Mayfair Steele
Date: Wednesday, May 07, 2008
From: "lpoynornew" <>
by Lauryn Poynor
Thanks to Anne for editing and to Ace for encouragement and
suggestions. The story is complete and may be archived. It can also
be found on my fan fiction site at
Note: I'm aware my British spellings aren't consistent, but I thought
a few here and there would enliven the setting.
It should have been easy for a thief of his pedigree, simplicity
itself -- but it had all gone spectacularly, badly wrong – and
nothing to show for his trouble but a week in hospital and a painting
he couldn't shift without bringing half the city down around his
On happier occasions, over brandy and cigars, he and Daniel would
hold court and opine that their profession was the best in the world,
they could do as they liked when they liked, no man was their master,
and they would pat themselves on the back for their cleverness. But
the unvarnished truth, they well knew, was a shade less romantic.
London, like any great metropolis, was a target of opportunity, but
it was thick with bosses, a rogues' gallery of villains, each with
their own fiefdoms, and their own standing armies to enforce the
Harry knew planning a caper in the heart of Mayfair meant he had to
pay a call on Eddie Squires. And if it didn't mean he had to stoop to
forelock-tugging deference, it meant bowing to the realities, and
promising tribute in the form of a percentage of the profits.
His progress to Eddie's inner sanctum in Soho turned out to be even
more encumbered with bodyguards than usual. The firm's "office" had
moved to new digs, a suite of rooms once rented by a Chinese drug
lord who been sent packing to Kowloon by the authorities. It was
obvious there'd been no time to redecorate. Harry's gaze roamed
possessively over a massive ebony and glass case crammed with what
looked like rarities. He'd recently dabbled in such heirloom pieces
and he wondered if the two-foot cream and amber vase was T'ang
Dynasty and the dragon-carved one was by Ch'ien Lung. He folded his
hands together in his lap, warning himself to keep his thoughts
strictly academic. It would be suicide to steal from these rooms,
even if Squires didn't yet know what he had. Eddie was a careful and
deliberate man and there would've been the devil to pay when he got
things sorted.
Harry hadn't known just how careful that eminence was these days
until one of Eddie's thick-necked associates pressed him against the
wall and frisked him, then guided him none-to-gently into a chair.
That indignity had never happened before, not under Squires' very
roof. It seemed beneath their association. Harry might have taken it
as a warning, or a premonition, as he waited for his audience,
tugging his cuffs and tweaking his stone-faced minders by asking for
tea and biscuits. Automatically, he began to rise to his feet as
Eddie was escorted in, but was so shocked by the sight in front of
him that that he could only sit and stare. The man himself, almost
unrecognizable, was in a wheel chair, his body thin and shrunken
under the shell of his chalk-stripe Welsh and Jefferies' suit.
As long as anyone had known him Eddie Squires had been a daunting
specimen, as intimidating physically as he was by his chess-master's
ken of every square patch of his empire. The force of his schemes had
been matched by an iron constitution and an iron fist; Harry could
say truthfully he'd never known a prize-fighter who was in better
That was, in reality, Squires to the life. He'd come up in the
world through the boxing clubs in Shoreditch, and through the sharp-
eyed management of his winnings and career, soon owned a piece of
many fighters, some whom he'd battered in the ring. He loved sport
and built his firm, with its crew of villains, from a loose
federation of bookmakers and gaming clubs, both legal and illicit,
and a host of protection, money laundering, and other rackets. His
pride was his racing stable, nominally owned by a third party and
quite set apart from the rest of his enterprises. Only the most
reputable and skilled riders and trainers were given the seal of
approval and his jockey's colours, three gold chevrons on a crimson
ground, were famous at Epsom and Newmarket.
Squires' success in the winner's circle had him rubbing shoulders
with the city's most moneyed and traditional elite. He was a keen
observer, and through hard study, acquired a sophistication and
courtliness that seemed almost genuine, behind his cold-eyed stare.
