The first time we met Jason Davey, he was entertaining passengers aboard the Alaska cruise ship Star Sapphire, Eight ‘til Late in the TopDeck Lounge.
Then he came ashore, got a gig playing lead guitar at London’s Blue Devil jazz club, and gained a certain amount of notoriety tracking down missing musician Ben Quigley in the Canadian north.
Now Jason’s back again, this time investigating the theft of £10,000 from a dancer’s locker at a Soho gentlemen’s club.Jason initially considers the case unsolvable. But the victim, Holly Medford, owes a lot of money to London crime boss Arthur Braskey and, fearing for her life, has gone into hiding at a posh London hotel.
Jason’s investigation takes him from Cha-Cha’s and Satin & Silk (two Soho lapdancing clubs) to Moonlight Desires (an agency featuring high class escorts) and finally to a charity firewalking event, where he comes face to face with Braskey and discovers not everything Holly’s been telling him is the complete truth.
As he becomes increasingly drawn into the seamy underside of Soho, Jason tries to save Gracie, his band-mate’s 14-year-old runaway daughter, from Holly’s brother Radu, a ruthless pimp, while at the same time protecting Holly herself from a vengeful Braskey – nearly losing his life, and Gracie’s – in the process.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult 18-80
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I'd written about my main character, Jason Davey, in a previous novel set on a cruise ship in Alaska (Cold Play). He was such fun to work with that I wanted to bring him back, this time as an amateur sleuth working in London.
I'd never written a full-on mystery before, even though I've been a huge fan of mysteries (print, tv and films) all of my life. Jason's working in a night club called the Blue Devil, which is in the heart of Soho, which is an area in transition – it used to have a very dodgy reputation, but it's currently in the process of reinventing itself. I wanted to tap into the last vestiges of the "red light" districts in the heart of Soho. I'd watched "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" on tv, and read the books that the series was based on, and I was intrigued by the life of someone who chose to make a living as an escort. I was also fascinated by the lives of women who chose to perform in "gentlemen's clubs"…and that intrigue and fascination made its way into the story as Jason is asked to investigate the theft of a considerable sum of money from an exotic dancer who is also working as an escort.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
As mentioned above, I'd written about my hero, Jason Davey, before. He's an interesting guy – a professional jazz musician who seems to be quite good at solving mysteries. I actually based Jason on a real musician that I met on a cruise to Alaska in 2009. He was a wonderful guitarist who was entertaining the passengers in one of the lounges every night.
I have two antagonists – Arthur Braskey, a London underworld crime boss, and Holly Medford, whose money has been stolen. I wanted Braskey to be a slightly humorous character, in a dark sort of way, someone who actually has some principles. I wanted Holly to be a strong woman in charge of her own life who is caught up in an intrigue that she really doesn't want Jason to investigate. Both characters came from my imagination.
Early mornings don’t really exist in my universe. It’s 4 a.m. by the time I get home and another hour until I can properly unwind and fall asleep. And I refuse to wake up before noon.
I come from a musical background. My real last name’s Figgis. My parents were the founding members of Figgis Green, that platinum-record-selling folky pop group everybody knew and loved half a century ago. My family understands late nights and lie-ins and bucking nine-to-five normality. I’ve never actually had to deal with the sort of job Sal was now, unenthusiastically, resigned to.
I showered and shaved, making note of a few more grey hairs in the bathroom mirror. I champion the look of an unkempt musical genius, my dark brown hair on the lengthy side and often untidy. I’ve got my dad’s long curving nose and prominent square chin and my mum’s blue eyes and her thin-lipped mouth. People say they can see more of her in me than him.
While I had my Sunday lunch (a very nice gourmet wild mushroom soup, a toasted bagel with fresh smoked salmon and cream cheese and slices of red onion; a couple of chocolates left over from a Christmas gift box; and tea) I had a look at Cha-Cha’s website.
They had a photo gallery: several ladies in minimal clothing sharing a sofa with a nattily-dressed gentleman in their VIP room; several other ladies wearing even less clothing wrapping themselves around the ubiquitous poles; and a third selection of ladies offering hospitality, drinks and themselves at individual tables.
I wondered if any of them were Holly.
