Colin was standing, leaning against the washbasin, his back towards me. He had taken his shirt off. The whole of his back was a mass of scars. My gasp must have alerted him to my presence. He turned to look towards the door. Then tears welled up in his eyes. He was crying by the time I had made my way across the room to him.
"Come on, it's not that bad," I told him. "We're sorting things out for you."
"You saw," he stated.
"What did I see?"
"Yes, and some time you can tell me about it. But not now. Now, you need to get cleaned up. We are nearly ready to go."
"Don't tell anyone, please?" he asked.
"You need to tell someone," I told Colin. "You should tell my Uncle Ben. I think your back probably has something to do with what happened today. If Uncle Ben is going to help you, he needs to know about it."
"But they'll kill me if I say anything."
"Who will kill you?"
"They will. I don't know their names, except for Master James."
Something in the back of my mind lit up. Master James. The name rang bells, bells that linked to Neal and Maddie. For the life of me, I could not remember what it was. There was, though, one thing I did know.
"He's in jail now and is likely to be for a long time," I informed Colin.
"You know him?"
"No, I don't, but I have heard of him. Some friends of mine put him in prison."
"Yes, really. I can get them to tell you about it if you’d like, though that will probably have to wait till they come over."
Colin just nodded.
It took a bit of time to get Colin settled down, cleaned up and dressed. I had not noticed when I came in that he also had a lot of small round scars on his arms. I saw them when I helped him get his shirt back on.
Bran was in the office with Steve when we got back there. They were discussing what needed to be done at the Salvage Yard. I did point out to Steve that technically it was my yard, and I should be paying for the work. Steve countered that the work was being done so Bob's barge could be accommodated there for the restoration, so Bob could pay for it.
Steve asked Bran to put Colin's bike in the back of the Land Rover. He also gave Bran the keys to the Salvage Yard so he could go there directly in the morning. I was not sure that I was too keen on that; after all, it was my yard, but then I noticed that the keys that Steve had given Bran were just the ones to the gates and the boatsheds. The small keys to the storage units were not on the ring.
Steve told Colin to get in the Land Rover; he then drove it out of the yard onto High Marsh Lane. I followed on my moped, then Bran on his motorbike. Once we were all out of the yard, Steve got out of the Land Rover and locked up the yard gates before getting back in and heading for the chain ferry. The tide was in, and the causeway was impassable. However, both Bran and I could make use of the foot bridges and paths. That meant I had about a four-mile advantage over Steve on getting to the Priory. Though, once he was across the chain ferry, he would be on proper roads and could go a lot faster than I could over the marsh tracks.
As it was, I did get to the Priory before Steve, though not by much. I was still removing my helmet when Steve's Land Rover pulled into the yard. There was no sign of Uncle Ben's Maserati, a fact that worried Steve.
"Look, Johnny, I need to get over to Maldon to pick up Tommy and Susan from childcare, but I need to tell your uncle what happened with the hostel," he said.
"Steve, go and get Tommy and Susan. As soon as Uncle Ben arrives, I will get him to call you. You've got hands-free, haven't you?" Steve nodded. "So, you can speak to Uncle Ben even if you are driving."
I took charge of Colin, allowing Steve to get off to pick up the children. Mum was in the kitchen when we entered the house.
"You must be Colin," she said. "Ben said you would be coming. Now, sit down and I'll make you a drink. Johnny, your dad's in the study and he wants a word with you. Do you want coffee or chocolate? I'll have it ready when you've seen your dad."
I was freezing from the ride on the moped, so I plompted for chocolate. Colin went for it as well. I told him to take a seat at the kitchen table and I would be back shortly. Then I went through to see Dad.
Dad wanted to know what was going on, so I gave him a brief synopsis of the day's events. I told him that Colin was in the kitchen, waiting for Uncle Ben to arrive.
"That's going to be a bit yet," Dad replied. "They're on the bypass, and a lorry has shed its load. So, they have been held up. By the way, Trevor and Arthur will be joining us for dinner tonight. Phil needs to speak with Trevor about his next film."
"Did you speak with Jan?" I asked.
"Yes, that's sorted, though I need to get a letter off to her?"
"What did she want?"
"She needed permission to let one of the apartments on a long-term basis," Dad informed me. "One of the artists she had gotten for a studio space needs local accommodation until he can get his new place sorted. The lease agreement she has restricts her to offering holiday lets only. She needed my agreement to make a six-month let. I've given it; the chap is moving in this week."
I mentioned that I thought the place was opening next week. Dad confirmed that it was actually opening officially on Easter Monday, though we would not be around to see it as that was the day we were flying to the Netherlands.
Returning to the kitchen, I found Colin tucking into a sandwich. He also had a mug of hot chocolate. Mum put a mug down for me and also supplied me with a sandwich.
"Dinner is going to be at seven," she informed me. I glanced at the clock, and it was not yet five.
