A Scandal In Soho: Part 7

 

Holmes
illustration by Bruce Wolfe for Nicolas Meyer’s The West End Horror. Playboy magazine, 1976.

 

 

Spring-Heeled Jack’s, continued

 

We were shown through into a back office where a man sat behind a rusty metal desk stuffing cash into an envelope and drinking a tomato juice.

“Roman Dracula,” said Holmes. “You old whoremaster! I haven’t seen you since the affair of Miss Harker’s necklace. So you’re the ‘Spring-Heeled Jack’ who’s in charge of this place?”

“Sherlock Holmes,” said the man, also with a thick accent: “It gets harder and harder to slip through the cracks these days without drawing the wrong kind of attention to yourself. I haven’t committed any crimes, at least not worthy of your attention! Why are you here?”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” said Holmes, obstinately.

“Look at me – I am an honest businessman!” Dracula protested, throwing up his arms as if to say: take a look around, do I look crooked to you?

“…Selling girls you trafficked here with the promise of a better life?”

“They knew what they were getting into. All of them are like children to me.”

Holmes looked unconvinced: “I’m looking for a woman.”

“Well you’ve come to the right place!”

“Not just any woman,” I spoke up. “Here she is.” I dropped the 8×10 enlargement on to his makeshift workstation.

“This is a painting.”

“It’s a good likeness, don’t you think?”

He thought about it. “There was a woman here who could have been the model for this one. Yes. She left about a week ago.”

“Where to?”

“Gone.”

“Gone where?” Asked my companion, pounding the table.

“You know what they say,” Roman Dracula shrugged, flashing white canines at us: “Whore today, gone tomorrow!”

~

Before we stole out of the debauched playhouse, Lucy caught up with us again. She had pulled a long fur coat on over her “work” outfit.

“I’m off,” she said. “Buy a girl a drink?”

Down another alley, and we three lost souls out on licence found ourselves back in the cool air of the London night.

The clocks were just striking midnight, and the pubs were already closed. Holmes asked her: “Is there somewhere we can talk?”

The floozy grinned. She had a gold tooth on the upper row.

“You policemen?”

“Something like that.”

“I knew it. I can always tell by the look of ’em.” She threw her arms up theatrically: “I’m at your mercy, sirs. Do with me what you will.”

I looked at Holmes: “Maybe later. I think you better help us with our enquiries first. Is there a late night bar or club round here or somewhere we can go to?”

She smiled: “follow me. These streets ehn’t changed much since Dickens’ time’. People ehn’t changed much, neither. Now stay close.”

Although it was after closing, it was a weekend and late night revellers were still spilling out into the London streets. Everywhere the music of young British boys in bands was around you coming out of radios and drifting up from basements, along with cigarette smoke and the electronic dance sounds of the late 1990s. Archaic licencing laws left over from World War One days were still in effect back then, and as the drunks were all being ejected into the street at about the same time you often saw a fight or a domestic argument take place right in front of you as the people were struggling to remember where they were trying to get home to and piling into minicabs in order to get there. Mobile phones were still a comparative rarity in those fin de siecle days.

“You’ll be alright with us,” I said.

“Ehn’t my safety I’m worried about. Round here is the only home I’ve ever known. Where we’re going, they mistrust outsiders.”

 


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