A friend who has since passed away told me five years ago about circumstances that may have been responsible for his demise. I don't think he was murdered, but I think he took his own life slowly, in the manner of a sympathetic doctor who will administer ever-increasing doses of a drug that will allow the terminal patient to die without suffering too much pain.
Jared wasn't an addict when I first met him a decade before his death. He wasn't yet living in London then, but, like his sister, still lived in Edinburgh, and it was there that I met him, at a gallery launch where his sister was one of half a dozen artists exhibiting. Her work was big, bold and boisterous, riots of colour and restless shapes, and at that exhibition there were only two of her paintings occupying a wall that across from it would have eight works by another artist. It would take a room grand enough and a wall large enough to make the paintings work and I later wondered if part of her ambition didn't only rest on the paintings she created, but also the expectations she had of them: that they could only be sold to the rich. I offered the observation to Jared weeks later, without cynicism, but Jared met it with his own without quite saying it was his sister's. It was work, he reckoned that could only be bought by those with vast wall spaces to cover, and he wondered whether an artist has many choices in the art they create or whether some artists see their work as about a gap in the market and exploiting it. His sister, he said, had studied what might have seemed an odd combination of subjects at Glasgow university: business studies and art history. What she knew after studying was that she wanted to make money from art, and while her work before going was based on the intricate shades of people's skins in modest-sized portraits, by the time her degree had finished, she was producing works that were ten times greater in size. Jared had studied at the Glasgow School of Art but stopped painting after he left; he wanted to be a critic and he set up a blog. He wished to explore art without feeling obliged to be part of the market and reckoned his website allowed him to engage with the subject without being implicated in its world. His sister, he saw, wanted that implication and thus produced enormous paintings that she hoped would allow for her success.
I had never given too much thought to the dimensions of paintings, even if most of the work I have seen, despite regular gallery visits in Edinburgh and London, and occasional trips to galleries when visiting friends in London, Paris and Berlin, have been in books. I wouldn't know the size of many works even if the specifications are next to the images I had been looking at. It seems odd to me to go technical when thinking of the aesthetic, while in the gallery of course what you see is what you get you experience the dimensions as you experience the paintings. There are works by Pollock, Rothko and Barnett Newman that I have never seen and since I suppose many of them are predicated on their size, maybe I haven't seen them at all, though I can identify them when I see an image in an art book. I recall having this conversation with Jared when we talked about his sister's work, and I recall too, after that chat, he insisted we go to an opening she was having a few weeks after our conversation.
The opening was at a commercial gallery in the New Town, and there were only fifteen pieces taking up all the available walls in the building. As I walked around I mused over the chat I'd had with Jared and wondered if this was such a good commercial move: wouldn't his sister have been better producing smaller works? She could have got fifty of them on the walls. But if the works were to sell she would not be poor: each painting was retailing at around 11,000, a fine sum for a young, still unknown artist. Jared said as we moved around the gallery that Emma was thinking of charging less, but she reckoned that such large works deserved a high asking price. Jared joked that maybe she worked out the price with a tape measure.
I devoted as much time looking at the clientele as at the paintings and witnessed what seemed like a given demographic at first glance, yet when I listened more carefully and looked more astutely, I saw that it wasn't only made up of the wealthy coming from London, and of Edinburgh's privately educated, with their accents softened, less harsh versions of those from the south. There were also those with harsher accents that didn't indicate a lot of money, at least not from birth, even though I would assume they possessed it now. They were probably born in housing estates on the outskirts of Edinburgh or Glasgow, but they accumulated money and created connections, bought art, and also houses big enough to put the work of Jared's sister in them. I talked for a few minutes to a couple of the gallery visitors, both of them probably equally wealthy, but one had an accent that indicated a private school upbringing and the other a coarser voice that tried to pass itself as posher than it was emphasising words, as though half his speech were in italics. They both had similar complexions and I assumed they were about sixty. Their faces were meat raw. I supposed they drank a lot and ate rich food and the evidence was there that evening through the wine they were drinking (a glass in two mouthfuls) and the finger venison burgers they consumed. I guessed this was habitual eating and drinking and they both looked ill in a way that only the rich can. I didn't know whether that was an observation or a prejudice but I have little reason to counter it. I asked them whether they were collectors and they said of art sometimes and laughed. I stood there, both puzzled and expectant, but they said no more and seemed to be sharing a very extended private joke. When Jared came over I took the chance to escape; to have left earlier would have felt like a retreat.
I had seen some of Emma's earlier work in Jared's flat, a place he was sharing with four others on South Clerk Street and where he survived by renting out the other rooms while paying very little rent himself. He had been there a few years and the other flatmates were more transitory. He rented the rooms separately and this covered the rent and kept the sitting room to himself since the kitchen was big enough and could be used as a social space. He had a box room off the lounge and between the two rooms, it felt almost like a self-contained flat. He paid all the bills. Was he exploiting others? Depends on how you looked at it, he would say most rents were dearer and didn't include bills. It wasn't so bad a deal for the flatmates, even if it was a better one still for him. He offered it as a defence, as the best way he could think of getting by without relying on a career. He worked twenty hours a week in a cafe and earned a third of his wage again on tips.
