Read Where Memories Lie Online
Authors: Deborah Crombie
Tags: #Mystery, #Contemporary
Erika Rosenthal woke, her body jerking to the whump of…
The day was utterly miserable for early May, even considering…
He knew the peculiarities of the latch so well that…
“Mr. Walters?” Kincaid caught his slip as soon as the…
“He was circumcised, if that helps.” Dr. Rainey peered over…
Gemma took the Central Line straight to St. Paul’s tube…
The flowers came just after the two police officers left,…
Kit lay awake, watching the numerals on his bedside clock…
Superintendent Mark Lamb had been both understanding and sympathetic. Not…
Gemma had her mobile in hand as she walked out…
“We’ll have to start with the parents,” Kincaid said as…
“Well, that was a great success,” Kincaid said as he…
“First time I’ve ever had a bloke faint on me,”…
Gemma had sat at the hospital bedside until long after…
Gemma’s first impulse, when she had dropped the boys at…
They settled for sandwiches and tea from a snack bar,…
Shadow had fallen in the courtyard at St. Barts by…
“You’re right. I was jealous,” admitted Giles. “But I can’t…
Gemma had just drifted off to sleep when Kincaid climbed…
While Gemma restrained Ellen Miller-Scott, Kincaid took Cullen aside and…
The photo on Gemma’s phone was black and white, obviously…
“But what about the brooch?” asked Erika. “I still don’t…
The decoy arrived well before dark. Her name was Wendy…
On Friday morning, Gemma arrived at the hospital as soon…
And then the passion of my life, that is, the City of London—to see London all blasted, that too raked my heart.
—Virginia Woolf, from a letter to Ethel Smyth,
Erika Rosenthal woke, her body jerking to the whump of the bomb, the flash of light from the incendiary flickering against her closed eyelids. She threw back the scratchy wool blanket and had half reached for David to shake him awake when she realized the night was silent. No sirens, no rumble and thump of guns. Rubbing at her sleep-fogged eyes, she saw that light from the streetlamp was shining through the gap in the bedroom curtains, etching a pattern lucid as moonlight across the counterpane. It must have been that gleam that had insinuated itself into her subconscious—or perhaps a reflection from the moving lights of a passing car. She had yet to become accustomed to the unshuttered headlamps. Even in her waking hours, the brightness caused her to flinch.
She lay back against the pillows, heart pounding painfully in her chest, cursing herself for a fool. It was over, the war—had been over for months now, London preternaturally quiet. Her mind knew it, but not her body, nor her dreams.
David lay on his back, still as marble, the rise and fall of his chest invisible even in the light that spilled through the curtains. Again she felt the irrational spike of fear. Reaching out, she laid her fingers ever so lightly against the thin skin on the inside of his wrist, feeling for the reassuring steady beat of his pulse. This was a habit she’d developed during the Blitz, when she’d worked for the rescue crew in their part of Notting Hill, a compelling and irresistible need to assure herself that life was not so easily snuffed out.
The rhythm of David’s breathing became suddenly audible, and beneath her fingertips she felt the tension of awareness flood through her husband’s body.
“I’m sorry, darling,” she said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.” She heard the tremble of longing in her voice, barely controlled, but David’s only response was to slip his hand from hers and turn away.
The vast stucco palaces of Kensington Park Road and the adjoining streets had long ago been converted into self-contained flats where an ever-increasing stream of refugees from every part of the once civilized world had found improvised homes, like the dark-age troglodytes who sheltered in the galleries and boxes of the Colosseum.
—Sir Osbert Lancaster,
All Done from Memory,
The day was utterly miserable for early May, even considering the expected vagaries of English weather. At a few minutes to four in the afternoon, it was dark as twilight, and the rain came down in relentless, pounding sheets. The gusts of wind had repeatedly turned Henri Durrell’s umbrella wrong side out, so he had given up, and trudged down the Old Brompton Road with his head down and his shoulders hunched against the torrent, trying to avoid losing an eye to carelessly wielded umbrellas that had proved stronger than his own, and dodging the waves thrown up by passing automobiles.
