"You what?" I exclaimed
"I've left home," Joseph replied.
"I think a mug of something warm in Marge's is called for," Simone stated.
Five minutes later we were seated around a table in Marge's with mugs of hot chocolate and some cream cakes.
"How come you're not in school?" I asked Joseph.
"Had an optician's appointment for 12:50. Mum had already phoned the school and told them I had the appointment, and she had sent a note in with me this morning. All it said was I had an appointment this afternoon; it did not give a time. Just asked that I be allowed to leave the premises at lunch, so I just left."
"Granddad phoned last night. He and Mum were on the phone for ages. They were still talking when I went up to bed. When I came down this morning, Mum told me that Granddad has an important rabbi coming over from New York for Pesach and we have to go up. All the family is going."
"What's Pesach?" I asked.
"Passover, it's from the 8th to the 16th this year. We're due to go to Holland on the 13th. Granddad's done this to stop me going. He knew I was going to Holland with you; it was talked about whilst I was up there for Ari's Bar Mitzvah. He's timed it deliberately to stop me going."
"You can't be sure of that," I stated. "Anyway, how did you get here?"
"Got out of school at twelve-thirty. The optician’s I was supposed to be going to is only down the road. Skipped it and went to the tube and got to Liverpool Street, then got a train to Southminster. Bus from there to here. I knew you were in college and that you always used that door, so I just hung around till you came out. Thought it was probably better than phoning your father and asking him to pick me up from the station."
"Yes, it would be. The only problem is Mum has an assessment this afternoon, so won't be finished till late. I was going to hang around the library till she was done. Now, I need to get us home." I looked at Simone.
"All right, I'll take you over to the Priory, but I need to call in at the Hall and get my kit. I'm going to murder Lee on the mat tonight."
"Why? What has he done?" I asked.
"He's forgotten my birthday."
"When's your birthday?" I asked.
Joseph and I looked at each other with looks that expressed sympathy for Lee.
We finished our chocolate and cream cakes, then made our way to Simone's car. She drove to the Hall and left us in the car whilst she went inside to get her kit, saying she would only be about five minutes. It was over a half an hour before she got back with a slightly goofy look on her face, wearing a dress which I was sure came straight from Paris.
"He didn't forget," she said climbing into the car. I asked about her kit as she had not got her bag with her. "Sorry, boys, there's no training tonight. Lee sent me a dozen pink carnations for my birthday, with a card. They came just after I left this morning. There's a note in the card that he has booked a table for us at the Belmont this evening."
That explained the dress she had changed into.
I had tried to get Joseph to tell me more about what had gone on whilst we were waiting in the car, but he had clammed up, saying he would have to tell it all again to Dad, so I could hear it then.
It had just gone four when we arrived at the Priory. Simone parked the car in the yard by the MCP offices. Lee saw her pull in. He waved as she got out of the car. Dad must have seen Joseph and me get out of the car as a moment later, he came out through the office door.
"Joseph, what are you doing here so early?"
"Uncle Mike, you said I could always stay here if I needed to."
"Yes, Joseph, I did."
"Well, I need to. I've left home."
"I think you’d better go into the house so we can talk about this before I call your father."
"I'm not going home," Joseph snapped.
"I did not say you were," Dad replied. "However, you are underage."
"I'm sixteen next Friday," Joseph stated. "I can leave home at sixteen."
"I know, but you can only leave home at sixteen with your parents’ permission. I am duty-bound to let your father know where you are. Before I do that, though, I need to get some facts about what is going on."
"Good luck, there," I muttered under my breath. Clearly, not under enough. Dad gave me a look that could kill.
He came around the car, placed his hand on Joseph's shoulder and guided him into the house. I realised that Joseph's bags were still on the back seat of Simone's car, so I got them out and carried them into the house.
"Won't your mother be wondering where you are?" Dad was asking Joseph as I entered the kitchen.
"No, she thinks I have a late game on tonight. I told her I would be late getting home. She was just worried that I might not get home before sunset."
I put the kettle on to boil. There was some coffee in the pot on the heating plate, but by the look of it, it had been there some time. I decided to make a fresh jug and a pot of tea. I knew Dad would want tea; I was not sure if I was going to have tea or coffee.
"So, how about you start to tell me everything, from the start?" Dad asked Joseph.
"Well, you know we went up to Manchester last weekend for my cousin's Bar Mitzvah."
Dad nodded, indicating that he did know.
"Well, Granddad started complaining the moment we arrived. The train did not get us in till nearly quarter-to-eight. Then, Dad got a taxi to Granddad's. Granddad hit the roof; said we should have got an earlier train. Dad said we couldn't because I was in school. Granddad said if it had been a decent Jewish school, I would have finished by one on the Shabbat so I could get to where I needed to be in plenty of time.