Tucking into my sandwich I realised that neither Colin nor Steve had had lunch today, which meant I also had not had any. I was starving and glad that I did not have to wait till seven to get fed.
Colin finished his sandwich just as I started mine. Mum asked him if he wanted another. He looked rather sheepish but said yes. Mum made him one. When we were finished, she suggested that we should get out of her way and go to the library as that was where Ben would be talking to Colin. So, I showed Colin through to the library. He seemed fascinated by all the books.
"Do you like reading?" I asked.
"Used to," he stated. "Haven't done any for ages."
"Not had any books around," he replied.
I was just about to ask why when Dad came in.
"Phil's just called. They're on their way again, said they would be here in about fifteen minutes," he told me. Then he turned to Colin. "You must be Colin."
"I’m sorry my brother was not here for you when you arrived. They were held up by a shed a load on the bypass, but they are on their way here now, so it won't be long before they arrive."
"Dad, when they arrive, can you tell Uncle Ben that he needs to speak with Steve first."
"What about?" Dad asked.
"I don't know. Steve just asked me to get Uncle Ben to phone him before he spoke with Colin again."
"OK, I'll tell Anne to tell Ben when he arrives; she'll probably see him first."
Once Dad left, I tried to engage Colin in conversation to pass the time, but he was not very much of a conversationalist. All I got in reply to questions were yesses and nos. So, after a few tries, I gave up, and we sat in silence. Fortunately, it was not long before I heard the roar of Uncle Ben's Maserati as it pulled into the yard. However, it seemed to take ages before he came into the library, but then, he had to phone Steve first.
When Uncle Ben came through into the library, he apologised for being late. I got up to leave, but Colin asked me to stay.
"Are you sure you want Johnny to stay?" Uncle Ben asked.
"Yes, he told me I had to tell you about my back," Colin replied.
"What about your back?"
"I’d better show you," Colin said, standing up.
"Before you do, I need to sort something out with Johnny," Uncle Ben said. He then looked across at me. "Johnny, if you stay, you have got to keep anything Colin says a secret unless he tells you that you can tell somebody. Do you understand?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Above all do not tell anyone you were here unless I tell you it's OK. Understood?"
"Yes, but why?"
"I'm seeing Colin at the request of Doctor Nygyra. As a result, this is classed as a medical consultation and covered by medical confidentiality. Technically, having you here breaches that condition. I don't want anybody using that to find out what was said here unless Colin decides to go public on things. Understood?"
"Yes, Uncle Ben."
"Is he really your uncle?" Colin asked.
"Yes, he's my father's brother."
"So, what was it you were going to show me?" Uncle Ben asked.
Colin stood again, took off his shirt, then turned so Uncle Ben could see his back.
"Shit!" Uncle Ben exclaimed. "How long has this been going on?"
"Since I was no use for kiddy porn," Colin replied. "Mr. Braylow brought me to Dunford so the Master could use me."
"Peter Braylow?" Uncle Ben asked. There was a worried look on his face.
"Yes, but we had to call him Mr. Braylow."
"Who are we?"
"All the boys," Colin replied.
"I think you’d better start from the beginning. How did you meet Mr. Braylow?"
"My stepdad sold me to him," Colin said.
For the next hour he told Uncle Ben and me his story, with the occasional prompts from Uncle Ben. From what Colin told us, his mother was an unmarried mother. Until he was five, they were living in Basingstoke with his gran. However, when his gran died, they had to move out and moved to London. There, they lived with a man called George. Whether George and his mother were married, he did not know, just that George told people that he was Colin's stepfather. One thing, though, was that they moved around a lot, rarely staying in one place more than a year, often less. Colin was always having to change schools, though often he did not go to school when they were travelling.
When Colin was about nine, George told him he had to start to learn the family business. That, it turned out, was sex. Initially, Colin was introduced to oral sex and taught by George to suck him off. Once he had learnt that to George's satisfaction, he was taken by George to hotels to meet men and service them. Not long after that, Colin was introduced to anal sex with older boys. Once George thought he was ready, he was used for making kiddy-porn films. Colin's mother died when he was thirteen. The week after she died, they moved again. Then George took Colin and sold him to Peter Braylow.
"I stopped going to school then," Colin said. "Mr. Braylow kept us in a house; we weren't allowed out unless it was to make a film or go to a customer.
"Who were the ‘we’ you are talking about?" Uncle Ben asked.
"There were six or seven boys, some younger, some a bit older. We stayed in a house. We would be taken from there to go on jobs. When the boys got too old, they were shipped out."
"Shipped out to where?"
"Word was, Amsterdam, but we never knew. One day they would be there, talking about going to Amsterdam. They said it would be better for them over there. Then they were gone, and we never heard from them again."
"But you didn't go to Amsterdam, did you?"
