Once through customs Vincent gave the cabbie the address in Tribeca and sat back, tense and exhilarated, for the drive in. He’d never liked air travel particularly, but the journey on from the airport – that was different. The way it dropped you slap-bang into the kick and swell of life, after the enforced quiescence of the flight, and brought your heart rate up to the correct speed for wherever it was you’d arrived. Berlin, Jo’burg, Tokyo or New York.
He soon found himself sitting forward though, picking out sights as they went. The familiar clapboard houses, the awful, dull, desperate concrete-ness of it all. He barked out short laughs, where appropriate, at the cabbie’s lazy, practised monologue. Saw the empty shell and spindly concrete mushrooms of the State Pavilion. The Cinemascope ad screens on either side of the Long Island Expressway, lounging like poolside movie stars against the vertical spikes and slabs of Manhattan. The canals and waterways flashing with the last flat light of the dipping sun. The skyscrapers, as they approached and overtook him, changed from the stacked microchips they seemed from a distance to some other, more confusing trompe l’oeil constructions: patterned motorways leading to the heavens.
His hand on the bag on the seat beside him.
Through the tunnel, and they emerged into a magic land. Everywhere, people steaming along, or standing alert, as if somehow unconscious of the fact of being New Yorkers, but caught up in the workaday drama of it nevertheless. The late-shift delivery vans and street cleaners, home-going workers, breezy cyclists. He glimpsed the Empire State as they went left onto Bowery, craned ahead for a sight of the Woolworth Building.
It was six years since he’d last seen the apartment; two years at least since he’d last seen Justine; seven since Randall’s death. It was a sad, paper-thin irony that, after everything they had been through, in whatever configurations, it should have taken Randall’s death to put Vincent’s name next to Justine’s on an official document, as trustees of his estate, along with his London and New York dealers. How like him, Vincent thought, to create such an intricate cat’s cradle of obligations and tensions, and then step deftly out of it, leaving them all dumbly roped together, held in place around that central, sparkling absence.
Art is the occult practice of omnipresence, of getting in people’s faces when you’re not there to do it. A Randallism.
She had something to show him, she had said.
Well, he had something for her, too.
She hadn’t said what it was, and he had respected her reticence. It was something to do with Randall, that much was obvious, and something big, but he couldn’t guess what, hadn’t wanted to know, hadn’t pressed her on the phone, lest she relent and tell him what it was after all, dissolving at a stroke the need for him to even make the trip.
Now, though, he was here, and armed. He’d been torn as to whether he should do this, how she’d react, what he meant by it at all; it was abandoned, more or less, after all, and largely forgotten. But then the call, and the desire to see her; and the moment he had taken the pages from the printer it had felt right, appropriate to the matter in hand. To the historical past, and the artefacts that attest to it. To the physical fact of the work of art, stuck there in the world.
At the building he paid the cabbie and let the doorman take his case. He was expected, no need to phone ahead. He followed him along to the lift. The last in a line of four, it went straight up to the penthouse.
Vincent took his stand in the middle of its mirrored quadrangle, bag over his shoulder, the hard-shell case at his side, and stared out his own reflection as the machine took him up.
When he stepped out into the lobby she was there.
‘Vincent,’ she said.
He abandoned the case, leaving it to rock on its wheels as he stepped into her embrace. There was a split second – he could feel it, even as their bodies came together – when it could have been a brief, token hug. But it held, and lengthened, as if some mechanism had stalled, a cog slipped, or as if the muscle memory had taken over, overriding the social niceties and laying them void.
He shunted his chin minutely on her shoulder, until it found its place. He didn’t want to even breathe. His nose in her hair; his arms spanning her back, one over her shoulder, the other under her arm. Her breasts pressed between them, a barrier, or the opposite of a barrier. It was incredible to have her against him again. The fit of them, even after all these years; the unchanged drop of the nape of her neck; the electric scent of her hair, as it fell over her ears; the way that, after a long moment, that he would have had still longer, she moved her hands to his arms, just above his elbows, and gave him two brief squeezes there, the signal to disengage: all these things moved him.
