Mind the Gap (Hidden Cities #1) - Page 23

Often she dreamed of her mother, and of Cadge, but sometimes her dreams were nothing more than visits to her old house, to her school, mundane nights out for a curry with some friends. But now all of those school friends were no longer a part of her life; she had left them behind without so much as a thought.

True, she had never been as close to them as she might have been. The way her mother had raised her made it difficult for her to grow close to anyone, to trust any-one. Jazz didn't think she'd had a best friend since the age of six or seven, until she'd met Cadge.

Harry and the United Kingdom were her friends now. At least, she thought they were. They cared about her, and Harry was always so proud of her. Her mother was dead and she had no one else —no one to run to, no one who could hide her. Terence had hinted that he could be that safe harbor, but she had only just met him.

You didn't know Harry when he took you in, she thought.

The truth did not comfort her. Jazz plumped up the folded blanket she was using for a pillow and turned onto her other side, eyes open in the dark. Only the tiniest bit of illu-mination came from a small light that Harry left burning in the corridor to guide them to the toilets during the night.

What time is it? she wondered. The Palace was large enough that most of them could have had their own rooms, but, with the exception of Stevie, all of the kids had instinc-tively grouped into twos and threes.

Safety in numbers, Jazz figured. She had paired off with Hattie, who snored quietly nearby. Her breathing was low and steady. Jazz listened care-fully but could not hear anyone rustling in the dark. It must be late for them all to be so deeply lost in slumber.

In the dark, she imagined she could see Terence's ice-blue eyes.

Jazz did not want to die down here. If there was any pos-sibility that she could have a better life yet still stay safe, wouldn't her mother have wanted that for her? Wouldn't Cadge have told her she was a fool not to at least try?

And beyond safety and the future, there were other con-cerns. Jazz wanted answers. The connections were there. The Uncles, the BMW men, the mayor. Harry had sent her to rob Mort's house, and now she wondered about the other two houses they'd robbed. Who owned those? What did Harry know, really, about the Uncles? What did Terence know about the ghosts of old London? What the hell was the Blackwood Club?

"Bloody hell," she whispered.

With a sigh, Jazz gave up on sleep entirely. She rose qui-etly, slipped on her trainers, and left her room. In the corri-dor, she paused to listen for any sign that others were about, but all she heard was Harry snoring loudly at the end of the hall. Grabbing her torch, she padded quietly to the door and went up the spiral stairs. If Hattie woke, she'd think Jazz had gone to the bathroom.

The door at the top of the stairs scraped the floor, so she had to open it very slowly. She left the door ajar and went along that arched corridor to the old rusted dumbwaiter, slid aside the door panel, and shone the torchlight inside. The light glinted off the blade.

But when she reached in, she grabbed one of the framed photographs instead. The blade had some terrible signifi-cance to Terence, and she could feel when she carried it that there was something unusual about it. The photographs, however, had lingered in her mind even more.

Jazz held the frame in her hand and shone the torch on the picture of that grim assemblage. Mortimer Keating stood on the left. She recognized other Uncles and wondered whether theirs were the voices she'd heard in her house while her mother's corpse cooled.

And there was her father.

The Blackwood Club? Logic at least suggested it. Josephine Blackwood controlled the Uncles, who were in turn served by thugs and lackeys Jazz thought of as the BMW men. Since her father's death, she had been aware that he was involved with the Uncles, but she had never known how, and any time her inquiries to her mother had strayed into that territory, the subject was changed. Once or twice, her mother had warned her away. They were being looked after; that was all that mat-tered. But even when her mother assured her of this, Jazz had known the woman did not believe it.

Come on, then, Dad. Help me out. What the hell is the Blackwood Club?

She stared at the image so long that she lost track of the time. Her father had been involved in something ugly, that much was evident. But a photograph wasn't going to give her the answers she wanted.

Beyond tired, eyelids drooping, she went to put the photo back into its hiding place and caught the frame on the edge of the metal door. It fell from her hand. Jazz tried to snatch it up again but only succeeded in striking it with her torch. The photograph hit the ground, shattering the glass and cracking the frame.

