My sincere thanks go to Angelina for helping to prepare this little yarn for posting.
It was Monique, my assistant-come-companion who was the first to see them approaching. Following a very productive morning, a pleasant light lunch, and a couple of circuits of the pool, Monique and I were relaxing on sun-loungers. I had a plan to contemplate the inside of my eyelids for a while, while at the same time allowing the warm sun to dry me off. Knowing Monique as I did by then, I suspect that she had the basic plan of ... well with luck, catching the eye of some handsome -- unattached -- millionaire. Actually, there was no shortage of prospective takers, if you understand me; Monique was a beautiful young woman. But she was also uncommonly ... selective about which – if any – guys she would allow to court her.
Whatever, we were both partaking of our usual afternoon labours when Monique grabbed my attention by saying, "Oh dear Roy! I think you might have a couple of unexpected visitors."
I forced my eyes open and -- as best I could without turning my head -- followed Monique's eye-line until I saw that a member of the resort's staff was inexorably guiding two teenagers in our general direction.
We were in a very exclusive, up-market establishment, where usually residents could be assured of complete privacy. It was the sort of place that didn't take to non-residents wandering around unescorted, or usually even allow them to get inside the grounds uninvited.
But neither Monique nor I had any idea that my children even knew that I was living in Europe. Andre would escort them to Monique and my corner of the patio, where he'd hand them over into our care.
"Looks like you could be right there, girl!" I replied, as calmly as I could muster. "I wonder how they got past security."
I was more than surprised at their sudden appearance; I was shocked actually and somewhat emotionally excited. However, I did my best to keep my cool, carefully modulating my voice and somehow preventing myself leaping up from the lounger and running over to greet them. It took more than a modicum of self-control, I can assure you.
"Roy, from the moment I saw them I knew that they were your son and daughter. No one who's met you could mistake the fact, and the guys on the gate are more observant than most."
"Is there such a pronounced likeness, do you think?"
"Oh yes," she assured me.
"Bugger, suddenly I find myself feeling very sorry for my children."
"Christ, Roy, you don't half talk some crap sometimes! You're one of the best-looking guys living around here. For your age anyway."
""Watch it, kiddo, who are you calling an old fart? Anyway, you only say that because you want my body," I chided her, doing my best to keep the serious expression on my face.
"Don't be silly, boss, you're a prime catch. I'm surprised that one of these bloody gold-diggers kicking around here hasn't managed to turn your head."
"Monique, you know you're the only one..."
"Cut it out, Roy! Besides, business and pleasure never mix, that's your own mantra, if I remember correctly. And I could never afford to live in a place like this if I didn't work for you."
"We could be man and wife?"
"Give-over, Roy; you know you don't mean that; anyway you're still ... besides you'd go bloody barmy every-time one of those randy old buggers made a pass at me, you're bad enough now. The master-slave relationship suits us both very nicely. Anyway what do you think your children are doing here?" she asked ignoring any more of my jibes.
As she'd shown, Monique -- although she'd never met them -- was well aware of who our visitors were. She'd probably recognised them the instant she'd laid eyes on them. After all, beside the apparent likeness in facial features she just mentioned; many times she'd also seen the photos I carry around in my wallet.
Or maybe I should rephrase that ... that Monique carries around in my wallet! You get the idea, Monique is my private secretary and -- as I tended to spend a lot of my time during daylight hours, dressed in little but swim trunks and a tee-shirt – Monique carted all that kind of crap around in her ruddy great hand bag for me. She'd also clout me with the bloody thing on occasions, if I became a little too cheeky. Monique and I had a somewhat ... unique employer-employee relationship; very often bordering on the sort an elder brother and younger sister might have between them.
"I've no idea, kiddo. Can't be money. Leticia's rolling in the stuff; she didn't even bother suing for maintenance, I don't think. No one's ever come looking for any, anyway."