He stood back and took her in anew. Their eyes flicked across each other’s features, scanning and assessing, logging the sly depredations of age. He was aware of being hugely affected by the lessening of her beauty. It had not gone so much as tilted in the light, lengthening like a shadow at evening. There was this thing about the light of autumn, for Randall – and, ever after, for Vincent, too – the way it came low over the landscape, strafing it, throwing every blade of grass into relief. Well, now it was happening to them.
He smiled, and she smiled too, each letting their own, particular version of happiness play out across their face.
‘It’s good to see you,’ she said.
‘You know, that’s just what I was thinking. It is so good to see you. You’re looking wonderful, by the way.’
She said, ‘Thank you,’ in that strange, impossibly knowing way she had, that he’d never got to the bottom of, as if she was responding to what he’d meant to say, rather than to the words he actually managed to get out.
‘Come on in. How was the flight?’
‘The flight was fine.’
‘And thank you for coming so quickly.’
Vincent made a hopeless gesture, that did little more than betray the obvious fact that thanks were beside the point, that he’d have rowed across the Atlantic in a kayak if she’d only asked, but thankfully she’d already turned and was leading him through into the entrance hall that opened on to the great lightbox of the apartment.
Apartment: it was too small a word. Justine and Randall’s loft was a modernist cathedral that had settled atop a brownstone, a world-class gallery that someone had happened to roll a few pieces of furniture into, as if for an art installation. He’d been here before, of course, and chanced across it plenty of times in magazine spreads and books, but even then, in reproduction, it never failed to astonish, to gladden him. Not that he could have lived somewhere quite so dramatically, forbiddingly perfect himself, but he was pleased that someone he knew did, and that he could be persuaded to feel at home there.
He walked towards the nearest window, those massive floor-to-ceiling sheets of glass that made of the city just another work, another piece in the curatorial scheme. Manhattan: rising from the ground like a manifold shout, an endlessly complex, endlessly extended chord. The myriad lights. The hollowing dark of the Hudson. The sky, purpling to night.
He turned back to the room. Yes, it had changed, a little, from how he remembered it. Yes, it was still the same. Still Randall’s, full of his presence. There, dominating one side of the space was his Mental Mickey, the huge angry cartoon mouse bursting out of the wall, manfully huddling a swaddled baby the size of a golf bag in its bright yellow arms.
Justine was at the kitchen counter, making them both drinks. Vincent looked to her, as if asking for permission – and she nodded, as if permission were needed – and he headed over, letting down his shoulder bag onto a sofa as he passed.
He stood under the mouse and looked up at it. It was just a maquette, a third of the size of the final piece, but still it was immense, incredible. The bodywork was just as vivid as he remembered it, as if it had been resprayed, which made no sense. He went up on tiptoes and reached to brush his fingers along the creature’s fibre-glass leg, raised for its leap through the wall.
Justine came over with the drinks and he struck a pose under the sculpture, making like a tourist.
‘Good to see it again?’
He took his drink, they clinked glasses, a little awkwardly, and he drank, watching her over the rim. She had become, he decided, more glamorous than ever. There were wrinkles under the powder, but each wrinkle was, like the sparrows to god, known, cared for, indulged.
The drink went down well, vodka-tonic with lime, all the better for being remembered. He had his hand up on the leg above his head and he knocked his fist on it, for the low hollow sound of it.
‘Like an old friend,’ he said.
‘Nothing wrong with old friends. Plenty of them around.’
‘We can do the tour if you want.’
So, whatever it was that he’d been summoned here to see, he noted with pleasure, it wasn’t so urgent that it ruled out the observance of a certain patient decorum, a decorum that played out somewhat like flirtatiousness.
