Underpainting 28


Chapter 28 of Underpainting, my novel set in the early 1990’s. Blood and violence ensue! Previous chapters can be found on the link above or in the Categories section.


Chapter 28


It wasn’t often they went on holiday together, so it felt good to be away for a week. Away from all the sorting out, packing boxes, explaining to people that they weren’t really parting, even though both of them knew it could well be the end, or, as both liked to think, a new beginning.

Peter and Marianne were hot and tired from a long walk in Spanish sun. The grass was an oat brown, sky pure blue, not a cloud, and the only shade they could see was about another mile away. All they could hear was the low buzz of crickets and a faint sound of music and voices from a radio, even though there was no sign of a house.

“How’s Malcolm doing?”

“He seems OK last time I heard, signed himself out of hospital”

Malcolm had had an accident high up on the hill when planting trees, he’d lain for more than twenty hours unable to stand up properly, a nerve had got trapped in the base of his spine. He was taken to hospital. As soon as he could stand he discharged himself.

“Tough old bird”

“Who was that you were talking to before we came over, I thought we’d miss the plane”

It had been Eva Wilson.

“Oh only someone who’s involved in writing about me for the Bradford show”

They walked on.

Peter was quite shocked when Eva had rung him, he thought she’d ended up in a block of cement. She was now writing an article on him to come out at the time of the show and had asked if she could take it even further, perhaps a monograph. They both thought it a good idea. Peter had asked about the article on Frank Butter, she explained it hadn’t gone much further, the leads had disappeared and no, it wasn’t her who had contacted his mother.

They reached a small bridge.

Under it’s arch a stream was almost dried up, but the mud was still damp enough to cool the air. Peter and Marianne sat on two boulders and ate bread, smoked cheese, and chorizzo. Their water was now warm but enough for the journey.

“How much further?”

“About three maybe four miles, only the other side of the hill, look…”

Marianne showed Peter the map. Peter was hopeless with maps but Marianne loved them and was always quick to work out exactly where she was. She tried to explain the main features he could see and where they were on the map. He couldn’t see.

“They will be there won’t they?” he asked.

“You know as well as I do that if Angela says she’ll be somewhere she’ll be there, don’t worry”

Before they’d left Turnhill Angela had rung them, and by a coincidence their hotel was close to Ryan’s villa, where she and Ryan were going to do final preparations for their New Person Regeneration Centre. Neither Peter or Marianne were looking forward to seeing them but both were dying to get all the gossip even if neither would admit it.

What’s happened to Philip?”

“Well Lizzie told me he was back down in London causing all sorts of problems for her, stole her cards and money, she had to get the police involved”

“That was weeks ago, nothing new? It’s so sad, he was a nice little boy”

“I always thought he was like Bill…”


“Well, weak, he was never happy with where he was, what he was doing, you know, if he was playing with a toy car he wanted to play with a train?”

“Bill wasn’t like that?” Peter protested.

“Oh he was… You know yourself, all those students, the silly affairs, he could only deal with little girls, not grown women, couldn’t handle them, they questioned his life too closely, women could see through the beard and fake arty look, the rough language aimed to shock. Grown women wouldn’t see him as the great hero, just a sad actor. All that drinking… weak… he didn’t have the strength to say no, even when he must have known he was killing himself, no will power, took the easy way out…”

“Dying! Easy way out…”

“Yes, it was, it was much harder to dry out, sort himself out and take responsibility, look what he left Angela, five kids and a mountain of debt! No that is weakness, death was the easy way.”

“You sound like your mother” Pete said quite spitefully.

“I suppose I do, but he really should have sorted himself, for those kids if not for him…”

“My mother said I was getting like my father”

“Yes you are. Do we all end up like our parents?”

“God I hope not”

They sat in silence, enjoying the cool before the next instalment of torture. Peter couldn’t work out why he’d let himself be talked into walking from the village rather than take a taxi or hire a car, but Marianne had looked at the map and said it would be interesting countryside, which for the first mile it had been. Now it was desolate scrubland.


Philip pushed a knife up his sleeve, like he’d often done before. He didn’t want it to be seen too early. A camera panned to follow him, he stopped deliberately and pretended to tie a shoelace, the camera didn’t stop on him. His regular visits had made him invisible. Over the last few weeks he’d made sure he was seen on camera, stopping to look at things, carrying a case, dropping a box and picking it up, running, walking, reading the paper.

Today everything was ready. Clear as a crystal, sharp focus. Matt had given him some good stuff, stuff that makes you fearless. There was an ice cold boiling rush through his blood as it took hold. He felt he was watching himself in a film, he knew the plan would go right.

5.13, the car arrived.

A bit dustier than usual.

A tall blond driver got out, walked to the back of the car, opened the boot and took out a wheelchair, opened the nearside rear door and helped a man into it.

Same as last week and the week before.

No problem.

The man wore a dark heavy coat, that was different, but it was quite chilly today.

The driver went to the boot again and took out that same soft brown leather bag. Handed it to the man in the wheelchair.

