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Authors: Caro Fraser

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BOOK: A Hallowed Place
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‘By the time he’s older he’ll probably be calling Charles Beecham daddy. I’m not prepared to wait until then.’

Rachel looked away. ‘I’m not going to discuss it any more, Leo.’

Leo pushed his chair back sharply and stood up. ‘Sod all this mediation and counselling. If you won’t agree, I’m
going to instruct my solicitor to fight it.’

She said nothing, merely sat with her head bowed over her drink as Leo left the pub.

Leo drove off, cursing himself for his indiscretion about Charles. Why had he told her? There had been no need. It had simply made things worse. He had wounded her pride, antagonised her, reminded her yet again that she was not, never had been, what he wanted. Maybe he had needed to hurt her. Maybe the very fact that she had all the winning cards had made him want to goad her. Whatever the reason, it had done him no good. It had simply given her more ammunition, provided her with further reasons for not letting Oliver stay, with him. Not that she believed in her heart that those reasons had any foundation.

He swore between his teeth and ground the gears as he pulled away from the traffic lights. A light rain had started to fall and dusk was drawing in. The fading light and the dismal dampness of the streets depressed his spirits even further. What was there to do with the rest of the evening? Go back to Belgravia, eat supper alone, go through some papers. He found he couldn’t even listen to music any more. It gave him none of the old solace. There were people whom he could call, of course, parties he could go to. But his heart wouldn’t be in it. All those bright, bubbling egos, the chatter, the laughter, the watching and calculating. No, he wanted none of that. As he drew up at the next set of traffic lights, Leo glanced along the row of cafes and shops, and suddenly recognised one of them as the place to which Anthony had taken him to meet Chay. He had liked that
bar – or gallery or cafe, whatever it was meant to be. It had had an exuberance and stylishness that had appealed to him. Just the kind of thing he needed to cheer himself up. He recalled seeing some rather pretty sculptures. Maybe he should drop in and have a look.

He drove once round the block before finding a parking space, then walked back through the drizzle, stopping at a news-stand to purchase a copy of
Vanity Fair
to while away the time. He noticed as he went in that it was called the Galleria Flore. At this early hour the place was half empty. Leo picked a table in a far corner, where most of the sculptures and paintings were exhibited, and ordered a coffee, thinking as he did so that he didn’t remember the waiter from last time. He was sure he would have done. He was young, in his early twenties. His hair was reddish gold, his face slight, heart-shaped, eyes wide and beautiful. Leo could not tell their colour. He watched the boy’s rapid, graceful movements as he negotiated the steel-topped tables. Leo could see that, for all his slightness, his body was spare and muscular. The waiter must have noticed Leo studying him and he gave him a covert, curious look as he set down the coffee. Leo saw that his eyes were light hazel, flecked with gold, like a cat’s. He found the glance charming, heart-stopping. He smiled, and the boy smiled back warily, then left. Leo watched him for a few seconds, then, with a faint sigh, turned to his magazine. After twenty minutes or so he grew bored and chucked it to one side, glancing up at the exhibits around him. The paintings were all largely derivative, lazy, but in some he glimpsed possibilities. He did not think there was anything he would care to buy.

‘Excuse me - would you like something to eat? We’ve got an early-supper menu.’ Leo glanced round. The young waiter had materialised at his side, holding out a menu.

Leo hesitated. He hadn’t meant to eat here, but he might as well. ‘Thank you,’ he said. The boy sped away. Leo glanced down at the menu, then, after a few seconds, lifted his eyes. The boy was standing at the bar, fiddling with some glasses, watching him. Their eyes met and the boy looked away. After a few moments he came back to Leo’s table, and produced a notebook and pen. He looked enquiringly at Leo.

‘I’ll have the Eggs Benedict,’ said Leo, ‘and let’s see …’ He looked up at the young waiter. ‘Some wine. Is there anything you specially recommend in the way of reds?’

The boy hesitated. ‘I don’t really know much about wine, I’m afraid. But I can ask—’

Leo shook his head. ‘Don’t worry. I merely wondered. I’ll have a half bottle of the Morgon.’

The boy nodded and scribbled, giving Leo leisure to scrutinise his features, the small, rather petulant mouth, the light frown of concentration which drew his brows together. He was altogether lovely, quite unconscious of the effect he produced. Leo felt that familiar slipping sensation in his heart. Beauty of any kind touched him deeply, but this young man stirred more erotic depths. Leo watched as he moved away, still writing. God, he was sublime. Leo was suddenly filled with a desire to talk to him, to get to know him.