His firm's move up the ladder to the primacy of Mayfair and the West
End, though not without its share of bloodletting, was seen as a
measure of Squires' peculiar grace. Even Scotland Yard viewed the
coronation as inevitable, though its law dogs tried their best to
topple him. If Eddie were a half-caste, neither outlaw nor
aristocrat, he infused both ends of society with his own raw vigor.
Looking at him now Harry could hardly believe this was a force the
world had reckoned with, a bare-handed killer, whose upper body
strength was legendary, in the ring and out.
"Stop gawping, Harry." Squires drew on a cigarette, and gave a failed
bark of laughter. "You must be thinking -- `what's that when it's at
home?' Not Eddie bloody Squires!"
Harry felt a chill settle between his shoulders. "Jesus, Eddie.
What's happened?"
"Throat cancer, the doctors say. If I were a horse I'd be dog food in
a week." The words came out in harsh puffs, as if he were winded.
"Surely there's something they can do?"
"I'm just waiting for the man to count ten. Might as well wait here.
One more day in hospital, and they'd hang my portrait next to
Hogarth's Christ." Squires, with typical gallows humor, meant the
famed murals at St. Bart's, but Harry imagined that Eddie had been
tucked away in some more exclusive hospital in Harley Street.
Eddie had always taken an interest in Harry, though the lad relished
his independence more than was good for him. Harry, to his mind, was
the sole holder of talents no one else had in the same degree -- and
though his cooperation was sometimes reluctant, Squires had never
known him to fail. Eddie felt an old eagerness return to his limbs
now that his favorite would soon be under starter's orders. "So,
what's your pleasure these days, my son? Some trinket caught your
discerning eye?"
Harry told him of the particulars of the job: the art gallery on
Mount Street, the wall safe in the private flat above, the painting
in question, and his agreement with the buyer.
"A Cezanne, never before seen? A forgery, more like." Squires
followed the art world enough to know that very little was new under
the sun.
Harry shrugged. "Might be one, might be the other."
"If the gallery owner got it from Josef Dusek…"
"Dusek's known for dodgy goods, they're his trademark, but he may
have stumbled upon on the real thing this time. My source tells me
the gallery owner's subjected the painting to every form of
divination that the experts can offer. Nearly all of them are
convinced it's authentic."
Squires steepled his fingers. "You'll tread carefully Harry, I trust."
"No need. Only the buyer has to beware, and he's willing to pay as if
it's genuine."
Eddie raised an eyebrow in salute. "I should have known you'd have it
all sussed out, lad. Let me know if there's anything you need. Why
don't you take Tom Fenner along? Wall safes are his speciality when
they don't yield to persuasion."
Harry considered the offer. They both were aware that most wall
safes, if need be, could be opened from the sides like a tin of
sardines, where the metal was often cheap and thin. All the real
manufacture was concentrated in the front door. Side entry would mean
removing it bodily from the wall, which was messy and noisy, but
still possible as a last resort. Harry expected Squires knew he'd get
the safe open cleanly without a fuss. Eddie just wanted one of his
crew along so that they could do an accounting of the contents, and
if anything more was there for the taking, the firm would get its
fair share.
"OK, Eddie."
Squires studied him, his eyes still clear, his broken-nosed profile
as keen as a hawk's. "How's Daniel?" he asked, after motioning one
of his men to pour two glasses of claret.
"Keeping well," Harry replied with an edge of wariness. Daniel and
Eddie had tangled once before, over Harry and a job that ran over
schedule. Daniel would never have truly put him at risk with a man
like Squires, but walking the tightrope between them had required a
delicate sense of balance. It had all worked out in the end, but
ever since, Harry had done his level best to stay out of the
"Pity he has such a claim on your talents." Eddie studied the wine in
its crystal glass, holding it up to the light. "You're a rare one,
Harry," he rasped in his ruined voice. "If you'd thrown your lot in
with us, my lad, this could have all been yours." Squires spoke with
an air of self-mockery, as if his empire extended to a rented flat in
Soho, but Harry knew the true extent of the compliment.
"I'm sure your son Jack might have something to say about that."
