Languidly draped in each other's arms, Laura and Harry looked around and decided that it was time to vacate Chez Tony and look for better digs. Tony' s sofa had definitely surpassed its heyday. A quick telephone call to the Ritz in Piccadilly assured them of top-drawer accommodations, while 15 minutes on their hands and knees in Tony's living room assured them of finding all of their hastily discarded clothing. Somewhere over socks and slacks, underwear and hose, they met for a lingering kiss.
"Must you, Laura?" Harry all but whined.
Laura replied firmly, "Definitely." She proceeded to write a gracious note to Tony, thanking him for his friendship and hospitality, which earned a snort from Harry, informing him that they were moving on to the Ritz, and suggesting that he need feel no obligation to squire them around London during the remainder of their visit. This last item elicited a silent prayer of thanks from Harry.
"Did you really sock him in the jaw?"
"Merely for old time's sake, Laura."
Once Harry and Laura were safely ensconced at the Ritz, Harry's mood brightened even more. The understated yet plush surroundings of their suite soon seemed like a home away from home. Neither had much in the way of luggage to unpack, so that was accomplished in short order. They ordered room service and a bottle of Dom Perignon, vintage 1982 (Harry's favorite), which was speedily delivered.
Over dinner the couple visibly sought to heal the wounds each had inflicted. It had been a long time indeed since they trusted one another with those thoughts and feelings buried deep inside. And yet, Harry held back. He wanted to ask Laura whether she would consider opening their hearts to a child through adoption, but he feared that she would think that he was less than candid when he said that their life as a couple was more important to him than a child could ever be. Harry meant the words he had spoken to Laura only hours before, and he wanted to ensure that he gave her no reason to ever doubt him again.
After dinner, Harry urged a relaxing bubble bath on Laura, and she gladly complied. The sumptuous glass and marble bathroom was inviting, and as Laura sank into the tub up to her neck she knew she couldn't get any more relaxed than this. With the lights dimmed low, Laura's eyelids grew heavy and sleep was not far away. As a matter of fact, there was very little that could keep her awake at this point. That is, until the bathroom door opened almost soundlessly, and her husband entered, wearing the hotel's bathrobe and carrying Laura's forgotten champagne flute. Laura idly wondered whether there was anything under the robe, as Harry came to sit alongside her on the tiled platform.
"Allow me," he spoke softly as he braced himself behind Laura and started to massage her neck and shoulders.
After enjoying a few minutes of his ministrations Laura turned in Harry's arms, and since there really wasn't any other article of clothing under his robe she persuaded him to shed it and join her in the tub. The champagne had long since lost its effervescent bubbles by the time Laura lifted it to her lips some time later.
After sleeping-in and devouring breakfast, Harry and Laura were ready to face the world.
"Say, Laura, we never did get that London honeymoon. Why don't we stay, at least through the end of the week, and see the city as it was meant to be seen?"
"Well, under one condition."
"Condition?" Harry's brows lifted in query.
"Yes, condition. I want to see all of London. Not only Big Ben and Parliament, but all of it. I want to see where you called home for at least part of your misspent youth," Laura announced.
"Now, Laura, I don't think that's wise. There really is nothing to see in Brixton, and my instincts tell me that it's even more unsafe than it was when I was there."
"Well, then, I suggest you start packing. If we get home by tomorrow, we can make a dent in our case backlog before the week is over. I'll tell Mildred to stack our schedule starting tomorrow afternoon. Be a dear and call the airlines, will you," Laura said sweetly.
Needless to say, Laura got her way. London beckoned the Steeles, as they set out to meet it head-on. An hour later, the couple stood on the docks overlooking the Thames.
"Did you know, Laura, that the Thames is among the most polluted waterways in the world?"
"Is that so? I seem to recall that you likened it to the coffee I brew."
"Yes, well, I never was overly fond of coffee," Harry hastily backtracked. "Give me a good cup of tea anytime. Let's visit the crown jewels here in the Tower of London, shall we?"
