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Authors: Natasha Cooper

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BOOK: A Place of Safety
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Without those details, Toby still believed he might have followed the original line of never admitting anything. He’d still be safe. He wouldn’t have been forced to pretend the blackmailers’ faked de Hooch was part of the Gregory Bequest collection, and he wouldn’t be sitting on five million pounds of
their money now, ready to buy the next forgery they wanted to establish as genuine.
At least the de Hooch had been reasonably convincing. It was one of his many nightmares that they would force him to bid – in public – for something that wouldn’t deceive a child. When he’d first understood what Ben was going to make him do, he’d tried to recommend a restorer who could be relied on to produce a really top-class job. Ben had laughed and told him they were much further on than that and had already got their fakes ready and waiting to be fed on to the market.
Who was he working for? The whole of the London art world had been worried for years about the supply of old masters dwindling to nothing, but Toby couldn’t think of anyone with the brazen dishonesty – or the balls – to dream up something like this.
Everything about the operation was clever. Even he had to admit that. And picking a middle-ranking expert like him to add legitimacy to the fakes had been the masterstroke. He had just enough influence to carry the right weight, but none of the security that would have allowed him to tell them to bugger off when they’d first tried to blackmail him into working for them.
Jo was moving about in the outer office now, probably getting ready to go out to lunch. As far as he could tell, she did less and less work every day, as though she’d sensed his ever-growing vulnerability.
‘Have you finished those letters yet?’ he called through the closed door, to re-establish his authority.
There was no answer, so he went out to see what she was up to, and asked the question again.
‘Nearly,’ she said, but she didn’t look round from her computer screen. He saw there was a half-typed letter on it, which was something. But she’d probably spent all morning chatting to
her mates on the phone, stopping all the important calls coming through, and leaving her work untouched.
‘Well, hurry them up. They’re urgent. And don’t forget to run the spell-check this time. You know you always make mistakes, and you’ll only have to print all the letters out again if you don’t correct them on the screen first.’
As she turned to look at him, he flinched at the fury in her eyes.
‘I am the best secretary you have ever had, or are likely to have,’ she said. ‘So stop making excuses to blame me for whatever it is that’s eating you.
I
am not the problem.’
Toby hadn’t the energy to deal with her now.
‘I’m going down to the basement,’ he said, turning away. ‘Buzz me on the internal phone when you’ve finished the letters or if my call comes through.’
 
There were only a few barristers in the clerks’ room when Trish got back to chambers, but even one would have been enough to stop her going in. She couldn’t have her rivals knowing that her only brief at the moment was Tamara O’Connor’s tiresome bail application this afternoon. As she passed the open door, she overheard Steve talking to young Sam Makins about one of his other cases.
‘And if you get stuck, talk to Trish Maguire. She dealt with the family for years and knows the background.’
‘OK,’ Sam said in the husky voice that sounded as though he must get through at least forty full-strength cigarettes a day. In fact Trish had never seen him smoke anything while he was her pupil, and his skin had always had the taut clear look that came from perfect health and fitness.
‘As you know, she’s good,’ Steve went on. ‘Anything she says is worth listening to.’
That’s something, Trish thought, moving quietly on down the corridor. Maybe Steve will get me more real work soon. And
with luck he’ll get a move on with calling in all the unpaid fees. Otherwise I won’t be able to pay my January tax bill. Or David’s next set of school fees.
In her own room, she sat down, trying not to resent the fact that her father had left her with all the responsibility for his son. A DNA test had proved Paddy’s paternity, and yet he had never agreed even to meet David.
Trish knew perfectly well that she had played a part in his stubbornness, but, at the time, she hadn’t understood what she was doing. She’d been trying to put it right ever since, but so far Paddy had held out against her, as well as leaving her to pay all the bills.
‘All the more reason to find out what Henry Buxford wants to know quickly,’ she muttered, opening up her laptop and plugging in the modem.
