Dido – the dog, not the Queen of Carthage – also came with a long list of instructions. You would think Jackson had never looked after a child or a dog before. (‘But it wasn’t my child or my dog,’ Julia pointed out. ‘I believe that should be our child,’ Jackson said.)
Nathan had been three years old before Jackson was able to claim any ownership of him. Julia, for reasons best known to herself, had denied that Jackson was Nathan’s father, so he had already missed the best years before she admitted to his paternity. (‘I wanted him to myself,’ she said.) Now that the worst years had arrived, however, it seemed that she was more than keen to share him.
Julia was going to be ‘ferociously’ busy for nearly the entire school holiday, so Jackson had brought Nathan to stay with him in the cottage he was currently renting, on the east coast of Yorkshire, a couple of miles north of Whitby. With good wi-ﬁ Jackson could run his business – Brodie Investigations – from just about anywhere. The internet was evil but you had to love it.
Julia played a pathologist (‘the pathologist,’ she corrected) in the long-running police procedural Collier. Collier was described as ‘gritty northern drama’, although these days it was tired hokum thought up by cynical metropolitan types off their heads on coke, or worse, most of the time.
Julia had been given her own storyline for once. ‘It’s a big arc,’ she told Jackson. He thought she said ‘ark’ and it took him a while to sort this mystery out in his head. Now, still, whenever she talked about ‘my arc’ he had a vision of her leading an increasingly bizarre parade of puzzled animals, two by two, up a gangplank. She wouldn’t be the worst person to be with during the Flood. Beneath her scatty, actressy demeanour she was resilient and resourceful, not to mention good with animals.
Her contract was up for renewal and they were drip-feeding the script to her, so, she said, she was pretty certain that she was heading for a grisly exit at the end of her ‘arc’. (‘Aren’t we all?’ Jackson said.) Julia was sanguine, it had been a good run, she said. Her agent was keeping an eye on a Restoration Comedy that was coming up at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. (‘Proper acting,’ Julia said. ‘And if that fails there’s always Strictly. I’ve been offered it twice already. They’re obviously scraping the bottom of the barrel.’) She had a lovely throaty laugh, especially when being self-deprecating. Or pretending to be. It had a certain charm.
‘As suspected, no Magnums, no Cornettos, they only had Bassani’s,’ Jackson said, returning with two cones held aloft like ﬂambeaux. You might have thought that people would want their kids to stop eating Bassani’s ice-cream after what had happened. Carmody’s amusements were still there as well, a rowdy, popular presence on the front. Ice-cream and arcades – the perfect lures for kids. It must be getting on for a decade since the case was in the papers? (The older Jackson grew, the more slippery time became.) Antonio Bassani and Michael Carmody, local ‘worthies’ – one of them was in jail and the other one had topped himself, but Jackson could never remember which was which. He wouldn’t be surprised if the one in jail wasn’t due to get out soon, if he hadn’t already. Bassani and Carmody liked kids. They liked kids too much. They liked handing kids around to other men who liked kids too much. Like gifts, like forfeits.
An eternally hungry Dido had waddled back hopefully on his heels and in lieu of ice-cream Jackson gave her a bone-shaped dog treat. He supposed it didn’t make much difference to her what shape it was.
‘I got a vanilla and a chocolate,’ he said to Nathan. ‘Which do you want?’ A rhetorical question. Who under voting age ever chose vanilla?
Thanks – a small triumph for good manners, Jackson thought. (‘He’ll come good in the end,’ Julia told him. ‘Being a teenager is so difﬁcult, their hormones are in chaos, they’re exhausted a lot of the time. All that growing uses up a lot of energy.’) But what about all those teenagers in the past who had left school at fourteen (nearly the same age as Nathan!) and gone into factories and steelworks and down coal mines? (Jackson’s own father and his father before him, for example.) Or Jackson himself, in the Army at sixteen, a youth broken into pieces by authority and put back together again by it as a man. Were those teenagers, himself included, allowed the indulgence of chaotic hormones? No, they were not. They went to work alongside men and behaved themselves, they brought their pay packets home to their mothers (or fathers) at the end of the week and— (‘Oh, do shut up, will you?’ Julia said wearily. ‘That life’s gone and it isn’t coming back.’)
‘Where’s Gary?’ Jackson asked, scanning the banks of seats. ‘Gary?’
‘The Gary you’re supposed to be keeping an eye on.’
Without looking up from his phone, Nathan nodded in the direction of the dragon boats where Gary and Kirsty were queuing for tickets.
And the battle is over and the Union Jack is being hoisted. Let’s have a cheer for the good old Union ﬂag!
Jackson cheered along with the rest of the audience. He gave Nathan a friendly nudge and said, ‘Come on, cheer the good old Union ﬂag.’
‘Hurrah,’ Nathan said laconically. Oh, irony, thy name is Nathan Land, Jackson thought. His son had his mother’s surname, it was a source of some contention between Julia and Jackson. To put it mildly. ‘Nathan Land’ to Jackson’s ears sounded like the name of an eighteenth-century Jewish ﬁnancier, the progenitor of a European banking dynasty. ‘Nat Brodie’, on the other hand, sounded like a robust adventurer, someone striking west, following the frontier in search of gold or cattle, loose-moraled women following in his wake. (‘When did you get so fanciful?’ Julia asked. Probably when I met you, Jackson thought.)
‘Can we go now?’ Nathan said, yawning excessively and unselfconsciously.
‘In a minute, when I’ve ﬁnished this,’ Jackson said, indicating his ice-cream. Nothing, in Jackson’s opinion, made a grown man look more of a twit than walking around licking an ice-cream cone.
The combatants of the Battle of the River Plate began their lap of honour. The men inside had removed the top part of the boats – like conning towers – and were waving at the crowd.
‘See?’ Jackson said to Nathan. ‘Told you so.’
Nathan rolled his eyes. ‘So you did. Now can we go?’ ‘Yeah, well, let’s just check on our Gary.’
Nathan moaned as if he was about to be waterboarded. ‘Suck it up,’ Jackson said cheerfully.
Now that the smallest manned navy in the world was sailing off to its moorings, the park’s dragon boats were coming back out – pedalos in bright primary colours with long necks and big dragon heads, like cartoon versions of Viking longboats. Gary and Kirsty had already mounted their own ﬁery steed, Gary pedalling heroically out into the middle of the boating lake. Jackson took a couple of photos. When he checked his phone he was pleasantly surprised to ﬁnd that Nathan had taken a burst – the modern equivalent of the ﬂicker-books of his own childhood – while Jackson was off buying the ice-creams. Gary and Kirsty kissing, puckered up like a pair of puffer ﬁsh. ‘Good lad,’ Jackson said to Nathan.
‘Now can we go?’ ‘Yes, we can.’