At about the same time as Thomas and Connor had been discussing Mark's actions of the last few weeks, a conversation was also taking place in Craigh House. Mark was sitting in the lounge half-heartedly reading a copy of New Scientist. Joan came in and put a mug of tea on the table beside him.
"Well," she asked, "what are you going to do now?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, Dad, exactly what I've said. What are you going to do now? You have been more alive in the last few weeks than I have seen you since Mam died. Thomas gave you a purpose, though for the life of me I can't quite understand why?"
"I told you, it was because of Ian," Mark responded.
"I know that, Dad, and I understand what you were saying about Ian, but it seemed to me that there was more to it than that.
"Anyway, Thomas is gone now, and you need to decide what you are going to do. Thomas gave you a purpose and you need to get another and keep the life in you, Dad."
"Joan, I still have a purpose with Thomas and Connor. Thomas may have moved to Walsall but that does not mean that I'm going to drop contact with him. For a start, I'm going over at the end of the month for his birthday so I have to sort out a good birthday present. Then there is Connor's birthday a few weeks later. I can't treat the one boy and not the other."
"Don't 'Dad' me, my girl. You said Thomas gave me a purpose ― well, it was more than Thomas ― it was the pair of them. There is something about them that makes them special, and I think they are worth anything I can do for them, so I mean to do it. It's not as if it will be anything off you lot. I've given all of you enough to set you up, and you're all doing well for yourselves."
"Well," responded Joan, "you're right about that at least, except possibly for Johnny. I'm not sure if he is doing as well as he makes out."
"But they've got the house in Highgate …"
"Dad, I think the Highgate house was paid for, at least in part, by Rachel's parents. I happen to know it is in her name. Anyway, that's not important. Why don't you get involved with the company again?"
"Joan, I've retired and handed over control. Why should I go back now?"
"You've said yourself that things just did not seem right over there."
"I know, but I don't think that gives me the right to walk back in after I've handed it over, even if I am the majority shareholder."
"It shouldn't stop you taking more interest in what's going on, though."
"All right, though I think I am going to have my hands full with Thomas and Connor, and at my age, they are more than enough to be going on with."
"They probably are, Dad. And I think you're right; they are a bit special." Mark looked at his daughter, surprised by her comment. "Don't look at me like that, you're not the only sentimental member of this family. After a day's effort trying to write about the lives and loves of the English aristocracy it's nice to see the real thing at times." At that Mark could not help but burst out laughing.
A couple of weeks later Mark received a phone call from Terry early on the Friday morning asking him if he could come over to Walsall. Mark had already planned to go over on the Saturday for Thomas's fifteenth birthday. Terry suggested he should get over on the Friday afternoon before the boys got back from school and he should stay overnight for the party on Saturday.
"Why? What's happened?"
"There's been a development over Frank Donnal, and I think Thomas might need a bit of support when he is told. It might not be best for it to come from me. He might see me as the enemy, given my job."
"OK, I'll be there."
It was just after two when Mark arrived at the O'Mallys. Terry greeted him at the door. "Glad you could make it over."
"You made it sound serious," Mark replied as Terry guided him into the sitting room.
"It is. Would you like a coffee, or a brandy? I'd recommend the brandy as I'm going to have one," Terry advised.
"In that case, I better have one, too, and you better sit down and tell me what's going on. By the way, where's Mary?"
"She has gone over to Social Services to tell them what is happening, just in case things go belly up with Thomas. Then she'll pick Shelly up from school before picking the boys up. She is going to take them shopping, officially to get Thomas things for his birthday, so I have a couple of hours to brief you. We were not sure when you would get here, so she's aiming to keep them away till at least five."
"So you better brief me then."
Terry took a deep breath, exhaled, then began. "You remember you told me that Thomas and Connor were planning to go camping at Frank Donnal's place on the moors?"
"Yes," Mark responded. "You went off to talk with Thomas and were quite excited about something when you got back."
"Yes, I was. Thomas had given me enough information that we could identify the property. We've had it under observation for the last couple of weeks. There have been quite a lot of suspicious comings and goings but nothing we could link to any specific criminal activity, so probably not enough cause to get a search warrant.
