ALL IN A DAY'S WORK.
It was a cold morning in April 1928 and Connie Constant sat on the edge of her small bed putting on her stockings. She struggled to ease the toe of the stocking over her foot in the dim-light of the oil-lamp in her bedroom. She wasn't usually up at this time of the morning; normally she'd stay in bed until midday or so, but today she was going to meet a special client; someone she'd met in Piccadilly a few weeks before. Clifford Clayton, she mused, pulling the stocking up her slim leg. Clifford Clayton, she repeated, connecting the stocking top to the suspender. She never usually went as far as Piccadilly on her business; never went further than Lambeth most days; some days she crossed the Thames to go up West and use a room an old girlfriend let her rent on the odd occasion.
She shook her head and her short dark-brown hair moved slightly as far as the style would allow. She was beginning to feel the cold seep into her bones as she sat semi-naked on the bed. Easing the other stocking up her leg she wished she was still beneath the blankets snuggled down and warm, but if Clifford really wanted her for this occasion on this particular day and time, who was she to lay in bed and be out of pocket. Clifford was going to pay her well, more than she would normally earn with half-a-dozen clients.
He liked her, he'd said. Better than others, he'd been with. Clean, she was, clean as a baby's bum after bath time he'd told her. Well he hadn't quite used those words, but that was he'd meant, she mused smiling to herself, sitting and staring at the dim light seeping through the thin parting of the drab curtains.
She never concerned herself about the others he'd been with; it wasn't her problem; she wasn't his wife. I wonder what she looks like, his wife? she mused. He'd mentioned her briefly; no name; no facts, just the bare mention. Mrs Clayton. Wife of Clifford Clayton. She was of no interest to Connie, but it pleased her that she could satisfy Clifford, where his wife, for all her posh jewels and hairs-and-graces, couldn't. Nevertheless, there was many a man just like that; many a man she'd pleasured, better than his wife did. She knew she was the loser, though; the wives had the luxury; the security; the posh houses with servants, whereas all she had was their husbands for a short while relieving them of their pent up sexuality. Nonetheless, she was paid for her services; they kept her; much like their wives really, she mused, looking at the frayed carpet beneath her feet.
Beside her bed was an old dressing table with an oil-lamp and a few items of make-up. A few well-thumbed books were piled untidily beside the lamp. She had read them all. She liked to think herself a bit well read; liked to be able to quote a bit of poetry to the occasional client to give the impression she wasn't totally uncultured; that she could read; that she wasn't just a sexual object for their pleasure. Clifford liked her to quote poetry; liked to talk about art and things as they lay on the bed after the sex was out of the way. That was why she read. That was why she struggled with the difficult books she borrowed from the library. For them, not for me, she said to herself, standing up from the bed and starting to dress. For them; to keep 'em happy; not for me, not for bloody me, she muttered silently into the cold bedroom which was far away from Clifford's warm room; far, far away.
Clifford Clayton stood in Piccadilly Circus looking up and down the road. He wished he'd told her to meet him in Trafalgar Square, as it would have been less conspicuous there with the various tourists lingering about amongst the pigeons. He hoped no one he knew would notice him here, apart from David, Herbert and Lawrence. Friends like that didn't count. They knew what the day was about. Nonetheless, he had to be careful in case one of his wife's friends should be about. It was unlikely, but he had to be careful. Couldn't risk his wife Frieda getting worse than she was with gossip being whispered by busybodies.
The morning had been a bad one. Frieda had been in one of her strange moods and had to be put back to bed by her maid. He had almost not come; almost given up hope of this day actually happening. Frieda was getting worse. There was every chance she'd...He dismissed the thought. He didn't want to think about such a thing now that he had actually escaped.
Connie was different. He liked her, despite the fact she was a prostitute. She had that way about her that made him feel at ease. He thought about her often; thought about her even over breakfast. Had Frieda managed to read his thoughts? Had she some gift of mind reading he'd not known about? Nothing would surprise him about her nowadays.
She had actually sat opposite him at breakfast staring at him as if he had two heads. Her grey eyes focussed on him like hounds. "You slept with your back to me," she had moaned. "And who was that woman in our bed?"
He thought he heard her wrong, but she repeated it again and again, until the sound of her voice rising to a scream brought the maid running in with a face white with alarm. He'd sent for Doctor Harper who prescribed something to calm her and help her sleep. The woman's falling apart, he mused looking across the road, hoping Connie would come soon, hoping he she would come after all the effort he'd made. Yes, she'll come, he told himself, Connie will come, she'll come. She'll come.