Likely not. Cha-Cha’s has been around for about a decade, and so had most of those photos.
The idea of investigating a criminal act at a gentlemen’s club in Soho did entertain a certain amount of intrigue. But it was also just this side of sleazy. And it was a very dodgy minefield, politically, morally and socially. I’d always had a live-and-let-live attitude towards sex workers, a lot of whom, I knew, were in the business because they wanted to be. But for every one of those independently-minded businesswomen I also knew that just around the corner there were walk-ups and pop-ups rife with exploitation and abuse; many, many more vulnerable young women struggling with desperate circumstances; unimpeded trafficking from Asia and Eastern Europe; and a downward spiral of drugs and addictions. I’d meant what I said to Sal. I really didn’t think I could do anything. And I really, honestly, didn’t think I wanted to.
Still, I popped over to have a look at the escort agency website where Holly had been working—Moonlight Desires.
It was a good deal more high-class than Cha-Cha’s.
All of the escorts had their own albums detailing their names (cities in the American Midwest seemed to be popular), specifics and specialities. The pictures looked professionally staged and shot and featured each lady happily posing in a boudoir, showing off a variety of extremely flattering bras, lacy thongs and stockings, followed by a good deal of saucy nakedness.
The rates started at £450 an hour for an Outcall—meaning your escort would come to the location of your choice, rather than you having to navigate your way over to where she was. I did some quick arithmetic and could easily see why Holly had decided to diversify.
I still wasn’t convinced, though. I still couldn’t see how I could possibly solve her theft.
I distracted myself with a phone call to my mate, Trevor Pitt.
I was chasing down a recording contract. I am aware that just verging on fifty does seem a bit late to be pursuing that sort of thing, but I’m a great believer in thumbing my nose at what’s considered usual. And I’d always had that dream: it wasn’t anything new.
Before Emma died, I was gigging around clubs and smaller venues with a group of like-minded colleagues. We did a little jazz but our focus was more on the kind of music you’d have heard from Mark Knopfler, Bryan Ferry and Elton John. One of my favourite songs is “Sultans of Swing”—a pub rock tune about an underappreciated jazz band.
After Emma died—after Sal had rescued me from the depths of grief and got me installed in the TopDeck Lounge (every StarSea ship has a TopDeck Lounge, built over the bridge, with panoramic windows facing forward over the bow), I became my own one-man-band, playing requests and observing the weekly turnover of passengers (sorry, “guests”). I always managed to slip a few of my own compositions in. And in doing so, I gently exposed my audience to some very accessible jazz licks and phrases.
But I’d never let go of my original plan.
I really wanted to score that record deal. I’d been chasing labels for the better part of three years, sending in my demo’s and waiting for their replies, which were usually a polite No Thanks and, if I was lucky, a brief apology that jazz guitar was a hard sell at the best of times and that it was no reflection on my talent and they were certain I’d soon find a home for my music. That last point largely contradicted the first point, but who am I to question a kind rejection? They could just as easily have not replied at all.
I reconfirmed Monday afternoon with Trev, who owns Collingwood Sound and who’d also composed one of the tunes we were going to demo; and then I rang Rudy, Ken and Dave to make sure it was still in their calendars.
And then I called Sal.
“Are you sure?” she said, the disappointment apparent in her voice.
“Convince me otherwise,” I said. “This woman could easily earn hundreds of pounds a day at Moonlight Desires. How much does she owe?”
“She wouldn’t tell me. But that’s the problem, isn’t it, Jase? She can’t keep working and stay safe from that loan shark. He’d track her down in a minute.” She paused. “Couldn’t you at least meet her and talk to her?”
I really didn’t want to.
But I also didn’t want to let Sal down. I would always owe her, big time, for getting me the gig aboard the Sapphire and turning my life around.
“Where’s she now?” I said.
“At the Crestone. I’ve comp’d her a room under my name for a couple of nights.”
“Would I be able to see her this afternoon?”
“Yes, of course. Do you want me to be there as well?”
“I think it would be best.”
“I’ll let her know. See you in the lobby at three?”
I glanced at the time. It was ten past two.
“In the lobby at three,” I confirmed.