When the boy returned with the food and wine, Leo indicated a picture on the wall just above his table. ‘I’ve
just been studying this, and I’m not sure whether I like it or not. What do you think?’

With an expression of surprise that slightly widened his hazel eyes, the boy looked up at the painting. Leo was pleased to see that he did not merely glance at it, but studied it properly, his mouth tightening in a line as he concentrated, considering. ‘I like it,’ he said at last. ‘I’d say the style owes rather a lot to Diebenkorn, but it’s still pretty good. I like all those variegated planes.’ He looked at Leo, his expression inscrutable.

Leo was both amused and taken aback. ‘You’re familiar with Richard Diebenkorn’s work?’ he asked.

The boy smiled. ‘Actually, to be honest with you, that’s my painting. So I’m not a fair judge.’

Leo raised his eyebrows, intrigued. ‘Well, I’m glad I didn’t express a firm view at the outset, in that case. That could have been embarrassing.’ He looked back at the picture. ‘Actually, I do like it.’ He glanced round the Galleria. ‘You have other things here. That—’ he gestured towards another canvas ‘—is yours, if I’m not mistaken.’

The boy nodded. ‘I didn’t think my style was that unique. I always think of myself as just another boring abstract expressionist.’ There was a pause, and the boy said, ‘Enjoy your meal,’ and moved away.

At the end of his meal Leo lit a small cigar and sat over his wine, brooding upon the dilemma of Oliver. He’d have to ring his solicitor tomorrow, get her to lodge whatever application it was to try and get to see him on his own on a regular basis. It was years since he’d so much as cast a glance in the direction of family law, didn’t have a clue on
what basis they made their decisions in these matters. Was it genuine, Rachel’s threat to rake up his past if he took the matter to court? One could never be sure with her. He sighed and glanced up as the young waiter returned to take his plate away.

‘Would you like coffee?’

‘Thanks, yes,’ said Leo. The boy slipped the plate on to his tray and poured the remains of Leo’s wine into his glass. ‘Do you sell much of your work?’ asked Leo, settling back in his chair, studying the boy with pleasure.

He shook his head. ‘Not really. London’s crawling with would-be artists. The market’s a bit saturated. Still, it’s what I like to do, and working here pays the bills.’ He gave Leo a candid smile. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever make a living as an artist.’

‘What you need,’ said Leo, ‘is a return to the old-fashioned system of patronage. Someone with enough money to pay you and promote your work.’

‘My work’s probably not worth it.’

‘But maybe you are,’ said Leo gently. He drew on his cigar, watching the boy. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Joshua.’ His expression as he looked at Leo was somehow more intent, as though Leo’s words had made an intimate connection. ‘Joshua Spencer.’

‘A good name for an artist. I’m Leo Davies.’ He held out a hand, and the boy shook it. It did something strange to Leo’s heart, just to feel those young, strong fingers in his.

‘You were in here a couple of weeks ago,’ said Joshua. Surprised, pleased, Leo nodded. ‘With Chay Cross - that’s why I remember.’ Leo gave a rueful little smile. The innocent tactlessness of the young. But if Joshua had been here that
night, Leo was astonished that he should have not seen and remembered him. ‘He comes in here quite often,’ added Joshua.

‘I work with his son,’ said Leo. ‘We’re barristers.’

‘Oh. Right.’ Joshua nodded, preparing to move away.

‘I meant what I said,’ murmured Leo. ‘About patronage. Every young artist should have some sort of - protection.’ Joshua’s eyes met his, and Leo knew instantly that he had found his wavelength. It was unmissable. Was the boy gay? How could he look the way he did and not be? ‘I’d like us to get together some time, to talk about your work. Maybe I could help you.’

This was the moment. If he wanted, Joshua could just walk away. But instead he held Leo’s gaze and said, ‘I’d like that.’

‘Tonight?’ asked Leo. ‘When do you finish?’

Joshua shook his head and glanced quickly in the direction of the bar, as though embarrassed or guilty. ‘Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow. I finish around eleven.’

Oh, Lord, thought Leo. Late nights weren’t much his thing any more. Still, this boy had to be worth it. ‘Fine.’ He smiled and nodded. ‘You can bring the bill with the coffee.’

