Read the previous chapter, Chapter 5, here first.
Chapter 6 of Deviance, London Psychic #3. Click here for buy links to the full book.
“Nick's murder is just the latest in a series of worrying events. There've been a number of people going missing round here recently. Sex workers, illegal immigrants, homeless people. Not exactly the cream of society, but people from our community.” Magda paused for a moment to take a sip of her coffee. “Of course these things happen everywhere, but this area is under development and many in power want us gone. Since the Shard was built, prices have shot up and there's a lot of money to be made round here,” she said, referring to the 87 story skyscraper in Southwark that opened in 2012 and was still under construction. “If only they can get rid of the deviants, the misfits, those of us who don't fit their idea of the future borough.”
“If we're gone,” O said, “then they can pretend it's all hipsters and expensive coffee and build luxury flats over the sins of the past.”
“What have the police been doing about the disappearances?” Jamie asked.
“We report all of them,” Magda said. “But missing persons aren't unusual in these transient lines of work, apparently.”
Jamie nodded, understanding the other side. The police didn't have the resources to tackle every MISPER in London.
Magda looked at her watch. “I've got to head along South Bank for a meeting at the Tate Modern. If you want to walk with me, I'll show you where some of the people disappeared from as we walk.”
“I'll come along too,” O said. “I'm heading in that direction.”
They left the studio and walked back towards Borough Market, turning down Southwark Street and then into Maiden Lane. Neat terraced houses were interspersed with old converted warehouses as they approached the river.
“This was one of the main streets for prostitutes,” Magda said, “back when the Globe and the Rose theatres were the center of the red-light district. Bankside was the Elizabethan Soho. If you look at maps of London, you can tell the areas where sex was for sale, although the street names are changed to something more genteel now, of course.”
They walked down to the Anchor pub on Bankside, now flanked by a Premier Inn. The budget accommodation seemed appropriate to the history of the area, a place that a modern Chaucer's pilgrims might stay. Magda pointed to a service doorway round the side of the Anchor.
“A friend of ours, Milo, used to sleep rough here,” she said. “He disappeared about a month ago. He preferred sleeping out to the hostels where he'd just get bothered.” She smiled, her features soft in reminiscence. “He had the face of a fallen Greek god. I've got some photos of him back at the studio.”
“He also had a gorgeous back tattoo,” O said. “We compared ink one time. He loved dragons and they flew over his skin, scaled in hues of purple and orange flame.”
“And you've never heard what happened to him?” Jamie asked.
Magda shook her head. “He's not the only one, and with Nick's murder, I'm worried that Milo may have ended up the same way.” She pointed up at the Anchor pub. “The location echoes with Nick's murder, too. The Anchor used to be a brothel and a tavern, a popular place near the bear-baiting pits round the corner in Bear Gardens.”
“The Stews,” O said. “That's what they called this area. And it's only a block from here to the Palace of Winchester, where the Bishop who licensed the whores sat in luxury. For four hundred years, it was the Bishop's right to exploit the brothels here, and many of London's most attractive architecture is built on the proceeds of the sex trade.”
Magda laughed, a hollow sound that reflected the irony of the past. “For all its official line on celibacy and prudery, the church turned a blind eye to prostitution, believing it to be something that would always be part of life. As Saint Augustine said, ‘Suppress prostitution and capricious lusts will overthrow society.'”
They walked down a little further to stand on the banks of the Thames. The waters ran swift today, in hues of grey and brown. A working river for trade and commerce, as fast as the city itself, taking goods to the world.
As they continued on, Magda gazed over to the towers and high-rise office blocks on the north bank.
“Look at the City over there. A square mile of conformity, where they slander us by day and then come to play here by night.”
She pointed up at a carved stone head with two faces, one pointing east towards the sea and the other west towards the interior of England.
“It's Janus, the god of two faces,” Magda said. “A perfect metaphor for London.”
Jamie understood the dichotomy. London was both sinner and saint. It was glamorous and gorgeous, a rich and intoxicating pleasure garden. But there was also dirt here and darkness and the stink of rotten dead, the wretched mad and crazy drunks lying in its gutters.