"To make matters worse, there was this rabbi from New York there. Granddad said he was very important and very wise. Though, as far as I could tell, he spent all the time telling people how they were breaking the laws of Shabbat. He got onto Dad about taking the taxi, saying we should have walked from the station."
"I can't see your father walking any distance," Dad commented.
"No, he wouldn't," Joseph agreed, then continued. "In fact, he told the rabbi to mind his own bloody business. He would argue with the Lord about which laws applied when; that was his job as a solicitor, to argue the law. The rabbi did not like it; neither did Granddad.
"Anyway, all weekend, Granddad was making comments about us not being good Jews, not like young Ari was. Ari is a perfect Jew; he goes to a Jewish school, reads and speaks Hebrew, and obeys all the laws. At least, that is what Granddad says."
"You don't think he does?"
"I know he doesn't, Uncle Mike. When we went up to see Micah at the university, Micah showed me around Manchester centre. I saw Ari in a café having a full English.
"Anyway, after Ari's Bar Mitzvah and the celebrations – Granddad spent a lot more on them than he did on mine – I overheard him talking with Mum. He was saying that I needed to be brought back into the Jewish fold, and it would be best if I moved to Manchester to do my A-levels. He was saying that he could get me into the sixth form at King David's. Worse, he said he had the perfect wife for me. There was a good Jewish girl, my age, from a good family, but they were on hard times. They would look favourably on a marriage with his family. Granddad pointed out that, come Pesach, I will be sixteen and can marry. He said it was a perfect time for a marriage."
"He must be joking," I said as I put the tea pot and coffee jug on the table.
"Unfortunately, Johnny, he is probably not," Dad stated. "There are a lot of Jewish families that still arrange marriages. Your aunt Debora was lined up for an arranged marriage. Joseph's grandfather had got it all set up, but Debora and Bernard eloped the weekend before it was supposed to happen."
"I didn't know that!" Joseph said.
"Well, you do now. Get your father to tell you about it sometime. I had to drive them from Manchester to London."
"Why London?" I asked.
"Because Joseph's grandfather was convinced they would be in Birmingham. That was where they were both listed on the electoral register, and there would be no problems getting a marriage licence up there. What he did not know was that both Bernard and Debora had established addresses in London. They got married in Camden.
"Anyway, that is another story. We want to hear Joseph's. Carry on, Joseph."
"Sunday morning, I was talking with Ari at breakfast and told him I was going to Holland on the thirteenth of April. Granddad looked at me and said he did not think so. I told him I was, and I was going with my boyfriend. We left shortly after that, but Mum, in the taxi on the way to the station, told me off for arguing with Granddad.
"Last night, just before ten, the phone went. I answered it, and it was Granddad. He wanted to speak to Mum. I passed the phone over to her, and she started talking to Granddad, then she went through to the kitchen. She was still on the phone when I went to bed. This morning, when I went down for breakfast, Mum told me I’d better call Johnny and tell him I could not go to Holland for Easter. We had to go up to Granddad's for Pesach and would be there for the whole eight days.
"Well, when she told me that, I knew what it was for, so I went up to my room, unpacked my gym bag and filled it with stuff I needed, then left for school. I had an optician's appointment for ten-to-one today. Mum had phoned the school about it at the start of the week, but she gave me a note to give to the office so I could get out of school at lunch time. I handed the note in to the office and booked out at twelve-thirty, as arranged. I just did not go to the optician’s. Got the tube to Liverpool Street, then a train to Southminster and the bus to Southmead to meet Johnny when he came out of college."
"You might have missed me?" I pointed out. "Then, where would you have been?."
"Phoning your Dad to pick me up," Joseph answered.
"I’d better call Bernard," Dad said.
"I'm not going back," Joseph snapped.
"I never suggested you were. I said if you ever needed a place, you could come here. I am not going back on that offer. I do, though, need to let your father know where you are. Your mother must be getting worried about you as you are not home."
Joseph looked at the clock. It was nearly five.
"She doesn't expect me home till about six. She won't start worrying till nearly seven. Sometimes, when we have late matches, they overrun."
Dad went off to his study. I told Joseph he’d better go up to our room and change. Fortunately, he kept plenty of clothes here. Whilst he was doing that, I started to prepare dinner. About twenty minutes later, Dad came through to the kitchen. Joseph had not come back down; I think he was having a shower by the sound of the water pipes.
"What do you think?" I asked Dad.
"I think it's a bloody mess, though somehow I'm not surprised."
"Bernard's family are technically Orthodox Jews, but to be honest, they have never been all that observant. I think the only reason they remained part of the Orthodox synagogue was because they could not be bothered to move. Debora's family are very Orthodox. You could say ultra-Orthodox."
