Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on White Collar which belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of Jeff Eastin and USA.

Thanks to Antoinette for beta reading and feedback

Special Thanks to Mam711 for your beta reading, and editing, without which this story wouldn’t have come together.

 

Stand and Deliver

 

The late 17th and early 18th Century was a time of pirates and highwaymen; without a police force, only the thief taker and the local militia under the control of the High Sheriff of the county kept the law of the land.

 

The penalty for highway robbery was hanging, and once caught, a highwayman, once king of the High Toby (18th Century slang for Highway), was nothing more than a rotting corpse swinging from a gibbet. It was a time of highwaymen such as the Frenchman Claude Duval (1643 – 21 January 1670). The highwaymen like Duval were the rock stars of this era.

 

Neal Caffrey’s highwayman is based on part on Claude Du Val, a French-born man. Du Val became a successful highwayman who robbed the passing stagecoaches on the roads to London, especially Holloway between Highgate and Islington. However, unlike most other brigands, he distinguished himself with rather gentlemanly behaviour and fashionable clothes. He reputedly never used violence.

There are many tales about Du Val. One particularly famous one he took only a part of his potential loot from a gentleman when his wife agreed to dance with him in the wayside, a scene immortalised by William Powell Frith in his 1860 painting, Claude Du Val.

 

The street bard’s poem is adapted from the one written for Claude Du Val or Duval and is in old English, author unknown.

Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies was published in the early 18th Century, and was a guide book of sin for anyone living or visiting London.

 

The rescue of Neal Caffrey was inspired by the film Plunkett and Macleane

 

Glossary taken from The Vulgar Tongue (Buckish slang and pickpocket eloquence by Francis Grose, published 1785)

Cully –   a blockhead.

Doxy – a whore

Fop -  a man overly concerned with his appearance and clothes

High Pad – a highwayman

Lift the linen – homosexual act

Molly – a whore as in Molly House (male brothel), meaning male prostitute.

Tyburn Jig – the action when you’re hung of kicking and twisting as you suffocate

Tyburn – a three-legged structure; for execution, the rope is thrown over one of the beams and then put round the neck of the prisoner, the other end is attached to a horse that pulls on it, so suffocating the prisoner who is pulled up in the air, kicking and thrashing. There is no drop so the neck is not broken.

 

Warning for Pre-OT3, main characters Neal, Peter and Elizabeth.

 

Part One

 

London

 

London was a dangerous place to live; the smart addresses were only a stone's throw, or a wrong turning, away from the worst parts of the city. There was no middle ground.  Money was the only way to jump the social divide; it was either earned or stolen, and with employment in short supply the latter was the most popular choice.  In a city like London, if you wandered in the wrong area it was at your peril, and if you were lucky you might just lose your pocket watch, and if not, your life.

 

The streets were filthy and rat-ridden, and for every five buildings one of them was a public house selling its own cheap grin that could rot the brain, but for the people living in cheap dives they called home it was their own release from their misery. 

 

The brothels of Drury Lane were well-known and frequented by men with money, yet turn a street into Moon Street, and the price dropped the whores were cheaper and the pleasure more risky.  Another block and the price was down too; the pleasure was taken down an alleyway up against a wall.

 

Major Peter Burke had arrived back in England a scant five months ago, after spending the last ten years in the Caribbean as a militia officer tasked with hunting and bringing to justice the thieves that preyed on the good God-fearing people of the towns and villages.

 

Whereas many people had sickened and rotted away due to the heat and disease, Peter had flourished and even met his wife there. Elizabeth Hughes, as she had been, was a feisty woman that knew her mind; she had turned down the man her father had wanted her to marry. Instead she had picked him, telling him that she had known that he was a man she could love and respect, and would never marry a lesser man.

 

Her father, Sir Reese Hughes, had given in with surprisingly good grace, and it had been the wedding of the season on the islands, so when his mentor, patron and father-in-law, Sir Reese, was  called back to England on the death of his older brother to take over the title of Viscount, Peter had followed him back to England.  It was a very different one from the one he had left: Oliver Cromwell had died, his son Richard had turned down the throne, and he and Parliament had invited Charles Stuart to regain the throne as Charles II.

 

When Peter had returned, he had brought with him his wife’s companion, Diana, widowed sister to Clinton Jones, his most trusted subordinate, who also accompanied him;, together they would start a new life in England.

 

Clinton Jones was an unusual man; he had stunned the whole of the militia when he had turned up on their doorstep determined to be recruited into Peter’s elite unit. Jones had put up with a lot of abuse because he was a former slave, but he had proved himself to be a staunch and true man, and when he had risen to the rank of sergeant, there was none in the unit that would have said a word against him.

 

Now as Peter walked the streets of the city, it was with Jones at his side. The ladies were back at the tavern packing for the journey back to the small Tudor fortified house that the Burkes now called home. If he was honest, Peter was pleased for a little peace and quiet; the two women were a strong-willed pair, and they both refused to allow male expectations of womanly endeavours to hold them back, which could make for a lively time.  So this was a rare treat, not that he or Jones would want it any different, but there were times when a man just wanted to down a mug of ale in peace and quiet.

 

Peter watched as Jones carefully folded up some bright ribbon that he had bought from a street stall as a gift for his wife and was musing on the fact it might be a good move to bring Elizabeth some small trinket back from his walk, when they passed one of the many whorehouses. The house wasn’t one of the best: the paint was peeling from the building, and the girls were out on the streets catching the arms of passing men, trying to steer them inside. Peter shook his head; some of the painted hussies were even propositioning the men when they walked past with their ladies on their arms laughing loudly, yelling out saucy comments at the way the decent men hid their faces behind their hands and blushed as they hurried away.

 

Seeing Peter and Jones walking along the opposite side of the road, one, bolder than the rest, called out as she flashed her breasts at them, “Come on, mister, a quick fuck and you can even keep your shoes on.”

 

It was then there was a sudden commotion from the whorehouse, which brought both men to a halt. There was the sound of shouting and then of shutters flying open on the upper floor and the sight of a man jumping out, long shirt flapping round his thighs, boots on his feet, a pair of pants and a jacket thrown over his shoulder, clutching his sword in his hand. The young man hit the ground, rolled and came up to his feet as graceful as a cat.  He was tall, lean, with dark hair coming loose from a ribbon tied at the nape of his neck. He was good looking, and he was grinning broadly as if this was the most fun he had had all day.

 

There was more commotion from the window as one of the whores, bare breasted, leaned out, waving a hat at him. “Neal,” she yelled, at the same time doing her best to block the soldier that was trying to get past her.

 

The young man looked up as a tri-corner hat came sailing out of the window; he caught it, flipped it onto his head with a flourish and then saluted her with a wave. It was then he saw Peter and their eyes met; the handsome, younger man suddenly smiled at him and shrugged, then took off at a run.

 

Jones pulled his flintlock and levelled it at the running man, as he said, “Sir.”

 

Peter reached out and pressed the pistol’s barrel down as he shook his head, an amused smile on his face. “Let him go, Jones.” He glanced back at the whorehouse. “This has got to be one hell of a story.”

 

Just then an angry voice cut across them. “Why didn’t you fire?” Peter turned to see a Dragoon officer striding towards him, his face bright red with rage. “You heard me, man,” he demanded. “Why didn’t you fire?”

 

“I am not in the habit of shooting men escaping from whorehouses; if I did, the streets of London would be knee deep in corpses,” Peter said, looking the officer up and down with barely-concealed contempt. He had seen this type of officer before, all pretty gold braid, a fop that had bought his commission while better men were left behind. When the officer opened his mouth, Peter cut in, introducing himself, “Major Burke; you have a problem, Captain?”

 

The Dragoon officer’s mouth opened and then closed. “My apologies, sir, but we had Neal Caffrey within our grasp and he escaped; the man ...” he added bitterly,”... is as slippery as an eel.”

 

“Caffrey,” Peter frowned, “and the reason that you’re hunting him?”

 

“Sir,” the officer said, surprise showing on his face, “Neal Caffrey is the Gentleman Highwayman; he is wanted across three counties.”

 

Peter’s voice took on the bored tone of a superior officer, “I am newly returned to England; I have yet to become acquainted with your lawbreakers.” Smiling, Peter added after a pause, “Come, Captain, tell me more about him while we enjoy a dish of coffee.” Peter nodded towards the coffee house; the officer looked back to the whorehouse, clearly torn.

 

“I will join you shortly, sir, if I may.  I have a little business to conclude with Old Meg; she had been warned about harbouring highwaymen, and she will have to pay the price now—it’s Newgate Prison for her.”

 

Watching as the dragoon headed back to the whorehouse, Peter looked back down the street and then frowned as he saw the figure leaning against the side of one of the houses, the hat pulled down, shielding the eyes: Peter was sure it was Caffrey. Shaking his head, he dismissed it; the man would have to be crazy to stay around. But even so, curiosity made him turn back and have another look at the man, only to find that he was gone. 

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

 

 Three weeks later on the High Road

 

It was early evening and the sun was still high enough in the sky to spread a golden haze across the countryside. An evening for lovers, for poets, but certainly not for travellers.

