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Authors: Caro Fraser

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary

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BOOK: A Hallowed Place
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Leo was sitting at his desk in his shirtsleeves, writing. He glanced briefly over his half-moon spectacles at Anthony, then continued with his work. Undeterred by Leo’s silence, Anthony went in, closing the door behind him, and sat down in a chair opposite Leo’s desk.

After a few moments Leo laid down his pen and sat back.

‘How’s it going?’ asked Anthony, breaking the silence.

Leo gave a tired smile. ‘Not badly. Kapriakis is all over the place. Every time he opens his mouth to answer a question his solicitors are almost galvanised with panic.’ He sat forward again, yawning. ‘I should be finished by tomorrow.’

‘Well, it’s certainly turned you into a bit of a celebrity, this case,’ said Anthony. He chucked the copy of the
Evening Standard
on to the desk.

Leo drew it towards him and unfolded it. ‘Oh, God.’ He sat back and perused the pages briefly, then shook his head. ‘I can’t understand why they bother.’

‘Because you’re a star. Enigmatic, charismatic, brilliant, all that bollocks.’ Anthony got up. ‘Listen, have you got an hour to spare this evening? I’m seeing my father tonight for a drink and he says he’d very much like to meet you.’

‘Me? Why?’ asked Leo in mild surprise.

‘He’s in the process of setting up some kind of gallery or museum, and I rather think he’s trying to find people who’d be prepared to act as trustees. For God’s sake, say no now, if it doesn’t appeal to you.’

‘Hmm.’ Leo considered. ‘I’m not sure about becoming a trustee of anything, but it would be interesting to meet your father. He seems to be the king of the modern art world these days, doesn’t he?’

Anthony grimaced. He had always thought it something of a fluke that his father had risen from anonymous, hippie-like inertia in a squat in Islington to his present status as darling of the postmodernists. Anthony could see no intrinsic merit whatsoever in what he regarded as Chay’s pretentious pieces of voluminous, abstract art. In the days
when Chay had been on the dole, doing nothing more taxing than smoking the odd joint, eating vegetarian food and expounding his latest half-baked artistic theory, the teenage Anthony’s attitude had veered between exasperation and embarrassment at having a father who behaved like a wayward adolescent. His parents were divorced and, living with his younger brother and his mother, he knew just how little effort his father made to contribute towards their upbringing. A few years ago fashion had turned its fickle face to smile upon Chay’s works, and now he was successful and wealthy. For one who had always espoused a simple, frugal existence, he had adapted with remarkable ease to the possession of money, and led a life of some extravagance and style, with houses in New York, London and Milan. Anthony’s attitude towards him since the change in his fortunes was a mixture of awe and cynical disbelief. Having no particular liking for or understanding of modern art, Anthony was convinced that Chay was part of an elaborate conspiracy to con the public and the art world, one which must, surely, eventually be discovered.

‘That was once something of a mystery to me, until I paid a visit to the Saatchi gallery. Now I realise that if you tell enough people that something is art, eventually they’ll believe it.’

‘That’s a bit hard,’ replied Leo. ‘I really think your father’s work is excellent. I’d buy some, if only it weren’t so highly priced. It’s also rather - well … big. It calls for greater space than I could afford to be properly appreciated.’

Anthony shook his head. ‘I must be missing something. Anyway, I’m glad you want to come along. I’ve just got to collect some papers, then we can leave. Give me ten minutes.’

Anthony went out, and Leo picked up the newspaper, turned to the article and began to read. When he had finished it he stood up and walked to the window, looking down on the courtyard. Why should he care what a trivial newspaper article said of him? No doubt it had all been designed to be largely flattering. Whoever wrote it had clearly enjoyed developing that picture of him as brilliant, but cold and aloof. Yet Leo felt faintly troubled. Cold? He had never thought of himself as a cold person. In fact, he sometimes thought that his capacity to love was excessive, that he unduly craved intimacy and affection. But this inner truth was at odds with the image he presented to the world, so the world, as represented by the pages of the
Evening Standard
, was perhaps entitled to regard him as chilly and remote. His loves, his passions, were all concealed, clandestine. Times might be changing, the things one did in one’s personal life might be regarded with greater tolerance, even in a tight-knit, censorious community such as the Bar, but from the very first he had always sought to hide his sexual ambivalence, to keep his life away from work as private as possible. His marriage, which had lasted scarcely a year, had been his only public demonstration of affection and that had been largely a sham, designed to allay rumours about his dubious past at a time when he was anxious to take silk. Nothing good had come of it, except for his son, Oliver, and even he was presently the subject of an acrimonious custody dispute. So why should he be surprised if the world chose to regard him as remote and lonely? God knows, that was certainly the way he felt these days.

