The Church Street Harlot

An Atrocity on Broadwick Street

Another night, another set of foul, paunchy creatures. Their leers and grasps had become commonplace for a woman of Mary’s experience, but she never lost her distaste for it. One such drunkard had already forced her up against a cold back-alley wall whilst she moaned lies to authenticate the proceedings. The result was that she now had a tot of whiskey in her skirt-pocket, and she kept her eyes sharp for more clientele.

She envied the girls back at the whore-house, who could earn their keep in the warmth. Out here, her blood was chill, and faint blue lines criss-crossed along her collarbone and her breast. In a bid to warm herself, she set off towards Broadwick Street. She knew of a tavern there that was often full of custom; it was some other girl’s territory, she knew, but she would rather offend someone than die out here and leave a hypothermic corpse.

The aforementioned tavern was warm and brightly lit. Unable to resist its comfort, Mary stepped inside. Her presence was always frowned upon by the barmen, but she was willing to risk their ire. Besides, it was possible that she could pick up her next client. She settled in a smoky corner as far out of eyesight from the bar as possible, and revelled in the warmth. Her presence attracted the usual leers, nudges and lewd remarks, but she bore them all with a smile. But as she sipped at her own private supply of whiskey, a presence across the room suddenly attracted her eye.

The captivating and beautiful-looking man who had sailed down Church Street the previous night was now slinking through the crowded tavern. He did not have to push his way through the crowds; he simply waved effortlessly and unnoticed, as though he were invisible to everyone except Mary. She followed his path with her eyes until he exited the tavern. She was then promptly startled as the felt a hand grasp her arm.

In her surprise, she sloshed her remaining whiskey onto her bodice.

“Damn and blast it to hell!” she cursed.

“Now, now, pretty lady, uncouthness is not attractive in a woman.”

She looked up and saw her assailant. He was a tall and lean man, grey-haired, with skin stretched tight across his skull so that his face seemed mask-like. She noted that his teeth were bright yellow, like fresh pus.

“I apologise, good sir,” she replied, raising an eyebrow in a saucy manner. She knew a client when she saw one.

With a well-practiced tongue, Mary began the flirtation that would inevitably lead to the intercourse. She was mistress of that art. After the flirtation, came the transaction; she always demanded payment first. Too many bitter incidents in her youth had taught her that.

With the agreement formalised, she led her customer out of the tavern and down into a dead-end alleyway. His claw like hands gripped her and he fairly flung her against the brick as she fumbled with her underskirt. Any attempt at flirtation was abandoned as this man prepared to force himself upon her. She steeled herself for it, already wishing for its termination, when –

A scream pierced the night. Loud, sharp, desperate, it made the bustle and talk from within the tavern fall silent. Even Mary’s client paused. The scream was answered by more expostulations of shock and Mary took the opportunity to scamper back down the alley. What she saw made her stomach balk. The woman who had discovered the atrocity had fallen into a dead faint on the pavement. Several had spilled out of the tavern and stopped in horror.

For lying on the road, flat, with her face towards the sky, was the dismembered body of young Annabelle Whitsun.