Squires put down his glass. "Well he might. But he could do with a
chap like you at his elbow. He's fearless, is Jackie, and hard as
fuck, but he hasn't your brains, your finesse. It's not like the old
days when all you had to do to make money was to cosh some heads
together. We're the sharp end of the economy, my lad. A proper firm
now, like an investment bank."
"Thanks for the offer, but it's entirely too respectable for me, I'm
afraid," winked Harry. The truth was, he was probably right. If a
life of crime was just totting up revenue streams he'd as soon chuck
it in and go straight.
Eddie cocked his head, regarding the prodigal before him with fond
exasperation. "If all that lovely money won't tempt you to settle
down then what will?"
"Damned if I know, Eddie. Damned if I know."
Eddie raised his glass. "Well, then, Harry," he replied, as if to the
shade of his youth, "a toast. To the sporting life."
"The sporting life."
Harry spent the night dreaming in colour, in swirls of paint. He
hadn't thought of the Venice forger in years, his old tutor, hunched
over his hoard of antique finds, trying to teach him by sight, smell,
and touch, whole centuries of art. Time was full of tricks to snare
the unwary, from the dates of pigments and canvas, to the patterns of
worm holes in wood. Daniel had despaired of a boy of sixteen, and a
particularly restless one at that, ever recalling a tenth of that
knowledge, but it had been drilled into Harry's skull with such
precision that it still had the power to disturb his sleep.
He came awake in the darkness and flicked on the low flame of a
cigarette lighter. He picked up the photo on the nightstand and
watched as the light flared around it. Though the image was slightly
blurred it was alive with greens and blues and yellows -- laid down
in parallel strokes, with the thick creamy edge of a palette knife,
and the precise hatchwork of a brush – a swell of thick, dark
foliage, the bold slant of a roof. He had lied when he said it didn't
matter. He wanted the Cezanne to be real, and for him to be the first
to steal it, to be a thief of time, if only for a moment, to capture
its brilliance, to feel its texture under his fingers, to hold it
like a talisman in his heart.
When the moment came, it was just business – or so he kept telling
himself. Your average midnight creep. And so it was, so smooth it was
textbook. Harry rappelled up to the roof without trouble, looped the
alarm, and let himself down to a casement window, slipping the latch
with ease. He made his way to the ground floor, three flights
below, and let Tom in through the rear entrance. They climbed back
to the private flat above the gallery, and no one ever the wiser. The
safe proved no more of a challenge than the rest. It yielded to
Harry's touch in just under two minutes and swung open like the front
of a doll's house. His senses felt painfully sharp as he unfurled the
painting and let his small torch play upon the canvas. The colours
leapt up under the soft beam as they might once have glowed by
"There's the pearl in the oyster, eh, Harry?"
"A pearl of great price," he whispered. "As soon as it gets into the
proper hands."
"Nothing more worth a nick that I can see."
Harry agreed, closing the safe door. "Just odds and sods."
"I think I'll have a look around the gallery." Tom gave a wink. "See
if there's something I can bring home to the missus."
"I'll leave you to tidy up, then. I'll go topside to check out the
street." Harry rolled the painting inside a waterproof mapcase tube
with leather cords that fit over his shoulder. Through the fire hatch
he gained access to the roof of the building and walked over to the
front facing the main road. He crouched, taking care not to be seen,
but there was little sign of life about, most of the shops were shut.
Only a few bright-cheeked patrons from a wine bar spilled out onto
the pavement below.
Harry crossed the roof and looked out over the small rear courtyard,
with its tall green hedges and Georgian flagstones. He knew its
dimensions by heart. He'd spent several days sketching the pretty row
of buildings, with their old stable yards and grey slate roofs. Just
a street artist, he was. No one for the coppers to pay any mind.