It was on the sitting room walls I saw four of Emma's paintings. They were of people's faces but that didn't explain what they were about, as though her purpose was to see that people's pigmentation was so varied that to call someone white, black, or a person of colour, was a broad generalisation artists had an obligation to counter. Just as many an artist working in abstract expressionism became fascinated by the modulations in colour, so it seemed that Emma wondered if she could be equally modulated when it came to people's faces, finding in what might seem the conservative genres of realist portraiture the radical possibilities in countering it. She appeared to be doing so not by offering sympathetic portraits of people of colour but by suggesting everyone is a person of colour once we start paying attention to pigmentation over racial categorisation. I must have seen the work around the same time that a movement concerning black lives was created, and quickly, people, often conservative, were saying all lives matter. It was a fair sentiment but it wasn't always coming from such a fair place and yet when I think about Emma's early work I wonder if that was what she was saying too: that all people are distinct in pigmentation and should be viewed equally. Yet there seemed a great difference between the modulations of her work and the suspect insistence that everybody's life was important. Many people appeared to be missing the point of the movement, by suggesting that all lives are equal, while Emma's portraits were saying that all skin tones are different.
I didn't think the work at her graduate exhibition or in the gallery offered the equivalent sense of enquiry and wouldn't be surprised if she were still working on these modulated works while at the same time producing these big canvases that might make her money. If Jared had found a way of living off his tenants, was Emma perhaps acting more ethically by trying to live off rich clients? That evening she sold three pieces, all to the same man she managed to get drunk on the wine the gallery provided. She kept topping up his glass and knew that while he wasn't the richest man in the room he was the one she sensed was the most insecure. She told Jared after the sale that the buyer made his money in property; that he had bought several ex-council houses cheaply, started a small firm, bought some more ex-council flats, and now rented them back to the council, who had an obligation to house people in need but didn't always have the houses necessary. For this, he received far larger sums of money than the council would be charging their regular tenants. Emma suspected, Jared later told me, that he probably wouldn't have told her this story if he weren't drunk but she didn't add, Jared said sardonically, that he might not have bought the paintings either if he hadn't been drunk.
We were discussing the exhibition the next afternoon in his flat, and I was looking again at Emma's work and knowing that it wasn't just due to limited wall space that I'd be inclined to buy the portraits over the large abstractions. I asked him what he made of the clientele and he said it was interesting to be around Edinburgh money old and new, and a bit of money from Glasgow and London as well. I told him what puzzled me was how as a little-known artist Emma had managed to secure a space in the gallery, charge the prices she did, and have so many moneyed figures mulling around. He said as far as he knew, the gallery owner had bought six of her pieces cheaply at the graduation show, and Jared supposed the buyer wanted to try and make good on that investment by giving Emma exhibition space at his own gallery. If the paintings sold well, then he would have work worth over 60,000 that he had paid probably no more than a few hundred for. I was sceptical about Jared's reasoning, feeling that any resentment towards his sister was getting in the way of comprehending the gallery owner's motives. Surely he wouldn't have risked ridicule by giving space to an artist he knew was mediocre but who might make him a few thousand pounds? Jared shrugged and was happy to hear of a better theory until he had spoken properly to Emma.
Over the next few weeks, Emma sold all eleven works. I hadn't seen Jared since the day after the exhibition, and I saw Emma while walking along George Street on my way to a coffee shop in Stockbridge. It took me a moment to recognise her and I wondered if I hadn't whether she would have acknowledged me since she must have seen me. I hadn't changed at all but she was now dressed in presumably clothes bought on this street with its high-end clothing stores, and she was carrying several bags with the logos of designers on them. I said I almost didn't recognise her and while as I said it I felt that I may have offered an insult, she immediately received it as a compliment. Her show had been a sell-out she said, and while she was used to buying clothes on Princes Street, now she couldn't resist splurging. We talked for a couple of minutes and I found her pleasant, chatty and less keen to leave than in a hurry to go somewhere else. But I couldn't quite see the person in front of me as the creator of those paintings in Jared's bedroom.
When I did next see Jared I told him that I'd talked briefly to his sister and that she seemed to be doing very well. He said she was doing so well that she hired him as her agent and promoter. They would be moving to London in a few weeks. We were sitting in his flat again and he wondered if I might be interested in taking over the apartment; I could keep the rooms rented and just cover the bills. It was a good deal but my own seemed less precarious and I suppose less exploitative. I was living in a studio that was all bills-included, a top-floor flat that looked out onto Bruntsfield links. The house belonged to a family and I had my own entrance up some external steps. I thanked him for the offer and he said that he supposed he would have to get rid of most of his stuff. I asked him what he was getting rid of; he wondered what I wanted. I asked cheekily for his sister's paintings, offering a derisory sum, and he said I could have them for free.
I puzzled over his generosity and still do now; the work may not have been any longer consistent with what Emma was doing, but as her fame grew, as he no doubt believed it would, or why become her agent and promoter, even work that might not have been in her now chosen style, it wasn't likely to be worthless. I wondered for a while if the gift was out of friendship or a way to end it. I didn't hear from Jared for a year, even though I sent him a couple of messages. I didn't doubt he was busy and sometimes came across articles in the press speaking about exhibitions of Emma's work, her affair with a modestly well-known pop star, and also with an older, formerly famous writer who people said hadn't written a good book in twenty years. I didn't know if the stories were true or made up by the journalists, even cooked up by Jared himself to keep his sister in the papers. That afternoon when he gave me her paintings and I asked him about his new job, he said it was about making sure everyone knew who Emma was. It didn't really matter how. He laughed, saying that was publicity he supposed no news is bad news; that bad press is when you aren't in it.
A year later, I got a message from Jared saying he would be in Edinburgh for a week. He had a couple of meetings with gallery owners, and also another with a public gallery. Emma was dashing off paintings furiously, and he didn't want a glut in the London market. I didn't mention the texts he ignored and said that it would be great to see him.