Connie had come so far on the underground and walked the rest of the way. It seemed strange being out and about at this time of day; normally she'd be asleep, getting over the night before, twisting and turning, dreaming of things that might yet happen; things that she feared; things that the men did to her in the past.
Yet the brightness of the day gave it a different perspective from normal. It was as if she'd crept out of a dark tunnel into a new world. People rushed around here and there as if they were on some important mission that had to be completed before the day was over. It was a different pace from that she was use to, different in that things seemed brighter and more varied and speeded up. In the evenings and nights she was in a slower world; the shades were dimmer; the colours sickly and artificial. The people, shadows of their real selves.
She saw Clifford on the other side of the road and waved. He acknowledged her shyly, but did not wave. He seemed troubled and looked up and down the road with an intensity she'd not noticed before. She managed to cross the road after a wait and greeted him with a smile.
"Not late am I?" Connie asked, placing her hands into the pockets of her coat to keep them warm.
"No, you're all right. Just on time, actually," Clifford said, looking over her head and then round and about him. He could see no one he knew and so relaxed momentarily. "How are you?" he muttered, touching her elbow slightly, then removing his hand and placing it by his side.
"Come by underground so far," Connie, stated. "Don't like those things; don't like being under ground like that."
"Well, you are here now, that's the main thing," Clifford said. "Thought you might not turn up."
"What made you thing that?" Connie asked. "If I say I'll be here, then I'll be here."
Clifford stared at her. He wanted to see her in the light of day. His eyes moved over her leisurely as if she were some painting he was contemplating buying. Her dark-brown hair was tight and well styled; her eyes had a brightness he hadn't noticed before, not to the degree he noticed now. The coat seemed new; seemed quite fashionable. Had she bought it especially for today? Bought it especially for him? He'd not ask; he'd imagine she had and that would please him.
"Are you all right?" Connie asked. She wondered why he was staring at her the way he was, what it was about her that made him look at her so intensely.
"Yes, yes," Clifford said. "Not seen you in the daylight before. You're even more beautiful in daylight," he said with a smile.
"Come off it," Connie said. "You don't have to compliment me; I'm not your wife."
"Just as well," Clifford said. He looked away from her; looked beyond her as if he were, for a short time, far far away. Then looking at his watch he said:
"We best get a move on. I've friends I want you to meet."
"Friends?" Connie said. "You never mentioned about friends."
"We're meeting them at one of my friend's house."
Connie wasn't sure about that. It wasn't something she normally did. The idea was looking a lot different now than she had thought. Who were these friends? she mused darkly as he moved on towards Leicester square, taking her elbow gently, easing her forward with him. She'd had a bad experience with a group of men once; she didn't want anything like that again; didn't want that for all the proverbial tea in China.
The memory of that experience sickened her; made her feel unclean again. She wanted to stop and go back home; wanted to say it was no deal, she'd changed her mind, but she didn't, she followed Clifford like a child trusting a parent, trusting in their goodness; trusting she'd come to no harm. Trust, that was it, she mused, got to trust. Got to trust. Got to bloody trust again.
David Dismal looked out of the window at the street below. "No sign of them yet," he said, peering harder, his nose inches away from the glass pane.
"Who is this floozy?" asked Herbert Herbage, sitting in an armchair by a glowing fire. "Does anyone know her?"
"Someone he picked up in Piccadilly a few weeks back. Quite a stunner apparently," said Lawrence Languish, lounging on a sofa with a young woman.
"Well, he's late. Said what time we would meet. What is the point of arranging a time if one is not going to keep to it?" David moaned.
"Perhaps he's had problems with his wife," Herbert suggested, placing his hands near the fire. "He's told me she can be a problem."
"Aren't all wives?" said Lawrence.
"You're not married," Herbert said, "how would you know about wives?"
"I've never drowned, but I know it can kill you," Lawrence said.
The young woman next to Lawrence stood up and walked to the window.
"I bet she isn't someone from Piccadilly," Emma said, standing as close to David as she could without touching him. "What's 'er name?"
"Connie or something like that," Herbert informed.
"Ain't no Connies round the Dilly," Emma said. "Bet she's from elsewhere."
"What difference does it make?" Lawrence asked. "Whores are whores where ever they come from."
"Yes, but there are all classes of whores," Herbert stated. "Graded from the lowest street girl to the finest well-kept floozy in Mayfair."