"You mean the black suits and hats?"
"No, Johnny, those are the Hasidic Jews. Although they are generally considered orthodox, they can in some ways be quite liberal. Joseph's grandfather is from quite a different tradition. The Hasidic Jews believe that you can come to a personal knowledge of God. In some ways, they are almost gnostic in their beliefs. Joseph's grandfather is of a tradition that states the only way to know God is to strictly follow the laws of Moses as set out in the Torah."
"But he was talking about marrying Joseph off to some girl," I pointed out.
"Yes, and as Joseph stated, he is sixteen on Friday. That is the minimum legal age you can marry in this country, though you need parental consent."
"But Uncle Bernard would never allow that," I stated.
"I'm sure he would not," Dad confirmed. "In fact, he seems to know nothing about it."
"Knows nothing about what?" Joseph asked coming into the kitchen.
"About any plan to marry you off or go to Manchester for Pesach. I've just spoken to him on the phone. He's on his way home. Says he will be over here later this evening to talk to you."
"I'm not going home!" Joseph exclaimed.
"I did not say he was coming to take you home; he's coming to talk to you. He needs to find out what is going on. He seems to be completely in the dark."
I carried on preparing dinner. Dad and Joseph sat at the table. Dad was talking to Joseph but seemed to be keeping off the issue of the day. In fact, from what I could overhear of the conversation, it was all about how Joseph was doing at school and how he felt about his upcoming GCSEs.
I had just put the tray of chicken breasts in the oven when Mum got back from college. She looked shattered.
"How'd it go, love?" Dad asked as Mum took off her coat.
"Think I did OK; the exam was a doddle, but the practical coding exercise was a nightmare. Didn't finish it before the two hours were up, but, so far as I could tell, nobody else finished it."
At that point Mum noticed Joseph sitting at the table.
"You're here early, Joseph?"
"I've left home," Joseph replied.
"Anne, I need to fill you in on some things. Come through to the living room; we can leave Johnny preparing dinner."
"Thanks," I said as the two of them went through to the living room.
"Do you think they will make me go home?" Joseph asked.
"Don't think so."
"Well, if they try to, I'll just run away again."
"Where will you go?"
"I don't know."
"Best if you tried Neal's; I'm sure he would help," I stated, deciding that as soon as I could, I would text Neal just in case his help was needed.
About ten minutes later, Dad came back into the kitchen and asked if he could help with dinner, I told him that it was all under control, then asked where Mum was.
"She's gone up to change, and I think she's going to phone Debora."
Joseph did not look happy hearing that news. It was the better part of half an hour before Mum came down. She did not look happy.
"What's up?" Dad asked.
"I'll tell you later," Mum replied.
I guessed she had spoken to Aunt Debora, and it had not gone well.
Dinner was fairly quiet. It was the sort of event where everybody wants to say something, but nobody says anything out of fear they might upset somebody. After dinner, Dad told me to go and relax. Given that I had cooked dinner, he would clean up. Joseph volunteered to help him.
I went to the living room and picked up a book I had been reading. Mum was there as well, reading a computer magazine. By an unspoken agreement, neither of us started a conversation. Dad and Joseph came and joined us in our silence about twenty minutes later.
It was nearly eight before Uncle Bernard arrived. I went and opened the back door for him when I saw him pull into the yard. We tend to put the lock on the back door when it gets dark. Otherwise, it's unlocked during the day when there are people in the house, possibly because there is so much traffic in and out of the house these days.
As I was letting Uncle Bernard in, Dad came through to the kitchen and put the kettle on.
"Tea or coffee, Bernard," he asked as he started to sort out drinks.
"I think I need a double whisky, but probably not advisable as I'll be driving."
"A small single probably wouldn't do much harm, especially if it’s in your coffee," Dad replied.
"I'll take it."
"Go on through to the living room. Anne and your son are in there. Johnny, can you sort some biscuits or something?"
I did and followed Uncle Bernard into the living room about two minutes later. It was a good five minutes before Dad appeared with the drinks. It was only when I was sitting in the living room waiting for Dad to bring the drinks through that I realised that Uncle Bernard was still dressed in his work attire: black, pinstripe business suit with a black waistcoat. Normally, when I saw Uncle Bernard, he was a lot more casually dressed. Smart casual, maybe, but still casual. Given that it was a Friday, I knew he always left the office at three so he would be home well before sunset, especially if he had to go to the Kent house. He would have had plenty of time to change. I wondered what was going on.
"Debora not with you?" Mum asked as Bernard sat down.
"No, I left her packing, she's driving down to the Kent house this evening."
"Debora driving on Shabbat. Things must be bad," Mum stated.
"They are. We're separating."
