Authors: Deborah Crombie
FOR LISA HASKELL AND ANN CHRIST,
WHOSE KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY OVER THE YEARS HAVE HELPED
MAKE LONDON MY SECOND HOME
AND FOR STEVE ULLATHORNE,
WHO INSISTED I WRITE A BOOK ABOUT CRYSTAL PALACE
Huge thanks, as always, to my battalion of first readers and brainstorming buddies: Diane Hale, Gigi Norwood, Steve Ullathorne, Steve Copling, Kate Charles, Marcia Talley, Tracy Ricketts, Kayti Crombie, Julie Gerberâmy gratitude knows no bounds.
Special thanks for advice on matters medical, geographical, and musical to Diane Hale; Steve Ullathorne; Gigi Norwood; Barb Jungr; Shawnee Ray; Guy Forsyth; Kevin Welch; Craig Swancy and Austin M. Carter at Craig's Music, Inc., in Weatherford, Texas; Gez Gerard at The Secret Guitar Shop and Music Emporium, Crystal Palace, London; and Antenna Studios, Crystal Palace, London.
Laura Hartman Maestro has brought Crystal Palace to life in her wonderful map, and has, as always, been a joy to work with.
To the entire team at William MorrowâLiate Stehlik, Tavia Kowalchuck, Danielle Bartlett, Shawn Nicholls, Tessa Woodwardâyour skill and dedication have once again made a beautiful book. And a very special thanks to my editor, Carrie Feron, who never fails to make me a better writer.
My agent, Nancy Yost, deserves more than I can ever express.
And Rick and Kayti, thanks for everything.
.Â .Â .Â Denmark Street is forever associated with music. Earning the nickname of London's Tin Pan Alley in the 1920s, musicians have flocked to this renowned corner of Soho since its origins as a sheet music supplier in Victorian times.
It had been years since she'd been in an English church. Would the place be locked early on this miserable January evening? she wondered. Moved by a sudden impulse, she waited for a break in the traffic and dodged across Charing Cross Road into Denmark Street.
And then she stopped again, mesmerized, staring in the windows of shops closed for the night but still lit to show their wares. How could she have forgotten? This was the street of guitars. The instruments, with their sinuous shapes and glowing hues, seemed to beckon.
She walked on, slowly now, past one shop and then another. The colors leapt out at herâscarlet, robin's-egg blue, honey, mahogany, palest flax, then the bold shout of black and white.
There was an allure, not only in the beauty of the instruments, but in their inaccessibility. Promise sealed behind glass. Many of the guitars had hand-lettered cards attached, describing their provenance. She liked the idea that guitars, like people, had histories.
Moving to the next shop, she found she was looking, not at guitars, but at flyers taped in the front windows of a tatty club.
THE 12 BAR CLUB
, according to the sign above the door.
The 12 Bar. She recognized the place now. It had been here for yearsâonce or twice as a teenager she'd made the trek from Hampstead, and it had seemed so grown up, so sophisticated. Full of smoke then, of course, but she hadn't minded. Every guitarist worthy of the name had played the tiny, grubby club, and girls went hoping to catch a glimpse of someone famous.
She glanced again at the flyers taped to the window. The name of one band made her smile; then her breath caught in her chest and she peered more closely at the grainy black-and-white photo beneath the band's name.
That face .Â .Â .Â A tingle of shock ran through her. Could it be? After so long? Surely not, but .Â .Â .Â She smudged the cold glass with her fingertip as she read the names of the band members.
Her vision blurred. She blinked until it cleared, but the name was still the same. “Oh, dear God,” she breathed, and the past came upon her like a rushing tide.
Crystal Palace is an area of South London between Dulwich, Croydon and Brixton. Its name has been associated with many different things. “Crystal Palace” was originally coined by
magazine to describe The Great Exhibition, an iron and glass building designed by Joseph Paxton moved to Crystal Palace Park in 1854 and destroyed by fire on 30th November 1936.
Crystal Palace, August, Fifteen Years Earlier
He sat on the front steps of the house in Woodland Road, counting the banknotes he'd stored in the biscuit tin, all that was left of his mum's wages. Frowning, he counted again. Ten pounds short. Oh, bloody hell. She'd found the new stash and pilfered it. Again.
Blinking back sudden tears, he scrubbed the back of his hand against his nose, trying to quell the panic rising in his stomach.
Panic and hunger. It was only Wednesday and she didn't get paid again until Saturday. How was he going to feed the two of them on the little bit of money that was left? Not that his mum did much but pick at the eggs and toast he made her when she got up in the mornings, and once she went on at the pub she seemed to survive on cigarettes and the occasional basket of chips.
