Underpainting 26


Chapter 26 of my novel Underpainting which has moved on to 1993. For previous chapters use the link above or in Categories.

Chapter 26


A grey and white figure flickered on the monitor for camera 3a. Dave zoomed in, a face and body were quite clearly defined. A teenage male, scruffy hair, short dark jacket, jeans, trainers which looked new, he noted him on the day sheet that he was not one of the regulars. The subject was standing close to one of the main doors, looking along the street. Taking notes? The subject was writing on something, Dave noted that too. He turned towards the camera and looked straight into it, almost in defiance Dave thought, then walked on.

Camera 6c picked him up, he was walking towards it, he didn’t appear to have seen it and took something from his pocket, checking it. He stopped again; looked back down the street; checked his pocket again. Dave zoomed right in but there was not enough detail to make out what it was. He stood still; his head following a black Mercedes pulling into the parking space at door 44-3, then walked away out of range.

“Have you got a Philips screwdriver Mum?” Peter called from the bedroom.

“I’m not sure, one of those cross things, you mean?” his mother was almost standing next to him as Peter adjusted a door which made him jump.

“Sorry, yes. Your Mr. Davies has mixed slot heads and Philips screws all through, I didn’t bring mine”

“I’ve got some tools in the kitchen drawer, I won a set at the club a few weeks ago, don’t know what’s in it. I’m popping out for a bit, Mrs. Thomas has some magazines for me, is that all right?”

“Of course, this’ll take me half an hour or so”

Peter was doing a few odd jobs. His mother had had a new carpet and the doors were sticking on it. Peter heard her leave the house, he went to the drawer and took out a yellow plastic box filled with a variety of tools for around the home. His mother’s building society book was next to it. He always asked if she was alright for money and had sent her cheques now and then but wasn’t really sure if she was telling him everything. He opened the book.

She had over £38,000 in her account. He couldn’t believe it. He looked carefully through the pages, the opening balance was around £7,000 which he knew was what was left from the insurance policy on his dad after she’d paid for the bungalow. Bits went out on a regular basis, small amounts went in, remains of her pension, and sums which he could tell was money he’d given her or interest, the level stayed about the same, then three payments of £10,000 over a one year period. He wondered if these were maturing bonds that his dad had paid into, but no, he never had that sort of money, anyway she’d have said, wouldn’t she? Peter took out a scrap of paper and noted the dates. What could he say? Nothing really, it was none of his business.

He wished he’d never looked and went back to work on the door, unscrewed the hinges and placed some thin card to lift the bottom hinge away from the frame a fraction. That did it.

By the time his mother returned a couple of hours later he’d completed all the doors. They sat in the bay window drinking coffee, it was milky stuff that Peter didn’t really like, but at his mother’s it was always like this.

“How are you getting along… Financially I mean?” he knew it was impossible to ask straight out.

“Oh, I’m OK. I have to be careful, I know how much I can spend and what not to, you know? I quite often have a few pounds left at the end of the week, put it in the building society, for Christmas. Your dad was good at saving, I learnt that from him if nothing else.”

They sat looking at a seagull trying to sit on the bird table designed for sparrows.

“I was thinking of dad and the old days, on the estate. I did a picture for Frank Butter, it was of Meadow Way. It reminded me of that incident, you remember, when that man got killed, I was given a drawing of him by a quite famous painter recently, strange coincidence. I don’t know, funny how you remember things. I remember the police coming round, when was it, I forget?”

“Oh that was years ago, some things are best forgotten”

“I remember all the lads at school said Frank did it, I don’t think they ever found anyone did they?”

“I really don’t remember. When is Marianne going?” Peter realised she was deliberately changing the subject, she didn’t want to talk about the past now.

“After my show. You will come won’t you, the opening?”

“Bradford isn’t it? It’s a long way, and I don’t really fit in, not at the opening. Can I come later, I’ll see if Mrs. Pritchard and the Captain want to go I’m sure they’d like to, would that be all right?”

“Yes, I suppose so” Peter knew he was getting nowhere. The visit by the police all those years ago still bothered him, he couldn’t remember what it was he heard, and the money, probably nothing, why did it nag at him? He knew his diary was in the car, he’d check back, he had last year’s segment still in it, see if there any corrulations.

Philip could see a light was on at Lizzie’s flat, he also noted that Tom was standing in the window, he wanted to see Lizzie alone. His trainers were rubbing the back of his feet but he felt good, very clear, and he knew he needed another £100 before tomorrow to stay that way, Lizzie would have that, but Tom would insist on trying to ‘sort’ him out again, and that wasn’t on.

He walked on, jumped on a bus back for town. As he sat upstairs he fingered the blade in his pocket. A man of about fifty was sitting in front of him, his heightened senses could smell alcohol, he wore a suit, had a smart soft brown leather attaché case – a case for a laptop? Looked like it. A bag of cash that’s what it was, and cash was needed, £100. Matt could get good prices for laptops.

Travelling down Roseberry Avenue, the man stood up, swayed a bit, moved along the bus to get off, no one else did, Philip got up quickly just at the moment the bus stopped and got off. Philip began walking the opposite way then stopped by a garment factory job board, he pretended to look at it and in the corner of his vision could see the man was going into a passage. Philip pushed the knife up his jacket sleeve, then ran as fast as he could, knocking the man into the wall, flashing the blade in the glinting street lights, the man saw it and began to have convulsions, Philip could see him wet himself, he fell to the floor, Philip sprinted down the passage with the leather case. He kept to the maze of passages and lanes behind factories, shops and flats, then slowed to a walk on Skinner Street, jumped on another bus. The bag felt heavy on his shoulder. He could feel that the knife was still up his sleeve. The upstairs of the bus was nearly empty and he carefully dropped the knife into his jacket pocket, making sure the surveillance mirror didn’t see him. In Holborn he jumped off and onto another bus towards Waterloo. He knew the expensive bag looked out of place on his shoulder and he must get rid soon. He clicked it open, a wallet two credit cards, cash, looked about £50 could be more, an envelope with a wad of dollars in, he didn’t look too carefully, made it look as if he was looking for a piece of paper. An expensive pen, calculator, small camera. No laptop, but a good haul which should do for a couple of days, but he knew he’d smoke it all tonight.

