I was in awe of the gothic splendour of the main hall of the Wills Memorial Building. A magnificent place, unfortunately funded by the proceeds of tobacco and, indirectly, the slave trade. We filed out into the bright Bristol sunshine and I was joined by my son, William, whose graduation ceremony I had attended. I shook his hand and congratulated him on his master's degree.
Being a very proud dad, I had to have photographs of him in his ceremonial robes. I moved around to get the sun behind me and managed to snap a few shots before Will's cheerful expression changed.
"What the fuck is he doing here?" he said.
I turned to see a Rolls Royce standing at the side of the road. Its chauffer was arguing with a traffic warden. In front of the roller stood a man of slight build, about five foot ten inches tall with grey hair and piercing blue eyes. At 60 years of age, he was fifteen years older than me and the man I'd least like to find at my son's graduation.
I moved towards him, but Will was ahead of me, striding across the pavement towards the interloper.
"What are you doing here? I don't need you and I don't want you here. Get back in your car and fuck off back to London!"
The man put both his hands in front of him, palms towards William in a conciliatory gesture.
"Relax young man, just calm down. I've seen what I came for, now I need a quick word with your father and I'll leave you to your celebrations."
I put my hand on Will's shoulder. "It's okay Son, I can deal with this. You get off to your champagne reception and make sure you save me a glass."
Will turned and went back to his friends who stood with puzzled looks on their faces. He would obviously have some explaining to do. Most of his mates would know that Will was arguing with Terry Sandford, but few if any would know the reason.
"Is this it, Sandford? No lawyers, no minders, just you?"
"This is it Mr Jennings, just me. I've given up talking to lawyers where you're concerned, it does me no good at all. I just want to talk to you. Just me and you man to man."
"I'm not aware that we have anything left to discuss."
"Please Mr Jennings. I'm not a man who is used to begging but if that's what it takes ... Here, take my card. We'll meet anywhere you choose. We have mutual interests and we need to work out how to go forward."
"I don't need to call you. The Clifton Sausage, 7 p.m., you're buying," I said angrily." I'll book the table, I'm sure your chauffer will find it for you.".
I turned and walked off to join Will in his celebrations.
I hadn't seen Terence Sandford in almost nine years and I'd hoped that I would never see him again.
After only sixteen years of marriage, my darling Vicky was taken from me as a result of cervical cancer. Her death left me devastated, not knowing which way to turn. It had taken a year for the disease to take her from me, yet it still came as a shock when she eventually died. I tried to tell myself that it was an end to her suffering, and that it was better that her battle had not dragged out any longer. However, none of that stopped me wanting to keep her just that little bit longer. Every day I longed to wake up and see her face, even as thin as she'd become.
The days dragged by, and slowly I came back to the land of the living. I had a twelve-year-old son and a daughter of only ten, so falling into a morass of self-pity was not an option. I had some help from Vicky's sister Madeleine, who was with us at the end and stayed for another two weeks. After that my mother did her best, but mum was torn between me and dad, who was himself not well.
No matter how long you live with someone, there are always some surprises when they die. Mine came in the form of a savings account she told me about once when the end was near. She told me to take the death certificate to the bank and I would automatically get access to the account. She didn't tell me that the account contained more than £40,000, enough to pay off the mortgage on our house.
By the first anniversary of Vicky's death, we were starting to get back on our feet. I couldn't face the idea of my children becoming latchkey kids so I quit my job and started working from home as a consultant. Both Will and his sister Zoe did their best to pull their weight around the house and I tried my best to be both mum and dad to them. Our house was filled with love, but we all knew there was someone missing. Every night the words of Sting would come home to me. "The bed's too big without you." he sang and I couldn't hear it without crying.
Almost fifteen months after Vicky's death, the letter arrived. At first I thought it was a sick joke, then I thought it was a scam. It purported to come from, a company of solicitors in London. I studied it, I even showed it to Will. We looked up the solicitors on the Internet and they seemed to be genuine. The wording seemed extremely vague.
