Mack's Progress Ch. 11 & EpiloguebyDenham_Forrest©
Clarification: In British public houses and hotels, it's usually standard procedure to place towels over the beer pumps to signify that the bar isn't open for the business of serving alcohol; especially when the general public has access to the bar area for other reasons.
"See, told you. I'll bet she is!" I heard Millie exclaim to Billie when they met us at the airport arrivals gate."
"Is what?" Francis - who'd brought the terrible two along with him for the ride - asked.
"Preggers, dummy," Billie retorted. "Millie reckons that she's got a sixth sense when it comes to spotting pregnancies.
"Jesus wept already?" Francis retorted.
"Well, you should know how easily these things can happen, Luvver," Billie told him, giving him a hug. "Anyway, we got the wedding timed dead right for Lindsey's fertile time of the month."
"Umm," I said, looking from one to the other of the three women and the bemused looking Francis.
"Well, Millie's probably being a bit premature, but you always said that you wanted children. I came off the pill the day you asked me to marry you." Lindsey smiled at me. "Not angry I hope?"
"Making sure that I wasn't going to get away again, were you?" I said as I kissed her. I'm not quite as daft as I sometimes look; I had noted that I hadn't seen Lindsey taking any birth control pills during the honeymoon.
"Yeah, I should have done that several years ago. I would have saved myself a lot of heartache."
"Both of us." I replied, "But do you really think you could be pregnant already?"
"I doubt it, Mack. Getting pregnant isn't that easy. Jeff and Rachael tried for three years before..." Lindsey broke off in mid sentence and started laughing quietly to herself.
"What's so funny?" I asked.
"I was just thinking that it was Rachael's pregnancy that started everything off, wasn't it. If she hadn't been pregnant, then I'd have been at home that night, wouldn't I?" Lindsey kissed me. "Have you ever wondered where we'd have been now, if I had been home that evening, Mack?"
"I'm not with you, Lindsey; I suppose we would have been married a couple of years ago."
"You think. I'm not so sure. God moves in mysterious ways sometimes," she said, giving a Millie a hug.
"I'm not following you, Lindsey."
"Never mind, Mack. It doesn't really matter now. We'll just have to wait and see what happens in the next week or so, to see whether he's decided that it's the right time for me to have a baby."
As it turned out Lindsey was pregnant and she delivered me of our first daughter late that autumn, and to cap that the following autumn, Lindsey added a second daughter. Then the following year, James Ellery Mackenzie was to join the family.
Well, why did you think everybody called me Mack? Can I help it if my mother was into crime stories? The point is anyone with their head screwed on right didn't go through a city school with a name like Ellery; well, they didn't when I was a lad.
After James came along, Lindsey and I were to figure that three children were enough, so she went back onto the pill permanently. Did something for her general demeanour at times as well. Not that her tantrums ever bothered me much; if you know the root cause of someone's odd fits of temper then they are pretty easy to overlook.
Both Millie and Billie had a son each in the same period of time, Millie dropping another (unplanned) daughter about five years later.
Bugger, I've got ahead of myself a little. Michelle came home from College that first year with Quinn in tow. Tarquin to be precise, but he probably suffered from the same sort of problems that I'd had at school; anyway he went by the name of Quinn. Quinn was studying to become a chef, curiously handy that was to turn out to be in the long term. Whatever, Michelle was in love with him and he followed her around like a lost puppy.
When I met Quinn, my first impression was that he was a pleasant enough guy, but a real wanker. Christ, the guy was clumsy and appeared to be totally inept at just about anything. That was, until he stepped into a kitchen, where you could only describe him as a bleeding genius. Knowing Michelle's appetite for sex, I can only assume that he must have cut the mustard in the bedroom as well; I never heard Michelle complain anyway.
They were married right after their final exams and returned to the Willows, where Quinn's skills in the kitchen soon became famous far and wide. Michelle, who - it became obvious to everyone - wore the trousers in that relationship eventually bore him four children.
Beverley's plans for both pubs came to fruition a lot quicker than I had imagined they would. In the year following my marriage to Lindsey, major structural changes were made during the winter months to both pubs, to accommodate their intended new roles.
