We do hear you! Bertie has noticed all the comments asking for another Wicked Uncle story. Uncle Jeff returns with an uncharacteristically generous and flamboyant style. Dad is going to be 50, and his younger brother is planning a wonderful party for him at his villa on the island of Ibiza. Dad (who thinks Jeff is a bit of a show-off) is not so keen, but the family are very excited. What could possibly go wrong?
Story by Bertie.
Read by Richard.
Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.
Dad’s Half Century –
It was a cold, dirty-grey Saturday morning in February. Dad’s New Year’s resolution had been to get fit. Mum pushed him out of bed and told him to go jogging by the river. Later, after a nice lie-in, she went downstairs in her dressing gown and found the kids watching tv. She turned it off and said: “Now listen, I’m going to do something really special for Dad’s birthday. If you overhear anything, you must promise to keep it secret.”
Jemima looked at Mum with a quizzical expression on her forehead: “Whatever Mum, we won’t say anything. But isn’t Dad’s birthday in June? It’s a little early to get all steamed up about it.”
“I’m not getting all steamed up, Jemima, but this year it’s a bigger deal than usual. He’s going to be 50.”
“50!” spluttered Jeremy. “I knew he was old, but I didn’t realise he was ancient!”
“Gosh, that’s half a century,” said Jemima.
“It is indeed, which is why we need to start planing a special party for him. I think we will have it at my mother’s, because it’s the only house in the family that is big enough for all our friends and relatives.”
“Uncle Jeff has plenty of big houses!” said Jeremy brightly.
“But you know how Dad feels about Uncle Jeff. You’ve got to admit, Jeff can be a bit off a show off sometimes with all his latest cars, houses, and girlfriends. Dad has always worked very hard and been completely honest, and his younger brother’s success in business makes him feel very, well, you know….grumpy. So it's better at my mother’s. Yes, even Gran’s house in Birmingham will be less irksome for Dad than one of Jeff’s mansions.”
So over the next month, Mum was often on the internet preparing for Dad’s 50th Birthday bash. She was searching for cut-price catering in Birmingham. She struck a hard bargain for the jazz band – but everything else was going to be so terribly expensive. She began to wonder if it would be worth the money. It wasn’t as if Dad exactly liked parties, or visiting her mother. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing this,” she confessed to the children. Then one evening, Dad was sitting at the dinner table when he suddenly slapped his forehead.
“Anything wrong?” asked Mum alarmed.
“Nothing,” said Dad, “except that I’ve had a depressing thought. I just realised that I am going to be 50 in June. I don’t think we’ll do anything for my birthday this year. Let’s just quietly forget about it. I want to mourn the passing of my youth in private.”
Jeremy and Jemima looked at each other and sniggered.
“Oh,” said Mum, “I thought we might have a little party at my mother’s house.”
“Your mother’s?! You know how she can’t stand me. She’s always saying that you should have married Jeff instead. “You got the wrong Mr Brown,” she says. “Why didn’t you marry the other one who’s filthy rich and good looking?” I don’t think I want to turn fifty at her house, thank you very much.”
And so the next day Mum was in an excellent mood. She saved lots of money by cancelling the marquis, the catering, and the jazz band. Instead, she booked two places at the local Italian restaurant, which they both really liked.
“Dad’s right,” she said to the kids, “he doesn’t like big parties, so why should he have to suffer one just because he’s 50?”
Two weeks later, Uncle Jeff called Dad.
“Hey Big Brother!” he said cheerily. “Have you heard the news? You’re going to be 50. That is a big number. I’ve got a special present for you. Invite all your friends to my new villa in Ibiza. We’ll have a three day celebration. The first night, we’ll all eat out at the best restaurant on the beach. The next day we’ll get together a flotilla of boats and have a champaign picnic on a desert island. The final night we will have music and dancing at my place until dawn. You don’t have to do a thing. I’ll arrange it all and pick up the bill.”
“Well that’s most generous of you,” said Dad weakly, “but Liz has booked the local Italian place.”
“What? You made it through half a century, and the best you can do is eat spaghetti bolognese! Come on Nigel, you’ve got to do better than that!”
When Jeff failed to persuade Dad, he rang Mum. Mum was not so good at turning down offers for all expenses paid luxury holidays. She had to admit that Jeff’s plan would be rather more special than the local Italian.
“Oh come on Dad, don’t be such a spoil-sport!” pleaded the children when they heard. The kids loved any idea of Uncle Jeff’s.