"No, Mr. Braylow said he had something special for me. When I got too old for the kiddy stuff, he brought me down here. That was two years ago. It was fine at first, a lot better than I had been doing in the other place. I even had a bit of freedom; I could go out so long as I stayed with his lads."
It was then I realised where I had known Colin from. He was one of the lads that hung around with John Henderson outside of the youth club.
"Then the job they had brought me down for started. I would be taken out to a big boat out at sea. It took about an hour to get out there. John would take me out in the speedboat. The Master would be there with two or three others. They used to hurt me."
"Do you know who they were?"
"There was the Master, then Master Hans and Master James, though he has not been there the last three times they took me out. Then there was Blackie. Don't know what their real names were."
"How often did that happen?" Uncle Ben asked.
"About every three months, sometimes less, never more."
"And it was just you who was taken out there?"
"There were others, sometimes, but they stayed out there; they did not come back. I think I was the only one they played with."
Colin continued to tell Uncle Ben what had happened on the boat. Once he arrived, he would be stripped and then placed in restraints that held him spread-eagled across a doorway. It seemed that while he was tied up, the Master would instruct the other men on how to hurt him. After that, they would rape him in turn and degrade him in any way they wanted. Some of the things that Colin talked about made me feel ill; they also made me very angry.
However, as Colin was talking and Uncle Ben was asking questions, things suddenly fell into place. It was not the water that Colin was scared of; it was getting in the boat. The moment I told him to get in the boat, he must have thought I was going to take him out to that larger boat. The idea made me feel sick. I dreaded to think what Colin must have felt.
Uncle Ben was busy explaining to Colin that none of what had happened was his fault when there was a knock at the library door. Uncle Ben indicated that I should go and see who was there. So, I did. Dad was there with a woman I did not recognise.
"Johnny, this is Doctor Graham; she's Colin's doctor and came to see him."
Uncle Ben must have heard, as he came over to the door and invited the doctor in. I took that opportunity to slip out. To be honest, I had heard enough by then. Unfortunately, Uncle Ben called me back. It seemed that Colin got upset when I was not there.
Uncle Ben gave Doctor Graham a rundown of events and what he found out. He also gave her his opinion of Colin's psychological condition and his recommendation. That appeared to be that Colin see some professor who was based in Chelmsford.
"I don't think there is much chance of getting him in to see Professor Prendergast. She has a waiting list a mile long," the doctor stated.
"Don't worry, Susan's seeing him at the Kelwell Centre tomorrow," Uncle Ben informed her.
"How did you arrange that, and who's paying?" the doctor asked.
"Susan Prendergast was my tutor at university; I know her well. We both serve on the same charity committees. One of the charities we are both involved with is going to cover the costs."
"Do they know that yet?"
"Not yet, but they will. Even if they don't, the fees will be covered."
"Good, I phoned probation like Steve asked and told them that Colin had suffered a breakdown and was receiving psychological help. Told them that I could not give them any more information at present but would be back in touch with them tomorrow. They seemed very keen on knowing where he was."
"They would be," Colin stated.
"Why?" I asked.
"The boss of the hostel is one of the men that Mr. Braylow hired me out to."
"Shit!" Uncle Ben exclaimed. "That complicates matters."
"I'm under a duty to report," Doctor Graham pointed out.
"Yes, you are," Uncle Ben agreed. "However, you do not have to report to the local police. I think it would be best if this was reported to Scotland Yard. In fact, to a particular detective in Scotland Yard."
"I can't talk to the police; they're in on it," Colin stated.
"We know, but that's the local force. There is a detective we know at Scotland Yard who is already looking into Mr. Braylow, as you know him. His real name is Peter Henderson."
"Not Brother Henderson?" the doctor said.
"One and the same."
The doctor laughed. "Anything I can do to put that family away for good, I will. They have caused too much misery around here. Who's this detective I need to speak to?"
"Detective Chief Inspector Manley. I don't have his number, but I know my brother does."
"OK, I will ask him for it," the doctor stated. She then gave Uncle Ben some tablets. "Give him one of these if he gets badly upset. Might be an idea for him to take one before going to bed."
Uncle Ben nodded. The doctor left.
"Colin, I know you are scared of talking to the police, but it is the only way we have of making you safe. There are some police who are very interested in Mr. Braylow's activities. What happened after he was arrested?"
"He's been arrested?"
"Yes, didn't you know."
"No, everybody just left. I was the only person left in the house, and nobody came for me. So, I broke a window and climbed out. Hadn't had anything to eat for two days and I had no money. John Henderson kept all the money. What's happened to him?"
"He's dead," I stated.
"Yes," Uncle Ben told him. "He pointed a gun at Johnny, so Johnny took him out."
I really wished Uncle Ben had not said that.
"Good," Colin said. He looked at me, with a strange look. "You did a good job there."
"Why?" I asked and immediately regretted it.
"He used to sit and watch them hurting me on the boat. He sat there wanking, watching."
