Where Memories Lie
William Morrow - 2008 - ISBN: 9780061287510
"And I'm not saying love will make you happy -- above all, I'm not saying that. If anything I tend to believe that it will make you unhappy; either immediately unhappy, as you are impaled by incompatibility; or unhappy later, when the woodworm has quietly been gnawing away for years and the bishop's throne collapses. But you can believe this and still insist that love is our only hope."
Erika 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 covers and had 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 street lamp on Kensington Park Road 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, 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.
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 seventy-five, as much as it galled him to admit it, 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 a week hence, he saw with relief. He could still buy a catalogue 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 catalogue resting carefully on his knees. It was beautifully produced, as Harrowby’s catalogues 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 George Fouquet, a diamond cocktail ring by Rene Boivin—
Then his hand froze as 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 catalogue 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 squelch 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 mid-term 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 desert 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 guv’nor at dinner, you know. You’ll have to practice saying Denis.” 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?”