 

The coach was heading across the countryside; it had already stopped at the Blue Boar, and was now making good time to its next stop of Southwick. Elizabeth was dozing against Peter’s arm, as her father, Sir Reese Hughes, relaxed opposite them, his hands resting on his stomach. The coach came to a halt, almost throwing them off their seats, as a pistol shot and a voice rang out, “Stand, stand I tell you.”

 

Sir Reese Hughes put a hand out, signalling Peter to stay still, poked his head out of the window, and found himself looking into the barrel of a pistol held in a hand that was as steady as stone; its owner was cloaked and masked, and sat on an all-black horse.

 

The highwayman’s voice had a pleasant timbre to it, as if it was one big joke, a jape, a summer fooling, but his words were contained and to the point. “Get out of the coach, now, before I fill your coachman’s belly with lead.”

 

Sir Reese Hughes frowned, then addressed the man sitting next to the coachman. “Don’t try anything, Jones; throw down your blunderbuss and do as he says."  Pushing the door open, Sir Reese stepped down from the coach and then reached a hand for Elizabeth to assist his daughter down onto the dusty road.  In his sixties, there was no weakness in Sir Reese; he ruled his house and his family with a rod of iron, and he would show no fear even when facing the pistol of a highwayman. He looked up at the highwayman. “You, sir, will pay for this, when you do the Tyburn Jig in London.” 

 

The highwayman chuckled. “You have to catch me first, Sir Reese, and you’re a long way from doing that. Now your valuables, gentlemen.” He paused. “And if the other cove would join us first, I wouldn’t like him to feel alone.”

 

For all his appearance of carefree abandonment, Peter was sure as he stepped down that the highwayman was on edge. Peter believed in book learning and had read each report that he could find on Caffrey and the other so-called Gentlemen of the Road. The stylish cut of the clothes, the pure white shirt, the all-black clothing, the silver-threaded waistcoat, the black silk scarf covering the lower part of his face, and the magnificent horse all pointed this at being Caffrey; if so, they stood a good chance of leaving short of their silver and trinkets, but in good health.

 

Peter wanted to believe it was Caffrey because Elizabeth was present, and Caffrey was always a gentleman; he had been known to dance a measure with a lady passenger one time, to the pennywhistle of a shepherd boy. Caffrey didn’t believe in killing the people he robbed.

 

But the danger point in the robbery was coming; the highwayman would know that robberies where women were present were always higher risk, because one or more of the men might want to impress the lady by showing their mettle against him.  Not that this would happen this time: he and Sir Reese were old hands at this game; they would give Caffrey an escape route and hunt him down later.  But of course Caffrey didn’t know that, and the young highwayman would be on edge, expecting a possible attack.

 

Peter could see that Caffrey was taking in his clothes, looking at him critically, seeing that he wasn’t dressed like a gallant or a dandy; Peter couldn’t miss the slight shake of the head and sigh that Caffrey gave. “Sir, if a man can't dress well he shouldn’t dress at all.”

 

“These clothes suit me well enough, as you know, Neal Caffrey.”

 

The highwayman chuckled. “Major Peter Burke,” his voice seemed to dwell on the name. “This is an unexpected delight.”

 

“How do you know my name?” Peter demanded.

 

“One, my dear Peter, should always know his adversary.”

 

“Major Burke to you, Caffrey; now get on with what you’re doing, we have a dinner cooling on the table.”

 

“I wouldn’t want you to miss your meal.” He paused then almost purred, “Peter, as if I would do that to you. So reluctantly I must ask you for your money, and your trinkets and dainty wipes.” A wave of his hand encompassed them all.

 

Elizabeth was intrigued by the highwayman; she had sat up at night hearing her husband plan the traps and schemes that would bring this highwayman to the rope. But there was a note to her husband’s voice when he spoke of Caffrey that intrigued her.

 

“Mrs. Burke, open your purse, my lady, and empty it onto the ground.”

 

“Sir, a lady’s purse is….” Elizabeth trailed off  she could see it wasn’t going to work and upended the purse. “Whoops,” as the small pistol fell to the ground.

 

Instead of being angry, Neal just laughed, then turned to Sir Reese Hughes.

“Now, Sir, your goods. For as nice as this meeting has been, your money, or reluctantly, your life: it is your choice. Now give it to the lady, she can deliver it to me. Mrs Burke, I do not have all evening; the goods please.”

 

Elizabeth took a step forward. “Peace, Peter, he will not hurt me.” Elizabeth approached Neal carefully. “So I finally get to meet you; it’s almost worth the toll you have imposed on us.” Seeing the puzzled look she added, “My husband is obsessed with catching you; you share our table most nights, Mr. Caffrey; did you know that?”  She handed him up the trinkets, and watched as he stowed them into his pockets. It was then that the devil must have taken him because the next minute she was scooped up and placed on the saddle in front of him.

 

Peter started forward only to come up short with a pistol aimed at his head. "I don't like pistols, Peter, but unfortunately they're a necessity in my line of business," Neal said, then added,  “You should know I will not steal the lady away, but I will give her something to remember me by.” The kiss he gave her was passionate and then as Peter started forward with a roar, she was tossed into his arms and Caffrey dug his heels into his horse's belly and took off at a gallop.

 

Peter hugged Elizabeth close, even as he yelled, “Caffrey, I will hunt you down, and you will hang: that is my promise.”

 

Caffrey pulled his horse to a halt—that nearly made it sit down on its haunches—and took his tri-corner hat off with a flourish in a salute to them both as he yelled back, “You have to catch me first, Peter,” and then turned his horse away again and kicked it into a run, melting into the twilight. 

 

 

Part Two

 

Five weeks later

 

Peter had been hunting Neal with zeal; often he had got close to the highwayman, but each time Neal had managed to escape him. One thing that soon because clear to him was that Neal for all the pistols he carried hadn’t once used the weapons to hurt another person; in fact he went to extreme lengths to avoid it during his robberies. But Peter was a realist: one day someone wouldn’t play the game that Neal played and he would end up either having to kill someone or would end up face down in the muddy road, dead.

 

Neal had been leaving small drawing of flowers as tokens near the scenes of his robberies. His men were sure that Caffrey was taunting him, but Peter thought differently; there was something more to it. Each time he found one of these tokens ,he brought it home to Elizabeth to see; their message was a riddle that he couldn’t solve. Until one day, when the latest flower drawing  was placed on her table, she looked up to him with a smile.

 

“You know what they mean.”

 

“Diana helped me work out the meaning of these tokens; promise that you will not be angry, Peter.”

 

 She watched him nod, then ask a touch impatiently which only made her smile a little more widely “So what is the message?  Is he taunting me?”

 

“Neal is flirting with you. These flowers are all symbols of a love that can’t say its name in the cold harsh light of day.”  She paused. “While you did your business in London, Diana and I did some exploring. Diana purchased this book.” Elizabeth placed a small black book onto the table; Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, the book was cheaply printed, but it was an almanac that Peter had seen more than one gentleman around town carrying.  It contained lists of all the whores in London, their location, fee and specialities, it also listed the addresses of speciality houses.  "See page 187, darling.”

 

Peter paused and raised an eyebrow. “Diana purchased the book,” and then understanding dawned on his face, Diana was a woman that he admired for her spirit, her intelligence and her love of life, but she had needs which some in society would not understand or tolerate. The addresses in the book allowed her to meet like-minded ladies safely.

 

Peter flipped through the pages, and began to read. The page listed the molly houses, and the symbolic tokens they placed in their windows. He sat down suddenly onto the chair, and reached for a glass of brandy that Elizabeth had poured for him.

 

“Who else would know?”

 

“These books would not be in the hands of the common man.  It is very unlikely that any of the soldiers would understand the meaning of the tokens; after all, many of them haven’t travelled more than ten miles from their place of birth and are unable to read and write.” She paused and took the glass from his hand and took a sip of the drink, looking at him over the rim. “The question is, what are we going to do about it.”

 

“We?” Peter said, but his lips curled into a smile.

 

“We,” Elizabeth confirmed and leaned in and kissed him. 

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

Neal Caffrey rode into the inn yard of the Brown Bull. His horse was a fine 16-hands black stallion; it had stamina and speed, two things that could mean the difference between life and death to a highwayman riding the High Toby. He had acquired the horse in a card game from a fool with more wealth than brains. The stable boy was paid to hold his horse; only a fool would tie his horse up where you couldn’t get to it fast.

 

As he dismounted, his eyes took in his surroundings; nothing seemed amiss.  He had seen no signs of Dragoons, but he couldn’t be too careful. Too many highwaymen had done the Tyburn Jig because they had been careless, and Caffrey wasn’t going to join them; he moderated his drinking because lost in your cups you became an easy target for those people that would turn you in for your bounty, and there was no such place as a safe haven for a highwayman.

 

The Brown Bull was on the very edge of his territory, and he would be unlikely to meet anyone that knew his face. To the north of his territory, Du Val plied his trade; to the south, Naylor; and to the west, Fletcher. These men, like him, were big fish in the pond, but there were also the small fry who moved through their territories, causing all four of them to spit curses as plum coaches were picked off, stirring up the Dragoons. At the moment, this area was quiet and he could take a breather.

 

As Neal entered the inn, the owner caught the coin he threw him and drew a pint of ale from the barrel, pushing it into his hand then nodding towards the far wall where a man was seated.   

