….in a filthy back alley of Cheapside, the streets were almost empty, save for a few shivering whores in ragged finery. Daisy – her very name an irony, for she never saw a flower from dawn to dusk – worked out of the Queen’s Head on the corner. From the afternoon to late at night, she would wait about the door (for low though the tavern was, she was even lower) for Henry her pimp to direct custom her way. The customer would pay Henry a paltry sum, whereupon he would jerk his head, and she would step into a nearby doorway and pull up her skirts.
Tonight, when the peeling wooden door of the public house opened, and the smell of stale beer and cheap tallow spilled out, she glanced over to see what he’d got, and made a face. She recognised the man he was conferring with. He was about fifty perhaps, brutish in appearance and dressed in a filthy linen shirt, a red coat equally dilapidated, and loose trousers. He grinned at her; she knew what he wanted. The bruises he had given her last time throbbed in anticipation.
“I won’t do him, Henry, don’t make me. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
Henry and the hulk exchanged a glance.
“You’ll do who I say you’ll do,” Henry said shortly, giving the man a push towards her. “You’re not worth much, how else do you think I’m going to make any money out of you, you poxy whore?”
“I won’t,” she said fearfully. “He’ll kill me, he will, I’ve got marks all over me. Last time he said he’d…”
“I don’t give a fuck what he said.” Henry strode towards her, narrowing his eyes. The customer watched, blinking quickly and licking his lips.
Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, Daisy caught a pale blur. As if hit by a speeding carriage, Henry was lifted bodily and flung, it must have been half the length of the alley. His landing was a dull thump in the mud: he lay still. She screeched and clutched at the wall for support. The thickset man’s mouth dropped open.
Her eyes starting out of their sockets, Daisy watched in horror as something, barely discernible beyond the pool of light from the doorway, picked Henry up by the throat as if he were a dead cat, and dragged him swiftly out of sight. She didn’t dare to move, in case whatever it was came back for her. She would have taken shelter in the tavern, but that she knew she would be tossed out forthwith. She stood rooted to the spot, while her customer sucked in his breath through blackened teeth.
“Well I paid for youse, so I guess I’ll have youse,” said the man, evidently drunk enough to take Henry sudden disappearance in his stride. He moved towards her, loosening the drawstring of his trousers.
At last, Daisy’s wits came back to her. Picking up her skirts, she fled up the alleyway, in the opposite direction to which Henry had disappeared. Once she made sure that she was not pursued, she ducked into a doorway and curled up, hugging her knees to keep out the cold. She didn’t know what had happened to Henry, but if he’d gone for good, she have to find another protector, or chance working the streets alone. Her teeth chattered. Often, she wished that she was dead.
When dawn’s light crept sluggishly into the slum, a woman stepping out to fetch water at the pump nearly tripped over what looked like a lump of clumsily butchered meat. She put her hand to her mouth and felt the vomit rise in her throat. Living in this district, she’d seen plenty of grim things – the look of a corpse was familiar to her. But not a corpse like this – its throat torn open from ear to ear, the chest and belly cavity ripped apart as if by giant claws. She ran back inside and screamed for her man. Soon, a crowd had gathered about the remains of Henry.
Daisy crept to the back of the crowd, and peered through. Inside her dress, fastened inside her ragged stocking, was a gold guinea. She had found it when she woke, and felt something cold and hard in her bodice. How she had come by it, she had no idea, but it would buy lodging for months, if she was careful.
She was conscious of a feeling she scarcely recognised. It was hope. As for Henry, he would not be coming back.