Pain shot through his hip and he slowed, wincing. He was near
ing eighty, and the damp did quite unpleasant things to his joints, even without the stress of an unaccustomed jog.
What had he been thinking? He should have stayed at the V&A until closing, then perhaps the worst of the storm would have blown through. He’d met a friend at the museum’s café for Saturday-afternoon tea, always a pleasant treat, but his haste in leaving had been inspired by his desire to get home to his flat in Roland Gardens and its seductive comforts—his book; a stiff whisky; the gas fire; and his cat, Matilde.
Jostled by a hurrying passerby, Henri stopped to recover his balance and found himself gazing into the windows of Harrowby’s, the auction house. A poster advertised an upcoming sale of Art Deco jewelry. An avid collector, Henri usually kept up with such things, but he had been away for a spring holiday in his native Burgundy—where the sun had shone, thank God—and missed notice of this one.
The auction was to take place the following Wednesday, he saw with relief. He could still buy a catalog and peruse it thoroughly—if he hadn’t missed the four o’clock closing time, that is. A quick glance at his watch showed one minute to the hour. Henri shook his wet umbrella, showering himself in the process, and dashed through Harrowby’s still-open doors.
A few minutes later, he emerged, cheered by his acquisition and a friendly chat with the woman at reception. The rest of his walk home seemed less laborious, even though the rain had not abated. He toweled himself off and changed into dry socks and slippers, with Matilde impeding the process by purring and butting against his ankles. He decided on tea rather than whisky, the better to ward off a chill, and when the pot had steeped he lit the gas fire and settled himself in his favorite chair, the catalog resting carefully on his knees. It was beautifully produced, as Harrowby’s catalogs always were—the house had never been known to lack style—and Henri opened it with a sigh of pleasure. Making room for the insistent cat, he thumbed through the pages, his breath catching at the beauty of the pieces. He
had taught art history before his recent retirement, and something about the clean, innovative shapes of this period appealed to him above all others.
Here, the master artists were well represented; a diamond and sapphire pendant by Georges Fouquet, a diamond cocktail ring by Rene Boivin—
Then his hand froze. An entry caught his eye, and his heart gave an uncomfortable flutter. Surely that couldn’t be possible?
He studied the photo more closely. Henri appreciated color, so diamonds alone had never thrilled him as much as pieces that set platinum against the red, blue, or green of rubies, sapphires, or emeralds, but this—
The brooch was made of diamonds set in platinum, a double drop that reminded him of a waterfall or the swoop of a peacock’s tail. The curving style was unusual for Art Deco, where the emphasis had been highly geometric. But the date of the piece was late, 1938, and the name—the name he recognized with a jolt that sent the blood pounding through his veins.
Shaking his head, he stood, dumping Matilde unceremoniously from his lap. Then he hesitated. Should he ask to view the piece before taking any action? But no, the auction house would be closed now until Monday, and he doubted a mistake in the attribution, or in his memory.
He slipped the catalog carefully back into its bag and carried it into the hall, where he donned his wet boots and coat once again, and reluctantly left the shelter of his flat.
“Why the bloody hell did it have to rain?” Gemma James dropped supermarket carrier bags on her kitchen table and pushed a sodden strand of hair from her face. Rivulets from the bags pooled on the scrubbed pine table. Grabbing a tea towel, Gemma blotted up the water as Duncan Kincaid set down his own load of dripping plastic.
“Because it’s May in London?” he asked, grinning. “Or because the patron saint of dinner parties has it in for you?”
She swatted at him with the damp towel, but smiled in spite of herself. “Okay, point taken. But seriously, I meant to do the flowers from our garden, and now that’s out. Not to mention that between boys and dogs, the house will be a sea of mud.”
“The boys are with Wesley, probably making themselves sick on Wesley’s mother’s sweets and watching God knows what on the telly. As for the dogs, I will personally wipe every trace of muck from errant paws, and I can run down and get flowers from one of the stalls on Portobello.” He slipped his arm round her shoulders. “Don’t worry, love. You’ll be brilliant.”