"Yes, maybe," said Lawrence, "but they all perform the same function."
"Yes, at different prices, too," said David from the window. "Is that not so, Emma?" he said turning to the young woman beside him.
"You get what you pay for," Emma stated. She lifted up her dress to reveal a pair of dark stockinged legs.
"The price determines the grade or the grade determines the price?" David asked.
"Does it matter?" Herbert said. "The functions the same."
"They are here," David said, suddenly. He watched intensely as Clifford and Connie walk up towards the house. "Not seen her before," he said.
"Not from the Dilly that's for sure," Emma stated, peering down at the two people below.
"Who gives a damn where she's from," David said. "She's here, now."
David and Emma moved away from the window and went and sat down. They could hear the door being knocked. David's servant would open the door to them and bring them up. They all sat looking at each other like children waiting for a party to begin; each one excited in their own way; each one wanting this or that from the occasion to satisfy a need or desire. They then turned towards the door in excited anticipation as if suddenly the show was about to begin, as if before this they had only been half-alive.
"I thought you weren't coming," David said stiffly when he managed to get Clifford alone.
"Problems at home. Then Connie was late," Clifford, said.
"Wife?" David asked.
"Yes" Clifford said, but didn't elaborate.
"Shouldn't let a whore keep you waiting, old boy," David said. "Drink?"
Clifford helped himself to a whisky and soda and looked around at the others. Emma sat on the sofa next to Lawrence and gazed at Clifford with her large brown eyes. Lawrence stared at the carpet, his thoughts elsewhere.
"You all right, Clifford?" Herbert asked, sitting forwards in the armchair, peering at Clifford.
"Fine," Clifford said. "Oh, and this is Connie," he said gesturing with his hand towards Connie who still stood by the door.
They all welcomed her in their own way and she ventured into the room and sat on a chair by the window.
"Ain't from Piccadilly, are you?" Emma asked.
"No," Connie said. "Lambeth."
"Thought so," Emma said, pleased with herself. She eyed Connie for a few moments taking in her hair and eyes and the clothes she wore. Her uncertainty of strangers was not relieved; she didn't trust them; didn't trust them at all.
"Right," said David. "Where are the others?"
"Jane and Hilda are preparing themselves," Emma said.
"Well, get them down here," David ordered. Emma stood up and vanished from the room. David paced up and down a few times, then stopped right in front of Connie. "Take your coat off," he said.
Connie stood up and hesitated a few seconds. "What's this all about?"
"Coat, girl," David said, more firmly.
Connie removed her coat and laid it on the back of the chair. He stared at her for a few moments, his eyes moving over her body and features with the skill of a master surgeon. He lifted her jaw with his fingers; turned her head from side to side slowly as if she were a horse he thought of purchasing. Releasing her jaw, he moved across the room to the fireplace.
Connie felt ill at ease. It was not what she had been expecting. She watched as David moved away from her, frightened he might turn and come back and touched her again. She could still feel his stiff fingers on her jaw; could still sense coldness in his tone and manner. Her eyes moved across to Clifford who sat by Lawrence on the sofa. What had he got her into? she mused. What was going on? She sat down again in the chair before her legs collapsed beneath her.
When the three young women entered the room, the men stood up. Each of the women went to a given man and paired off.
"You know Hilda, don't you, Clifford?" Herbert said.
Clifford said he thought he'd met her a few times.
"And this is Jane," David said stiffly. "You know her very well."
Clifford indeed remembered Jane. He'd been to bed with her a number of times. He nodded towards her and she smiled weakly.
"Here, Connie," David said," don't sit there like spare thingamajig at a wedding, you're with Clifford for the moment."
"What's all this about?" Connie asked.
"About earning money," Emma said coolly.
"What have we got to do for this money?" asked Connie.
"Keep your mouth shut and do as you're told," David stated.
Connie clamped her lips tight. A cold finger of anxiety flowed through her.
Clifford eyed her distantly. The others looked on impassively as David gave them their instructions and the rooms they were to go to. Then they were gone: two by two, along corridors and passageways that emitted darkness and a hint of danger.
Clifford closed the door behind them. Connie stared at the room and then at the bed. It was old and the sheets and blankets had seen better days. She sat down on the bed and tested the springs. The bed creaked.
"Not much of a bed," Connie said. She looked at Clifford as he stood by the door. "What's all this about?" she asked, hoping he would enlighten her and put her out of her misery.
"Just one of David's little games," Clifford said.