The Crestone’s one of those hotels that consistently rates top billing in online searches, but rarely, if ever, gets mentioned in feature stories about “the secret gems” or the “luxurious getaways” of London. It has none of the character or history of the Savoy or Claridge’s and certainly isn’t high on anyone’s list of opulent interiors, Michelin-starred dining and royal connections.
It’s new and tall and, as it gleamed over Hyde Park, it reminded me of the Amethyst, which has no soul and exists solely to navigate its guests through overcrowded bodies of water to overpopulated ports, offering in exchange a whiff of affluence, a hint of gourmet dining and a parade of expensive treatments at the shipboard spa.
I knew it was very poor fit for Sal, who’d loved the creaky old Sapphire, with her transatlantic ocean-liner history and her slightly shabby demeanour, as much as I had. But Sal had needed to keep working once she was ashore. StarSea Corporate has no pension plans for staff and crew, only for officers. And I could see how the Crestone would fill that need until Sal was at an age when she could finally retire.
I wasn’t impressed with the decor. The lobby was floored with dark marble and its walls were panelled with wood that’s been stained to match the floor. Everything was shiny and brown, with soft white lights recessed into the ceiling and a long reception desk stuck into an alcove and manned by three ladies and two gentlemen in matching outfits that were the same colour as the walls.
Sal was waiting for me in the Wine Bar attached to the lobby. It had dark red flocked wallpaper and red leather chairs and tiny tables that lent it the air of a bordello. She was most of the way through a large glass of Pinot Noir.
“Only twenty minutes late,” she said, standing up. “You’re improving.”
“I’m sorry. I came by taxi. Unexpected road works.”
She gave me a look as she rang Holly on her mobile to let her know I’d arrived.
The lifts were controlled by key cards—no admittance to floors you weren’t authorized to visit. Sal had a master card which took us up to Twelve. Outside 1205 she paused and then knocked.
“It’s Sal, Holly. We’re here.”
“Just a minute!”
There was movement on the other side of the door.
Sal’s mobile rang.
“Sally Jones…Oh really? What’s the problem?”
Sal looked at me as she listened. I could hear fragments of a long and involved explanation.
“Can’t Louise handle it? I’m not actually on duty today…OK right.”
“Sorry, Jase, there’s a massive cock-up at the front desk. It’s urgent. Can you apologise to Holly? I have to go.”
She disappeared into the lift.
The inside chain was finally released on Holly’s door.
I’m not sure what—who—I was expecting. After studying the photo gallery at Moonlight Desires, I guess I’d built up an idea of what Holly Medford was going to look like.
I reckoned she was about twenty-five, but there was something about her which made her seem older. She had long thick hair which I suspected was likely a natural brown, but she’d spent some money in an expensive salon and now it was more honey-coloured than dark and it was cut and styled in a way which suggested she had ample time to attend to its care each morning. She was wearing makeup, though not an excessive amount, and she was what Moonlight Desires would have termed “curvy” rather than “petit”.
She’d put on an expensive pair of jeans and a pink cashmere pullover and she was barefoot.
She was also wearing scent—something floral and inviting that made me think of soft white petals and orange blossoms.
I suppose her room was typical of the Crestone’s Superior accommodations. Again, the overall colour palette didn’t stray far from brown. Dark brown wooden panelling surrounding the large picture window, which was reflecting the pale February sun. A matching headboard behind the ample bed. Walls that would have been called “light brown” anywhere else, but here, what were they? Oatmeal? Mushroom? Biscuit? Something in taupe from the Room Service menu, anyway. Two matching armchairs on either side of an impossibly tiny round table. A desk that doubled as a dresser. A flat screen TV on the wall above a horizontal plank of shiny dark brown wood that could have been a bar (the mandatory mini-fridge was underneath) or a place to put luggage or somewhere to sit if you were entertaining more guests than the number of available chairs.
“Hello Jason,” she said, closing the door.
I wondered if that was how she greeted her clients, too, if or she had a series of different welcomes, each dependent on who she was expecting.
“Hello,” I said. “Sal had to leave. She sends her apologies—something catastrophic at the front desk.”
“Perfectly understandable,” Holly replied. “I’ve ordered tea for us.”
