Underpainting 27


Chapter 27 of my novel Underpainting set in the early 1990’s. For previous chapters use the link above. I would greatly value feedback if you are reading it. Thanks!


Chapter 27

Peter cleared a space on one of the big tables he’d brought into the studio to sort things out on. He opened an envelope delivered that morning by courier, it was from Harbin and Ffoster, his solicitor’s in London.

Dear Mr. Marten,

We are pleased to enclose the information you requested us to obtain, a photocopy of the Marriage Certificate of Victor Williams and Janice Roberts, I hope you find it in full order. We have also enclosed another document you may be interested in.

Peter looked at a birth certificate, dated three months after the Marriage Certificate. So, he thought, not only did Vic have two wives he had two children! The writing wasn’t easy to decipher – born Hammersmith St.Mary’s, father’s profession Artist’s Assistant – mother, Barmaid. But he couldn’t make out the childs name clearly, it began with P.

The letter continued.

Please notify us if you wish to take this matter further. We have close links with a number of professional organisations who trace people, discreetly, and they may be able to find the present whereabouts of the people named in the certificates.

With regard to the similar requests in France our office in Paris is dealing with these and will contact when they have further information.

I enclose our latest invoice and can assure you…

He pondered over whether any more could be found out and what use that would actually be to him. Did he want that? Had he found enough and why did he need to know about people from what now felt a very distant past? Did he really need to know more about Vic’s life or was it Vic’s death he needed to know about? Was this getting to be a bit obsessive, a bit weird, or just an excuse not to get down to real work?

His phone rang.

“They’ve put in an offer! What we asked for!” it was Marianne.

“What we asked for?”

“Yes, no quibbles, I never thought…”

“Nor did I, it’s so quick. I expected at least six months…”

“Well so did I… but there it is. Do you want to ring, or shall I?”

“Oh, you do it, you did such a masterly job of showing them round” said Peter, not wanting the bother of dealing with it.

“OK, have you got his number, it’s not on my phone”

Peter read out the agent’s number and rang off.


They were both in a state of mild shock, everything was happening so quickly. The James’ were only the second couple to look at the house. The agent had warned them not to be too hopeful of a quick sale with, as he said pointedly that thee was ‘…so much to do…’. Putting the house up for sale had followed their joint handing in of notice which had shocked staff, students and administrators alike. They had both been at the college for longer than anyone could remember, part of the fixtures. The Head of School had been quite nasty, he’d already got the new prospectus ready with a big picture of Peter teaching, he told him some of the students were specifically choosing the college to be taught by him.

After it was done they had both felt a great weight had lifted. They’d also given their notice to the studio group, they were stalwarts of that as well, always paid on time, often paying over the odds so others without any cash could rent a studio. There were tears, especially for Marianne who helped so many people, been a great support, listened to problems and ideas, gave advice, seemed, as many people kept saying, a part of the fabric.

If they hadn’t known before, they knew now it was time to go.

The phone went again, it was Henry he was speaking from what sounded like a restaurant. Pete was fearful of questions about Constantine.

“Peter, I am having lunch with John and we were discussing the show…”

“I was working on that, sorting out some drawings” he wasn’t but Henry couldn’t see.

“Yes, we have started a list of who should be there. Bradford’s a bit hard for people to get to, but we should get a good turn out, especially if there’s new work on show”

“There may be some, certainly no one has seen the drawings, well only Mari….”

“Does that mean you’re working on a new piece?”

“I’m trying to do a portrait”

“Ah, right. Portrait? Who of?”

“Oh no one you’d know, more like a bringing together of bits from a persons life….” Peter was planning off the cuff, but it sounded a good idea as he talked it through and decided to continue with it when the call was finished.

“Oh, Henry, before you go. You remember all that stuff you got from Devon, boxes of papers and letters and things?”

“Ah, yes, it’s in the storeroom“

“Yes, can I take a look through, I’m interested, some names cropped up…”

“Fine, give Juliet a ring, she’ll sort it out. Can you come down next week?”

“Should be able to, Thursday?”

“Make it around eleven, we’ll have lunch”

Nothing about Constantine. ‘Good’ he thought.

Peter opened his diary and noted the date. It occurred to him that he hadn’t checked the dates in his mother’s bank book. He didn’t notice anything special, but he did note that a week before one payment Eva Wilson had visited him and he remembered with a shudder what Frank had said. He also remembered that she’d said she would visit his mother. Had she paid her? There’d been nothing in the papers, had Frank, no he wouldn’t be so stupid would he? Or had Frank given his mother money to keep quiet. It all sounded too silly, but his mother had been defensive when he asked her hadn’t she? He knew he must go and see Frank. He found the number and rang, Frank was out, he left a message with his secretary.

“That kid’s there again” Dave said to the guard who was going off duty, who stopped and looked at the monitor, Dave zoomed the camera in towards a teenager, “New jacket, but that’s him”

“Never seen him before. See you tomorrow, I’m knackered

The lad had stopped and was looking back up the road from where he’d come, Dave could tell he knew he was being watched on camera. He looked at the clock.

“Shit” he said out loud, and made sure a camera was turned towards the side door waiting for them to arrive. On the other screens he could see the lad looking at doorways, ‘probably looking for a good kipping site’ he muttered. He took no more notice and saw a big black Mercedes fill one of the screens. Dave took the huge bunch of keys and his long black torch, and set off to let them in.