"What?" Dad asked. He was standing in the doorway with a tray of drinks.
"We're separating. I was on the train back from Birmingham when you rang, Mike. Been up there since Wednesday on a case that had gone to court. Total waste of time. The other side should have conceded the moment they got service.
"Anyway, when I got back to Town I went straight home and did not bother to drop my papers at the office. Asked Debora what was going on and what is this about her father arranging a marriage for Joseph. It all came out. Apparently, they have been planning it since Christmas."
"Since Christmas?" Dad asked.
"Yes. Apparently, Abraham was upset about Micah's marriage to Bethany, though he'd known it was on the cards for ages. It seems that he had a 'nice Jewish girl' all lined up ready for Micah to marry. When that went down, he decided to marry Joseph off instead. Seems he wants a connection between his family and another Jewish family up in Manchester."
"Then let him marry Ari off, instead," Joseph commented.
"He already has that lined up with another family. Ari was introduced to his bride-to-be after we left on Sunday."
"I wonder how that went down." Joseph speculated.
"Apparently, not well," Uncle Bernard replied. "The girl and Ari took an instant dislike to each other."
"So, they'll probably get married once their parents aren't pushing it," Mum commented.
Uncle Bernard laughed. "More than likely."
"Well, I don't care what anybody wants," Joseph stated. "The only person I'm going to marry is Johnny."
"Preferably, not just yet," Uncle Bernard stated. "I would like you to wait till you have graduated."
"What's happened with Debs?" Mum asked.
"As I said, I was on my way back to Town from Birmingham when Mike phoned. I went straight home and asked Debora what was going on. I told her that Joseph had left home, and if what he had said was right, I did not blame him. She told me that she had agreed we would go up to her father's for Pesach. I pointed out to her that we had been there last year, and we would be with my parents this year.
"That's what started the row. Debora said they did not observe Pesach properly. She was saying that if we had kept the observances properly, then Joseph would not think he was gay."
"What does she mean ‘think I was gay’?" Joseph remonstrated. "I've known I was gay since I was eleven."
"So has your mother," Bernard stated. "She told me she thought you were gay just after your eleventh-birthday party. Something to do with the way you were hugging your friend from school."
Joseph turned a deep shade of red.
"No matter. Abraham has convinced his daughter that the reason that Joseph is gay is because we are lax in our religious observances. If we come back to full observance, Joseph will be sorted out, and a good marriage will fix him."
"That's a load of rubbish," Mum stated. "Just wait till I get her on the phone."
"Anne, I know it is rubbish; you know it is rubbish; in her brain, I think Debora knows it is rubbish. In her heart, though, she longs to be the Jewish grandmother with her Jewish grandchildren gathered around her."
"Well, Micah is sorting that out for her," Joseph pointed out.
"But the child will not be Jewish, will it?" Uncle Bernard stated. "That's what Debora wants, and it is what she is not going to get. Her father has convinced her that if the family reverts back to strict observance, then Joseph will stop being gay and she can have the Jewish grandchildren that she wants."
"But that's fucking stupid," I said.
"I was about to say the same, without the use of profane language," Mum commented. She paused for a bit, then continued. "Have you told your mother what's happened?"
"No, once Debora made it clear that she was not prepared to stay with me if I did not become observant, I left and drove up here to see my son."
"I think you need to phone your mother — and your sister — and let them know what is going on. In the meantime, I need to phone Debora," Mum announced. There was a tone to the announcement which made me think that Aunt Debora was not going to like the telephone call she was going to get.
Uncle Bernard said he should phone his mother. Dad told him to use the library; he would have a bit of privacy in there. He went off, returning about ten minutes later and handing his mobile to Dad, saying his mother wanted to speak to Dad. Dad started to speak to Aunt Sarah but went off to the library. He was gone a lot longer than Uncle Bernard had been. When he came back, he went to the drinks cabinet and took out two glasses, then poured a couple of shots of Laphroaig into each and handed one to Uncle Bernard. Dad looked across at me and Joseph.
"If you two want anything, help yourselves." We did, though I avoided the Laphroaig . It is not a whisky that I like. In fact, I went to the kitchen and got both Joseph and me a glass of orange juice, to which I added a shot of Cynar. Uncle Bernard was still sitting there looking at the glass of whisky in his hand.
"I can't drink this, Mike. I've got to drive back to London."
"Forget that. You're staying here tonight. Don't say you've got no clothes, as I know full well you keep a bag with a change of clothes in the boot of your car in case you get stuck in some out-of-the-way court."
"Does not happen that much these days," Uncle Bernard commented, taking a swig from his glass. "What did Mum say?"
"She'll be here in the morning. She needs to arrange somebody to look after Isaac, but she says that will not be a problem. "
"Who'll be here in the morning?" Mum asked as she walked into the room.