She gestured for him to walk with her, and they went at gallery pace, taking in the wall-hung pieces, the floor-standing sculptures, the vitrines and display cases. It was an awe-inspiring collection, if not quite in the top fifty private collections in the US, then certainly the country’s best collection of British contemporary art. There was a Kevin, of course, a Crag-Martin, a Gary Hume. He spotted one of Tanya’s pieces from the boat show, for the Great Day of Art, a threaded pillar of multi-coloured fabric winding up seven feet from the ground like an Indian rope trick, complete with its crucial, vicious splatters of paint.
‘Ah yes,’ he said, mock-earnestly. ‘A historic piece.’
‘I quite like it, actually.’
She was serious, he saw.
‘Well,’ she said. ‘It wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, would it? Despite everything.’
She linked her arm through his, and they moved on.
‘Seriously though, I do worry sometimes that I’m gradually erasing him from the place. The last thing I want is to end up living in a mausoleum.’
He nodded at the trio of canvases set dramatically in the centre of the far wall, that they’d been heading towards all along, that dominated the room from this end as the mouse did from the other. A Bacon pope, a Warhol electric chair, a Koons.
‘Aha,’ he said. ‘The competition.’
‘Indeed. You know they’re the only things that have stayed put, right from the word Go. Everything else was just: schoom-schoom-schoom. You’d just get used to something, then, bam! There he’d be, with his Oompa-Loompas, manhandling a dozen more bubble-wrapped monsters out into the middle of the room.’
They stood in front of the three paintings. Justine laughed, a soft breath of remembrance. ‘Lining them up and then walking up
and down in front of them, like some, I don’t know…’
‘Like a sergeant major on the parade ground, inspecting the new recruits.’
‘Yes, exactly. Or a merchant in an Egyptian slave market, choosing girls for his harem. Lifting their chins, checking their teeth. Matt, bring over the Kippenberger. Go there, next to Nuala. Now, both of you, go and stand over there by the Goldins.’
She was doing his voice, the gruff yowl of it, with the hint of a Brummie burr that he’d managed, by the end, to erase completely. He spoke, trying to match it.
‘The cataclysmic juxtaposition.’
‘You thought he wanted them to climb down off the wall and have it out with each other, right there in the middle of the floor. Warhol versus Koons. Sargent versus, I don’t know, Hockney. Ding-ding, round one.’
‘Or like wrestling, American TV wrestling, when the referee wades in and starts bashing the contestants.’
He leaned in look at the paintings more closely and she let him, their arms still linked at the elbow. He enjoyed pulling forward, feeling her resistance, enough not to get dragged along with him, not enough to break the connection.
‘And you’re still buying new stuff?’
‘Hardly ever. Carl gives me the nod ever so often, some bright young thing he insists would go in the collection just so, but my heart’s not in it.’ She shrugged. ‘Really he just wants the name on the chit.’
‘I had to put a stop to it. I was just buying up old stuff. Like some old sod trying to complete his vintage Hornby collection.’
They passed a bronze torso he couldn’t place, with feathers and what looked like drinking straws protruding from its sides; a pair of stacked breeze-block plinths each displaying a Sarah Lucas Nud, as grotesquely erotic as ever; a photograph of someone’s foot, stuck directly on to a wide column with pins – a Tillmans?
They had worked their way back towards the entrance, to where the apartment extended beyond it, to the south. There, only now coming into view, on one of the interior walls, and positioned so that you wouldn’t see it unless you’d been led there, Vincent saw something that stopped him.
It was a Sunshines. He moved without thought, going straight towards it, saying ‘Oh my’ as he went. It was, he knew instinctively and immediately, from the size of it, and the palette, one of the originals, the absolute originals: a self-portrait from Gina’s studio, that first time. And just not one of. The original. Randall’s own.
‘Good God, Justine. Where did you get this?’ He turned towards her. ‘Is this what you wanted to show me?’
