“I suppose all this palaver's for the benefit of the Boy Wonder.” Arthur examined the packed hall and sniffed. “It's true, then? He got it?”
Ben chuckled and patted his friend on the back.
“What is it with you and Wayne? He's a decent lad and he's only got good things to say about you.”
Arthur sniffed again.
“Half-a-dozen halfway competent snaps and suddenly he's the new David Bailey. Just a flash in the pan.”
“Come off it. The boy's good. You don't win the Moore Prize with chocolate box pictures, and him not even twenty-one yet. Credit where it's due, mate.”
“You could have won years ago if you'd ever bothered to enter.”
“It takes money and much better gear than I've got.”
“Don't talk tosh, man. Rule number one: The most important part of a camera is who's behind it. You could put together a cracking portfolio. As for money, the club's always willing to help.”
“I'm not a charity case yet. I'll pay my own way.”
Ben shrugged. “That's up to you, mate.” He rested a hand on the man's shoulder for a moment then left to find better company. There was no point hanging around Arthur when he was in one of his moods. Best to leave him alone.
Arthur was used to alone. He'd been a shy child and a solitary teenager who found solace in his camera – a hobby he abandoned without a thought when he met Yvonne and life, at last, held some promise. That optimism ended eighteen months after the wedding, when her ME was diagnosed. Thirty years on, love was a memory and only duty remained; he was a carer, not a husband, who scraped a living as caretaker of the hall he'd have to clean up when everyone else had gone home. His escape was photography and an endless search for beauty and humour in crowds, wildlife and landscapes. There was enough misery in the world without taking pictures of it.
A stir at the far end of the hall marked Wayne's return in a hubbub of handshakes, kisses and congratulations. Everyone knew. That's why they'd all hung around after the meeting's usual business had ended.
On top of everything else the boy had more money than he knew what to do with. He already owned a fancy Canon with all the trimmings so what did he need the Nikon for? Arthur had found the camera in the basement earlier that evening, seemingly forgotten. He'd recognised the huge bag as Wayne's but looked inside – just to make sure – and beside the Canon found a smaller case that contained a brand new Nikon: the one Arthur coveted with the intensity of a ten-year-old desperate for a Ferrari, and with even less likelihood of ownership. The Boy Wonder had left the camera unregarded in the dust, careless. He didn't deserve it.
The rage came and went in seconds – long enough to smash the Nikon to pieces against the wall.
Horrified, Arthur crammed the remains of the shattered camera inside the case and pushed it back inside Wayne's bag then fled upstairs to the hall, still shaking. The only person to see him creep into the room was Wayne, as usual at the centre of a group of female admirers. Arthur was too riddled with guilt to interpret his expression but he was certain that the boy's smile dimmed for a moment when he saw him enter. Perhaps he was a mind-reader too? Perhaps...
“Ladies and gentlemen! Could we have some hush, please?”
The club chairman's voice brought Arthur back to the present.
“At the weekend Wayne Bradshaw became the first member of Henshaw Camera Club to win the north of England's premier photographic competition, the Moore Prize.” He paused until cheers and a few jocular catcalls died down. “He's disgustingly handsome and annoyingly talented but when he asked if he could speak tonight the committee gave him the go-ahead anyway. Come up here, Wayne.”
Arthur had no intention of hearing the Boy Wonder's self-satisfied claptrap. He began to rise from his seat but was pushed down hard by a hand from behind.
“You stay where you are. It's about time you heard this.”
“Ben? What the hell are you playing at?”
“Just listen to the boy. You might learn something.”
Arthur seethed. He'd have fought back but too many people were watching, huge grins plastered across their faces. So he said nothing, hunched down in his seat and glared at Wayne who'd taken the place of the chairman on the dais at the top of the hall.
“No photographer gets anywhere without learning from those who've gone before,” he told his audience. A few people nodded in reply. “In Henshaw we're lucky to have a master to learn from. His name's Arthur Pettigrew. He's been a member of this club for twenty-five years – twenty-five years today, as it happens – and he's an inspiration to us all, especially me. So when the club began planning to honour him I made sure I'd be the first to say thank-you.”
Arthur's stomach lurched. He looked around for an escape route from the unwanted attention, saw no way out and slumped lower in his seat.
“We all know that Arthur's a modest man and he hates praise even more than an untidy hall,” laughter and a few stamped feet, “but no-one can deny that the photographs he takes with an equally modest camera are superb. What, we wondered, could he do with a camera as good as he is?”
The chairman, who'd disappeared at the beginning of the speech, reappeared with Wayne's bag in his hand. He delved inside it and produced a Nikon camera case.
“So we bought him one, to say thank-you for his work for the club and congratulations on his silver anniversary.” Arthur stared at the case, motionless, cheers and applause unheard. “Come on, Arthur. Come up and accept this gift from your friends. After all, it's no more than you deserve.”