“The car pulls up, each Thursday at 5.15, same entrance. Four weeks running. Driver gets out, helps a man out of the back into a wheelchair. From the boot the driver passes a dark leather bag to the man in the wheelchair, each time the same bag. He leaves the man in the wheelchair on the pavement as he goes inside the building for around thirty seconds, today forty eight seconds. The Driver returns and pushes the wheelchair into the building”, Philip said to himself as he stood in the shadow. He craned his neck as he couldn’t see where the driver went, if he got into a position where he could have, he’d have been seen on the cameras, he wasn’t quite sure if he wasn’t on one now. They were everywhere. He looked at his watch again and knew there was more pressing business, and slipped away and into the ocean of shoppers on Oxford Street.

“Are you OK mum?” Marianne asked on the phone.

“I’m all right, I’m off to see Colin take him some things”

“Has anyone been to see you?”

“Who? Why should they?”

“Well you know to sort out any problems, you know?”

“I’ve no problems” her mother said.

“We’ve sold the house”

“I suppose you’re pleased with that”

“Yes, it’s good to get things going”

“Well it was never like you were married was it?”

“Mum! We’re still together, I’m only going away for a while to work, that’s all, don’t you see?”

“Well I can’t see why you never got married like Colin. Normal people do”

Marianne didn’t want to say what she thought. She took a deep breath.

“Have you seen anything of Shirley and the children?” she asked.

“She wouldn’t dare show her face after all she said about Colin, it’s all her fault, how dare she”

“I thought she may have brought the kids around”

“No, she’s kept them to herself, too ashamed to come round here”

There was silence.

“I better let you go if you’ve got to get to see Colin”

“Are you visiting before you go?” her mother asked.

“Of course I am, it’s not for three or four months yet”

“I should think so, most daughters look after their mothers”

“Well I will visit in the next few weeks”

“And visit Colin?”

“We’ll see”

The phone went dead.

‘2698, 2698, 2698’, Philip repeated the numbers in his mind, ‘2698, 2698, 2698’.

He was walking with Lizzie to her flat after she had been to a cash machine. He had to keep repeating the numbers as his memory wasn’t as good as it used to be, he knew it was the drugs, strange, he felt fit and healthy, but memory was short.

“Will that be enough to cover the fees?”

“Oh yes, the centre costs two hundred a week, usually it’s paid for but this week…”

“That’s OK., as long as it makes you better”

‘2698, 2698, 2698’.

“Why did you leave Liverpool Road?”

“It didn’t do me any good, they talked rubbish” Philip saw colours in primary modes, a red bus glowed. It was all more real. Sharper. They walked on.

“You’ve got some new clothes and you’re getting thinner”, she’d never seen the leather jacket or the expensive trainers before. Lizzie noted that his hair was darker, greasy, his skin paler, with some sort of dermatitis, flaking skin on his neck, picked areas which looked sore. He used new words, new ways of saying things. Short stabbing sentences. He kept scratching his arms and had an abscess next to his ear.

‘2698, 2698, 2698, 2698’.

“Where are you staying?” she asked.

“It’s a special hostel, private, you know, not open to anyone, especially relatives, you know?” Philip had become a good liar, or so he thought, he was sometimes living at a house D rented, and needed at least a hundred pounds a day. Each day he’d feel sorry to wake up and knew that most of the day would be the struggle to find cash. A hundred a day was sometimes tough, today was difficult, but soon he’d have enough, perhaps enough to buy a share, become a dealer, not just a runner.

They reached the flat.

‘2698, 2698, 2698’.

If Tom was there it wouldn’t have worked, she’d said he wouldn’t be. He wasn’t.

“Do you want a coffee?”

“Yes, have you anything to eat?” Phillip asked.

“Beans on toast OK?”


Lizzie went in the kitchen. He turned the TV up. She’d left her bag on a chair. Inside was a plastic wallet, cash card, credit card, travel card. £45 in cash. Philip was out of the flat in seconds, and ran hard down the road to the bank.

‘2698, 2698, 2698’ he said under his breath as he ran.

Card in, 2698.


He pressed OK.

He knew her limit was £500, she’d taken £200 out already, so he’d try again after midnight to get more. He tried the same number on the credit card, yeah, great same number! He pressed £500, and heard the delicious sound of banknotes being counted out.


“Here’s your beans Phil”

The flat was empty. The door open.

“Ah well…” Lizzie sat down and began to eat. Then she noticed her bag was open. Her cards, her money gone. She was scared, if she told the bank Philip would get in trouble, but she needed them. She’d have to think of a story, there was a number somewhere. Tell Tom, no, he’d go to the police.

She sat awhile then rang the bank.

“I’ve lost my cards…”

They asked some security questions and she was passed to another person.

“Was your PIN number with the cards?”

“No, I memorised it 26.. something, sorry”

“Have you taken money out in the last hour?”

“I withdrew two hundred pounds about an hour and a half ago”

“Miss Watson three hundred pounds was withdrawn and your credit card shows a withdrawal of five hundred pounds”

“Ah, I…”

“We must ask you to inform the police, and we will pass the information to our Fraud Department”

“I really…”

“Have you any idea who did this? Is it someone you know Miss Watson? I would urge you…”

“I don’t….”

She put the phone down. Her eyes were full of tears. She knew Philip was back on the stuff, probably never been off, and it was her money paying for it, which made her feel worse. She cried, was sad, was angry. The phone went, it was the bank. She told them about Philip, she felt at least if he gets arrested he may get help. She felt bad, getting her brother into trouble. When Tom got back he told her she was right, Philip needed help, if he didn’t get caught he could soon be dead. She felt a Judas. Had she kissed him, she wasn’t sure.


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