"He didn't take part?"
"No, that would have been too gay for him, but he enjoyed watching. The only time he would fuck a boy was if he was breaking in one of the youngsters. He used to do that for Mr. Braylow."
There was a knock on the door. I went to answer it. It was Mum to let us know that dinner was ready and would be served in the dining room. I showed Colin where he could clean up as he had been crying when he was telling us things. I then took him through to the dining room.
As we entered somebody called out, "Colin! What are you doing here?"
Colin turned to see who it was.
Trevor walked over from where he had been talking to Uncle Phil.
"Are you alright, Colin?" he asked, giving the boy a hug. Colin responded to the hug. I just heard a very whispered, "No". I managed to tell Trevor that we would update him later.
Somehow, Mum managed to keep conversation at the dinner table off the topic of Colin or how he knew Trevor. Instead, she wanted to know why Uncle Phil and Uncle Ben were down here and how long they would be around for.
"At least two more days," Uncle Phil informed Mum, "Though most of the work was done today. Just need to get the paperwork signed."
"What paperwork?" Dad asked.
"We're taking a lease on the Southmead airfield," Uncle Ben stated. "We are going to use it as the location for Fly Boys. We can also use the hangers there for studio space until we get the units here built."
"Be careful," Dad advised them. "The word is that the Elmchurch estate is in some financial difficulties."
"Are you sure?" Uncle Phil asked.
"Yes," Dad replied.
"How bad? Any idea?"
"Not really; just that they are having problems."
"I wonder if they would sell," Uncle Phil speculated.
"Phil, we're stretched enough as it is," Uncle Ben commented.
"I'm sure somebody we know could put a deal together for us," Uncle Phil replied. Uncle Ben just shook his head.
As soon as dinner was over, I got Trevor and Colin into the library. Arthur was busy talking to Mum about servers.
"Right, Trevor, how do you know Colin?"
Colin looked panicked for a moment.
"It's alright, Colin, Johnny knows about Dean and the films; they all do here," Trevor assured him. "Johnny, Colin was one of the boys that Dean used in the films I made for them. We became friends, but Colin disappeared about two years ago. I know the police were trying to find him."
I gave Trevor a brief synopsis of why Colin disappeared—also, what had gone on since. I was just finishing when Uncle Ben came in.
"Right, Colin, I have spoken to Inspector Manley; he's coming over in the morning to see you. So, we need to find you somewhere to stay and some clothes for the morning."
"All my stuff is at the hostel," Colin stated.
"Well, we can't very well go there to pick it up. You're supposed to be under psychological assessment at the moment, so that’s out. I don't suppose any of the boys here could help out with something?" Uncle Ben looked at me and Trevor. We were both a good six inches taller than Colin, and both of us had a more muscular build. Although Colin was seventeen, he still had the build of a fourteen-year-old. No doubt that had made him popular with the customers Brother Peter had hired him out to.
I looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was just gone eight.
"Tesco Extra is open till ten," I told Uncle Ben.
"I can take Colin and get him something; he can stay at our place tonight," Trevor stated.
"No, you can't," Uncle Ben stated. "I've no problem with Colin staying with you and Arthur since you know him. Taking him to Tesco's is out, though. First, you might be recognised, and we do not want a riot in Tesco's. Second, we don't want to risk Colin being seen out. Let me get a pad and get some measurements. I'll give Anne a list and some money and get her to run over and grab some things for tomorrow."
Fortunately, Colin seemed to know all his sizes, and Uncle Ben soon had a note of them. He then made a list of clothing required. That done, he went to speak to Mum.
"I’d better tell Arthur we have a guest," Trevor said.
Colin sat down in one of the armchairs. For a moment I thought he was going to curl up in the chair. He seemed to want to make himself as small as possible.
"Colin, can I tell a friend about your story?" I asked.
"Because it fits in with something that he was involved with."
"I don't really know, but I do know it resulted in Master James being sent to prison."
"OK," Colin said.
Uncle Ben arrived back and informed us that Dad had gone to Tesco's to get Colin some clothes.
"Mum didn't go, then?"
"No, said there was something she wanted to watch on the television. She was already ensconced in front of the set with a red wine."
That made sense. Mum would never drive if she had been drinking. There had been no wine at dinner, so Dad would not have had any. Also, he did not drink if he was planning on working late. I was about to make a comment to that effect when Ben's phone pinged. He checked the message.
"Shit! Bran’s turned up at the dojo. I'm late getting over there."
"You’d better get over. We'll come and watch," I said.
"No, just you will go watch," Trevor said, coming in through the door. "I'm taking Colin to meet Arthur, then were going over to the Stable House; we need to get his bed made up for him."
"In that case, you’d better have these," Ben said, handing Trevor the packet of pills that the doctor had given him earlier. "Colin is to take one before he goes to bed.
