Back to Bristol Ch. 22


"Thank you." I said, and I kissed her, "Now you haven't cum yet. And I don't think I can help much for a minute or two. Unless you encourage me with your mouth, of course. Or you could give me a show of your own handiwork...." And we settled for a night of wonderful debauchery.

On the Wednesday, six days after my birthday, there was the January Board Meeting. Stephen Parkinson did us proud. He had decided to spend the whole day with us, touring the factory, and shaking so many hands. And then he settled into the interview process for the three short-listed candidates for the Director of Operations position. All three were quite exceptional, but one stood out head and shoulders above the rest. A guy called Miles Poynter, he was thirty three years old, and a very bright lad. I was sorry that I wasn't going to have long working with him.

After lunch we had the Board Meeting, and we agreed the sale and redevelopment of Marston Abbey. And we approved the offer that was going to Miles Poynter. And we agreed to put Franks Engineering in Exeter up for sale, preferably as an MBO. It all went very well. And then, after everyone else had left, Stephen and myself went back to my office.

Although he had seen it several times before, Stephen looked at it all, "This office is bigger than mine. I remember it from my visit at the time of the takeover, but then it was so bloody miserable it didn't matter how big it was. Now, I'm jealous."

"It's not my fault." I defended myself, "I wanted to re-organise my way out of it, but that was simply too expensive. So, instead I made it better."

"And are you hoping to cling to it, or are you off to America, Chris? I need your answer."

I looked at him and I thought I'd let him do the work. I was volunteering nothing at this stage. "I'm not going to the States. It's at a wrong time in my life. I'm sorry Stephen."

He sat down at a chair at my desk, "And there's nothing I can say to change your mind?"

"I'm sorry Stephen. I love this company. But I love my family more. That's what this is all about, isn't it. It doesn't really matter whether I do this US assignment or not. But you want to know what comes first in my life. And that's simple, my wife and family."

He sighed, "You're right. I do talk to my wife, you know. And I couldn't let it rest. You are marked out for great things, you know that. But I couldn't have you failing when the time was critical. You'll have to forgive me for pushing you."

"I know. At some stage I would have had to make this decision. What happens now?"

"Well, you have a contract. I could order you to go. Maybe I should, because at some point I will have to. If not this assignment, then another one. And when I do?"

"I'll resign."

We just looked at each other in silence for a couple of minutes.

Eventually he spoke, "I thought you might. Well, I guess with my Company hat on, there's no time like the present."

Was he just pushing me? Go now or not at all? There was only one answer, "I'll put it in writing tonight."

"Damn, Chris. I don't want to see you go. I had hoped that one day, in my dotage I'd be sitting reading the business pages and there would be the announcement of you taking over as CEO."

"I know. But the price is too high. You know I talked to Frances. She told me that she was willing to be your partner in this commitment you have to ITI. I know that Molly is committed to me just as strongly, but not to ITI or just material things."

He bowed his head for a moment, and then looked up, "I envy you. I was so burningly ambitious I never asked those questions. I was lucky when it turned out that Frances was always at my side, she would have had every right to say to No. But I know we paid a hell of a price for my success. Don't ask me which one of us has got it right, but I do wish you well. You must ask myself and Frances to the wedding. I'd like that, and I know she would."

"23rd April. I'll make sure your invited."

"What do I do about this place after you've gone?"

"My advice would be to put Piers McBaine in charge. He's a good man, and it'd give the Company a hell of a credibility boost in the market to have him as MD. But he'd need that Miles Poynter to back him up. And then Piers has only got three or four years to go, by which time Miles, if he's as good as we think he is, will be able to take over."

"That sounds fair. What will you do? Any idea yet?"

I smiled, this was the bombshell, "Yes. I'll lead the MBO of Franks Engineering."

The Old Man paused, and looked at me, "Well I won't make a big song and dance about it. Nothing's going to happen on that one in the next couple of days. But I can't have you negotiate with yourself for the MBO. So, you'd better clear your desk and be gone by Friday. Gardening leave until your contract expires."

Now that was a surprise, I had all sorts of veiled legal threats up my sleeve to try and get out of my one year notice. Only for him to give it to me on a plate.