 

 Moz Havisham was a fence, one of the best in the three counties: a small bald-headed man who looked more like a schoolteacher than a criminal. He was also the only reason that Neal had ventured here; he was perhaps his only true friend.

 

Once Neal was seated, with his back to the wall facing the door, he shed his cape and tri-corner hat.  One hand rested lightly on the butt of his pistol; with his other hand he dropped a small purse on the table and pushed it across to the older man.

 

Havisham pulled the purse to him and quickly untied its drawstring, his fingers moving through the jewels inside of it. Moz quickly calculated a price and Neal pocketed the gold coins, knowing that he had been given a fair price.

 

Suddenly, Neal’s eyes widened and his hand tightened on his pistol as two men came into the tavern; his body tensed: militia. 

 

Havisham caught Neal’s wrist, hissing, “No one has betrayed you, Neal; easy, my friend.” For a heartbeat Neal held the eyes of his only true friend, and took a mental deep breath, even as he recognised the man framed in the doorway. 

 

It was then a third man entered the tavern. “Major Peter Burke.” Neal said the name softly as he drank in the sight of him. Taking the opportunity to really study the Major, he liked what he saw; Burke was good looking in his own way, his brown hair pulled back; he favoured his own hair rather than the powdered wigs of the dandies. Since their deadly dance had started, Neal had taken the trouble to learn as much as he could about him, even following the man back to his home many a time, watching him and his wife together. Sadness had come over him as he watched them; it was something that he could never have, that happiness they shared so easily between them.

 

Neal Caffrey was no fool; he knew that his and Peter’s dance could only end in one way. Peter Burke was good at what he did and already five highwaymen had done the jig at the end of a rope courtesy of the Major; one day that would be him. But still he was drawn to Peter Burke. Already the locals spoke of Major Burke in hushed tones; to the lawbreakers the man was a damned devil in human form. Burke’s justice was swift and unrelenting once he was on your trail, it was said that you might as well order your coffin because you would die as sure as the sun set at the end of each day.

 

It was, Neal mused, a shame Peter had such an unreasonable attitude towards men that rode the High Toby; he considered it an unfortunate character flaw in the Major, but that could be worked on. If he could just get close enough to talk without the threat of Peter giving over to an impulse to arrest him, he was sure he could change the Major’s mind about a few things. But now that harbinger of death was entering the tavern.

 

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

Peter noticed the way the noise had fallen away as they entered the tavern; he ignored the looks that came his way—he had a thick hide and was used to them.

 

Peter saw the two men seated in the far corner, a mismatched pair; his eyes slid over the older, smaller man, and then fixed on the younger man. For what could have been only seconds but seemed like minutes their eyes met across the sawdust-strewn floor. But before he could take a step closer, the door swung open and Dragoon Captain Richard Ruiz walked in. 

 

Peter decided there and then there was no way that he was going to let the Dragoon Captain get his hands on Neal. Damn, when had he started to think of the highwayman as Neal rather than Caffrey? The very thought of Neal being in Ruiz's hands sent him cold, and a protective wave swept over him. Peter deliberately met Neal’s eyes and nodded with his head to the back door of the tavern, as he turned on his heels and blocked Ruiz.

 

Neal didn’t know what had just happened, but there were suddenly too many law keepers in the tavern for his liking; with a nod to Moz he disappeared through the back door, his features hidden by his battered hat, heading for the stables.

 

For some reason, Peter Burke had let him go, ignored the price on his head and saved him from the Dragoon Captain who had been hard on his trail, but why?

 

Over the days that followed Neal tried to find answers to his questions; as much as Burke hunted him, he hunted Peter, it was as if he was a moth and Peter was the flames that kept luring him close. He would try to leave the area only to find that everything he did drew him closer. It was early one morning that he was lying in the damp wild grass, his horse tethered behind some trees, training his telescope on the red Tudor brick house of Major Burke. He watched as the Major came out of his house, paused to press a kiss to his wife’s mouth as she stood in the doorway to watch him leave.  Mrs. Burke was an attractive lady, so Neal settled down to watch her; her smile he found warming she was the perfect half for Peter. Half an hour later he saw a small cart heading away from the Tudor house, taking the beaten track towards town, with the coloured woman at the reins and Mrs. Burke at her side. On impulse he decided to follow them at a distance; after all, he didn’t want to scare them.

 

Neal was following them slowly, lost in his own thoughts, when a pistol shot  brought him abruptly back to the present and made him turn his horse towards the Bishops Basin, a wooded area that dipped down towards an old river bed. As he came over the rise he saw the two women being held up by a highwayman.  Neal swore under his breath, pulled one of his pistols from his belt, cocked it, and then dug his heels in.  His horse lunged forward as he yelled his challenge, determined to get the other highwayman to focus on him, and not the ladies. “Stand, you son of a whore.”

 

The highwayman turned the brace of pistols he had been holding on the women, and now trained them on Neal, even as he closed the distance between.

 

Glaring at him over the top of the black mask that covered the lower part of his face, he snarled, “Ride on; this has nothing to do with you.”

 

But Neal ignored him. “My name's Caffrey, and, cully, I don’t take kindly to anyone poaching on my territory. This cart is mine.”  He made a motion with the pistol. “So go on your way before I put a ball through your head.”

 

“Back off, Caffrey.” The man’s mask twitched, showing he was smiling; they had a standoff.

 

The women on the cart had been forgotten, so the sharp clicks of flintlocks being cocked brought both the highwaymen’s heads round. It was then that Neal finally really looked at them; he had been so intent on the other highwayman that he had paid them scant regard, and he cursed under his breath—if they had been men he would never have ignored them. Mrs. Burke held a blunderbuss, while the other woman held a horse pistol rock steady in her hand.

 

It was then that Neal realised that the weapons weren’t aimed at him, but at the other man.  The highwayman slowly backed his horse away from the cart, all the time keeping one pistol trained on the women and the other on Neal.  The man's horse was superbly trained and obeyed each command from no more than a touch of a heel; once he had moved far enough away he wheeled his horse round and took off. 

 

Neal slowly lowered his pistol so that it rested against his saddle, ignoring the weapons that were now aimed at him.  “I hope that you ladies are unhurt.”

 

“We’re uninjured, Mr. Caffrey; thank you for your timely intervention.” Elizabeth said.

 

“I would get off home now, ladies, before the afternoon pulls in; I will ride with you a short way if you wish. I wouldn’t like Major Burke to think that I left you unprotected,” Neal tried a smile and was surprised when Elizabeth returned it and lowered the blunderbuss.

 

Diana laid her pistol in her lap and gave the reins a snap that started the cart horses forward, as Neal rode by the side of the cart.

 

“You are very quiet, Mr. Caffrey.”

 

“Just wondering why Major Burke would allow you out on your own with only your servant for protection in these times of trouble.”

 

Neal was surprised when Elizabeth laughed, “Diana is not my servant; she is my companion, and Mr. Caffrey, we are not some rare hothouse flowers that need the protection of a man; my husband knows that and respects my independence.”

 

As she spoke, Neal had to shake his head at her words; this was the kind of woman that he could respect.

 

At the pounding of horse’s hooves, Neal wheeled his horse round, but it was already too late.  There was the crack of a pistol, and it was as if he had been hit by a blacksmith’s hammer; he was thrown forward across his horse’s neck. The world slowed down, there was the earth-shattering noise of the blunderbuss being fired, his horse pranced and jumped, and then someone was grabbing the reins. Neal tried to lift his head up from his horse’s neck, and he saw Elizabeth by his side. She was reaching out for him; her mouth was opening and closing, but all he could hear was the beating of his own heart and the rush of blood in his ears, and then he was tumbling down off his horse and into a black void of nothing. 

 

Part Three

Late evening

 

Major Peter Burke returned home and stood in the entrance beating the dust from his clothes with his hat, and then looked up and smiled as Elizabeth came down the stairs towards him. Suddenly he stopped what he was doing and focused his whole attention on her; he had seen this expression before, and it meant that she had done something she knew he wouldn’t like, but done it all the same.

 

“I think there is something you should see, Peter.”

 

“Elizabeth.”

 

“I need you to see this first and then I will explain.”

 

Peter took a breath, “El, am I going to regret this?”

 

“It depends, but I don’t think you will.”

 

Peter followed her into the second bedroom and ground to a halt as he stared in disbelief at the man lying there.  The young highwayman’s face was pale and his skin was touched with fever but there was no mistaking who it was: Neal Caffrey. Peter turned to look at his wife. “El, what’s he doing here?”

 

“I know that you would make him gallows meat, Peter, but Mr. Caffrey saved us….” But before she could continue, Neal began to stir; his eyes opened and locked onto Peter.

 

Neal slowly opened his eyes and peered at the blurred red figure standing near the bed; his eyes focused and he couldn’t help give a strangled gasp as he recognised Peter Burke. Mustering what strength he had, Neal tried to escape away from him.

 

In an instant Peter was on him, dragging him back onto the bed as he tried to shoot out the other side; pain ripped through his shoulder, but even so he tried to push the older man away. In desperation he lashed out, his fist catching Peter across the jaw, knocking him back, but then Peter was on top of him, pinning his thrashing body down. Suddenly Neal stilled as he felt Peter’s hardness pressing against his thigh; the Major was aroused. Burke wouldn’t have been the first man to want him to become his molly, and lift the linen for him.  Now he was in no condition to run, so he let his body go limp; something of his fear must have shown in his eyes, because he saw concern on Peter’s face as the older man said, “Damn it, Caffrey, I am not going to hurt you.”