"Colin, one other thing. A chap called Martin is coming over in the morning to see you. He's a lawyer; he will be with you when you talk to the police."
"I can't afford a lawyer," Colin stated. There was a look of panic on his face.
"Don't worry, it's covered. Now go off with Trevor; I'll see you in the morning about nine."
When they had gone, Uncle Ben told me to get my gi and get over to the dojo. He said he would see me there. As I was leaving, he asked if I had contacted Neal yet?
"No, I was going to text him."
"Good, do so before you come over to the dojo."
I did. My phone pinged as I was crossing the yard. I checked it. There was a message from Neal saying he would be here in the morning. Looked as if we were going to have a busy morning.
I was pleased to see Jim and Steven were on the mat when I got to the dojo. At least, it meant there was somebody around my own grade to practice with. Simone and Delcie were teaching them a move. Lee was not on the mat. He was off to one side talking with Bran. I went and joined Jim and Steven. Uncle Ben arrived in the dojo about five minutes later. For the next hour and a half, we were taken through a series of moves. Uncle Ben would demonstrate something; he then had Lee, Simone and Delcie teach Jim, Steven and me how to do it. All the time, Uncle Ben would be walking around looking at how they were doing. Bran spent the evening watching us practice.
As we normally did, once the session was finished, we made our way down to the Crooked Man. That is, except for Uncle Ben. He informed us that he had to get down to the Belmont. As we walked down to the pub, Simone indicated to me that she wanted to talk, so I dropped back a bit to join her at the back of the pack.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I've had a text from Maddie telling me that she and Neal are on their way here, and I am to meet them at nine."
That put me in somewhat a difficult position.
"Look, Simone, something turned up this afternoon, and I let Neal know. The thing is, I can't talk about it."
"Is this something to do with what Bran was telling Lee about the kid having a panic attack at the yard?"
"Yes, but I can't say more," I replied. Simone just nodded, then picked up speed, so we re-joined the back of the pack going down to the pub.
Given what Simone had said, I was not surprised when two motorcycles pulled into the yard just after I had got down to the kitchen at eight-thirty on Tuesday morning.
"Tell them I am doing bacon butties for them," Mum instructed as she put the frying pan back on the heat. I went out to the yard; I informed them.
"Good!" Maddie exclaimed. "Not had any breakfast this morning."
"You had three Weetabix before we left," Neal objected.
"That was a snack," Maddie declared, then stomped off towards the kitchen.
"Women!" exclaimed Neal under his breath.
"I heard that," Maddie called from by the back door.
Neal and I decided we’d better follow Maddie in, if only to make sure we got something to eat. When we got into the kitchen, Maddie was already seated at the table with a mug of coffee. Shortly after, Mum placed a plate in front of her with a couple of bacon sarnies on it.
"I suppose you two would like some, as well?"
Both Neal and I nodded. We got one each.
"Where's Dad?" I asked, having noticed that the Santa Fe was not in the yard.
"He's gone down to pick your Uncle Ben up from the Belmont. Phil is taking the Maserati up to Cambridge today."
That settled, I proceeded to attack my bacon sandwich and the second that Mum produced for me. Neal declined a second bacon sandwich, so Maddie had what Mum had made for him.
Martin arrived just after nine. He told us that he had arranged for DCI Manley to be here at ten thirty. That would give him time to talk to Colin before the interview. Mum told him that Dad said they should use the drawing room as it had a recording system installed. Martin said it sounded like a good idea. He also asked if Ben was here. Mum assured him he would be here shortly. Actually, it was only a couple of minutes later that Dad and Uncle Ben arrived.
Once they were present, Dad asked me to go over to the Stable House and let Colin know he was wanted. I wondered why he just did not phone across. Arthur and Trevor's apartment was on the internal phone network. However, as I crossed the yard, it occurred to me that this might be to ensure that Colin came back across to the house and did not run off anywhere.
When I got over to the Stable House, I found Colin having a chat with Trevor over the small breakfast bar that they had in what passed for a kitchen. There was no sign of Arthur. When I asked about him, Trevor informed me he had gone down to the new premises. Apparently, they did most of the business from there these days. Colin looked a lot better than yesterday. He had clearly cleaned up, the new clothes he was wearing suited him, and by the look of things he had had his hair trimmed — a fact I commented on.
"Trevor told me it looked a mess," he stated. "So, he tidied it up for me last night."
"Didn't know you had the skill," I commented to Trevor.
"It's surprising what you can learn sitting around on a film set all day."
I told Colin that Uncle Ben and Martin were here and waiting for him in the house.
"Who’s Martin?" Colin asked. I reminded him that Martin was the solicitor that Uncle Ben had got for him. That sorted. Colin finished his tea and started to get ready to come over to the house with me. Trevor also started to get ready, as well.
"I might as well come over, don't want to leave Col with no support if he needs any."