Like me, Monique had no idea why -- after almost four years – my children would suddenly show-up in the south of France to visit me. Or -- come to that -- how they had managed to discover my whereabouts in the first place; not that I was trying to hide or anything.
"But I suspect that we'll soon find out. I wonder how they found me ... and just whom they've talked into bringing them down here? I somehow doubt that it's going to be their mother."
"You're really not all that hard to find, Roy; if anyone cares to look hard enough, that is. It's just that ... from what you said, I was under the impression that they weren't going to be inclined to look."
"So was I, girl. Curious, isn't it? I suggest that we play things by ear, until we know what their game is. So, we should also inject a certain amount of caution into our ... interactions with them."
"Give-over, Roy, they're your kids; give'em some slack."
By that time the two youngsters were almost upon us and possibly within earshot, so I did not reply to Monique's comment.
"Mr Granger, there're two young people to here who wish to see you sir. They claim that they are your children."
"Thank you, Andre. It is my penance I'm afraid; but they are who they claim to be. Perhaps, if you would be so kind, you could arrange refreshments?"
Andre informed us that he'd send one of the waiters over, and then withdrew; I gestured for the two – rather contrite looking -- new arrivals to sit on adjacent loungers. At that time they could not see my eyes behind my sunglasses; so they had been unaware that I had watched the looks that they'd given Monique and thrown my way as they'd approached.
Monique went to get up to leave at the same time as they sat, but I gestured for her to stay. Then I turned my head towards my children and removed the dark glasses. They looked back at me with ... well, somewhat annoyed expressions on their faces by then.
"So, to what do we owe this unexpected pleasure?" I asked.
The twins looked at each other for a second or two without replying and I kind-of got the idea that they hadn't thought this part of the operation all the way through. Then my son Peter turned back to look at me; giving Monique another disapproving glance in passing.
"We wanted to talk to you, father ... in private."
"Well, talk, young man, ask your questions or say whatever you came to say."
Peter's eyes moved from me to Monique and then back to me again.
"Monique is my private secretary, Peter; I have no secrets from her. She'll also act as a witness to this exchange. I'm not at all sure that I'm allowed to be in your company without the correct ... er, court appointed, responsible adult present anyway."
A slightly confused expression came over Peter's face.
"What ... were you not aware that that there has been a court order in place, forbidding me to contact either of you directly, until ... Well, until after your eighteenth birthday anyway."
Surprised -- or maybe disbelieving -- expressions came over both of my children's faces, as they exchanged glances with each other. I gleaned from that, that they were unaware of the court order's existence.
"Ah ... that takes you by surprise, does it? What did you take me for, the kind of person who could walk away from his children without a second glance?"
"But..." Peter said.
And "but" that was all that he said, his utter confusion was clearly audible in his voice and visible on his face. On both of their faces actually.
"You didn't really believe that after almost being father and mother to you for all those years, I'd be able to just walk away and desert you, did you?"
"But you went away," my daughter Alex (short for Alexandra) spoke for the first time.
"I got a job, Alex. You and Peter knew that I had wanted to for a long time ... well, that I was getting more than a little peeved about the situation at home, anyway. But one member of our family forgot that it was I, who had put my career on hold to allow her to follow her own. You know that you two joined our family at a very inopportune moment, much earlier in our marriage than your mother, or I intended. Not that we weren't both extremely pleased and excited at your arrival on the scene. But it was just a little ... premature for our plans. Then, while she was still pregnant, your mother was offered a post that ... well, let us just say that it was an offer she'd regret turning down for the rest of her life. So being the supportive and considerate husband, I offered to put my career on hold for a few years and play housekeeper ... and children's nanny. So that your mother could go off and pursue her dream career."
At this time a waiter appeared and refreshments were ordered all around. He must have returned with the drinks shortly after, but his presence went unnoticed on my part
"But ... if it was agreed between you and mother, that you'd ... well raise us ... Why did you suddenly go out and get a job. Why did you fly off to the other side of the world, without even saying goodbye properly?" My son asked.
