1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 69:



Chapter 25


Southwark, England



            “Well?” asked Harry Lefferts, after George and Juliet Sutherland had brushed the snow off their coats and hung them up. “Do we need to start planning how to get rid of that crime lord of yours?”


            Looking even more placid than usual, George glanced around the large central room of their lodgings, where most of Harry’s wrecking crew were sprawled about. The assortment of furniture that served them for the purpose could most charitably be described as “modest.” Like the house itself, the furnishings were old, often ramshackle, and looked to have been assembled in a completely haphazard manner.


            Not bad, though, by the standards of Southwark. Although Southwark was now legally part of London, under the formal designation of The Ward of Bridge Without and the more commonly used term The Borough, it amounted to a separate city in most practical senses of the term. It dated back at least to the time of William the Conqueror and hadn’t been officially incorporated into London until 1550. And, for centuries, had been divided from the larger city just across the Thames by long established customs and traditions.


            Southwark wasn’t exactly the lawless part of London, but it came rather close. It was where England’s capital perched its most disreputable establishments, like the theater, and was the city’s largest and most active red light district. Much of the area was simply slums, but nestled here and there were any number of more prosperous dwellings. If there was a lot of poverty in Southwark, there was also quite of bit of wealth—and some of it highly concentrated.


            Harry wasn’t sure yet, because he hadn’t moved about much himself since they’d arrived two days before. But he thought he was going to love the place. It reminded him of Las Vegas. Not the boring and oh-so-damn-proper adult amusement park that Las Vegas had become in his lifetime, once Big Respectable Money started erecting their huge theme casinos on the Strip, but the fabled city of vice and sin that his father and uncles had told him about.


            It was too bad, really, that he hadn’t rented one of the fancier houses in the area. He could certainly have afforded it, with the money they’d finagled out of a semi-legal art deal they’d pulled off in Amsterdam before leaving for England.


            Regretfully, he’d concluded that would give them too high a profile. And there was always the possible awkwardness of having to explain to Mike Stearns exactly why a commando unit which was officially part of the USE’s army—even if most of that army’s officers would have been surprised to discover the fact, and a fair number would have been positively aghast—had found it necessary to spend money on lavish digs while in the middle of a Desp’rate Feat of Derring-do.


            Well… he could probably razzle-dazzle Mike himself. But there was no way he’d get the explanation to fly past Don Francisco. The Sephardic nobleman who served as Mike’s head of intelligence was not only very shrewd, he was so wealthy himself that simply handwaving references to the need to spend a lot of money wouldn’t make him blink.


            Yes, I understand that. What I fail to grasp is why you needed gold cufflinks instead of silver ones. The last time I checked the market—just yesterday—


            No, not a chance. Besides, this house was suitable enough. It wasn’t actually falling apart anywhere, and the furniture worked even if some of it was weird-looking. Better still, the location and the design of the house made it very private, with no way for a nosy neighbor to see what they were doing by just leaning over a fence or peeking through a window. And best of all, the house was situated almost directly across the Thames from the Tower of London. With a simple eyeglass, a man could keep the Tower under close observation so long as the sun was up.


            “We’ll not have to be concerned about him,” said George. “It turns about that Johnny Three-Fingers fell afoul of the authorities last year. And I doubt if his ghost will bother us any.”


            “Hung him, did they?” said Sherrilyn. She shook her head, somehow managing to combine disapproval and admiration in the same gesture. “You can’t accuse the courts in this day and age of coddling criminals, I’ll say that much.”


            “No, no.” George made a dismissive motion with his hand. “Not those authorities. The authorities. In Southwark, I mean.”


            “Ah,” said Harry. Seeing that Sherrilyn was looking puzzled, he added: “I think what he means is that Johnny Three-Fingers pissed off the local equivalent of Al Capone.”


            George knew who Al Capone was, so he’d catch the reference. In fact, the whole wrecking crew had a long-running friendly argument over which of the movie versions was the best. It was a fair split between Rod Steiger’s 1959 portrayal and Robert De Niro’s in the much later The Untouchables, with George plumping down firmly for Steiger. All of them, of course, felt that both movies were a pale imitation of the great gangster performances by Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson—but since none of their films had technically been about Al Capone, they were disqualified from the debate.


            “Not exactly,” said George. “You Yanks have a shockingly casual attitude about such things. The authorities here are more like the original Sicilian fellows that your Yank gangsters were trying to imitate. Be that as it may, Johnny Three-Fingers is in no position any longer to avenge his brother. Neither is his other brother, for that matter, since the authorities felt it wise to dispose of him at the same time.” He gave Sherrilyn a reproachful glance. “And they certainly didn’t hang them. Barbarous business, that is, sometimes a man lasts for minutes. The authorities are far more civilized.” He illustrated his definition of civilization by drawing a finger across his throat.


            That was something of a relief, if a minor one. But by the time George had finished, Harry realized that his wife was looking rather distressed.


            “What’s wrong, Juliet?”


             “I’m not sure if anything is wrong. But we also ran across an old friend of mine. Liz Lytle, her name. A very close friend, when I lived here. But…” She gave her husband an uncertain look.


            “She seemed very distant,” George finished for her. “As if she were distracted by something. Odd, that was. Liz was normally as cheerful a woman as you could find. ‘Outgoing,’ as you Yanks put it.”


            George had taken to calling Americans “Yanks” from watching too many of those same movies. More in the interest of precision than because he really cared, Harry had once tried to explain to him the none-too-fine distinctions between a New Englander and a West Virginian, but George had waved off the matter. “Might mean something to you Yanks, but to us Englishman a Yank is a Yank.”


            Naturally, the first thing George had done once they set foot on English soil was bestow a very disapproving look upon Harry. “And, indeed—just as I was warned. Here the Yank is, himself. Overpaid, oversexed and over here.”


            Harry had ignored the quip. It was silly, anyway. Oversexed, he’d grant, and “over here” was a done deal. Overpaid was ridiculous.