The one downside to the year occurred a few weeks later. Just when everybody was starting to get ready for Christmas, the trial of Frank Donnal started. Over the last few months there had been a number of legal moves and challenges, mostly based on the legality of the initial search. In the end the delays had not helped Frank as more evidence had come to light, including a couple of his co-defendants deciding to plead guilty and turn Queen's evidence. This resulted in the charge of murder against Frank being added to that of conspiracy to murder.
Both Mary and Terry were called as witnesses for the prosecution, to tell what they knew about Kate's life with Frank. Mary spent a particularly harrowing two days in the witness box as she was cross examined by the defence QC, who tried to paint Kate in a very bad light.
In the end it did not help Frank. The jury took just over an hour to find him guilty on all counts. The judge then sentenced him to life in prison with a minimum tariff of forty years and a recommendation to the parole board that they should give serious consideration to never letting him out. As it was, he would be nearly ninety before he would be up for parole.
At Christmas Tim and Krit joined Mark at the O'Mallys, though this year they insisted that the O'Mallys join them for New Year in Sheffield, partly because Krit was on duty New Year's Eve.
A few days after New Year Terry phoned Mark to inform him that Frank Donnal had been found dead in his cell.
"How's Thomas taking the news?" Mark asked.
"To be honest, surprisingly well. I think all the counselling he had last year has helped. He was put some distance between himself and his father."
"Any idea how it happened?"
"No, and I doubt we will ever know. It might have been natural causes, as he was a heavy drinker and smoker all his life and not in the best of health when he was arrested. Personally, I think somebody on the outside probably arranged for it to happen."
"Oh, Frank was a nasty piece of work all right, but he hadn't the brains to set up and run the type of operation he was involved in. Also, there is a lot of money that we know they made which we just can't trace. There were some big fish behind him, and there was big money behind that defence team he had. They tried every trick in the legal book to get the charges reduced so he would only do six to ten years but none of it worked. Application for leave to appeal was rejected last week, and that was Frank's death warrant. Those behind him could not take the chance that he might decide to try to cut a deal and start talking. None of the small fry knew who they were but we can be certain Frank did."
It was a couple of days later when Thomas phoned Mark.
"Uncle Mark, would you mind if I started using my mother's maiden name rather than Donnal?" he asked.
"Why should I mind? You don't need my permission. It's your choice."
"Well, you see, my mother's maiden name was Wainwright, same as yours."
"So, you think we might be related?"
"Nah, there are piles of Wainwrights round that way. It's just coincidence."
"Listen, lad, if you prefer to be known as a Wainwright and it was your mother's maiden name, then you have the right to use it. So, use it if you want to."
The whole matter slipped his mind till Joan commented a couple of days later that Thomas had changed his profile on Facebook and was now giving his surname as Wainwright. She asked if Mark knew about it.
"That's right, it is his mother's maiden name. He did not want to be known as Donnal."
"Can't say I blame him. Is there any chance we could be related?"
"Doubt it. I did ask Thomas if he thought we might be, but he said no and pointed out how many Wainwrights there are around these parts."
"Are there that many, Dad? I'm not so certain. I think I'll get a friend to check it out."
Mark did not hear any more about it for some weeks and in fact had totally forgotten about the whole thing until Joan arrived back from one of her trips down to London waving a large envelope.
"Guess what, Dad?"
"Your agent has suddenly realised the truth about your abilities and dropped you from his list?"
"Wish he would. I have three more years on that contact and I could get far better terms elsewhere."
"So, if not that, what?"
She pulled a number of sheets of A4 from the envelope. "Thomas is your cousin, to be precise your second cousin twice removed."
"Yes, Dad, your great-grandfather was one Thomas Wainwright and your grandfather, Mark, was his eldest son by his first marriage. He also had two daughters by the same marriage. His wife Emma died in childbirth of a second son, Paul, who died when he was five weeks old.
"Thomas married again after the death of Emma but that marriage had no children. His wife was quite a bit older than he was, and he probably married her to get a housekeeper. Anyway, she died of the flu in 1919, fifteen years after Emma, and Thomas married again in 1924 to a Cecile Bancroft, a woman much younger than he was. She was to have four children in five years, poor woman, the youngest of whom, also called Thomas, was our Thomas's grandfather."
"So, Thomas is family?" Mark asked.
"Yes, Dad, and you can use that the next time Johnny is moaning to you about all the help you are giving the boy."
"How do you know Johnny is moaning to me about it?"
"Because he is moaning to me, Emma, and Phillip as well."
"You know," Mark commented, "I've a good mind to cut Johnny out of my will."