"Aunt Sarah. Where were you? I looked in the study, and there was no sign of you."
"Went for a walk round the yard to cool off. That wife of yours, Bernard, is a pig-headed idiot."
"What did she say?" Dad asked.
"Nothing much, that's the problem. She'll talk about anything except the problem facing her.
"Bernard, the bed’s made up in the guest room; you're staying here tonight."
"I've already told him that," Dad informed Mum.
"Good, if that's the Laphroaig you’re hitting, I'll have one."
"Joseph, if you want to stay here you can," Uncle Bernard stated. "However, that will mess up your GCSEs." Joseph nodded. "Your mother's moved out. I've told her she can have the Kent house but I'm keeping the Hampstead house. So, if you come home, it will be to the Hampstead house, and you can complete this year at St Paul’s. We'll discuss next year later.
"Two things, though. First, we are not going to Manchester for Pesach. Your Grandma Sarah is expecting us, and I have no intention of upsetting her."
"Very wise," Dad mumbled.
"Second, on no account are you to get married or enter into a civil partnership before you graduate. Do you understand?"
"Then, come here. I think I need a hug."
Joseph stood and went over and hugged his father.
Dad looked at me and gave a cock of his head, indicating that maybe we should be somewhere else. Mum, Dad and I transferred our location to the kitchen.
Later that night, actually the early hours of the morning, I woke up to the sound of Joseph sobbing. I put my arm around him and pulled him in close to me.
"I've messed everything up," he said.
"No, you haven't. It's your grandfather who's messed things up. Now we have to sort them out." That said, I kissed him, then held him till he was back asleep.
Although I was awake most of the night, I got up not long after seven and did not feel like going back to sleep. Joseph was fast asleep in my arms, lightly snoring. I extracted myself from him. As I did, he stirred slightly. I gave him a kiss on his forehead and told him to get some more sleep. Then I went and got a shower.
Steve was expecting me at the yard. Although the season had not really started, we were close enough to Easter that an increasing number of weekend sailors were starting to come down. They wanted supplies and equipment for their boats, so it made sense to have the chandlery open, though we were only opening it from ten to four. The thing was, I knew that Aunt Sarah was due to arrive, and I did not want to leave Joseph to deal with her on his own. At the same time, I did not want to let Steve down and not be at the yard.
I was just making myself some toast for breakfast when Mum came into the kitchen. I poured her a mug of coffee.
"Thanks, Johnny. Where's Joseph?"
"In bed, asleep."
"Don't you think you should go and wake him up if you're taking him to the yard with you?"
"I thought Uncle Bernard would want Joseph to be here for when Aunt Sarah arrives."
"Johnny, if Aunt Sarah wants to speak with Joseph, I am sure she has his phone number. Given the way things are, I suspect it would be better if both you and Joseph were at the yard."
"Well, for one thing, knowing Aunt Sarah, there is likely to be some language used that even you don't know."
I looked at Mum questioningly.
"Johnny, Aunt Sarah grew up in the East End of London in the nineteen-forties. Her family were market traders. She's got a vocabulary that would put a Hull fishwife to shame."
"You must be talking about my mother," Uncle Bernard said as he entered the kitchen. "Is that fresh coffee?"
"Reasonably fresh," I replied and poured him a mug.
"Yes, we were," Mum stated. "I was just saying that Johnny should take Joseph with him to the yard."
"Good idea," Uncle Bernard stated. "One less target for mother to aim at."
I went up to our room and woke Joseph, telling him that I was taking him to the yard. He said he thought his father might want him around, so I told him his father thought it would be a good idea if he was at the yard.
When I got back to the kitchen Mum was cooking bacon and sausage. I looked at her puzzled.
"You two are going to need a good breakfast before you go to the yard," she informed me. She then looked at Uncle Bernard. "I've got to cook bacon for this one, so you might as well have a cooked breakfast. Sit down."
I did, sitting at the table opposite Uncle Bernard, who looked as if he was on a second mug of coffee. Checking the coffee jug, I saw it was fairly empty, so thought Uncle Bernard might be on a third. I got up and started to make a new jug of coffee.
Dad, followed by Joseph, arrived in the kitchen roughly about the time that the water had finished filtering through the coffee grounds and into the jug. I poured a mug of coffee for Joseph and a fresh one for me as well, then switched the kettle on to make a pot of tea for Dad. Joseph went over to Uncle Bernard and gave him a hug.
"Johnny told me you think I should go to the yard with him?" he told Uncle Bernard.
"And he is quite right. Your grandmother is coming, and I do not think she is going to be in a good mood. The fewer the number of targets that are around the better."
"Johnny, do you think Steve could do with some extra help in the yard this morning?" Dad pleaded.
