Authors: Caro Fraser
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary
Leo felt entirely defenceless. ‘Stay,’ said Leo. ‘Stay here tonight.’ The touch of the younger man was intoxicating, shocking, in a way that Leo did not think he had ever experienced before. He felt beyond himself.
Joshua shook his head. His eyes did not leave Leo’s. ‘I can’t,’ he said, then shrugged. ‘I’m sorry.’ And with that, he turned and left the room. He walked unhurriedly, casually, as though it didn’t much matter.
Leo heard the front door close. The silence seemed to press in on him from all sides. His senses felt totally numb. He sat down again. He had no idea why Joshua had left, or what had happened between them. But he knew with a sudden, dread knowledge that was like a pain in his heart, that he was hopelessly, completely infatuated.
Leo frowned in an effort of concentration as he went through his diary, checking items with Felicity. Thoughts of the night before, of Joshua, seemed to dominate everything.
‘Summons for directions on the twenty-fourth …’ Leo flicked back a page, as an entry caught his eye. It was for this evening.
Felicity craned over to peer at Leo’s diary. ‘
. I dunno. I haven’t got anything.’
Then he remembered. ‘Oh, Lord - it’s that thing with Anthony’s father. I’d completely forgotten. No, you needn’t worry about it. Anyway, see if you can change the date for that hearing on the fourth.’
‘Okay.’ Felicity scribbled briefly in her own diary, then left.
Leo leant back in his chair, suddenly wishing that he hadn’t agreed to become a trustee of Chay Cross’s new
museum. Right now, he didn’t have much enthusiasm for it. Then again, it was a distraction. How he needed distractions these days. His thoughts returned ineluctably to Joshua, to the memory of his face, his body, his touch. His heart tightened with pain at the recollected sensuality of their encounter. He had no idea what he should do about the boy, about his feelings for him. Perhaps nothing. The boy had walked out. Simply, and against all indications, walked out. How could he pursue him, and still retain any vestige of pride? Yet the idea that he might not see him again was becoming unbearable.
With a sigh, Leo leant forward once again and unwound the ribbon from a brief. He paused. For the first time in his life, it occurred to him that this was all he ever did. Unwind these faded lengths of ribbon from endless sheaves of paper, unfolding other people’s dilemmas, absorbing them. He had never thought of it in this detached way. Slowly he fingered the ribbon. It had always been enough, until recently. Now the very point of his work seemed to escape him. Be careful, Leo, he told himself. Much more of this and you could be entirely lost.
Felicity went back down to the clerks’ room, passing Camilla on the stairs. ‘You all set for your Bermuda trip on Monday?’ she asked Camilla.
‘Just about. Have the travel agents sent the tickets?’
‘Came first thing. Pop down later and we can go through your itinerary.’
‘Okay.’ Camilla paused, then added gently, ‘How are you, by the way? I’ve been thinking about you, ever since
the other day. Have you decided what you’re going to do?’
Felicity hugged the diary against her chest. ‘Not really.’ She sighed. ‘I haven’t even told Vince yet.’
‘Well, tell him and that way you can both decide.’
Felicity gave a wan smile. ‘Yeah, right. Anyway, I’ll see you later.’ She carried on downstairs. All very well for Camilla to say that, but she didn’t really understand the situation. Above all, she didn’t know Vince.
Leo met Anthony on his way out of chambers at lunch time. ‘You haven’t forgotten this evening, I hope,’ said Anthony.
‘No, but I would have if I hadn’t put it in my diary,’ replied Leo. ‘Where is this place? I’ve forgotten that as well.’
‘Shoreditch. I can give you directions, if you don’t mind giving me a lift. I have to bring along the trust documents for everyone to sign.’
‘Right.’ Leo glanced in the direction of the door as Sarah came in from Caper Court.
She gave him a radiant smile. ‘David says I can sit in with you on the case you have starting tomorrow. He hasn’t got much for me to do for the next few days.’
‘How utterly wonderful,’ sighed Leo. ‘Would you mind telling your pupilmaster that it would be kind of him to consult me, in future?’
‘Oh, I told him I knew you wouldn’t mind,’ said Sarah. ‘See you in the morning.’ She gave Anthony a glance and a smile, too, then went upstairs.
Anthony followed her thoughtfully with his eyes. ‘Do you think she had hopes of taking up a tenancy here?’
Leo sighed. ‘Let’s just live with the present, shall we? Where Miss Colman is concerned, one doesn’t like to think too far ahead. See you tonight.’
That evening, in the two-bedroomed flat in New Cross, Felicity pressed the buttons on the microwave and watched as two portions of Marks & Spencer’s pork in mustard sauce began to revolve slowly. ‘Vince,’ she said thoughtfully, ‘how long d’you think it’s going to take you to do your knowledge?’