"Yesterday afternoon a woman was observed opening one of the doors to the barn and running out. She was followed by a man who grabbed her, hit her quite hard, then dragged her back into the building. That gave the local police grounds to enter and arrest the man seen committing the assault, which also gave them the right to search the premises.
"We turned up a real nasty find. It turned out that they were using the premises as a breaking shop."
"I suspect you do not mean they were breaking up cars," Mark commented.
"You bloody right there. They were breaking women. They bring in women from Eastern Europe or beyond with promises of jobs and a better life, then tell them they have to work as prostitutes to pay off their debts to the traffickers. Some of the women agree to go along with it, but most don't and they have to be broken in.
"Essentially they are taken somewhere and subjected to repeated rapes. It seems that there are some men who actually pay to be part of the group who break the women. At the same time, the women are given drugs, usually heroin, until they become addicted. Give the gang six to eight weeks and the women don't care who's fucking them just so long as they get their fix.
"To make matters worse the whole place was rigged with video cameras so that Donnal and his mates could film the women being raped, no doubt selling copies over the darknet. We have found a whole pile of recordings, all nicely dated, going back over fifteen years.
"There was enough evidence on what we got in the raid to arrest Frank Donnal, and he is identifiable in a couple of the videos that were on the recording system. However, yesterday evening, forensic started to search the cottage and in an upstairs found a number of suitcases containing clothes identified as belonging to Kate Donnal. That caused my old boss, who was the investigating officer when Kate went missing, to order a look at the recordings dated from the time she went missing.
"I haven't seen them, and don't want to. However, they do contain enough evidence to charge Frank Donnal. We can't actually charge him with murder, but we can with conspiracy to kidnap and murder. From what the lads have been able to get from the videos it seems that Kate found out about the property on the moors and thought Frank was keeping another woman up there, which in a way he was. So, she followed and confronted him to get evidence for a quick divorce. You can probably guess what happened."
Mark drained his glass and held it out to Terry, "Any chance of another?"
"Yes, mate, and I'll join you" Terry replied pouring out another two glasses of brandy. "I've got to tell Thomas this when he gets home and I'm not sure how he will take it."
In the end, it turned out a lot easier than either Terry or Mark had hoped. When Mary brought the boys home, Terry asked Thomas to join him in the living room. He handed Connor some tens and told him to get down to KFC and get a couple of family buckets and some extras.
Once he had seated a somewhat worried Thomas, Terry assured him he was not in trouble and then explained events around his father and what had happened.
"I knew it." Thomas burst out, "I knew it all along. I knew she had not left me, that that fucking bastard had done something. I'm just glad you've got him." Then he started to cry, Terry put his arm around the boy and Thomas cuddled into him.
Fifteen minutes later Terry came through to the kitchen. "He's gone up to his room. He's taken it a lot better than I thought."
"Yes," Mark responded, "you did not need me, so no point in my staying. I better get back."
"No you don't, Mark," Terry interrupted. "Look, he is coping at the moment, but there is no way to know how he will be once the news settles in. I think it would be best if you hung around for the evening. Also, you've had a couple of large brandies, so there is no way you're fit to drive that beast outside. Don't want to have to tell Thomas that his saviour has copped it."
"Yes, Mark, you were the one who had a reason to be angry with him, but you went out of the way to help him. It was you who found us for him. The fact that we were coming to look for him is immaterial; you got in first. He sees you as the person who saved him, not only from killing himself but also from Stanford House." At the mention of killing himself, Mark looked at Terry with surprise. "Yes, Mark, he told us, confirming what you said. He told us that he intended to collide with a car, and it was bloody lucky you had an Eagle and not an ordinary E-type."
Mark was about to protest in support of his innate modesty, but Terry beat him to the punch. "You see, Mark, I don't think you have quite grasped how important you are to Thomas. I don't know how you did it and I don't think you intended to do it, but you have given him something to believe in, and he believes in you. He told me you said there was no reason he could not go to university. He believes you, and now he is dead set on studying so he can get there. Before all this, he never thought he could go so never really bothered about school.