"Dad, you mean you haven't done so already after the way the treated Tim and Krit? Get round to your solicitors' first thing in the morning and do it!"
"You know; I might just do that."
Mark wondered what he should tell Thomas about their relationship, and he decided to leave it for the time being and not say anything to the boy. Neither did he say anything to Tim or any other member of the family, but he did go to see his solicitor.
That Easter Tim and Krit flew back to Thailand to visit Krit's family, and they took the boys with them for a ten-day visit. As usual, the doctors had barred Mark from flying that distance. He seriously began looking into cruise options that would give him a long stopover in Thailand, but in the end, had to admit that his health was probably not up to such a trip.
August saw Tim, Krit, and Mark joining the O'Mallys at the villa in Spain. Even Joan joined them for a few days before going off to meet Richard in Barcelona, where his latest film was being shot. By now the fact that Joan and Richard were, to use the current idiom, an item was a well-known fact in the celebrity gossip columns. What was not so clear was who was the celebrity, the film and TV star or the bestselling novelist. Joan was also complaining about the fact that she now attracted the attention of the paparazzi – though she did seem to be quite happy when a picture appeared of her and Sybil, Richard's ex having tea together at a hotel in Paris. It was only sometime later that Mark found out that she had arranged for the photo to be taken by a friend who was in need of money.
Whilst they were in Spain, Thomas sought Mark's advice about his A levels.
"Uncle Mark, I've done six subjects at AS level and got A's in all of them. I was not certain whether to do Maths or Physics at A2 level along with Chemistry and Biology, but I have done well at both. Mr Barrett says I only need two A Levels at grade A and one at A star for medical school, but I am tempted to try for the four and do both Maths and Physics."
"And who is Mr Barrett?"
"He's the sixth form tutor—he does not teach, just makes sure that we are all doing what we need to be doing to get where we want to be."
"So, what do you think about doing both Maths and Physics?"
"I think I could do both, but the thing is I need to get an A star in either Chemistry or Biology. My best bet is probably Biology, but A star is hard, so it is going to be a lot of work. I might have to pack in my job at if I am going to do all four at A level."
"Does that bother you?"
"Yes, Uncle Mark, it would mean I would have to rely on Mary and Terry giving me spending money and I don't like doing that."
"How about the money I've been sending you each month, isn't that enough for your spending money?" Mark had started sending Thomas twenty-five pounds a month when the lad first moved in with the O'Mallys, an amount that had been increased each year as Thomas got older. Now Mark was sending the boy seventy-five pounds a month.
"Oh, I've been putting that in a savings account, so I will have some money for college."
"Thomas," Mark shouted, drawing the attention of Connor who was seated by the pool, "you're a bloody idiot."
"Why is he an idiot?" Connor asked, having walked over to see what was wrong.
"Because your boyfriend has been putting the money, I have been sending him each month into a savings account, so he has some money for when he goes to college."
"What's wrong with that? I would think it would be a good idea; wish I had enough to save for college," Connor commented.
"When I talked about university with Thomas whilst he was in hospital, I told him that if he wanted to go to university the money would be there, so he could. In fact, the money is there for both of you. I told your parents, Connor, that I would cover you on the same basis as Thomas."
"But you can't do that for both of us," Thomas stated, "it's too much. You can't afford it."
"Why not, I'm a rich old man and I'm making money a lot faster than I can spend it or the tax man can tax it. The one good thing Tim's father ever did was to tell me to get into property. When I retired, I put half the money I got for the stake I sold in Bettridge's into buy-to-lets, actually for student lets. I've got a hundred and three student houses around Sheffield, most of them housing four students. The income alone on those is over twenty grand a week. So, don't tell me I can't afford it."
Mark stopped, realising that he had raised his voice. He did not get angry very often but one thing that was almost certain to anger him was being told he could not do something when he knew damned well that he could. After a moment's pause, he continued. "Now both of you sit down and listen to what I have to say. You both want to get into UCL." The boys nodded, and Mark continued. "And for that, you need good grades. That means you both need to study hard and you can't do that if you are also having to work part-time. Connor, how many hours do you do and how much do you earn?"
"I do three hours each evening, Monday to Friday, and eight hours on alternative Saturdays. I get four pounds ten pence an hour, so when I do a Saturday, I get ninety-four pounds thirty. Otherwise, it's sixty-one pounds fifty."
"How about you, Thomas?" Mark asked.
"I only work Friday evening and Saturday, but I get a bit more than Connor. I do six hours on a Friday and eight on a Saturday. That gives me fourteen hours, but I get five pounds twenty an hour, so its seventy-two pounds eighty a week."
"Shit! Sorry, Uncle Mark. How come you are paid so much above minimum, Thomas?" Connor asked.