‘Okay,’ said Anthony, reappearing in the doorway. ‘Shall we go?’

Leo slipped on his jacket and tidied his papers away, and together they walked out into Caper Court in the late August sunshine. In Fleet Street they hailed a taxi.

‘So,’ said Anthony, ‘tell me why you’ve been such a reclusive figure these past few months. I’ve hardly had so much as a game of squash out of you.’ Leo said nothing, merely glanced out of the cab window. ‘I haven’t done anything, have I?’ added Anthony.

Leo shrugged. ‘All the enforced intimacy of the Lloyd’s Names case must have got to me. Besides, we’ve both been away over the long vacation. And since I came back, I’ve been caught up in this fraud case.’

There was a brief silence.

‘Has it anything to do with Camilla?’

‘In what sense?’

‘Oh, come on, Leo. I think you know what I mean. I know you dislike her.’

‘You’re wrong. I don’t dislike her. She’s an extremely able lawyer. She’s a credit to chambers. I only wish we had more female tenants. It does no good to be as weighted as we are in the other direction. In fact, it’s a point I particularly wish to raise at the next chambers meeting.’

Anthony gave a short laugh. ‘There’s always Sarah.’

‘God, Sarah.’ Leo sighed, then added sardonically, ‘She’s quite another thing altogether.’

‘We’re getting off the point,’ said Anthony.

Leo took out and lit a small cigar, then tugged down the window of the cab. ‘Anthony, there is no point. Camilla doesn’t come into it.’ He turned to look at the younger man. ‘It’s been a difficult few months. I’ve been finding the
divorce thing harder than I expected. Not so much to do with Rachel, but being away from Oliver.’

There was a pause. ‘You miss him,’ said Anthony.

‘Jesus, yes,’ said Leo. He smoked for a few seconds in silence, then added dryly, ‘There are even times when I wonder whether I shouldn’t try patching things up with Rachel, just to have him back.’

Anthony hesitated. ‘I thought she was living with Charles Beecham?’

Leo shrugged. ‘I suspect she turned to him because she wanted someone to comfort her. I have the feeling that if I really wanted her to, she’d come back.’ Leo’s tone was matter-of-fact.

‘Why don’t you ask her, then?’ retorted Anthony sharply. He knew Rachel well, was fond of her, and the arrogance of Leo’s attitude angered him more than a little.

Leo drew on his cigar. ‘Because I have no wish to behave dishonestly. And that’s what it would take.’

‘But it’s still something you think about?’

Leo’s inscrutable blue eyes met Anthony’s. ‘I still think about many things. It doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything about them.’

‘Here we are,’ said Anthony, as the taxi drew up outside a chic, but unobtrusive galleria-cum-wine bar, where trendy salads, wine and coffee, were served at steel-topped tables, among photographs, paintings and sculptures by aspiring young artists.

They found Chay sitting at a table with a drink and a newspaper. Anthony introduced Leo and the two men shook hands. Chay Cross was a lean, tall man with pebble
glasses, whose scalp was shaved to steely stubble against the ravages of incipient baldness. He was dressed in fashionable Comme des Garcons trousers, a Paul Smith shirt and jacket, and tennis shoes, and a Gauloise dangled from his thin fingers. He and Anthony, in his dark, pinstripe suit and sober tie, struck a curious contrast. Perhaps, mused Leo, as Chay ordered drinks, Anthony’s dogged and ambitious pursuit of a career at the Bar, in the face of considerable financial odds, had been a form of rebellion against his father’s bohemian image. These father-son relationships could hold strange dynamics. He wondered how he and Oliver would regard one another in twenty years or so.

Drinks were bought, and after a few minutes of small talk Anthony brought up the subject of Chay’s latest project. ‘I’ve told Leo about the museum, but only in outline. You can fill him in on the details.’

