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Authors: Colin Murray

September Song

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AFTER A DEAD DOG

NO HEARTS, NO ROSES *

SEPTEMBER SONG *

*
available from Severn House

SEPTEMBER SONG

A Tony Gérard Thriller

Colin Murray
This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
 

First world edition published 2012

in Great Britain and in the USA by

SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of

9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

Copyright © 2012 by Colin Murray.

All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Murray, Colin, 1949-

September song.

1. London (England)–History–1951–Fiction.

2. Suspense fiction.

I. Title

823.9'2-dc23

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-214-6 (ePub)

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8110-6 (cased)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being

described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this

publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons

is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

Vous êtes un beau ciel d'automne, clair et rose!

Mais la tristesse en moi monte comme la mer,

Et laisse, en refluant, sur ma lèvre morose

Le souvenir cuisant de son limon amer  . . .

From: ‘Causerie', Charles Baudelaire (1821–67)

ONE

P
ete's Place isn't the ritziest club in London. Come to think of it, it isn't even the ritziest club in Frith Street. But it does play my kind of music. So I wasn't too dismayed when the slim, good-looking young man I was following stumbled down the steps next to the Acropolis restaurant, waving a creased and flaccid ten-bob note, and disappeared into the smelly corridor that led there.

I stood for a few seconds as a taxi hissed past, its dim headlights casting a yellowish beam on the gleaming road. Soho glistened and glittered damply after the first rain in weeks, and the cool, damp air felt good.

The gloomy passage reeked of stale fat from the Acropolis and unwashed bodies from Pete's Place and I wondered whether I might not prefer to wait outside. Then the resident quartet started to belt out ‘The Sheik of Araby' and there was no question where I wanted to be. I waved my membership card, smiled at Bill, the amiable ex-pugilist on the door, dropped half a crown in the jar on his card table and went on in.

The atmosphere was what the French call
intime
when what they really mean is hot and sweaty. The dense fug from dozens of cigarettes and the whiff of spilled beer almost made me turn around and head off out, but the driving sound had that magical something.

Peering through the gloom, I could just make out Philip Graham, the ‘star' I'd dutifully babysat from pub to pub for the past two nights, slumped at one of the twelve round tables in front of the little raised stage, a glass of whisky already in front of him and two of his latest best friends on either side. The newspapers had Graham down as a hellraiser, and he certainly did his best to live up to that soubriquet, but, in truth, his best wasn't up to much. I didn't care for the look of his two sharply dressed companions though. Nasty little oiks in expensive suits hanging around someone nearly famous and very drunk never appealed to me.

I ambled over to the bar and ordered a glass of lemonade. I was just in time for Peter – no one ever called him Pete to his face – Baxter to drop the trumpet to his side and croak out a boisterous vocal. As a singer, he was a very good horn player, but it was raw, it was fast and it was fun. He raised the trumpet to his lips, and they went for one final, frenzied chorus, piano, bass and drums all frantically pushing the pace beneath Baxter's harsh, breathy melody. They finished more or less together, and, sweating profusely, they stumbled off, to ragged applause.

Peter Baxter grabbed a pint from a table in the wings and then shuffled back on stage. He was a big, florid, bad-tempered man in a shabby, brown suit. Bill the bouncer claimed to remember when the suit had been new and fashionable but no one believed him and his efforts to place it ‘before the war' only had wags vying with each other to find a conflict early enough to explain its antiquity. The general consensus was that it predated the Crimea but was probably not quite as early as the American War of Independence.

‘Let's have some hush, you horrible shower,' Peter said. When he asked for quiet, he usually got it, and everyone duly shut up. ‘Tonight's special. We're being graced by one of America's rising stars, and I want you all to put your hands together and give a real Pete's Place welcome to Miss Jeannie Summers.'

The crowd of fifty or so clapped in a desultory way as a pretty, slim, youngish woman in a dark-blue evening gown glided up to the microphone and the light faded to a single spot. Her pianist had already taken his seat, and he tinkled an intro. She closed her eyes and started to sing.

She opened with ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes' and followed it, without a pause, with ‘These Foolish Things'. One song followed another seamlessly, and everyone in that shabby little club was transfixed. Miss Jeannie Summers had the kind of rich, deep alto voice that broke your heart. When she sang that she couldn't help loving that man of hers, you knew it to be true, and when she told you that she died a little every time she said goodbye, you believed her. She didn't perform the songs – she lived them.

