Read This Was A Man Online

Authors: Jeffrey Archer

This Was A Man (5 page)

‘Then what?’ said Harry, sounding surprised. Emma took his hand. ‘That bad?’ he asked.

‘The
Maple Leaf
has returned to Bristol and is docked in the breakers’ yard.’ She paused. ‘Demolition work will begin on Tuesday.’

They continued walking for some time before Harry asked, ‘What do you want to do about it?’

‘I don’t think we have a lot of choice, if we’re not going to spend the rest of our lives wondering . . .’

‘And it might finally answer the question that’s bedevilled us for our entire lives. So why don’t you try and find out if there’s anything in the ship’s double
bottom as discreetly as possible.’

‘Work could begin immediately,’ admitted Emma. ‘But I wasn’t willing to give the final go-ahead until I had your blessing.’

Clive Bingham had been delighted when Emma asked him to join the board of Barrington’s Shipping, and although it hadn’t been easy to take his father’s place as
a director, he felt the company had benefited from his experience and expertise in the public relations field, which it had been sadly lacking until his appointment. Even so, he had no doubt what
Sir Walter Barrington would have thought about a PR man joining the board: like a tradesman being invited to dinner.

Clive headed up his own PR company in the City, with a staff of eleven who had experienced several takeover battles in the past. But he admitted to Seb that he’d been losing sleep over
this one.

‘Why? There’s nothing particularly unusual about a family company being taken over. It’s been happening a lot recently.’

‘I agree,’ said Clive, ‘but this time it’s personal. Your mother had the confidence to invite me to join the board after my father resigned, and frankly it’s not as
if I’m briefing the trade press on a new shipping route to the Bahamas, or the latest loyalty scheme, or even the building of a third liner. If I get this one wrong—’

‘So far your briefings have been pitch perfect,’ said Seb, ‘and Cunard’s latest bid is almost there. We know it, and they know it, so you couldn’t have done a more
professional job.’

‘It’s kind of you to say so, Seb, but I feel like a runner in the home straight. I can see the tape but there’s still one more hurdle to cross.’

‘And you’ll do it in style.’

Clive hesitated a moment before he spoke again. ‘I’m not convinced your mother really wants to go ahead with the takeover.’

‘You may well be right,’ said Seb. ‘However, there is a compensation for her that you might not have considered.’

‘Namely?’

‘She’s becoming more and more involved with her work as chairman of the hospital, which, don’t forget, employs more people and has an even bigger budget than Barrington’s
Shipping and, perhaps more important, no one can take it over.’

‘But how do Giles and Grace feel? After all, they’re the majority shareholders.’

‘They’ve left the final decision to her, which is probably why she asked me how I felt. And I didn’t leave her in any doubt that I’m a banker by nature, not a shipping
man, and I’d rather be chairman of Farthings Kaufman than of Barrington’s. It can’t have been easy for her, but she’s finally accepted that I couldn’t do both. If only
I had a younger brother.’

‘Or sister,’ said Clive.

‘Shh . . . or Jessica might start getting ideas.’

‘She’s only thirteen.’

‘I don’t think that would worry her.’

‘How’s she settling down in her new school?’

‘Her art teacher admitted she’s letting it be known before it becomes too obvious that the school has a third-former who’s already a better artist than she is.’

When Emma returned from the breakers’ yard late on Monday evening, she knew she had to tell Harry what Frank Gibson and his team had found when they prised open the
Maple Leaf
’s double bottom.

‘It turned out be exactly as we’ve always feared,’ she said as she sat down opposite Harry. ‘Even worse.’

‘Worse?’ repeated Harry.

She bowed her head. ‘Arthur had scratched a message on the side of the double bottom.’ She paused, but couldn’t get the words out.

‘You don’t have to tell me,’ said Harry, taking her hand.

‘I do. Otherwise we’ll just go on living a lie for the rest of our lives.’ It was some time before she managed, ‘He’d written, “Stan was right. Sir Hugo knew
I was trapped down here” . . . So, my father murdered your father,’ she said between sobs.

It was some time before Harry said, ‘That’s something we can never be sure about, and perhaps, my darling, it’s better we don’t—’

‘I no longer want to know. But the poor man should at least have a Christian burial. Your mother would have expected nothing less.’

‘I’ll have a quiet word with the vicar.’

‘Who else should be there?’

‘Just the two of us,’ said Harry without hesitation. ‘Nothing can be gained from putting Seb and Jessie through the pain we’ve had to suffer for so many years. And
let’s pray that’s an end to the matter.’

Emma looked across at her husband. ‘You clearly haven’t heard about the Cambridge scientists who are working on something called DNA.’

