"This must be it." Di has stopped in front of an old, three- story house. No lights show behind the shuttered windows, and only a small blue bulb illuminates the door.
"Are you sure?" says Hettie, breath massing before her in the freezing air.
"Look." Di points to a small plaque nailed to the wall. The sign is ordinary- looking; it could be a doctor's or a dentist's even. But there's a name there, etched into the bronze: dalton's, no. 62.
So legendary some people say it doesn't exist.
"Ready?" Di gives a blue, spectral grin, then lifts her hand and knocks. A panel slides open. Two pale eyes in an oblong of light.
"I'm here to meet Humphrey," says Di.
She is putting on her posh voice. Standing behind her, Hettie is filled with the urge to laugh. But the door opens. They have to squeeze to get around. On the other side is a small entrance area, little bigger than a cupboard, where a young doorman stands behind a high wooden desk. His gaze slides over Hettie, in her brown coat and tam- o'- shanter, but lingers on Di, with her dark eyes, the shorn points of her hair just showing beneath her hat. Di has this way of looking, down and to the side, and then slowly back up again. It makes men stare. She's doing it now. Hettie can see the doorman goggling like a caught fish.
"You've to sign in," he says eventually, pointing at a large book lying open before him.
Di pulls off her glove, leans in, and signs with a practiced sweep.
"Your turn," she says, handing the pen to Hettie. From below comes the throb of music: a giddy trumpet. A woman whoops. Hettie can feel her heart: thud- thud- thud. The ink of Di's signature is glistening and has sprawled out of its box and onto the line beneath. She takes her own glove off and scratches her name: Henrietta Burns.
"Go on, then." The man pulls the book back, gesturing behind him to unlit stairs.
Di goes first. The staircase is old and creaky, and as Hettie puts a hand out to steady herself, she feels damp wall flake beneath her fingertips. This is not what she imagined; it's nothing like the Palais, where the glamour is all out front. You wouldn't think these musty old stairs led anywhere much at all. But she can hear the music properly now, people talking, the sound of feet fast on the floor, and as they reach the bottom, a wave of panic threatens to take her. "You'll stay close to me, won't you?" she says, reaching for Di's arm.
"Course." Di catches her, gives her a squeeze, and then pushes open the door.
The smell of close, dancing humanity assails them. The club is no bigger than the downstairs of Hettie's mother's house, but it is packed, each table crammed, the dance floor a roaring free- for- all. Most people seem to be in evening clothes the men in black and white, the women in colored gowns but some look as though they have come in fancy dress. Most astonishing of all, the fourpiece band crashing through a rag on the tiny stage has a Negro singer, the first she has ever seen. It's dizzying, as though all the color missing in the city up above has been smuggled underground.
"Killing!" Di grins.
"Killing!" Hettie agrees, letting out her breath.
"There's Humphrey!" Di waves to a fair- haired man weaving his way through the crowd toward them. Hettie recognizes him from that night at the Palais two weeks ago, when he hired Di for a dance and then another, and another, right up until the end of the night. (For this is their job: Dance Instructress, Hammersmith Palais. Available for hire, sixpence a dance, six nights a week.)
"Capital!" says Humphrey, kissing Di on the cheek. "You made it. And this must be . . ."
Excerpted from Wake by Anna Hope. Copyright © 2014 by Anna Hope. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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