Dropping to a crouch, she shone the torch on the broken glass. The picture looked undamaged, but the frame was ru-ined. Glancing around to make sure no one had heard, she carefully picked the largest pieces of glass off the floor and put them inside the rusted

dumbwaiter, over to one side so that she wouldn't accidentally cut herself later when retrieving the blade or the photos. The broken frame followed in pieces. Soon, only the picture itself and a bunch of glass shards re-mained on the stone floor. Some of the glass had gone down into the grooves of the mortar, and she would never be able to get them up without a broom. Careful not to cut her fingers, she brushed as much of the glass as she could onto the photo and dumped it with the rest of the broken shards inside the old service lift.

Before hiding the photograph again, she studied it one last time. The glass had nicked it in many places, but she was glad to see it hadn't ruined the picture. With her torch's light to guide her, she went to put the photo back, and only then did she notice the writing on the reverse side.

It was the imprint of a photographer's stamp. Curious, she held it up and read the words.

15 July, 1981 Harold Fowler, Photographer The grand entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum was a bit of loveliness dropped in amid an otherwise austere fa-cade. The receding arch around the doorway made it look as though the museum were the home of giants, and the people passing to and fro in the intersection of Cromwell Gardens and Exhibition Road seemed Lilliputian in comparison.

Terence stood leaning against a lamppost with his hands thrust into his pockets, as casual as you please. A shopping bag from Harrods rested on the pavement by his feet. Like the museum, he had a certain austerity about him, but he also had the dashing looks of a 1940s film star. Today he wore khaki trousers, brown shoes, and a green short-sleeved linen shirt. He might not have been wearing the suit, but Jazz thought his clothes still looked quite expensive. The man seemed to breathe money and confidence.

She had known girls who went weak in the knees in the presence of arrogant men, but she'd never been one of them.

Now she understood that there was a difference between arrogance and confidence. Terence had swagger, and in spite of herself, she liked it.

Jazz had tied her hair back in a ponytail and donned big dark sunglasses she had nicked from a street-corner vendor just after coming off the Tube. She wore a crushed lilac-hued gypsy skirt and a white spaghetti-strap top and carried a big knit shoulder bag. Had she tried to leave the Palace dressed that way, there would have been many questions, so she had* worn a loose cotton top over the tank and a pair of jeans, then changed clothes in the ladies' at Waterstone's a few streets from the museum.

She considered trying to sneak up on him but instead pur-posely let him see her coming. After so many weeks attempting to be as inconspicuous as possible, it felt strange and liberating to switch gears.

Jazz strode across the street as though it was some fashion runway in Milan. Several car horns blatted the ap-proval of male motorists and she waved to one driver. She was just a girl out shopping today. If the Uncles were looking for her, they would be searching for a frightened creature scurrying in the alleys of London, not this young woman. In her time with Harry Fowler, Jazz had learned more about perspective and ap-pearance than in any of her meager efforts at onstage drama.

Terence stood up straight, smiling as she approached.

"You clean up nicely," he told her as she stepped onto the sidewalk.

Jazz gave him a flirtatious toss of her head. Without the glasses, her eyes would have betrayed her turmoil. She kept them on.

"I'll choose to take that as a compliment."

"It is," Terence replied. "No one would mistake you for a tunnel rat today."

"Not even you."

He cocked an eyebrow. "I wasn't sure you'd come."

"I wouldn't have," she admitted, still hiding behind her glasses. "But I had a bit of an epiphany last night. I'm not go-ing to find the answers I'm looking for down below."

His expression turned grim and he replied with a know-ing nod. Then he gave her a more thorough inspection and bent to pick up the Harrods shopping bag.

"This may be easier than I thought," he said.

"What's that?"

"I picked up some things for you. Camouflage, if you will. But I think you'll do as is. At your age, the Bohemian look is a fashionable choice. Though I'm impressed you're able to keep clothes so clean down there. Wherever there is."

Jazz put a hand on his arm and leaned in to speak to him in an exaggerated whisper. "I only stole them this morning."

Terence gazed at her again. "Well done, you. We're bet-ter off, I think. I had to guess at sizes. I do hope I succeeded with the shoes, however. Those simply won't do."

