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Authors: Spencer Coleman

Tags: #Mystery, #art, #murder, #killing, #money, #evil, #love

All the Rage

BOOK: All the Rage
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Title Page

 

 

ALL THE RAGE

 

 

 

 

By

Spencer Coleman

Publisher Information

 

Published by Cambridge House Publishing LLP

Suite 7,

Mayden House,

Long Bennington Business Park,

Newark NG23 5DJ

 

Digital edition converted and

Distributed in 2011 by

Andrews UK Limited

 

www. andrewsuk. com

 

Copyright 2011

 

The right of Spencer Coleman to be identified as the author of this book has been asserted in accordance with Section 77 and 78 of the Copyright and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.

 

All rights reserved.

 

All characters and events depicted are entirely fictitious; any resemblance to anyone living or dead is entirely coincidental

Prologue

 

WINTER 2005, MAYFAIR, LONDON

 

He knew her dark secrets. The recollection of her was crystal clear and just as painful now as it had been during those years in between. The past never vanished entirely; it simply retreated into a corner of his brain. All it needed was for
something
to expose the hidden scars once again. This was one such moment. Standing alone on the street, staring, he recalled the scent of her body, her lustful kiss, her sex.

The painting hung in the gallery window as a solitary piece, measuring four feet square, encased in a gold and black baroque frame. The girl was painted lying naked upon crumpled silk sheets. He knew that looking into her emerald eyes was a dangerous game, a distraction without exit.

She was unknown to others, perhaps, but not to him; memories could be so heartbreaking. Back then, she caused such havoc. Today, though? All that remained was this: a simple female nude, staring back in his direction. The expansive scale of the canvas, however, ensured a greater power – a sensual invitation to examine with the eyes and caress with the fingers. Exposed skin and hidden flesh. Forbidden parts: who exhausted their fiery passion here? The question would haunt him to his grave. The heat of her alluring body, combined with the abandoned gaze and glistening, tumbling wet black hair, told of a sexual encounter. He knew of it so well.

His eyes focused upon an accompanying card. The gold lettering named the artist as Patrick Porter (Deceased). The portrait was titled
‘A' on green silk
. It was an oil on canvas priced at £55,000. Her inner secrets did not come cheap.

He was sure that many people had stopped over recent days to view this sumptuous piece. The painting first mesmerised, and then captured those who dared to admire it. On this miserable late afternoon in November, the man in long raincoat and trilby stood firm on the pavement. Gazing intently, he was transfixed by this image of a soiled goddess. He examined every detail of her nubile proportions, recalling the dark Italian skin, the ample breasts, the slight opening of her slender legs. He imagined being part of her mystery again. Her mouth was moist and inviting; the full red painted lips quivering with youthful mischief and pained decadence.

According to his memory, the girl in the painting was between sixteen to eighteen years of age, and rather unnervingly, there was a touch of cruelty behind her demeanour. It was this that had caught his eye. He was hooked. Minutes passed. Half the hour was gone in a flash. The sky darkened, and rain gradually fell. This wouldn't deter him. He lit a cigarette and simply stared, trapped, needing to own her, possess her as he once had, and imprison her.

More disturbingly, he knew the workings of her mind. He was aware of what she was thinking and how she had first manipulated and then diminished him.

He suddenly grew restless, aware that the proprietor in the gallery had noticed his interest in the painting, and was ambling toward him. He sighed, anticipating the usual patter: an invitation to enter the premises, engage in conversation, sample a small drink together; a glass of fine burgundy perhaps…even a little negotiation. He resisted the temptation.
She
was enticement enough, and he had paid many times over for her pleasures.

He tightened the white silk scarf around his throat, adjusted his raincoat collar and disappeared as if he had never existed.