At the Wherry, we had local bands in several nights a week that kept the place fairly crowded most of the year round. And after a year or so, tables had to be reserved at the Willow's most nights during the summer months and every Friday and Saturday night throughout the year.
The years seemed to race passed. Our three children grew into fine teenagers and seemed to enjoy village life and living in a public house. As they matured, Louise and Natalie were drawing far too much attention from the boys for my liking. And James - who everyone insisted was his father's son; whatever that's supposed to mean -- was growing into a handsome young man, who had quite a few of the young girls in the village hanging on his every word. I thought he was a great kid, even if he did tend to jump to conclusions a little too quickly for my liking; and he could be damned stubborn on occasions as well.
Louise - Lindsey and my eldest -- had been about ten when my brother Brian moved up to Broad land. Brian had quietly bought into the local holiday boat hire company and eventually took it over completely. Very soon after he moved into the district Julia and her brood moved into the village as well.
Julia worked for Brian part time, and the rest of the time with her husband in the art gallery that he had opened in the village. That was the first inclination that I'd got that Julia's husband was quite an artist on the quiet. Julia swears blind that she was never the model for any of his popular and very erotic nude studies. But I don't believe her, and I doubt anyone else in the village does either.
Lindsey and I had been married for about twelve years, when Beverley formed the company. Michelle, Lindsey and I were called together at Beverley's house for a meeting one day. She and George had moved out of the Willows and it had become -- in all but name -- Michelle's pub by then; besides being her, Quinn and their children's home.
Anyway that day Beverley informed us all that she was setting up a private limited company that would run the two pubs and the micro brewery that John had set up with Bev and George's financial backing. We had all been aware that Beverley and George had financed John's venture.
Shares in the new company were distributed equally between Beverley, George, Michelle, Patricia and myself. Before I had a chance to say anything, Bev told me that she and the twins considered that I was part of their family, and the twins adopted brother, and that I was not to argue. I've told you before that it wasn't wise to argue with Beverley, especially when she had the twins behind her.
Louise must have been nineteen... yeah, it was just before she got engaged, that I got a completely unexpected visitor whose arrival gave me the biggest shock of my life.
It was a fairly quiet morning in early June; James and I were down in the cellar sorting the place out after the delivery dray had made an early call.
As we climbed the stairs back into the bar, I picked up on the end of a conversation that Lindsey was having on the telephone.
"Are you sure?" she asked. Then she listened for a few seconds. "Oh, bugger, how long do you think it will be before they get here?" There was another pause. "No, I'm fine and I agree with you, Bev; I'll say nothing and thanks for the heads up... Oh, hi, Mack!"
I'm not that dumb, the "Hi, Mack" comment was said very loud, so that Beverley would know that I'd entered the bar. Lindsey looked guilty about something as well. She rapidly ended her conversation with Bev and hung up the telephone.
I stood there with what I hoped was an expectant look on my face. But Lindsey didn't bite. Considering that I'd just heard her tell Bev that she was going to say nothing, I wasn't at all surprised when she made some lame excuse and headed for the kitchen.
"Are you expecting anyone, dad?" James asked. He'd obviously overheard the end of Lindsey's conversation as well.
"Not that I'm aware of, son. But I know better than to ask your mother about it, if it's supposed to be a surprise."
James didn't reply but went over to the window that overlooked the car park. Apparently seeing nothing he shrugged and then went out into the garden by the river. I presumed he was on a glass hunt from the previous evening. It was still well before opening time so there were no bar customers around yet.
Although I must add, James had been eyeing up a young teenager from one of the holiday boats the evening before, so he might have gone prowling. Turning out to be a real a chip of the old block was my son.
Shortly Millie arrived for work in her launch. Millie had her eldest daughter with her and I was already aware that she, Louise and my other daughter Natalie were planning on going off to town in the launch that morning. The point was that a little later I noted that all three girls were still kicking around out in the garden chatting with James.