Dad knew that he would crumble sooner or later. He might as well give in to the inevitable. Like it or not, his fate was sealed. He would celebrate his 50th birthday at Uncle Jeff’s villa on the “posh side” of Ibiza.
Mum happily sent out invitations to 75 friends and relations. She had them printed on extra nice cards, and she enclosed a schedule for the three days of celebrations. Then she asked Jeremy to help her set up an event page on Facebook. He was too busy, so Jemima did it for her instead.
Very soon the replies started coming back. Almost everyone wanted to be at Dad’s Half Century Celebration. It was going to be the party of the year.
Grandma – on Mum’s side – spent an hour on the phone saying how fortunate Dad was to have such a rich and generous younger brother. Dad could hear her voice from the other side of the room. He grimaced. “It’s not about my birthday at all,” he thought to himself. “It’s just a chance for Jeff to show off.” Jemima saw his face, and she understood what he was thinking. Later she told Jeremy and he said: “Yeah, Dad’s going to really hate his birthday. But everyone else will have a great time.”
As some people of his generation still do, Dad clung to the habit of reading the newspaper. It was delivered every morning by a paper boy, just like in the old days. Mum particularly hated the Sunday paper because there was so much of it, and Dad kept the various sections lying around the living room all week. On Monday, she sneakily threw away the most boring bits. Just as she was stuffing the business section in the bin, she noticed a picture that looked familiar. “Hold on a moment,” she said, taking it out. “That’s Jeff.”
She was expecting to read that Uncle Jeff had added to his fortune. She knew her husband would tut-tut and say: “Not another dodgy deal.” But this was something quite different. It read:
“Business man arrested over the ghost mine that never was.” There were quote marks to show that it was still just an accusation – but things looked bad for Jeff. His biggest ever business deal had fallen though. The investors who had given him money were taking him to court. But much worse, at 6am on Saturday morning, the police had come to Jeff’s house. They arrested him for suspected forgery. It was all about a contract, which Jeff had told everyone had been signed by a Russian businessman. Unfortunately, he could not find the vital document. He said that he had lost it. Nobody believed him. Still worse, the Russian could not back him up. He had gone to the place from where nobody, not even the super rich, can return. It had happened rather suddenly as he was coming out of a casino in Monaco.
Poor uncle Jeff! Mum immediately rang Dad.
“I can’t say I’m too surprised,” he said. “But it’s a bit embarrassing. We’ll have to write to everyone and say that the birthday party is off.”
“I suppose we will,” said Mum sadly.
That evening, the children were really upset.
“It’s so unfair,” said Jeremy.
“I’m sure Uncle Jeff wouldn’t do anything bad. He’s such a nice man, isn’t he?” said Jemima. Dad looked doubtful.
The next day he went to see Jeff’s lawyer, to find out what had really happened.
“My wife and children are really shaken by it,” said Dad. “But I keep telling them that criminals rarely get more than a few months in jail these days, don’t they?”
“In this country, perhaps,” replied the solicitor. “But Americans are getting in on the act. They want him for wire fraud. They are threatening 250 years in jail unless he pleads guilty.”
“250 years!” spluttered Dad.
“Yes, they do go in for rather long stretches there,” said the lawyer. “And when he’s finished serving time in a Texas prison, the Russians want to send him to Siberia for another 15 years.”
“Oh dear," said Dad. “Will the British Foreign office let them do that?”
“They always do,” said the lawyer.
“There’s nothing you can do?” asked Dad.
“Not much, but there’s one way you might be able to help. The police have searched Jeff’s house from top to bottom, but they haven’t found the safe. We told them that it’s behind the oil painting of the reclining woman in the master bedroom…”
“Yes, that painting – I remember it,” said Dad.
“But you know the police – they couldn’t find a London bus if it was parked in the middle of a field. If you could go to his house and look in the safe, maybe you will find the missing contract. Here, I’ll write down the combination code for you.”
The next day, Jeremy’s judo club was at the sports centre not far from Jeff’s London house. After the club had finished, Dad and Jeremy drove round. When they arrived, they found a policeman standing outside. There was yellow tape over the door. Dad went up and said who he was, and that he wanted to fetch something for his brother. The policeman shook his head:
“I’m afraid this is a crime scene, sir,” he said. “Nobody can go in without a magistrate’s warrant.”
“But he hasn’t killed anyone, for goodness sake,” exclaimed Dad. The policeman shook his head.