When we got back to the house, there was no sign of Neal or Maddie. Ben introduced Colin to Martin, then the three of them went off to the drawing room. They were in there a good three quarters of an hour before Uncle Ben came out and asked for some drinks. He also asked that if DCI Manley arrived before they were finished, could I delay him a bit?
Neal and Maddie came in through the back door just before ten. I asked them where they had been. Turned out they had gone down to look at the studio-workshops.
"We've got a friend who is big into pottery; has been wanting a place to start his own business," Neal informed me. "Thought here might be ideal for him. He took one of the places last week; just went to see where it was."
Uncle Ben, Martin and Colin were still busy talking in the drawing room when the front doorbell rang. I answered it, and as expected, it was DCI Manley plus a sidekick female detective sergeant. I told them that Colin was still talking with his solicitor and took them through to the kitchen. DCI Manley took one look at Neal and sighed.
"Aunty is interested?" he asked.
"Just asked us to keep an eye on things," Neal stated.
"Could be useful," DCI Manley responded.
"Well, it's getting a bit crowded in here," Mum announced. "How about the lot of you move to the living room. Johnny, you can sort out refreshments."
They did and I did. Dad said he had some work to do, so went to his study.
About ten minutes later, Uncle Ben came through to the living room, apologised to the DCI for keeping him waiting, then took him and the DS through to the drawing room. Maddie announced she was going to listen to some music and took out her phone and plugged in some headphones. Neal did likewise. Trevor and I decided to have a game of chess.
About half an hour later, Dad came and told me that he was going over to the office in case anyone was looking for him. Apparently, Lee had some papers he needed to look at. I said I would let Uncle Ben and Martin know. It was as Dad was leaving that I suddenly noticed something. Every now and then Maddie and Neal would nod to each other. The first couple of times I saw this, I was puzzled, then I realised they were not listening to music; they were listening to somebody speaking, and when something important was said they acknowledged it to each other. The question was: what were they listening to? The interview taking place in the drawing room was the obvious answer. I was not sure what I should do about it.
For the time being, I decided to do nothing, but I was also determined to have a word with Neal about it before the day was over.
Trevor won the chess match; he beat me twice in three games. The third game was a stalemate.
"Didn't realise you were that good," I commented.
"Most film actors are," he replied. "Well, there is a lot of waiting about on set, and chess is a good way to pass the time. A lot of us play."
Mum called me to give her a hand in the kitchen. She was making a couple of platters of sandwiches for lunch. One platter was taken to the drawing room for the five in there, the other came with me to the living room, along with some cans of cola. Neal and Maddie just acknowledged them whilst they continued to listen to whatever they were listening to.
Shortly before one, Neal and Maddie took off their headphones, disconnected them from their phones and put the phones back in their pockets. Shortly afterwards, Uncle Ben came in. He asked Trevor if he and Arthur could put Colin up for a few more days.
"No problem, Ben. I talked it over with Arthur last night, and we agreed that Colin could stay as long as he needed to. Actually, as things are at the moment, it could be useful."
Uncle Ben looked puzzled. Trevor continued. "I have to be away quite a bit over the next couple of months, and Arthur will be coming with me when he can. It would be useful having somebody living in the apartment whilst we are away."
That confirmed, Uncle Ben returned to the drawing room.
It occurred to me that Trevor must know about the hacking. That was the only reason I could think why having somebody in the apartment when they were not there would be useful. It would make it a damned sight more difficult for somebody to get into the server room.
Martin and Colin, accompanied by the two police officers, came into the living room a few minutes later. The DCI thanked Trevor for providing accommodation.
"It's not going to get me into any trouble, is it?" Trevor asked. "I know he is supposed to be living in the hostel."
"No, it is fine," DCI Manley stated. "I've cleared it with my commander. Colin is being placed in a place of safety—in this case, your place. Hopefully, we will have things sorted by tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, though, I hope you can keep Colin out of sight." That said, the DCI and his sidekick departed via the front door. Uncle Ben showed them out.
"What about my job?" Colin asked.
"It's not a problem," I told him. "You're not needed till Friday at the earliest." I then went on to assure Colin that I would sort it all out with Steve. Colin did not seem very convinced till Martin assured him that I would shortly own nearly half the yard and that I did own the Salvage Yard.
"You are going to have to rename that," Neal stated.
"Why?" I asked.
"It just does not sound right. Not when you are restoring boats there."
Neal had a point.
That started a discussion about boats. One thing was clear, Colin had some interest in boats, so maybe working at the yard would not be so bad for him.
Uncle Ben interrupted the discussion, saying he needed to get Colin over to Chelmsford. He reminded Colin that he had an appointment with Professor Prendergast and that they needed to get a move on if they were going to get there in time. Martin said he needed to see Dad and Lee, so went off to the office. Trevor said he needed to see Tyler, so he left as well, leaving Neal, Maddie and me in the living room.
"You were listening to the interview, weren't you?" I accused Neal. Neal just nodded.