 

Further down the street, the man took shelter in the doorway of a shop. He was cold and impatient for a taxi. His eyes scanned the empty road. Fat chance. However, nothing could distract from the professional pride that had overwhelmed him just moments earlier, while gazing in the gallery window. There was a certain egotistical pleasure from seeing a work of art displayed so predominantly, created by the hand that held the cigarette to his mouth.

Chapter One

 

Spring 2006, Mayfair, London

 

The sky on this morning was clean and watery, with a lemon sun emerging above the bare branches of the trees surrounding Berkeley Square, Mayfair. Michael Strange always enjoyed this particular route through the elegant public garden, which ultimately led him to his gallery on Cork Street, situated just a few blocks further on. After parking his silver BMW 6 Series Coupe, he reminded himself that he had undertaken this walk maybe a thousand times. Usually, he moved briskly and purposeful on a journey that was at best a fifteen-minute trek. Today though, he found himself slow of pace. His eagerness to get to work had evaporated. Some days he felt good. This was not one of them. Within his current fragile existence,
everything
of any consequence was touched with despair and foreboding. Lately, he was enthralled by the absurdity of life and death in equal measure. It hadn't always been like this, but he was at his very lowest point. The words of Dylan Thomas burned into his head, “
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. ”
In truth, the light behind his eyes was fading fast into a kind of sightlessness. A thought crossed his mind: the blind never see the truck coming; they only hear the sound of the approach. Then it's too late. Far too fucking late.

This was his London. This was March and, despite the bright weather, Michael normally associated this month as a black hole, winter's backside. Raw and brackish, it was for him a seemingly dark procession of long hours and achingly dull vacuums. All that he knew and trusted was on the verge of going down the pan. He paused near the gallery, drew breath, and gathered his thoughts. It often went like this. Surprising mood swings. Where was this madness coming from?

Normally, he liked to arrive on the premises at nine-thirty, open the mail, consume a strong black Columbian coffee, discuss matters of the week with his secretary, Kara, then catch up with the sport pages from
The Times
and eventually settle down with the tasks in hand. It was almost a daily routine. However, of late he had developed an unwelcome habit of reflecting on the dreadful things in this world with an unhealthy morbid fascination. It was happening more and more, and it wasn't to his liking.

Take London, for instance. Just as March can be a solemn month, so too can London be a solemn city. Michael marvelled and despaired at the insidious interaction of over ten million inhabitants, ebbing and flowing like the great tidal waters of the river Thames. The city had many uneasy cultural divisions between its clash of people, a kind of tribal occupancy, almost. Strangers, after all: a complexity of egos and ambitions, survival and lust. After the atrocity of the tube suicide bombings, misguided hatred now prevailed, resulting in a mass of people who were either confused or wary of their neighbours. All that remained was a vast contradictory melting pot, a city deep in loathing, a city full of love. Perhaps even a place to hide within.

He banished such a notion, and told himself to get a grip on the week ahead. It was a Monday, his team, Chelsea, had drawn 1-1 against Arsenal at the weekend and all was apparently well with the world. He deserved a second cup of coffee.

He surveyed his kingdom. The gallery Churchill Fine Arts occupied an imposing corner site on one of London's prime locations and had been trading for twenty three-years. It began on Albemarle Street before establishing its current standing in the city specialising in contemporary figurative paintings from around the world, most notably from Russia, Cuba and Spain, as was the latest trend. The title of the gallery came from his wife's maiden name, which Michael felt was appropriately grand, durable and patriotic. It worked. The “Strange Gallery” somehow did not have the same dignified importance to it. Opening time was ten and as he glanced at his Cartier, Kara pushed the button to retract the electronic grille from the window and turned the brass “OPEN” sign to make it visible on the door.

Michael William Strange was considered to be a highly successful businessman, well regarded throughout the world of art, with a secondary interest in a modern conceptual gallery in Shoreditch, East London and an art magazine entitled
All the Rage
publicising the latest trends and promoting up-and-coming artists in the capital. His influence and knowledge were far reaching and reflected in his fortune, with homes in London, the Home Counties and Marbella in Spain. His biographical details would have him contentedly married to the same woman, Adele, for twenty-six years with one son, Toby, now living in New York, working in the money markets on Wall Street.
Who's Who
described Michael as an international playmaker of many diverse talents.