Even so, there didn’t seem any point going back to the gallery this morning, now that she knew the director wasn’t going to faint at her questions about the de Hooch – or answer them. With luck she would learn something useful from the papers Buxford had promised to send her. Once she’d read them, she could try interrogating Toby Fullwell again. You always got more out of people if you had a few facts to use as a lever.
The first email she read was from George, saying simply: ‘You haven’t forgotten dinner at the Carfields tonight, have you? Do you want me to collect you or shall we meet there? They live on the river, just by Tate Modern.’
Sighing, Trish clicked on ‘Reply’ and told him she’d meet him there, if he’d send her the address. That way, neither of them need hold the other up if work got in the way.
She had never met their hosts and didn’t like going to formal dinners in the middle of the week, but Jeremy Carfield was the founder of a huge software company and one of George’s biggest clients, so he had to be kept sweet. And it wasn’t as if she had to get up early to work on any case papers now.
Knowing that George would forget to buy them anything, she made a mental note to get something herself. Wine would be insulting and silly for a man as rich as Carfield, she thought, and chocolates were a bit ordinary. Flowers might be all right, except that they always got in the way when hosts were busy greeting their guests and pouring drinks. The whole business of giving presents to people who didn’t need them and would probably recycle them or take them to a charity shop irritated her, but everyone else did it, so she had to join in.
Her phone rang. It was Steve, wanting to know whether she could accept a brief for a dispute between a catering company and some manufacturers of kitchen equipment. It sounded small and deadly dull, and it was going to be heard in Guildford of all places, but at least it was something.
‘All right.’
‘Good,’ he said, adding as a reward for obedience: ‘There’s more in the pipeline. I’ll put the papers in your pigeonhole. You’ve already got a bunch of personal stuff in it. You ought to come and empty it. It’s messy when it overflows and you know I don’t like mess in the clerks’ room.’
There was the faintest hint of a smile on Trish’s lips as she put down the phone. Now that no one would think she was hanging around in the hope of picking up some crumbs from the silks’ table, she didn’t mind going in to collect her post.
Her pigeonhole wasn’t quite overflowing, but it was full. There was the traditional pink-tied brief for the catering dispute, as well as a bunch of ordinary-looking post and an expensive, stiff cream-coloured document envelope with her name and address in equally expensive handwriting. This must be Buxford’s information about the Gregory Bequest.
A quick look at the catering company dispute told her she need not start on that yet. She almost wrenched her forefinger from its socket as she ripped open the envelope, so thick was the
paper. As she slid out the neat pile inside, she saw a handwritten note on the top.
Dear Trish,
Thank you for agreeing to take this on. As you will see from the board meeting minutes and the other documents, the whole business of the trust is very simple. But if there is anything you need to ask, please don’t hesitate.
Yours ever,
Henry
Nice and clear, she thought, but then it would be. Anyone with his responsibilities would have learned long ago to waste neither time nor words. She turned quickly through the top sheets, adding each one to the neat pile when she’d finished with it.
In the past she had had to discipline herself to keep her papers tidy; now it was second nature. She could work much more quickly with neat, clearly identified bundles than with the mess she’d allowed herself in her early days.
The first interesting item was the probate valuation of Helen Gregory’s estate after her death in 1969. Trish saw that she had had very little money, and her only assets had been her house and its contents. As Henry had said, the valuers hadn’t thought much of the paintings, but the phrasing they had used struck Trish as unnecessarily contemptuous:
‘Sundry cardboard tubes containing oil paintings of doubtful provenance and value. Those examined proved to contain nineteenth-century copies in the style of various well-known artists. Notional value one thousand pounds.’
A yellow Post-It stuck to this had another handwritten note from Henry: ‘Even the experts can sometimes get it wrong!’
There was also a copy of Helen Gregory’s will, leaving everything she possessed to her only son, Ivan, without specifying
what that was. Below the will came the documents drafted to set up the trust, which were a great deal more professional than the first probate valuation. That, too, was typical of Henry Buxford.