"Once you get involved in somebody's life," Terry continued, "you change it. You've changed Thomas's life, so you have some responsibility to make sure it goes somewhere good."
Mark was taken aback by Terry's little speech. Yes, it was true that Thomas had affected him and he had really enjoyed having Thomas around when the boy stayed with him. In fact, it was during these last couple of weeks that Mark had come to realise just how much he missed his chats with Thomas, which had always been interesting, sometimes challenging, and occasionally damned embarrassing.
He remembered the chat about university on the Wednesday after Terry, Mary, and Connor had visited Thomas for the first time. Mark had gone in for an evening visit as Thomas had been down for scans in the afternoon, and found Thomas a bit down. Turned out he had received an email from Connor in which Connor was telling him all the things they would be able to do when they were at school together.
"What's going to happen when we've finished school?" Thomas had asked.
"That's a few years yet," Mark commented.
"Not that long, it's only three more years, then he'll be off to university."
"So what? You might be able to go to the same university."
"Me, university? You've got to be kidding. I ain't clever enough; Connor is the one with brains." Thomas remarked.
"You don't have to have brains to go to university Thomas. What you do need is determination. All right, for the brainy ones, it's easier. They just have to do what comes naturally to them and they get in. That's often the worse for them."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, think about it, Thomas. They have always found school work easy, they have just sailed through, taken exams, and got the marks. They have never really had to work at it. All they have done is sit in class, let the teachers tell them what they need to know, and regurgitate it at the exams. They have never really had to get down to study things and find out the information for themselves.
"University is different. There you are not taught; you read a subject. That means you are reading it. Oh, the tutors and lecturers give you pointers but you have to go out and teach yourself about the subject you are studying. It is not all laid out for you on a plate.
"The result is that those who have had to put the effort in at school and have taught themselves how to study and how to learn have a head start; they already know how to do it. The clever kids who have never had to do it for themselves often find it hard to start. It is surprising how many kids who are regarded as clever at school never really get going at university. A lot drop out and many who manage to stay the whole course only end up with mediocre degrees.
"Look, I was lucky. I went to grammar school, I passed my eleven plus, and went to the school for clever kids. Many of my friends from primary school ended up going to the secondary modern school. Of the class of thirty of us at my grammar school, fifteen went on to university. The rest, like me, took up professional apprenticeships, but only a couple of those who went to university got good degrees.
"The lad who lived next door to me, he went to secondary modern school. All right, it took them some time, but of the class of forty he was in, ten ended up not only getting degrees from university, often by studying part-time whilst working, but also getting damned good degrees. Three of them got Masters and one is actually now a PhD. He's a professor at the university here.
"It wasn't that those lads were clever; what they were was determined and prepared to put the effort in. If you want to learn you can learn, and if you want to go to university all you need is to learn and have that determination."
"Yes, but how do I go about learning?" Thomas asked.
"There is a book by a chap named Tony Buzan called Use Your Head. It is one of the best guides to studying I've come across. It was part of the reading for the Open University when I did my degree." Thomas looked at Mark with a surprise. "That's right, I was one of the clever lads from grammar school who did not make it to university. I left school as soon as I could and got a job, but then realised I had made a mistake. When the Open University started some years later, I took the plunge and got myself a degree―the best move I ever did. It allowed me to make my way in the business and make the money I did."
The following day Mark had taken in a rather battered copy of Use Your Head for Thomas, together with a notepad and some coloured pens and a couple of textbooks on subjects he knew Thomas had an interest in. Over the following weeks, Thomas had really got interested in the subjects and had been asking Mark questions, many of which Mark had been unable to answer at first but had gone away to find the answers.
Thomas did not come down when the food arrived, telling Connor, who had gone up to fetch him, that he was not hungry. It was a couple of hours later that he eventually came down, driven by the need for a drink. Mark was in the kitchen talking to Terry when Thomas walked in. Terry looked up at the boy then turned to Mark. "Sorry, Mark, I would love to chat some more but I need to slip round next door and check it is still OK to borrow their barbecue for tomorrow." With that he stood up and left.
Thomas poured himself a glass of coke and made to go back up to his room.