‘No. No, it’s not.’
He looked at her and she shrugged.
‘Turns out we had it all along,’ she said. ‘He found it I guess a year before he died, wrapped up in one of the warehouses, but I didn’t get around to hanging it until recently. You recognise it?’
‘Do I? God, Justine. I haven’t seen this in, what, twenty-five years.’
Its smallness was what struck him at first. Four by three, at most. Its delicacy, too. Mental Mickey shone as bright as it ever did, but this, for all its exuberant slamming together of colours, seemed unassuming, almost drab. Properly lit, the lurid lime green splodge, smeared across its orange background, would be acutely, eye-grabbingly unpleasant. Leaving it like this allowed the colour to hedge into the background.
The patina of the ink, up close, was what set it apart from the obvious Warhol comparisons. There was something almost visible, being dragged along under the surface. He thought of sand at low tide, how it lay in ripples and ridges, dragged grain by grain into a particular arrangement by the departing sea.
He shook his head, as if in disbelief.
‘What are you thinking?’
She was right next to him, and he had to suppress the impulse to take hold of her, to squeeze her arm, or drag her against him, or into him; to butt his head into her body, her shoulder, her breasts: anything to get across that what he was thinking wasn’t the half of it. He contented himself with blinking and pulling a face, an attempt to fit all of this into his expression – or the sense of the scale of it, of the inexpressibility of it: of seeing it, and her, and this place.
She stayed silent, letting him look. Then, eventually, she said:
‘Have you seen you, then, recently?’
‘How do you mean? His one of me?’
‘Not in ages. There’s Jan’s one in Amsterdam, of course. But that’s been years. And the other one of me, that went to Sheikh Hamad, I guess that’s still in Qatar. I should have bought it when I could. No way I’ll ever be able to afford it now.’ The thought jumped in his mind and he looked at her. ‘You haven’t found another one, have you? Of me? That’s not what this is?’
She smiled, shook her head.
‘Ah well.’ He realised he was blushing.
They ate at the large glass table by the kitchen, with its vases of delicate, dipping red flowers and oriental lilies. The conversation stuck to safe topics, careful questions answered in considered, uncomplicated terms. He asked about Joshua, and she told him he was well; better, really, than he’d ever been, both health-wise and happiness-wise. Living in Brooklyn, and in his first year at the New York Film Academy, though he still had his room here and usually spent a night or two with her every week or so. Very much fallen in with the art crowd, quite funny really. All DUMBO and Williamsburg and beyond. No doubt he’d drop by at some point. She talked a little about the consultancy, the time she spent in Japan, less each year, the work she did for the Zen Temple here.
When he talked of his life, he didn’t mention the manuscript, instead evoking a quiet existence of gym, golf, the villa outside Montalcino, the uninvolving day or so a week his directorships demanded, a bland roll-call of unengaging social engagements.
Afterward, she made coffee and carried it to the set of sofas by the north-facing windows. He sat down, with his bag beside him, and took out the leather wallet. He waited until she looked up from pouring the coffee, then he said, ‘I’ve brought something for you. Something that I want you to see.’
‘What’s this, then?’ she said, passing him a cup.
He took the cup and wondered, as he held out the wallet in return, if he couldn’t discern the first glancing edge of falseness in her voice.
She took it and turned it in her hands, looking up at him enquiringly. It occurred to him: she already knows what it is.
‘It’s just something I’ve been working on,’ he said, ‘In my spare time.’ He was aware suddenly of how fast he was talking. ‘Spare time, being, obviously, something of an asset right now. I should have had it wrapped for you, or found a box or something for it, some tissue paper.’
She smiled, then opened the flap and edged out the block of paper.
He cleared his throat. ‘I’ve been trying to write about Randall. Just, you know, what happened. What it was like, the whole mad thing.’