“This gets more and more ridiculous,” spluttered Dad as they went back to the car, “Even Jeff doesn’t deserve to be treated so shabbily.” But then he realised that he was talking to himself. Jeremy had slipped away. For a moment, Dad panicked. Now he had lost his son. Then he noticed a pair of heals disappearing over the side-gate to the garden. “Ah-oh,” he thought. “Now we are really and truly for it.” He felt even more panicky. Jeremy had quite a bit of Jeff’s gung-ho spirit. “Too much,” thought Dad. He found an open window at the back, and climbed into the house. All the drawers had been pulled out and emptied on the floor. Jeremy found the safe behind the picture in the bedroom, and he tapped in the combination code which he had written on the back of his hand. The safe door opened. Inside he found a super-large chocolate bar that Jeff had hidden from his girlfriend. There was no contract. He came back out through the garden gate and back to his father, who was both angry with his son, and relieved that he had not been caught.
The next day, a letter arrived from Jeff’s solicitor. It said that Jeff was anxious not to spoil his brother’s 50th birthday. He very much wanted the celebration to go on without him, and his house keeper in Ibiza would arrange everything. Dad read the letter, and said that of course they would have to cancel the party anyway. Mum said that of course they wouldn’t. And so, of course, they didn’t.
June came, and Jeff was out of prison on bail, awaiting his next appearance in court. The coming months might be his last taste of freedom. He had surrendered his passport, and was not allowed to leave the country. But he drove the family to the airport to see them off to Ibiza. The kids were excited, because Jeff had a new car, and they had never been in a Bentley before. On the way Jeff said:
“You know Nigel, the worst part of all this is, if I go to jail, I’ll never get a chance to start a family. You are so lucky to have such wonderful kids.”
At the airport, the two brothers hugged, and Mum cried a little. Dad said that he would always come and see Jeff in prison, even if he had to go to Texas or Siberia. Jeff said he had the best brother in the world. The family walked through the departure gate in a tearful state.
Ibiza is a party island, and everyone else on the flight was in a loud, jolly and raucous mood. Mum and Dad looked distinctly uncomfortable, and Dad said “If I was 25, instead of 50, I might enjoy this more.”
At the airport, a car was waiting to chauffeur the family to Jeff’s villa. They drove off into the darkness in the opposite direction from the party animals. It was about midnight when they arrived at the security gates of the villa. They passed along a gravel track. Eventually, the car pulled up and they got out. The night air was warm. The salty breeze carried the scent of thyme. The Mediterranean sea shimmered in the moonlight. They went down some marble steps, and saw that Jeff’s house was something like a Roman villa, all white marble, with fluted columns, and a perfectly flat English lawn. His long red motor boat was moored by the jetty.
“It’s amazing,” said Jeremy.
“It’s totally beautiful,” said Mum. “I didn’t realise Jeff had such good taste. It’s so silly that the police won’t let him visit his own house.”
And Dad muttered: “There’s a moral here somewhere.”
The next morning, the maid set out breakfast on the veranda, with freshly squeezed orange juice, bread from the bakery, honey, jam and coffee. Mum said:
“Oh Jeff, why aren’t you here with us?” And Jemima burst into tears.
“Come on,” said Dad. “If I know my brother, he certainly wouldn’t want us to spend the whole time crying.” And so they spent the morning playing tennis on the court and dipping in the pool. Their guests began to call in throughout the day. Many were staying at local hotels, but of course Grandmother – Mum’s mother – came to sleep at the villa. She spent the whole time talking about how badly Jeff had been treated, and Jeremy and Jemima had to hide in their room because it was too upsetting.
That evening the three day party began with dinner at a restaurant on the beach. 75 guests sat at long tables under the starry sky, while waiters served the most amazing salads and seafood paella. Before dessert, Dad had to make the first of several speeches. He kept it short, and raised a glass and proposed a toast to “The most generous brother anyone could wish to have.” One of his crasser friends from University called out:
“And let’s hope he’s out in six months.”
The next morning, Jeremy went into Jeff’s office to look through his papers. Jemima begged him not to. She said he might be tampering with evidence, and would get Uncle Jeff into even more trouble. Grandma saw what he was doing and followed him in:
“Good thinking Jeremy,” she said. “We might have to put a few things on the fire before the Spanish police get here and turn the place over.”
