Her Dark Embrace
Running, always running into the distance with my life fleeting before me. I dare not look back, dare not turn around for if they were to catch me, the unspeakable actions which would incur? I lead them to the only safe house I know. One which would dull even the constabulary’s keen eye for detail. I run down the alleyway of Brick Lane which I had come to know, all too well, as home. A cold, wet and dreary alley with puddles and refuse littering the floor, food splutter across the walls and fog as thick as the curtain of nightfall. However, it is enough, as I tumble wooden boxes and scatter them like rats amongst the leavings. The sound of their whistles perforates the air. Summoning more to their unjust cause.
As I outmanoeuvre them, a staircase beckons with wooden slats, half rotten and nail driven. Barely holding itself together over the cold pavement below. Stray animals seeking what little refuge it offers much like the children of this once high spoken society. Opening a large blackened door with dark circles and glass, I slam it shut revealing myself, no less, to the world …well the world as I knew it any course.
“Evelyn Siren? You are late as usual. You should have been here ten minutes ago!” orders Raphael in a stern accent, reminiscent of his eastern Italian heritage.
“I apologise, Raphael. I was …” I begin.
“You were what, Evelyn? Stealing? Pilfering? No, these acts I can forgive. No, you were digging for information were you not?” he confronts.
“Perhaps.” I taunt.
“No such talk; you were! Every time you are set free from this place, disaster falls and I am left to scatter amongst the pieces and cover for you when the constabulary arrive. It is bad enough a temptation with them being right behind our beloved establishment. Believe me when I say, Evelyn, you are playing with fire and if you are not careful …” he raises his voice.
“I know, I will be burned. Well then, you tell me how else a woman is to search for information regarding her missing brethren. Well?” Raphael turns his head in acknowledgement of my truths. “That is what I suspected,” I remark.
“You are our finest attraction so adorn yourself with our finest attire. I wish to receive a large profit tonight to make up for your mischief,” Raphael compromises.
“Very well, Raphael. Whatever you say.” As I retire up a dark and dingy staircase, creaking on the floorboards with every step, toward my room, I reflect upon this noble deed amongst so many darkened ones. Committed more so in recent days and yet rebuked from achieving such things myself, almost as if … Never mind. In the eyes of society, I am but an object used to fulfil man’s every desire. Or so I have been led to believe, courtesy of Alicia and her Crying Rose Brothel. Such a tragedy. Her being claimed by a fire in such a way. My sisters in arms escaping the blaze but then to disappear with no trace? Something happened and I am trying to find out what. That is why they pursue me. The constabulary I mean. All in regular attendance of this public house I deem home. The Seven Stars; one of the few areas to survive the great fire. A reason to rejoice you may imply? Not this house. For it is a place of debauchery, erotic dancing and great social evil. One to which I was a puppet; prostitution. I am the star attraction Raphael tells me but to whom? Politicians? Married men? Young financial types looking to have someone to gloat upon toward their higher-class friends? Alas, this is what I have chosen. It is better than suffering unbearable hours for squander in a needle-traders’ factory or as a servant, where such activities would be expected of you either way. How is this any different? At least this is what I convince myself when crouched in a beaten state, my eyes bleeding and body ravaged by so many I can barely stand. Praying for someone to take me away, for this world to change. But I am a woman and I fear this hell is to continue for me. Many years over! I take a red ribbon and fasten my hair in a grouping of curls. With a necklace fashioned of rubies and gold lacing my throat. My body wrapped in a corset so tight I can feel my ribs gasping for air whilst they bend and crack. A dress of crimson and black covering. Hiding. Blending the pain toward an unseen interior wishing to cry out to all who bear witness. Raphael would expect no less than a perfect performance with the strings firmly in his hand. He will expect several payments and perhaps even take liberties himself. For no additional charge. The promise of a roof and food are enough to owe him ‘a blood debt’ are his words. I am broken, torn apart and yet I return to this life. After all, it is all I know but how I pray for … how I pray?