 

“Jjjusst hang me.” Neal’s voice was rough, and he was panting harshly, fast losing his fight to hold back the pain that was wracking his body, but he had to find the words to plead, “Don’t take me.…”

 

He saw the moment that Peter realised what he was saying; Peter’s hand went up, and Neal flinched, tensing for the blow he knew was coming. Instead Peter just shook his head and looked towards his wife, who laid a hand on his arm. Elizabeth, he saw, turned away and disappeared from his view.  She returned with a cup; Peter leaned over him. “I am not going to hurt you, Neal.”  Sitting on the edge of the bed, the older man reached for him and propped Neal up against him; Peter waited for him to settle, and then taking the cup, coaxed him to drink from it. The cool water had an herbal taste to it that was pleasant, and Neal let his head loll back against Peter’s chest. For a moment he felt Peter tense, and then the other man relaxed and the Major wrapped an arm round him.

 

“El, what the hell is going on here?”

 

“We were attacked by a highwayman, Peter.” She added quickly, “It wasn’t Mr. Caffrey; the other man had us at pistol point, and I feared that he was going to kill us, and I believe that he would have done if Mr. Caffrey hadn’t arrived when he did.”

 

“So he was shot helping you?”

 

El nodded her head. “He scared the other man off, and insisted on coming with us, escorting up home, and was shot when the other highwayman came after us again. Peter, please, can’t this wait?  The ball is still in his shoulder, and he has a fever brewing.”  El added, "Please, Peter, even if it’s only because you believe that helping him will make sure that he doesn’t cheat the hangman. Help us by getting the ball out of him.”

 

“We will talk, Elizabeth,” his tone making sure she knew that this conversation was not ended. “But first we will see to Neal.”

 

Lightly he touched the highwayman’s heavily-bandaged shoulder, frowning as he saw the fresh blood caused by their struggle.

 

“The ball took him high on his back; he was turning when it struck him,” Elizabeth told him.

 

“Have Jones come up; we’re  going to need all the help we can get to do this.”

 

Clinton Jones was in a heated argument with Diana when Elizabeth found him.  The younger man threw his hands up in the air in despair as Diana just shrugged; it wasn’t as if he hadn’t know how independent. Quickly she helped gather up the supplies that Peter needed, while Jones went up to the room.

 

Together the two of them moved Neal onto his stomach.  As Peter cut the soiled bandage from Neal’s shoulder, Jones cleared the bed of blankets and sheets, only retaining one to fold and lay across his hips to cover Neal’s naked body from waist to knees. 

 

While Jones poured the water, Peter cleaned his hands with soap and water, just as one of the doctors has told him; only then with his fingers did he begin to probe the wound, giving a small cry of triumph when he felt the ball imbedded in young man’s flesh. “You know, Jones, that other highwayman couldn’t have been using a full charge of powder, otherwise this would have gone straight through his shoulder, and he would have bled out by now.”

 

Neal usually had excellent timing but this time it failed him; he came round to the pain hammering through his back. He flinched as Peter crouched down so that he was level with his face. “You're lucky, Caffrey, the ball took you high in the shoulder; it missed your vitals. I should be able to get it out. If the rope doesn’t end you, you'll make a full recovery.” He took a mug that Elizabeth had filled from the small bedside table and then offered it to him.

 

Neal croaked, “Water?”

 

“Brandy, Caffrey, the good stuff.” Peter quirked an eyebrow at him and paused.  “The ball is going to have to come out, and it’s not going to be pleasant; you best get as much of this down you as you can.” Peter’s hand was warm and reassuring against his face as he eased him up enough so that he could drink it.  Once he had finished the mug another one was at his lips; Neal tried to turn away, but Peter wouldn’t let him. “It helps kill the pain; you will need it, I promise you that.” Peter met his gaze levelly. “It’s not as if you're in any position to run, so what can drinking it down do to you?”

 

Neal nodded slightly and then, opening his mouth, drank it down, Peter handed the mug back to Diana, and then patted his good shoulder. “Once we start, we’re not going to be able to stop.”  Reaching over him he took something from Jones and folded it: a leather pad; Neal closed his eyes, because he knew what was going to happen next. Peter’s voice floated over him. “Jones, I am going to need you to help restrain him once I start cutting.”

 

Neal felt his good wrist being caught in a firm hand and then lifted up; something soft yet strong was wrapped round it and he knew without opening his eyes that his arm was being restrained. The bed dipped on one side, and he felt someone lean across his thighs, and knew that that person would keep his legs pinned once Peter started to cut.  A smaller hand circled the wrist of his injured shoulder, and another his upper arm, keeping it flat to the bed.

 

Peter’s voice was strangely reassuring as a light touch to his face made him open his eyes. “I am going to start now, Neal. I am sorry.”  Words that could have been empty were made more by the look in Peter’s eyes as he dipped down so that Neal could see him. Peter took the leather pad and put it between Neal’s teeth so that he wouldn’t break them when the pain tore through his body. Taking a steadying breath, Peter straightened up and dipped the knife into the brandy that Elizabeth had poured into a small bowl, and then turning back to him, Peter leant over him, blotting out the light from the lamp, becoming cold and sinister in the dark shadow that he threw over him. It was then Peter’s knife entered his flesh and the horror started.

 

Through the pain he heard Peter say, “EI, I need you to hold the wound open so I can get the ball out; it’s split—I need to try and get it out in one piece.  The more cloth or lead in the wound, the more likely it is to go bad; I can’t risk that.”

 

Working together, Peter finally managed to get the tip of the knife under it and got it out, tossing it into the bowl.  Then taking the brandy, he poured it into the wound. It was then Neal screamed, his body trying to arch and pull free from the people holding him; a heartbeat later his body went limp. Peter bound the bandages quickly round Neal’s chest before easing him down to lay on the bed. 

 

El looked at her husband as he wiped the blood from his hands; he did it slowly as if he wanted to make sure that every speck of it was off his hands, but all the time his eyes were fixed on Neal Caffrey.  With a shaking hand he reached out and brushed the sweat-damp hair back from Caffrey’s closed eyes.

 

“You took a risk, both of you,” Peter said, looking from Elizabeth to Diana and back again, then meeting Jones’s eyes he just shook his head.  It shouldn’t have been a shock to them; the women in their lives were wayward and independent and they would have them no other way. “Next time be more careful.”  But he still favoured her with a look that told her they would talk later in private.

 

During the next three days, Peter remained at the house as much as his work would allow. Elizabeth and Diana, between them, nursed Neal. His fever had gotten worse and he was totally helpless; they had to do everything for him. Elizabeth folded linen into pads, placing one under his hip, another over his groin, changing them when he soiled himself. They washed his body of the sweat and his bodily discharges with sweet-smelling water, as if he was a baby. They fed him water and herbs that would draw the fever from him, and coaxed rich gruel down him when they were able. But as each day went by their worry grew; if the fever didn’t break soon, Neal was going to die, as he became too weak to fight the fever.

 

Finally Peter turned to Elizabeth, real concern in his face that he was going to lose Neal Caffrey. “There is a way, El, but it might kill him; it is the soldier’s way.”

 

Elizabeth looked up; she was cradling Neal in her arms and spoon-feeding the delirious young man water.  “If we don’t break the fever soon, he will die anyway, so we must do something.”

 

Peter went out and with Jones' help drew buckets of ice cold water from the deep well and carried them to the hayloft. El frowned as she watched him, but before she could speak he said, “Ideally it should be higher, but this might work. I pray it will.”

 

Returning to the room he picked Neal up, carried him down and laid him onto the cobbles under the hayloft.  He removed the blankets, leaving Neal laying naked and shivering on the ground, and signalled to Jones who emptied the buckets full of ice cold water one by one from the hayloft down onto Neal.  The water flattened him, and he cried out and thrashed weakly in pain.

 

Once the last bucket had been emptied, Peter rushed forward, gathered Neal up and carried him back to bed, where he dried him off quickly and wrapped him in blankets.  Neal’s teeth were chattering from the cold; his breathing was hard and harsh and he was tossing and turning in bed. Early the next morning the fever finally broke.

 

Neal was as weak as a kitten from the fever; Elizabeth eased him up, pillowing him against her chest as she fed him a thick  stew made from the best meat.  He only took a little but Elizabeth smiled with tears rolling down her face as she looked across Neal at Peter.  Exhaustion caught up with Neal and he fell asleep. Peter came over and sat by her side, his arms round them both; he looked into his wife’s eyes and saw her smile and nod gently at Neal.  Peter kissed her gently, before pressing his lips to Neal’s forehead in a chaste kiss. For a long time they sat like that, Peter and Elizabeth with Neal nestling between them. 

 

When Neal woke up, out of habit he kept his body perfectly still, as he tried to take in his surroundings. He tilted his head slightly; he was lying in the arms of a beautiful woman.  Her dark hair was falling loose round her shoulders; for a heartbeat he thought it was his Kate, the raven-headed doxy that had stolen his heart. But it wasn’t her; he wracked his brain and then remembered who she was: it was Elizabeth Burke, the wife of ... oh hell.

