Gordon Curzon was a veteran of many fierce commercial negotiations and boardroom battles. He was at ease with heads of state, and finance ministers, and held in very high esteem by corporate bankers and lawyers. He was a decisive and confidant man. He was also a man of his word, with a very high sense of personal honour and corporate ethics, he subscribed to the motto ‘Dictum meum pactum.’
“I don’t think I have ever in my life been this apprehensive before a meeting,” he said. “I just do not know what’s going to happen. I’m looking forward to meeting this Reverend Whitaker though, but I wouldn’t have her job for all the tea in China.”
“Gordon, are you sure we are not going to be a bit intimidating; we’re a pretty big team in here, after all?”
“You have a very good point Mary, but Chloe and I have both spoken to Mrs. Whitaker, and she assures us otherwise. She has asked for someone like you to be here, as a lawyer. I’ve brought Peter in as our resources man, in case he can help. Then there’s me and Chloe, my PA, of course.”
“Gordon, I’m going to go and wait for them downstairs. They might be early, because they don’t want to be late, if you see what I mean. May I suggest that you’re waiting in my office when I bring them up? Then, Peter, you could stay in there after the introductions, and be on hand if needed but that way the numbers will be even.”
“Good idea Chloe, thanks. Everything downstairs organised?”
“Yes, Mr. Peters is on lookout for the taxi. Lotti and Sally will be smiling, but I’ve told Sally that if she thinks she might cry, she’s to vanish.”
“Thank you, Chloe, if they’re early bring them straight up; just get the girls to buzz when you’re in the lift.”
“Where are things up to with your former employee?” asked Mary Barrington. Barrington, Howard, and Clarke had been legal advisors to RPA for ten years.
“He’s pleading guilty and is going to the Crown Court for sentencing on 17th October,” replied Gordon, “three dead and six serious injuries, he’s looking at up to fourteen years accommodation by Her Majesty.”
Gordon cast his mind back to that awful day just over three weeks ago. Joe Eames had got up late, having been on something of a bender the night before. He was going to be late for his meeting, and was already on a warning from RPA about timekeeping. He had got into his company car and was speeding up the A1. When he attempted to make a call on his mobile, he had lost control of the vehicle. The tanker that swerved to avoid him then went through the barrier and overturned crushing the Honda Civic. Michael and Siobhan Regan and Siobhan’s mother Sinead Stone were killed instantly. The tanker driver had serious leg injuries, as did the driver and passenger of the Peugeot 307 that ran into the wreckage. Joe Eames was unhurt.
Chloe Banks was chatting to Lotti and Sally in Reception, keeping smiles on their faces. She saw their Commissionaire, Roy Peters, begin to move toward the taxi pulling up.
“Good morning Padre,” said the former sergeant major, as he held the door for the Revd Ros Whitaker with a warm smile. “Good morning ladies,” he said, as he held the rear door open.
“Good morning,” said the older of the two girls who climbed out. “I’m Caitlin,” she said holding out her hand, “and this is Niamh.” Niamh was enthralled by the gorgeous uniform. Roy was enchanted by the two beautiful young redheads before him.
“I’m Roy, and I’m pleased to meet you both. Excuse me a second while I sign the driver’s chit.”
Roy Peters led the way, and opened the door to where a smiling Chloe was waiting to greet them all.
“Good morning and welcome. I’m Chloe, we’ve spoken on the phone Ros, but it’s good to meet you,” she said.
“I’m Caitlin, and this is my sister Niamh,” said Caitlin holding out her hand.
“I’m so pleased to meet you both,” replied Chloe, enjoying the confident handshake of the teenager.
“Fish Cattie, fish! They’ve got fish. Can I go and look, please?”
“Sure sweetie, go and see what they’ve got.”
Caitlin turned to Chloe and spoke softly.
“That’s a blessing,” she said. “They’ll help keep her calm. We’re a few minutes early, so can we leave her with the fish for a moment please?”
“Of course we can,” said Chloe, suddenly fighting a lump in her throat. She watched Ros go over to the tank, to be with Niamh.