For a moment, she allowed herself to rest her head against his shoulder. His shirt was damp from the rain, and through the fabric she could feel the comforting warmth of his skin. She leaned a little closer, then forced herself to quash the thought that there were better ways to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon with the children out of the house.
They had begun as partners at Scotland Yard, then against her better judgment they had become clandestine lovers until her promotion to inspector and transfer to Notting Hill Police Station had separated them professionally. With no barrier to their relationship, they had moved in together, each bringing a son from a previous marriage and complications that at times had seemed insurmountable. But they had got through these challenges, including the midterm loss of the child they had conceived together, and since their visit to Duncan’s family in Cheshire this last Christmas, the dynamics of their cobbled-together family seemed to have meshed more smoothly.
It was a stroke of luck that had landed them in a house in an upmarket area of Notting Hill they would not normally have been able to afford, even with Kincaid’s higher superintendent’s salary. The house belonged to Duncan’s chief superintendent’s sister, whose
family had gone abroad on a five-year contract, and Duncan and Gemma had been recommended to her as the ideal tenants.
Gemma had never thought she would adjust to life in Notting Hill, so different was it from the working-class area of London where she had grown up, but now she found that she loved the house and neighborhood so passionately that she couldn’t imagine leaving, and the end of their lease hovered in her mind like a distant specter.
What she hadn’t learned to love was the art of formal entertaining, and tonight she’d agreed to host a dinner party, the anticipation of which had sent her into a paroxysm of nerves. The guest list included Chief Superintendent Denis Childs—Duncan’s guv’nor and their landlady’s brother—along with his wife, whom Gemma had never met; Superintendent Mark Lamb, Gemma’s boss, and his wife; Doug Cullen, who was now Kincaid’s sergeant; and PC Melody Talbot, who worked with Gemma at Notting Hill.
Doug Cullen and Melody Talbot didn’t know each other well, and Gemma was indulging an impulse to play at matchmaker, although Kincaid had teasingly warned her that she’d better be prepared to deal with the consequences of meddling.
She sighed and straightened up, gazing at the abundance spilling from the carrier bags onto the kitchen table. There were fillets of fresh salmon, lemons, frilly bunches of fennel, and tiny jewel-like grape tomatoes, as well as bread from her favorite bakery on Portobello Road, several bottles of crisp white wine, and the makings for enough salad to feed an army. The dessert she had bought ready-made—to her shame, baker’s daughter that she was—a beautiful fruit tart from Mr. Christian’s Deli on Elgin Crescent. Attempting to bake would definitely have sent her over the edge into blithering idiocy.
“It all looked so easy in the cookery book,” she said. “What if the chief super doesn’t like it? Or what if he tells his sister we’ve made a wreck of her house?”
“You can’t call him
at dinner, you know. You’ll have to
.” Kincaid gave her shoulder a squeeze and began pulling groceries from the bags. “And as for the house, it looks better than it did when we moved in. The food will be fabulous, the table stunning, and if all else fails,” he added, grinning, “you can play the piano. What could possibly go wrong?”
Gemma stuck out her tongue. “Something,” she said darkly, “always does.”
The rain fell in relentless torrents, streaming down the garden window in a solid sheet of silver gilt, drumming against the glass roof of the conservatory like machine-gun fire.
Erika Rosenthal had always liked rain, liked the secretive sense it engendered, the opportunity it offered to shut out the world, but today, as the deluge darkened the May afternoon to evening, she was finding it uncomfortably oppressive.
She sat in her favorite chair in her sitting room, book open on her lap, cooling cup of coffee—decaffeinated, by her doctor’s orders—on the side table, feeling as if the ceaseless pounding of the rain might penetrate roof and walls until it pierced the frail barrier of her skin.