 

Neal tried to move, pushing himself up off her; Burke would kill him if he found him in bed with his wife. But his arms gave way, and he fell face first into her lush breasts. Neal tried to push himself off her as she woke, only to go face first again.  She gave a surprised cry and then instead of pushing him away, she pulled him close. It was then the door open and Peter Burke came in.  Neal struggled to free himself but she held him tightly, and in two strides Peter was there, and Neal felt himself being pulled up off her and into Peter’s strong arms, holding him close. The pain radiating from his wound made it hard to breathe, let alone think.

 

“Easy Neal, breathe, you’re safe, you’re safe.” The rich voice rolled over him, and Neal began to remember: the wound, the strong hands that held him and made him feel safe. Slowly, against his will, his body relaxed against Peter as the older man sat back against the headboard cradling him against him, even as Elizabeth leaned on her husband’s shoulder, her arm wrapping round his waist, holding him firmly in place. Exhaustion overtook him, and Neal could do nothing to stop the heart-weary sigh that escaped him as he fell into a deep healing sleep.

 

During the long days it took Neal to heal, they had saw the longing looks that he tried to hide, when he looked at either of them. It had been exciting to receive those loving but confused looks.  But neither of them had been under an illusion that it was going to be easy.  Before they confronted Neal, Peter and Elizabeth talked long into the night, and the next morning they decided what they wanted, and that was for Neal to become one with them.

 

They understood that if it became known, every hand would be against them; fornication outside of marriage was considered a sin by the Church but it was unofficially accepted that a man had needs. But for a woman to covet another man was to brand her a harlot, an adulterer.  For Peter to want Neal—if he was caught he would be hanged as a sodomite next to him.  They had to be sure it was what Neal wanted.

 

One thing Peter knew was that if he was to rescue Neal from the gallows that waited for him in his future, then he had to make a deal with his father-in-law, Sir Reese, one that would save Neal’s life. That night when Neal was asleep, Peter sat down on the loveseat, reached out for Elizabeth’s hands, and looked into her eyes as he kissed her fingers.

 

“You have thought of a way to save him.” Elizabeth said happily.

 

“Neal has been a thorn in our flesh; he had stolen goods but not people’s lives. The cost of the things he has taken would guarantee him the death penalty or at best transportation.” Peter, seeing the look of dismay on Elizabeth’s face, added, “But I think that I can sell your father on an idea. At the moment we are plagued with highwaymen and thieves of all kinds. If Neal were to be given into my care, in return for helping us to hunt the others down he would be eventually given his freedom; he could be a useful asset for us."

 

“But he is just a highwayman.”

 

“That is what I thought, Neal became infamous through being a highwayman, but he was in Newgate prison for forging paintings, and for the theft of treasures from the houses of the rich and noble. He is so much more, Elizabeth, and I  can use him to  help destroy the canker of lawlessness that is rotting this country from the inside.”

 

So each day,  Elizabeth was sure that she began to see understanding in Neal’s eyes, the way he leaned into their touch when they cared for him and held him, but so far he hadn’t put what he needed into words, and they needed to hear them. So they told him of the  plans to free him from the noose,  and that it came with no strings attached to it. Neal had looked at them searchingly, as if by pure willpower he could look into their hearts and souls and divine the truth. But then doubt would appear in his eyes; Neal didn’t believe them.

 

 He believed he would be nothing more than a diversion for them ,and once he had satisfied their base needs he would be sent to the gallows.  She was at a loss at what to do about it; Peter had to bring the papers soon, otherwise they would lose him.

 

Part Four

Moz Havisham was worried: since his last meeting with Neal, the young highwayman had disappeared, and he was missing from all his regular haunts. The story of a dead highwayman had sent him to the house of Doctor Miller, a known anatomist, only for Moz to leave relieved that the body being autopsied wasn’t him. Neal was still missing but at least hadn’t suffered that fate.

 

But still Moz kept on looking.  He had first met Neal when the younger man had been sent to Newgate for forging a painting; Neal had done the impossible and escaped from that hellhole, but had been badly injured on the spiked walls. Neal had crawled into the rat trap that Moz had been calling home at the time, and collapsed. He could have ignored him or handed him over for the reward but he had done neither; instead he had nursed him back to health.  In the handsome, intelligent younger man he had found a true friend. So he would find Neal, even if was just to bury him.

 

Moz kept looking.  He methodically criss-crossed the countryside.  It was then he got his first break: there was rich gossip about the wife of Major Burke, how she had been out with her servant when she had been attacked by a highwayman.  The two women had been rescued by a mystery man who had killed their attacker. Given that he knew of Neal’s almost-fatal attraction to Peter Burke, it didn’t take much for him to put a name to the mystery man, Neal Caffrey.  So what had happened then?

 

Ruling out all other possibilities, only one solution remained, that Neal was being kept prisoner at Major Burke’s own house, but why? Surely it would be in the interest of the Major to have Neal hanged. Which drew him back to Mrs. Burke, and perhaps a debt that was being repaid; he had heard of the liberty Neal had taken.

 

Moz waited until Sunday; when he saw the Burkes setting off to church, carefully he crept up near the house and into the stable. In one of the stalls was Neal’s horse, which meant that Neal was in the house; now he just had to figure a way of getting him out.

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

 

St Catherine’s Church

 

Peter, with Elizabeth on his arm, led her into the church and to one of the front pews as befitting his social standing in the community. Across from them they saw Sir Garrett Fowler, and on his arm the beautiful young woman he had taken as his mistress. He took great joy in flaunting her, her long dark hair laying across her shoulders, her dress a rich blue, with a pastel shawl. If he saw the way that the decent men and women turned away from her, he didn’t care.

 

Since he had started to hunt Neal, Peter had begun to put together everything that he knew of the younger man, hoping that it would give him the clues to catch him. He had learned about Neal and Kate, a tragic love story that rivalled Elizabeth’s favourite Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet. This was the woman that Neal cried out for in his fits of fever, that Elizabeth had to pretend to be to calm him, so that he could rest peacefully. She had taken up with the very man who had sent Neal to Newgate Prison in the first place, and indirectly started him on the road to being a highwayman.

 

When they returned from church, Peter had been furious to find Neal gone, while Elizabeth had clutched at his arm, trying to get him to calm down. Reaching up a hand, she had touched his face, drawing it down to her. “We will find him, Peter; and we will make him understand how important he has become to us.”

 

Her words, said quietly but with such emotion, quieted his anger.  Taking a steadying breath, Peter said, “He couldn’t have gone far; I vow we will find him.”

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

While Neal healed, Moz kept his ear to the ground. The Major was tearing up the countryside looking for him, and he was catching a lot of the smaller criminals in the net that he was casting for Neal. Twice Moz had had to move Neal ahead of a raid by the militia. But he refused to leave the young highwayman behind. But all the same he knew that they were closing in on them. So for Moz it was no surprise when he returned to find Neal saddling his horse; he was breathless when he finished, but determined, as he pulled himself up into the saddle. Moz reached up and covered Neal’s hand. “Watch out for yourself, Neal, Burke is like a rabid dog on your tail.”

 

“He has to catch me first, Moz.” The two men shared a silence that spoke volumes, and then Neal was gone.

 

What money Moz had given Neal was soon exhausted.  The people that usually helped him were charging double their usual rate; others refused outright, reluctant to bring the fury of Peter Burke down on them, so Neal had to take to the road again. The moment that he started to work the High Toby again, Neal’s fate was sealed.

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

Peter arrived home, came through the door and swept Elizabeth off her feet, swinging her round as he kissed her, much to the amusement of Diana who was standing in the hallway. “He attacked the London-bound coach yesterday. I will have him soon. Your father swore enough to turn the air blue, but has said that if I can catch him and put an end to Neal's robberies, he will sign the paper.”

 

Elizabeth put a finger to his lips to quiet him, “Bring Neal home to us, beloved,” and kissed him.

 

0-0-0-0-0

Old Goat Tavern

 

Neal had just entered the courtyard, turned into the stable and dismounted when one of the pot boys ran out; breathlessly he just managed to yell one sentence. “Soldiers are in the tavern.”

 

Neal swore and turned towards his horse, only to have his way blocked by Peter, sword in hand.

 

“You’re not going anywhere, Caffrey.”

 

Neal grabbed for his pistol tucked in his belt, only to pause as Peter’s other hand brought up his own pistol.

 

“Take it out and throw it to the ground, Caffrey.”

 

Neal did as he was told, then faced Peter. “You bastard, you.…”

 

Peter holstered his pistol.  “If you can get by me, Caffrey, you can escape.”  He knew he was taking a risk: Caffrey was a master swordsman, but then so was he.  But he had the advantage: Neal Caffrey was still weakened by his wound; even so it was going to make this interesting, Peter mused.

 

Peter faced Neal down; their blades touched in an almost-sensual kiss of metal on metal. Neal lunged forward, stamping his foot down, crushing the straw in the barn under his weight, but Peter stepped back before launching his own counterattack.

 

Neal threw himself to one side, avoiding the blade as Peter aimed for his sword arm, trying to wound him, to make him lose his hold on his sword and end the fight quickly. But he  was too fast, and instead of pulling back stepped closer, trying to hit Peter across the forehead with the hilt of his sword, in his heart knowing that he didn’t want to hurt Peter more than necessary to escape. But Peter was faster and he managed to knock aside the hilt, at the same time using his larger bulk to push Neal away.  Peter saw the younger man stumble and took the opening; he lunged forward, aiming again for his sword arm, trying to gain the advantage to prevent him from running. Peter didn’t want to kill him, just take his options away.