"Thomas," Mark called.
"Yes?" Thomas responded.
"Why don't you come and sit with me. Everybody seems to have gone out or is doing something. It's a bit lonely here."
"Umh, just what are you doing here anyway? I thought you were coming tomorrow."
"Terry thought it might be useful if I came over today and stayed overnight," Mark stated.
"I suppose he'd told you that my dad is a fucking murderer."
"Yes, I think that is why he asked me to come today rather than tomorrow so you would have somebody outside the family to talk to if you wanted to."
"Is it going to help, talking?"
"I don't know Thomas. Probably not, but it won't do any harm and it might help. You never know till you try."
Thomas smiled and seated himself at the table. "You know, he's right, it is easier to talk to you about things sometimes, but I'm just not sure I am ready to talk at the moment."
"That's fine, just remember if you do need to talk about anything, you can talk to me. You can always phone me and if we can't deal with it on the phone, I'll come over to see you and we can speak then."
"Really, you'd do that for me. Why? Is it because of Ian?"
"No, Thomas, this has nothing to do with Ian. Yes, it was because of what happened with Ian that I took an interest in you. I did not want there to be another Ian lying somewhere dead. That, though, only got me into the hospital to see you. There was something else which got me involved with you ― you are basically a nice person and someone who needed help, somebody worth helping.
"I'm fond of you Thomas, and I've grown fond of both you and Connor. Look, I'm an old man, and my children have long left home. I rarely see my grandchildren who are spread far and wide. When I met you, you filled a void in my life. There was somebody who needed help and whom I could help. You not only needed help, but you also deserved help. Don't think that because of your father you don't deserve help; you do. You deserve all the help the O'Mallys or I can give you, and I intend to make sure you get it. So just make sure you ask for it when you need it. It is no use just keeping mum about things. If you don't ask, how am I supposed to know that you need something?
"Don't take that to mean you can ask for anything and get it. It doesn't work like that, but if you have a problem then let us know and we will try to help you fix it. It may be that our help may not be what you expect or think you need but we will do what we can and give you the help that we think you need."
Thomas leaned back in his chair and thought about that for a moment, then nodded. He started to tell Mark about the problems of living with the O'Mallys. Nothing major but he admitted that at times he felt like an intruder who should not be there. This led to them talking about living in Walsall – a very different place to Sheffield. Eventually, they ended up talking that evening about bikes. Thomas's bike had got smashed up beyond repair in the collision, and anyway by the time anybody had thought to ask about it nobody knew where it was. Connor and Thomas had once been used to going for long bike rides together, but now they could not because Thomas did not have a bike and that upset him. Still, he did not think he could ask the O'Mallys for one.
"What did you ask for?" Mark asked.
"Well, I asked for some Amazon vouchers, so I could get some music for my MP3 player and a copy of Life: The Science of Biology. The second-hand bookshop in town has a copy in the window. It's fifteen pounds; that's a lot of money."
"I'm sure it's not too much; if I remember the book correctly it costs a lot more new."
"It fifty bloody quid new. I couldn't ask for that."
"So, you like biology?" Mark asked.
"Yes, we're doing it in science at school, but the teacher is crap. That book you brought to me in hospital is a lot better, but it says that 'Life' is one of the best books on the subject." Just then Thomas's stomach grumbled.
"Hungry?" Mark asked.
"A bit," Thomas replied.
"Come on, let's walk down to Caldmore. There's said to be a good chippy there, and I'll get you some fish 'n chips."
"Would prefer pie and chips." Thomas quipped.
"OK, I'll just leave a note for Terry and Mary in case they are back before us. I presume you've got a key?" Thomas nodded.
They got back before Terry, Mary, or Connor. Thomas had been eating his pie and chips as they had walked along coming back from Caldmore and so was nearly finished by time they got back. Mark had envied him. Fish and chips, or in this case pie and chips, always tasted better from the paper. Once Thomas had finished he told Mark he thought he'd better get an early night as he felt tired. Mark told him it was probably a good idea but he might want to get cleaned up before going to bed.
