Read the previous chapter, Chapter 7, here first.
Chapter 8 of Deviance, London Psychic #3. Click here for buy links to the full book.
“We have to shut down that soup kitchen,” Mrs Emilia Wynne-Jones said, clutching her designer purse to her chest like a shield as she stood to speak. “It's a danger to the schoolchildren who walk that route every day. And all those homeless beggars …” She shook her head. “One of them might harm a child, because they're probably sex offenders, you know. It's criminal to let them sleep there.”
“Not to mention that it's affecting the house prices in the area,” one of the older men in the hall said with a grunt, thumping his walking stick on the ground for emphasis.
The church hall echoed with murmurs of assent as the gathered crowd shifted on their seats. The tabled agenda had been finished and now they were onto Any Other Business, which usually consisted of a litany of complaints.
Detective Superintendent Dale Cameron nodded, his face serious as he met the eyes of the complainants. He always enjoyed the meetings of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. They were full of his kind of people, those who were ready to take the hard decisions necessary to make the city great again. After years of focused ambition, his day job was finally taking him into a position of real power.
He looked out at the crowd in front of him – the older stalwarts near the front, middle-aged men and women who voted to get rid of immigrants and return Britain to the white paradise they believed could exist in a multicultural world. Towards the back were a younger group, men with shorn heads and thick-soled boots, hands deep in pockets and wary eyes. They brought physical energy to the old who gathered to complain every week. They were the ones Dale Cameron really aimed to inspire. Men who only looked for a leader to give them permission to act.
Dale nodded at the discussion, his face set with concentration as he listened with one part of his brain even as the other dissected the crowd. He was aware of the impression he made on them. He exuded confidence and control, and years of studying body language had given him an ability to change his behavior to manipulate any situation. With his salt and pepper hair and trim runner's body, he looked more like a corporate CEO than a senior police officer. Not that he expected to be in the police for much longer. He was running for Mayor and fully intended to win.
As the discussion tapered off, he held up his hand for quiet. His authority silenced the room in seconds.
“You all know that I stand for cleaning up the city,” Dale said, his voice strong and well measured. “That includes moving the homeless out of the central areas and into communities further away. There's plenty of council housing up north, if we can only get people to accept it.”
“Ungrateful little –”
“What are you going to do about the sex workers?”
“When are you going to develop Cross Bones?”
“How will you deal with the drug problems of Southwark?”
Dale held up a hand again, calming the barrage of questions.
“I share the concerns of the Society,” he said. “But I can only act with a mandate as Mayor. City Hall is around the corner, so it makes sense that my first acts will be cleaning up my own borough.”
“Hear, hear,” someone shouted, and Dale smiled out into the crowd. He made eye contact with many of them as applause rang out around the church hall. As they clapped, a ray of sunshine split into myriad colors on the floor, filtered by the brilliant stained glass windows above. Jesus fed the five thousand in one window and healed the blind on another. Dale found himself thinking of Borough Market round the corner. These days, Jesus would probably have to feed the hungry with multigrain spelt bread and wild salmon, that's how entitled they all were.
“You can help drive out the sex workers and the drug addicts,” Dale said, and his eyes met those of the hard men at the back.
“Report them to the police. Make it difficult for them to work. Make life more unpleasant for them and they will move on – or go back to their own countries.”
The applause began again, and then it was time for tea. A queue formed in front of the dais of those who wanted a little one-on-one time with Dale. He would give them all the time they wanted, understanding that every individual connection was one more vote for him in the Mayoral election. His campaign manager was right – it was all about ‘high touch.'
As his team organized the line, Dale accepted a china cup of tea from a frail old woman. Her liver-spotted hands shook as she handed it to him. Her eyes were rheumy and her skin sagging around a face that had witnessed the cultural change of the city since the Second World War.
“It's good that you're here, love,” she said. “None of those other politicians understand that we have to reclaim what belongs to us before it's too late. It's time to stamp out the cockroaches and you're the man to do it.” She patted Dale's shoulder and shuffled away, leaving him to ruminate on the surprising nature of some of the members.
The Society for the Suppression of Vice had been started in the nineteenth century to promote public morality, a successor to the Society for the Reformation of Manners. Dale liked the overtones of the word reformation, but manners were something few cared about and didn't quite have the dramatic ring to it. But who could object to the suppression of vice, a word that conjured all the nasty, dirty things that went on under cover of darkness. Surely no one could openly support those making money from vice – the prostitutes, the drug pushers, the criminals. Who would stand for them? Of course, Dale thought, as he took another sip of his tea, such obvious vice was merely the thin end of the wedge. He wouldn't rest until the city was clean in all senses of the word.
His idea of a future London centered around the temple of Salt Lake City, a beacon of shining white against a backdrop of blue. Not because of faith, but because of those who looked to it as the pinnacle of good behavior and of perfect obedience.