 

Behind his adversary Peter saw his men enter and he smiled in satisfaction. Neal would be his.  Then Peter cursed as he realised that Jones wasn’t with them; he would be in the tavern, waiting to spring the trap. Neal stood a chance of being badly hurt; his men had no love of highwaymen.

 

Caffrey's head snapped round.  With a snarl he slashed at Peter as the older man closed on him, causing him to step back.  Neal turned on his heels; catching hold of a heavy wooden bucket he swung it round and released it, it hit one of the soldiers in the stomach, winding him and sending him cannoning into the one behind him, bringing them both down in a mass of arms and legs.  Neal used everything at hand to try to force them to keep their distance from him, including a rather-indignant hen, but in the end the result was never in doubt, One of the soldiers on the ground, clutching his groin where a turnip had nearly unmanned him, caught Neal’s ankle as the slender highwayman tried to run past and pulled his leg from under him, sending him staggering forward. 

 

Peter threw himself forward, not wanting to risk Neal being hurt, knowing his men would want revenge for their injuries.  He ploughed into the highwayman from behind, sending him flying into the side of one of the stalls. The sword flew from Neal's hand and the men were onto him. Neal fought savagely, but was soon finally overpowered.

 

Peter moved in quickly, grabbing the rope from one of the men’s hands and lashing Neal’s hands together, just as Captain Ruiz and his men arrived.

 

Ruiz smiled an oily smile at Peter. “Your plan worked, Major. Don’t worry, sir, you'll get your credit for his capture.  Men, take the prisoner.”

 

“He is my prisoner, Captain,” Peter said, moving in front of Neal, almost protectively.

 

“This tavern is in Sir Garrett Fowler’s district, therefore Caffrey is my prisoner, Major,” he said as he thrust the creased paper into Peter’s hand.

 

Opening it quickly, Peter read through, his face hardening, as he was forced to stand by and watch Neal pushed up onto the back of an old plough nag, and led away.

 

Peter watched them ride away; mind made up, he grabbed his horse from the pot boy and pulled himself into the saddle, throwing some coins to Jones. “Buy the men some drink to celebrate our success, and tell Mrs. Burke that I will be home soon.”  Turning his horse round he kicked it into a canter to follow Ruiz.  He couldn’t get over the feeling that there was something very wrong about Ruiz and his timely arrival at the tavern with that document. He pulled his horse up as he saw that instead of taking Neal to town, he was being taken down the road leading to the house of the Squire, Sir Garrett Fowler; puzzled, Peter followed them. 

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

 

The Estate of Sir Garrett Fowler

 

Peter left his horse tethered in a small outcrop of trees that bordered the edge of the estate and made his way on foot. Word was Sir Garrett was too mean to employ many servants; even so, Peter kept a weather eye open as he crept to one of the windows.  Looking through, he could see Neal with Ruiz and his guards waiting in front of an ornate staircase. Reaching up, he carefully pressed against the windowpane, and sent a little prayer of thanks up as it opened enough for him to hear the men talking.

 

Coming down the stairs was Sir Garrett Fowler. He was in his late forties, a tall man; he had spent most of his life in politics, but with enough sense to ride the tides of whoever was in power.

 

Sir Garrett was gloating as he smiled. “A long time, Caffrey, but as you can see, it is I who will get the last laugh. And that, my boy, will be when you do the Tyburn Jig.” He looked Neal up and down as if he were a prize stallion to be brought or sold. “You're fit and healthy and should dance the jig for 10 minutes before you die, and we’ll be there to see you.” He leaned in. “Your doxy Kate will be there; she won’t want to miss your crowning moment, Caffrey.”

 

Sir Garrett’s face crumbled into a mask of agony when Neal’s knee came up fast and thudded into his groin as Neal snarled his threat to geld the man, even as he was clubbed to the floor by a musket butt between the shoulder blades and the guards laid into him with feet and fists. At the window Peter watched, knowing there was nothing he could do to help Neal; for the moment it was out of his hands.

 

Clutching himself tightly, Sir Garrett, breathing hard, slowly straightened up, and spat, “Don’t kill him, you fools, or you’ll replace him on the noose.”

 

Sir Garrett’s mouth was a tight line. “In the meantime, make this cockroach regret that he was ever sired.  Understand me, Captain?”

 

Peter swore under his breath and slid down the side of the wall to sit, a hand across his face; he had to get Neal out of there, but how?  Then he remembered the small weaselly man who had been in the tavern with Neal: he was a starting point.

 

Newgate Prison

 

A stream of water hit Neal in the face.  He woke and tried to pull away from it as the stream hit his chest; the movement sent pain knifing through his stomach, chest, and head. He rolled onto his side, coughed and spat blood into the filthy straw, and tried to bring his knees up to block the pain. It was only then his dazed mind registered the manacles that held him chained to the wall.

 

“So the pretty boy awakes,” a gruff voice announced.

 

Neal managed to turn his head, hissing against the pain, and focused on the doorway to the cell.  A big mountain of a man, cock in hand, stood there, as he shook off the last few drop of his piss before doing up his pants. The man laughed, showing broken and rotten teeth. “Did you think we would waste good water on your kind, cur?”

 

The big man came in with another man. He was holding a cudgel in his hand, which he tapped up and down against the side of his leg. This man was smaller than the man-mountain but with a big belly that spilled over his belt; his smile was chilling as he strode in. Neal tried to pull himself backward away from the men, now looming over him, only to be pulled up by the chain tethered to the wall.

 

The man-mountain brought a big foot down, pinning Neal to the straw by a foot to the chest, crushing the breath from his lungs; leaning forward, the man used the cudgel to press Neal’s chin backward, forcing his head back so that he was looking up into their faces.

 

“With the compliments of Sir Garrett,” the man snarled, then the cudgel swung down and all Neal knew was pain as he worked his body with skill. When respite came it only heralded more horrors as rough hands clawed at him, and then all Neal could do was scream.

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

Two days later, Jailer Avery pocketed the money from the woman and tried to hide his smirk as this genteel woman her face hidden by the hood of her cloak, and by the dainty lace mask she wore made her way down the mildewed steps to the cells below. This was not the first fine lady to give him a few shillings for the privilege of seeing a highwayman, an adventure that she would tell to the other ladies in her sewing group.

 

Avery let his anger show; a bitch like that spent more money on a dainty wipe for her nose than he did buying food for his family. He jiggled the money in his hand, but if the stupid bitch wanted to see Caffrey then she would pay through the nose; he chuckled a little at his pun.

 

As he walked past her, he saw the way she moved her dress out of the way as if frightened that his very touch might give her the pox. He pulled the cudgel from his belt and hit it along the bars of Caffrey’s cell. The woman had paid, and Caffrey, if he knew what was good for him, would perform. If he got a tip to buy gin then he would leave the highwayman alone; if he didn’t then Caffrey would pay by being tonight’s entertainment.

 

“Caffrey, move your arse; you’ve got a visitor,” Avery gloated. turned his back, went back up the stairs to his small room and went back to his whittling; it was only two more days and his money cow would be gone, hanging from Tyburn.  But his face brightened; there was always another of his kind out there and then the shillings would roll in again. Before he had taken her down he had given her his usual talk about the man being dangerous: a little spice to add to the dish, even though he knew that Caffrey had never laid a lustful hand on a woman that hadn’t wanted him to.

 

“Neal,” the woman spoke softly. There was no response from the huddled figure at the back of the cell. “Neal,” she said the name louder. “NEAL,” she snapped the name. This time the figure moved, slowly unfolding itself, moving more like an old man than the young man she knew he was.

 

A scraped hand latched onto the bars, holding the highwayman upright. The chains hung heavily on him; he appeared to have a problem focusing on her and a thin trickle of blood stained the side of his face. Even so, when his free hand moved, it was with enough speed to make her jump backwards.  The chuckle from the injured man made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

 

“What’s the matter, lady, not what you thought?”  He coughed, using the grubby sleeve of his shirt to cover his mouth.

 

Even in the flickering light, the woman noticed that there was blood on it. Elizabeth took a step forward back to the bars.

 

“Sorry, lady, I don’t have any witty remarks for you, or maybe you want a gallows fuck,” Neal snarled.

 

“Neal, you have to listen to me.”

 

“Informal for gallows meat, isn’t it?” Caffrey said. “Most of you gallows hags just.…” He broke off; the woman wasn’t worth his anger. His head dropped forward to rest against the cold bars; the headache was back with a vengeance, and he was having trouble focusing on her.  He thought he knew her voice, but in the dim light he couldn’t see her clearly.  The woman reached out, her hand lightly stroking his head, her fingers carding through his hair and rubbing the back of his neck; slowly he looked up: it was the gentleness of her touch that reached him. Elizabeth pushed the lace mask down so he could see her face, as he said her name.

 

“Elizabeth,” he breathed the name, as if she was a goddess, not a mortal woman, and he was sending up praise to her. He lifted his head and reached out a blood-streaked hand; his fingertips brushed her face. “Go, please, don’t do this ... your reputation ... Peter.”