This time she didn’t look at him, but took up the first page. He craned his neck to follow her eyes. The text on the cover sheet seemed awfully big: ‘Everywhere I Look: A Memoir of Randall’ it read, and, underneath, ‘By Vincent Cartwright.’ In fact, he had been in two minds as to whether to include a title like that at all, but it seemed wrong not to have anything, to just thrust your words without warning into someone’s face.
‘It’s not very… I mean, it’s not finished or anything. It’s a bit weird, I suppose.’
‘Wow. How long have you been doing this? Have you got a publisher, or an agent or something?’
‘God, no. It’s not at that stage, nowhere near. I don’t even know why I’m doing it, really. But, well, I wanted you to see it.’
She looked at him, then looked at the next page. He could read, or recognise, the words, upside down. ‘The first time I laid eyes on Ian Randall Timkins, better known to the world as simply Randall, the most celebrated and reviled artist of the 90s and 00s…’
He felt his confidence wash from him. Whenever he had thought about this moment, even just hours ago, on the flight over, it had always been the handing over that he imagined. The gift of it, the revelation. As if two hundred pages of prose could be taken in at a glance, like you take in a piece of art in a gallery. The thought of her actually reading it was, he realised, agonising. She might even want to read some of it right now. Or, worse still, feel obliged to do so.
She skimmed a moment, then flicked on a page, then ten, then opened the sheaf at halfway – the soft sound of paper falling against itself – and scanned what she found there. Then she replaced the top half of the stack.
‘Vincent, thank you. I’m going to have to read this properly.’
She rested her palm on the top sheet, a gesture of benediction, or containment, then sat herself upright, stretching her back, and looked straight at him.
‘But maybe I’d better show you first what it was I wanted you to see.’
‘Okay,’ he said. He said it slowly, dragging the word out. He didn’t want to appear too casual, but nor did he want to leave himself exposed. It might not be that important at all. Or else it might.
She put the manuscript down on the table, then got up. He followed her across the main living area of the apartment into a corridor on the opposite side from the entrance, that led to a large office. There were computer desks and high shelves stacked with books and box files and other random objects. In the middle of the room stood a large architect’s cabinet with six drawers and, for its top, a square lightbox, its surface cloudy and opaque.
She unlocked the cabinet, then took from the top drawer a portfolio, four or five feet long on its longest side, which she placed on top of the cabinet.
She undid the zip which ran along three of its sides, then paused and looked at him. He gave her a look of bemused encouragement, and put on his glasses, to show he was ready. Her smile back was short and tight, like the smile of someone struggling with a key in a lock. It said that what was coming was important, after all, and probably not a thing to smile about. He went on smiling, to show that he understood, that that was fine.
But still, he thought, he wanted this to be over, whatever it was. He wanted to go back and find the ambiguous, fuzzily significant mood of the evening so far, that seemed to have vanished all of a sudden. He wanted to tell her that, whatever it was, it didn’t matter – that it was her he had come to see, not this thing of Randall’s. That, much as he loved his friend, and honoured him, nothing to do with him could mean as much to him, now, as he felt that she did, or might again.
She laid the portfolio open. In it was paper – works on paper, big sheets, a number of them, covered with a gauzy protective sheet. She turned the whole thing on the light box so it was facing him, then lifted away the top sheet.
It was a watercolour, barely smaller than the portfolio, rough at the edges and curling slightly along one axis. It was a portrait, a nude: it was a woman sitting on a bed, hands between her legs, holding apart the folds of her cunt.
Vincent looked up at Justine, giving himself only enough time to see if she was looking at him. She was. He looked back down, and felt the familiar, creeping sensation of vertigo, of being put on the spot. He forced himself to look harder, to see the painting. It could have been Schiele, could have been Freud, a sicker, more morbid Freud. The aggressive, angular style that chipped away at her flesh. The dark, deliberate lines of what was probably pen ink following the edges of her limbs, that bled slightly into the pale wash of the paint.
