Hamilton knew this, once the grief had been mollified into an amorphous ache, some years after finding his lover dead on a cold white bed one chill morning. There was a brief note, a half eaten poisoned apple on the bedside cabinet, and a space in life where Barker should've been. Hamilton held open a space in his mind that Barker could inhabit for ever more, he thought, or at least until some resolution was achieved, and he could share the peace of the grave.
The gap in the curtains that Hamilton maintained, became a looking-glass: all his waking thoughts parted a little to show what could be...an insight to infinite possibilities. The time of resolution would come; not yet, or even soon. Some time...some time to come. It was a future in itself and the prime reason never to let the curtains shut. Without it he'd be lost, alone.
When Barker's parents had cleared out their deceased son's few possessions, they left the paintings – 'too creepy' they said – and many would agree. Often, a tall, plain, gaunt figure in black morning dress would draw the eye into the centre of the canvas: on wild moor, or soaking city street, there he was. There were crows too, fire, destruction developing over the chronology of the pieces into mayhem of biblical proprtions. This was Barker.
The mollification came one evening over a pint, at the anonymous pub next-but-one to Fitzwilliam's gallery. Fitzwilliam was older than Hamilton or Barker, but knew all the kids: he was a contemporary of Calder who had little time for the great man's arrogance. He knew generations of 'kids' Calder had 'moulded' into despair and pent-up hate. He secretly liked it, though he pretended not to, because it was profitable. His reality was as the anode to Calder's cathode; the rays between them, those kids burning out, flashing brightly on the screen of his gallery window. He collected the transmission fees without guilt.
And yet, when he used – without a trace of irony – the description of Calder as 'that fat arrogant wanker' to buy his way into Hamilton's confidence, it opened up another avenue in Hamilton's mind. Or rather illuminated one that had always been there. Sure, he'd allow Barker's work to be displayed, but not sold – however skint Hamilton ever was, these canvases he'd been trusted with in abandonment were more than money – because it would be a line in the sand.
Hamilton had lived by himself, in awe and slight fear of these paintings: what if the flat caught fire? What if sunlight damaged them? It could, couldn't it? What if the roof let in? In Fitzwilliam's capable care, they'd be out of the flat for a few weeks, and he could open the windows, be as hot or cold as he liked. And he wouldn't write, he'd paint. He'd take up the baton.
He took advice and tips from friends, who seemed glad he'd stepped out into the light after all. So much so, that when Fitzwilliam's porter returned the paintings, they were granted a special space in the living room, while Hamilton's own work developed apace in the bedroom.
After a decade and more, with continued help and encouragement, he submitted a modest portfolio and a powerful statement calling on the gods to connect souls through paint and canvas. It wasn't much, or even very well formed – Calder himself dismissed it as 'trite and crude' - but it was enough. Hamilton would go inside the belly of the beast and find its' weak spot for himself.
Finding that Calder took little to do with the noviciates, considering them fragile moths who would likely disintegrate before they flew, Hamilton took heart. His tutors would know not of his desire to puncture one man's arrogance: it would take time to establish the strength to act.
And how time ran: as the work flowed from his mind to his hands, always guided by the known impression of what was 'right', themes developed and necessary skills crystallised. Although, he learned a salutory lesson in the early days – the tug of creating his own self-portrait in the image of Barker, versus the timidity of the novice, caused an ungodly mess that two tutors struggled to say anything complimentary about – and kept his cards close to his chest thereafter. As well that Calder never did see that mess, it was destroyed as soon as practicable, and forgotten. Hamilton the moth, was attracted to Calder's flame despite the well-known dangers.
He'd never flown closer to it, than in the few months before final marking, when Calder began after all to take a predictably disdainful interest in these works. Hamilton's tutor – a fellow painter named Francis – always referred to Calder in reverential terms. 'The boss', 'the big man', and so on. Fair enough, Calder was in charge of the place by then, his vitality of practice a distant memory. The landscapes he'd inhabited twenty years before, experimenting with the outer edges of peripheral vision were still the same: however, even his contemporaries who'd feted his garden of the imagination were writing publicly that they saw knotweed in place of roses. None of this bothered Calder, of course: he was right and they were wrong.
Which essentially wasn't a different viewpoint from what Hamilton took. Among the flashing neons and conceptual rivers and wanking and spewing of his contemporaries – which the same doubting critics praised, and perversely attributed to a new phase of Calder's genius – the stark canvases with the gaunt white figure in black morning dress looked utterly out of place. None of this bothered Hamilton of course: he was right and they were wrong.
The curious news which filtered back to Hamilton from Francis – strictly off record of course – was that Calder had been genuinely disturbed and rattled by this. He'd had to examine them, think about them, understand them in order to play his part in the marking committee. As Hamilton had never bothered to mention to Francis what the deepest motivation for this was – and Francis had never asked - , it left Calder somewhat out on his own.
He'd blustered and wanted them given the lowest grade. Failed even. A mark lower than failure. This to the incredulous, askance glances of the rest of the committee. More remarkable yet, Francis continued to confide, Calder had gone back to it once or twice more, become yet more aerated each time. His eyes burned, hands randomly conducted, back shook.