As Stephen left he paused in Carole's office, and turned to me, "Matthew 25:21." And for once I recognised it.

I smiled, "Psalms 30:12"

Stephen paused and thought, and then his whole face softened for a moment, and he shook my hand vigorously and left.

Carole looked at me, "Translation?"

I smiled, "His was: Well done, thou good and faithful servant. And I replied: O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever." I paused and smiled, "I will admit that I had to look it up last night, in the hope that I'd get to use it."

I turned back into my office. Carole followed me, "And are you pleased with the day?"

I sat at my desk and indicated that she should sit down, "Yes. On the whole, Yes. But I'm sorry, Carole, but The Old Man just forced my resignation. I had a choice of being promoted to spend my days in hotels and aircraft or resign. I chose Molly and my family."

Carole just looked at me, "Shit happens." And then she burst into tears and ran from the room.

I did clear my desk by Friday. And the Company did a very quick settlement with me, of a year's salary, tax free, and the Jag. And so I had the time to do the round of bankers and investors and venture capitalists that I needed. ITI made one mistake, they appointed Myra onto their team for negotiating the sale of the Engineering group. And although she was properly professional, it made life a lot easier.

It was two weeks later. Carole had phoned me, and I'd invited her to lunch, I thought I owed it to her as a big thank you. But then she surprised me, "Chris, will you be needing a secretary in Exeter?"

I looked at her, almost stunned for a moment, "Yes. Are you asking? Because if you are, then it's yours for the taking."

"I'm asking."

"Well I can't afford to pay you what you're earning now. And I can't afford to pay you any moving costs. But why?"

"I've talked to Rick about it. And we reckon that the twins are never going to come home to live. So we might as well sell up, and a little cottage around Exeter might be nice. Rick can sell his company, there are a couple of lads in Bristol, they're quite good according to Rick, and they'll give him a bit for the trading name and client list. And then he won't do private work anymore. He'll contract with some house builders for the plumbing of new houses. So there'll be no clients phoning up in the middle of the night. I still want to work, but fewer hours than I do now. So if I could make half of what I do now, then I'd be happy."

"Well, I can afford a little more than that, so I hope we've got a deal."

At the beginning of March, Molly and myself had to send out the invitations to our wedding. I asked her about Susan. There was still a part of me that just wished Susan would find some way of apologising, and that Molly could find some way of building some form of distant but tolerable relationship. But Molly's reply was succinct, "She never wanted this wedding. I wouldn't insult her by inviting her to celebrate it."

I did insist that we invited Brenda and Derek. First, I quite liked them. But it was also that I didn't want Jamie and Ben to lose total contact with their maternal family. But, that led to Brenda phoning me to say that Susan had found out, and that she had every intention of coming anyway, invited or not.

I told Molly, and her reaction was simple, "We'll go and see her."

By then Susan was living in a little apartment quite close to Brenda and Derek's guesthouse. We parked outside, and Molly, very firmly holding my hand, led the way to the front door. She rang the bell, and Susan answered it.

"Oh." You could see her stiffen as she saw us. "I knew you'd come sooner or later. Come in." And she stepped backward.

"That won't be necessary." Molly said, "I just wanted to say that I know that when I last spoke to you, not Peter's funeral, but when I last said anything to you, I was very angry and upset and I said a lot of things that you must have found horrid....."

"That's alright. I'll forgive you, it was an emotional time for you and you are my daughter...."

"No. I want you to know that I meant every word of it." She paused and Susan looked shocked and she paled. But Molly continued, "I do not want you at my wedding, please don't come. The staff will be given clear instructions to throw you out, and I'm sure you'd find that embarrassing."

Susan bristled, "But....but I'm you're Mother. I've got a right.... I only wanted you to be happy...."

"No. You only wanted you to be happy. You didn't give a damn about me and my happiness, or my children's, or my husband's. You happily lied and cheated and betrayed us, just to get what you wanted. It was just you you you."

Molly turned and started walking away, and I turned with her. But then I turned back to Susan, "The thing is I've resigned from ITI. I've bought into a company in Exeter. So, we'll have a family home just an hour down the road from Bristol, and I'm sure Ralph will visit often. All you ever wanted, really. But now you won't be part of it. If only you could have loved and trusted us more."