It fell to Millie to take the towels off the pumps at opening time. She and Lindsey were on duty so I went upstairs to change and have a break before I joined them later when the bar got busy. I suppose I'd only been up there for about ten or twenty minutes when the assistance light started flashing.
We have a button by the till that, when pushed, flashed lamps up in Lindsey and my private quarters to warn us that the bar staff were busy and/or needed assistance.
A glimpse out of the window of our private lounge told me that the gardens weren't very full, so I thought that the bar couldn't be that busy yet. As I headed down the stairs - through another window - I noted that there were only a few cars in the car park, one of them Julia's. So by the time I got to the bottom of the stairs, I was well aware that it was more likely that whoever Lindsey and Bev had been discussing on the telephone earlier had finally arrived.
The main bar was very quiet when I stepped in to it. Lindsey was behind the bar and I noted that she gestured in my direction to a young man she was in conversation with.
He must have stood about six feet tall and despite the warm weather that day, was wearing a formal and rather smart dark grey whistle. As he turned to look in my direction, I noted his very close cropped hair and that for an instant he looked down to check out his appearance, before he took a couple of smart paces in my direction.
"Mr Mackenzie, sir?" he asked, his right arm beginning to make a movement that he quickly checked, and changed to offering his hand for me to shake.
An American, from his accent, about twenty-five years old and in the forces from his body language, I quickly deduced. He'd actually gone to give me a salute, before he had realised what he was doing and from that I guessed that he was nervous about something, but I couldn't figure out what.
Come on, I had two very good-looking teenage daughters and I also had the reputation as a tough pub landlord and father, who didn't suffer fools lightly; so I'd seen quite a few nervous young suitors by then. But both my daughters had steady -- thoroughly vetted and suitably terrified - boyfriends at the time, so I couldn't figure out why this young Yank looked so worried.
"That's right, and what can I do for you, young man?" I replied, surprised that the young man seemed to shrink, the moment I opened my mouth.
"Joseph Conrad Junior, sir," he replied pulling himself to his full height again.
"Well, Joseph, what can I do for you?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted that Lindsey had stepped out from behind the bar and was making her way slowly in our direction. And that Millie, the three girls and James were all stood in the doorway to the garden, watching the proceedings.
"Well, sir... Um, it's like this..." Joseph had a quick look around the bar, then took a deep breath. "It's my girl, sir. She says that I've got to ask her father's permission before she'll agree to marry me."
"So, what's that got to do with me, son?" I asked.
But it was Lindsey who I suppose had taken pity on the guy who replied. "Quite a lot, Mack." Both Joseph and I turned to look at her. "Codi had trouble with a tooth when you were together in France, didn't she?"
"Yes," I said remembering having to take Codi to the local dentist. But wondering how Lindsey had known that and just what kind of tangent my loving wife was going off on this time.
Lindsey does have a talent for going all around the world before she gets to the point.
"Well, my guess is that the dentist prescribed Codi some antibiotics or something. Can you remember?"
"What's going on here?" I asked.
"Antibiotics interfere with birth control pills, Mack," Lindsey said matter-of-factly. "Actually they can often negate the pills effects completely. It appears that our children have a half-sister, Mack. Her name's Mackenzie and I assume that she's out in the car park with her mother."
I looked at the young man again.
"I... I'm afraid that's correct, sir," he said, looking even more nervous than he had before. "Mackenzie insisted that I ask you for your consent to marry her."
I looked back at Lindsey, probably with questioning eyes.
"Today was the first I knew about it honestly!" she replied, to my unasked question. Then added, "Beverley called and told me earlier."
I'm not sure how long I stood there looking from Lindsey to Joseph and back again, and quite honestly, wondering what I was supposed to do next. I had another daughter that for some reason Codi had never told me about. I think I was angry and inexplicably happy at the same time. Angry that Codi had never told me about the child, but then pleased that I had another offspring. A drink was called for, a strong one!
I headed for the bar only to find that Millie, in her usual mind reading way, had beaten me to it and she handed me a large straight rum when I got there. "Another, Millie," I said, knocking it back in one and sagging down onto my usual stool.
