Read India Black Online

Authors: Carol K. Carr

Tags: #London (England) - History - 1800-1950, #England, #Brothels - England - London, #Mystery & Detective, #Brothels, #General, #london, #International Relations, #Fiction, #Spy stories

India Black

BOOK: India Black
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Table of Contents
 
 
 
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
 
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
 
Copyright © 2011 by Carol K. Carr.
 
All rights reserved.
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PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
 
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
 
Carr, Carol K.
eISBN : 978-1-101-47829-5
1. Brothels—England—London—Fiction. 2. International relations—Fiction. 3. London (England)—History—1800-1950—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3603.A7726I53 2011
813’.6—dc22 2010029315
 
 

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PREFACE
M
y name is India Black. I am a whore.
If those words made you blush, if your hand fluttered to your cheek or you harrumphed disapprovingly into your beard, then you should return this volume to the shelf, cast a cold glance at the proprietor as you leave, and hasten home feeling proper and virtuous. You can go to Evensong tonight with a clear conscience. However, if my admission caused a frisson of excitement in your drab world, if you felt a stirring in your trousers or beneath your skirts when you read my words, then I must caution you that you will be disappointed in the story contained in this volume. No doubt you’re hoping to read in these pages the narrative of a young woman’s schooling in the arts of love or perhaps a detailed description of some of my more memorable artistic performances. As for the former, there’s enough of that kind of shoddy chronicle available, most of it written by men masquerading as “Maggie” or “Eunice,” and therefore not only fictitious but asinine to boot. As for the latter, I’d be the first to admit that I was a tireless entertainer in the boudoir, but that’s another story for another time and will cost you more money than this volume when I get around to writing it down.
But you are a
whore
, you say. There must be
some
sex involved in this chronicle. Indeed, I am a whore, and well versed in the skills of my profession. It is to that profession that I owe my involvement in the affair hereafter described. But if you want sex, you’ll have to pay for it. I’m out of the game myself these days, but I can set you up with a nice girl, any night after seven, at the Lotus House on St. Alban’s Street. You’ll have to go elsewhere if your taste runs to men, boys, or ruminants.
Well, if you haven’t already shelved this book on account of the dearth of depravity and vice you were hoping to find in it, presumably you’re still interested in learning what a whore has to contribute to the literary scene. I have written a true account of how I met our esteemed prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli (the old queen himself), of my encounter with the tsar’s intelligence agents in London, and of my pursuit of these same Russian spies across England to the Channel and beyond. Some of you may be disinclined to believe the veracity of what you read in these pages. “Pshaw,” you say. “How did a London trollop become embroiled in such weighty affairs? The idea is preposterous.”
Now you may think it highly implausible that the government of Great Britain would stoop to enlisting the services of a whore, no matter how serious the predicament in which it finds itself. But if you ponder the topic awhile, as I did, you’ll realize that there’s a natural affinity between politicians and whores, having, as they do, certain similarities that breed a type of professional courtesy, if you will. For example, we share the same line of work: we each provide a service in exchange for something else. In my case, it’s money, and for politicians, it’s votes. We each exercise our charm and wile to convince our customers to pay us or vote for us, for we’re in competition with others who can provide the same services. And we’ll both do just about anything, as long as the price is right. Frankly, I think it’s a damned slur against the tarts to consign them to the social rubbish heap just for earning a living while praising the politicos as selfless public servants. At least bints aren’t hypocritical: you’ll never hear one of them blathering on sanctimoniously that they do what they do for the benefit of the British public.
That’s all I’ve got to say about the subject. Every word in this volume is the gospel truth. You can put your money on the counter and buy the book, or you can go to the devil. It’s all the same to me.
ONE
T
he day that Bowser kicked it was a bleak winter Sunday like any other in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and seventy-six. The fog had set in early that afternoon and a fine mist was falling, muffling the sound of the church bells around the city. The whores were all asleep in their beds upstairs, their customers having departed early to share the comforts of hearth and family, a joint of mutton, and the Book of Common Prayer. Or, if they were young blades, they had trundled off to their soft feather mattresses to sleep off a night of debauchery while I counted their sovereigns.