He was staying in the Caledonian Hotel, at the bottom of Lothian Road and at the West end of Princes Street. He proposed we meet there and have some afternoon tea with champagne. I arrived early and said to the waiter I was meeting a guest in the lounge, was shown to a table that I thought looked very elegant but impractical, with the chairs low and the table too high, but admitted to myself as well that it was an irritation that started at the door which was inclined to make me look for faults. It wasn't so much that the receptionist looked at me as though I wasn't appropriately dressed, it was more the tone that suggested I may have wandered into the wrong place, and was only confident in their perceptions when I announced I was meeting someone else. It was as though the look changed from surprise to assurance; that he could accept that while I might not have enough money to afford even a high tea in the place, I had a friend who did. But if the receptionist was smug, I supposed I was practising my own version of it, having found the two men who were standing at the entrance ridiculous in their tartan trousers and waistcoat. They reminded me of the phrase plaid pageant to describe the efforts made to impress the king when he came to Scotland in the 1820s, where images of Scotland were conjured up for him that had little to do with how Scots lived but that appealed to a king oblivious to a country he or his predecessors hadn't visited in over a hundred years. Yet as I sat down and saw too waitresses and waiters dressed in similar if less ridiculous attire, I thought my reservations were aesthetic more than political. So much art that was of any value over the last fifty years in Scotland had little interest in perpetuating these types of myths and yet produced work that was nevertheless Scottish. Those paintings by Emma capturing the various skin tones would have had little interest in the plaid but would have keenly observed the flesh of those two doormen, both florid but one peppered with blackheads on and around the nose; the other capillaries broken and eyes gimlet and watery. The plaid they were presenting but the faces they couldn't hide. The waiters were from elsewhere, accents,skin textures and tones quite different from the doormen, and it seemed to me a different register of servility was required or offered. They appeared polite while the doormen and the receptionist seemed to have a contrary quality of obsequiousness and condescension, a binary quality I supposed rather than a contradictory one: that the tone of one or the other depended on the person in front of them. The waiter asked would I like to order and I said I would wait, and at that moment I saw Jared coming towards me. Here is the friend, I said, and the waiter looked at Jared and then me as if they already knew the man who had just come into the lounge.
Jared appeared both elegant and haggard, tired and energised: he had bags under his eyes but his eyes were alert; his hair a mess but shiny and now much longer than I remembered it, reaching his shoulders. He was wearing a suit that he admitted cost a few of Emma's pretty pennies and added that he bought three of them. Now he wore little else. I said the waiter recognised him and he laughed saying that was because the previous evening the man had caught him in the bathroom sniffing a line of cocaine and Jared had tried to convince him to have a line too. Jared supposed he would have been less likely to have reported it to management but it looked like the waiter didn't anyway, Jared said, promising to leave a big tip. I knew Jared would take the occasional line but usually only on nights out when he wanted to stay alert. He insisted that he hadn't developed a drug habit even as he admitted needing that alertness sometimes during the day as well. He told me about one the previous week. A private gallery wanted to present a small selection of Emma's work and the two gallery owners were financiers who wished not just to invest in contemporary art but become actively involved in the market. They wanted their small gallery in Shoreditch to become a player in the contemporary art scene and were looking for artists under the age of thirty they could nurture and cultivate. He went alone: Jared and Emma had decided that whatever fame she achieved would be based on a clear division between art and business, ironically since she studied them together. She would go to openings of her and other artists' work; she would accept interviews and photo opportunities. But she wouldn't be at all involved in negotiating over her art.
So it was that Jared found himself in the office upstairs from the gallery with these two men who between them were worth many millions. The cars outside as he was dropped off in a black cab were a puff blue vintage Daimler convertible and what looked like a new, yellow Lamborghini. They probably had other cars back home in their enormous driveways, and there he was feeling flush getting a taxi everywhere. He could work out from their dress sense and demeanour who owned which vehicle: One was around fifty and wore a suit in a darker shade than the car and probably dressed in black before his greying hair demanded colours that were closer to match it. His skin tone was gently brown, as though topped up by regular trips to hot countries where he wouldn't sit all day by the pool but would cycle and swim, getting the sun without strenuously demanding it: the strenuousness was in the exercise. His colleague was fifteen years younger and brash in a suit that emphasised his bulk, with arms and chest bursting out of the material and giving him the look of a very well-dressed bouncer. But in their different ways, Jared said, they were intimidating, and he could only counter that intimidation, without yet having accumulated the wealth to match theirs, with a line of instant confidence.
Jared and I met again the following evening as he took me for dinner and out for drinks. He was celebrating his deals. The two private galleries were interested in selling Emma's work, and the public gallery liked the notion of an early retrospective of this young artist who had so quickly become known in London, and would expect to be well known in New York and elsewhere within a couple of years. He suggested we eat at a Michelin-star restaurant in the New Town and, when I looked at him to make clear I didn't have that sort of money, he said Emma did. As we ate a meal that covered seven small courses, each a delicious new sensation in the mouth, and drank a bottle of wine that the waiter had looked surprised over when Jared ordered it, as though it was only on the menu to indicate the classiness of the establishment but not quit expecting to be bought by a customer, he said he reckoned Emma was going to be very rich indeed. He offered the remark with deprecation but also self-disdain, and I asked him if he wanted to keep working for his sister. Didn't he feel he would be too reliant on her success for his own? He said that it was why he liked me, why he was so glad he had come up and that we had seen so much of each other. He said I would tell him what was on his mind, rather than add to his capacity for denial. Many involved in the arts at this level, he reckoned, were fuelled by insecurities assuaged, and not only by coke, though many assuaged it with that too. It was also that everybody was telling each other how wonderful they were, as if each compliment was adding to the other person's market value, and everyone had an obligation to speak flatteringly of others because to do otherwise would be to risk lowering the product in the marketplace. He didn't want to pretend he wasn't part of it and that he didn't find it exhilarating, even intoxicating and with the drugs many were on, it was a fairground ride he didn't want to get off. But in answer to my question, Jared said he was in the process of expanding his client base. He was going to meet a couple of artists the following day before going back down to London. He reckoned he could be known not just as Emma's brother but as an agent bringing on Scottish talent.