"Some games can be dangerous," Connie said. Clifford sat on the bed next to her. He took her hand in his and kissed it.
"Missed you," he stated. "I know one shouldn't get too personal, but I kept on thinking about you."
"Why me?" Connie asked. She wanted to leave, but didn't know how to go about it and didn't have the nerve to just get up and go.
"Because you've managed to get right under my skin and I can't forget about you," Clifford said, putting her hand down on the bed.
"Look, Clifford, I still think we should leave. I don't like this idea of David's," Connie said anxiously.
"Relax. Nothing is going to happen to you. David just likes his games," Clifford informed matter-of-factly.
"Am I expected to have sex with all of you?" Connie asked.
"That's up to you and who ever you're with at the time," Clifford said.
She gazed at him deeply. He seemed to be thinking on two different levels. One moment he talking about how he can't stop thinking about me, the next he's talking about blasted David and his bloody games, she mused. She moved forward and touched his face. She wanted to ease the troubled brow; let loose the demons within him.
"I haven't made love with my wife since our honeymoon," Clifford suddenly confessed. "Seven years. She's getting worse. That's why I need to go to you and others like you."
Connie stared at him as he spoke. She wondered what that meant to him and her when they had sex. Was she just a sexual object to him for all his words about not being able stop thinking of her? she asked herself. "What's the matter with her?"
"I've no idea. The doctor says she's mentally imbalance; says she would be better off in an asylum. But I can't let that happen to her, she's my wife." Clifford stared passed Connie at the wall behind her. "When she lucid she's great company, but then she's off and I've lost to her."
Connie took hold of his hands and drew him close to her. "I'm always here if you want to talk."
Clifford looked at her as if suddenly he was aware where he was and why he was there. "Not now. There's no time." He kissed her neck and placed his hand on her thigh. Then he stopped. "I can't. I'm not in the mood." He sat back next to her and stared at the room.
"Where did you meet these friends of yours?" Connie asked.
"Army. In the war. David and I were officers. Herbert and I were at Oxford together before the war and joined together, but different regiments. Lawrence and Herbert were friends on the Front." Clifford mumbled on a few more minutes then stopped.
"You all managed to survive," Connie said.
"If you can call it that," Clifford said sadly.
"You're here aren't you?" Connie said, touching his arm.
"Part of us was left back on the Front in the mud and blood. David lost many of his men. Lost his faith, too." Clifford paused.
"My dad was killed in the war," Connie said. "Blown up."
"Sorry," Clifford said. "Didn't mean to drag it all up." He looked at the carpeted floor and became silent. Connie grabbed his hand and squeezed it. The gesture seemed lost on him; he seemed suddenly far away as if he were once again in a war where there were only losers and death; only blood and the stench of bodies in trenches.
Connie sat and shared his silence. Elsewhere there were noises. Muffled cries seemed not far off; grunts and whimpers seeped into the walls about her like a kind of dampness. She shivered and closed her eyes. She wished she was home; wished she was far far away. Far far away.
Connie was reclined on the bed staring up at the ceiling wondering what was going to happen next now that Clifford had left the room. She had undressed on Clifford's suggestion even though he had not wanted sex with her. "Just in case the other's ask questions," Clifford had said.
The room was chilly and she had pulled the blankets over her body once Clifford had left. This is not what I had expected, she thought, staring up at the off-white ceiling. Not what I expected at all.
She listened anxiously. There were voices outside the door. She lowered her eyes and gaze at the door. There were whispers next, whispers and the sound of feet shuffling. Then the door opened and Herbert came in.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting, my dear." He moved to the bed and looked down at her. "Hope Clifford's treated you well. He's a funny old fish." He touched her leg that was beneath the blanket and moved his hand up towards her thigh.
"I hope I'm being paid well for this. I don't come here for free," Connie said, watching Herbert's hand move close to her groin.
"Indeed you are, my dear girl." Herbert moved his hand up her body slowly as if he were examining a patient. His eyes peered at her from behind the thick lens of his glasses; peered at her features; peered at her body hidden from view. He drew back the blanket and put his hand on her breast. "Can't have you all wrapped up, can we. Got to see the prize." He leaned forward and put his other hand between her legs.
Connie drew in her breath. She sensed his hands; smelt his breath flow down towards her: a mixture of whisky and stale tobacco smoke. She wished the room was in darkness; wished he'd get on with what ever it was he wanted her to do; wished she was home snuggled down in bed and far far away.