The sound of Raphael introducing me is my key to begin my act upon stage. Dancing for the pleasure of the crowd and removing all but corset and leg wear much to their lusting approval. All of them the same. As I enter the stage and the curtains fold, light penetrates my vision so only the front row remain visible. If only. As I look around at the folly and drunkenness my mind is cast to images of abuse, slander, lust and fear but not to come. What had already been. High class gentlemen with hats removed, tight white collars and black suits. Handkerchiefs in their top pockets and well shaven faces to match a grand appearance. The middle-class gentlemen, with hats still present. Jumpers with the sleeves rolled and shirts untucked at the waist. Then there are my people. The lower-class beasts with beards and hair as thick and greasy as the oil they bathed in. Harshness of voice to match their scarred fists and dress to rival a peasant or thereof. Not a single decent one amongst them.
As I begin to dance, the door swings wide and a tall silhouette stands there. Silent and expecting. The house grows strangely quiet. No one dare move as this phantom passes amongst them, wearing the darkened blue of the constabulary and a half cloak to match, a symbol adorning its face like that of a broken cross much like the Knights Templar before him. As he places his helmet upon the bar, he orders the best pint of bitter Raphael has to offer and turns to the remaining gentlemen saying, “Well, do not let me interfere with your duties.” As they roar in approval, I close my eyes watching hope pass me by once more but soon I am replaced with two others which dance aside me.
“Evelyn?” whispers Catherine.
“Yes, Catherine. What is it?” I ask.
“Raphael wishes to speak with you in the black room. Something important, he said,” she replies. “Oh very well,” I murmur.
“Don’t worry, we will cover you until you return,” she offers.
“You are welcome to it, Catherine.”
As I take my leave off stage and retreat to the black room, I am met with an angered Raphael who strikes me across the face. I fall to my knees as he grips me by the hair and pulls my head to his level. “I warn you but you never listen and now a constable is asking questions about you. I should kill you and have done with it. But you make too much money and I am at a loss tonight as it is. Watch what you say and if you speak out of line again, I swear it will be the end of you. Understand me, harlot?” he threatens.
“Yes, Raphael!” I beg.
“Good.” He throws me to the floor and leaves.
The door opens to reveal my state to the constable who stands over me. His eyes beginning to well at the sight. He leans down and attempts to help me to my feet but I push him away, saying, “I can take care of myself. I don’t need your help.”
He crouches to imply. “I can see that clearly Miss Siren, is it? Evelyn Siren?”
I stroke my hair from my face. “It is, officer?”
“Snowman, Constable Snowman. I am here to ask you a few questions, regarding the murder of Maronette Lesley. I believe you two were close?” he infers.
“Maronette? Dear God. Yes, we were as sisters in the Crying Rose Brothel. I left some years ago. Promised room and board in exchange for singing but alas it was …” I start.
“A front for prostitution?” he deduces.
“Yes officer, but I have neither seen, nor heard from Maronette. For years since.” I inform.
“I see. Can you remember anyone who may have wished her harm? Family? Friends perhaps?” he asks.
“No, her family were estranged and we were her only friends. Have you tried …?” I begin to suggest.
“Interviewing the girls from the Crying Rose Brothel? You are the only one, Miss Siren, who has not disappeared,” he states.
“You are investigating as well? I mean …” I let slip.
“It is quite alright, Miss Siren. I am well aware of your history as an amateur private investigator. Even when it does involve us being led through the dark streets of London’s East End at ungodly hours,” he remarks.
“I apologise, Constable. I did not know I could cause such strife,” I apologise.
“You seek information on what happened to your fellow sisters, Miss Siren. I cannot condemn you for that. Though I will warn you to desist from this game you are currently involved in. Your safety is placed into question every time you interfere with a police investigation and I would strongly advise against it.” he warns.
“Of course, officer, but surely you can see it from my point of view? A woman attempting a man’s work,” I urge.
“Work which merits danger belongs to men, Miss Siren. If for nothing other than to protect you.” he utters.
“What if we no longer need protecting? What if we can take care of ourselves? Make our own decisions?” I imply.