"I'm afraid that I played a little game of brinkmanship with your mother there, Peter and ... well it didn't come-off; as far as I was concerned anyway. I ended up the big loser, you might say. Your mother was obviously pleased that I handed her the opportunity to finally get me out of her hair.
"You see, it seems that as the years went by, your mother had forgotten the terms of our original agreement ... the master plan if like. She'd had her ten years as per our agreement, it was way past the time for me to re-launch my own career."
"But, why so suddenly?"
"Oh, it wasn't a sudden decision ... for god sake; don't go getting that idea into your heads. But your mother had climbed quite high on the corporate ladder in those ten years. So high in fact that ... well, somewhere along the line she'd forgotten that our marriage was supposed to be a partnership and that there was a time limit on our agreement. Ten years we said, during which time she'd follow her chosen career, without interference or complaint from me. I'd put my own career on hold and stay at home and take care of you two, to let her get on with hers unhindered.
"But such agreements can have unintended consequences ... well they did in our case. Or maybe I should phrase that, unexpected repercussions!
"I'm afraid that as the years went by, your mother had came to look on me as ... well, someone who was less important, than I believe she should have. Someone whose views were of little importance in the great scheme of things. Your mother's great scheme of things, that is! I had become someone who looked after the kids and who she came home to when she felt so inclined to do so."
"Mother is a top executive father, she..." Peter began to say
"She forgets that she's only where she is, because I agreed to forgo my career for a few years," I interrupted him. "Your mother got it into her head that my career had become unimportant and inconsequential in her great scheme of things. As I suppose it was to her; but I'm afraid that it wasn't to me! Your mother brought in far more money than we'd ever need, so ... as she interpreted it, there was little point in me rejoining the workforce at all.
"I think that your mother's final version of the plan was for her to retire shortly after you two complete your educations. Then I believe that her intention was, that we'd move somewhere nice and warm to see-out our lives. As your mother saw things, when you two reached the age you are now, then I would be able to go out and play in the workplace for a few years; if I so wished. However that was never how I had seen the future panning out.
"It would have been a nice life that some men would probably have enjoyed; but I'm afraid that I'm not made that way. Our agreement had been for ten years and then the roles were to be reversed. Well, not exactly reversed, but Leticia would relax a little and I'd get on with building the great structures of tomorrow's world. I couldn't go to my grave with everyone believing that I'd spent all of our married life, sponging off your mother. Besides, there were things that I wanted to achieve in my life.
"It had been somewhat longer than ten years before I finally lost my patience and everything came to a head though. Many times during those latter years I'd suggested to your mother that she cut back a little, so that I could ... But well, your mother always said that there was just one more big deal that would go to pot if she wasn't there to oversee it.
"But that wasn't the worst of it, really. I'd ... well as you know, while you two were young ... to keep my mind busy I suppose ... I'd taken to writing a little fiction in my spare time. Your mother only ever read a couple of my short stories and I believe she found the fact that I wrote them humorous. Not the stories that is, it was the pure fact that I had written them that I believe your mother found so funny.
"To put it bluntly, as far as your mother was concerned, my wishes and interests had become incidental and inconsequential. I had turned into someone who your mother hauled along when required on formal occasions."
"I'm sure mother..."
"No, Alex. Probably not intentionally, no; I'll give you that ... But that is what she effectively did. At all those formal dinners parties and things we went too ... Well, I was delegated to entertaining the wives and other inconsequential nonentities. I'd become your mother's, sort of Denis Thatcher figure, and most often, I was all but ignored."
"Denis Thatcher?" Peter echoed.
"Margaret Thatcher's husband," Alex informed him.
"But wasn't he a rich business man in his own right?" Peter pointed out.
"Oh yeah, sure he was, and he financed Margaret's legal and political career. But he referred to her as 'The Boss!'," Alex explained, with a smile. "Margaret Thatcher finished running the whole country eventually, remember."