Chips. His stomach growled. “Shut it,” he said aloud. He could make toast and Marmite for his supper. And next week he'd do a better job of hiding the money.
The last few months he'd taken to waiting for her outside the pub on Saturday nights when she got her pay packet, even though she scolded him for being out alone in the center of town that late. The publican, Mr. Jenkins, handed him the money directly, accompanied by a wink and a hearty thump on the back. Mr. Jenkins wasn't too bad a bloke, although Andy was sure he kept back a bit for his mum to spend on drink.
On the nights she came home staggering, he didn't like to think where she'd got the extra cash. Nor did he like to think about what would happen when he went back to school after the summer hols. He wouldn't be home when she woke, wouldn't be able to see that she ate, wouldn't be able to make sure she stayed sober at least until she got to work.
She seemed so much worse lately, and if she lost her job .Â .Â .Â He shook his head, refusing to go down that path.
He'd figure out something. He always had. Maybe he could get some kind of a job, now that he was thirteen.
He blinked again, this time because sweat had started to trickle into his eyes. The sun hadn't yet dropped below the houses on the west side of Woodland Road, and hot as it was on the front steps, it was hotter still inside their ground-floor flat.
Besides, he liked watching the afternoon comings and goings in the road. And the view. Their steep street was tatty, most of the houses in disrepair, some derelict. But if he looked north, down the hill, he could see the green swath of London in the haze, and know that just below his line of vision lay the curve of the Thames.
If he walked up to the top of the hill, he could see the heart of the City, glimmering like a mirage. Someday he was going to live there, in a place where things happened. He was going to get out of bloody Crystal Palace and take his mum with him. If they lived somewhere else, maybe she would improve.
Cheered, he reconsidered the prospect of toast and Marmite. There was a tin of baked beans left in the cupboardâmaybe he'd have that instead, and then the chocolate bar he'd squirreled away.
The afternoon dozed on, quiet as the grave except for the rumble of his stomach. He'd decided he couldn't put off his tea any longer when he heard the grind of a car's gearbox from the bottom of the hill. A little car was trundling up. He recognized itâa Volkswagen that had seen better days.
He recognized the driver, too, as the car pulled into the curb in front of the house next door. It was their new next-door neighborâa widow, his mum said, although he didn't think the woman who climbed out of the car looked old enough to be a widow. More like someone's big sister, with her flowered summer dress and softly waving brown hair.
Their two houses were mirror images, the front steps and doors adjacent, so that as she climbed the steps she was almost near enough to touch. She was carrying a bag of shopping and he thought about asking if she needed help, but he was too shy.
But then, as she passed him, she met his gaze and nodded. It was a serious nod, the kind you'd give a grown-up. He nodded back.
She shifted her shopping to dig in her handbag for her keys, but when she had her key in the lock, she paused. “Hot day, isn't it?” she asked.
This small remark was made with such gravity that he felt it deserved an equally sage response. Unfortunately, his tongue seemed stuck to the roof of his suddenly dry mouth. “Cooler out here,” he finally managed to croak.
She seemed to consider this. “What about your garden?” she asked. “It should be shady, this time of day.”
“There's nothing to see in the back.” His flat had access to the long, narrow garden at the back of the house, but it was weedy and neglected. Gardening was not his mum's strong suit.
“True enough.” Her smile was brief, impersonal, and he was sure she must think him an idiot. But as she clicked the key in the lock, she turned back to him as if on a sudden impulse. “Look,” she said. “I'm Nadine. I've got some cold fizzy drinks in the fridge. I could bring one out for you, if you like.”
There was not much, thought Duncan Kincaid, that he loved more than a crisp winter day in Hyde Park.
Even as a child in Cheshire, he'd preferred winter-bare trees against clear, pale skies to the more fulsome glories of summer. Obviously, he wasn't the only one savoring the break in the past two weeks' miserable January weatherâthe park was full of people running, walking dogs, and taking children for outings.
He was, in matter of fact, doing all three.
“Papa,” said Charlotte from her jogging pushchair, “I want to see the horses.”
“You always want to see the horses,” he teased. Papa, she'd begun calling him. Not Dad, like Kit, or Daddy, which Toby used interchangeably with Duncan. He'd asked Louise Phillips, who had been Charlotte's father's law partner, if Charlotte had called Naz that, but she'd said no, that she'd only heard Charlotte use the Pakistani
. Papa, he thought, must have come from one of Charlotte's storybooks, perhaps even
Alice in Wonderland
, which remained her favorite; they had now read it so often he thought it must be burned into his brain.