“Would you like to do something special for a lot of money?”
It was nothing Sue hadn’t heard before. The man who was asking was dressed in a grey chauffeur’s livery, his cap in his hands along with a pair of black leather gloves. He had parked his Rolls Royce along the pavement by Embankment Gardens some minutes previously and made his way straight over to the bench where she was sitting. He obviously knew the score.
By the side of Charing Cross Station, on the banks of the Thames that glittered dark and dangerous in the sodium glow of the streetlights, was where you came when you had an itch you couldn’t scratch. Or, if you were like Sue, when you had nowhere else to go. She had first found herself here only hours after she’d arrived in London, the colonel’s £20 tight in her fist. Her introduction to the Smoke not perhaps the most auspicious; a pick-up on King’s Cross station, a man with military bearing who had spoken in a voice of decorum and privilege, offering her employment as his live-in maid.
One short trip to Bloomsbury later and that decorum had dissolved before her eyes. The colonel wanted to take parade. He’d had her strip naked and stand with legs and arms outstretched while he, wearing only riding boots, a Sam Browne belt and his officer’s cap, screamed “Fire!” and threw a handful of strawberry jam right between her legs. The direct hit splattered, the colonel’s eyes bulged and he spasmed like he was having a heart attack. That was Sue’s cue to make a run for it, snatching the money he’d laid out on the table as she fled, strawberries and cream forever struck off her personal menu.
Some deep-rooted instinct must have led her here, down towards the river where the trade was done, just as it was in her native Newcastle. The rest of the city’s flotsam and jetsam had washed up here too; she was only latest in a long line of lost souls who hung around the Silver Lady mobile canteen, dipping furtively in and out of the public toilets by the side of the train station, men and women with eyes that stared but saw nothing, mouths that never asked questions.
Those that came down here among them to do the asking, they always had the same clipped, refined tones as the colonel. The more respectable the veneer, the deeper the depravity beneath. Sue’s eyes lingered over those leather drivers’ gloves. She wondered just how ‘special’ this was going to be.
“It’s a birthday surprise for my master’s son,” he said, “who comes of age today.”
There was a trace of humour in the chauffeur’s eyes, but he wasn’t so coarse as to wink. “He’s a very shy boy, young Harry,” he went on, “and my master is anxious that he learns the ways of the flesh from a woman such as yourself, one who is both clean and yet well versed in these matters. He must learn from an expert, don’t you think?”
Sue did like to be asked her opinion, it didn’t happen often. She liked it even more to be considered skilled, which actually she was, in the ways of deflowering young men. This was an easier proposition than she had anticipated and it was about to get even better.
“Of course, my master is willing to pay handsomely for your time, to ensure that the experience is one young Harry is not likely to forget. Shall we say £25? Of course,” he rushed to finish the sentence before she could answer him, “if you feel your services are worth more then you only have to say, we don’t want any arguments.”
Sue had already got to her feet. “Canny,” she said. “I mean, 25 is champion, pet.”
“Well then,” the chauffeur took her by the elbow and guided her towards the waiting limousine, “we shall go directly to the house.”
The back seat of the Roller was all pale leather, more expansive and comfortable than any bed Sue had recently known and she breathed in the smell of it with pleasure. The chauffeur slid back the glass petition behind his seat and started the motor, heading down the Embankment towards Belgravia.
As the sleek machine glided silently down the moonlit river, Sue popped a handful of purple pills and prepared herself with a fantasy, one that she often came back to. Appropriately for the occasion, it was in memory of the boy who’d taken her own virginity, a black-haired, blue-eyed North country boy. His looks and prowess were embellished each time she recalled him so that now he resembled more closely Robert Mitchum than the apprentice shipbuilder who’d taken her down an alley, hot breath in her ear, hot kisses up and down her neck, pressing his stiff crotch against her as he pinioned her to the wall. She could still hear the strange, bird-like cry he made as he pulled down the straps of her rigid, black underwired bra, his hand coming up her legs as her own unfastened the buttons on his fly, knowing what it was to want a man inside her, wanting him right now, hard against the wall…
“Here we are, madam,” the chauffeur opened the door and Sue stepped out of her reverie and into Eaton Square. Whether Young Harry, with his pampered Southern ways, would be up to Bob’s muscular mastery was now largely irrelevant. However clumsy and artless his first lesson in love was to be, she at least was now ready for him in body and mind.
They walked up the steps of an imposing white mansion, between two tall pillars to the front door, where the chauffeur rang the bell and delivered Sue into the care of a butler. Not a word passed between the servants of the house, just a nod; this scene was well rehearsed and everybody knew their duties. The chauffeur faded back into the night and the butler led the way down the corridor, to the most luxurious room Sue had ever laid eyes on.
