grandfather's house was one which imposed such a rule.
Once I had finished reading what I had marked as needing to be read plus some articles Dad had pulled for me from various magazines, I set off around the grounds, then called in the nursery to see if Steven and Jim needed a hand with anything.
"Not much to do at the moment," Jim informed me. "We've got everywhere that we can plant planted up. Nothing will be ready to be potted on for a couple of weeks yet, and the ground outside is just too wet to work."
"What about the cottage?" I asked.
"Everything there is on hold waiting for the lawyers."
"Well, if the lawyers say this lease idea is OK with the covenant on the estate, then Uncle George and Dad will buy the lease. If they do that, they are going to spend a lot more on the cottage than they would if we are just renting it. In fact, they've drawn up plans to make it into a four-bedroom house."
"How are they going to do that?" I asked.
"By incorporating the outhouses into the main house and building out on top of them. That will provide a third bedroom and a bathroom on the first floor. It will also provide space to put in stairs to the attic, where a fourth bedroom with bath can be installed."
"Will you need all that space?"
"Well, we will almost certainly use one of the bedrooms as an office. We certainly need an inside bathroom, which we do not have at the moment," Steven stated. "Also, if Jim's brother comes to live with us, we will need the space."
"Is he likely to?" I asked.
"It's on the cards," Jim said. "Mum's not getting any better, and she's finding the stairs a bit too much for her. She and Dad are talking about moving into a bungalow. Dad built one for them years ago as a place for them to retire. It's let out at the moment, but the lease is up in July. The thing is, it is only a two-bedroom place, and Mum needs a bed to herself these days."
"Where's your brother now?" I asked.
"Oh, he's at university. Doing his masters in structural engineering. He's lived with my Aunt Dot up in Birmingham during term time for these last four years."
There being nothing I could help with, I went back to the house and found some more reading to do. Joseph texted me, apologising but saying he could not speak. He was having to share a bedroom with his cousin Ari. He confirmed that his grandfather had not allowed the use of phones during Shabbat and had collected all the phones up and put them in a box. Apparently the only one he did not get was Uncle Bernard's because Uncle Bernard insisted that he had to be available for any of his clients to call in an emergency.
A good argument, Uncle Bernard, except that phone number is only known to about half a dozen people outside the immediate family. Any emergency calls go through to Martin these days. He is one of the people who knows Uncle Bernard’s number, so I expect he might need to pass on a message to Uncle Bernard. Joseph told me that Uncle Bernard and Aunt Debora had argued about it on Friday night.
That did not sound good.
Dad got back late Saturday afternoon, not looking too pleased.
"What's up, luv?" Mum asked as he walked into the kitchen. I was helping her fix dinner.
"Got a third degree from Aunt Sarah about Bernard and Debora's marriage. Did I know of any problems?"
"Is that what she wanted to see you about?" Mum asked.
"No, there were some papers for the trust she is setting up that needed signing. Bernard had told me about them. He was supposed to have been bringing them over this weekend but had to go up to Manchester for a Bar Mitsvah. His father-in-law is making a big thing about his other grandson's Bar Mitsvah, and all and sundry are invited. According to Aunt Sarah, Bernard is upset because the old man never did this for either Micah or Joseph."
"For which they are probably thankful," I commented.
"No doubt they are. I suspect Joseph definitely is."
I spent most of Sunday in Dad's study reading mother's diaries. I kept finding the odd sequences of numbers, which I noted in the back of the notebook I was keeping about events of interest in them. Not that there were that many. Most of the entries concerned cases she was involved with or dinners she had with various men. I was, though, keeping a note of all the men she seemed to be involved with. Dad had shown me how to build mind maps, and I was using them.
I spoke to Dad about going through them with him, but he said he had too much on at the moment, and he would look at them later. In the meantime, he reminded me not to talk to anyone else about the diaries.
Monday morning, I got into college early. Dad was filming in Town, so he gave me a lift into Southmead on his way to the station. It meant I was at the college before eight and the doors were still locked. Marge's, though, was open, so I went in there for some coffee and toast till the college doors opened at eight fifteen.
I went then and found Miss Cooke in the woodwork room and explained about the inquest and the witness summons. She asked me if I could let her have a photocopy of it. I said I could.
"Won't be a problem; we'll just have to move your exam to the Thursday of the following week." I must have looked a bit surprised. "Look, Johnny, we have over two hundred students here doing vocational courses which include woodwork. There are only twenty benches in the workshop. I can't give them all practical exams on the same day. They have to be spread out. It is not as if the exam is a secret. The exam requirements are printed in the course booklet."
I had to admit then that I had not really read the course booklet.