Whereas London … Dale shook his head as he stirred his tea. Well, London had been a melting pot of multiculturalism, artistic expression and personal freedom for far too long. The Society sought to redress the balance and take back the city for morality – pushing a right-wing agenda that would move the poor on benefits out of the city, clean up the streets of hookers and drug pushers, scrub the stain of graffiti from the walls of Shoreditch and Hoxton and renew a sense of pride in the city.
One of the younger men from the back approached and Dale waved him forward. The man sat opposite him and leaned closer. His jaw was much larger on the left than on the right, an asymmetry that Dale tried not to stare at. The man smelled of tobacco smoke and fried bacon. The thought of a breakfast fry-up made Dale's stomach rumble.
“There's some of us that want to help with your campaign,” the man said. “We work out at the boxing gyms in South London and there's a lot of support for what you want to do. If you need us, give me a call. Here's my card.”
The man handed over a business card with frayed edges and a blue boxing glove in the middle. Dale took it, noting the scars on the man's knuckles.
“Thank you, I appreciate the offer. There will definitely be leafleting to be done over the coming weeks.” Dale met the man's steel gaze and saw that they understood each other. “I'll have my office call you.”
They shook hands and the man walked off without looking back.
A well-preserved middle-aged woman sat down next, her designer outfit coordinated in shades of camel and ivory. She placed her knees together, her slim legs and high-heeled shoes tucked under the chair. She placed her hands in her lap, manicured nails with a hint of natural color. A large diamond sparkled on her left hand alongside a gold wedding band. Dale noticed how soft her hands looked and he wondered briefly how they would feel on his skin.
“Detective Superintendent –” she began, her eyes darting to his.
“Dale, please,” he said, putting a hand briefly on her knee. She colored a little and raised a hand to her neck, touching the pulse point there.
“Oh. Dale, then.” She smiled and he saw opportunity in her gaze. Flirting was always a good way to get another vote.
“I'm part of a group within the church,” she said. “We're trying to encourage the sex workers into an abstinence program. We've had some success, but we'd like to get official backing from the Mayor's office. Perhaps even some funding?”
Dale smiled, pouring sincerity into his gaze.
“Of course, that's the kind of program I'd like to encourage. Once I'm elected, I'd appreciate it if you could submit your proposal to my office. I will personally make sure it gets the proper attention.”
“Thank you,” the woman said, her smile wider now. “Our aim is to honor what the original Society intended.”
Dale knew that the Society had been formed by William Wilberforce in order to stem the immorality so rife in the Georgian period, when prostitution added almost as much to the economy as the thriving London Docks. It aimed to ban public drinking, swearing, lewdness and other immoral and dissolute practices, as well as ending the obscenity of pornography and disorderly pubs and brothels. It was a good model for the modern Society. But in Dale's opinion, they had made one mistake that still rippled through the strata of Britain. By banning what they called ‘obscene publications,' they had also stopped the distribution of contraceptive advice to the working classes, giving rise to more births amongst the poor.
One of Dale's intentions was to introduce a substantial one-off payment to any woman who underwent sterilization, which would encourage those worse off in society to stop breeding. About bloody time the class balance was redressed, he thought. Once the dregs of society were dealt with, then he would start trying to get the right sort of people to have more babies. They would need a working group on how to influence more intelligent women to stop pursuing aggressive careers. It was an unfortunate correlation that the more educated a woman was, the fewer children she had.
“May I have your autograph?” the woman asked, pulling a pad from her handbag. “Once you're Mayor, you'll be far too busy.”
She bent forward and Dale caught a trail of her scent in the air. Ponds Cold Cream. His breath caught in his chest and he was back in that room with his mother. As she stroked the cream into his skin, the door had slammed open. His father stood in the doorway, still wearing his police uniform, his face red from drinking after his shift. You little faggot. His father's voice had been a growl, an animal sound as he stepped towards them with fists clenched.
He always rolled up his sleeves before he began, revealing the tattoos on his forearms. One arm displayed Justice as a beautiful woman holding a sword in one hand, her weighing scales in the other, blood dripping beneath from her blindfold. The other arm was inked with the words his father lived by: When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. Psalm 21:15. Dale understood his father's right to discipline his family – it was how he felt about London now. After all, spare the rod, spoil the child.
“Are you OK?” the woman asked, her eyes concerned.
“Of course.” Dale smiled and refocused on her. “Sorry, it's been a long day already.” He pulled a fountain pen with a silver fox-head cap from his inside top pocket. He signed his name with a flourish, realizing that this was likely just the start of such events. Perhaps he would even take a book deal once he was Mayor.
The woman walked off the stage, her hips swaying a little more than was necessary. Dale felt a familiar stirring. He took another sip of his tea and waved for the next person to come forward. He would stay here until he had given them all a moment of his time, but later tonight he would indulge his own particular brand of release.