"We thought it was probably better than putting Colin through another one," Maddie stated. I could see that she probably had a point there, but I was not happy about it, a fact I made clear to both of them.
"Look, Johnny, Colin is not in that good a place at the moment," Maddie said, a fact I had to agree with. "If we had to put him through all the same stuff again just to get the information we needed, then it would not have been good for him. This way, we do not have to put him through the stress of things twice. All we need to do is get some clarification on a couple of points."
"Well, whether the Master James he met is the same bastard as we are interested in," Neal said. “We still need to find out everything he was involved with.”
"It would also help if we could identify where the boat was registered. Manley was a bit lax in not asking about that," Maddie pointed out.
"How will you do that?" I asked.
"Ask him if he saw the flag; that might give us a lead," Neal stated. "Also, we would like him to look at some photos of people who we don't think the police have in their sights. At least, not yet."
"Well, there is not much for us to do here," Maddie stated. "Might as well go down and see how things are going at Craven House."
"Craven House?" I asked.
"That's what we are calling the new premises," Neal informed me. "We could not very well keep calling it the old Craven place."
I suppose they could not.
Once Maddie and Neal left, I was once again at a bit of a loose end. I could have done a bit of revision for my practical exam tomorrow, but I was really not in the mood, so I decided to see how things were going at the Salvage Yard. I knew Bran was supposed to have a team of lads clearing the place up. It did not take long to get there on the moped.
I decided to go directly to the Salvage Yard, partly because I knew Steve had a meeting with a couple of customers this afternoon, and I did not want to interrupt. When I crossed the foot bridge from Marsh Road onto High Marsh Lane, I was a bit annoyed to see that the back gates to the yard had been left open.
I rode in, parked my moped by one of the storage sheds, then went and closed and locked the gates. That done I walked down to the boatsheds.
"Who the fuck are you?" a voice sounded behind me. I turned to see a chap who appeared to be built like the side of a mountain. Before I could say anything, he grabbed hold of my arm, informing me that they did not like snoops around here. Without thinking about it, I stepped forward, forcing him to bend his arm slightly. My hand came over to grab his wrist and turn it inwards. At the same time, I brought the forearm of the arm he was holding over the top of his arm and applied a downward pressure. The resulting scream as the man mountain went down on his knees brought a pile of lads running from the sheds.
"Stop," a voice I knew shouted out. I looked over in the direction of the voice and saw Bran walking out of the far boatshed, the one from which man mountain had emerged.
"Looks like you got a surprise, Danny," Bran said as he walked up to us. "Let him go, Johnny, please." I did. Danny stood up, shook himself, then went to take a swing at me. Bran stopped him.
"Not a good idea, Danny."
"What's he doing here?" Danny asked.
"Well, he owns the place," Bran answered.
Danny looked at me with an expression of disbelief on his face. "What?"
"You heard me, Danny," Bran told him. "This is Johnny; he owns this yard."
"I thought we were working for Steve?" Danny stated.
"We are," Bran told Danny. "Steve is going to use the slipways here for a long-term restoration of a barge. Johnny is letting us use it. By the way, don't think about trying to take him on to prove it was a fluke taking you down. It wasn't a fluke. I've seen him training, and if you have doubts, just remember he's the guy who took out the Henderson boy."
I hated it when anybody brought that up, but I had to admit there was a sudden change in attitude amongst the crowd the moment Bran said that. It seemed that I had earned some respect.
"Now get back to work," Bran told the crowd. "We've only got ten days to get this yard sorted." They went back to whatever it was that they were doing.
"Not sure I like you mentioning me taking down John Henderson," I told Bran.
"Had to, Johnny. They needed to know it was not just a fluke, you taking Danny down. This lot protects Danny."
"Does he need protection?"
"Despite his size and strength, he does. He is a bit simple in the head but very loyal, and if you get him on your side, he will do anything for you."
"How's the clean-up going?" I changed the topic.
"Better than I expected," Bran stated. "We've removed a pile of stuff from the Number One slipway. From what I can see, it is in far better condition than we expected, though at the current rate, it will be another day, at least, before it is clear. I've just been looking at the winch on the Number Two slipway. It doesn't look too bad; far better condition than the winch on Number One. I think Number Three slipway’s had it. It will have to be relaid."
"I suspect you want to suggest something."
"I was. The Number One is the larger slipway, so that's the one you will need to use for the barge. I think it might be an idea to swap the winch engines over. Not sure we will be able to get the one on Number One working in time."
"You need to talk to Steve about it," I replied. "What's wrong with the winch on Number One?"
"By the look of it, it's burnt out."
"That's about right. I'll get Steve to have a look at it in the morning."
“What about Number Three? You’ve not mentioned the winch on that.”