"You and two hundred of the other students, no doubt. I doubt if more than one in a hundred and fifty ever read the whole of the course booklet in detail, and the exam requirements are at the back in small print."
That settled, I went to find my other teachers to sort out about my absence. It was not a problem for maths or physics, both of whom agreed to let me have copies of the coursework. Mr. Spragg, the metalwork teacher, was very unhappy about it and told me that it would result in a mark down on my assessment. I mentioned that later when I was talking to Mr. Taunton, and he advised me that Mr. Spragg could not do that if I had a legitimate reason for missing the class. Being called as a witness was a legitimate reason.
I had expected Simone to be waiting for me with a pile of petition forms when I got to class Monday morning, but there was no sign of her. In fact, there was no sign of her till lunch time when she hobbled into Marge's with a single crutch under her left arm.
"What have you done?" I asked as she lowered herself into the chair opposite me.
"Cracked my left ankle."
"Went sky diving with some friends on Sunday, my chute did not open properly, and I had to release it and use my emergency. Took a bit longer than it should have, so I landed a bit hard."
"That's a bit of a bummer."
"It could have been worse; at least I can drive."
"Johnny, my car's automatic. I don't use my left foot to drive."
That was something that had not occurred to me.
"What about the petition?" I asked.
"Got it all here," she stated, tapping her shoulder bag. "There is one thing, though."
"As this is not a Student Union sanctioned petition, we are not allowed to collect signatures on the college premises."
"Then how do we do it?"
"We'll start collecting them here and ask others to collect them at locations where students gather but are not technically on college premises."
"The sports centre; that is Council run and Council property; the college just rents facilities for certain classes. Then there is Compton House; a lot of the agricultural students are resident there."
"But that's part of the college," I stated.
"No, it's not. It belongs to a student-housing company. The college sold it off a couple of years ago."
So, that is what we did, or to be more correct, what I did. Simone was not up to much walking around talking to students asking them to sign. I did well. By the time I had to get back to class, I had over a hundred signatures. Five students had taken forms so they could get other students to sign. I warned them about collecting signatures on the college premises, but they said it was not a problem. They said they would each take a bus stop and ask students to sign whilst they were waiting for a bus.
Jim and Steven were in college today and had late classes like I did. Mum finished early, so I told her I would get a lift back with Jim and Steven. Fortunately, they were agreeable. This time it was not raining, so Jim dropped me by the nursery, and I walked up to the yard. As I was entering, Trevor's Mazda MX-5 pulled into the yard, then parked up by the Stable House. I walked over to greet Trevor and Arthur as they climbed out of the car. They were looking well.
"It was great," Trevor said. "Nice to be back in front of the camera."
"Arthur, Martin was looking for you last week. He wants to speak to you."
Mum opened the door back door and called out, instructing Trevor and Arthur that they were having dinner with us, to drop their bags off and then get over to the house. They both knew better that argue and set off to go to their apartment. I went into the house. Trevor and Arthur arrived about ten minutes later.
"Trevor, I've got some groceries in for you," Mum informed him. "Make sure you remember to get them before you go back to the apartment. Arthur, Martin is coming over to see you tomorrow afternoon. Should be here about four."
"How do you know?" Arthur asked.
"He phoned. Your phone is still diverting to mine, so I took the call."
Arthur pulled his phone out of his pocket and started pressing buttons. No doubt, removing the call divert.
Over dinner, Arthur regaled us with stories about the filming. Trevor was denying most of the things that Arthur said he had done. As soon as dinner was over, they collected the groceries Mum had got for them and went back to their apartment, both admitting they were tired out.
"I'm surprised you did not take a few days off and stay there for a bit of a break," Mum stated.
"Couldn't. Have a publicity shoot to do in the morning in Town and a TV interview," Trevor stated.
Tuesday was a fairly busy day. For a start, there were the petitions to deal with. It seemed we were getting a lot of signatures, not just off those who had Mr. Taunton for maths, but from a lot of other students. Simone, with Marge's blessing, had set up an office to manage the petitions on the corner table by the counter in Marge's café. There was also a copy of the petition in the café which everybody entering was asked to sign if they had not already signed. What was surprising was a number of staff members had signed.
That the petition was getting attention was shown when I was called out of my third-period maths class to see the principal. She informed me that I was in breach of college rules by collecting signatures for an unapproved petition whilst in college. I pointed out to her that no signatures had been collected on college premises. As such, we were not in breach of college rules.
I was then informed that I was in breach of college rules and was being suspended with immediate effect prior to a formal hearing. I informed Mrs. Lowcroft that she would be hearing from my solicitors before the day was out. Then I left and went across to Marge's. Simone wanted to know what was going on, so I told her.