“The lucky thing is that Mr. Curzon has a big tank of fish in his room where we’re going in a minute.” She looked at the grave young face that was watching her younger sister with such obvious love.
Caitlin saw Lotti and Sally, and her smile sprang back.
“Hello, I’m Caitlin,” she said as she walked over to shake more hands.
“I’m Lotti, and it’s lovely to meet you.”
“And, I’m Sally.”
Sally knew she was going to lose it, no matter how hard she tried, but then she was amazed. She saw a deep well of compassion in the young girl’s eyes.
“Hush now Sally,” she said softly, reaching out to take her hand again, “this is not a crying time. I need to keep my little darling calm.”
“Bless you girl,” said Sally, “bless you.”
“Niamh my pet,” called Caitlin gently, “we’re going upstairs now. Chloe says Mr. Curzon has a tank in his room as well.” She took her little sister’s hand and they followed Chloe to the lift, with Ros just behind.
“Thank you, Lotti,” said Gordon. “They’re on their way up,” he said, turning to his colleagues.
The lift doors opened and Chloe led the way into the office.
Gordon saw a bright, confident teenager, with a very nervous and agitated younger girl clinging to her left arm. He stepped forward smiling, taking the proffered hand.
“I’m Gordon Curzon Miss Regan, I am so pleased you have come to see us.”
“I’m Caitlin, and this is my sister Niamh, Mr. Curzon. Thank you so much for inviting us. This is our dear friend and life-saver Ros.”
“Mrs. Whittaker I am truly delighted to meet you, and I look forward to having some further conversations. Thank you so much for bringing Caitlin and Niamh here today.”
“Please call me Ros. When I hear ‘Mrs. Whittaker, I look round to see if my mother-in-law has walked in.”
“Ros it shall be, and please all of you call me Gordon. Caitlin, Niamh and Ros, this is Mary Barrington, one of our legal advisers; you wanted some advice I understand? And this is Peter Finch, our Resources Manager, who will be on standby if there are some practical issues we can help with. Shall we go through to my room? Chloe will get us some refreshment.”
“Excuse me, Gordon,” said Ros, “is there a loo on this floor?”
“Of course,” answered Chloe, “it’s this way.”
“Niamh sweetheart,” said Ros, “come with me.”
Niamh transferred her clutch to Ros, and they followed Chloe.
“Mr. Curzon, Mrs. Barrington, Mr. Finch,” said Caitlin, “we knew Niamh would need a toilet, but we waited until we got up here. I need a moment to say a couple of things. I shall care for my darling, God willing, have no fear of that. As I said to Sally downstairs, this is not a crying time. I need to keep Niamh calm until bedtime if I can. But it’s all quite hard. We have some things to talk about, but will you please watch me. If I put my fingers to my cheek like this, then I’m asking you for ‘time out’, and we slow the conversation until I’ve recovered. That way I keep in control of myself, and Niamh stays calm. Is that OK?”
“Absolutely,” said Gordon.
“Caitlin,” said Mary Barrington softly, “When do you attend to your crying, and where do you go?”
Caitlin looked at her for a moment, then smiled.
Where can I go?
“If there is not a place where tears are understood,
Where can I go to cry?
If there is not a place where my spirit can take wing,
Where can I go to fly?
If there is not a place where my questions can be asked,
Where can I go to seek?
If there is not a place where my feelings can be heard,
Where can I go to speak?
If there is not a place where I can try and learn to grow,
Where can I just be me?”
“I don’t know who wrote it but it fits me at the moment. One of the problems is that they want to take the places away, and that’s one reason why we’re here today.”
Gordon Curzon and Mary Barrington both understood they had been privy to a small window into Caitlin’s soul and felt humbled. A child no longer, through unhappy circumstance, and mature beyond her years. There was nothing now that they would not do for her, if they possibly could. Peter Finch had suddenly turned away to look for something in a filing cabinet; his own daughter was Caitlin’s age.
Chloe returned with Ros, and a much happier looking Niamh, holding her hand.