There was something peaceful about rooftops. There was no better
perch to be alone with your thoughts while the life of the city went
on below. He lit a cigarette and smoked it half down, watching the
smoke curl into the dark. Bright embers flared as he tossed it away
and froze, the sound of the creak of the fire hatch nearly stopping
his heart dead. He turned and saw Tom's head and shoulders bobbing
just over the roofline, spilling a soft ray of light from the top
"Need a lift?" Harry pulled him through, relief washing over him. He
brushed back a comma of hair, his brows knit in slight
puzzlement. "You left a lamp burning."
"I'll be back to bag a few more things. Everything check out up here?"
"Not a sign of the local plodforce. They must be sleeping in."
"In that case, Harry -- I'll trouble you for that painting, if you
don't mind."
Harry could only gape at him, though the other man looked deadly
serious. "Are you having me on?"
"Not in the least, my son." Tom stood, blocking the fire hatch, his
bulk a looming, sudden threat.
Harry shook his head, still disbelieving, talking gently as he would
to a child. "Tom, this is crazy. You queer the pitch for Eddie and
take off on your own, you'll be in bother for the rest of your life,
"You haven't been keeping in touch, have you, lad? Eddie snuffed it
yesterday morning."
Harry felt the beginnings of fear creep down his spine. The world had
just turned upside down, and he'd been a fourteen carat fool not to
see it coming.
Tom grinned with unsavory satisfaction. "In two days he'll be in his
"And you're going to dance on it now he's gone," Harry spat. Maybe a
villain like Squires was owed no loyalty, but it still left a sour
taste in the back of his mouth.
"'Don't be daft. So this little caper took a turn. Just oiling up the
wheels of commerce, like Eddie always said."
But in the end, the old lion was dead. And all that was left was for
the scavengers to pick his bones. It was the law of the jungle now,
on Squires' patch, no rules, and not even a thin blade of grass to
hide behind.
Tom reached inside his coat and palmed a long army knife, the sort
designed for close combat. The move was casual, as if he was in no
Harry stepped back. "What about Jackie? Surely he'll take over now
that his father –"
"The poor lad will have his hands full, no doubt. Putting out a lot
of fires."
He wondered if Tom meant it as a fact. Harry had seen gang wars
before, in other parts of the city, with shops and pubs firebombed,
and people killed and maimed.
"Let's not have any aggro, Harry. Give it over, nice and easy. And
you can be on your way."
It began to rain. Fat, wet drops, sluicing down the knife blade as
it shone in the light from the fire hatch.
Harry backed away, slowly, in the direction of the rear roof's edge.
It was the only way out, if he were desperate enough to take it. "If
you want the painting, you'll have to come after it."
"You're out in the cold, my son. If not me, some bugger will want a
piece of you -- and that painting, whether half or whole." Tom swung
the blade in front of him in a wide, wicked arc.
Harry stared down at the neat slice that had just opened in his shirt
and leather jacket. The knife had come at him with the speed of a
snake, and it had been impossible to miss entirely. But there was no
blood underneath, so he suspected he was in for more of the same. It
seemed a rather nasty joke that a roof's edge, fifty-five feet from
solid ground, would appear the safest place to be, but it didn't take
much persuasion to keep inching toward it, praying he wouldn't lose
his bearings, trying to measure his footsteps in his head.
There came another flash of the knife, in close, aiming for the gut.
Harry's dodge was blind luck, his opponent overbalanced as one foot
slipped wide on the slate. The rain was bucketing down now, pounding
their backs like hailstones. "Give it up, Harry," said Tom. "It's
just a few daubs of paint."
Desperate to get a look behind him, Harry needed a distraction, even
a foolish one. He slipped the mapcase tube off his shoulder, holding
it in front of him like a shield. A quick turn of the head had
confirmed that the edge and his climbing rope were less than ten feet
away. "You're right," he said, backing slowly, step by step. "Just a
few daubs of paint. Nothing to cry over, eh?"
"Don't bluff me, boy. You won't risk damaging the goods."
"I'd be careful with that knife if I were you." He saw the other man
hesitate, and he knew it was more than just fear for the painting.
They were getting close to treading on air.