"She can't do that?" Simone stated.
"I know she can't, but she has. Only the governors can suspend or expel a student. She should have called an emergency meeting of the governors."
I phoned Uncle Bernard and explained the situation. He informed me that he would instruct Martin to deal with it. Martin was due at the Priory this afternoon as Dad had to sign some papers. I had just finished talking with Uncle Bernard when my phone went. It was Steve Webber. He wanted to know how he could contact the source of the files I had passed over to him at the weekend. I passed my phone to Simone.
By now a number of students, including Jim and Steven, who were in Marge's had gathered around our table wanting to know what was going on. I told them about being suspended and that my suspension was illegal. Mary Cairns, a small girl who was on the health-care-assistants course stated if I was suspended then she was not going back in. A number of other students agreed. Before I knew it, a student strike had started. By one o'clock, there were pickets on every gate going into the college. The majority of students entering the college were spoken to and joined the strike. Even some of the students in the college came out to find out what was going on and joined the strike.
I do not know what Simone had told Steve Webber, but he turned up just after two with a photographer. By that time, one of the staff unions had gotten involved, and they had come out in support of the students. Steve had a story. He also gave me a lift back to the Priory. I texted Mum to let her know I would not need transport back.
Martin was at the Priory when I got there. There were some papers that needed to be signed by Dad with regard to purchasing the Salvage Yard. I asked when things would be sorted out and was told that we could take possession of the yard on Friday the 27th.
With all the paper-signing dealt with, Martin asked Dad if he could use the study to speak with Arthur. Dad agreed and I offered to go over and get Arthur. As Arthur and I walked back across the yard to the house, Arthur asked me if I would stay with him for the meeting with Martin. I agreed, provided it was not a problem for Martin.
When we got to the study, Arthur told Martin that he wanted me to stay for the meeting. Martin had no problem with this but asked Arthur if he was sure as some of the stuff that had to be dealt with was personal. Arthur said it was no problem.
Martin was just about to start to deal with some papers he had for Arthur to sign when his mobile rang. He took the call, then looked over at me.
"Right, thank you. I'll let him know," Martin said to whomever he was speaking with.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Your suspension has been lifted," Martin informed me. "That was the chairman of the governors. We served them with an application for an emergency request for judicial review about two hours ago. The chairman has spoken by phone with the majority of the governors and agreed that your suspension was not handled in the correct manner, so it has been lifted until there is a full hearing of the facts by the governors. You can go into college in the morning."
“Arthur, you asked Bernard to sort out things regarding you adoptive parents,” Martin asked.
“Yes. Last thing I heard I it seemed to be a bit of a mess,” Arthur stated.
“Well, it was, but now something has come up. Now, Arthur, what do you know about your father?" Martin continued.
"Nothing. According to Dad, he left my mother as soon as he found out that she was pregnant."
"I don't think that was true," Martin stated. "Your mother never said anything about him?"
"I remember asking about him just after I started school. Mum said he was dead."
Martin looked at his notes. "That would be right. Are you sure you cannot recall anything about your father."
"I have memories of a very big man who used to pick me up. Sometimes he would throw me into the air and catch me. When I told Dad, he said it must have been one of my mother's boyfriends."
"I think that may have been your father," Martin stated. "Have you ever looked at your birth certificate?"
"No, I don't have one. I know my adoptive parents got one. They had to get one when they had to get a passport for when we went to France?"
"When was that?" Martin asked.
"Four years ago, just after my fourteenth birthday. I'm still using the same passport. It's one of the five-year ones; runs out later this year."
"You're lucky you have it with you, considering how you were thrown out."
"Always carried it," Arthur stated. "Had to have two forms of photo ID when I went to the warehouse to pick stock up for Dad. Used my passport and driving licence. Otherwise, I would not have had it. Why is it important?"
"It is rather," Martin stated. "First, the fact that they had to get your birth certificate. Adoptive parents normally use a certificate of adoption. The thing is, so far as we have been able to find out, Arthur, you were never adopted."
"You were never adopted. From what we have established, it appears that when your mother was killed in the car crash, Social Services placed you with your aunt and uncle, John and Felicity Lee, as a foster child. In fact, they were being paid to foster you until your eighteenth birthday.
"More interestingly, we have obtained a copy of your birth certificate. Your father is named on it as Johnson Arthur Lee. We have also found a marriage certificate for Margaret Elizabeth Lee and Johnson Arthur Lee dated six months before your birth."
"So, I'm not a bastard?"
"No, Arthur, you are not. More interesting though is the address your father gives on his marriage certificate."