"And made a fine mess of..."
"Roy!" Monique's voice chastised from beside me, "You do not discuss your personal politics with anyone! I'm sure that should include your children."
"Yeah sorry, Monique. Well kids, eventually I got fed-up with living in your mothers shadow, and ventured out on my own. The time limit on our original agreement was long past, and I'd told her what I was intending to do so many times. Even though I might not have mentioned it to you two.
"Your mother and I had another agreement, never to ... argue in front of you ... and never to bring you into our disagreements. I'd thought that we both believed that children should never be used as weapons in a argument between husband and wife, seems that I was wrong on that one."
That statement from me brought yet another exchange of glances between the twins and the beginnings of a surprised outburst from Monique. "But Leticia..." she began to say, but I silenced her, with a gesture of my hand.
"Unfortunately, two people can very easily make a pact, Monique. But, when push comes to shove, there's nothing much that one can do, to ensure the other keeps to the terms of said agreement."
"So that's why we never knew anything was wrong?" Alex ventured.
"I suppose so, sweetheart. Anyway I started looking for something ... anything that would get me back into the profession I'd trained for. Unfortunately, being out of the loop for nearly fourteen years doesn't place you in a very prominent position on the most eligible prospective employee list. But then an old college friend of mine wangled me a job on a construction contract for a bridge out in ... Well, it doesn't matter where really, I'd prefer to forget that little debacle anyway; it didn't last very long or go too well for anyone either."
"What happened; did the bridge collapse or something?" Peter asked.
I gave him a sideways glance and he began to look a little sheepish.
"No, there was some unfortunate unpleasantness. A little local unrest followed a bloody revolution, or local military coup d'état anyway. We were lucky to get out of there with our lives."
"Holy cow. We knew nothing about that."
"I didn't expect that you would, Peter; I really didn't expect that you would have. Anyway, I can't say I was exactly disappointed; until I eventually got back to the UK that was. Then I was hit with all those legal papers of your mother's.
"Okay, I could accept that Leticia was divorcing me for desertion ... Mind I'd only been away for eight months, but there had always been the danger of that happening. That wasn't my intention by the way; for our marriage to collapse completely. I thought that by going out and getting a job ... well, I'd prove to her that I wasn't kidding.
"Brinkmanship they call it, I really thought that your mother ... beneath it all ... loved me enough to cave and start to take me seriously again. But then all those legal papers were shoved into my face at Heathrow airport.
"Look, I'd never threatened either of you, or your mother with physical violence, I just couldn't. Surely you know that?"
The twins -- looking more confused than ever -- glanced at each other again; both shaking their heads.
"I'm sorry dad, but we don't understand what you are talking about."
"Peter, when I stepped-off the plane at Heathrow, I was handed divorce papers and a court order forbidding me to go within five miles of any place that either you, Alex or your mother, might be. With the two houses, your school, and the numerous offices your mother's employers had around the country ... anyone of which she might have been visiting on various days of the week ... well, that just about took up most of South-East England. Shit, it was debatable whether I'd broken that order simply by flying into Heathrow airport in the first place.
"Then having been presented with enough paperwork to fill half a filing cabinet. I was un-ceremonially carted off to a police station and informed that making death or kidnapping threats was a crime and that the police would be keeping a very close eye on me."
"Holly cow, who did you threaten?"
"That's the point, Peter ... no one! But when I read those court orders it became clear that I'd been accused and found guilty of making threats to harm your mother and to abduct you two children, both verbally and ... and ... well, in written files on my computer."
"My problem was, that those files on my computer were completely genuine, and I did write them!"
"They were?" Peter asked, a tone of surprise in his voice.
"Yes, but they weren't threats against you, or your mother. They were just a couple of short sections taken from the drafts of one of my stories. Or rather, I suspect that the rest of the file was carefully wiped, to leave what looked like a couple of drafts of threatening letters to Leticia on the hard drive. In short, my goose was cooked. The only contact I had with either you or your mother was through her legal representative."