However he'd felt about it, didn't matter so much to Hamilton, more that he could be sure Calder knew what it was. His arrogance of subjectivity could now be consumed by the coldest message, an icy j'accuse which would only now start to come together.
Fitzwilliam suggested of his own accord, that the pieces be shown alongside Barker's, knowing that he could create a profitable scene. He had just the room in the gallery – that little claustrophobic one down the stairs at the back. The one that could never be elevated above underworld, no matter how much paint and electric light was thrown at it. The one where the gas meter was hidden behind a velvet curtain, which caused perennial speculation about what was behind the door that only appeared under special circumstances. Was it those cold full moon nights? Was it Hallowe'en or Beltane? New Year? The middle hour of the middle day of the year? What was there, though? The River Styx? A beautiful meadow? Room 101? A yawning chasm? Your bedroom?
Whatever, Fitzwilliam smiled to himself, it created a story, a legend. And that never hurt. Although, he did check a few times to be sure, and there was only ever the gas meter.
Hamilton himself made a point, and a show, of checking on opening night. He was quite enjoying this and it showed. He owned his and Barker's wall, and now people saw it, got it, understood. Calder, for his part refused to come down the narrow stairs, complaining about his ageing legs and casually dismissing what he'd already seen.
Francis, and one of his acolytes, Etteridge, enjoyed it well enough, drinking and chatting as Hamilton's mood turned sour. Finally he snapped, when Etteridge compared her dress to the purple velvet curtain once more. This was out of sorts indeed, even for the grumpy old man of the class: but Francis called it correctly, Calder had ruined Hamilton's setup. Stepping back from the curtain and looking at the paintings hanging either side of it, she finally saw the connection. She got it. She no longer had words. Francis smiled and sipped his wine, before offering her comfort. Hamilton made his excuses and left.
That was last night.
This morning, Hamilton was woken by a heavy, authoritative sounding knock at the door. For that matter, so were Francis and Etteridge, but theirs was a more immediate panic. Hamilton at least was still dressed from the night before. In both instances, detectives were the source of the knock, the panic, and some hours of questioning.
They wanted to know, as detectives do, what where who when why, during and after the party. Answers were honest, brief and remarkably similar: involving continued drinking, taxis and beds. For the other party guests the detectives interviewed, that pattern would be repeated. And the question would be asked in return, why this was at all necessary. They'd give the same brief answer to most.
Fitzwilliam's cleaner came in this morning, and found Calder and her boss dead on the floor of the back downstairs room. Very messy, can't say too much, but it is an odd one. In all my years I've never seen one quite like it. Etcetera.
All sympathised with Fitzwilliam's cleaner – poor woman didn't ask for that, probably doing it for a pittance, isn't that a shame. Etcetera.
Only Hamilton said something that sent their detecting cortexes into overdrive. He looked around for a moment, stared out the window starting to smile, fixed Detective Sergeant Connelly right in the eye and said:
Well...that was unexpected.
There followed an arrest under suspicion of murder, and a detention of a few hours, while they corroborated every detail. His clothes, his flat were checked. Junior officers were sent to the pub he'd been to: they were shown the till receipts and video footage backing up his claim. He had indeed come in at ten, got a pint, been chatting to a charming young man, who'd escaped when he went to the toilet. He'd given up, got a pie supper from the chippy next door, and got a taxi home. All checked out to the minute, some with video. Even his neighbour who'd been rudely awoken when he couldn't force his key tag to let him into the flats.
The white paper boiler suit people turned the flat over. Nothing. They sent the juniors off to the art school to look for dangerous implements or weapons. Of course there were plenty, the security man assured them – artists and dangerous chemicals and implements are best friends – but they were mostly locked up. Indeed, Hamilton's stuff was securely in a big plastic box which hadn't been touched in well over a week.
The more Connelly questioned and probed and worked Hamilton round, the more he was sure that he wasn't talking to the killer. He wasn't talking to a killer, full stop. Given the circumstances, he was wasting his time. As interesting as Hamilton was, he'd have to be set free: as much as anything it was marginal whether he'd been in a fit state in the first place, and now he was flagging. Shrinking, turning pale, mumbling, over time he was contracting in on himself.
And it wasn't just the description of the crime scene – Fitzwilliam and Calder found lying face up on the floor, mostly dressed, feet facing the curtain and quite close together: faces obliterated by incisions consistent with pecking the forensic had said, no signs of break-in or exit, no theft or sexual indications, but defensive wounds to the hands – he just seemed to dissociate from the present reality.
When Connelly indicated he was through with it, Hamilton repeated the sentiment earnestly and sadly. He was shown out, offered a lift home, but refused, and as video evidence shows, took a bus out to the country park outside town, and vanished into a bright summer morning.
That was the account as best as I could piece together, as of a week ago. They've given up looking for Hamilton, which if I read the situation correctly, is wise. Either he doesn't want to be found, or isn't able to be found.
For now, both he and Barker's paintings are in my possession, and I must say, there's something eerie about them. You're welcome to come and see them privately, if you want. Just don't be arrogant about it.