“It appears you have tried and to no avail, Miss Siren, but I admire you for your effort. After all, pioneers such as yourself will inevitably change the world yet I fear it will take time,” he tells.
“Time is something I do not have, Constable Snowman,” I confide.
“Do you mean?” he asks.
“I am not sure, I dare not leave for a doctor. Else I will be cast out. No good to anyone,” I worry.
“I understand. Well, Miss Siren, if there is anything I can do to help? Anything at all? You just let me know,” he pleas.
“Very well, Constable, and thank you.”
Raphael bursts in and grabs me by the wrist, shouting, “Get out there on stage now. We are beginning to lose clients.”
I pull back against him, freeing my wrist from his clutches only to embrace Constable Snowman as the only source of protection.
“Constable. Return my property to me this instant,” Raphael wishes.
“I believe this public house is your property, Mr Duccinni. And this woman is pivotal to a murder investigation which I am tasked to conduct,” he defends.
“Always in trouble. You will be the death of me. Fine, take the harlot and do what you will but I hold you responsible for my lack of business,” Raphael complains.
“Return to your pit, creature. Else I introduce you to the hand of the law and believe me it gives a far worse beating than you can muster, I assure you,” he threatens.
As Raphael clambers over a chair, tripping and falling out of the doorway, I smile but quickly hide as he picks himself up from his fallen state, shouting and cursing as he returns to the bar. Constable Snowman closes the door and turns toward me.
“Now, when was the last time you saw Miss Lesley? …Miss Siren?” as I interrupt his question, propping him against the door and drawing my lips to his. Seeking information, the only way I know how. “Miss Siren, I must attest. I am on active duty and I assure you my intentions are genuine … you shouldn’t … we shouldn’t.” As I proceed to kiss him, he falls into my embrace. As passion grips us both and my arms wrap around the back of his neck, I pull him close with every breath thus causing him to feel my chest urge for him. The beat of my heart is resurgent with life and temptation as we begin to manoeuvre across the room. A sofa of pink and beige comforts us as we settle upon it, my back tickled by the fine hairs of each cushion. As our eyes meet and Constable Snowman lifts himself from the sofa, I fear I have lost him before any information can exchange hands but alas, I have woven my web. And as he blows out the candle, which illuminates the room, darkness then consumes the intertwining of both our bodies and souls.
I awaken upon the midnight hour and proceed to clothe myself whilst Constable Snowman sleeps upon the sofa, dressed only in what nature had granted him. His body is well defined in musculature with broad shoulders and arms to match, shapely legs and abdominal region rivalling that of a Spartan warrior. Truly a well-formed specimen and gentle in his performance but my intentions were more deception than love.
I peruse his notebook and glance at several accounts of information based upon those I once called sister. Maronette Lesley, or as I knew her, Lavender, had been murdered and that which was a search for truth had evolved into a quest now for justice. As I ponder over the information revealed to me, I retire to my bedroom making sure to lock the door and fall into a deep sleep.
I awaken early unto my sunlit room. The beams of light cascading off furniture I had strived to save for: an ornate dressing table with a broken mirror and loose hinge on one of the doors; the bed of a dark wooden frame with tall spires much like that of Tower Bridge, holding rolls of purple satin whilst spilling the same upon the covers below; a white cover beneath the duvet, showing both royalty and purity, the two which I aspired to achieve but I am too great an optimist. And finally, a wardrobe with burnt ash wood, a varnished appearance with lines across it depicting the age of the tree, which was slain to craft it. Golden arches of angelic figures stretch their trumpets across the doors so as to open its contents of a divine nature. But it is all but empty apart from the dress in which I am to adorn myself for the night’s festivities, courtesy of Raphael. Only to discover it is the same dress just rotated between his other girls, allowing for a false sense of flattery when actually he is too cheap and miserly to buy new wears. I look upon my dressing table and clothe myself in last night’s attire but not before reading the note placed upon my mirror, from Catherine, the night previous.
