You must remember The Saint, the incredibly suave Simon Templar, a gentleman thief. Women found him irresistible. His agility was remarkable. He could climb a drainpipe in the dead of night and gain access to a lady’s boudoir, in search of diamonds or pearls. Occasionally he dallied with the lady, as a by-product of his trade. His suits were impeccable, in the latest fashion. He gambled in all the fashionable casinos of Europe. He drove the best and fastest cars. He drank the most refined drinks. His was a life to be envied. His activities were of course illegal and to be deplored but he carried about him the rakish charm of the old style highwaymen of romantic fiction. There was some synergy between The Saint and his successor, James Bond, a suave and murderous thug with a comparable sophistication, athleticism and sexual magnetism. You wouldn’t want to tangle with either of them. You might be able for Bond now, as he is in his nineties and a bit shaken and stirred. Not so fast, Meester Bond. Here they all are: counter-spies, Nero Wolfe and Simon, the Gentleman Thief himself.
What really registered with me about the Clerys sale was that it was done in the middle of the night, ‘when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to the world. Now could I drink hot blood and do such deeds the day would quake to look upon.’ Footpads, cutpurses, murderers, cat and other types of burglar all prefer the dark. The Gestapo worked in Night and Fog. People disappeared…gone…kaput…imithe…vanished….not a trace….no fingerprints. Illegal property demolitions take place at night. With a few rare exceptions, there is nothing as secure as a fait accompli. (Archers’ garage was rebuilt exactly as it had been.) Clerys was bought and sold, wrapped up and delivered in the customary manner, done and dusted by morning. Nothing to see here. Move along please. It’s all perfectly legal. We know this because the fingerprints of prominent lawyers are all over the deal.
I’m sure Clerys had some form of counter spies. They certainly had drainpipes to carry the money by vacuum, to the office overhead and return the change at warp speed to the shop assistant below. They had gentlemens’ outfitters and haberdashers, everything a gentleman thief could require. They had sporting goods. My lads got their first football boots there and I think, some golf clubs. They stocked furniture and floor coverings. All was dusted and shining by opening time every morning. They had anything a lady could wish for, although I don’t remember the modern prairies of cosmetic counters where young women prowl, seeking to waylay the unwary, the wizened and the aged. Don’t get me started. The store was noted for its vast array of ladies’ underwear and various forms of female upholstery. A story, perhaps apocryphal, as all the best ones are, tells how Archbishop McQuaid rang Denis Guiney, the then proprietor, to point out that the newspaper advertisements for underwear were a little too revealing. Occasions of sin in fact. Fair play to the Archbishop for persisting long past the age of puberty, in his inspection of such matters, in the interests of purity. The man was a saint. Clerys however, lacked chairs for weary husbands, a major flaw in their marketing strategy. They had genuine saints too.
Did you queue, footsore and weary to visit Saint Nicholas? Did you shuffle along to the sound of Jingle Bells and whinge until you reached the Winter Wonderland with its snow and elves and a genial old man in a red suit? Most importantly, did you promise to be good? Did you repeat the process years later with your own children? ‘It won’t be long now.’ ‘What’s outside that window?’ ‘Nothing. Just a brick wall.’ ‘I want to see it. Lift me up.’ Okay.’ Ah, it’s only a brick wall.’ ‘Never mind. We will be seeing Santa soon.’ Shuffle, shuffle. He told me that he was passing that way not long ago and he saw the same brick wall. I hope he remembers Santa and the Winter Wonderland. I certainly couldn’t lift him up now in any case or threaten that we wouldn’t go to the cafe afterwards if he wasn’t good. Shuffle, shuffle.
There was a religious goods department in the basement. I was fascinated to see Saint Francis of Assisi, reproduced in all sizes from six inches tall to lifesize. There was a sale on: Large Statues Greatly Reduced. I wondered what the process might be. Saint Francis, by all accounts was a decent man who gave all his money away to the poor. People prayed to Saint Francis. I presume that the little saints were just as influential as the big ones. The window displays were at times, quirky. I recall a tap, apparently suspended in mid air, from which the water poured without benefit of plumbing or any obvious source…perhaps a metaphor for our ‘tiger economy.’
Speaking of little people and tiger economies. I must confess that I was repelled by the film The Wolf of Wall Street. I was bored by the relentless ‘one note’ of the film that Greed Is Indeed Good. No doubt it was a moral tale with a cautionary lesson for all of us. Mostly though, I was repelled by the fact that actors and actresses, (can you say ‘actress’ nowadays?) were degraded in the parts they had to play. What the Hell! They were paid, weren’t they? It was particularly degrading to dwarfs. What the Hell! They’re only little people, aren’t they? As are the former Clerys employees. They have been thrown to the wolves.
It must be very satisfying for the corporate hunters to stalk their prey, moving stealthily through the long grass, wriggling on their bellies like the serpent in Eden, until they get the perfect shot….from afar. A trophy kill. Sometimes they hunt with night-sights and hired trackers sniffing the wind for spoor. The rule is that you must finish off your prey. What you do with it afterwards is your business. Save us from the arrow that flies by night.
Judas, you will recall, concluded his deal in the dead of night. Nothing personal, just business. Jingle all the way to the bank.