WE’RE ALMOST THERE, SAYS

BARRINGTON’S SPOKESMAN

‘Damn,’ said Clive when he had read the Financial Times headline. ‘How can I have been so stupid?’

‘Stop beating yourself up,’ said Seb. ‘The truth is, we are almost there.’

‘We both know that,’ said Clive. ‘But we didn’t need Cunard to find out.’

‘They already knew,’ said Seb, ‘long before they saw that headline. Frankly, we’d be lucky to milk more than another percentage point out of this deal. I suspect
they’ve already reached their limit.’

‘Nevertheless,’ said Clive, ‘your mother won’t exactly be pleased, and who could blame her?’

‘She’ll assume it’s all part of the endgame, and I’m not going to be the one to disabuse her.’

‘Thanks for the support, Seb. I appreciate it.’

‘It’s no more than you gave me when Sloane appointed himself chairman of Farthings and then sacked me the next day. Have you forgotten that Kaufman’s was the only bank that
offered me a job? And in any case, my mother might even be pleased by the headline.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I’m still not convinced she wants this takeover to succeed.’

‘Is this going to harm the takeover?’ asked Emma after she’d read the article.

‘We may have to sacrifice a point, possibly two,’ said Seb. ‘But don’t forget Cedric Hardcastle’s sage words on the subject of takeovers. If you end up with more
than you expected, while the other side feel they’ve got the better of the deal, everyone leaves the table happy.’

‘How do you think Giles and Grace will react?’

‘Uncle Giles is spending most of his spare time running up and down the country visiting marginal seats in the hope that Labour can still win the next election. Because if Margaret
Thatcher becomes our next prime minister, he may never hold office again.’

‘And Grace?’

‘I don’t think she’s ever read the
FT
in her life, and she certainly wouldn’t know what to do if you handed her a cheque for twenty million pounds, remembering
her present salary is about twenty thousand a year.’

‘She’ll need your help and advice, Seb.’

‘Be assured, Mama, Farthings Kaufman will invest Dr Barrington’s capital most judiciously, well aware that she’ll be retiring in a few years and hoping for a regular income and
somewhere to live.’

‘She can come and live with us in Somerset,’ said Emma. ‘Maisie’s old cottage would suit her perfectly.’

‘She’s far too proud for that,’ said Seb, ‘and you know it, Mama. In fact, she’s already told me she’s looking for somewhere in Cambridge so she can be near
her friends.’

‘But once the takeover goes through, she’ll have enough to buy a castle.’

‘My bet,’ said Seb, ‘is that she’ll still end up in a small terraced house not far from her old college.’

‘You’re getting dangerously close to becoming wise,’ said Emma, wondering if she should share her latest problem with her son.

4

‘S
IX MONTHS
,’ said Harry. ‘The damn man should have been hanged, drawn and quartered.’

‘What are you going on about?’ asked Emma, calmly, as she poured herself a second cup of tea.

‘The thug who punched an A and E nurse, and then assaulted a doctor, has only been sentenced to six months.’

‘Dr Hands,’ said Emma. ‘While I agree with your sentiments, there were extenuating circumstances.’

‘Like what?’ demanded Harry.

‘The nurse concerned wasn’t willing to give evidence when the case came to court.’

‘Why not?’ asked Harry, putting down his paper.

‘Several of my best nurses come from overseas and don’t want to appear in the witness box for fear the authorities might discover that their immigration papers are not always,
let’s say, in apple-pie order.’

‘That’s no reason to turn a blind eye to this sort of thing,’ said Harry.

‘We don’t have a lot of choice if the NHS isn’t going to break down.’

‘That doesn’t alter the fact that this thug hit a nurse –’ Harry checked the article again – ‘on a Saturday night when he was obviously drunk.’

‘Saturday night is the clue,’ said Emma, ‘that William Warwick would have discovered once he’d interviewed the hospital matron and discovered why she turns on the radio
every Saturday afternoon at five o’clock.’ Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘To hear the result of the Bristol City or Bristol Rovers match, depending on which of them is playing at home
that day.’ Harry didn’t interrupt. ‘If they’ve won, it will be a quiet night for A and E. If they’ve drawn, it will be bearable. But if they’ve lost, it will be
a nightmare, because we simply don’t have enough staff to cope.’

‘Just because the home team lost a football match?’

‘Yes, because you can guarantee the home fans will drown their sorrows and then end up getting into fights. Some, surprise, surprise, turn up in A and E, where they’ll have to wait
for hours before someone can attend to them. Result? Even more fights break out in the waiting room, and occasionally a nurse or doctor tries to intervene.’

‘Don’t you have security to handle that?’

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