He reached out and held a finger so it wobbled just merely above the surface of the painting.
‘What is this?’ he said, sounding almost angry. ‘You’re not telling me this is him, are you?’
Justine did not answer his question, but shifted the painting sideways onto the open lid of the portfolio, then the next protective sheet, to expose the next piece. It was her – it was Justine – on her knees on a bed, the same anonymous rumpled bed as the first one; he noticed the sheets, the dishwater grey for the material and dark inked cracks for their creases. Randall couldn’t have done it, he thought, it was too good. Could he?
She was leaning on her elbows with her face resting on her fists, eyes bulging and tongue lolling like a dog’s. The artist had lingered on the face, working the paint to blend the red of the cheeks into the other features. It was grotesque. A plump, happy Justine, as doughy and plain as the first woman was squeezed and twisted. Behind her, barely filled out by comparison, a cartoon, was Randall, one foot up on the bed, hands pressing down on her arse, neck tendons straining and face uplifted in the agony of release. A third figure stood watching, sketched in pencil only.
‘Justine, you’re going to have to help me out here.’
She held his gaze and shifted the second picture, to show the third.
‘Bloody hell,’ he said, catching the edge of a laugh.
He was looking at a pen and ink drawing of himself. Himself, fucking Randall. Randall standing with one foot up on a chair, while he – Vincent – worked and pushed at him from behind, hands tight around his waist, forcing him up on his toes. The Randall figure was arching away from him, his fingers splayed in stiff bony bridges against a wall not shown, as if they could conduct along them and discharge the pain explicit in his face and his posture. The look on his own face was, horribly, one of eager surprise. He was twisting to look around from the back, his face aglow like a child at Christmas, for the sight of the presents heaped up under the tree.
Vincent put his hand to the sheet again, and shifted it, hearing the sound it made against the sheet underneath.
‘How many of these are there?’ he said. ‘Here? I’ve got about ten of them here.’
‘Here? There are more?’
‘Oh yes, Vincent. There’s more.’
He closed his eyes, and spoke, clearly and deliberately.
‘Look, just to be a fucking idiot for a moment. Are you seriously telling me these are his?’
And he opened his eyes.
‘As far as I can tell, yes, they’re his. That’s why I wanted you to see them. I wasn’t about to trot off down to Christie’s with them, was I?’
‘Sure. But did you know he was doing these?’
‘Of course I didn’t know he was doing them,’ she said, evenly. ‘I only found out they existed four days ago. And well, look, do you know who she is?’ She shifted the pictures to point to the first one, the woman on the bed.
‘No. Should I?’
‘It’s Con Eckhart.’
‘Con Eckhart at Sotheby’s?’
‘Yes, well. Let’s see who else we have here.’ Justine covered up Con Eckhart with herself and Randall, then Randall and him. Underneath was a naked man standing, one hand resting on the hilt of a huge medieval broadsword that he was holding point down next to him, while two women knelt before him, mouths open to accept his cock. The man was Albi Reinger, one of Randall’s most loyal European collectors. One of the women was Raissa Hansel. The other was Maria Bergqvist from the Serpentine. The next picture showed a three-way arrangement between Robert Rauschenberg, Fi McKenna and Carl, Randall’s US dealer, each with a hand inserted to the wrist into one of the others’ mouth, anus or vagina.
What he was looking at, if it was by Randall, was incredible. It was a million things, but the thing that it was before it was any- thing else was incredible. This isn’t what he did. Or rather, this is exactly what he did, but not like this.
The paper shifted, and he was looking at a most strange composition, with Loretta Reis, who’d dedicated so many New York Times column inches to castigating him – squatting over a recumbent Randall like an imp out of Goya, one hand around his erect penis, the other holding back her hair so she could look out at the viewer, while she pissed in a soft sputtering stream into Randall’s open mouth. Looking on, wearing a shirt and tie but naked from the waist down, and masturbating with characteristic reserve, was Jan de Vries.