Philip’s eyes zoomed in on this.

It felt even more like a movie.

The blond driver walked the short distance to the building, went out of sight.


Dave was waiting just inside the entrance. Sandor had rung from the car to say that there were two boxes to lift out of the car and he’d need his help. As he opened the security locks he glimpsed someone running fast, jump at Mr. Butter and slash at him with a blade.

“You little bastard!” he heard Frank Butter shout as he and his wheelchair went over on its side. The lad was running off with the brown leather bag. Frank Butter was sprawled on the pavement, blood coming from underneath him.

“You look after him!” Dave shouted to Sandor, “I’ll get the little cunt!”

Dave set off after the lad. He was fast. He dodged down an alleyway, through a courtyard, up some stairs, jumped on a wall then down over dustbins. Dave was about twenty yards behind, the lad knew that he was there and looked back once which slowed him for a second, it was the one with the jacket and trainers, a regular, must have been casing the place. The lad was slowing and Dave, who kept himself fit, catching up. Suddenly the lad stopped. Turned. The bag in his left hand, knife in his right. The blade glinted in the light, tarnished by Frank Butter’s blood. Dave stopped, the lad stared at him, he looked young, scared.

Philip knew he couldn’t get away.

Why does this stupid bastard keep following me?

Why bother it’s not his money?

Christ why had that man hung on to the bag?

I hadn’t wanted to cut him, but what else could I do?

It was all so clear until then, so why different today?

Those two should have been inside.

And the man.

He had to slice him, he wouldn’t let go. The look of hatred he’d given him. Philip’s heart pounded, the stuff was wearing off, his head thumped. And this bloke in the uniform, twice his size, staring at him.

Philip knew he had to go for it, no choice. He leapt forward, felt a sharp pain in his stomach, he felt sick, then a huge thump to his head, he saw blood, another crashing pain in his stomach, and he could hear loud thuds. He was now floating, watching a man in a blue uniform kicking him harder and harder, the rear of a hotel was sharply in focus, and he floated up and up into deep red clouds, then down a long white tube. Another sharp thud, but no pain now. There was a vast waterfall in his ears and yet so silent he heard a bird singing.

“Lizzie, are you OK?”

Rachel couldn’t make any sense of what was being said.

“It’s Philip. He’s in hospital, dangerously ill they said…”

“Is it an overdose?”

“No, no he was beaten up…”

“Beaten up?”

“I don’t know, that’s what they said…”

“Do you want me to come with you… to the hospital?”

“Oh would you? Tom’s away… please…” she was unintelligible again.

“I’ll come over, wait there. I won’t be long…”

“I can’t get hold of Queen Bee… they’re in Spain, I don’t know the number…”

Lizzie sounded like she was panicking.

“Lizzie, I’ll be over in ten minutes, OK?”

The phone was ringing as Angela, Ryan, Peter, and Marianne returned from the restaurant. Peter and Marianne had agreed to stay the night. It was a beautiful spot, overlooking a gorge full of dark green cypress and olive trees, the white houses of the village etched against them in Braque-like shapes, sea glinting in the distance. Now in the dark there were lights from windows glinting behind the trees, making the valley even darker, the top of the hills an even blacker shape than the night sky.

Angela came back, her face drained of colour.

“Are you OK Angie?” Ryan asked.

“It’s Philip. He’s nearly been beaten to death, that was Lizzie, she’s at the hospital”

Suddenly everyone was sober, concerned, ready to help.

“Did she say what injuries?”

“His ribs have shattered into his lungs, oh all sorts of things…”

They could see she was in shock. Marianne put her arms round her and led her to her room. Ryan rang the airport. He spoke fluent Spanish which surprised Peter.

“There’s some seats on an 8.15 flight in the morning, nothing earlier” Ryan informed Peter. Ryan busied himself getting passports ready, phoning the housekeeper and organising a taxi from Heathrow. Peter felt like a spare part and stared through the glass doors at the brightly lit swimming pool thinking of when Bill had been in hospital.

“We’ll have to go soon, what time do you make it Peter?”

“One thirty, how long does it take?”

“Three hours, maybe less”

“Are you OK to drive? I don’t think I drank as much”

“Oh yes, don’t worry. Look I’m sorry if this has spoilt things for you….”

“Don’t even think of it, you two get back and sort things out”

“You can stay on here if you like…”

No we’ll get back to the hotel, can you call us a taxi?”

“We’ll drop you, it’s on the way…”

In half an hour they were speeding down a dark smooth road across the plain towards the coast. They were silent, staring at nothing, thinking of everything.

In her sleep Rachel could hear knocking. It got louder and more intrusive. She realised it was at her door. She looked at the clock, ten forty five. She’d been up all night and had less than two hours sleep. She vowed to castrate the punter if it was one of those. She looked through the spyhole to see who it was, it was Paulette.

“We hadn’t….”

“Dave, your dad, he’s been arrested” Paulette intervened.

Ohhh shit” this was all she needed.


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