"You're staying here and supporting Bernard," Mum instructed. "If Steve needs extra help, I'll go."
Dad nodded. I asked if he wanted Assam or Darjeeling; he opted for Darjeeling, I placed a couple of tea bags in the pot, then poured in the boiling water. That done, I left Dad to sort out his tea. I poured myself another mug of coffee and took a seat at the table next to Joseph.
"What's the plan for today?" Bernard asked.
"Your mother's coming this morning," Dad replied.
"I know; I just want to know what the plan is?"
"Bernard, it's your mother; one doesn't plan."
Uncle Bernard nodded and looked worried. Mum placed a plate of bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms and egg in front of him with a couple of slices of fried bread. He brightened up.
Uncle Bernard's plate was followed by Joseph's and mine. Mum set about frying some more bacon for her and Dad. I was about halfway through my breakfast when the front doorbell rang. Automatically, I got up and went and answered it. There was a small, slightly dumpy woman standing there whom I vaguely remembered seeing at Dad's wedding.
"You must be Beryl's brat," she said. "You've grown. Heard you're my grandson's boyfriend." She looked me up and down. "Well, he's got taste, I must say, but then, he is my grandson. I'm your Aunt Sarah. Now stand aside. I've got to deal with my son and your father."
I stood aside, and she stepped past me into the hall, then stopped.
"Where are they?"
"In the kitchen — through that door, then to the left, first door on the right."
She proceeded as directed. I followed. Then I remembered Uncle Bernard and Joseph were eating bacon. A feeling of panic descended upon me. I was about to try to intercept her and take her to the lounge, but she was too fast and was at the kitchen door before I had got out of the hall.
"Bacon," she announced as she stepped into the kitchen.
"Mother!" Uncle Bernard exclaimed. "I'm …"
"You're having an English Breakfast."
"Anne, any chance of a bacon sandwich," Aunt Sarah asked.
"Of course, Aunt Sarah," Mum replied.
"Yes, from the smell of it, I suspect it is home-smoked, dry-cured streaky. Is that correct, Anne?"
"Yes, Aunt Sarah."
"But it is Shabbat," Uncle Bernard said.
"I know, dear. You may have observed that I have already broken the Shabbat by driving here, so I see no problem with breaking another by having a bacon sandwich. I had to leave at six this morning to get here, and I missed my breakfast. Anne is cooking what looks and smells like really good bacon; I would be a fool to let it go to waste. I may be Jewish, but I am not a fool."
"No, Mum," Uncle Bernard acknowledged.
All this time, I had been standing just behind Aunt Sarah, keen to get to my half-finished breakfast but not desiring to push past this lady. She half turned to me, smiled and removed her coat, which she handed to me.
"Be a dear and hang that up for me, please, then you’d better get to finish your breakfast. I presume that unattended plate on the table is yours."
"Yes, Aunt Sarah." I hurried to hang up her coat and get back to my place at the table. By the time I did, Aunt Sarah was ensconced next to Joseph on the opposite side of him to me. She was looking at Uncle Bernard and Dad. Somehow, I felt sorry for them.
Mum put a plate with a bacon sandwich, together with a mug of tea, down in front of Aunt Sarah. She picked up a piece of the bacon sandwich and took a bite.
"Anne, this bacon is really good; you must tell me where you get it from."
"Mother, you don't buy bacon," Uncle Bernard spluttered.
"I know, but I can tell my goy friends where they can get good bacon. Some of the stuff they have is rubbish.
"Now, what are you two up to today?" She was looking at Joseph and me.
"I was going to the boatyard with Johnny to help Steve, Grandma," Joseph stammered.
"Good, that puts you out of the way while I talk to your father. No, Joseph, don't worry about any of this. You are staying here with your boyfriend till Sunday, as normal. Then you will go home to the Hampstead house with your father on Sunday evening. Your father is either staying here till Sunday or he will pick you up on Sunday. Monday and the rest of next week, your father will either drive you to school and pick you up from school or get somebody you know to do it. You are not to use public transport, understood?"
"Good. Now finish your breakfast, and then you can get off to the boatyard."
"We have to wait for Steve to pick us up," I stated.
"Hopefully, that will not be too long."
I looked at the clock. It was half past eight. Steve would be here sometime between nine-fifteen and half past. That information did not seem to go down too well.
"Look, Johnny, have you got a set of yard keys?" Mum asked.
"How about I give you a lift in? I can let you off on the way to Lynnhaven. Phone Steve and let him know you can open the yard this morning. I'm sure he could do with a late start." Mum picked the phone from its cradle and passed it to me. I phoned Steve and told him not to bother picking me up, that Mum was giving me a lift and I could open up the yard.