"Barry Cuthbone?" Alex suggested.
"Yeah, that's the guy; you know him?"
"Not well ... but we certainly know his brother ... we think he's a want-to-be "Uncle Gordon", if you understand what I mean by that dad, and it's mainly why we're here really. He's been sniffing around mother since the moment you left. He works with her, and his brother being a solicitor..."
"His brother looks after all of mother's legal affairs," Peter took over from his sister when she stopped to take a breath, "But dad, just after you left our home computer went down, and Mum's nice friend from the office, Gordon Cuthbone, came around the house and took it away to have it looked at. It must have been him who handed it over to the police; the next we knew they had it. But we never knew what they had found on there. Sorry, but we thought it might have been something like ... well, illegal porn or something; but now you tell us it was some of your story files."
"I don't understand, can't the police read deleted files on hard drives?" Alex asked. "Or at least they'd see the empty spaces where something had been deleted from."
"Not if someone wiped the files with a scrubber program, Sis. Then they defrag the drive and close all the files up together. After that, they scrub that clear space on the drive a couple more times, or even put back other files they've removed earlier. If the computer forensic guys aren't looking for a set-up, they probably wouldn't even notice anything out of the ordinary. They'd just assume that dad kept a tight ship, as anyone who knows their way around a computer should do.
"I expect that you've got a copy of the original files somewhere, Dad, couldn't that have..."
"Proves nothing, Peter. I'd backed up all of my files to a damned CD-ROM of course, but any wanker can fiddle the date stamps on those things."
"Not the CD maker's manufacturing information they can't, Dad."
"Just because the original blank disk was made ten years ago Peter; that doesn't prove that that was when the disk was written. Shit it could have been written yesterday on a computer on which the system date was set to five or ten years ago."
"That's why you never challenged it in court?"
"Hey, what gave you that idea? Of course I challenged that court order ... well, I tried; I wanted access to my children. I even went after custody but..."
"Oh god, no!" suddenly burst from Alex's lips.
"What?" Peter asked.
"Peter, I know what dad is about to say. Don't you remember, dad had been gone for months and then we were taken to court that day? We met that nice old Judge in his chambers and he asked about Mum and Dad and how we got on with them. Gordon, Barry and Mother had warned us that Dad wanted us to go and live abroad somewhere with him. They told us that Dad only wanted us to go with him to spite Mother, they said we'd never get to see Mother again if we chose to live with him."
"Bugger yes, that old boy asked us who, or actually where we'd prefer to live with," Peter exclaimed.
"Dad, honestly, you hadn't bothered to come see us, or even write. Peter and I thought that if you really wanted us then ... well at least you'd have called and talked to us."
"Your mother moved you out of the house we'd been living in before I returned to the country, Alex."
"She told us that it held too many memories, dad. That she couldn't live there without..." Alex's voice trailed away to nothing.
"Anyway, I did write to you, Alex ... when I could. I had no idea that you weren't receiving my letters. Well, of course, I suspected later, that your mother had probably intercepted them."
"Dad, Mother swears that she has never received any direct communication from you since ... Well, since those threatening letters came to light anyway," Peter assured me.
"Probably because all of our personal mail was redirected through Barry Cuthbone's office." Alex, who'd directed her first remark to her brother, then she looked back at me ... and then over at Monique. "They said that they wanted to open all of our personal mail carefully to preserve any finger prints, we never could understand why at the time."
"Well, I'd say with, or without your mothers connivance, all those letters and presents I sent, must have been intercepted before they got anywhere near you."
"Is that the truth dad?" Peter asked.
"Of course it is, Peter!" Alex replied to him. "But it had nothing to do with mother, father ; of that I'm sure. I can remember that she was so ... upset and confused that you hadn't written to, or even telephoned either Peter or myself; even if you were angry with her."
"So confused that she had me banned by the courts from coming within five miles of any of you?"