Lindsey had followed me over and gave me a quick hug. "You'd better go bring her in, Joseph. Oh, and Codi too, whilst he's still in shock and lost for words," she told the young man.
But before Joe made it to the door, Louise and Natalie came through it dragging a young woman who had to be Mackenzie along between them.
Obviously the thought had crossed my mind that she might not be mine, but those thoughts were quickly dispelled the moment I clapped eyes on her. It could have been a young Julia standing there.
Disengaging herself from my two daughters, Mackenzie took Joseph's hand and he led her over to me. I could see that she looked even more nervous than poor Joe had done.
"I'm sure your half-sisters have told you that I don't bite," I said, smiling and holding my arms out to her. Well, what else could I do?
Mackenzie let go of Joe's hand, stepped into my outstretched arms and we hugged each other.
"Hello, father. I've been waiting all my life to meet you," she whispered into my ear. "But, I didn't know how to approach you. We... I didn't know how you'd react when you heard that I'd been born."
"Silly girl, how could anyone not be overjoyed to know that they had a beautiful daughter like you? Now where's you mother? I think I've got a bone to pick with her." I was trying to inject as much humour into the situation as I could muster with my voice.
"I think she's gone back to the Willows with Aunt Julia, dad," Louise informed everyone. "She seemed worried about meeting you and mum."
I looked over at Lindsey, who had a big grin on her face. It wasn't necessary to say anything; we'd been married long enough to know each other's mind. Lindsey picked up the telephone and began to call the Willows. I knocked back my second rum then got to my feet.
A few short minutes were spent formally introducing Mackenzie and Joe to her half-siblings and Lindsey, although Lindsey was talking to Beverley or George on the phone at the time. Eventually Lindsey gave me the nod that told me Julia and Codi had arrived back at the Willows.
Wrapping my new daughter's hand around my arm, I asked everyone to please excuse us, then, with another look and gesturing nod of the head to Lindsey that she returned, led Mackenzie out into the garden and down to our launch. I wanted to get to know Mackenzie in private for a little while. She asked Joe to get her purse from the car as we went and he delivered it to us at the launch.
I pulled the launch out into the current then throttled back so we were only just maintaining steerage way and headed towards the Willows. At that speed Mackenzie and I would have a good half an hour or so to talk. I knew that Beverley would bring Joe along in the car.
"Your intended seems like quite a nice lad," I commented, using Joe to break the ice.
"Yeah, he's great, and very patient with me, and mother. Mother can get a bit screwy and very possessive at times."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."
"You shouldn't be, father, it wasn't your fault. The Judge wouldn't go into details, but he told me that mother screwed things up between you and her completely."
"Yeah, grandfather; everyone calls him the Judge, even his wife and mother. Look, I don't know exactly what happened, but I've got a good idea. Mother's got some photographs of you and her together hidden away and I found them a long time ago. Oh, she'd shown me some of them, of course, but I've always had one of you and her together on a yacht beside my bed and I've got another of you skiing as well. But mother has kept a lot of them hidden in the closet in her room. I think she gets them out sometimes when she locks herself away in there."
"Oh!" I think was all I could come up with at that point.
"The Judge wouldn't go into details, but from what he did say I worked out that when I was born, they thought that there was a possibility that someone else might have been my father. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to work out that mother cheated on you and you found out about it, does it?"
"Well, you're on the right lines, Mackenzie. Jesus, everyone doesn't call you Mackenzie all the time, do they? Surely you have a nickname."
"No, mother insists on Mackenzie. No one gets away with calling me Mack when mother's around, for obvious reasons."
I made no comment to that.
"The Judge had to organise for mother to go into a clinic when she got back home from Europe and it was whilst she was in there that they discovered that she was pregnant. From what I can make out, the clinic suggested that I should be aborted, but neither the Judge nor mother would allow that. Not that I think mother had much say about anything at the time; reading between the lines mother was..." Lindsey stopped speaking for a few seconds. "She's had a couple of relapses since. Normally after one of her marriages broke up; the Judge tries to make sure that she doesn't get involved with too many men anymore."