I didn't hear from Jared again for a couple of years but Emma was often enough in the news and Jared on occasion too. I could also follow what he was doing on social media and saw that he had become what he hoped he would become: an important agent for young Scottish artists, even if none was as successful as Emma. Yet it was with her success that other artists appeared to be making themselves well-known. There was an exhibition of young Scottish artists in London that included several of her works even though the purpose was clearly to introduce new artists to London buyers. I saw the exhibition when I was passing through London to visit a friend in Paris. I arrived off the train at lunchtime, went to the exhibition and got an early evening Eurostar to the French capital. I didn't contact Jared and might have convinced myself that I didn't have time, well aware that he probably wouldn't have time to see me even if I had. By then, Emma was an international artist, yet other painters at the gallery appeared to be searching for a problem in the work that Emma had foregone. I believed that Emma's problem was in the paintings I had in my flat, works no doubt now worth quite a lot of money because of her name, even if relatively valueless next to the huge paintings she was only now producing and selling. Her newer work was confrontational in its size but not quite in its form, and those small works of skin tones were much more subtly provocative, even if I couldn't quite say why.
On the train back from Paris, I sent Jared a text expecting no reply and sure enough, none was forthcoming. I sat in a cafe near St Pancras for three hours, reading a book, ordering a coffee and a piece of cake, and feeling more solitary than I might have if I hadn't texted to propose a meeting. I got on the train to Edinburgh and assumed the friendship was over, and not out of irritation that he hadn't replied; more with a sense of sadness that our lives were not at all now similar.
Yet as the train pulled into Waverley, a text arrived. Jared apologised that he couldn't meet me at the station, said he had hoped I used the time well and perhaps caught the exhibition of young Scottish artists; that next time he was in Scotland, he would be in touch. It was a warm and lengthy text and realised I was wrong to assume that the friendship was over and correct that it would have been sad if it had been. I replied saying I hoped it wouldn't be too long before we would see each other again, and that everything was all right. He didn't reply, and I wondered if he couldn't say honestly all was well or whether this was me once again trying to extrapolate from a minimal amount of information.
I gave an occasional thought to Jared over the next eighteen months, usually when his sister was mentioned in some context but I was busy with my own blog, which was a site about all things Edinburgh. I had set it up around the same time Jared had set up his, but while he had stopped working on it and moved on to bigger things, I'd kept mine and had itself become a bigger thing. It didn't make money, but people asked me to talk about Edinburgh in schools and I even set up private classes that did very well during the summer tourist season, and more recently I've also offered classes online that people attend from various parts of the world. I tell people about the history of the city, its architecture, its different districts, its social makeup. I also keep up with the news and try to incorporate as much of the contemporary as I can, refusing to see Edinburgh only as a historical city. I've even found myself talking about gender issues chiefly because a well-known writer of children's fiction, who is very much associated with the city, had things to say on the subject. I may have studied history as an undergraduate, may have done a Master's on a specific aspect of Edinburgh history, but I think the appeal of the site, and the appeal of the classes, rest on the idiosyncratic and the surprising. When discussing the poor in 19th-century Edinburgh I would try to convey just how little they had to live on; when discussing the old town, I wanted people to comprehend that for centuries the area was known for its foul smells and prostitution. All those closes people found so romantic and quirky would have been back alleys for sexual encounters; where sometimes people would find themselves drenched in a stranger's urine. I sometimes told them of strange stories linking the city's underworld with celebrity, discussing the murdered friend of another well-known writer as we talked of gang culture in the city.
Such work earned me a living but far from a fortune, and yet I had little interest in the money Jared and Emma were earning, as though I believed that whatever vast sums they were making might also be their unmaking: that large amounts were earned at a cost to the soul. It was a myth of course but when I say this, it is as if I am saying that myth has nothing to do with our reality, when it may instead be a more fundamental version of it. Faust is a myth but how often do we see it played out in our world, revealing it less as a fiction and more as an aspect of the human condition brilliantly exemplified? In some of the stories I told, about Edinburgh's wealthy, criminal and corrupt, Faust could often have been used as a model and, so I would discover, it could be a model for Jared's life as well.
It had been almost four years since I had last seen Jared. I received a message saying that he was coming to Scotland, would briefly pass through Edinburgh to see his parents, and was then travelling on to Skye, to a small village called Uig, where he had hired a cottage for a while. I replied, and in a series of exchanges he said he probably wouldn't have time to see me in Edinburgh but it would be great if I could visit him; there was much to talk about. My brother had a pub on the island, in Portree, and I hadn't visited him since the previous summer, and now, with the tourist season autumnal, I could visit and be assured of accommodation on the premises (he rented rooms above the pub). Jared said there was plenty of room for me at the cottage but I felt staying with him would be more fraught than staying with a brother with whom I've never argued. It wasn't that we got on like a house on fire; more like embers at the end of the night, a presence to each other but hardly a conflagration. With Jared, I suspected the addiction wouldn't have waned and several days in the company of a constant cocaine user threatened to be exhausting. But if I stayed at my brother's it wasn't to be for the drugs Jared was consuming but because of the stories he was telling. It was as if the cottage were haunted, though if so it was with the stories he brought to it not those it already contained.