When Leo left the Galleria Flore, it was with a new sense of pleasure and anticipation. He had no illusions. There was no reason to suppose that the young man found him attractive, though Leo didn’t regard himself as quite past it at forty-five, but he had detected a spark of interest there. Maybe it was mercenary. Maybe it was intellectual. He would find out. Joshua Spencer, whom he had met only this evening, wanted to spend some time with him and that was a start.

Charles Beecham glanced up as Rachel came into the kitchen. ‘Hello. I wasn’t expecting you this early.’ He leant sideways from the sink where he was peeling potatoes and kissed her. He was a tall, rangy man, with greying blond hair and features which, though now a little worn, still possessed enough boyish charm to captivate countless female viewers of his popular historical television documentaries. ‘How did it go?’

‘Don’t ask,’ sighed Rachel. ‘Just the same old Leo, as obstinate and unreasonable as ever.’

‘I have to say’, said Charles, shaking his head, ‘that that’s not the Leo Davies I recall. When I knew him he was persuasive, adaptable, thoroughly reasonable and utterly charming.’

‘You only have that slant on him because he was so successful for you and the other Lloyd’s Names,’ remarked Rachel, subsiding into a chair and slipping off her shoes.

‘True, he did save me from financial disaster. For which I am eternally grateful.’

‘I don’t deny that Leo can be all the things you think he is. But where Oliver is concerned, it’s like talking to a brick wall. He can’t see how unreasonable it is to want to have him to himself every other weekend. Anyway—’ she leant back and unfastened her hair, running her slender fingers through it a couple of times ‘—the best he can do now is try to get the court to grant him the access he wants. I’m certainly not going to. Which reminds me, I did say he could come down on Sunday and take Oliver out for the day.’

‘That’s fine. Give us an excuse to go into Bath and have lunch together, just the two of us. We don’t often get the chance.’ Charles wiped his hands on a cloth and pulled up
a chair next to hers. He leant across, cupping her face in his hands, and kissed her softly.

‘Perhaps that doesn’t appeal to me as much as it does to you,’ muttered Rachel. She felt cross and tired. Seeing Leo had disturbed her. It was like reopening an old wound. That ache of loss, of having loved so much, the waste of it all. Still burning in her mind was the way it had felt when he touched her, the look of him. She could not, at that moment, respond to Charles in the slightest. It had never happened before, and she felt momentarily fearful. ‘I’m sorry,’ she added, glancing up at him. ‘I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. It’s just that I don’t want Oliver to go away every other weekend.’

Charles hesitated before he spoke. He had never expressed a view on the matter of access to Oliver, but had always secretly been rather in favour of Leo’s projected arrangement. Oliver was a smashing little chap and all that, but a fairly noisy, demanding one, who did get in the way sometimes. It was Rachel whom Charles had wanted for himself from the very beginning, even though he did accept that the baby was part of the package. The idea that Oliver should spend every other weekend with his father seemed to Charles an excellent one. Forty-eight hours free of crying, or babbling, or high chair rattling or spoon-banging. Sentences that could be finished. Sex that could last as long as they wanted, without Rachel freezing at every distant sound and saying, ‘Was that Oliver?’ Long, boozy lunches. Mornings when they could lie in. Walks that could be taken through the surrounding countryside without considering whether the terrain was suitable for Oliver’s buggy. And,
best of all, Rachel’s full, undivided love and attention.

‘Perhaps it would be good for Oliver,’ he ventured. ‘Getting to know his dad, and so forth. Male bonding.’

Rachel shot Charles a glance of irritation. ‘He’s one and a half, for heaven’s sake, Charles.’

Charles shrugged. He wasn’t going to rock the boat. ‘He is indeed. And right at this minute he’s fast asleep and I have you all to myself.’ He drew Rachel towards him once more and began to kiss her again, but she pulled away.

‘I’m sorry, Charles. I’m not in the mood right now. I think I’ll go up and change, and look in on Oliver. I wish you could keep him awake in the evenings when I’m going to be a bit late. I do like to see him.’

Charles said nothing as she left the kitchen. He didn’t think he could begin to explain to her how blissful it was when Oliver fell asleep and silence reigned. The last thing he intended to do was to prevent it happening, even for Rachel’s sake.

Joshua was sitting with his friend, Damien, in a club they had gone to after Joshua got off work. It was one o’clock in the morning, and the place was still crowded and noisy. After a lull in the conversation, Joshua took a reflective pull on his bottle of beer and remarked, ‘I met this man tonight.’

BOOK: A Hallowed Place
7.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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