Nine Grand

“The problem is,” Pete said, “he hasn’t got any money.”

Carol gave him a level stare. “What are you proposing to do about it?”

They’d talked around the question for some time: knowing her husband as she did, Carol could see what was coming. 

“It’s a question of nine grand. That’s what he needs. But, he wouldn’t accept it from me.”

She was about to ask why it was important that Pete bail Rickie out but she knew the answer. They’d been friends since way back and Pete had, frankly, had all the luck. They both had talent – Rickie for making art and Pete for making money – but it was the luck that was causing the guilt. Pete had made two small piles from publishing and IT. Most recently, his account had been swelled by the death of his father, whom he’d never liked, whose will had been proved at the surprisingly large sum of £800,000. Pete suspected that the secrecy with which the wealth had been concealed suggested something dubious about how it had been made. Pete’s father had been a lawyer working in and around the fringes of the city which supported this view. 

Rickie, on the other hand, had been dogged by ill-fortune. When he was six he’d lost half his thumb in a car accident. His parents had been well meaning but inept and had been swindled out of their savings in a time-share scam. Rickie’s life as an artist, a perilous enough calling at the best of times, had staggered from one crisis to another. A rich benefactor had died the day before a meeting which would have confirmed a massive commission. His aunt, from whom Rickie nurtured expectations, had late in life married her secretary who scooped the pot when she died in a boating accident in Spain. Two months ago, his studio in Bethnal Green had been destroyed in a fire. The contents included virtually everything of any worth Rickie had created. 

The final and current irony was that he’d been awarded a place to study at the RCA from September. It was now late August. He had no art and, worst of all, no money. Cash needed to be found quickly. It was only that morning that Pete had realised how precarious his friend’s situation was.

Rickie still had his pride, or at least Pete thought so. Certainly the question of money, and their respective access to it, had remained unspoken for 20 years. It could not be spoken of now.

Carol studied her husband. He was a good man. He wore his wealth and his good fortune lightly. More than once she had spotted small acts of generosity to friends, Rickie included: the falsely low restaurant bill agreed with the owner, the balance settled by him privately; the supposedly free theatre tickets which had in fact paid for; the purchase of a work of art of Rickie’s through a proxy. Carol had always rather liked the piece: a sinister but elegant abstract creation in variety of pale metals which looked like a necklace, and a strange flower, and an escaped spirit, all housed in a glass bell-jar that perfectly conveyed the idea that the work was part of some long-forgotten and esoteric Victorian collection. In case Rickie saw it and twigged, it had to be kept out of sight.

Pete had never broadcast these acts of generosity – she had discovered some and suspected others – which made them all the more genuine. It was for this reason, and others, that she still loved him; and was therefore happy to tolerate, even indulge, his generosity. It was his money after all. She also had her own. For this reason too they were comfortable together.

This situation, however, couldn’t be remedied by such small gestures. Serious money was needed. Pete was pacing up and down. He went to the fridge, opened a bottle of Chablis, poured two glasses and sat down. She knew what this meant. They were now in conference and he was going to thrash the matter out.

“You could get the money to him anonymously,” she said. “There must be a dozen ways.”

Pete took a sip of wine. “Name two.”

“Well…you could tell him he’d won a prize…”

“No one falls for that any more. Anyway, he’s suspicious. Plus, you’d need a bank account under a fictitious name to pay him. That might have been easy 20 years ago. Not now.”

“You could transfer the money to his account.”

“He’d know where it came from.”

“It could be a mistake. By the bank.”

“How could I tell him that? Anyway, he’s honest. And nervous about money.” Pete took another drink. “The trouble is, he doesn’t understand it. When he has it he thinks he doesn’t deserve it and doesn’t know what to do with it. When he doesn’t have it he doesn’t know how to get it.”

“How about buying one of his artworks – oh, forget that. They’ve all been burnt. Hey – you could commission him to do something and pay up front.” She took a big slug of wine. “That’s it.”

Pete was shaking his head. “The art world doesn’t work like that. Plus, if I were to commission something he’d spent half the money on materials and half his time on making it when he should be studying. He’s very diligent, wouldn’t want to rip me off.”

It seemed to Carol that Rickie’s many virtues were presenting real obstacles to his happiness but she said nothing.

The wine was finished before they agreed that there was only one way, in this particular time and with this particular person, of getting nine grand anonymously to a struggling artist.


• The rest of this story is now available in a paperback book (as are 25 others) – Unaccustomed as I Am (RRP £9.95).

Click here for more information on ordering it.

Copies are also available at the Hungerford Bookshop, the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, the Mad Hatter Bookshop in Wantage and through an increasing number of other retailers.

You can order it from any bookshop: they will need to know that the ISBN is 978-1-8382580-0-9 and that it can be ordered from Gardners or Central Books.

Brian Quinn

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3 Responses

  1. You write best about dark, seedy characters…a good yarn with Dickens like paths leading people into unexpected decisions. Most enjoyable

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