I'd hired a car for the trip and, as I arrived in the mid-afternoon at my brother's pub, he was working behind the bar. He took ten minutes out as he showed me to a room on the top floor, asked if I was doing okay and said that we could talk later that evening when he knocked off. I could pop along to the house and say hello to Maria; the kids would still be at school. I said of course, and after I would carry on over to a friend's in Uig, the one whose sister was famous in the art world. It was in that description I could see all Jared's anxieties, and knew that he knew he would never be more than his sister's brother. My brother and I were equally anonymous.
Yet when I drove up to the cottage and saw him standing by the gate, the dishevelled figure I saw couldn't have become so based on an incremental diminishing of his ego. And wasn't he after all one of Scotland's best-known art dealers? This was not the look of success or failure; what I saw was the face of despair so great that it needed the stories he told me for me to be convinced that the deterioration wasn't due to a debilitating illness.
He ushered me in and what I saw was a small space well looked after. Jared had been staying there already for more than a week and when I saw his presence at the gate I assumed it would be a mess inside, before recalling how well he looked after his room all those years earlier. He wasn't poorly dressed either but his thick hair while still long was now thinner, and his frame which had been solid had become fragile. Yet it was his skin and the bone structure that made me assume he was ill: the skin a pale, vaguely yellow hue and a face that had sunk into itself, as there was no longer enough firmness of flesh to keep the jaw from appearing to be too closely aligned to the jawbone. He could see, as I looked around the sitting room that we'd entered from the small vestibule, I avoided looking at him. I could see to my left a compact kitchen with a dining table for two, and to the right of the living room a door ajar that showed the bedroom. There was a fireplace in the sitting room on the wall that it shared with the bedroom and I thought momentarily about the thickness of the walls. He said he would show me around but there wasn't much need. He said that the winding staircase at the back of the sitting room led up to an attic room he was using as a study. He was writing a book about his years in the art world in London, and also what he knew about the scene in Scotland. Yet it wouldn't be an honest book, he said, or rather that its truth would be limited to exposing no more than the hypocrisies of the art world not the evils he saw more generally.
I'd have assumed he was talking hyperbolically were it not for the face I saw in front of me, and after he made us some tea, and as the September evening became chilly and he lit a fire, he spoke for around five hours, between four in the afternoon and nine at night. By the time I left, I was hungry but also nauseous; keen to eat but worried I might not be able to keep the food down.
What he told me was that during his years in London, he became close to evil people. He knew he must be a good soul given the state he was in having got so close to those who weren't. I asked him what he meant and he started by telling me if I recalled the story he told me about that meeting in London, the one with the two dealers, one of whom was older and the younger one with the Lamborghini. I half-recalled but it was also that Jared hadn't told me very much about them; the story was about how he felt in their company, not really about who they were. Anyway, he said, it was thanks to this meeting he became acquainted not just with other London art dealers but also numerous very wealthy people throughout the city, some of whom of course knew the wealthy in Edinburgh and Glasgow too, including people at the exhibition of his sister's work that we both attended.
At first, he would find himself invited to extended social events, the sort of cocktail parties and openings that end by nine and see people dispersing afterwards to their homes, to restaurants, to private clubs. After a few months, he assumed that the lack of further invitations into the night rested on what had quickly become a drug habit, mainly cocaine, occasionally MDMA. But he knew of others in the art-dealing world who took cocaine and were invited to late-night parties. After about a year, when he started getting invited to dinners, parties and to restaurants after openings, he realised that it wasn't his drug-taking which was the problem, it was that people didn't know for sure he was one of those partaking on such a regular basis. Jared said his maxim became it wasn't who you know or what you know, but what you know about who you know. People needed to know he was as compromised as any of them, and this is where the world began to turn very dark indeed.
Initially, he felt it was a subversive acceptance; that whether people were taking drugs or consuming vast amounts of alcohol, groping the waiting staff or trying to arrange dates with people who were working for them in a professional capacity, this was all part of a highly-stressed, money-oriented environment that showed people doing stupid things under duress. Contriteness was often shown financially: a waitress who had her bottom felt was given a 100 tip; an intern who was pestered by a gallery owner throughout his three-month training at the firm was given a wonderful reference, a 500 thank you and several gifts. He would hear or witness many such situations but he assumed this was human foible being met by hush money. However, eventually, he realised that this was a structural problem, an entitled assumption there were little people and big people, and the little people, who were waiting staff, interns, assistants and secretaries, were expected to keep their mouths shut on the small chance they would become big people too. It was a variation of the American dream as a British nightmare; that people would accept all manner of appalling behaviour on the off-chance that witnessing it, even indulging in it, would eventually lead to a place at the high table. Were there people who did want to speak out, to comment on what they were seeing? Of course, there were but look at it this way, he said, there was a slim chance that reporting what you saw might be taken seriously and you would be lauded by a few without power and dismissed by the many who had it. The chances of you becoming successful from intern status might be very small but it was an interesting wager: tell all and become respected by a few in the nominally left-leaning press as you lose a reference and contacts; keep mum and hope that you too might become a member of the elite. He expected constant non-disclosure agreements but it seemed there weren't. Carefulness trumped coercion.
For the first couple of years, Jared accepted what he saw and was of course partaking in many debaucheries himself: he rarely slept with one sex worker when he could sleep with two, rarely settled for missionary sex when other options were inevitably on the table, or on the floor, and yes sometimes in the bed. He smiled, but the grin left his face much more quickly than it had in the past, or rather when I saw him that time in the hotel and he seemed high on more than just drugs. He admitted he enjoyed this life and accepted that when consenting adults are doing bad things then maybe the things aren't so bad. But what if they aren't consenting?