No one would believe it. Except that belief didn’t come into it. This was him, it was him through and through.
He looked up at her.
‘Has Carl seen these?’
‘Vincent, please. He’s the last person I’d show them to.’ She leaned towards him, over the portfolio, spacing the words. ‘The only people who have seen these paintings are you and me.’
He turned back to the remaining pictures. They showed similar couplings and combinations, and though he didn’t allow himself to linger he gradually began to accept how good they were: the colouring, and the line. Were they Randall? Or could he have got someone else to do them, to his instructions? He put his hand to the face of Florian Duerr, from Art Basel, thrown back in wavering ecstasy as Randall and Tom Nasmith each bit down on one of his nipples. It wasn’t just that they were so grossly, venomously offensive, but that they were so embarrassingly intimate. They had none of the too-good-to-be-true verisimilitude of photo-realism, that let you doubt it because it seemed so real. This was rough, and immediate, and it was impossible to believe they weren’t from life.
He slid Duerr over, and there – it was the last one in the pile, or the next to last – was Randall, alone, masturbating, his right leg raised and his left arm arced over his head, like he was doing some demonic monkey dance. He thought of Hindu deities, Shiva or Kali. Kali, for the gargoyle face, similar to the one Randall had given Justine in the other picture, deliberately making himself look foul and ridiculous.
He laughed, and slid that one aside.
Under it was a painting of Vincent himself and Justine.
He felt the skin on his temples tighten, a rush of something leaving or passing though his head.
They were fucking against a wall, she flopped forward on to it, torso and belly pressed flat, and arms stretched out above her head. She looked fat, the round weight of her near-most arm half hiding her face. He was behind her, his arms reaching around her body, hands cupping her breasts, even as she used her breasts to squash his hands against the wall. His bent knees pushing into the backs of her calves, forcing up her buttocks towards him. His face on her back, skin against skin, turned sideways towards the viewer, the painter. Both of them with their eyes closed and their mouths open and trying, at least, for happiness.
She came around the table to stand next to him.
‘Beautiful, isn’t it,’ she said.
He laughed again, from relief. ‘Yes, I suppose it is.’
He touched the painting, then went to realign the last one, of Randall, so he could look at them together. The sound of the grain of the paper as it slid, sifting, across the one beneath.
‘Well, Justine. I don’t know what to say. They’re quite extraordinary.’
‘These are sketches.’
‘Sketches? How do you mean?’
‘The real ones are in oils.’
‘The real ones?’
‘Oils and acrylics. There are over forty of them.’
‘Fuck me. Where?’
He caught the smile as it twisted itself in the corner of her mouth. She looked down and began sorting the watercolours back into one pile.
‘Well, yes. Not here. I’ll show you tomorrow. Sixty watercolours, hundreds of drawings, thirty or forty major works, some of them six by ten.’
‘Christ. I don’t know what to say. And they’re all…’
‘Yes. They’re all like that.’
‘Fuck me, has he left anybody out?’
‘No. I think it’s fair to say that anybody who could possibly be offended by them, by what they show, and what they seem to say, is in there. Now then.’ She closed the folder and put it back in its drawer, then locked it and pocketed the key. ‘Would you like another drink? I’d like another drink.’
He got halfway to the door, then stopped.
‘Are they good though?’ he said, and he heard the husk in his voice, how it nearly gave way to something else. ‘I mean, these are good, but could he paint? Really?’
‘Oh, he could paint alright.’ Then, quietly, ‘Some of them are quite magnificent.’
She switched off the light and stood, holding the door open for him.
‘Justine,’ he said, and she tipped her head on one side, to show he had her attention. ‘You know that thing I gave you to read?’ She nodded. ‘You’re not going to read it, are you?’
‘Not if you don’t want me to.’
‘No, I don’t. I don’t want you to. Don’t read it.’
‘Okay, I won’t.’