‘Thanks mister’ he wrote on the steamed up window.

“I’ve seen plenty of those lads before, and I’m sorry to say plenty of those girls too…. They’re so young…” Paulette gestured to a Chinese girl who looked about twelve, “makes you wonder… God some men are bastards!”

“You get used to them” Rachel ushered Paulette into the flat. She’d heard a bit of commotion outside and went to look, she was expecting Paulette. The ‘guards’ thought Paulette was one of the women from the  refuge who sometimes came round asking awkward questions about the age of the girls, where they were from and so on.

When they were sitting with cups of tea Rachel felt a bit less bothered about Paulette coming, she was very different than when she was with her Dad. But there were long silences. Rachel broke one.

“What have you done with Jessi today, has Dad got her?”

“No, no he’s asleep now, he’s on nights, you know, he always is. No, she’s with a friend. She’s a good girl, I think Dave likes her, but she’s not his. It’s a bit hard and he works such long hours and she wants to make noise in the day, so…” she shrugged her shoulders.

“I can guess”

“What makes you live here?”

“Well it’s cheap and handy, the tube’s only two streets away”

“But with all this, those gorillas on the stairs and the poor things here, surely…”

“Actually those ‘gorillas’ make it quite safe, but I’ll move on soon, I’m saving up for a deposit on a flat, one big enough to have a studio…”

“Ah yes, your pictures…” she looked at a large paper based piece on the wall, “is that one” she stood up and looked at it carefully, closely, “it’s you isn’t it”

“Yes, I use myself as a model, come in here, have a look” Rachel was warming to Paulette. They went into the ‘studio’, Paulette stood in the middle and looked round.

“They’re amazing, you know that’s how I feel sometimes…” she said pointing at a distorted figure that looked if it were screaming at nothing, “when those guys watch you strip, most of the time you can block them out,  take your clothes off, wiggle your fanny, and think of the cash. But sometimes one will catch your eye, staring, as if taking all of you, not only the surface, but grinding inside”, she shook with a shiver of fear.

There was a period of silence as Paulette looked at one very graphic and disturbing picture.

“These are very personal Rachel, you must have gone through some bad times”

“Did Dad tell you that I was raped?”

“No. He said there’d been a problem at the barracks where you used to live, that was it was it?”

“Yes and another time soon after, at the children’s home, but I didn’t tell anyone. Haven’t told anyone until now”

Paulette put a motherly arm round Rachel. They both cried.

Another cup of tea. Another period of silence.

“There’s something I haven’t told your Dad as well. I have a boy, I mean I had a boy, called him Ben, you know after the song, when I was fifteen. Mum and I kept him for a while but they took him away when I went to live with this fella, he was into all sorts of stuff, the social, they came, did me head in for a while. He was beautiful little boy. They found a home, adopted and I lost touch, at times felt glad, glad he was away at a better home, glad I had the freedom, for the best I always told myself”

“D’you miss him now?”

“Yes, sometimes, I don’t know, I try not to think, but then there are birthdays, April eighteenth… Christmas that was worst, until Jess came along, the whole damn thing of happy families… a big black hole opens up. I’d love to know what he’s done, if he’s got on at school. I often, well I used to look for him, see him on the tube, one time started following boys, see where they went, if it was him. Of course he could be anywhere, always dreamt he’d gone to live in the country, a nice farming family, you know, not that they’d want a black kid.”

There was a silence, Rachel wasn’t sure what to say, she’d never opened up as much to anyone and she didn’t know if she wanted to hear all this, Paulette continued, “now with Jessica I don’t, no, no not now, that’s all stopped. A long time between them, he’d be twenty two now, a man, your age?”

“A bit younger” So she’s thirty seven Rachel thought, looks good for that, kept her figure, “… would you ever try to find him? Officially I mean.”

“I don’t think I’m allowed to, no…”

“…and would you mind if he found you?”

“I don’t know. I sometimes think about it but there’s no use getting your hopes up is there?”

“No, no not really. I remember there was a boy at college, spent the whole of one summer searching Ireland for his real mother. I think it almost broke his adopted mother’s heart, she felt not wanted, not good enough for him, then when he did she didn’t want to know, he had to leave…”

“You won’t tell Dave?”

“No, and please don’t tell him about the rape, I don’t want another fuss”

“Right, I understand” Paulette looked at a drawing on the wall, “…you know my Dad was a model”

“An artist’s model?”

“So my mother said. He died when I was very young, never knew him, they’d split up by then, but he modelled for all sorts of artists, famous ones so she said, but you couldn’t believe anything my mother said. She had four kids by different fathers, I was always having to call some new face Dad, then they’d be gone.”

“Have you any pictures?”

“No, I don’t think mum has either. I know your Dad was joking, but would you like me to model for you?”

“Well… I’m not…”

“I don’t want paying… no… but I’d have to bring Jessi. It could help you and I could get out of the flat when Dave’s asleep… of course if you don’t…”

“No… no… it would be great, yes, lets do it”

“Don’t tell your dad, I don’t think he’d like it really. I don’t think he knows what you do really, not really his scene… but I’d love it”

They made an arrangement.


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