Magda turned to face Jamie, her eyes soft. “This is where the women of the outcast borough have always walked, where men have sinned upon them through sex and lies and judgement. But the earth beneath us and the river that flows through here has nourished us for generations. Someone or some group is trying to move us on, trying to sweep the darkness under the carpet and pretend we don't exist. That's why people are disappearing. But we're not going anywhere.”
They continued west along Bankside, the south bank of the river, a popular path with tourists and locals alike. Every time Jamie walked here, her love for the city was renewed. She had been offered a job in the police far away from the city after Polly died. But this was her home now and what was happening in Southwark made her even more sure of her place here. London could rip you up and spit you out and leave you with nothing, but then you wanted more of it. And Jamie craved that edge.
A violinist played in the underpass under Southwark Bridge, the sweet strains of music filling the confined space. O gave a little twirl and put some change in the violin case, blowing the young man a kiss as she did so. There were posters for a masquerade ball pasted along the underpass walls, emblazoned with coquettish eyes peering out from colorful masks.
“You must come to the ball, Jamie,” O said. “We're all going and it's going to be such fun. It's a fundraiser for cleaning up Southwark and a number of the Mayoral candidates will be there.”
Jamie thought of her nights at tango, a side she had kept away from her professional life in the past. Perhaps it was time that she integrated both into her new life.
“I'll be sure to get a ticket,” she said.
They emerged out of the underpass into the sun and walked a little further to the replica of Shakespeare's Globe, a magnet for tourists who snapped pictures against the backdrop of the round, white theatre.
“This was a popular place in medieval times to pick up customers,” O said. She flashed a flirtatious smile at a handsome young tourist. “Perhaps it still is …”
Jamie still wasn't certain what O did. The police side of her was ready to ask, but another part wanted to encourage friendship. In the end, curiosity overcame politeness.
“Do you …”
Jamie's words trailed off but O picked up the meaning.
“Sell sex?” O said, her eyebrows raised. She appraised Jamie for a moment, as if weighing trust. “Does it matter?”
Jamie shook her head. “No, not at all. I've seen you dance and I would think you'd have people queuing up after that.”
Magda grinned. “That she does – but you're picky, aren't you, O?”
They stood for a moment looking out at the Millennium Bridge, a silver parabola that spanned the Thames between the Tate Modern and St Paul's in the City. Tourists walked over it, their footsteps and happy laughter filling the air.
“I used to do a lot more,” O said, “but most of my income is from dancing and modeling these days. I still have a few regulars and of course I campaign for better safety. The situation is crazy right now. It's legal to buy or sell sex, but it's illegal for women to join together in a brothel. So we can't practice safely together, we can't get security to protect ourselves from the nut-jobs who inevitably try it on. Sex work is just another kind of work after all, and we should all be safe in our jobs.” Her face softened. “Most customers aren't too bad, though.”
Magda stretched out her tattooed arm displaying the image of Mary Magdalene kneeling in front of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. The reformed prostitute as the devoted servant of God.
“Many of my previous clients wanted to cuddle,” she said. “To be touched by another person. They were lonely.”
“Why did you give it up?” Jamie asked.
“I'm called for other things now,” Magda said. “But I know how it feels to be treated the way these women are by a society that can't do without them. It's important for our community to accept the freak and the stranger.” She touched the face of Mary on her arm. “The sinners.”
“Who is the sinner, anyway?” O said, indicating St Paul's with a nod of her head. “Did you know that the lanes around there are some of the best pickings for the boys?”
O looked at her watch. “Right, I've gotta get to the Kitchen or I'll be late for my shift. When can I see the photos, Magda?”
“I'll have the edits for you tomorrow morning if you want to come over then?”
“Great.” O leaned in and kissed Magda on the cheek.
“Can I come to the Kitchen with you?” Jamie asked. “I've heard a bit about it, but I've not been down there yet.”
“Sure.” O smiled. “We're always in need of a helping hand.”