But Jeremy wasn’t looking for things to destroy. He was searching for the missing contract. It was the evidence they needed to prove that Uncle Jeff was innocent. They didn’t find much – just a few gas bills, and receipts from the local taxi firm. There was only one thing that caught Jeremy’s interest. It was a card from Euro-Door-to-Door with a picture of a man on a motor bike. It said: “You were out when we called. Collect your package from the depot.” It gave an address in a town on the other side of the Island.
“We must go and get it,” said Jeremy. But there wasn’t time, as that was the day they were sailing to a nearby island.
Jeff’s neighbours fell into two sorts - those who owned a James Bond style motor boat, and those who had a sleek white yacht. Perhaps that wasn’t surprising, as the stretch of coastline where he lived was known as “millionaires row.” Anybody who was anyone had a large plot of land, a beautiful villa, perfect gardens, domestic staff, a boathouse, and a jetty. Jeff had bought his villa less than a year earlier, but it seemed that he was already friends with plenty of people. Nine of his neighbours turned out with their boats to ferry the party to the nearby island of Formentera. A millionaire music producer had a big banner which he draped over the side of his boat – it read: “Jeff Brown is Innocent”.Everyone clapped and cheered when he pulled along side the jetty and they saw it. Jeremy and Jemima went in a red motor boat which flew the Jolly Rodger – it was owned and driven by a Dutch Banker. Dad was complaining that he would be sea sick, and wanted to stay at home, but Mum made him go with her in the biggest yacht.
The children loved the crossing. The banker’s motor boat bounced across the waves and the sea breeze blew in their faces. They arrived in a lagoon that was like a car park for luxury yachts. Plenty of people were sunbathing on the decks of their boats. The island itself was very flat with a few trees. It looked like a strip of sand in the middle of the sea. There were so many boats, that it was hard to get close to the beach. They swam ashore through the beautifully warm water. Once on land, they waited for the others to arrive. The sand was so hot they could feel the heat through the soles of their flip-flops.
The sun-worshipers on the beach came in all sorts of shapes, sizes and ages – young, old, fat, skinny, wrinkly, beautiful… But the first thing that Jeremy and Jemima noticed was that some people trooping along the shore line were smothered from head to toe in slimy mud. They looked like primeval swamp people. As they went past they exuded a devilish smell of sulphur. Even stranger still, some of the mud people were not wearing any clothes – not even swim suits – just a thin covering of slime. Jeremy and Jemima were both struggling not to giggle.
“The dutch banker said: “There’s a warm mud lake behind those bushes. It’s good for your health to wash in it.”
“EE YUK” – said both Jeremy and Jemima.
A small dingy brought Mum and Dad ashore form their yacht. When Mum saw the mud people she said: “Trust Uncle Jeff to choose a nudist beach for our guests.”
When everyone had gathered on the beach, they found a stretch of sand to themselves. Soon the champaign corks began to pop. The staff opened the food boxes and served sandwiches. They spent the day drinking, eating, sleeping, splashing in the sea, and chatting about this and that. The great thing was that lots of people did not know each other, but they seemed to make natural friends. And surprisingly, some of Dad’s friends were quite interesting. One of them actually worked for the Prime Minister – I mean – who would have thought? He told them stories about all the various domestic cats who he had lived with at number 10 Downing Street – and about a certain Prime Minister’s wife who hated cats and tried to have one evicted.
And so another day passed very pleasantly – the only shadow over the proceedings being the concern about Jeff. “It’s one of the hazards of being rich,” said the Dutch Banker. “There’s always some scumbag who wants to bring you down.” “Yes, the wealthy never get justice,” agreed a lady of a certain age in a sequinned bikini. "My 3rd husband was treated most unfairly by the courts. The Judge gave him three years for a perfectly honest mistake.” She was obviously one of Jeff’s neighbours, not from Dad’s party. Dad’s friends said things along the lines of: “It’s remarkable how two brothers can be so different, even though they are both brought up the same way.” And Dad’s cousin, who was married to a vicar, said: “We are all praying for your Uncle, Jeremy. But it’s a good thing that you take after your father.” – which of course was news to Jeremy.
The following morning, it was another perfect day. They had breakfast on the terrace, and Mum was saying that she wanted to go shopping. Jeremy said: “And we absolutely must go to Euro Door-to-Door.”
“Whatever for?” asked Dad.
“To fetch Jeff’s package,” said Jeremy.
Mum looked at the “You were out card” – “Oh that’s miles away from the shops,” she exclaimed. Dad said: “It’s probably nothing, but I think Jeremy’s right, we should see what it is.”
