Death of a Pimp
Paolo Cetcuti lit his fourth cigarette of the day as the brakes hissed and the tube rattled over the points and into the brightness of Leicester Square station. He threw the match on the floor and elbowed his way through the passengers waiting to step onto the platform. Fag glued to his top lip, he gathered up the tails of his raccoon coat to lessen the risk of becoming caught between the closing doors. Cetcuti suffered a recurring nightmare in which he was dragged away while he tried to pull his coat tails from the jaws of the carriage as the train accelerated away. He would be struggling to undo the buttons as he slammed into the wall at the end of the platform, and was crushed between the train and the tunnel. “What a way to die” he would sometimes remark to his tenants as if it was some sort of veiled threat. It had happened to an old wino once when Cetcuti had been trying to get home early. The man had stumbled as the doors closed on the hem of his greatcoat and the train had finally stopped a hundred yards or so out of the station. Everyone in the packed carriages could hear him roaring in pain but by the time the paramedics had fought their way through the coaches to get to him, he was dead. They had been hauled back into Knightsbridge station, and he remembered the blood on the granite quoins around the tunnel entrance.
It was eleven o’clock when he emerged on the west side of the Charing Cross road. A blanket of frozen fog had descended over the city, and the traffic crawled past, headlights glowing softly in the gloom. There was the smell of fried food and soot in the air. The Supremes were singing Baby Love on a jukebox somewhere nearby. He bought the early morning edition of the Evening News. ‘IRA bomb. Six arrested at Heathrow.’ Who the fuck was IRA? He wrapped the coat tight around him and walked quickly north towards Cambridge Circus, pausing only to collect a wedge from a brass in Connaught Mansions before making his way along Old Compton to Tisbury Court. That morning the narrow alleyway seemed unnaturally tranquil in the gloom, and the doorways, normally busy with girls trying to entice punters into dangerous underground bars, were all closed. No one seemed to be working. Cetcuti turned right and continued into the noisy chaos of Berwick Street Market, where he took a corner table in the Cosa Nostra Café and lit a Woodbine. “What the fuck’s going on?” he hissed in the ear of Manolo, the proprietor. He lifted his head, glancing round the room which was full of ravaged maids, fortifying themselves for a hard day’s cleaning up after their girls. “Well, as well as the fog there’s the Filth,” muttered Manolo. “Big rumble early this morning, Vice were looking for something. They fuckin’ locked up Jimmy’s spieler.”
Cetcuti drew his breath and choked on the tobacco smoke. “What they after?” Manolo shrugged. “Jimmy come in ‘ere first thing, says they’ve lifted a box of quality snuff from Hungary. ‘E ‘adn’t even opened them yet.” Cetcuti swallowed his Turkish coffee and lit another fag, before sidling back into the market and up to the general Post Office in Broadwick Street. He passed the girl a five pound note and told her to put him through to a number in Sliema. It only took ten minutes to make the connection. Cetcuti sat in the small cubicle and picked up the black Bakelite ‘phone. He could hear his mother’s voice. “Merhba Paolo,” she said, surprisingly sharp. In the background her wireless was tuned to an Arabic music station. He spoke to her in the guttural, semitic Maltese dialect unlikely to be understood by casual listeners. “Mother, I have difficulties here in London. I have to come home for a few days. I will be with you for mass on Sunday. How is my Father?” They talked for a while and he said good bye with his usual reference to the Mother of God before claiming his change from the girl and leaving.
Cetcuti, like many of his sort, had an inbred ability to realise when the time had come to make himself scarce. Late night raids by the Vice Unit were a clear sign that something was happening. Soho was a small village where storms blew in from nowhere, and it was wise not to be present when the men in ill-fitting suits and heavy boots came looking. He would make the usual arrangements with Jewish Dave, who he could trust to collect rentals and keep an eye on the girls. After tonight’s business, he would lock up the house in Archer Street, and would rely on his sister Fatima to look after his office in Great Windmill Street. He needed a break, he thought to himself. He would leave for four weeks and fly to Valetta on Saturday, maybe take a look at his properties on the Island. Cetcuti took a circuitous route to Archer Street and unlocked the front door. He no longer noticed the smell of shit and Old Holborn which gave many of the Maltese establishments in Soho their distinctive character. He picked up the mail on the grubby, splintered floor, locked the door behind him and threw the letters in a bin behind the counter in the bookshop. He walked up the first flight of stairs past the ‘cinema’ with the old seats bought for a few quid from the Windmill when it was gutted some years back. There were two projectors: an 8mm, which he used for the home made hard core, and the 16mm, which was better but it was difficult to find anything extreme made on bigger film. He walked up to the next floor, took a screwdriver from his desk drawer, and eased up a floorboard. The reel was wrapped in a paper bag. Super 8 film with a label gummed across the spindle. He took it back downstairs, threaded it through the projector and switched it on.