Trish turned on to see the advertisement that had been sent to all four broadsheet newspapers, inviting applications from men or women suitably qualified to be director of the collection, Toby Fullwell’s letter and c.v., a copy of the trustees’ letter appointing him, and his contract. Below those were his preliminary report of the state of the collection and second opinions from other experts on some of the most important paintings, including the Rembrandt.
All the other experts agreed that it was indeed genuinely by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, even though it was painted on canvas and not on panel. Trish learned to her surprise that canvas, being so much cheaper than wood, had rarely been used at that date except for copies, but that in this case the X-rays had confirmed that the painting was indeed the master’s own work.
Apart from the probate valuation and the brilliance of the deal Buxford had negotiated with the Inland Revenue once he and the other trustees had discovered some of the gems in the collection, there weren’t many surprises in the papers he had sent. Trish read on for the rest of the morning, making notes at intervals and listing the very few questions that occurred to her.
She was taken aback by the price of expert restoration of old masters, but compared with the sums Antony Shelley, for example, cost his clients it wasn’t so much. And she was surprised by the amount of freedom the board had given Toby Fullwell.
In the minutes of the latest board meeting, she read his report of the sale of the de Hooch. She couldn’t see anything in it, or anywhere else in the papers, to make her doubt what Toby had said or give any reason for the fear Buxford thought he had seen.
‘And yet he must know what’s he talking about. He’s spent his whole adult life assessing other people,’ Trish muttered, moving on to the next sheet in the bundle. ‘And he must have terrified enough young bankers in his time to know fear when he sees it.’
‘What’s that? Talking to yourself again?’
She didn’t need to look up to know that the gibe had come from Robert Anstey, her biggest rival in chambers. He was doing his best to achieve the kind of reputation Antony Shelley had as one of the most brilliant generalists at the Bar, accepting cases of all sorts. Trish occasionally wondered whether her determination to keep her practice entirely commercial was quite sensible, but she wasn’t going to let Robert see any of her doubts. Or let him know how little work she had at the moment.
‘Did I disturb the great brain with my chatter?’ she said, making her expression wide-eyed and innocent. ‘So sorry. Now I come to think of it, I’m glad you dropped in. There’s something I wanted to ask you.’
‘You’re not telling me that you’ve finally come to accept the fact that I really do know more than you, are you, Trish? Wonders will never cease.’
‘Yes, Robert, amazing though it may seem, there are some things you have that I do not.’ She watched him preen. ‘You were at Cambridge, weren’t you?’
‘I was. I’ve always felt sorry for people who had to go to one of those ghastly red-brick horrors. Oh, God! Trish, I’m so sorry. I keep forgetting that you’re one of them. How awful of me!’
She gave him a look that should have reduced him to ash but only made him giggle.
‘You must be much the same age as a bloke called Toby Fullwell. I don’t suppose you remember him, do you?’
‘Vaguely. He was friends with a flamboyant chap called Peter Chanting, and everyone knew
him.
But they mixed with an arty
crowd. Not really my sort. How have you come across Fulwell? He’s not a client, is he?’
‘No. But I’ve been reading about this rather glamorous little gallery he runs,’ Trish said, knowing how Robert hated hearing about other people’s successes and hoping that would make him talk. ‘He seems on the young side for quite so much responsibility, so I was wondering how he’d done it. You must remember something about him.’
‘Not a lot. He was a nonentity who ran about doing favours for rich blokes in the hope they’d pay some of his bills. I don’t think it worked, except with Peter Chanting, who was grateful enough to stump up for Toby to join him on an exotic trek one summer. Tibet or Kathmandu or something.’
‘That sounds pretty generous.’
Robert laughed. ‘Doesn’t it? One or two people wondered if Toby could’ve been his bumboy, but in spite of the artiness he was always into girls.’
Only a dinosaur like Robert could make a remark like that, Trish thought, as he said:
‘Why are you so interested?’
BOOK: A Place of Safety
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