Chay shoved his glasses enthusiastically a little higher up the bridge of his nose. ‘It’s a project I’ve been thinking about for some time. What London needs is a proper museum of modern art and I intend to establish one. I’ve bought an old brewery in Shoreditch and we’re in the process of renovating it, turning the space into galleries, that kind of thing. Anthony’s dealing with the legal side of the trust, and we’re hoping to get some lottery money to help with finance. Of course, that means satisfying all kinds of criteria, but that’s in hand. I have a vision of something really dynamic, exhibiting everything from sculpture to video art, installation pieces … Are you a fan of video installations?’ He looked questioningly at Leo.

Leo hesitated fractionally before replying, ‘To be honest,
it’s not a medium I’ve encountered very often. I’ve seen the kind of thing you mean, but my taste is rather more for sculpture and paintings.’

Chay nodded. ‘Just wait until you see some of the things that are being produced. I attended a completely groundbreaking exhibition in Helsinki three months ago, called Monumenta. There were some fantastic ideas on display. Matthew Barney was exhibiting. You’ve heard of Matthew Barney - no? He’s American, the absolute king of video installations.’ Chay’s eyes gleamed with enthusiasm as he leant forward to expound. ‘In one room there were tapes playing which showed him cramponing naked across the gallery’s walls and ceilings, with an ice pick inserted in his rectum. Fantastic. All to do with social neurosis and the artist’s responses to the confines of his environment.’

Anthony took a quick swallow of his drink and glanced at Leo, whose expression was totally impassive.

‘Then you moved on to another room,’ continued Chay, ‘which was filled with great piles of fetishistic rubber items, and there were screens showing Barney being pursued across the car park of the gallery by members of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, then climbing naked up the car park’s lift shaft. That piece was to do with the homoerotic appeal of men in kilts, underlining the fundamental dichotomy between the freedom of the individual and the threat of social-group force.’ Chay picked the olive out of his drink and munched it.

After a pause, Leo said politely, ‘It sounds - interesting. So your museum is going to be devoted to that sort of thing?’

‘No.’ Chay waved a thin, dismissive hand. ‘No, those would be specialist, satellite exhibits. To get funding, we need a collection policy. I want to put together a core collection of the very best modern art - Koons, Kiefer, Boltanski. That’s where we’ll need the help of government funding, though one of our trustees, Lord Stockeld, has already given us very generous support. And we’re doing quite a bit of private fundraising. Then with that kind of solid foundation, we can give exhibition space to really promising new talent, using all kinds of media. So far we have six trustees and now we need one more. It heeds an odd number, you see.’

Anthony’s glance met Leo’s and he smiled faintly. ‘Which is where you come in.’

‘Why don’t you become a trustee?’ Leo asked Anthony.

‘In the first place, I don’t know anything about modern art. And in the second, nobody knows me from Adam. They don’t write profiles about
in the
Evening Standard
. Chay needs people of prominence to give the project the right image. You’re a QC, you’re the great Leo Davies. That’s why Chay wants you.’

‘He’s right,’ agreed Chay. ‘Anthony’s talked quite a lot about you, that you’re interested in modern art, and it seemed to me you’d be just the kind of person we need. Someone from the legal world would be a great help.’

‘Who are the other trustees?’ asked Leo.

‘Well, let’s see. There’s Tony Gear, the MP for Shad Thames, Melissa Angelicos, Derek Harvey—’

‘The art critic?’

Chay nodded. ‘We thought of asking Brian Sewell, but …’

‘No,’ said Leo, smiling. ‘I think the ice pick might have finished him off.’ He frowned. ‘Who’s Melissa Angelicos? The name sounds familiar.’

‘She’s the presenter of the late night arts forum on Channel Four,’ said Anthony. ‘Something Space.’

Open Space
. I know the one,’ said Leo. ‘Leggy blonde with a nervous manner. Who else?’

‘Then there’s Lord Stockeld, the publisher, whom I mentioned before, Graham Amery—’

‘The chairman of Barrett’s Bank?’

‘That’s the one. And then there’s myself, of course.’ Chay studied Leo’s face. ‘So - what do you think?’

Leo hesitated for a few seconds as he pondered the offer. Why not? Helping to get a new museum of modern art off the ground was an attractive idea, given his own enthusiasm for the subject, and from what Chay had said the role of trustee wouldn’t be too demanding. He needed a new interest, something that took him socially beyond the cloistered confines of the Temple. His world seemed to have grown narrow of late. Time to change that.

Leo smiled. ‘All right. Fine. I’d be happy to do it.’

‘Excellent,’ said Chay. ‘Let’s have another drink.’

BOOK: A Hallowed Place
6.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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