On the face of it, he had it all. As he idly contemplated this blessed scenario he began to feel his hands become hot and wet with perspiration. He removed his horn-rimmed glasses from his face and rubbed his temples, feeling a distant migraine rumbling in his head.
He had it all.
Earlier, during his walk to work, he had given out the contented air of a man in control. Acknowledged on the streets, he waved happily to his fellow shopkeepers. He stopped to buy flowers for his secretary, knowing he was away on her birthday the next day. Little details, but they meant so much. He even shared a private joke with a traffic warden who was in the process of booking an illegally parked vehicle belonging to the proprietor of the gallery next to his. Sweet justice.

Yes, on the face of it, he really did have it all. Following his last health check, barely two weeks earlier, his doctor had stated that he was in the rudest of health. Again, just yesterday morning, on opening the mail, he discovered a premium bond win of five hundred pounds. On top of that, Kara briefly interrupted him to tell him that an invitation had arrived for a private dinner engagement at Buckingham Palace. He shrugged. It came with the territory.

Michael thanked her politely, presented the flowers (‘Freesias, my favourite! ' she said) and then removed himself quietly to the basement bathroom. Standing at the sink, he sprinkled cold water on to his face and then stared long and hard at his troubled features in the wall-mounted mirror. He groaned aloud. It was an unflattering reflection. He was forty-eight years of age and although everything appeared to be perfect, the truth was…he was going broke.

In fact, he was going under, going down.

His recent birthday on the 26
th
February had signified a low point in his life. He had spent this uneventful evening alone in his duplex apartment, without celebration. That was eight long nights ago, and since then he had remained in solitude, adrift. In most social circles this period was politely referred to as a trial separation, a time to find “space” and reflect upon life, and more importantly, his marriage. Just before his birthday, Adele had matter-of-factly announced – insisted – that their union was at an end. She wanted a divorce and a very substantial settlement; substantial enough to reflect her current social status and maintain the standards she had come to expect and…to hurt him like hell. He faced possible ruin. Just like that. It scared him shitless.

Of course, it was never “just like that”. He understood the deep seated problems and the rifts that existed between them. But still, it was a massive shock to the system. If he were brutally truthful, the signs had been there for him to see. Little cracks, huge chasms, but, as with many long relationships, he was only too aware that the well of passion had dried up and, slowly, companionship and shared experience turned to something else – what was it?
Ah yes
, a partnership of compromise, then apathy, a reluctance of accountability, the death of marriage.

He recalled with a shudder how her words had dropped over the breakfast table like spilled sugar granules – they seeped everywhere, far reaching, scattered forever. Once spoken, they could not be retracted or swept away.

Adele, with cold steel in her eyes, had said, ‘I need space, Michael. Put the bloody newspaper down. I want a divorce. '

Looking back, hurt by those cold calculated words, he did not fully recognise this same woman. He knew
everything
about her, but they had become insufferable strangers; impostors living under the same roof. It was a bitter pill to swallow. He did not put the newspaper down, merely ruffled the pages. Torn between anger and resignation, he remained steadfastly impassive, as only the English can do so well.

Thinking back about this absurd ability to remain in control of his emotions, his reply had been impeccable, and without hesitation: ‘Yes, very well. I'll move to London. '

Clearing his head, he shook off his malaise, returned to his desk, and checked his diary. His first appointment of the day was at 11. 30am with an up-and-coming artist, a “thirtysomething” self-opinionated painter called Marcus Heath. It was a routine discussion in relation to a forthcoming exhibition entitled “Confessions. ” Between them they decided on thirty paintings for the first autumn show of the season to be displayed on the upper gallery space, beginning 15
th
September. During their meeting Michael noticed he was impatient with this brash young man and in turn he detected Marcus Heath's displeasure at his pessimistic assessment of the possible outcome of the show. The work didn't excite him. He understood that the young man wanted the reassurance of knowing if the exhibition in the current economic gloom would be a success, before embarking on it. Michael's response was unenthusiastic, but he endeavoured to be a little more positive, if only to remove the gloom on Marcus's expression. Sadly, it was a losing battle. Michael had other more pressing priorities on his mind.