I wasn't surprised by anything said thus far. It was merely a preliminary offered not with the suspense of a story soon to be revealed but of a confession he couldn't quite countenance. He said that those two people that day in the gallery, around six months later introduced him to another dealer, who helped put up finance so that he could promote Scottish artists in London. Jared didn't quite work for this man but he was reliant on him for funds and contacts. Amongst those contacts were people involved in politics and business, who had an interest in art but were not at all directly associated with any galleries. He asked me if I recalled anybody from an opening years earlier in Edinburgh, the one where just a few of Emma's works were on show and sold well. I nodded, and he said did I remember a couple of people he recalled me speaking to for a few minutes. He reminded me, saying one was from money; the other had made it themselves but the two were close friends. I began to remember. He said he didn't realise it when they were at the opening but he went on to find out they were amongst the wealthiest people in Scotland. If only five hundred people own half of Scotland's land, Jared said, they would be two of them. Some of the people he got to know in England owned plenty of that country as well, including the ones who helped fund his projects. What they seemed to have in common was an unsavoury desire for children and yet, Jared admitted, this was more rumour than fact. He had heard it said on occasion in London, and a couple of addresses were mentioned. But it was in a flat in Edinburgh that he came closest to understanding the proclivities of this inclination, and yet witnessed nothing so conclusive as a terrible act. However, the combination of rumours he heard and what he came accidentally to witness made him sure enough to wonder if much of the money he had earned in recent years came from gains ill-gotten by men so depraved.
It was two years ago, he said, and it was the first time he had been in Edinburgh since we had met in the hotel (he'd been in Glasgow several times), and he intended to contact me. But after what he saw he wasn't sure if he could discuss it and knew it would preoccupy him were we to meet. He said the two Scottish businessmen invited him one evening to the place of a third friend, who we will call X, who owned a three-storey New-Town house and was looking for some recommendations on contemporary Scottish art. He also owned a country house in Perthshire, a flat in London, a house in the South of France, an apartment in Paris, and had probably a few other places he didn't get round to mentioning. X brought the others up by way of an explanation as to why he seemed to be living in this vast house alone: his wife was in their place in the country; the daughter was in London studying and the son at university in Paris and would soon be staying in the place in the South of France, where the boy's sister planned to join him. Jared wanted to ask him how he made his money. Jared was now earning about a hundred thousand a year but after rent and bills and eating out several nights a week, he didn't have much left over to save. He couldn't see how he would ever have a property portfolio like the man who invited him for dinner, with the two other businessmen and made by a cook who had been with him for more than a decade. She also served the food and there was a moment where Jared wondered if this woman who said she was from the Dominican Republic might have been the host's lover. She was willowy, languid and dark, and never in the serving of the food appeared to be deferent to the house's owner. She was at most fifty and looked younger than the years Jared attributed her of probably possessing, and might have given the notion of a long-term affair more thought if it weren't for his bladder. He asked to excuse himself and the host said there was a poky toilet next door but a much more elegant one up the stairs. It is easy to find, he said, it has a sign on it. His smile was small and looked ready to become a sneer, his eyes beady and restless, his hair thin and swept back with an oily cream holding it in place. He was a short man but he conveyed power when he was seated, as though every chair were a throne. This was the image Jared insisted on conveying to me, and I didn't doubt I would remember it years later.
Jared was intrigued by the opulence of the house and while he didn't expect a tour he was happy to take advantage of this opportunity to see more than the immediate environs he was invited to occupy. So up the expansive, winding stairs he went and saw on the wall of the first floor an example of his sister's work, and noticed too, in the room next to the toilet, a door slightly ajar. He opened it a little further and peered in. He saw what at first seemed like a children's room, if vaster than most with three full-length Georgian windows, though the curtains were closed. A quick scan of the room lit by the hall light showed him that there were numerous children's toys in it: a Wendy-house, a rocking chair, a mini-carousel, a train set, a car racing track and numerous other toys. He might have found the image less disconcerting if the man's children were young but he knew they were at university and assumed neither yet had kids. These were all toys looking like they were in active, even regular use. Who was playing with them? He also found everything somehow so small and didn't know whether this was because he was peering through the looking glass of a childhood he had long since left, or whether all the items in the room were specifically made to create this disconcertion.
The room reminded Jared of images he remembered from a screening of a Lewis Carroll adaptation when he was a child. Jared had heard the rumours; that this man liked children, but there were often stories he would hear about people involved in the art world and the wider one of finance. Many were true but insignificant, or at least not illegal enough to cause much of a scandal. Drugs, prostitution, tax evasion, a bit of money laundering, inside dealing, but usually, when he heard that someone was a paedophile it was offered as a slur more than a fact. Yet he had heard it of all three of the men that he was returning to after using the bathroom, and while this children's room wasn't evidence in itself, Jared couldn't convince himself that this room was for the man's kids or the cook's children or grandchildren. It was in itself an innocuous space, a room he and his sister would have loved to have had when they were young, but he could see no reason for its existence except as a confirmation of the rumours he had heard.
As he returned downstairs, he wondered why the door hadn't been locked, or at the very least closed. Why did the host suggest he use the upstairs bathroom, other than to see his own sister's work, aware it was next to this strange room he had peered into? He had many questions and no time to think about them as he returned to the dining room and felt that though he had only been gone for about three minutes, not just the atmosphere in the room had changed in his absence but the world too. He found himself feeling for the first time implicated in a milieu he had spent several years believing he was becoming established within. He sensed when he returned, and the cook served up a cheesecake she said was cooked that very afternoon, and that some might find a little too tangy since she used three limes, that were he to comment on the room in a manner that suggested he knew what purpose it served, and he had no problem with it, his income would increase, his own gallery be secure, and in time he too would have houses in Edinburgh, London and elsewhere. The host asked him as they were eating dessert if he had seen it. Jared swallowed hard and then assuming the host meant his sister's painting, or was determined to play on the ambiguity of the question, said yes, he had seen it.