Mr. Vaughn Jennings, husband to the late Victoria Jennings. You are invited to ring these offices quoting the reference number above. If you do so, you may learn something to your advantage.
I was mystified. Did Vicky have had another secret account? Neither Will nor I saw any trap in it so I rang the office of Wallace, Wallace & Simkins. As soon as I gave them the reference. I was put through to a Mr. Anthony Johnston.
"Mr. Jennings, you are the husband of the late Victoria Jennings?"
"Yes I am, what has this got to do with Vicky?"
"Are you familiar with the name of Terence Sandford, Mr Jennings?"
"There can't be many people who haven't heard of him, but of course I have. Vicky used to work for him when we lived in Sunbury."
"Thank you, Mr. Jennings, it seems that you are the man we need to talk to. Unfortunately, this is a matter that can't be dealt with over the phone. Could you come into our office so that we can discuss it? We'll pay you full expenses including loss of earnings, irrespective of the outcome."
I realised I couldn't lose so I made an appointment. I arranged for Will and Zoe to go to Mum's in case I was late getting home, and on Wednesday morning I set off for London.
My experience was that solicitors always kept you waiting, much to my surprise, I was shown into Johnston's office as soon as I arrived.
Anthony Johnston was a tall well-built man in his fifties. I sized him up as he came across the room to meet me. I guessed six-foot-two, a little taller than me. Broad shouldered I could imagine him playing rugby in his youth. He had brown eyes, salt & pepper hair, a square jaw with a cleft chin. He was probably the sort of man who had no trouble finding lady friends. He offered his hand and I shook it.
"It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Jennings, thank you for coming. Please take a seat."
He guided me towards a chair and returned to his desk.
"Before we start, I must point out that in cases like this, we like to record our interviews." He pointed to a video camera fixed to the ceiling in the corner of his office. "Is that okay with you?"
"Cases like what? I still don't know why I'm here."
"Cases which involve substantial amounts of money, with conditions attached. It helps us prove to our client that we have explained everything correctly. So are you okay with the recording?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Thank you, now let's get down to business. I represent the interests of Mr. Terence Sandford."
"Sandford? I'd have thought with his money he'd get the senior partner on his case. Mr. Wallace at least."
"Both the Wallaces are long since dead I'm afraid. I am the senior partner. Now, if I may continue?"
I nodded for him to continue.
"As you may have read in the papers, Mr. Sandford recently lost his two sons in a boating accident in Acapulco. This means your wife's children are his sole surviving blood relations."
"What are you talking about? My wife's children? You mean my children, my William and my Zoe. My children ... nothing to do with Sandford." I was starting to get irritated.
"Oh dear, I'm sorry Mr. Jennings. Mr. Sandford said that you were aware of the situation."
I got out of the chair and leaned across the desk. We were almost nose to nose when I spoke.
"Just what situation would that be, you slimy piece of shit? What are you trying to say about my wife?"
I had to give him credit for the fact that he never backed away. He remained remarkably cool, but then it wasn't his wife that was being insulted.
"Will you please sit down, Mr Jennings and I'll do my best to explain." I fell back into the chair and let him continue. "Mr. Sandford has sworn an affidavit to the effect that for the last two and a half years of her employment, he and your wife carried on a sexual relationship. He thought you knew and that was why you moved to Somerset."
"Mr. Johnston, I'm trying to stay calm here, but if you continue to cast aspersions on my wife's character, I won't be responsible for my actions. Now can you get to the point of why you've got me here."
"I'm trying to do that, Mr. Jennings. Had I known that you were unaware of all this, I would have been better prepared. To get to the point, Mr. Sandford alleges that both William and Zoe are his biological children. He believed that it was quite right for the children should be with their mother. Now Mrs. Jennings has passed, he feels that as their biological father, he is best placed to care for them."
"NO!" I shouted. I slammed my fist down on Johnston's desk so hard that his pens leapt off the desk. I got out of the chair and started pacing up and down in the office.
.... There is more of this story ...
Tear Jerker /