Connie laid face down, her cheek resting against the pillow. She had drawn the blanket over her once Herbert had left. She felt exhausted and sore. He'd not been at all concerned for her or the discomfort his actions caused her. She disliked the way he had assumed anything he did was quite the norm and acceptable to her. Even though she had moaned, he had ignored her and carried on with his actions. She wiped her cheek. What next? she asked herself. Who will come next? She wondered where Clifford had gone and who he was with now. The mere thought of him with one of those girls made her feel...Yes, jealous. She actually felt jealous. What a fool I am, she thought, what an idiot.
The opening of the door disturbed her thoughts and she turned and looked round. It was Lawrence. His face seemed cruel and his eyes moved over her with a slow calculated stare. He walked to the bed and pulled back the blanket. His eyes settled on her body; his hands touched her abdomen and thigh. "I see Herbert's been elsewhere," he said moving his hand between her thighs.
"I want to be well paid for this," Connie said moodily, watching his hands.
"You'll be well paid," Lawrence said dispassionately.
She began to wonder if any amount of money was worth this discomfort and risk. Her eyes left his actions and features and stared at the window on the other side of the room. Outside there, she mused sadly, people are going about their business unaware that up here things are being done which would...
Suddenly she sensed a pain in her groin. Her eyes raced from the window and glared at this man who was being so rough with her. His eyes were closed; his lips curled up in a gesture of a lustful pursuit.
She wanted to push him away; claw at his face; do something to make him stop, but she didn't; she lay motionless, biting her lip, staring up at the featureless ceiling. Soon be over, she told herself, soon be done. Soon be done. Soon. Soon. Soon.
Connie stood at the window and drew back the curtain. She had pulled the blanket off the bed and put it around her body to keep some warmth in her naked flesh. There were no facilities for washing in the room, nowhere to clean up between the men. She had not felt so unclean for ages. Why did Clifford bring me here to this? she asked herself. He must have known what it was all about.
There were voices again in the passageway outside the door. She didn't turn around; didn't want to know who would enter next, though she assumed it would be David. Her eyes gazed out on a large garden. There was no one out there; it was empty of people; only a varied greenness met her eyes.
The door opened and she stiffened. She remained staring out of the window in a gesture of defiance. The door closed.
"You're going to have to leave," David said.
Connie turned and looked at David by the door. "When I've been paid." The words left her lips before she had a chance to stop them.
"There's been a problem. You must go now." His eyes stared at her with a mood of frustration lurking there.
"What problem?" Connie asked.
"No concern of yours. Get dressed and get out." His voice was firm and commanding. His eyes moved up and down her blanketed body.
"Where's Clifford? I want to see Clifford."
David moved towards her and grabbed her arm. "Leave now, I said."
His hand squeezed her so tight that she winced. "Who do you think you are?" she said weakly.
His hand struck her face so hard that she fell to the floor. He lingered over her for a few moments looking at her as if he'd trodden in something distasteful. "You'd better be gone before I get back or you'll wish you'd never started this day." He turned and went out the door drawing it shut with a click behind him.
Connie dressed as quickly as she could and left the room. She wandered along the passageway hoping to see one of the others. She saw none of them, except the servant who had shown them in some hours before.
"Where is everyone?" she asked him.
"They have left," he said stiffly.
"Mr Dismal has told me to insist you leave."
Connie was ushered along the passageway and out of the front door before she could ask any more questions. The door closed behind her and she stood on the steps staring at the large black door. Where is Clifford? she thought anxiously. Where have they all gone? What was the problem? Her questions received no answers because there was no one to answer them.
Descending the steps she walked along the street feeling as if she were in some weird nightmare; a nightmare she hoped she would soon wake up from, and find herself in her room snuggled in bed with the afternoon sun easing its way through the thin space between her drab curtains. But it was no nightmare; it was all too real; all too real.
A few days later, after Connie had risen from a sleepless night, she sat and read the newspaper her landlady left out for her. On the front page was the headline: A woman's Body Found down by the Thames.
She read further. The woman, Emma Emskill, who was a known prostitute in Piccadilly had been strangled, a police spokesman said. Police are appealing for any witnesses to come forward and help police with their inquiries. The words went on, but Connie put the paper down.
She stared at her drab curtains. A cold shiver went down her body. She would not say anything to anyone. She would never go up West again, she thought. She'd not trust any man again; not trust any word they said. "Not trust a word they say," she said. "Not a word. Not a word. Not a damned word." And her words flittered about her head like black bats seeking a way out of the cold darkness of her mind.