"I didn't know about that father ... and I wonder if mother does? She never even hinted that..." my son replied, trying to placate me I believe. I should imagine that I was probably getting a little excited ... emotional, in my tone of voice.
"Well, she wouldn't, would she, Peter? Not to you two anyway," I pointed out.
"No, I don't suppose she would," Alex conceded, "But honestly father, I don't think..."
"Alex, a court order does not come about by accident," I interrupted her, "Someone has to make a complaint and then present some evidence ... truthful or concocted, before a judge. That someone would have to have been your mother!"
"Or, her legal representative dad," Peter interjected, "You know what mother's like for farming things out; she's always so very busy at the office."
"Yeah, that's where this all started, Peter; with that bloody company. But it got so that your mother was too busy to be my wife ... or your mother! That's what killed-off our marriage ... and why I eventually left. And I believe that probably answers the question you two came all the way down here to ask me in the first place. Now, how the dickens did you two get down here, anyway?"
"We drove down to Dover and then took a ferry and a few trains and buses from there; it was the cheapest way..." Peter explained. "I couldn't get the paperwork to get the car out of the country without mother finding out. I don't think the insurance company would cover me over here anyway; I haven't had my licence very long. Why do you ask?"
"Because my children, we've got to see about getting you back home again, a bit sharpish like ... Before the French authorities come-down on my head like a ton of bloody bricks. There's a court order in force, remember?
"Is it still valid? Anyway, we're in France," Peter grinned back at me.
"You two are not eighteen yet, m'lad, and we're still in the EU here. I think you'll find that the French courts will uphold a British court's rulings, most of the time. And I do not fancy the idea of spending any time in a French slammer, thank you very much!"
"We won't be able to get them on a train until tomorrow at the earliest," Monique commented.
"A ruddy plane then!"
"Oh don't be silly, Roy. It's far too late in the day for any of that nonsense; they'll have to stay overnight and we'll arrange their passage back tomorrow."
"Too late? It's only just gone..." I began to say, but then my daughter weighed in ... and I never had been able resist those appealing green eyes of hers, at the best of times.
"I don't want to go back home yet, Dad; we haven't seen you for years!" She whined, "Can't we stay for a few days at least?"
"Alex, that's not of my doing..."
"Give-over, Roy. Call their mother and tell her where they are; then let her come and get them if she can find the time. She's made them her problem, remember?"
Monique had a good point there. The twins being down with me was really none of my doing, so maybe I could turn the situation to my advantage a little, and score a few points of my own.
"That's a good point, Monique. I tell you what, give Peter the bloody mobile phone. He can call his mother and she ... or her legal representatives can sort all this out. Hey, you kids came down here to me; I never approached you two, did I? You argue the point with your mother and see how long she's prepared to let you stay. You can stay as long as you want as far as I'm concerned. However, I have no intention of getting into a slanging match or legal battle with your mother over it. That's the sort of thing the Sunday papers would have a field day with."
Mind you, I was quite convinced that any telephone conversation between my children and their mother was probably going to lead to a heated exchange – on same said telephone -- between my ex-wife and myself somewhere along the line. But letting one of the children call her allowed me to prepare myself mentally.
Looking a little ... reticent, I would say, young Peter took my mobile phone from Monique and slowly punched in his mother's number. Then he tried to pass the handset to his sister, who refused point-blank to take it from him.
Peters face went through a whole assortment of expressions as he waited for his mother to answer. Then...
"Hi, Mother, it's me!" His mother obviously said something in reply; I've always wondered what. Then he went on.
"Yes, she's here with me, mum. We're fine!"
It was Leticia's turn to speak, again.
"Er, yeah, well ... er, we're in France ... with Dad!"
Peter went silent while Leticia ranted at him. Only this time everyone could hear -- and almost understand -- her screaming down the telephone at the poor lad. When she finally ran out of steam ... or maybe took a breath, Peter went on.