The Tower of London squatted imposingly along the bank of the Thames and near St. Katherine's Docks. Not far away was the Tower Bridge, and Harry and Laura were treated to an impressive occurrence, the raising of the Tower Bridge to allow an ocean-bound vessel to leave London's protected waters. Built almost 1,000 years earlier, the Tower of London was a treasure-trove of legend, folklore and historical intrigue. The imposing structure is home to flightless crows whose wings are clipped in deference to the legend predicting the fall of the monarchy should the crows ever abandon the tower.
Also within the Tower of London are the Crown Jewels, to which Harry showed characteristic great fondness. The Star of Africa, an enormous diamond topping the Royal Scepter, was one of many treasures that Laura oohed and aahed over. The Yeoman Warders, who are largely ceremonial guards within the Tower of London, stood watch over the jewels and paid careful attention to Harry and his American wife, especially when Harry announced that stealing the crown jewels would be a damn sight easier than pocketing Royal Lavulite.
"I'm starving," announced Laura as a distraction. Under the Beefeaters' watchful eyes Laura steered Harry out of Jewel House and the Tower of London altogether. Agreeing that nourishment was needed, the couple returned to the Ritz and treated themselves to High Tea.
"These sandwiches are delicious," Laura cried as she stuffed her mouth with as many finger-sized delights as it could hold.
"Now, Laura, I'm certain that the kitchen has more where those came from. Slow down," he admonished. "Besides, I have a critically important question for you, one that I've been wanting to ask you since yesterday."
"Oh?" Laura was instantly wary. If Harry meant to ask her why, out of all of her friends and acquaintances, she had chosen Tony's doorstep. . . . .well, Laura was unprepared to fashion a response.
"Where IS my car? Laura, a man's car is. . . . it's exceedingly rude to abscond with a man's car. And you KNOW it was just buffed and polished."
"The long-term parking lot at the airport in Mexico City."
With a lurch Harry leapt from his seat to call Mildred with instructions on how to rescue his beloved roadster. Laura attacked the tea cart with renewed vigor.
And so the Steeles spent the next several days and nights taking in Les Miz and Miss Saigon and touring Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Parliament, among other gems in the city proper. And late at night, when the touring was over, dinner was long ago eaten, and the curtain had fallen in the Theater district, they renewed their more-than-passing acquaintance with love in each other's arms. Then, on the last day of their planned departure, Harry made good on his promise to Laura to bring her to Brixton.
They departed their hotel early in the morning, as Harry was determined to return from Brixton before nightfall. Catching the tube along with the first wave of London's straphangers, they arrived in Brixton just as all the shops were opening for business. The morning was spent taking in all that Brixton had to offer. Harry was more than pleased to find that Brixton wasn't nearly as seedy as he had remembered. Even so, he maintained a secure grip on Laura's waist.
As the day wore on, even Harry began to relax. Brixton, a district of the London Borough of Lambeth, was home to an eclectic mix of artists and artisans. The city's gay population also seemed to feel at home and accepted here, as did throngs of people of many nationalities. Just as the couple was about to turn back for their return to the hotel, they came upon a park on whose benches Harry had spent many a night. Here, they caught their first glimpse of the life Harry so vividly remembered in Brixton. The park was populated with London's misfortunate, and more than one urchin bore an uncanny resemblance to a youthful Harry, but not so much for their physical features as for the hollow in their cheeks and the chip on their shoulders.
Laura's liberal mind was aghast. "To think that in this day and age children should still need to live under these conditions. And when so many of us have so much, more than we could ever need."
"Ah, Laura, your sheltered existence may not be exposed to it much, but there is still much pain and hunger in the world."
"Do you, I mean, have you---have you ever thought about us adopting a child? There must be so many children who. . . . .well, to whom we could give a better life."
"What a marvelous idea, Laura. Wish I'd thought of it."
With that, Harry wrapped his arms around his wife and sheltered her from a bracing wind.
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