And I turned and we walked away. I put my arm around Molly, who said, "Get me to the car and just drive away. I don't want her to see me crying. I had to do it, but it was so sad."

The wedding was wonderful. We chose a small country mansion that was given over to nothing but conferences and weddings and big entertaining. And the service was as simple and as straightforward as we hoped. The reception afterwards was magnificent. We didn't have a big guest list, but no expense was spared in the catering or entertainment.

Keith and Anne Walters were there, they flew in from San Diego. They looked suntanned, fit and happy.

Stephen and Frances Parkinson were there. They made quite an entrance in arriving by helicopter, and by doing so they instantly became Jamie and Ben's heroes. And I was delighted to see them. Molly took the opportunity to thank them again for their wedding present. It was our honeymoon. Two first class tickets to the Bahamas, where we were to stay in their holiday home for two weeks.

Stephen took me on one side, and said, "You don't have to worry about being relaxed and doing what comes naturally; the staff are the height of discretion. Our daughter took some of her chums out there after she graduated. And from what she's told me since, about the couple who did it on a sun-lounger by the pool one afternoon, or the skinny dipping at night, I guess she had a pretty wild time. If she was willing to tell me about those bits, what were the bits that she didn't like to tell her Father about? But I've never heard a word of it from any of the staff. Enjoy yourselves."

I had no sooner shaken Stephen's hand than I found myself talking to Myra.

"How's Franks?" I asked.

"From the little I see of it? Piers is doing well, but I don't really know. I'm not there a lot these days. I'm mainly in London again, but they are trying to edge me towards the International Consultancy team."

I smiled, "Congratulations. That's a promotion. Well done." She wasn't smiling and I hesitated, "Or commiserations. What's wrong with the idea?"

"I think that if you drew a commuting belt around Exeter University I don't think much of it would fall under the classification of International."

I laughed, "Does that mean you and Will are getting serious?"

"I know I am. I just don't know about him. But me being anywhere else in the world isn't going to help. I can't seduce him into marriage by email."

"I'll be looking for a Finance Director. It's a better title, but I expect it isn't exactly promotion in actual work. And definitely less pay."

She looked up and I thought she looked interested, and she sounded it, "Not now. Here comes Will." And Will appeared from behind me, just as Myra was saying, "I might buy you lunch, on ITI of course, when you get back from your honeymoon."

I shook Will's hand, but he rather ignored me. He looked a bit pale, and looked at Myra, "You don't fancy a breath of fresh air do you?"

And they were off before I had time to commiserate on the combination of champagne, noise and excitement.

I looked around the room, primarily looking for my bride. But as I scanned around I saw Ralph sitting at a table with Brenda and Derek, and in deep conversation. Now that was a surprise. Then I spotted Molly, and headed over to her.

She was talking to Jeanette. Molly smiled, squeezed my hand and mouthed 'I love you'.

"You can say it out loud, on today of all days." I said and leant in for a little kiss.

Jeanette said, "I was just saying to Molly, I've only ever attended two civil marriages in my life. And both were for Molly. And I've told her, I don't want a third."

"There won't be a third. I promise." I said, and hugged my wife.

I looked around the room. I saw Mum and Carole, and they didn't look happy. But as I was about to head their way, Molly stopped me. "No. You of all people can't go. I think its Real Mum and Proxy Mum are having a falling out. Let them get on with it." And we smiled, and I stayed where I was. But I watched. Len leant over and said something to Rick, and then both men stood up and obviously invited the other's wife to dance.

Molly was also watching, "There. Len and Rick are sorting it out. Leave them to it."

I wondered where Jamie and Ben were, and I went in search. Before I found them, I bumped into Ralph.

"I saw you talking to Brenda and Derek."

He half smiled, "It was time to bury the hatchet. Years and years ago, Brenda told me some things that I didn't much like, and I told her she was wrong. Well, I've known for over twenty years that I was wrong, and she was right. I thought it about time I apologised." And he smiled.

That explained a lot! Now I could understand his divorce.