It was arranged almost like a Bedouin’s tent, with ceiling-to-floor drapes and what looked like a parachute silk dipping from the ceiling, diffusing the light from above it into a soft glow that fell across the four-poster bed, bedecked in similar white silks and huge French pillows. The walls were oak-panelled and had a number of doors set into them, the wall-to-wall carpet was thick beneath her stilettoed feet. Everything seemed to have been arranged for a sumptuous ritual deflowerment.
“Now,” the butler spoke in the same measured tones as the chauffeur. He handed her five crisp £5 notes. “If you’ll get ready, take off your clothes and wait for him, he’ll be along presently. Because he’s so shy, you won’t mind if the lights are out? You’ll be able to teach him in the dark, won’t you?”
The butler withdrew and Sue just had time to shove the beehives into her handbag and stash that under the bed before the lights went out. Hurriedly, she undressed in the dark. It didn’t take long; her profession eschewed rigid corsetry in favour of easy access bras and knickers. Memories of Bob raced through her veins along with the rush of sulphate as she laid back on the cool sheets in readiness for the young master.
Soft footfalls came across the deep carpet. She felt the weight of a man getting onto the other side of the bed. Sue tried to keep the image of Bob going as she softly encouraged her timid charge: “Over here, pet, don’t be shy.”
Her hand reached out in the darkness and touched… the strangest thing. Where she was expecting the hard flesh of a skinny young man, she felt only softness. A softness that enveloped her naked body, a softness that felt like… fur.
Fur running over her skin. For a second her body responded before her bewildered brain could kick in. It always had been that element of danger that had got her going; that had led her from that Tyneside alleyway to here in the first place. She squirmed under the downy touch and instinctively reached up to where the head and shoulders would be on a man. But her fingers raked only more fur; she could make out no recognisable features.
Her mind did a somersault and she tried to reason what it could be. A fur coat, maybe. It could be part of the kink, the strange form Young Harry’s shyness took. She didn’t want to think that this could be something worse than that, that she was perhaps not in bed with a man at all…
Well whatever it was had big strong arms because a second later she felt her ankles gripped firmly and her legs hoisted up into the air, then the unmistakeable hardness sank into her. Sue gasped. This was no demure virgin who held her legs open and pumped away with the strength of a sheet-metal welder, pinning her to the bed with effortless ease.
It was in this moment of shock that the lights came on and the air was suddenly full of the sounds of whooping. Sue looked up to see the parachute had been whipped away, revealing a minstrel’s gallery that was full of people, men and women, dressed up to the nines in evening gowns and black tuxedoes. One second seemed to stretch into infinity as Sue’s horrified gaze took in their faces, flushed with excitement, the jarring sounds of their laughter and cat-calls as they craned over the rail, punching the air with their fists, and the lights of the chandelier above glittered off their Champagne glasses and their jewellery.
Then, even more slowly and unwillingly, she turned her eyes down to whatever it was that was providing the other half of their entertainment and a silent scream caught in her throat.
It was a man, but it wasn’t a man. Covered in black fur he was, from head to foot, with a black mask across his face, a low, bulging forehead and thick nose, white teeth set into a rigid, fearful grimace and only slits for eyes behind which seemed to be nothing more than blackness.
In a house in Eton Square, for the delectation of the upper echelons of society one evening in the Autumn of 1960, Susannah Houghton was being fucked by a man in a gorilla suit.
Now that really was a first.
© Cathi Unsworth 2009
Author’s note: I stumbled across this story as part of the research for my forthcoming novel, Bad Penny Blues. It was a tale told by one of the unfortunate working girls who became the third victim of the so-called Jack The Stripper in February 1964. Like many of the other murdered women in this case, she had been part of an illicit scene involving kinky sex with the upper classes, in the same era and milieu as the Profumo Affair. In many of the true crime accounts of the Stripper story, her claims about the man in the gorilla suit are taken with a pinch of salt and indeed they do have the familiar ring of an urban myth in the making. However, if you take a stroll around Eaton Square today, you will find a blue plaque beside the door of No 1, the former abode of Lord Robert John Graham Boothby, friend of Winston Churchill and Ronald Kray, whose name will always be indelibly linked to the dark currents of the Sixties and the places where power and perversion met.
Cathi Unsworth is a writer, editor and journalist who lives and works in London. Cathi began her writing career on Sounds at the age of 19 and has written and edited at many music, film and alternative arts publications since. She is the author of the noir novels The Not Knowing and The Singer, and edited the award-winning book of short stories London Noir (all Serpent’s Tail). Her new novel Bad Penny Blues will be published by Serpent’s Tail in August.