"Because I can work the computer. The boss can't make heads or tails of the program they run, so he pays me the same as Pete, the lad from Wolverhampton Uni who covers the other evening shifts. Actually, I think he told Pete to set me up on the payroll, and he just put me in at the same rate he's on."
"Right, I want you both to pack up your jobs as soon as we get back."
"What!" both boys exclaimed together.
"You heard me. I'll talk to Mary and Terry this afternoon, but unless they have any major objection, I am going to put you on an allowance of one hundred pounds a week for the next year."
It turned out that talking round Mary and Terry was a lot more difficult than persuading the boys. Both of them objected to Mark giving the boys an allowance and pointed out that the boys both had part-time jobs and earned enough doing that for their expenses and it was good for them to know the value of money.
"Given that they have been working hard for the last twelve months, they have probably learnt that or at least should have done. Now look, the boys want to get into a top university, and actually, they are both trying for UCL. That means they are in competition with the other students from the top schools in the country. Do you think that the boys attending Eton, Harrow, or Rugby are going out in the evenings and weekends working in the local Sainsbury's? Of course not.
"That is what gives those privileged boys an advantage. It is not that they are getting a better education; some of the best teachers in the country are teaching in the state sector. What gives them the advantage is that they do not have the distractions from study and they have no need to go out and earn their spending money."
"I can see that," said Terry, "and if I look at it from that perspective, I can agree with you giving Thomas an allowance, but why Connor?"
"Because, Terry, they are a couple; I am not going to prefer one over the other."
It took another half hour of discussion among them, but in the end, Terry and Mary agreed, but only on condition that they also contributed to the boys' allowances. As Mary pointed out, they were getting a hundred and eighty pounds a week fostering allowance for Thomas which they did not need, and which might as well go to the boys. In the end it was agreed that Mark would give each boy an allowance of one hundred pounds per week and that Mary and Terry would put the hundred and eighty fostering allowance into a joint savings account for the two boys to help them with the cost of a car or whatever they wanted when they turned eighteen. Mark did not bother to enlighten them that he had already planned to buy the boys a car when they finished school. He wanted to make sure they had something reliable and safe when they began driving. He did, however, tell Mary and Terry that he was planning on giving both boys vouchers for an intensive driving course for their birthdays, but it would be post-dated for when they finished school.
Once they finished the discussion Mark left Mary and Terry to return to the poolside and the boys. Mary, who had been standing at the sink during the whole discussion, sat down at the table and sighed.
"What is it, love?" Terry asked.
"I don't know, love. I know Mark is doing what he thinks is the best and bloody hell he can afford it, but is it right? There's no way we could give the boys what he is giving them. So, what about Shelly, how is she going to feel when she realises that she can't have half what her brothers had?"
"Don't worry about it, love. There is nothing we can do about it at the moment. We will just have to do our best to make sure that Shelly does not lose out. Maybe some of that money we don't have to pay out for Thomas and Connor we can save for when she needs it." He put his hand on Mary's shoulder. She looked up at him and smiled.
At the start of the new school year both Thomas and Connor, as agreed with Mark, quit their part-time jobs. Thomas informed Mr Barrett that he was going to go for four A-levels: Biology, Chemistry, Maths, and Physics. Mr Barrett tried to dissuade him, pointing out that he was taking on a lot a pressure and did not need the four, but Thomas was adamant on the point. "Look, Mr Barrett, I want to get into UCL, and there is going to be pretty tough competition there and my GSCE grades are not all As, so I need to make sure I am one of the best."
Mark, along with Tim and Krit, had expected the boys to join them on their autumn half-term holiday but in the end, neither boy did. They had both managed to obtain work-experience placements during the week, Connor with a firm of Architects in Birmingham, where he spent the week helping to build architectural models to show clients. Thomas managed to swing it, so he spent the week with a local GP who took him out on his rounds.
When at the weekend Thomas phoned Mark for one of their regular chats, he was very enthusiastic about the experience.
"It was bloody better than a couple of the guys from school had at the hospital during the summer vac," he stated.
"How so?" Mark questioned.
"They just sat in with the doctors they were assigned to when they were doing consultations and followed them round when they did their ward rounds. I actually helped Dr Jennings with his patients."
"Well, when we went to visit an old lady up in Bloxwich, Dr Jennings had me supporting her leg whilst he removed the dressings to examine the wound. Got a really close look at it and he explained everything he was doing.
"Also, a couple of times in surgery he got me to help with minor procedures. Just holding things for him or helping to support a patient. I know it is not really doing anything, but I was up closer and more involved than the guys who did work-experience at the hospital."