I found Jamie and Ben. Morag had Ben with her brood. And Jamie was sitting listening to his Uncle Brian. They were out on the terrace, and Brian appeared to be reciting the whole of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner from memory to his enthralled audience of one.

I went back to Molly. But as I arrived, Myra and Will came through the door, hand in hand and smiling from ear to ear.

I didn't say a thing, but Myra did, "I could take you up on your suggestion. We're not going to say anything today, it's your day. But, I'm going to need that job in Exeter."

I shook Will's hand, and gave Myra a kiss. And Molly smiled, but looked mystified, until I whispered "I'll explain later. Just congratulate them."

Just at dusk, I went out onto the terrace for a breath of fresh air. I found I wasn't alone, Derek was there.

"Derek, I don't want you and Brenda to be strangers. It's important that the boys don't lose contact with Molly's side of the family. She doesn't want them to see Susan, but if you and Brenda could come and see us once in a while, when we've got ourselves settled in Exeter, then you'd be most welcome."

He turned and looked at me, "Thank you Chris. If it's any consolation, I think you were right about Susan. She's turned very bitter. Now, it was all Peter's fault. She only did things that he got her to do. We never had any of that whilst he was alive. Funny how stories change, isn't it?"

"She knows what she did, but she will still argue that it was understandable. She'll never admit it or apologise." I turned round, Brenda was standing behind me, and must have heard Derek. She went on, "We left her in charge of the guests this morning so that we could come here. She found that hard, being left behind while we went to her daughter's wedding. I think, but I'm not sure, I saw her wiping a tear from her eye when she thought she was alone. When she saw me she said the thought she had a cold coming."

Not long after that, many of us were out on the terrace watching the Parkinsons leave, as their helicopter took off. I had my arm around Molly, and kept an eye on Ben who seemed determined to fall off the terrace into the fish pond below, when I heard a Scottish voice behind me.

"Champagne's all very well, but you'd think an FB would serve a decent drink on his wedding day."

I didn't turn round, "If you ask nicely Piers, I think you'll find that a waiter can bring you a Blair Athol."

There was a very short pause, then the same voice, "The day's not turning out so bad after all."

And it didn't, Molly and myself were married. And now we're hurtling towards our first anniversary. At least I've got a nice diamond necklace tucked away as a present.

We bought a house in a village just outside Exeter. It's big and fairly ugly, but it had the atmosphere of a happy family home. It came in five acres of gardens and paddocks. And it had what the agent details referred to as a guest/staff cottage. I had my eye on that as the world headquarters of Chris Bennett Enterprises. But instead we did a deal with Ralph. He lives there rent free, but the upkeep of the garden is totally his responsibility.

And is Ralph happy? Well, if you asked me for a picture of total contentment, I'd say I saw it about two weeks ago. I was watching him one evening on his lawn tractor going up and down the lawn, with his two grandsons insisting on playing football around him, and the two dogs insisting on playing football with their young masters. And the look on Ralph's face was one of total contentment and joy.

I suspect that's partly helped by what I've seen for a few mornings recently when I get up at six o'clock and go down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I catch a glimpse of the white Honda that belongs to the widow who runs the post office and general stores in the village, just pulling out of Ralph's drive. He hasn't said anything yet, but if it's important then I'm sure he will. Maybe he'll say something when he gets back from his eighteen day botanical tour of China next month. Molly says it's a bit odd buying stamps from a lady who may just be a passing fancy, but equally maybe her future step-mother.

And Molly? Is she happy? Well, I hope so. She's looking good, but then women who are seven months pregnant often look blooming. Obviously with our move to Exeter she had to give up working at the hospital, and instead she launched her private practice. It was a hesitant start, but then one of our neighbours heard of her, and he was a producer on the local radio station. He got her started with an occasional slot on a morning phone-in, but now she has her only regular weekly schedule. And from that, television's picked her up as an occasional expert for one of the daytime magazine shows. She earns five times what she was earning at the hospital, and she can pick and choose her patients. So she's the media junky now.

One interesting little side effect: she's lost her phobia of needles. I won't say she's volunteering for a tattoo, but she can cope. And she changes her earrings every day with no problems whatsoever.

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