‘Hang on a bit,’ said Vince, cracking open a can of beer, ‘I only got me blue book from the Public Carriage Office the other day. There’s fifty-six runs I’ve got to memorise.’
‘I don’t know why they call it the blue book when it’s pink,’ murmured Felicity. God, she felt tired. When she’d gone into the bedroom to change after work, it’d been all she could do to stop herself from snuggling under the duvet and just falling asleep there and then. ‘But how long, d’you reckon?’
Vince shrugged. ‘Depends on your ability, doesn’t it? Just a question of keep goin’ out on the bike, getting meself up to speed. There’s a hell of a lot to learn. And they won’t call me up for my first appearance for another six months at least.’
‘But if you pass, say, in six months’ time, you could start renting your own cab, earning proper money?’ Felicity took two baked potatoes from the oven and put them on plates.
‘No chance,’ said Vince with a laugh. ‘Nobody passes first go off. It’s a lot tougher than it used to be. There was a time you could do it in nine months or so, but now it takes
a good couple of years. Maybe three.’
Felicity slowly peeled back the Cellophane from the microwave meal. ‘Two years?’ She’d had the idea that Vince could be running his own black cab in a matter of months. She’d even planned ahead, saved, happy to think that he could use the savings to rent a cab once he’d passed his knowledge. But when he began to talk in terms of years … She spooned the pork out on to the plates. If she had this baby, how would they live? She was earning so well at the moment, more than she had ever imagined she could, and they both took it for granted. Vince had always sponged off her, but she didn’t mind paying for everything for both of them if he was really serious about planning a means of making his own living in the long run. Doing the knowledge had been her idea, of course, but he’d taken it up with real enthusiasm. The notion of being a black cab driver appealed to Vince as having a certain amount of cred, and it meant that he would be his own boss. That was important, for Vince wasn’t the kind of man who took kindly to working for anyone. So far he’d demonstrated a commendable seriousness of purpose, going up to the Public Carriage Office, doing the medical, getting his blue book, purchasing a second-hand motor bike to roar round the streets, memorising routes, street names and traffic systems. Felicity had paid for the bike, as she paid for everything, but the important thing was that Vince was undertaking something that could pay off. For Vince, that was a first. But she couldn’t bank on it. She couldn’t just give up work and have a baby, and wait for him to pass his knowledge. It might never happen.
Felicity brought their plates over and sat down. Vince held the can of beer over her empty glass. ‘You fancy some?’
Felicity shook her head. ‘No, thanks.’
‘You all right?’ asked Vince. ‘You haven’t had a drink in days. Not like you, is it?’
She smiled wanly. ‘No. Maybe I’m coming down with something.’ Why wouldn’t she just come out with it, tell him and have done? Because she guessed what his reaction would be. She knew Vince too well. All man. He’d be delighted, proud, without even giving a thought to the future. Vince was a great believer in things working out for the best. He lived from day to day, like a child. And that was the thing. She’d have two children on her hands and an uncertain future. Once Vince knew, there would be no way out. There would be no question of an abortion. He’d close all the doors, heedlessly. But this was one door she had to keep open, for the present, at any rate. So she picked up her fork and ate, and said nothing.
‘Just up here on the left,’ said Anthony, as Leo drove slowly up the narrow cobbled street. ‘There it is.’ They pulled up outside what had once been a brewery, but was now to be the home of Chay’s London Museum of Modern Art.
‘It’s quite a handsome building,’ said Leo. ‘What I can see of it.’ The brewery was set back from the cobbled street behind high walls, in which were set heavy iron gates. ‘Strange backwater, this, isn’t it?’ He got out of the car, locked it, and he and Anthony stood together on the pavement, gazing around.
‘There are some very fine Georgian houses just round
the corner from here,’ remarked Anthony. ‘I gather from my father that it’s becoming something of an artists’ haven. Anyway, he’s found the right premises at the right address, so he’s pretty pleased.’ They passed through the iron gates and into a large cobbled courtyard, where a security guard was strolling. ‘A functional building like this was just what he needed. Lots of space, good light.’
‘It must be costing a fortune to do up,’ said Leo.
‘He’s got a grant from English Heritage to restore the fabric of the building, so that’s a start. And, of course, Lord Stockeld is chipping in a hefty sum to help fund the collection. The rest is all Chay’s own money,’ said Anthony. ‘But, as he said, there’s a good chance of lottery money once the trust is up and running.’