“Let’s go through shall we?” said Gordon.
They walked into his magnificent office. Caitlin and Niamh gasped at the view. Below them the River Ouse and beyond, the majestic façade of York Minster. Then Niamh uttered a short squeal of delight as she let go of Ros, and bounced over to the big fish tank.
Chloe served coffee and tea to everyone while Niamh had a bottle of coke and a straw.
“Mr. Curzon…” began Caitlin.
“Call me Gordon please, Caitlin.”
“Thank you, Gordon. I want to begin by saying that we do not blame this company, or anyone in it, for what happened to our parents. Mr. Eames was your employee in a company car, but he was the one who broke all the rules. In time we will try and forgive him, but we want you to know that we have no animosity toward anyone else.”
“That is very gracious of you Caitlin, but we still feel responsible. I need to tell you, on behalf of myself and everyone who works for this company, that we have a deep sense of sorrow and shame. We are all of us so very sorry, and we cannot imagine the ...”
Gordon paused, as he saw Caitlin’s fingers go to her cheek, and her breathing became deep and controlled.
“Thank you for saying that Gordon. It means a lot to me, it really does. I hear it from you representing a lot of people who, like Sally downstairs, would want to say it as well. I hope I also hear it from you as a friend, because Niamh and I need some more friends at the moment; particularly until Uncle Sean can get here. We have a bank who think we can live off fresh air, and a solicitor who is as helpful as a chocolate fireguard. Circling around us is a social worker, who wants to put us in care. Ros and everyone at church are wonderful, and I know I shouldn’t worry, but I do, and I’m a bit scared.”
“I was so excited when Chloe rang, and said you wanted to meet us. I picked Niamh up and we had a dance,” she said laughing. “I told her that we might have a knight in shining armour. As the taxi pulled up Niamh saw your commissionaire, Roy, and asked me if he was the knight.”
Despite the clear emotion building up in Caitlin everyone suddenly felt a sense of energy. They laughed at the image of Roy Peters, though Chloe reminded them that in some circumstances, Roy would be a very useful knight to have on your side.
“So, Caitlin, what do you need your knight in shining armour to do for you?” asked Gordon smiling.
“Gordon, you have built up a very big business that has a global network. You did this by making things happen. We need someone who can make things happen for us, and not wait for someone else to do things to us.”
The passion in Caitlin’s plea was clear, and Ros could see that the floodwaters that had been building up in her for three weeks, might suddenly burst the dam. Much as this was a thing she wanted to happen, she knew that Caitlin would not want it to be here. It was Niamh who saved the moment.
“Cattie, Cattie,” she cried. “There’s a big underwater spider – come and see!”
Caitlin took a deep breath, and her beautiful calm smile returned. “Excuse me a moment,” she said standing up and beginning to cross the office. She stopped, and turned to face them all again.
“Ros, would you tell everyone about Uncle Sean, and the will and stuff, and about Mrs. Singleton?”
“Certainly dear. You play with Niamh and listen; interrupt me if you want.”
“Mary, part of the underlying problem is Michael and Siobhan’s will; I have a copy here. You will be the better judge, but I don’t think it has been competently drawn up. It doesn’t take account of the circumstances which existed at the time at which it was executed. The executor is Michael’s brother, Sean. Just cast your eyes over it, please Mary?”
“This is another aspect of the tragedy. Sean was not able to get to the funeral, and hasn’t made it home yet. He works on the Antarctic Survey. It’s winter down there, and the weather has been bad for weeks, so he hasn’t been able to get out. We have intermittent email contact, and some radio contact, but apparently the storm down there is breaking records. The earliest he may be evacuated is the end of October; planes simply cannot land. In fact, the planes they use in Summer spend the Winter in Canada, being serviced. I understand a French stroke victim had to wait six weeks, and Sean is in good health.”
“Caitlin is worried about the household bills. The bank won’t talk to her so she doesn’t know if things are being paid. She cannot get any cash. Now that isn’t an immediate problem. The congregation are coming up trumps, but I don’t think that should be necessary. Caitlin has found statements, and there’s no shortage of money. The bank staff just put up a wall called client confidentiality. I’ve been into the branch with her. They are all very sympathetic but won’t bend the rules. We need to unblock things somehow.”
