A silky blue haze of summer smog lay over London. Along New Bond Street slow herds of taxis and delivery vans grunted and roared from one set of lights to another, sending diesel fumes and CO2 emissions and invisible clouds of human exasperation drifting heavenwards to add to the noxious ether. Dispassionately the drivers watched the muscled arrogance of the cycle couriers as they wove and sped through the stationary traffic, and eyed the expensively-clad women clicking along the pavements in tiny heels and summer dresses, faces disdainful and preoccupied behind designer sunglasses. All human traffic seemed to move faster than the lines of vehicles.
The time was ten to one, and office workers were beginning to spill on to the street and into Pret a Manger and Costa Coffee. Down in the cool, chic basement restaurant of Nicole Farhi, at a peaceful remove from the street clamour of crashing gears and hissing hydraulic brakes up above, tranquillity reigned. Here the only sounds were those of tinkling cutlery and murmuring female voices. Stylish young waitresses moved about, sliding plates of salads on to tables and uncapping chilled bottles of mineral water, while the lunching ladies paused their conversation to watch as the water burbled into their glasses, its discreet fizz heralding the delicious thrill of shared gossip and exchanged confidences.
At one table, and one table alone, was wine being consumed. A bottle of Gavi, light and luscious, and with its own hint of fizz, was already two-thirds empty, and the salads had yet to arrive. Anthea Grieves-Brown lifted the bottle from the wine chiller and glugged the remains into her own glass and that of her friend, Lola Canning. She tucked strands of blonde hair, straightened and smoothed to the sheen of satin, behind one ear as she leaned forward to murmur by way of addition to her previous observation, 'Four times in one night.' She articulated the sentiment with slow wonder, and a catlike, satisfied smile widened her beautiful features as she waited for her friend's reaction.
Lola made an unimpressed face. Man-less herself at the moment, feigning boredom was the only way she knew to counter the envy and irritation she felt as Anthea recounted the charms of her latest man and his amazing prowess in bed. 'But isn't that rather showing off? Reminds me of the dreadful Cherie telling us that Tony Blair was a five-times-a-night man. Ghastly.' She took a swig of her wine. 'Suggests he has something to prove.'
Anthea deflected this attempted put-down. 'Obviously, darling, if it's the same man you've been with for ages and ages, the last thing you want is to have him jump all over you at three o'clock in the morning. But you could never put Leo Davies in that category. Not in a million years.'