Florian's Gate

Florian's Gate by T. Davis Bunn

Book: Florian's Gate by T. Davis Bunn Read Free Book Online
Authors: T. Davis Bunn
Audley Street, where Jeffrey’s minuscule apartment was located, ran from Grosvenor Square and the United States Embassy to Curzon Street. It was by London standards a broad and smooth-running thoroughfare, one long block removed from Park Lane and Hyde Park. So many films and television programs had used its thoroughly Victorian facades as backdrops that the equipment required for a full-scale shoot caused more irritation than excitement.
    His neighborhood was flanked on all sides by the lore of centuries and filled to the brim with wealth. South Audley Street was a ridiculously posh address, made affordable only because the American who owned the flat was a friend and client of Alexander’s. In the late sixties—back beforeLondon’s property boom had pushed Mayfair prices into the stratosphere—he had purchased it both as an investment and a holiday flat. He let it to Jeffrey half as a favor to Alexander and half as a security measure; in recent years thieves had taken to marking down all flats not regularly occupied and robbing them at their leisure.
    According to the agreement, Jeffrey had the flat fully furnished for eleven months a year. In July the owner and his wife flew over from California to spend a month doing the London social scene. For that month Jeffrey moved into rooms at his club. The arrangement was ideal. It brought a tastefully furnished Mayfair flat down to an affordable price, and allowed Jeffrey to savor the experience of making the heart of London his home.
    By American standards, the flat was only slightly larger than a moving crate. The living room looked down on a busy city street and was just big enough for a glass-topped dining table, an ultra-modern sofa, two matching chairs, and an unadorned Scandinavian corner cupboard. The bedroom, whose tiny window overlooked an alley, was much too small for its American-size bed. Jeffrey had to do the sideways shuffle to arrive at his clothes cupboard. Dressing took place in the front hall.
    The bathroom was down a narrow staircase that was both steep and dangerous, especially after a round of local pubs. The kitchen was an afterthought, an alcove so narrow that two people could not pass each other.
    The monthly rent was more than his father’s mortgage for a four-bedroom house on one of Jacksonville’s main canals. Still, Jeffrey was enormously glad he had followed Alexander’s urging to accept the offer. The Grosvenor House Hotel, which was half a block behind his flat, charged four hundred dollars a night for a standard double room. A furnished studio flat two doors down from his was advertised for rent at more per week than he was paying per month. And the location suited him perfectly—two blocks to his shop, one to HydePark, and three from the fabulous English breakfasts in legendary Shepherd Market.
    Shepherd Market was a collection of narrow winding streets and tiny cottages more suited to a quiet country village than the heart of London’s West End. Tradition had it as the gathering place for drovers bringing their flocks to market, back seven or eight hundred years ago, when London-Town was still confined to its original walls. In those early days, drovers slaughtered their flocks behind local butcheries, and put themselves up in cramped little rooms above the local pubs.
    By the time Queen Victoria began her reign in the nineteenth century, the drovers were no more. Yet Shepherd Market survived the centuries and the transitions, retaining its reputation as a gathering place for the less genteel, and gaining a name as having the largest selection of courtesans and streetwalkers in all England.
    Jeffrey’s walk to breakfast was for him a stroll through a living museum. At the Hyde Park end, Mayfair was mostly brick and stone festooned with an abundance of Victorian foppery. Queen Anne cottages stood cheek-and-jowl with more recent construction, yet to Jeffrey’s unabashedly biased eye, the charm had

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