‘Hmmmmm,’ said Mr Winterburn, looking at the painting that lay on the table in front of him, ‘five thousand pounds…’
The young man with the long nose and sunglasses suddenly stopped smiling. Mr Winterburn looked into the man’s face but could not see his eyes. ‘And you say that it was your uncle’s painting and that before he died he gave it to you?’
‘That’s right, yes. I don’t really want to sell it – but I need a car to get to work…’
‘Five thousand pound,’ said Mr Winterburn again. ‘I don’t know…it’s a lot of money.’
‘Look,’ said the young man sharply. `Five thousand pounds is cheap for a painting by Barnett Newman, and I’m sure you’ll have no trouble selling it,’
‘Hmmmmm,’ said Mr Winterburn again. He thought about the old man from earlier in the day who wanted a painting by Smalling ‘How much will he pay me for this painting?’ Mr Winterburn asked himself. ‘But what if the he doesn’t like it? The painting is very simple: not one of Smalling’s best.’
‘Is that the best you can do?’ asked Mr Winterburn. ‘I really don’t want to pay five thousand pounds for it.’
Now the young man looked angry. He stood in silence for a moment, looking hard at Mr Winterburn. ‘Okay,’ he said slowly, ‘how about four?’
Now it was Mr Winterburn who took a little time to answer. Saying nothing, he moved to the other side of his desk, pulled open a drawer and took out some money. He counted it: only a thousand pounds. ‘I don’t have four thousand pounds cash,’ Mr Winterburn said, ‘but if you want to wait, I’ll go to the bank and get three thousand more. How about coming back here after lunch? By then, I’ll have all of the money.’
The young man smiled. ‘Sure,’ he said. ‘Why not?’
‘Good,’ said Mr Winterburn, smiling. ‘I’m glad we agree.’
They were about to shake hands when Mr Winterburn’s mobile phone, which was sitting on the desk, rang. ‘Excuse me just a second,’ said Mr Winterburn, picking it up. It was at that second that he saw the face of his son on the street outside the shop. He was looking…strange. Very strange.
‘DAD!’ shouted the voice in his ear.
‘Tommy?’ said Mr Winterburn. ‘What are you doing? Why are you calling me?’
‘Listen carefully dad,’ replied Tommy. ‘There is something I need to tell you about the man who is selling that painting.’
At first, Mr Winterburn was surprised – very surprised in fact – but knew his son well, so he listened. And the more he listened, the more the young man who was trying to sell the painting by Smalling began to look more and more like the old man who came to buy a painting by Smalling! When Tommy was finished, Mr Winterburn spoke slowly and carefully to him.
‘Turn around and look behind you,’ he said to Tommy. ‘There is someone there that you need to speak to…do you understand?’ Through the gallery window, Mr Winterburn watched Tommy turn around. Now Tommy could also see the policeman who walking down the street towards him.
‘Go and tell him…’ But before the words were out of Mr Winterburn’s mouth, the young man reached over the desk, pushed Mr Winterburn to the floor and took the thousand pounds cash from his hand. Then he was out of the shop and running along the street, with the painting under his arm, faster than a cat with a dog on its tail!
A minute later, the door crashed open and Tommy ran into the shop with the policeman just behind him.
Cash (n) – money (as coins and notes)