It is funny, he said, insisting I take a drop more of the whisky. I accepted for the fourth time since I'd arrived. I accepted little more than a splash and for each measure, he poured into my glass he poured five times as much into his. There was no selfishness in the deed; he would have been happy giving me an equal amount but he assumed correctly that there was no reason for me to partake more than I had thus far: I was being convivial; he was being confessional. He knew he should have left the house that evening and refused any further contact with these three Scottish businessmen. He knew he should probably have severed contact with numerous figures in London who were affiliated with them. Perhaps someone else would have done that and also gone to the police but there were only rumours that he had heard and the odd evidence he came across, and though he was sure these were men who took advantage of minors, he would have found it impossible to provide evidence in a court of law. Maybe what he could have done was find more evidence, but instead, he sat there, ate the tangy cheesecake, and over the next year and a half continued watching his gallery expand. Yet all the while his drinking increased and he no longer felt he was moving up in the world but hovering over an underworld, sure that many of the people with whom he had some contact, and who were financing his ventures, were child abusers. He supposed for a long time he convinced himself that since he didn't have more than rumours and a strange room to go on, he couldn't be seen as complicit; that if more evidence became apparent then he could act on that. But his instincts knew that these were people he should have been avoiding and instead he allowed them to invest further as he opened a gallery in Glasgow a year after the incident.
I had been to the gallery a couple of times and the exhibitions were good, works by young Scottish artists who were interested in the political but weren't insistent on the polemical. It was difficult I supposed for an artist to balance the need to produce meaning without reproducing stale messages. But that might be a necessary tension in contemporary art a tension I suspected Emma had foregone in producing large, abstract works. Having followed Jared's trajectory since moving to London I never sensed he had supported work he didn't believe in or that would only make him money, and I asked him if this was why he chose to keep accepting the support of people who he was sure were monstrous. He said he didn't know, but for all his drinking, drug-taking and, yes, there had been plenty whoring, there was still in him a need to declare what was and wasn't good art. Maybe it is a terrible thing, he said, to be so adamant about defending good work while at the same time saying so little for so long about deviant behaviour.
As he talked I wondered whether this was a guilt he presently felt, had been feeling for a few years, or whether he hadn't quite finished what he wanted to say; that within the confession there was a statement as if he were both keen to turn himself in but even keener to expose the misdeeds of others. As far as I could see there was no misdeed on his part and only assumed offences elsewhere, but it was then Jared said that maybe I knew of a case in the press around eighteen months ago. I said I didn't and he mentioned it made a few papers and a few people were put in prison. A group of folk from a couple of housing estates in Glasgow were jailed for being involved in a child sex ring, and this was where rumour became closely allied to fact. When hearing of the businessmen's sexual activities people said they would obviously keep their own hands clean, but they were known to have connections with some sink estates in Glasgow and Edinburgh where they could sometimes blackmail parents who were in debt, in criminal trouble, in need of cash for drink or drugs, or who would offer their kids up for projects that may have sounded benign even if surely suspicious. The gang had money, and while some parents they knew were desperate for cash to pay for an addiction, with others it was more aspirational: so the gang proposed adventure weekends with the gang presenting themselves as a small charity determined to provide children with opportunities. Instead, they would be taken away to various places to be abused, returning home a couple of days later unable to speak of their experiences. due to a mixture of threats from the gang and no doubt the difficulty of even attempting to explain what had happened.
Jared said the case never went far enough; he was sure that the three businessmen were involved; that they had retreats the children could be taken to and yet the case gave the impression the gang rented these country homes and assumed the money came from drugs. One of these homes that they rented was none other than one owned by X. Yet few questions were asked why this very wealthy man would be renting a place out to a drugs gang. However, the businessman was perceived in the case as innocent, and Jared wondered if the court would have been so convinced if they had seen, like he had, the room on the first floor of a Georgian house that had a painting of his sister's work on the wall.
So Jared finished his story. We had been talking for several hours, and I was careful to drink so little that I would still be able to drive back to Portree, and yet I didn't know if I should leave Jared alone. He was so drunk that when he stood up to see me out, he stumbled against the couch, and I asked him if he needed anything; I would come back the next day. He said he was fine, or as fine as he could be these days.
On the drive back I thought about Jared's musings and wondered how evidential they happened to be. Clearly, I didn't doubt his story about the Glasgow gang was true and could find out easily enough by looking online. But the notion that these wealthy businessmen were in collaboration with the gang, and that they would have been stupid enough to rent one of their own properties for the purpose of abusing these kids seemed less probable. Yet a circumstantial case could be made: the rumours Jared would hear, the room he saw and the fact that X was implicated in the trial having rented his country house out to the gang on several occasions. Jared also looked like a man ruined not only by drink and more than a little by drugs, but by a guilt that seemed unequivocal. Before leaving, as he stood at the door saying goodbye, he said that he might have been able to save those kids if he had spoken out.
I didn't visit Jared the next day. I phoned but got no answer and texted a couple of times without receiving a reply. The next time I got news was a surprise email from his sister. She said her brother was very sick and expressed an interest in seeing me. He was in Edinburgh at the Royal Infirmary. The email was sent in the morning; I checked my emails in the afternoon, and when I sent a reply saying that of course I would, she replied that, alas, he had died a couple of hours earlier.
