Chapter 1

Present Day

Great Aunt Who?

 

          Life was boringly ordinary for Robin Pembroke.  Which was a sentence that itself was spectacularly extra-ordinary, given how ridiculous it would sound three months later.  But for now, and for the 10¾ years of his life to date, that’s exactly what it was.
         Robin lived on the southern edge of Upper Knowlford.  It was an ordinary town in an ordinary part of middle-England, where ordinary people did ordinary things and where Robin felt the most ordinary of them all, his wavy ordinary-brown hair and matching eyes helping him melt into the background all the more.
         Above the broken electric fireplace in the flat that Robin had always lived hung a framed yellowed newspaper clipping that represented the one perhaps not completely-ordinary moment of Robin’s life, a picture of his newborn self beside the headline End of an Era as Last Baby Born at St Mary’s.  Although on a scale of ordinariness that ran from 1 to 1,000, it was up there in the 900’s.
         With his dad having long-since lost his job as a writer when the local paper closed down, and his mum working in administration at the secondary school, it had been many years since they had owned a car, and as such the parking spot in front of their gray-brick flat was always vacant, used only for the growing of weeds through impossible cracks in the tarmac.  So on this day, when Robin turned the corner at the end of their road on his way home from school to see a sleek black sedan parked there, he was instantly flummoxed.
         Before he could get close enough to even see what sort of car it was though, the main door to the block of flats opened and a tall man in a dark suit exited.  A couple of quick handshakes later and the stranger was reversing out, disappearing down the next street before Robin reached his parents who were stood waiting for him at the door.
         Once inside Robin sat on the lumpy couch, distracting himself by picking at loose threads as he waited until his mum came in with a pot of tea.  “Your dad and I have some news that we think you should know about,” she said, sitting on the arm of the chair in which his dad was relaxing.  For some reason that he didn’t really understand, this sparked a fear deep inside him.  Had that been a lawyer earlier?  Were his parents going to get divorced?
         “That man who was leaving as you got home was a lawyer.”
         Oh no, it can’t be.  Robin’s stomach made an odd movement, as if it was about to fall into his feet.
         “I’m afraid that your Great Aunt Dorothy has passed away.”
         Brilliant! thought Robin.  This almost came out of his mouth, his brain stopping his lips as they formed a silent ‘B’.  “Who?”
         “Your Great Aunt Dorothy, she was my mum’s best friend.  Your granny,” said his dad, motioning up at a faded photograph on the chipped bookshelf of Robin’s granny wearing a huge pink hat.  “Dorothy was my godmother – she used to call herself my fairy godmother, and tell me when I was little that one day she’d make all my dreams come true.  She was always spoiling me, although I think that at the time she didn’t really have any money.  Then one day, when I was about your age Robin, she met a man who came from a very wealthy family on the island of Corentin.  Their wedding was a huge affair – I was head usher! – but soon afterwards they had to move to Corentin to manage the family estate when his parents died, and I’ve only seen her a few times since.  The last time was when you were just a toddler, and she brought you all kinds of wonderful gifts – said that now that I was all grown up, she was going to have to spoil you instead.  I wasn’t meant to tell you this, but she’s been sending us £250 every birthday and Christmas to put into a savings account for you – she wanted to surprise you when you turned 16.  Dorothy never had any children, and she’d been living on her own ever since her husband died a couple of years ago.  She sends us cards every year, remember?”
         “Oh, right, yeah” said Robin, with only the faintest of recollections and his brain starting to process what he’d heard.  £500 per year, that must be loads by now…  “Corentin?”
         “Small island off of the southwest coast of England, quite a way past the Scilly Isles.  Anyway, she left us something in her will,” continued his dad, drumming his fingers on the glass of the coffee table.  “Dorothy stipulated that we, as a family, are to have the right to stay at her house on Corentin whenever we should so wish.  All we have to pay for is getting there and then food and stuff – a way for us to have the holidays we’ve never been able to take was how she’d put it.  Not that we’d have the money to get there any time soon, but one day maybe.”
         “Wicked!” said Robin, which was what he meant until he thought about it.  “Weird,” he added as an afterthought.
         “Yeah, it is a little of both isn’t it!” said his dad, stretching backwards, arms wide.  “Turns out, and I’m a little hazy on this as that lawyer was giving us a lot of information, that she had signed an agreement with one of the locals to sell him a piece of land that had been in her husband’s family for a very long time.  Apparently the gist of this was that the sale was to be completed upon her death and that the money from that was to be used to pay for the housekeeper and gardener to continue the upkeep on her house, as well as to be used for any bills or major work that needs to be done, while the house is placed in a trust.  Then, when that trust matures, any remaining money left will be split equally between ourselves, the housekeeper, and the gardener.”
         “Wow,” said Robin, his brain punting the ball of an idea around that they could one day be rich.  “So when does it mature?”
         His dad leant forward so far that he was almost falling out of his chair.  “August 12th in just over 5 years’ time.”
         “My birthday,” said Robin, with a slight involuntary frown.
         “Exactly Robin.   Your 16th birthday in fact.  Robin, your Great Aunt Dorothy has left you her house!”
         Over the course of the next month this was the single topic that occupied Robin’s brain, thinking up ways to be able to visit that summer, the most intricate of these involving a hot air balloon, some very powerful binoculars, and a jetpack.  Meanwhile further details of the inheritance arrived, from which Robin discovered that a small cottage on the island was also included in the estate.
         It was the Saturday two weeks before the start of the summer holidays, while Robin was eating his breakfast of thin pieces of toast with store brand strawberry jam, when he heard the morning's post drop through their squeaking letterbox.  He watched absently as his dad put the mail on the side, opened up a white envelope, spent a minute reading the letter inside, and then broke into a chant of “I got it, I got it!” as he came half-skipping half-bouncing into the living room waving the letter in the air.
         “Take a look at what just arrived!” he said as he perched on the edge of the sofa and put the letter down on the coffee table.  “Mum, Robin, read this!”
          And so read Robin did.
Unexplored Britain Magazine
1 Whipmarsh Road
London
 Dear Mr. Pembroke,
         Thank you for your correspondence in regards to writing an article for our magazine on exploring the wonders of the Isle of Corentin.  Mr. Michaels mentioned to me that he had talked to you about your idea, and he also highly recommended you from the work that you had done with him prior to his position here at Unexplored Britain.
         It is my pleasure to be able to confirm that we would like to retain you for this article, to be researched this summer, and delivered to us in its entirety no later than November 30th.  The article is to form the basis of our annual 'Summer Selections' edition next March, which will have a focus on those lesser-travelled islands around our shores.
          Travel to and from Corentin is included, and payment for this article will be in the amount of £5,000.  If you are in acceptance of this offer, please sign and return the attached posthaste and we will then mail you the full requirements of the assignment, reimbursement forms, and a check for your advance by return mail.
 Yours sincerely,

L L Squigglesworth

Mr. L.L. Squigglesworth
Lead Offshore Editor