“Let me take Jeremy to the depot,” said Gran. “I don’t suppose a young boy enjoys shopping.”
And although it was a long drive along winding roads to the other side of the mountain, and although they had to wait in a queue for an hour – and then struggle with a Spanish Phrase book – they did get the package. Fortunately Jeremy’s name – J. Brown – was close enough to Uncle Jeff’s so that they could receive it. Gran looked at the label. There were strange letters on it.
“Russian,” she said.
“Let me see,” said Jeremy and he pulled open the package. Inside was a letter from a law firm and a folder containing sheets of paper. At the top of the first page, in large letters was the word:
“Yeah!” said Jeremy jumping up and down with excitement. “Uncle Jeff is innocent! I knew it all along.”
When they got back to the villa, the other members of the family were still out shopping. It was such a long wait for them to return. Jeremy was so excited, he could not sit still. The front garden was full of workers laying out tables and getting everything ready and just perfect for the big party that night. All he could do was to go round the back of the house and play with a tennis ball back and forth against the wall.
Towards evening, the shopping party returned, laden with bags and packages. Grandma and Jeremy rushed out of the house to meet them on the veranda.
“Dad, Dad, look at this!” called out Jeremy.
“I can’t be looking at anything until I’ve had a good cup of English tea,” said Dad wearily. It had not been much of a birthday treat for him to tramp around the fashion boutiques of Ibiza.
“But we’ve found it. We’ve got the contract! It’s the proof. Uncle Jeff is innocent.” Maria the maid said: “Jeff, innocent, oh thanks be to God.” And Jemima exclaimed: “Good Old Uncle Jeff! He isn’t really wicked.. . he’s just a bit different from most people.”
Dad looked at the papers: “Well I never,” he said. “Well done son. We’d better put this on the scanner and email it to that lawyer back in England.” Which is exactly what they did. Dad also called the lawyer to tell him that it was on its way.
“Excellent news,” said the solicitor. “If it’s everything you say, then we should be able to get this whole matter cleared up in a matter of months.”
“Months!” said Dad. “The man’s innocent! They should clear his name right away.”
Next, Dad called Jeff – but there was no reply – not even a recorded message. It just rang once and cut off.
“Oh, what a pity it’s too late for Jeff to be here for the party!” said Mum.
But everyone was in an excellent mood as they got ready for the evening. The guests started arriving, and the message soon got round that Jeff was innocent. Everyone was praising Jeremy’s detective work. Even Jemima said that she was proud of her brother. Dad actually looked happy. They all sat down for dinner under the stars, and the conversation was still all about Jeff.
“But what a pity that he isn’t here tonight for this fabulous party,” people kept on saying.
A footman wheeled out a trolley bearing a huge birthday cake. Everyone sung Happy Birthday and the children helped their Dad blow out his 50 candles. The cry went up: “Speech! Speech!” And Dad said that today he had received the best birthday present of his life – the proof that his brother was innocent. There were loud cheers all round only to be drowned out by a tremendous juddering sound.
“I think the boiler is going to explode,” said somebody.
“It’s just a helicopter,” said Jeremy – and the noise became almost deafening. The shadow of the helicopter passed right over them and it hovered behind the house before landing behind the tennis court. The children ran to see who had arrived: “Don’t go too near, the blades are dangerous!” called out Dad.
Two passengers, one dressed in a dark suit with a bow tie, another in a little black dress, hopped out of the helicopter, ducking their heads, and walked round the house to join the party. Dad stood up again and called everyone to order.
“A few minutes ago,” he announced, ”I told you that I had received the best birthday present of my life – a piece of paper showing my brother’s innocence – now I have an even better gift – ladies and gentlemen, dear friends and family, I present, my brother Jeff Brown.” And the two men hugged each other. There wasn’t a dry eye in the whole garden. It was actually the first that Uncle Jeff Knew about the discovery of the contract – he had planned his secret trip to Ibiza earlier that day. After all, if somebody means to put you in jail for 250 years, you haven’t got much to lose by breaking a few little rules. This is how he left England without his passport: A friend smuggled him aboard a private jet and they flew to a small airfield near Barcelona. When they arrived, he and his girlfriend ran across the tarmac to catch a helicopter without going through passport control. From there, they flew straight to the villa on Ibiza. It was typical Uncle Jeff – a bit naughty, but not really wicked. And now that he had the contract in his hand, proving that he was innocent, nobody could blame him for coming to celebrate his brother’s Half Century.