When I finished, I passed the phone back to Mum, who returned it to its cradle.
"Good, that's sorted then. Now finish your breakfasts, and we can start sorting things out," Aunt Sarah declared.
Both Joseph and I rapidly followed her instructions. Not fifteen minutes later we were in Mum's car on the way to Lynnhaven.
"I didn't know you were going into Lynnhaven this morning," I told her.
"I wasn't," Mum replied. "However, I was not going to miss an opportunity to get out of the house whilst Aunt Sarah lays into Bernard and your father."
"You know what she is like, then," Joseph said.
"Only by reputation, but reputation is enough to teach you to make oneself scarce if you can. Your Aunt Rachel says she's worse than Aunt Ruth, and I have seen Aunt Ruth in action."
Mum dropped us off by the chain ferry. I was a bit surprised to see Martin's car parked up next to the ferry crossing. Once Joseph and I had pulled ourselves across on the chain ferry, I kept a lookout for him but did not see him anywhere.
In the end, it was a good job that Joseph and I got in early. There was a small crowd waiting for the chandlery to open when we got there. I opened it up just about quarter past nine, and by the time Steve arrived at ten, we had served about twenty customers and taken in over a grand. The rush continued most of the morning, only easing off a bit after twelve. Steve then closed the chandlery doors and put up a sign saying, 'Closed for lunch, reopen at 2.' I expressed my surprise at how much we had sold that morning.
"It's all the weekend sailors coming down to get their boats ready before the Easter weekend," Steve stated as he put the kettle on to boil. "They suddenly find all the things they forgot to replace when they put their boats up for winter."
That made sense when I thought about what we had been selling. Our biggest selling item had been fire extinguishers and distress flares, both of which had expiry dates on them. They would probably work quite well after expiry date, but having out-of-date equipment could jeopardise one's insurance.
We were just tucking into some hot pies which Steve had brought for lunch and heated in the microwave, together with mugs of hot builder's tea, when the office doorbell rang.
"Tell them that we are closed till two," Steve instructed as I got up to answer the door. When I opened the door, it was Martin, so I thought I’d better let him in.
"How come you're here?" Steve asked as I showed Martin through to the office.
"Was next door at the Peters' yard. Got some good news for you."
"Go on," Steve said.
"Mr. Peters has agreed to sell the yard to Johnny's trust. He's got a bit more than we offered but it is still in the ballpark that we discussed."
"How much?" I asked. After all, it was my money they were spending.
"Is it watertight?" I asked. "What if George Jr. comes back and gazumps us."
"It's watertight. Had an appointment at the Peters' yard this morning with Mr. Peters’ solicitor. Contracts were signed and exchanged. You'll get ownership of the yard in fourteen days."
"Good," I stated.
"However, that's not the best news," Martin informed us.
"What is?" Steve asked.
"On Friday, there was a preliminary hearing in the High Court regarding the contested will of George Hamden. John Munroe called me this morning with the results. They presented the evidence of the preceding wills with their clear intention of keeping the yard out of George Jr.'s hands, together with other correspondence. They also presented the letter that George Hamden, Sr., wrote. The judge found that there was no basis for the claim of undue influence and dismissed the case, with costs awarded against the plaintiff. John Munroe has put in a costs’ claim for twenty-four thousand.
"That seems a bit steep," Steve commented.
"It is, but he is claiming sixty hours at four hundred an hour," Martin responded.
"Does he charge that much?"
"No idea, but it is not an exceptional rate for a solicitor/advocate, and John qualified as an advocate last year. George Jr. has twenty-eight days to come up with the funds."
"He'll be after that hundred grand from Mr. Peters," I commented.
"Oh, Mr. Peters solicitors have just issued a breach-of-contract action against George Jr. for one hundred and fifty," Martin informed us.
"Who are his solicitors?" Steve asked.
"Munroe and Claymore," Martin replied. Steve smiled at the response.
The afternoon was not as busy as the morning, but it was still quite busy, and I was glad that Joseph was there to help. So was Steve, who gave him fifty for helping. By the time we closed, I think both of us were dead on our feet. Steve gave us a lift home and dropped us off just after four-thirty.
The Priory was all locked up. Fortunately, I remembered the code sequence to disable the alarm. I could not remember having to do it before. There had always been somebody or other in the house when I got back. On the kitchen table was a note from Dad. It said that he and Uncle Bernard had gone into Town but would be back about six-thirty. It also said not to bother about preparing dinner as he had booked a table at the Crooked Man for this evening.
Well, dinner would be at least two-and-a-half hours away, more like three, if we were lucky. Could be later. Joseph and I had been working hard all day, and we are teenagers, so, by definition, starving. Once we had hung our coats up, I raided the fridge and made some sandwiches whilst Joseph sorted out some tea.