 

“He knows I am here,” she said softly; when he tried to pull away she caught his hand, “You will not hang, Neal.”   Elizabeth started to hand him a small velvet purse of money; it was then Neal heard the footsteps of the jailer coming back and saw the man framed in the doorway. Suddenly he caught Elizabeth through the bar, pulled her close and kissed her hard; immediately she struggled. Then the jailer was pulling her away, his cudgel hammering across the bars, making Neal pull back and stagger into the dark, falling down onto the filthy straw. Once the jailer was gone he put a hand into his pocket and found the purse that Elizabeth had slipped him when he had grabbed her.  The money would go a long way to improve his conditions at the prison. 

 

From the direction of the stairs he could hear the jailer's voice floating down. “Animal, Madam, like I said. An animal.”

 

Avery escorted her back up the steps; he would see to Caffrey later. Doing something like that could put the ladies off; they wanted a gentleman of the road even if he was gallows bait in the morning, not a rutting animal in heat.  He saw her to the door and watched her climb into a carriage; the crest on the side was covered. The Jailer's hand fingered the shillings in his pocket; pity he hadn’t known that earlier, otherwise he would have charged more.

 

The carriage stopped half a mile up the road and a man got in. The driver whipped up his horses as Peter Burke settled himself back in the seat. “Good evening, my lady. And.…”

 

“I saw him, Peter.” Elizabeth’s face turned to one of sorrow. “I am sorry; Peter, but they have beaten him.” She reached for her husband's hand and squeezed it. “We have to get him out of there, Peter.” 

 

“We will, El; he will not die.” Peter kissed the back of her hand and pulled her into his arms.  

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

 

The Bailey

 

The court case had been quick and simple and to the point; in one day, Neal Caffrey was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

 

“And may the Lord have mercy on your soul,” the judge intoned as he finished delivering the death sentence.

 

Turning as he was led away, for the first time Neal showed emotion as he saw his lover Kate seated in the gallery.  Next to her was Sir Garrett.  Knowing that Neal was watching, Sir Garrett raised her hand and kissed her fingers before getting to his feet and escorting his lady from the courtroom, ignoring the chatter of the society ladies who packed the gallery to see the infamous Neal Caffrey; but the topic on their lips, though, was Sir Garrett with his whore, a scandal—a juicy one—to be enjoyed. But for his money and position, he would have been ostracised, but it didn’t stop them talking.

 

Neal was pulled roughly away; he snarled and pulled hard on the chain, nearly bringing the jailer to his knees. Then, instead of trying to escape, he held his head up and walked forward; if he was going to the gallows, he was going as a man. He would show Sir Garrett that he knew how to die.

 

His last night on earth, Neal was visited late in the evening by a woman.  He ignored her; he wanted to find his own peace, not play the games they wanted.

 

Jailer Avery used the club to bang the bars. “Come here, you cur, the lady wants to see you.”

 

The woman was in her mid-twenties, a beauty. She pushed the jailor's hand down.  “Neal,” she called his name softly.

 

The highwayman closed his eyes and forced himself to take a breath to steady his emotions, then slowly limped to the bars. He looked her up and down, then his eyes flicked to Avery.

 

The woman turned and pressed an additional coin into his hand and the jailer turned away. With a muttered, “Ten minutes, my lady,” he was gone.

 

“Neal, darling.” She reached for his hand, but he pulled back before she could touch him.

 

“I saw you with him in the courtroom; you didn’t look like a prisoner, Kate,” he spat.

 

“Sir Garrett is a good man,” Kate said, her tone imploring Neal to believe her.

 

Neal laughed in her face. “I broke out of Newgate to be with you, Kate, but by the time I had gotten free, you were gone; you didn’t wait for me. I love you ... I loved you.” Neal corrected himself.

 

She shook her head. “He was there to help me when you got caught forging that painting for the Duke. I could have been convicted as well; he put a word in for me, Neal. But, no, Neal, you had to cause trouble, you had to escape and take to the high roads, and come looking for me. Don’t you understand, I don’t need you, now this …”  Her voice became angry, “... is what you have come to, a common thief ending your life at the end of a rope.”

 

She paused; Sir Garrett and the beatings had been the stick, now here she was to offer the sweet carrot to get him to do what they wanted.  “But there is a way to escape the rope even at this late stage. Sir Garrett can get you out of here if you give him the inlaid wooden box that you stole from Lady Catherine Meadows.”

 

“The box, why does he want that?”

 

“A whim, a fancy, Neal, nothing more.  Tell me where it is and you can get out of here now.”

 

It was then that Neal laughed, bitter and harsh.

 

“What’s so funny, Neal?  You have to tell me.”

 

“I didn’t steal it, Kate; I don’t have it.”

 

Kate shook her head. “Do not joke with me, Neal; everyone knows that you broke into her house and stole it.  It’s the kind of trinket that you like.”

 

“I never touched it, Kate; I was robbing a coach on the Great North Road when it was taken.”

 

“You never denied it.”

 

“It added to my reputation,” Neal said.

 

“Then may the Lord have mercy on you, Neal, because the hangman will not.”  She pulled back from the bars.  “I will pray for your soul.” With that she turned and walked away, leaving Neal to sink down into the straw; for the first time tears rolled slowly down his face.  Neal rolled his head back to rest it against the cold wet wall of the cell and closed his eyes, as he felt the weight of Kate’s betrayal settle on him.

 

Part Five

The Blue Boar Inn

 

Hangman Boon, a tall man with lank dark hair who'd been the hangman since old man Mallory got so drunk he nearly hanged the priest by mistake two years ago, was visited by a livery-clad servant.  A man sat down at his table, and slapped a guinea onto the table top.  "I have a message from Sir.…"

 

Boon hissed at the man, “No names.”  The risk was too great; if he was caught, he would lose his livelihood. Another gold guinea was pressed to his hand; he pushed them into his pocket as he listened to what the man was telling him, and nodded his agreement.  If a gentleman of quality wanted to make sure that Caffrey danced the Tyburn Jig long and hard, then who was he to protest? A good show and the public would be queuing up for their inch of Caffrey’s execution rope; at a penny a length, he could make good money off the dead man’s back.

 

Buying a bottle of gin, he took a deep pull on it as he walked out of the tavern, only to have his way blocked by a horseman; the rider was a man of quality.  Boon touched his hat, muttering his apologies; more than likely, a quality cove wanting some memento of Caffrey for his lady. There was always some lady in the gentry that would be a spirited ride for her buck after a hanging; the doctors always said a hanging got a woman’s juices flowing and it would be guaranteed if he had some trinket of Caffrey’s to give her, but he was in a hurry and the man would have to wait his turn. 

 

The horseman blocked him again; this time he paid attention as he heard the jingle of coins on coins. Looking up, he saw the purse held just above his head. The rider leaned down; his voice was hard and uncompromising, his eyes blazing with almost a religious fever of intensity. When he had finished speaking, all Boon could do was nod in agreement; whatever the mystery gentleman had wanted was forgotten; there was something about this man that scared him down to his very core. The grim man let the gold coins rain down into his hand, five times what the mystery gentleman had given him: a reward given and a threat promised all in one breath if he didn’t do what the man said, and then he was gone, leaving the hangman shaking in his boots.

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

Newgate Prison

 

Neal Caffrey smoothed down the white shirt and tugged at its cuffs; he had paid the last of his money to the jailer’s wife who had washed and pressed his clothes for his last ride.  If he was going, he was going out in style.

 

Neal, his hands bound in front of him, was loaded into the cart and the prison gate opened.  The cart was surrounded by guards.  He was taken out into the streets; looking straight ahead, Neal didn’t acknowledge the crowds  until the women hanging out of the windows began to yell for his attention. Neal grinned up at them, a smile that had won his way into many a bedroom and a ladies' pantaloons on his face, as he blew them a kiss.

 

The cart made its first stop on the slow way to Tyburn, and a mug of ale was passed up to him. To the cheers of the crowd, the highwayman downed it in one long drink then threw the mug back to the owner, who turned it upside down for all the crowd to see, and the cheers increased.  They always liked a good show, and Caffrey was going to give them that as he returned their greetings with ones of his own. His bawdy replies caused more laughter; each stop, each drink, brought him that bit nearer to his own death.

 

Finally the cart turned onto the long road that led to the three-legged stool structure that dominated the skyline; the poor were gathered round it, the rich sat in specially-constructed benches.

 

A street bard was calling out his poem, waving it above the heads of the crowd, taking their pennies as the people bought it as a souvenir of Caffrey’s hanging. 

 

Here soon liese Caffrey: Reder, if male thou art,

Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.

Much havoc has he made of both; for all

Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall

 

Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.

Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,

Caffrey, the ladies’ joy; Caffrey, the ladies’ grief

 

Hangman Boon stood waiting with the priest.  He was nervous; if this went wrong he knew that the grim man would kill him.

 

Neal Caffrey’s cart came to a halt and he looked up at the instrument of his death: the three-legged gallows of Tyburn.

 

The guard laughed harshly as he helped Neal down from the back of the cart as he said, “Don’t want you to break your neck, Caffrey, before we get a chance to stretch it."