Tom made a lunge for him that hit him solid, and Harry fell to the
slate, kicking out from under the weight on top of him like a
halfback at the bottom of a rugby scrum. Harry got up at a run and
slung the mapcase over his shoulder, his shoes slaloming on the roof
tiles, slick with rain. He tumbled for the edge and the climbing
rope, knowing he had only seconds before Tom would use the blade to
sever his only lifeline.
Daniel had always told him that sometimes it was worse looking up
than it was down, and that was true enough as he saw Tom scrabble to
the edge on his hands and knees, eyes wild with fury. Harry had
barely got his hands securely around the rope when he felt the knife
bite deep into his shoulder. Tom had aimed for the leather cords
holding the mapcase and missed, though Harry was sure cutting him to
ribbons would be as satisfying a way for the bloke to spend his
evening. A wildly successful slash at his right wrist came next and
then Harry saw Tom retreat and he knew he had to move faster than he
ever had in his life.
Rain and blood streamed from his wrist and on to the wet rope as he
slid down it with the speed of a fireman. The wind rushed up madly at
his feet, his progress halfway to ground, when, driven by instinct,
Harry kicked out, as the rope gave and there was nothing but air to
catch, praying he would land in the hedges instead of on the hard
flagstones below.

In slow motion the world crashed around him and flew into splinters.
He tried to breathe in air, as if he were alive, but there seemed no
point, each breath was an eternity. He sat up and coughed and pain
sliced through him like hot strands of barbed wire. He could swear he
heard something like footsteps, and fear and adrenaline brought him
back to his wits. He clambered out of the shrubbery and rounded the
courtyard as if hellhounds were on his trail. At the head of an alley
was his Triumph motor car, parked at the precise angle he'd left it
less than a half hour before.
He fumbled for the keys, tossed the mapcase on the floorboard, and
turned the engine over, heading north east to the covered car park
near Bond Street tube station. He had no time to take inventory but
the face that stared back at him through the mirror looked like a
bloody apparition.
Harry left the Triumph in the car park and unlocked a Bedford van
parked in a nearby space. He opened the rear doors and pulled up the
battered carpet, and with a home-made key, lifted the cover on a
compartment that ran the length of the floor, neat as a smuggler's
hold. He tucked away the mapcase and topped it with some old rags and
The van pulled out onto the street under a pelt of rain that ran down
the windscreen in blinding sheets. Headlights and street lights bent
and scattered as if distorted by a pane of pebbled glass, but it
didn't really matter as Harry drove through high streets and back
turnings, homing south, to Daniel and Belgravia, one more roundabout
to manage, one more street, until the van wheeled into the quiet
mews. It jumped the kerb with a screech of brakes, just before Harry
collapsed on the horn.
"It's a diabolical liberty, keeping me here."
"Actually, Harry, it's a very large male nurse, and if you don't
behave I'll ring and have him bring you some more tinned soup."
"Not fair, not fair at all. You're a born blackmailer, Daniel. I'm
surprised you haven't tried it for a living."
Daniel ignored him. "You're in hospital for very good reason. Let's
see, at last count, four broken ribs, two knife wounds, a punctured
lung –"
"And god's own headache."
"I forgot to mention the severe concussion. I hope you've learned
your lesson. You know what they say, `pride goeth before a fall.'"
Harry winced. "Yes, well I always thought it was meant more
"`Cat burglar' is just an expression, too, Harry. One can't go
leaping from buildings and trot off perfectly unscathed." Daniel
spoke lightly, but a shadow of worry clouded his features.
A sharp pain reminded him squarely of the fact as Harry shifted
uncomfortably on the bed. "Well, I did it for art's sake, not merely
for the exercise. Is the Cezanne still tucked neatly away?"
"Safe as houses. And only I know where it is. You should get away
from London for a while, Harry. To the country, or the seaside."
Harry mulled it over, but not for very long. He grinned
slyly. "Seaside it is. The South of France, the quiet life, what do
you say?"
"The quiet life? The two of us, in the South of France?" Daniel waved
a farewell. "Harry my boy, I give it a week."
Note: If you're interested, the story of Harry's `Cezanne' can be
found here:

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