“Because there’s not one,” Bran replied. I looked at him surprised. “Johnny, there’s no shed on Number Three. It’s an open run from the end up to here. Uncle Dicky used to use a tractor to pull the boats up. Now, I’d better sort out with Steve in the morning about him checking the winches.”
I nodded in agreement with that as I knew Steve was busy all this afternoon. That settled, I asked Bran about the gate being left open.
"I'll kill John," Bran stated. "I told him to make sure the gate was closed. Sent him down to Steve's yard to get grease."
We spent the next fifteen minutes walking around looking at things that Bran thought I needed to see. On the whole, the yard did not seem to be in as bad a shape as I had first thought, though there was a lot of work to be done to get it back to fully working. We had just come out of one of the storage sheds when I heard some effing and blinding from the top of the yard. Looking up at the gate, I could see a smallish chap trying to undo the lock while still carrying a large tub of grease.
"I'll go and give him a hand," Bran said and went off up to the gate. I followed.
"Who the fuck locked this?" the character I took to be John said as Bran got the gate unlocked.
"I did," I said coming up behind Bran.
"And who the fuck are you?"
"The owner," I replied.
There was no response. However, Bran did give John a lecture about security and keeping the yard gate locked, then told him to take the grease down to the first boatshed.
"What's the grease for?" I asked Bran.
"The shed doors; the hinges are virtually seized. They need a good greasing."
As we walked back down towards the sheds, Bran started to make some comments about what could make the yard better if it was to work as a proper boatyard rather than a breaking yard. His suggestions made a lot of sense, but I suspected they would cost a lot of money.
One thing I did discuss with Bran was where to put The Lady Ann. Steve had suggested putting it between the two boatsheds, but I could see a problem there. Yes, it would provide some shelter, but it would mean there was no easy access from the rear of the yard to the front. Unlike Steve's yard, there was no passage down the sides of either boatshed; they were both tight up against the yard perimeter. It would also make the Number Three slipway useless, as we would not be able to pull boats up with a tractor; the yacht would be in the way.
Bran asked me how big the boat cradle was. I did not know exactly but could make a good guess, which I did. Then Bran pointed out that behind the second boatshed was a roofed wood store. He also pointed out that it was in a pretty bad condition. His suggestion was that we build a new wood store on a space that was open a bit further up the back part of the yard and demolish the old one. The Lady Ann could then be stored where the current wood store was. That made some sense, but I needed to speak to Steve about it. For a start, I did not know if I would need planning permission for a new wood store. If I did, that could be a problem.
I told Bran to make a note of everything and that I would arrange with Steve to have a meeting on Friday to discuss things. Bran said he would. That settled, I decided to go home.
It was just gone four when I got back. Uncle Ben and Colin were there. It occurred to me that Uncle Ben had not had a car with him as Dad had picked him up, so I wondered how they had got to Chelmsford.
"I borrowed the Mercedes Estate," Uncle Ben told me. That made sense; it was the car Lee normally drove. Given that the Santa Fe and Mum's Wagon R had been in the yard all afternoon, it had to be that or the Morgan. There was no way I could see Dad letting anyone drive the Morgan. Lee normally kept the Merc parked by his apartment, so I had not missed it from the yard.
Mum asked Uncle Ben if he would be staying for dinner. Uncle Ben declined, saying that Uncle Phil was picking him up in about twenty minutes and they had to go back to Town. He then added they would be back tomorrow afternoon and asked if there was there any chance of them staying here.
Mum laughed but said she would get their room made up for them.
"How long are you staying?" she asked.
"Don't know," Uncle Ben replied. "But probably till the weekend. We've a lot of stuff to go over with both Trevor and Tyler about their parts in various films. Want to get the details all sorted out."
"Tyler's got his girlfriend staying," Mum mentioned.
"I know; that's one of the reasons we need to see him—and her. We want her to play the female lead in Snowball."
"I didn't think she was an actor," I stated.
"She's not, but she's a top-class model, so used to taking direction. There's not that much acting in the part. Given the chemistry between Jenny and Tyler, I think it is worth taking the risk of having a non-actor playing the part."
That I could understand; when that pair were together, the air was sizzling.
The back doorbell rang, and Mum answered it, letting Neal and Maddie in. Maddie asked Colin if they could have a talk with him. Colin looked nervous. He turned and asked Uncle Ben if he could stay while he talked to Neal and Maddie. Uncle Ben said that he had to leave but that I was there, and he was sure I would stay with him. I just nodded my agreement. So, the four of us went through to the living room on Mum's orders.
"Look, Colin, we know what has happened to you, and we would like to ask your help with things," Maddie said. "We think that somebody involved in how you were treated is somebody we are interested in. Could we ask you to look at some photos and see if you recognise anyone?"
Colin said he would. Then Neal pulled some photos out of the case he had brought in with him.
"Sorry, not the best quality but we had to enlarge them from some CCTV images we had."
He laid the photos on the coffee table. Colin leaned over to look at them, then went white.
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