They went in through the large front door, which stood open. They found themselves in a small vestibule, and beyond they could hear the sound of voices. Passing along a short corridor, they emerged into a large, airy room, as high as the building itself, with a gallery running round.
Chay was at the far end, with three other people. He raised a hand in greeting when he saw Anthony and Leo. ‘Good to see you. Leo, let me introduce a few of your co-trustees. Tony Gear, MP, Derek Harvey, Graham Amery. This is Leo Davies, who’s going to add a bit of legal weight to the show. I’m afraid Lord Stockeld can’t be with us this evening. He’s in Frankfurt on business.’
Leo shook hands with each man in turn, he and Amery giving one another a brief grin of recognition. From what he could recall of the Barrett’s Bank case a few years ago, Amery’s dapper, slightly self-deprecating air masked a
fiercely conscientious and industrious personality, and Leo wasn’t surprised he had risen to become its chairman. Gear, in his mid-thirties, was some fifteen years Amery’s junior, a short, rotund creature, with bright, ambitious eyes set in a clever, schoolboyish face, and floppy dark hair. He was dressed in a nondescript grey suit and suede shoes. Leo had trouble recalling whether he was Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem. Certainly his face and his faintly aggressive, gravelly voice were familiar from news soundbites. He was a regular spokesman on some issue or other, but Leo couldn’t for the life of him remember what. Derek Harvey he recognised from the small, blurred black-and-white photograph which accompanied his column in one of the daily papers. He was taller than Leo had imagined, with curling grey hair and pouched, tired features, dressed in a long, shabby raincoat over jeans and a sweatshirt.
‘Quite a venture, this,’ remarked Derek Harvey. ‘Good location.’ He gestured round the lofty room. ‘This will be superb for large installation pieces.’
‘I was just showing everyone round,’ said Chay, ‘while we wait for Melissa. She rang to say she’s running late. Come through and I’ll show you the area that I’ve got marked out for the video installations. I think you’ll like it.’
Chay led them through a series of high-ceilinged areas. Work had begun on whitewashing the brick walls and on fitting lighting. The floors were still littered with the debris of builders and electricians, and as the group picked its way among planks, spools of flex and pots of paint, Chay kept up a running commentary on the functions of each individual area.
Eventually he glanced at his watch. ‘I think we’d better make a start,’ he said. ‘Melissa didn’t say how late she’d be.’ He led them all through to a long, low-ceilinged meeting room, which still smelt of fresh varnish. An oval table stood in the centre, surrounded by chairs, and everyone sat down.
The meeting commenced in an orderly fashion. Chay, who was normally something of a laid back individual, had been galvanised by enthusiasm for his project, and had set about organising matters with surprising efficiency. It helped that Anthony had been drafted in to act as secretary and general legal consultant. For this Leo was grateful; he hadn’t wanted his own role in all this to be too onerous.
Chay opened the meeting with a little speech about the aims of the project, then Leo added his signature to the others on the trust documents and a general discussion began about the museum’s collection policy. At this point Melissa Angelicos arrived in a fluster of scarves, bags and papers, and the meeting ground to a temporary halt. There was certainly something impressive about the woman, thought Leo, as he watched her murmur effusive apologies, darting smiles at each of them while introductions were made, settling herself into her chair with an exuberant flash of her long legs. Leo studied her covertly as Chay ran over the items which they had already discussed and Anthony produced the trust documents for her to sign. She was older than she appeared on television. Leo put her somewhere in her mid-forties. She possessed fine-boned, dramatic features, slightly coarsened by age, and a mane of ash-blonde hair which she wore carelessly pinned up. The slenderness of youth was toughening into wiry angularity in middle age,
but Leo could see why men considered her attractive. Her movements were nervy and self-conscious, but her smile and general manner were charismatic, if a little hard.
No sooner had Chay explained that they were discussing the museum’s collection policy than she launched into an enthusiastic endorsement of the work of a handful of young British artists recently exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Saatchi Gallery. ‘There are some absolutely wonderful pieces we could obtain - sado-kitsch, you might call them. Totally transgressive. After all, any new museum of this kind must show generosity towards native young talent, and some of the work that’s been shown is terribly exciting. Gayford’s
Dwarf in Bondage
, for instance—’
Derek Harvey, who was sitting hunched over the table, still in his raincoat, interrupted her with a sigh. ‘Melissa, the core collection can’t concern itself with that kind of rubbish. If we’re going to convince the powers-that-be to give us public funding to acquire new works, the museum has to demonstrate a collections policy that is sound, that is looking for established, serious work by well-known artists. It’s not an exercise in promoting the kind of promiscuous, talentless work which your YBAs constantly produce, and which your television programme works so hard to sell. This museum is, I hope, about serious art.’