 

***

 

Kara began to sort through the late morning post. She discovered the usual invitations to various gallery previews, an electricity bill (red reminder), catalogue proofs, and an envelope marked ‘private and confidential,' also several business flyers relating to printing requirements and gallery wholesale equipment. During an uneventful period she cleaned the kitchen crockery and worktop, typed two letters and took eight phone calls. Several of these she dealt with herself, the rest she jotted on a notepad for her boss.

As was customary, Ronald arrived just after twelve o'clock to take charge of the front gallery. This allowed Kara to go out for lunch and the gallery to remain open, especially if her boss had a lunchtime appointment as well. Continuity of business was essential. Ronald was sixty years of age, rather dapper in navy suit and red striped shirt and loud tie. He worked part-time, four days a week. His hours were twelve till four daily, except Thursday, when he visited his elderly mother. On this day his duties included changing the paintings in the windows, attending to clients, preparing a parcel for shipment to California, and then pricing and hanging four new acquisitions from an artist that had been delivered the day before. Ronald was calm, professional, possessed a sharp wit and preferred an orderly existence and a routine without incident. Each evening, his boyfriend, also called Ron, arrived promptly to accompany him home. Often they would all divert to the local watering hole, The Duke of Wessex, for happy hour. Kara enjoyed this ritual encounter – the affectionate greeting of a big hug and often a small gift from one to the other. She referred to them, quite naturally, as “The Two Ronnies. ”

Kara applied lipstick, pulled on a long black wool coat and gathered her notes together. She was tall and slim and dressed with an assured elegance. Aged twenty-eight, she currently lived alone after the break-up of a long-standing relationship, and had worked at The Churchill Gallery for a little over five years. She enjoyed her position in the firm and considered herself a good amateur artist as well. The best of both worlds, she smugly reminded herself.

The door to the main office was open. This allowed her to pop her head through without the need to knock.

‘Back at the usual time, Michael,' she said. ‘I've sorted the mail. There are three phone calls that will concern you. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber requires confirmation regarding delivery of his painting; Lauren O'Neill needs a valuation on several works of art, oh, you'll like this – she owns a Patrick Porter! Her number is on the pad. And finally, the framing workshop requires clarification on two jobs – apparently, your writing is indecipherable! You'd make an excellent doctor. ' She placed the yellow notepad on his desk, turned sharply on her fine heels and called back, ‘Can I get you anything? '

She knew by Michael's vague expression that the little aside joke regarding the medical profession had passed him by.

‘I'm fine for the moment, Kara. Ask Ronald to put the kettle on, Earl Grey would be perfect. '

 

***

 

Michael heard a muffled conversation in another room and assumed his tea was on the way. He studied the list from Kara. Who was Lauren O'Neill? He initially dismissed this as a request for insurance valuations, which for him often meant tiresome and underpaid work. Still, Kara did mention a Porter original. Perhaps he could persuade her to sell it? He underlined her phone number with a marker pen. He dutifully telephoned the workshop, reaffirming the framing measurements in question with his senior framer, Johannes Brouwer. They had worked together for over fifteen years. Michael felt a great loyalty to his staff. He hated failure, and the bleak mood which had descended upon him made conversation short. Careers were at stake here. If the worst came to the worst he would have no choice but to remove people from their jobs, however horrible that task would prove to be. He knew that costs would have to be cut drastically in order to survive the downturn in the economy.

BOOK: All the Rage
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ads

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