“The real worry is the threat of being fostered or put into care. It’s really important they stay in that house. I’ve been living with them for the last weeks, with the Youth Club leader’s wife taking turns. We have a longer term solution to having an adult in the house that should work very well, if we can clear some hurdles. There’s a social worker who thinks the best thing would be for them to be fostered, as Sean may be working abroad for several years. The chocolate fireguard just says that he’s sure social services will do what is best.”
“Is the ‘chocolate fireguard’, as you call him, the same firm as drew up this will?” asked Mary.
“Yes, that’s why Caitlin went to see them. I went with her, and talk about being patronised!”
“You’re quite right Ros,” said Mary, “this is a wholly inadequate document. It was drawn up five years ago when the children were ten and three, and it makes no provision for their care and upbringing. It gives powers to Sean, but he’s not here, and there was no backstop. If we can’t get any satisfaction, I shall be referring the case to the Law Society. Caitlin, would you like to rejoin us?”
“Gordon, are you OK with me taking this for the moment?”
“Carry on Mary, make things move.”
“Caitlin, neither you nor Niamh are going to be taken into care. You can rest assured that no longer term plans will be made, before your uncle gets home.”
“Oh, thank you, Mary. Thank you! That is such a huge relief.”
“Ros, are you willing to be appointed as temporary guardian for Caitlin and Niamh, pending discussions with their uncle?”
“Right, I’m going to arrange for my family law colleague, James Mason, to set up an early hearing before a High Court Judge. We will apply for you to be appointed what’s known as ‘Guardian ad litem’. If you’re happy Caitlin, and your uncle is happy in due course, Barrington, Howard, and Clarke will take over the legal side of things. Is that alright with you Caitlin?”
“Oh please, thank you again, Mary.”
“Caitlin your courage and determination deserve to be matched by those of us who can make things move – actually making them move. Forget Messrs Bragg & Taylor, all we need from them, in due course, is the original will back. In the circumstances, as part of our case to the judge is their original lack of care, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. In fact, we will ask the judge to order the return of papers.”
“RPA will meet any, and all, legal expenses Mary. We will also cover any out of pocket expenses you incur Ros,” said Gordon.
“Thank you, Gordon,” said Mary. “Caitlin, you mentioned somebody called Mrs. Singleton?”
“We have a big four bedroom house with a new granny flat on the side. Mummy and Daddy were actually bringing Granny Stone to see it, to see if she would like to move in, when the accident happened. Mrs. Singleton lives by herself along the road, and we’ve known her forever. She used to babysit when Mummy and Daddy went out. She’s beginning to find the stairs and things difficult. I wanted to ask Mrs. Singleton to move in with us, and live in the granny flat. That way we have an adult in the house, but the social worker doesn’t think she would be suitable.”
“Has the social worker ever met Mrs. Singleton?”
“I don’t think so,” replied Caitlin.
“Do you think she’s suitable Ros?”
“Without a shadow of a doubt. It seems to me to be a win-win situation. Mary Singleton will be more comfortable. She’s got to be safer too.”
“The devil is in the detail,” said Mary, “but I think we have a direction of travel. Ros give me your email address and I’ll get James to send you a questionnaire about just what details he needs about you, Caitlin and Niamh, for the application for guardianship.”
“Back to you Gordon! Sounds like a certain bank needs to understand that when Caitlin Regan is around, they’d better be nice.”
“Which bank and branch is it Caitlin?”
“Barclays on Castlegate.”
“Ha!” laughed Gordon and Chloe at the same time.
“Chloe, give Jack Taylor a call please and tell him he’s meeting me in the Cocktail Bar of the DCH at six o’clock.”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’ll send Peter in to help you replenish everyone’s drinks.”
It was nearer fifteen minutes before Chloe returned.
