The boys were on their second slices of cake when Sam and Anna appeared. For a minute Anna looked a bit shy, but Charlie got up from the table and put his arms around her waist. She smiled down at him.
“Don’t be blushing,” he said, “we’re family.”
“I guess you are. Did you eat all the cake?”
“No. Mum wouldn’t let us. And she also wouldn’t let anybody touch the coffee machine.” He grinned up at Sam. “I really like that frothy cappuccino.”
Sam ruffled his hair.
“Okay. I reckon I can do something about that for you.”
He looked at the crowd around the table.
“Anyone else for beverages?”
Of course everyone wanted a drink, so Sam and Anna got busy, while Patsy found another cake.
Everyone got his or her drink and piece of cake and sat around the table. The twins shuffled their feet a bit then Matt spoke up.
“Sam,” he said, “that bout with Uncle Rod was something to see. We’ve watched a few training bouts, and Uncle Rod usually creams people but you kept up. We was amazed.”
“Yeah, well it would’ve been different if it was a real fight. I’d probably be dead.”
“Not so sure about that,” Rod broke in. “You really are a good kick boxer. Nice balance. Fast. Strong. It’d be nip and tuck I think.”
“We’ve had this argument before. You are bigger than me, and faster. I’d get creamed.”
“Can we just agree that it was something to see. There’s another thing we need to talk about.”
“Is there?” Sam looked a bit puzzled.
“Yes. Rod gave us a bit of information. Do you remember a kid that got knocked down by a hit and run driver just before last Christmas?”
Sam scratched his head then grinned.
“Wasn’t his name Andrew? Fifteen-year-old promising footballer?”
“Yeah. We did good work there. He’s back playing and is reportedly as good as ever. But why do we have to talk about that?”
“Because he’s a Cracksman.”
“Ain’t. I don’t remember his surname, but I’m sure it wasn’t Cracksman.”
“No. It isn’t. But his mum was a Cracksman before she was married.”
Sam screwed up his face in thought.
“That fits. I’m just calling the family to mind. As I recall, his dad is a little bloke – looks a bit like a jockey. Mum, on the other hand is built like a brick shithouse. She glowered at me a lot until it became clear that Andrew was mending properly. Then she cried on my shoulder. And so?”
“So the Cracksman family is in your debt…”
Sam stood up and actually banged his fist on the table.
“Oh no. I’m not having that. Nobody is in anybody’s debt. I am a surgeon. Part of a team. We did what we do. Mending broken people is what we do. End of.”
Patsy got up and came to kiss his cheek.
“You do, do you you? Okay Jim, leave it. Sam’s right. Just be glad he’s our friend.”
Little Charlie put up a hand.
“Can I say something?”
“You can, little man,” his mum said.
“Isn’t Sam family? Anna’s family, and he’s her husband. So don’t that make him family too?”
“It does.” Bill put in firmly. “Plus. Even if some people have forgotten what he done for me, I haven’t.’
Sam came around the table and put one hand on Charlie’s shoulder and one hand on Bill’s.
“I’d be honoured to count you two as family,” he said.
“Us too,” Cy spoke for the twins.
“And me,” Jamie said a bit shyly.
“And us grown ups,” Jim, Patsy and Rod spoke in unison.
Sam’s face crumpled. Anna got up and put her arms around him. He buried his face in her hair for a moment before sniffing loudly.
“Sorry about that, but it’s a bit overwhelming suddenly getting a whole new family. Until recently I’ve been pretty lonely…”
Bill got up and threw his arms around Sam’s legs.
“Well you shan’t be lonely any more. We won’t let you.”
“Thanks, Billy boy.”
After that somewhat emotionally charged exchange, Jim looked across the table at Anna.
“You’d better take Sam somewhere quiet and point out the disadvantages attached to becoming an honorary Cracksman.”
“I will. Sometime. But I think it’s already too late. He’s in, and he’s the sort that sticks.”
‘Well in that case welcome to the Cracksman clan you poor deluded fool.”
“Woss wrong with the Cracksman clan?” Cy asked indignantly.
“Apart from you and your brother being part of it?” Rod grinned at the two identically scowling faces.
Before the twins could push their luck with Rod by retorting, their father’s phone bleeped. He picked it up and looked at it, then he frowned.
“Sorry. I gotta take this.”
He strode out into the garden and Patsy stared after him.
“That seems ominous.”
“I expect he’ll tell us,” Anna spoke quietly.
Bill and Charlie went to their mother’s side and put their arms around her.
“Don’t worry Mum,” Charlie stretched his eyes and smiled winningly.
“It’s okay men,” Patsy patted them affectionately.
The silence was tense, and it stretched out for quite some time. Jim came back looking grim.
“Boys. Out,” he said firmly.
Nobody with any sense argued with Jim when he used that particular tone of voice.
“Where?” Jamie asked.
Sam led them across the hallway to the sitting room and gave Jamie the remote for the TV.
He went straight back into the kitchen. Jim was standing by the open back door staring unseeingly into the garden with his shoulders absolutely rigid. Sam went over to his side.
“Spill it Jimbo.”
Jim came back from wherever he had been with a jolt.
“We have a problem.”
“So I gathered,” Rod’s voice was a dull, dangerous rumble.
The Sunday Serial is taking a short break but will return soon.