I’ve never really talked about my mother, I never knew her. She died not long after I was born. And what with Jason too young to remember her either, and Dad simply choosing not to, I had really nothing to go on save a few pictures and letters she’d written. And it’s not as if I even missed her. I mean you can’t miss what you never knew can you? And Dad was always around, and Liz became our unofficial step-mother even before Dad realised he loved her. We loved Liz, and she would always say that if we wanted to know anything about our Mum we should just ask – and we did on occasion. We were all very lucky with how things turned out. The only time I was worried was when I was about six or seven, and someone told me that Mum had died after complications with my birth. I wondered if it was my fault she died, but Dad had never thought that even for a second. “It was just her time” he said philosophically, before turning round and firing a porter who had just kicked a room door open with his foot in front of a small group of important guests! He’d had the portrait commissioned when he’d first started running the Grand, and had kept it around after Mum had died, saying it brought him good luck as she was still watching over him and the hotel. When he sold the place he’d left specific instructions for the painting to be sold on at auction, or even scrapped, anything but leaving it here. And yet, here it is in all its faded glory.
“Sir that painting is property of the Major Hotel. I don’t care if it bears a resemblance to your dear mother, who if I may say so sir has done a sterling job with you!”
I feel my fists clench and my arm muscles tense. I’m actually going to hit the fucker!
“Hey is everything alright in here?” asks ‘Raph’ standing in the door way.
“Everything is fine sir yes. I apologise for the disturbance, this gentleman was just leaving!” The manager starts ushering me out like a small child in a toy shop at closing time.
“Hey isn’t that your mum?”
Suddenly it clicks – Raphael Turner! Talk about surprises. The dude who was going to fly himself in from the Isle of Man – the dude who very nearly killed some old dude out walking his dog – the dude who, based on the last time I saw him, should be buried six foot under with his lifeless body giving all the agriculture within a five mile radius a serious drug overdose! The manager tries to dismiss us both out the door but Raphael just barges past.
“I’d been told this had been auctioned off. Fetched about a hundred quid if I remember?” He walks right up to the fireplace and lifts the painting out a touch, reading something in the bottom left hand corner. “Can you tell me why you still have this?” he asks sternly of the manager.
“This is the property of the hotel sir, it has always been here. Now, if you please…”
Raphael refutes the man’s claim. He says his firm handled the sale of this entire hotel and every inch of its assets, and he specifically recalls detailed instructions of what should happen to the painting with the words Presence of a Goddess – Carol Sterling. By Jeff Wright-Forbes inscribed in the bottom left hand corner. Both me and the manager walk back to the fireplace and pay more detailed attention to the painting, and sure enough those are the very words.
“What we have here is at the very least a case of theft” Raphael continues, holding the lapels on his crisp black jacket before reaching in to his pocket for a card and handing it to the increasingly pale manager. “I will be conferring with my client here” he points to me. I’m looking at the business card as intently as the manager, who is now starting to sweat “and advising him of what course to follow, which could well include criminal proceedings for your hotel and a substantial financial claim, specifically in relation to personal mental distress.”
“But, I don’t understand” protests the manager. “Who are you?” he asks me.
I look over to Raphael, who just nods encouragingly. “The name’s Sterling.” It’s a bit Bond-ian for my liking but it seems to do the job. The manager promptly makes his excuses and heads back to reception, powered by sheer panic alone.
I look back over to Raphael, who just stands there with a huge grin on his face. “Raphael Turner – Attorney at Law!” I declare with an equal amount of surprise and thanks as I walk over and shake his hand.
“What’s up yer fucker?” He’s not changed that much then!
* * *
I’d have never thought in a million years this was possible – me and Raphael Turner are sharing a drink. Ten years ago we barely gave each other the time of day, partly because he was either stoned, pissed or unconscious (and that was just in the lectures!) and also because, well, he wasn’t that nice. I’m guessing the side effects of the drink and drugs.
“Yeah, I was pretty fucked up back then!” he admits. “Or so I’m told. I only remember those couple of years because of all of Karim’s photo’s y’know! I mean up until a few years after I didn’t even know I nearly killed some old guy with my car.”
“Yeah, I vaguely recall!”
“Yeah, I wasn’t so nice back then.” And then he says something that he’s clearly been carrying around with him a while. “I’m sorry Dan. I mean really, I was a complete shit back then, and for everything I did and put you guys through, I’m sorry.” It’s a complete u-turn on the swaggering, confident legal professional I’d seen in action only minutes before.
“Don’t worry about it!” I pat him on the shoulder. “All in the past now ain’t it?”
“Yeah. It’s just sometimes shit follows you around and it’s hard to get rid of. Know what I mean?”
I really do!
We do our respective catch-ups. He’s been a lawyer for several years now, a partner at Carter, Carter & Beech for the last year or so. He started off in personal injury claims, which we both find hysterical considering the amount of times he’d hurt himself when running or walking, or even in one case just standing still! He owns some property in Manchester left to him by his late father, and flies himself out at weekends to his house on the Isle of Man. No wife or kids. Says he’s got no time with all the work he has on.
“And there you were trying to score some more!” I point out. “So, how come you knew about the painting?”
“Photographic memory” he says matter-of-factly like it’s a normal thing. “I made it my business to know every single case Carters handled, and your dad used us when he wanted to sell this place.”
“Wow!” I say, genuinely impressed. “So you remember an inscription on a thirty-odd year old painting but two years at university are just gone?”
“What can I say? Those Grange Hill kids got it right!”
I don’t ask him any more about his drink and drugs days. It’s none of my business, and he’s turned out pretty fucking okay by the looks of it.
“So what about you?” he asks, taking a sip from his orange juice. “I understand you’re soon to be looking for another job, or not? What’s that about?”
I’m forced to explain again how it’s all a misunderstanding and the papers got it wrong and that my job is safe.
“Sounds fucked up. Sounds like a libel case! You want any advice call me up.” he says slipping me his card like the legal self-whoring pimp that he is. “Free of charge too. Mates rates!” he adds with a cheeky wink. Okay, less of the whore stuff, but he’s still a pimp!
He asks a little about the show, finally lets his curiosity get the better of him when he asks about all the women. “So Suzy Ryder” he says, leaning back in his chair. I half-expect him to bust my balls about letting the Sexiest Woman In The World ™ slip through my fingers. “Shame man, you two looked really happy. Well, as much as you can gather from photographs that were clearly aimed up the girls skirt!”
I just nod in agreement behind my beer.
“So have you spoken to…”
I know exactly who he is going to mention, and I’m kind of grateful when the hotel manager excuses himself for interrupting. “I just wanted to inform you that I have removed the painting and put it in to storage until we can find a suitable buyer. I have been in touch with an auction house in Poole who appear to be interested. I have also been in touch with our head office who will be in touch with your father’s representatives to issue an unreserved apology. I hope this will be to your satisfaction.” Without missing a beat he nods his head one more time and scuttles back to his office.
“Woah, you really put the wind up him!”
“It’s what I do!” Raph says, saluting with his drink.
Then without warning we are told, by some tall lanky dude who seems to be trying to bring the 80’s back by dressing up as Adam Ant’s eponymous Highwayman, that food is served. Everyone, which by a rough count being a good two-hundred or more, jostles to see their positions on the seating plan before filing in to the central grand hall. I quickly see that I’m sat with familiar faces, which should make the next few hours both interesting and uncomfortable