Terry came in about half an hour later. "Saw you walking down the road with the boy, guessed you were taking him to get some food. Popped back and saw the note, so decided to make myself scarce for a bit. Came over when I saw his light on. Guess he's gone up."
"Yes he has; he's pretty whacked out."
"Did he say anything?"
"Look, Terry, I can't say what we talked about." Terry looked at Mark questioningly. "You yourself said he sees me as his saviour, he trusts me, and I must respect that trust. I will never discuss with you anything Thomas says to me without his consent, unless it is something that gives me concern over his safety." Terry looked puzzled for a moment, then a look of understanding came across his face.
"I can accept that. I might not like it, but he probably needs a confidant outside the family."
"Good, now what have you and Mary got him for his birthday?"
"Well, we were thinking about getting him a bike as he really needs one so he can go out with Connor. Even things like getting home from school if they want to do some after-school activities will be easier if they both have bikes.
"However, Connor said that Thomas did not want to ask us for a bike as he said it would make him feel bad because we were doing so much for him. So, we thought it might be best if we did not get him one now. Maybe get him one at the start of the summer break, so he can go and get a part-time job somewhere. We got him a book he wanted…"
"'Life'. He told me that he'd seen it in a second-hand bookshop."
"Yes, but we've got him the latest edition. Also, we're giving him some gift vouchers for Amazon."
Just then Mary arrived, having picked up her daughter from the riding school, followed closely by Connor who had been to Scouts.
Later that night Mark phoned Joan, who was over in Hay-on-Wye sorting out her involvement in the forthcoming festival. She wanted to know why her father was not at home, and he wanted to know how things had gone for her and if she was still coming to Thomas's birthday party. Once both had given the other the required explanations and assurances Joan asked her father if he had any ideas about what to get Thomas for a birthday present. Did he know what the boy wanted?
"I know what he wants, but I think you would be OK to get him some book tokens or Amazon gift vouchers."
"And how do you know what he wants?" Mark recounted his earlier conversation with Thomas.
Some six-thousand miles away a rather tired doctor, at the end of an eighteen-hour shift, found his boyfriend seated in front of the computer.
"You do realise it's just gone five in the morning?" Krit asked. He leaned over Tim and kissed him on the top of his head.
"No, I knew it was late, I suppose early now, but not that it was five. Anyway, you're late. Your shift finished at midnight," Tim commented.
"Multicar pile up – why do they always happen in the last hour of one's shift? I've been helping out in A and E."
"You keep telling me you don't like the hands-on stuff, yet you keep doing it," Tim replied.
"I'm a doctor, Tim. The fact that my interest is in medical imaging does not matter; my job is to save lives."
"That, Krit, is debatable. According to the Hippocratic tradition, the job of a doctor is to relieve suffering. That might not require the saving of life."
"Let's not go there; we will end up in the same discussion and I know you will not budge on your viewpoint.
"Anyway, Tim, what is it that has kept you up this late?"
"I was working on an assignment comparing the English and German romantic poets. Took longer than I expected. Not to worry — at least I'm off tomorrow, or is that today now?"
"It's today, Tim. We were going to go to the beach. Not sure I will be up to it though," Krit replied.
"Don't think I will be, either." Tim closed down the computer, stood up and turned to embrace his lover. "We could always stay in bed all day."
"Might be an idea," Krit responded. "I don't think there is anything urgent we have to do."
"I have to give granddad an answer to his invitation," Tim commented.
After a number of extensive phone calls and quite a few emails, Mark had reconciled things with Tim, his gay grandson. Mark had explained that he had known nothing about what had happened to Tim until Joan had told him about it. He apologised for not having investigated Johnny's explanation of things further but explained to Tim that at the time he had been nursing his wife.
Mark had initially intended to fly out to Bangkok to visit Tim and his partner, but Mark's doctor had advised him against such a long flight, and so Mark invited them to England. He also had insisted that he would cover all the costs.
Tim reached behind Krit's neck and pulled him forward till their lips met. When they finally separated Krit shook his head.
"You know Tim, we can discuss it after some sleep but right now I need my bed and I need you in it."
Comments, questions are always welcome at Nigel Gordon