"So, there are more of you trying for medicine in your sixth form?"
"Yes." Thomas replied, "There's actually four of us going for medicine, though Ali is going to a medical school overseas. His family wants him to study at an Islamic University. The other two are girls, though I think only one of them has a chance to make medical school."
"Why's that?" Mark asked.
"Greta was ill for part of last year and only managed Bs at her AS level, so she is going to be hard pressed to get an A star. Actually, I think it is impossible to get A star if you have a B at AS. The competition for medical school is so bloody stiff that they are all asking for at least one A star."
"So, what is she going to do?"
"Well, she is going to try to get in somewhere if she can get all A's and she is doing four A levels like me. If she explains that she only got B's at AS because of her illness, she might get accepted somewhere. The school's already written a supporting letter explaining her circumstances.
"If she can't get into medical school, she says she will do a nursing degree and then apply again to medical school as a post-grad. It's doable that way. In fact, I looked at that option in case I don't get my grades, but it is a hard way to do it and ends up being seven rather than five years. And money is an issue as there are no student loans available for the post-grad course."
"Well," Mark told him, "just remember, if you have to go that course you do not need to worry about the money. That's covered."
It was a couple of days after that phone call that a couple of signed-for packets with fees due arrived for Krit. Both Tim and Krit had left when the postman rang the doorbell, so Mark went to deal with it. He invited Jack, the postman, to step into the hall as it was pouring down with rain outside.
As he was sorting out the paperwork and what had to be paid for, Mark asked Jack how things were – Jack had been the local postman for a good twenty-odd years.
"Not bad, Mr Wainwright, though it looks as if our lad is going to be moving south. 'e can't find work around 'ere."
"I thought he was doing well at college," Mark stated, remembering the last chat with Jack from about nine months ago.
"He's done fine, got his HND and now he needs an apprenticeship. There're just none around these days. Tried your old place but they've stopped doing them." This came as something of a surprise to Mark – the whole business of Bettridge's was based on a highly skilled workforce and how did you get that without apprentices? As soon as he had sorted out the various pieces of mail that had to be signed for and what fees had to be paid, Mark went and phoned the works offices and asked for a meeting with Dale Waters.
It was shortly after two when Mark walked into Dale's office.
"Mr Wainwright, so nice to see you," Dale stated, standing behind the desk to greet the old man and wondering how quickly he could get rid of the irritation. Mark Wainwright might still be the Chairman and he might still be the majority shareholder but he, Dale Waters, ran the company and he did not want any interference with that.
"Thank you, Dale," Mark said, taking a seat that had not been offered and noting that tea had not been called for. Dale sat down behind his desk.
"So, Mr Wainwright, what can I do for you?" Dale asked.
"I've heard a rumour that we are not taking on apprentices now and wanted to check on it. Is it right?" Mark asked.
"Oh, you could have phoned me and asked about that. Yes, it's true we are not taking on apprentices, at least for this year and probably next." The silence that followed that statement made it very clear to Dale that something more was expected of him.
"You see, Mr Wainwright, everything is changing at the moment. There's this new apprenticeship scheme the government is bringing in. That's changing how we will be running any training schemes in the future. At the moment we can't quite work out how to fit what the new schemes require with our training structures.
"Then there is the question of long-term commitment to the apprentices. If we take them on, we are committing to training them for three years, four in some cases. At the moment we are not certain the departments they would be joining will be around that long."
"What!" Mark exclaimed.
"The long-term outlook for the business is not as good as it has been in the past. We are facing more competition from overseas, particularly from Japan and South Korea. Also, there are new technologies coming into play which are somewhat disruptive for us. Things like three-dimensional printing. Some of the F1 teams are now Three-D printing parts that they used to come to us to manufacture.
"I've commissioned a long-term study to look at where the future of the company is going to be. It will be a bit before it is ready, at least eighteen months, maybe longer." That, thought Dale, should hold off any questions for a bit. "However, I think we are going to be looking at a major reorganisation once we have the results of the report and we may well have to make some drastic changes with respect to the works if we are going to keep the firm going." Not that he wanted to keep the firm going, Dale thought.
"Oh, I see," said Mark. "Maybe I should take a more active part in things. I could probably help with this review you have commissioned."
"Not really feasible, Mr Wainwright. I've got an outside consultancy to do it for us. I thought it better if it was an arms-length operation. That way it's not influenced by any particular viewpoint from inside the firm," Dale stated, hoping that would put Mark off.
The talked for another ten minutes or so about the business in general, and then Mark left. As soon as Dale had seen Mark's car pull out of the car park he sat down and rang Jonathan's number.
Comments, questions are always welcome at Nigel Gordon