“Sorry Gordon; Jack Taylor is in London for three days, so I have had a conversation with his PA, Peter Smith, and I think we’ve sorted things out. He said ‘When everything’s upside down the only thing to do is stand on your head and look at it the way it is, not the way you would like it to be.’ Caitlin, here is his personal number. Give him a call then go in and see him personally. He will show you everything.”
“Well done Chloe,” said Gordon.
“Yes, thank you,” said Caitlin.
“It could get better Caitlin. Do you have a passport?”
“Yes, we both have.”
“Do you have a bank account at all?”
“I’ve got a savings account with Barclays. That’s one of the things that has made me so cross. I’m a customer!”
“Oh, this just gets better and better. There’s going to be some heads banged together when Jack Taylor gets back Gordon. Anyway, Caitlin, you can open an account which will give you your own personal debit card. Ros you will need to go with her as Guardian, and prove her identity with something like her NHS card or birth certificate, if you can find it.”
“I’m not actually her guardian yet,” said Ros.
“I explained that. Peter says, that’s where some ‘common’ comes in. He’s happy if you say you are guardian, or you could wait until the Court makes you one.”
“I think that brings us to some preliminary financials,” said Gordon. Our insurers will agree a settlement in due course; drive them hard Mary, drive them very hard. However, those things take time. Caitlin, if you get any bills or repairs that need doing, and paying for, you come and see Peter or Chloe. Chloe, will you open the safe please?”
“Caitlin, as soon as your account is opened let Chloe have the details and we will transfer £2,000 into it directly, then whatever is needed until everything else is sorted out. Ros, you and your husband have given of yourselves, but there are little things which mount up. I want you to take this for you, and him, personally. Come and talk to me again if there is something that your church needs. They have sown; so now shall they reap; Corinthians I think?”
“Gordon I’m impressed. Thank you so much for this. I won’t pretend it’s not welcome.”
“Chloe, get the contact details for Sean Regan, and link him with our New Zealand Associates as soon as it’s possible. Make contact with the British Antarctic Survey, and find out if there are any evacuation possibilities at all. I want a report on options to evacuate Sean by sea; ship charter costs and availability etc. Is it remotely possible to get a ship to the edge of the ice pack and then fly in a helicopter? If we can get him back to Christchurch - First Class flight back to the UK ASAP, and a car to meet him when he lands please.”
“Consider it done.”
“Let me know when he’s due back please,” said Mary. “I need a good long talk with him. I want to explain the various options with regard to the future care of Caitlin and Niamh, and how to manage the estate. We’ve no idea yet what the estate is worth, though we can make an informed guess at the sort of settlement figure. At least this rubbish will hasn’t tied our hands behind our backs. Caitlin, you will both be in on the decisions about the future, but I see no reason why you can’t carry on living in your house, for as long as you want.”
“I think we need to plan on it being November before we can get your uncle home. If it can happen sooner, then it’s a bonus.”
“We’ll make it all move Caitlin, I promise you and Niamh that,” said Gordon, “but the lynch pin is getting your Uncle back. Until he’s here, everything is a holding action, but we’ll see you both where you want to be in the meantime.”
Suddenly Caitlin knew she had arrived at the end. The devices she had developed to hold everything back these last weeks, were beginning to fail. The threats had been dealt with, and she and her precious Niamh were going to be safe. She knew now, she was with friends.
Mary spotted the signals first, and whispered ‘Ros’ urgently. Ros faced a dilemma, who to care for, Caitlin or Niamh? Gordon and Chloe were also alerted by the signal. Gordon was at a loss for a moment, but Chloe suddenly understood.
“Niamh sweetheart. All the floors have fish tanks, shall we go and see if we can find more spiders?”
Niamh’s face lit up. “May I Cattie, please may I?”
“Yes darling, off you go. Hold on to Chloe.”
“Yesss!” squealed Niamh grabbing Chloe’s hand, and dragging her off.
“Cattie,” whispered Ros, holding on to her young friend, “this is the place where tears are understood, and feelings are heard. This is the place for you, just to be you.”
It began with a low keening moan.