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Where Memories Lie LP
A Novel Chapter One
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, 1963
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." Where Memories Lie LP
. Copyright © by Deborah Crombie. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.