She, who had never been able to find enough hours in the day to read, to write, to listen to music, to arrange her beloved flowers, had lately found herself unable to settle to anything. Her concentration had scattered like thrown pennies, and her mind seemed to wander of its own accord, in and out of recollections as vivid as waking dreams.
That morning, as she had been dressing, she’d suddenly found herself thinking that she must hurry or she’d be late for work at Whiteleys. Then with a start she’d realized that those days were long gone, and David with them, and the stab of grief she’d felt for the past had been as fresh as if it were yesterday.
She’d sat back on the edge of the bed, her breath rasping painfully in her throat, and forced herself to think of the discipline she
had so carefully practiced over the years, the balancing of each day’s small, luminous joys against the ever-threatening beast of despair.
Had she lost that struggle? Could it be that life coalesced, at the end, and that one had no choice but to shuttle back and forth in time, repeating the traumas one had thought long put to bed?
No, she thought now, chiding herself for allowing such self-pity to take hold. She stood up from her chair with a grimace. When one was her age, one was allowed an occasional bad day, and that was all this was. Tomorrow the sun would be shining, she would sit outside with the Sunday papers, watching children playing in the communal garden and discussing compost and birds’ nests with her neighbor, and the world would right itself. Until then, she would pour herself a well-deserved sherry and abandon the meandering literary novel on her table for something pleasurably familiar—Jane Austen, perhaps.
She had reached her kitchen and was pouring the sludge that passed itself for coffee down the sink when the door buzzer sounded. Startled, she glanced out the garden window at the still-pouring rain, wondering who could be calling in such ungodly weather. A neighbor, perhaps, taken ill?
But when she pressed the intercom, a familiar voice said, “Erika? It’s Henri. Henri Durrell. Can I come in?” He sounded agitated.
She hurried to unlock the door, shaking her head and tut-tutting when she saw the state of his coat and hat. “Henri! What on earth are you doing out in this?” she asked as she ushered him in. “It’s wet enough to drown an otter.”
He kissed her on the cheek as she took his things and hung them, dripping, on the pegs by the door.
“Lovely as ever, I see,” he said in lieu of a reply, smoothing his damp but abundant white hair. He was still a good-looking man, with a fine chin and direct blue eyes, and he carried himself with a military erectness in spite of the problems she knew he had with his hips.
It amused her that he had lost almost all trace of his native Burgundian accent, just as it amused her to remember that he had once been her student, and that she had contemplated an affair with him. In the end, she’d rejected his advances, afraid the difference in their ages would make her a fool; now she thought herself foolish to have forsaken pleasure for the sake of dignity.
The memory of another lost opportunity flashed through her mind, but this one was too painful to contemplate even now. Pushing the recollection aside, she squeezed Henri’s hand and urged, “Come in, come in.” She felt inordinately pleased to see him.
“We’ll light the fire, even though it’s considered a sin so late in the year, and I’ll pour us a sherry.”
“You know I can’t abide the stuff,” Henri said as he followed her into the sitting room, brushing carefully at his trousers as he sat in the chair nearest hers, then wiping the plastic carrier bag he held with a handkerchief fished from his jacket.
“A whisky, then. You know I keep a bottle just for you.”
Hesitating, he said, “No, really, Erika, I won’t impose on your hospitality.” He cleared his throat. “This is not actually a social call.”
Alarmed, she said, “What is it, Henri? Are you ill?”
“Oh, no, it’s nothing like that. Only the arthritis playing up in this infernal damp. It’s just—” He stopped, running his hand over the carrier bag, and she noticed that it was embossed with the label of Harrowby’s, the auction house. “It’s just that I ran across something very odd today, and I may be interfering where I’ve no business, but I thought you should see it.”
“Henri, whatever are you talking about?”
He pulled a thin soft-cover book from the bag, and it, too, carried the Harrowby’s label. Looking more closely, she saw that it was a catalog of items in an upcoming sale of Art Deco jewelry, and her breath seemed to stop in her throat.
Opening it, Henri thumbed quickly to a page near the end and
handed the book to her. “There. I recognized it from the name, of course, and from your description.”