"I wonder why they've gone to Town?" Joseph mused.
"No, idea. Probably something to do with Aunt Sarah."
"Probably. I wonder where your mother is?"
I wondered that, but we did not have to wait long to find out. Mum arrived just as we sat down to our sandwiches and tea.
"Any more in the pot?" she asked, hanging up her coat.
"Yes, plenty; only just made," I told her.
"Where's your father?" she asked. I pointed to the note that was still on the table. Mum read it. "I wonder what is going on?"
I got up and made Mum a sandwich and asked how her day had been.
"Bloody awful. Was in Lynnhaven having a chat about old times with Jack at the Anchor when Jenny phoned. She had put a load of washing in the machine to wash overnight. Something went wrong and her kitchen was flooded. Had to go over to help sort it out.
"Took most of the morning to mop up the kitchen, then had to wait for the washing machine man to come out and repair it. Didn't arrive till gone three. Lucky it was still under guarantee, and Jenny had taken out maintenance insurance on it. Guaranteed same-day response."
"What was wrong with it?" Joseph asked.
"Not sure. It took the repair man nearly an hour to get the door open so we could get Jenny's washing out. All sopping wet. I've brought it over in a bin bag and dumped it in the utility room. Will go and put it in the washer when I've finished my tea. The repair man was still trying to sort the machine out when I left.
"How's your day been?"
We told her about being busy and that Martin had confirmed the purchase of the Peters' yard. We also told her about the challenge to the will failing and the costs that the solicitors were putting in. Mum laughed.
"I suspect that George Jr. may be having some money problems," Mum stated.
"What do you know?" I asked.
"Don't know anything but heard some interesting gossip when I was in the Anchor. Seems George Jr. has been speculating heavily and things have not gone well for him."
"So, he was looking to make a killing on High Marsh to get him out of whatever mess he is in," I speculated.
"Probably," Mum acknowledged.
Sandwiches and tea consumed, Joseph washed up whilst I helped Mum sort out the pile of wet washing she had brought over from Jenny's. One thing that Mum had insisted on when we moved into this place was a good washing machine. In fact, she got two, having expected to be running a B&B. Both were capable of handling large loads, so Jenny's laundry was no problem.
With Jenny's load in the machine and the kitchen cleaned up, Mum went through to the lounge to do some reading. Joseph and I went up to our room to play on the PlayStation.
Dad and Uncle Bernard got back about twenty-past-six. Dad called up the stairs, telling us to come down to the lounge. When we got there, Uncle Bernard handed both Joseph and me a bunch of keys.
"What are these?" Joseph asked. I was about to ask the same.
"They are the keys to the Hampstead House. Your grandmother insisted that we get the locks changed. So, there is a set of keys for you. There is also a set of keys for your boyfriend. After all, he is part of the family now, so might as well be able to let himself in. Saves me having to answer the door."
It took me a moment or two to realise the import of what Uncle Bernard had said, but when it sank in, I thanked him. Then Dad gave Joseph a set of keys to the back door of the Priory and told him he would set an alarm code up for him before he left. Uncle Bernard said he had already set one up for me at the Hampstead house and gave me a piece of paper with my code on it. It was my birthday in reverse order and the American date format.
"What happened with Aunt Sarah?" Mum asked.
"How about us making some tea and coffee, and then we will tell you about events," Dad replied.
Ten minutes later we were sitting in the lounge with Uncle Bernard telling us about the day.
"Once mother got the details of what had happened from Mike and me, she insisted on speaking to Debora. I am not sure what was said, as she went into the study to make the phone call. What is clear is that the call did not go very well. Anyway, mother decided she had to call in the big guns."
"You don't mean—" Joseph spluttered.
Uncle Bernard nodded. "Yes, she called Aunt Ruth."
"Why?" Joseph asked.
"Well, she may be your great-grandmother's cousin, but she is also your grandfather's cousin. She's the one person connected to both sides of the family that can mediate."
"I am not sure I would want Aunt Ruth mediating," Joseph stated.
"You've got no choice. Mother did not offer us one, so you are stuck with it. There is a family conference being held next Sunday. Everybody has to attend. By the way, Johnny, that includes you and your father. Aunt Ruth has specified that your attendance is required."
"Where?" I asked.
"I've got to find someplace with a conference room for twenty odd people," Uncle Bernard replied. "Was thinking of the Grosvenor. The Richmond Room should be big enough for us."
"Why not at home?" Joseph asked.
"Mother said it should be on neutral territory," Uncle Bernard replied. "Which makes me think she is setting a trap for your grandfather."
"Surely not," Mum said.
"It's Aunt Ruth that is setting it up," Dad commented. Mum nodded with understanding.
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