Her set was about thirty minutes long and went by in a whisper. She finished with ‘September in the Rain', and then she simply lowered her head. There was a long silence and then a single cry of ‘Bravo!' and Philip Graham stood up, clapping wildly. Everyone joined in. Miss Summers didn't appear to notice. Then the spot died. When the floods came on, she'd vanished. After a moment or two, Peter Baxter lurched on, clutching his pint pot and trying to clap at the same time. He only succeeded in slopping beer over his brown, suede shoes. He leaned in to the microphone, said, ‘Wow,' and shook his head before taking a great slurp of beer. Then he came close to looking happy.

‘The lovely Jeannie Summers will be back later,' he said, and I swear he very nearly smiled. ‘In the meantime, we'll all take a short break. Time to charge your glasses and visit the facilities, ladies and gentlemen. Fifteen minutes.' Then he shuffled off into the wings.

People started milling around, talking loudly: some rushed the bar, others slipped out into the dank corridor to find the loo. Through the crowd, I saw Philip Graham, still on his feet, looking longingly at the stage. I picked up my glass, drank warm lemonade and swayed to my left to allow a pasty-faced man access to the bar. When I looked for Philip Graham again I couldn't see him, or his companions. I didn't think they'd sneaked past me, but I poked my head around the door and looked out, just in case. He wasn't waiting outside the Gents, and I had a bad feeling.

Young Philip was a good-looking boy, and he fancied himself a star. That meant he reckoned the ladies found him irresistible and all doors were opened to him. And that might, I suppose, have been true, if he hadn't also been a nasty, graceless, boorish drunk.

I put my glass down on the nearest table without too many feelings of regret – there's only so much lemonade a man can drink in one evening – and wandered closer to the little raised area that masqueraded as a stage. I was standing right by it when, even above the hubbub in the club, I heard the ugly sounds of an altercation.

One step took me on to the stage; three more and I was in the wings.

Typically, Philip Graham was several feet away from the ruckus.

Jeannie Summers' piano player was backed up against a brownish-red door, and Philip's two companions were yelling at him. One of them was holding his right arm, and the other was jabbing a finger into his chest. As I approached, the jabbing finger turned into a fist and hammered into the pianist's stomach.

I ran the couple of yards that separated us and gave the puncher the kind of solid shoulder-barge that a beefy centre forward would use to bundle a goalie into the net. He was lighter than he looked and crossed the goal line by a good distance before falling to the ground in an untidy heap. I turned and grabbed Graham's other mate by the collar of his jacket, hauled him off the piano player and shoved him hard in the same general direction. He was much heavier and bulkier and only back-pedalled a pace or two before standing his ground. I placed myself squarely in front of him, making it clear that the only way to the panting ivory tinkler was through me.

‘That's enough,' I said, just as Peter Baxter came out of another door further along. He was carrying a battered cricket bat. I turned to Hoxton Films' latest toerag of a star. ‘Mr Graham,' I said, ‘you'd best get out of here and take your mates with you.'

He took a step towards me, and the heavier of his companions threw a roundhouse right at the same time. I stepped inside it, took it on the shoulder and smacked a short right jab into his chin. For all his bulk, he had a glass jaw, and he just obligingly sat down, a vacant look on his acne-scarred face. His friend was still on the floor, with Peter Baxter's cricket bat pressed into his midriff. It isn't often that you can talk about seeing the blood drain from someone's face, but Philip Graham certainly turned an unhealthy, pale colour while I watched.

I pointed a finger at him.

‘I really think you should go,' I said, ‘to your bed.'

He didn't move.

‘Now!' I barked, and he looked like the little kid he really was, thin, white-faced and scared.

‘You've got no right,' he started to whine.

‘Mr Graham,' I said, laying heavy emphasis on the Mr, ‘you have a contract with Hoxton Films. I suggest you think about honouring it by going home, setting the alarm and climbing into that make-up chair by six o'clock tomorrow morning. Don't you?'

‘I know people,' he said.

‘Yes,' I said, ‘and I'm sure you can make my life a misery. Just do me a favour and grab a cab, get some sleep and start plotting your revenge tomorrow.'

‘What about my friends?' he said.

‘They'll be following you out in due course,' Peter Baxter said, leaning on the cricket bat and forcing a grimace from the smaller of the two, ‘if they know what's good for them.'

‘All right,' Graham said, ‘I'm off. But I'll be back.'

‘No, you won't,' Peter Baxter said, shaking his head emphatically. ‘You won't.'

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