That was my usual occupation on Sundays: tallying the preceding night’s receipts over a glass of whisky or a pot of steaming Earl Grey and some of the petrified horse droppings Mrs. Drinkwater, my cook, so charitably called her muffins. There was very little custom on Sundays, save for Bowser, and he’d been here so often that I no longer felt obliged to chat him up when he arrived. This Sunday was no different from the others. I’d yawned my way out of bed shortly after noon, put on a dressing gown and slippers, and conducted the customary post-Saturday-night inspection of the premises to determine if any object had been stolen, vandalized or destroyed, or if anyone had passed out on the sofa in the salon and needed to be ejected.
I’d christened my establishment “Lotus House,” an obvious reference to the poem by Mr. Tennyson; a fact which eludes all of my bints but is recognized by a fair number of my clientele. I cater to gentleman, you see. No butchers, navvies or sailors (naval officers excepted, of course) allowed through my door. Only junior ministers, high-ranking civil servants, minor aristocracy and military officers visit my premises, but since most of them are Lord Somebody’s son and heir, I’m wagering that my stock will continue to rise where it counts.
A plain establishment offering watered whisky and slovenly girls won’t do for the bloods who frequent my place of business. Lotus House is both elegant and comfortable, more akin to a gentleman’s club than his home, for who wants to play slap and tickle with a whore in a room that reminds you of your own parlor and your sweet, insipid little wife? So you’ll find only plain wallpaper and tasteful carpets in Lotus House. No flocked velvet paper in viridian and orange, no stuffed birds in cages, no ungainly wooden monstrosities that resemble devices of torture more than pieces of furniture. The only concession to the particular business conducted in Lotus House is in the selection of pictures upon the wall. Imagine that the Earl of Rochester’s talents had been those of the visual arts and not the verbal, and you’ll have a fair idea of the kind of thing that adorns my establishment. It’s not my taste at all; the pictures are only there to stimulate the customers, for one thing I learned at an early age is that a stimulated gentleman is a profligate gentleman.
I keep a stock of fine wines and brandies and a humidor of Cuban cigars, and my bints are lovely, stupid and discreet, just the way the toffs like them. I take great pride in my business and in Lotus House, lavishing all my attention on them, leaving very little time for my own amusements. But being the madam instead of the worker bee suits me.
I gave up the game years ago, preferring to herd my own flock of tarts than waste my youth and good looks servicing an assortment of randy gentleman. I’m a damned handsome woman, if I do say so myself. My figure attracts attention, being both lithe and buxom. I’ve a cloud of raven hair, eyes of cobalt blue, and a creamy English complexion (thanks to my self-discipline; I don’t indulge in laudanum, tobacco or opium, like most London whores).
It can be hellish out there, competing against the other abbesses for the quality customer. There isn’t a madam in London who wouldn’t poison your reputation to make a few pence, spreading rumors of diseased, loquacious or kleptomaniacal bints at your establishment. Still, I wouldn’t trade Lotus House for the world. There may be easier ways of earning a sou: I could allow some pedigreed ass to keep me in French perfume and silk gowns, tucked away in a cozy pied-à-terre in St. John’s Wood, and driving a four-in-hand along Rotten Row. But I like my freedom. There is not enough money in this fair isle to entice me to flutter my lashes and drop my knickers for a pompous peer who smells of horses and hasn’t got the brains God gave a goose. Owning Lotus House ensures that I am my own woman. I give the orders and keep the profits, and no one dangles me like a puppet on his purse strings. Besides, you might say that Lotus House is my patrimony, having been acquired by me as it has, and as it’s unlikely I’ll ever see anything else resembling an inheritance, I’m rather attached to the premises.
This morning, all was well. No bloodstains on the Turkey carpet, the pictures on the wall still hung true, and none of the wine-glasses had ended up in the fireplace. There was the usual pall of cigar smoke, bay rum, stale cognac and cheap perfume, but I flung open the windows in the salon and waited for the stench to be replaced by the acrid fumes of a winter afternoon in London.
I rapped on the door to the kitchen, stuck my head into the darkness and bellowed, “Tea.” I was not surprised to hear the sound of breaking glass, followed by an oath from Mrs. Drinkwater (a most inappropriately named woman). I resolved to conduct an inventory of the cooking sherry in the coming week.
The study, a pleasant room facing St. Alban’s Street, smelled less offensive than the salon. I only entertain the gentlemen here for a few minutes after they arrive, jollying along the repeat customers before summoning their usual bints and sizing up the new clients before introducing them to “a nice girl who’ll just suit you.” Then I gently shepherd them out the door into the salon, where I ply them with free booze and decent cigars while they dandle the girls on their knees and leer at each other through their whiskers until they’re ready to stagger upstairs.
BOOK: India Black
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