At the funeral, there were only about fifteen people, and while I might have assumed some of the artists whose career Jared had helped would have been there, his sister said he wanted a quiet affair. I suspected Jared insisted on this to make sure none of the business people he knew would turn up in their expensive funeral gear.
After the ceremony, I sat with Emma in a pub round the corner from the gallery where she had first sold her work to the wealthy and said that the last time I saw Jared was in Skye. He was very drunk and some might say paranoid. He told me stories about various businessmen, I said, and I didn't know whether to believe him. Emma didn't know for sure whether they were true either. She reckoned that with wealth and power you get close to dubious environments. You can choose to get closer to these worlds and find yourself implicated; find yourself close enough to be at least corrupted. She suspected she may have been corrupted but never quite felt implicated. I asked her if Jared had said anything about one evening visiting X's house in Edinburgh, and the children's room he saw. She said he did, and it was an image he couldn't get out of his mind even if from a certain perspective it may have seemed quite unremarkable. I said I didn't know how much of what Jared had told me about X and his friends was true and Emma said the thing with Jared was that he became paranoid in London - too much cocaine; too few friends he could trust; too much responsibility he didn't really want or need. He was happiest when he was blogging, she said, when he didn't have much money but found a way of living cheaply in that flat. He seemed in control of his life. I asked about hers and she said Jared thought she produced all those big, abstract works for the money. Who knows what our motives are, she said, shrugging, but she knew her earlier work was too cramped, too much part of a representation she wanted to escape. The difficulty with the art world is that it is also an art market: you know people are waiting for your work and they will pay many thousands for it. If you're making a table and chairs, that makes sense. You make it to the best specifications you can, you want it to be made of the best wood in relation to the price, and you want to make sure the chairs are firm and can handle people who aren't light.
But with an artwork, what are the specifications; what makes it even finished? She didn't quite know but did insist that there was a freedom to these big paintings and the best way she could describe it was by analogy: before, she supposed, she was happy dancing in her room and then that room became too small and she wanted a dance studio; the big canvases were the dance studio. Jared never needed the dance studio.
When I got back to my place that evening I looked at those early paintings Emma had produced and that Jared had given me. I could see why she might have found the work too small, too specific and too craftsmanlike. When she talked about her awareness that she was not making a work of specifications I could see that this work might have seemed too close to whatever the art equivalent might be. They were brilliantly done but could be seen both as old-fashioned and the work of someone showing what they were capable of without quite offering a vision that would announce the work to the world. There is art I suppose that announces itself instead to the teacher; that says I am talented and my talent should be nurtured.
Yet in its way I thought this early work was quite brilliant, that it captured a smallness that was reflective of the society most people lived within, small lives lived within confines that reflected the limits of the canvas. Most of Emma's famous paintings reflected a freedom that could be painted large.
After Jared's death, I expected his Glasgow gallery to be closed down, but when I visited the city a few months ago it was still there, still called the Jared MacIntosh Gallery, and was still showing work supporting a mixture of new and more established artists. I wondered how it was funded. I couldn't imagine that Jared left much of a fortune and though it doubled up as a cafe, with work on the wall on the ground floor and exclusively a gallery in the basement, I suspected that it was Emma's money that had kept it running. In an interview with her not long after his death, she said her brother was always more radical than she was; always had more of a problem with the way things were than she did, and that it wasn't that he couldn't cope with success but that he didn't trust it. She admitted that she had always trusted it, and fame too. But maybe he was more right than she was, even if it didn't do him any good.
I was pleased that the gallery had been kept open and each time I visited Glasgow (which would rarely be more than two or three times a year), I would go in and look at the work. And so it was a couple of months ago when I went in and the work I found there was Emma MacIntosh's. The paintings were as big as I expected and dwarfed this far from large space, but the content was different. They were a series of portraits, not too unlike that early work which I had on the walls in my place, but so large that it was as if they had been blown up to about six times their size. They resembled almost cinematic projections, except they weren't offered in rectangles but in oval frames. In the faces she exposed textured, fleshy wants and needs, captured on their visage, in the sunken, sloppy complacent shoulders, in the legs that seemed small next to the heads, as though incapable of supporting the sitters without the aid of a chair. The portraits weren't at all caricatural but they weren't quite typical portraits either. None of the people seated was named and I supposed that Emma created them all from memory, a composite of different people she had met, or heard about, but where all of them would be seen as powerful and influential. I kept half-recognising certain people, as if she had taken a nose from one person, the mouth of another, the ears of a third. The exhibition was called Powers of the Composite and a couple of days later I read several reviews about the exhibition. They were not favourable. They said that the painter had lost her way; that these were grotesque and exaggerated, lacking the nuance of her abstract art. None of them mentioned her earliest work; that she started off in portraiture, and nobody appeared to see that these paintings were less exaggerated than a combination of those early works and the large-scale abstractions. I wondered where she would go after it, feeling it doubtful that she would continue in this way but unlikely too to return to the abstract. I guess it is a question many an artist must ask themselves: what is the logic of their work; what paths must they take? But to pretend these have no relationship with the world generally, and the power structures that allow artworks to be exhibited and acclaimed is surely naive. I found myself wondering afterwards what were the specifications of an artwork, and if I reckoned that Emma's work may have found its purpose, as a table much more easily finds its purpose, then these paintings were a move towards that purposefulness. But it wasn't until a few hours afterwards, looking through the show's catalogue at home, that I wondered if I could see amongst the figures she had painted the two businessmen that I had talked to at Emma's exhibition years earlier. I thought I saw X too, or rather the image Jared put in my mind, as one of Emma's composite paintings made an impression just a little like the impression that child's room so strongly made on Jared.
© Tony McKibbin