Paolo Cetcuti had never been one to display his feelings, because he didn’t really have any. He sat in one of the seats and waited while the numbers flickered across the sheet he used as a screen. There were no preliminaries. The film, black and white, with only a scratchy sound track, and without a title, cut straight to the girl. She was strapped to a metal bed in what was meant to be a hospital ward. She was naked, her thighs stretched wide apart and harnessed to the bed-frame with belts around her calves. A man in a white coat stood at the bedside. It was Jewish Dave dressed as a surgeon, with surgical gloves and a mask. As the lens was adjusted to close up, he reached into the girl’s vagina. She thrashed about on the bed, her screams sounding thin and tinny as Dave bent his arm and pushed his hand further into the her body. He started to remove something. The bed was drenched in blood. Cetcuti grunted in satisfaction, spat on the floor, dropped his cigarette and ground it beneath his shoe. He turned off the projector, re-wrapped the film in the paper bag, and replaced it beneath the floorboards.
The second and third floors were rented out to working girls. He opened the doors of the flats. All were empty. The whores who normally occupied them during the day had not arrived. Why not? He sat on one of the beds and looked around. A small towel was folded on top of the radiator. He could see from across the room that it was filthy. “Puta,” he said aloud, and decided that it was time to make an example or two. The two girls were meant to be bringing him five hundred a week, and the empty flats added to his feeling of concern. Something was wrong. At the very least, he had to have the keys and a month’s rental. He decided to go to The Venus Rooms; be among friends. He hurried downstairs. Cetcuti was unused to being alone. For years he had cultivated his eccentric personality with the racoon coat and greasy hair tied in a stubby tail. He was a bit of a character, a familiar sight around the Soho bars and clubs. Now, he felt that he had become a target. He almost ran up Rupert Street, past Spiteri’s Clip at 52 and into Old Compton, past Charlie Grech’s Porn Emporium and booking office. It was two o’clock when he reached Greek Street and climbed the narrow stairs. The Venus Rooms was a grand sounding name for a poky little shebeen patronised by the Maltese. Cetcuti opened the door and walked in. Joseph Zammit and Emmanuel Coleiro stood at the bar. Both looked up and quickly turned away. He could see why. Between two imitation Roman pillars in the far corner sat Freddie Dyer. Cetcuti’s girls were sitting on velvet-covered chairs arranged on either side of him. On the table was a box of 100 Passing Clouds, a bottle of Dubonnet, and some glasses.
A small man, who he knew as Marcus Cameron Grant, appeared from behind the bar.
“I want no trouble now,” he said.
Feeling exposed, Cetcuti looked around. “Rita, Delia,” he said to the two women.“Come ‘ere you fucking slags, you should be at work.”
Cameron Grant said, “come on now, I want no difficulties.This is my premises. You got a fuckin’ problem, you can take it away from ‘ere.”
Cetcuti repeated with as much authority as he could muster. “Rita, come ‘ere.”
The girl to Dyer’s right looked up. She was completely calm. “Go an’ fuck yourself Paolo,” she said. “I’m ‘avin’ a drink with my friend Freddie.”
Cetcuti now knew he was in serious trouble. He realised that his priority was to get out and find somewhere to lie low until the morning. As he turned towards the door, Dyer jumped to his feet and came around the table. Paolo saw the butcher’s knife in his hand, the blade pointing down along the thigh. It was over quickly, a whip-like lesson in close combat; a kick followed by smart footwork and a hard upward thrust of the knife slicing through the fur coat and into his buttocks, like a bayonet.
Paolo stumbled downstairs, blood flooding down the inside of his trousers and into his right shoe. He limped as quickly as he could across Shaftesbury Avenue and through Piccadilly Circus, until he found Jermyn Street and the Turkish Baths at number ninety-two. He paid his £1 for a bed and a cabin, where he slipped out of his clothes and did his best to staunch the wound. To Cetcuti, the stabbing was more than an attack; it was a humiliation to which he had to retaliate. He had been complacent and unprepared. Worse, he was himself armed with the customary knife strapped to the inside of his thigh. He had lost face. He sat on the bed and decided to wait for a while, and to use the payphone by the front door to find Jewish Dave and one or two hands. They would go after Freddie and deal with him. He would kill the two girls himself.
As Cetcuti planned his revenge, a Transit van emerged slowly from the swirling fog and parked across the road from number ninety-two. Two men in the front and, in the back, a thirty foot length of rope and a harness attached to a wooden post behind the seats. The driver lit a cigarette and switched off the ignition. “Frank says ‘e come ‘ere half an hour ago. We got to wait. The doorman’s been greased, you take Paolo when ‘e come out and fix the ‘arness on ‘im in the back. Put restraints on ‘is hands and tape ‘is marf. Stay wiv ‘im until I tell yer, then throw ‘im out the back. We’ll do it down the Bath Road. It’s straight enough. Won’t take long. I’ll give ‘im half a mile. Afterwards, Freddie‘ll meet us with a wedge at the London Apprentice.” He looked at his watch. “Make sure ‘e keeps quiet while you’re doin’ it. Won’t know what ‘it ‘im. We can drop ‘im into the water at Isleworth. Piece of piss in this fog.”
Cetcuti stood on the pavement outside the Turkish Baths. The night was quiet, no traffic, just an empty van parked across the street. The stab wound had become a dull pain in his leg. He’d walk up Princes Arcade and catch a cab in Piccadilly; stay with Jewish Dave until the morning.
He started to limp away towards the arcade.
Illustration by Tom Sargent.