He pointed to her feet and Jazz looked down. The san-dals she wore were not particularly ragged, and she'd worn trainers until she changed at the bookstore.

"What's wrong with them? You said the Bohemian look was fashionable."

He smiled, blue eyes sparkling with mischief. "True enough. But

there's the genuine Bohemian and then there's the young and rich who adept BoHo to dress down. The shoes and the jewelry always give them away."

Terence reached into the Harrods bag and took out a shoe box. Jazz stared at him a moment, trying to figure out what the man had in mind that required her to wear different shoes. Out of curiosity, she surrendered. Taking the box from him, she opened it to find a pair of very expensive-looking shoes, all straps and high heels.

"You have some kind of fetish?"

"We all have fetishes. Mine don't involve shoes, if that sets you at ease."

"Not much, no," Jazz said. But she slipped off her san-dals, put them into the box, and put the heels on instead. "Perfect fit."

Terence admired her feet and legs. "Excellent. They change your whole appearance."

"They're only shoes."

"You're taller in them. They alter your center of balance so that you stand differently. They accentuate your legs, draw attention, and succeed in making your age ambiguous. And they suggest a certain affluence, which is the most important element."

"Of what?" Jazz smiled at him. "You're a very strange man, Terence."

"I'll never deny it, love. But bear with me. I predict you're going to have a very entertaining day.

Exciting, even."

He took the box —now with the discarded sandals in it— and returned it to the Harrods bag. Then he drew out an-other, smaller box, and offered it to her. Jazz knew of only one thing that routinely came in such small boxes, but was still taken aback when she opened it and discovered a quartet of thin gold bangle bracelets.

"What the hell are you doing, you mad thing?" she asked, staring at the gold.

"We have work to do, Jasmine, and you need to be dressed for the job. I told you if you came to meet me today, I would show you a different way to hide and to live. This is step one. Class is in session.

Put them on. All on one wrist, please."

Jazz put aside any hesitation and slid the four gold bands onto her left wrist. They were simple, but she liked them a great deal. Whatever the hell Terence was up to, she had to admit that she couldn't wait to see where it led next.

He put that box back into the Harrods bag as well and then offered her his arm. With a nervous laugh, she took it, and they strolled together away from the Victoria and Albert Museum. It had not escaped her notice that the thief had not yet mentioned the blade. She carried it in her shoulder bag, wrapped in her blue jeans.

"You're really not going to tell me where we're going?"

Terence gave her that look again, mischief dancing in his eyes. "We have several stops to make, actually. Promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep."

They walked for a while, and for the first time since her world had changed, Jazz found herself not at all concerned with her destination. Terence presented her with a game of discov-ery, and she went along with it quite willingly. Even for late summer it was quite warm, but a breeze blew her skirt around her legs and the heat of the sun was welcome on her skin.

When Terence led her across the street toward a bou-tique salon, Jazz slowed, teetering a little on her new heels. He urged her on, but when they reached the sidewalk, she ' stopped and forced him to face her.

"What are we doing here?"

He raised his eyebrows. "Don't you have a mirror down there? Tying back that hair doesn't make it any less a rat's nest. You've got to have it cut and washed. A change in color would suit you as well, if you're trying to hide in plain sight. And your nails are worse than a hag's. Manicure and pedicure are both in order."

Jazz blanched. She drew her arm away from him, staring first at Terence and then at the salon. He had to know what he was suggesting. If she had her hair done professionally, cut and dyed —never mind a bloody manicure—she would never be able to explain it to Harry and the others. She'd have to tell the truth, an idea that troubled her deeply given the secrets she suspected Harry was hiding from her.

Only if you go back.

Her throat went dry. She licked her lips and took a step away from him. Terence stared at her, but Jazz studied the ground instead. In the back of her mind she had known all along that by coming to meet him she was expressing her in-terest in changing course, in discovering if he could change her life the way he'd promised the day before. But she'd only come because of what she'd seen on the back of that photograph of her father and the Uncles — Harold Fowler, Photographer. She'd wanted to see Terence again, there was no denying that. But she'd told herself she had come only for whatever information he might provide about the mysteries surrounding her. She had not planned to leave the Underground for good.