 

Neal was pulled to a halt, a guard on each arm.  The hangman pushed them out of the way; he touched Neal’s wrist and felt the highwayman tense, and then saw a flicker of surprise on his face as the hangman pressed the knife into his hand as he manhandled him forward towards the noose.

 

The priest came forward, speaking in a low voice as he recited the prayers. Neal ignored him; he had made his peace with his God, and looked round at the men, women and children that pressed forward. When he looked at the stand with its rows of benches he saw all the fops and quality that sat there, all having paid their silver to see the show. Centre of the group was Sir Garrett, his arm round Kate, her face pale and pinched and her hand clutching that of the older man, but her head lifted as she looked him straight in the eyes.  Her expression lacked any compassion for him as she accepted a glass of wine from her lover, and with a smile raised the glass to him.

 

Neal turned away from them to the crowd, his voice strong and forceful as he said his piece as was expected of him; he made no attempt to beg for forgiveness, or express sorrow for his crimes. His final sallies made the crowd laugh and a quick glance at Sir Garrett saw the man’s face had turned as red as a beetroot as his insults had cut the man deep to the core.

 

A hand to his arm and he walked the few steps to the rope.  Neal looked up, following the rope's path up across the beam and then down to the horses that would drag his twisting, writhing body up into the air until the rope cut off his air and suffocated him as the crowd watched him twist and turn and soil himself as he died.

 

The hangman put the rope round Neal’s neck and in the next instant Neal was pulled up into the air, his legs kicking as the rope closed on his throat. He struggled, fighting against the darkness that threatened to engulf him and the panic that ate at his insides; fighting to push it back, he made himself concentrate on the knife in his hand.  Somehow he managed to slash the rope and he dropped. Neal fell the fifteen feet to the ground, pitching forward into the dirt.  He struggled to regain his feet, trying to draw in breath through his abused throat as the guards started forward. Dimly, he could hear the crowd yelling and screaming, as smoke pots exploded round him.  It was as if everything had slowed down. There was the sound of horse’s hooves, a strong masculine voice shouting orders, and the sound of gunfire.

 

A hand grasped him and pure primal strength pulled him up; he lost his fight to keep his grip on consciousness as he was thrown across the neck of the powerful stallion.

 

His rescuer dug his heels into the horse's sides and it took off at the gallop, bursting through the people; the onlookers opened a way for him, cheering as one person escaped the Tyburn Jig

 

Tomorrow a new legend would start about Neal Caffrey and the man in black; Neal had looked death in the eye at Tyburn and lived.

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

 

Once well clear of Tyburn, Peter Burke slowed his horse.  Placing a hand on Neal’s back, he could feel his heart beat.  He dug his heels harder into his horse, encouraging it to run harder; he couldn’t stop to remove the noose until they were far enough away.

 

“Not far now.” Peter allowed himself the luxury of petting the man that he hoped would be his lover, no, their lover, and turned his horse to the north.  He looked over to Elizabeth, scandalously dressed in men’s clothes, a brace of pistols tucked in her belt, a mask hiding her face; she pulled it down, the smile wide on her face. Kicking the horses forward they headed for the cart and Moz Havisham, the man that had masterminded the riot that had allowed them to escape.

 

As soon as he saw them Moz jumped down from the cart. “Hold the horse," Peter ordered Moz as the small man reached up for Neal. Dismounting quickly, Peter reached for Neal, pulling him off the horse and into his arms; he carried the highwayman to the cart and laid him down. Quickly he pulled the cursed rope from Neal’s neck and threw it away with disgust.  Elizabeth handed Peter a small bottle that Moz had given her and he uncorked it under the younger man’s nose. For a moment, Neal didn’t move; then there was a slight movement and he took a shaking gasp. Peter caught his hands as he tried to tear at his throat; Neal struggled violently, then gasped for breath, and Neal’s eyes flew open as he panicked.

 

Peter increased his hold on his hands. “Easy, easy, lad; try to take slow breaths.” Neal lay there, his eyes fixed on Peter’s face as if he was a rock he could cling to. Neal’s breathing began to slow, and only when he was sure that he was all right did Peter let go of his hands and lean back. Neal’s hand snaked out and caught his wrist, his eyes pleading for him to stay close, as with his other hand Neal raised a hand to his throat, his fingers feeling the rough abrasions from the rope on his skin.

 

Elizabeth reached out and gently brushed the side of Neal’s face with the back of her fingers, turning his attention to her; she held a bottle, and sliding a hand under his head raised it as she coaxed him to drink from it. “You need to drink this, Neal; it will help your throat.”

 

Neal didn’t hesitate; he sipped the drink.  A few minutes later his drugged eyes closed and his body went limp, and Peter helped pull the blankets up and around him.

 

Peter's mind went back to that morning: he had been ready to risk his life riding to Neal’s rescue only to find Elizabeth dressed up and waiting for him, a brace of pistols tucked in her belt and another brace strapped to her saddle. At that moment he had loved her more than she could ever have known. Words were not needed because she pressed a finger to his lips to silence him and then kissed him hard on the mouth, which turned into a sweet kiss; as she pulled back she had said, “Now let’s get our Neal.”  In that moment they had made the silent vow to rescue Neal or die trying.

 

Even so it had been too close; so many things could have gone wrong.  If they had been late Caffrey might have been a corpse instead of the warm breathing body that he now held cradled against him inside the cart as they made their way to Hughes’s estate.

 

Peter ran his hands over the younger man, checking for further injuries; Peter looked up into the face of his wife. “He’s safe now, he’s with us.” Elizabeth nodded, leaned forward and kissed Peter; he hugged her tightly over Neal’s sleeping body, and then when their kiss was broken she gently kissed the highwayman’s lips in an almost chaste kiss.

 

When they arrived at the house, Neal had been carried from the wagon into the house and laid on the bed in the guest room.  He looked so pale and so fragile lying there, they hadn’t wanted to leave him alone until he had finally woke, choking, his hands clawing at this throat.

 

Peter caught his hands as his fingers tore at this throat, leaving bloody grooves in his flesh, and pulled them away. “Neal, you're safe.” He felt the younger man shudder against him. “You have to breathe for me, Neal, slowly, in and out, copy me, in and out.”

 

Gradually Neal, his eyes never leaving Peter’s face, began to copy him, and his breathing slowed as the panic began to ease out of him. When Peter  tried to ease back, Neal’s arms closed round him and he refused to let him go, burying his face against Peter’s shoulder, giving a soft sigh as he felt the older man’s arms close round him and bring him into a close hug.

 

Elizabeth watched them, tears in her eyes, as Peter waved her over.  She sat on the edge of the  bed and put her arms round both men, her hand lightly rubbing Neal’s back until he finally went almost boneless in her husband’s arms, emotionally and physically drained.

                                                                                                                         

For a long time they stayed locked in each other’s arms, knowing that once they let go it was going to get complicated, and not sure now how to start the conversation they knew they were going to have.  Peter was relieved when Elizabeth took control and drew Neal closer to her.  Elizabeth coaxed Neal's head against her shoulder and stroked the back of his neck and shoulders, in a loving, intimate caress that seemed to reassure him as she spoke softly to him.

 

Neal listened as Elizabeth told him that everything he wanted, he could have, that he just had to ask, that they both loved him and their love had no limit; they would never tire of him.  This time there was no dancing around their emotions, what they said to each other in that embrace was the truth: there were no falsehoods.  Peter saw the startled look that Neal shot at him as Elizabeth whispered in his ear, and the older man understood.  Outside of the Molly houses of London, in the shires, for someone even more shockingly, the wife of another man—to suggest that her husband wanted to have a relationship with him was startling when it was said outright with no varnishing of the truth.

 

Peter knew what had to be said. “Neal, if you would come to me as my lover ...” He smiled at Elizabeth and corrected it to  “... our lover, you have to know and understand that the deal with Sir Reese has nothing to do with this. If you say no and I know that the risk you take by saying yes is great—then I still want to work with you, and we would invite you into our house as our friend, and expect nothing more from you. You, Neal, have the power here.” Peter paused and felt Elizabeth cling to his hand tightly, as they waited for his answer. Slowly Neal leaned forward.  The kiss was chaste, a light brush of lips, and then he did the same with Elizabeth. Two had now become three.

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

 

Sir Reese Hughes had been furious when he heard what had happened at the hanging. He had ranted and raved at his son-in-law and his daughter, glaring at the pale- faced young man with the bandages round his throat who had stood with them.

 

Hughes stalked round the oak desk, to stand right in front of Caffrey, Sir Reese’s eyes boring into Neal’s. “You had better be worth this, young man; Major Burke has put his career at risk for you, and he in turn my daughter's happiness.”

 

Only when  he had seen Caffrey nod did he walk back and take up his pen, then with a flourish he signed his name on the document in front of him, and then offered the pen to Neal Caffrey, watching as the highwayman set his name to the legal papers set out in front of him on the desk. Sir Reese leaned back in his chair and told Neal in plain language what he had done.

 

He has signed away his life. He would belong to Major Peter Burke for the next 10 years, during which time he would help him hunt down the lawless men of the county and bring them to trial. If he tried to run he would be thrown back into prison; if he went back to working the High Toby he would be hanged. They were setting a thief to catch a thief.

 

Sir Reese Hughes looked forward to seeing the two men working together; he suspected that with Peter at the helm, this unusual partnership was going to work.

 

The End.