"It is Number One Grosvenor Square, London," Martin stated.
"Why is that important?"
"Arthur, that's the American Embassy," I stated.
"Johnny's right. Your father was a member of the US diplomatic staff at the Embassy at the time of your birth. We have confirmed with the US Embassy that your birth was registered by your father with the US Consulate at the time of your birth."
"Is this important?" Arthur asked.
"In one way, it is; it means you have dual nationality, British and American. In fact, you could get a third; your paternal grandmother was born in Ireland, so you could apply for Irish citizenship if you wanted to."
"Why should I?" Arthur asked.
"Arthur, in many places in the world an Irish passport is a damned sight safer than a British or US passport," I stated.
"Johnny's right again," Martin said. "The thing is, Arthur, your father was posted out to Sri Lanka about two years after you were born. We think your mother and you went out there with him. He was on a trip back to the States when he died."
"What happened?" Arthur asked.
"We are still waiting for details, but it appears he died in a light-aircraft crash while flying to Washington DC, which gives rise to some interesting questions."
"Well, according to our agents in New York, your mother and you should have been entitled to some pretty substantial survivor benefits. We would like to find out what happened to them. We would also like to find out what happened to the money and property in your mother's estate when she died. We have found the probate record for your mother, and it shows she left over three hundred thousand to you plus some property, the question is where is it?"
"I could guess," I opined.
"So could I," said Arthur.
As Arthur was speaking, I looked through the window and saw Trevor's Mazda pulling into the drive. Martin had a pile of papers for Arthur to sign, so I told Arthur I would go and let Trevor know where he was. He was just parking in the yard when I got out through the back door. I called over for him to come into the house.
Once he came in, I told him that Arthur was in the study with Martin signing papers. Then I poured a mug of coffee for him; there was some freshly made in the jug. Arthur came through and told us that he had finished signing papers. Just then, Mum came into the kitchen and told us that Mary had phoned and she and Dad were going down to the Crooked Man for dinner as Mary wanted to discuss the plans for the renovation of the barn. I cried off saying I would sort something out for myself, but Trevor suggested I join them for dinner. Arthur was going down to the Harbour Chippy to get some pie and chips.
"Am I now?" asked Arthur.
"Yes, you are," Trevor replied. "If I go down, there will be a riot."
He was right. It may be off-season, but if Trevor Spade arrived at the Harbour Chippy, the news would quickly spread through all the adolescent girls in town.
In the end, I went down to the chippy with Arthur, me going in and getting the order — three lots of chicken and mushroom pies, with mushy peas and chips — whilst Arthur waited outside in the van. In total, it took us thirty minutes to do the trip. Ten down, ten queuing in the shop to be served and then ten minutes to get back. Trevor accused Arthur of speeding, but Arthur assured him we had not been speeding. He just did not have to park the car and walk to the Chippy; he had sat outside on double yellow lines with the engine running.
"Not good for the environment," Trevor stated.
"No, but it's good for keeping warm," Arthur retorted.
Over our pie-and-chips dinner, Arthur told Trevor what Martin had found out about his father.
"So, you’re a bloody Yank, then?" Trevor asserted.
"It seems so," Arthur replied.
"By the way, I've agreed to do Fly Boys," Trevor told us.
"When?" Arthur asked.
"This afternoon. Phil was at the TV studio for the interview and took me for lunch afterwards. We discussed it and agreed to a deal. It's now up to my agent to sort out the details."
"What are you getting?" Arthur asked.
"Two-hundred thousand," Trevor replied.
"But that's less than you got for That Woman's Son," Arthur asserted.
"Yes, but I am getting a cut on the box office on this one."
"Don't know yet. My agent is arguing it out with Phil."
I noticed Trevor was using Uncle Phil's given name rather than his stage name which he always used in the past.
It was just then that my phone beeped, telling me I had a text. It was from Steve Webber advising me to get tomorrow’s Guardian. I did on the way into college. The headline read, 'Nepotistic Principal Suspends Hero'. It seems that our principal had been appointing family members to posts in the college. When I got to the college, Simone was waiting. She informed me that the governors had suspended the principal pending a formal hearing. In the meantime, they had withdrawn the notice of termination of contract that the principal had given Mr. Taunton.
The rest of the week was something of an anti-climax. Nothing was said about my suspension and reinstatement at the college. Everything went on just like normal till Friday. My class finished at three, and I was walking out of the college with Simone by the car-park entrance, only to find Joseph standing there in his school uniform with his gym bag at his side.
"What are you doing here this early?" I asked. Dad normally picked Joseph up from the station sometime after nine.
"I've left home."
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