‘Please be careful, Evelyn. Raphael is very suspicious this morning. Talk soon. Catherine.’ I place the note in the basket. I begin to slowly creep down the stairs and tiptoe past Raphael’s room toward the back entrance. Upon opening the rickety, white wooden door I glance across at the black room only to notice Constable Snowman has gone. I hope and pray he was not hurt in my attempt to gain information but this is what I had to resort to. Man had seen to it to lock every door I have tried to access previously but now I have learned to utilise men to my advantage rather than live under their influence. But for how long?
As I recall the events of last night, I search the recesses of my mind until an address comes forward. 21 Fleet Street, December 18th, 1986. I run down the alleyway toward Corey Street and call a carriage to aid me in my investigation. On several occasions I call as I watch several pass me by, one even purposefully racing across the other end of the street to avoid me near on colliding with an oncoming motor vehicle.
“Fine, I will attend to this scene myself,” I mutter under my breath. I pull my dress up from around my feet and attempt to cross the street without falling and drawing even greater ridicule. Upon the way I pass the Royal Courts of Justice and glance upon a group of constables, hoping perhaps to apologise to Constable Snowman for unjustly seducing him but he does not appear. Instead I am met with older gentlemen, their faces hidden behind thick sideburns and dark eyebrows. I tilt my head as I walk past them, eavesdropping on what they speak of.
“She was murdered. A knife and rope they say. A dark business indeed but with Inspector Moore no longer around, there is only that new constable, what’s his name? Snowman? to investigate and a bleeding good help he has been. Disappeared all last night questioning a witness he said. But we know better, don’t we lads? Ha.”
Another officer implies, “You could tell what he had been up to by the look on his face. Told it all. They took his heart and left him lifeless. Probably at a nearby brothel?” he imposes.
“Indeed. Mind you, we have all been there, have we not, lads?” another implies.
Oh, how I felt for Snowman. I did not wish to cause him any harm. However, this path I walk is my own and there can be no room for affection. Especially if this life is soon to end? I press forward and arrive at 21 Fleet Street, with its grand oak tree adorning its front and concealing almost the entire east side of slanted roofing tiles and white brick masonry. There is a blackened metal fence with jagged top laced with gothic decoration and silver borders. A gravel path amongst stones, acting as a pavement, with gutters either side and a stairwell to a lower cellar it appeared, the padlock removed and the latch unhinged. Obviously an area in need of repair. A white door with black panels, toward the ground, gives a varnished appearance owing to the servant’s upkeep. But all other detail now lies hidden amongst the mass of constables treading in and out of the home now fully assimilated as a crime scene. To which my dear friend had so heinously been committed. And as I walk toward the scene, nothing can prepare me for what I am to witness next.
Answering the Call
A dark corridor leading into a well decorated living room; Furniture of white and silver, with fashion of a high state of living. Amidst it all is Lesley, hanging by the noose she had fastened herself more than once. Often speaking of death as freedom from this life as she was plagued day by day by her dark desires tormenting and clawing at her mind like monsters, never ceasing to relinquish her. I approach the lifeless shell I once knew as sister and gaze upon her face; now one of ice cold and harsh to the touch. Blood upon her throat entwined in the rope that holds her neck up high, prostrating her before the world as something to be admired. Her neck is displaced with a process leaning to the right, her eyes wide and mouth agape. Hands of ivory and feet of sapphire. Truly my sister was lost and I am compelled to find who did this. For vengeance will be mine. Her dress is torn in several areas, possibly displaying a struggle with the killer. She dangles upon a whim. Silent. Alone. Lost.
“Miss, I apologise but you can’t be here. This is a private investigation. Please vacate the premises,” an officer instructs.
“Please, Constable, I am a private investigator and I demand entrance. I once knew the deceased. Now may I?” I enquire.
“No, you may not. I do not care if you are secretly working for the queen. This is a private case and the last thing I need is some woman thinking and meddling in these affairs. Now vacate the premises this instant or I will be forced to have you removed. Is that clear?” he warns.
“Very well officer, you leave me no choice.” I thrust my knee into his most prized possessions, running past him in order to obtain a glimmer as to the murderer’s identity. For this matter has become personal and I am willing to do whatever it takes to bring them to justice. Even if it means bending some of the rules. …