I saw cups and saucers, a china pot, a little jug of milk and a bowl of assorted sweeteners and a selection of petit fours, all carefully arranged on the horizontal plank.
“Shall I pour?” she asked.
She didn’t strike me as someone who was terrified of a vindictive loan shark. But it takes all types. Perhaps her years employed in the sex trade had turned her into a very good actress.
“Milk and sugar?”
“Thanks,” I said. “Two lumps. Shaken, not stirred.”
I don’t think she got my joke.
I carried my cup and saucer and three of the little icing-coated delectables across to the tiny table and sat down in one of the armchairs.
Holly joined me.
I’d brought a notebook and a propelling pencil. It’s an old affectation of mine—I love the slippery ease of graphite on paper and the clever ever-sharp engineering when you click the piece of lead down to replace the bit that you’ve worn away. I’ve got a collection of them at home—because I’m always losing them—and a little utility drawer filled with packets of leads, rubber erasers, paperclips, bulldog clips and other stationery items on their way to becoming obsolete as we surrender our note-taking to keyboards and finger-swipes.
I’d also brought two phones. One was my personal mobile and the other was handy for recording things—the proceedings of meetings, voice memos, fragments of tunes.
“Do you mind?” I asked, considering that she might and that it would be best to make sure.
“Not at all,” Holly replied.
Again, that airiness, no hint of fear.
I set the phone up to Record and touched the button.
“This is just a preliminary interview,” I said. “I don’t know what Sal’s told you, but I haven’t actually agreed to take on your case. I’ve only agreed to talk to you and after we’ve finished, I’ll let you know my decision. And I’m not a professional PI. You do understand that?”
“Yes,” Holly said. “I do understand.”
“Before we begin,” I said, “do you mind if I satisfy my curiosity? Is your profile on the Moonlight Desires website?”
“Why? Were you looking for me?”
“I was, actually.”
“In a personal or a professional capacity?”
“Professional,” I replied.
“My profile was there. But I deleted it. I thought it best. Under the circumstances.”
“That was probably a wise move,” I agreed.
“I’m called Saratoga,” she said. “In case I reappear.”
“I’ll make sure I check,” I said, as the orange-blossom scent drifted across the little table. I paused. “Still curious. How do you separate your personal life from your…professional life?”
Holly laughed. “You’re assuming that I do.”
She leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs, a little provocatively, I thought. And deliberate.
“As it happens, you’re correct. When I’m working as an escort, I wear a certain uniform. Very much the same way Sally did, when she wore her uniform aboard the cruise ship. And the uniform she now wears as a hotel employee. But somewhat more attractive.”
I smiled. She wouldn’t have got any argument from me about the front desk clerks’ gravy-coloured skirts and jackets.
“And when I’m off-duty, I take my uniform off, and I’m myself again. And, of course, it was exactly the same when I was working at the gentlemen’s club. When I put on my costume, I became the dancer.”
“And once you’d danced your costume off?” I inquired, a little cheekily.
“I considered my nakedness a part of my uniform,” Holly answered, smoothly, “for the duration of my shift at the club.”
“When did you hand in your notice at Cha-Cha’s?”
“Last month. I prefer now to work exclusively as an escort.”
“And what made you decide to go into the business?”
“The sex trade, you mean.”
“I was trying to think of a less clinical term.”
“But that is what it’s called. I like showing off my body. I enjoy the reactions of men when they see it. When I danced, I enjoyed knowing I was turning them on.”
“And now that you’re an escort…?”
“It’s very much the same thing. But far more personal. I like having sex. A lot. I always have. And I like it when my gentlemen enjoy my body. But I never have an orgasm with my clients. They’ve purchased my time. I’m there so that I can give them pleasure.”
“What if,” I said, “part of their pleasure is in seeing and hearing you have an orgasm?”
“Still personal curiosity?” Holly inquired. “Or have we arrived at the professional part of the interview?”
“A little of both,” I replied.
“If they pay for the Girlfriend or Pornstar Experience then I’ll make them think that is what I’m doing.”
“And what’s the difference between the two services?”
“The Pornstar Experience is louder and involves more moaning and groaning and rolling of the eyes,” Holly said, humorously.
“That’s it. What more did you expect?”
“Do you have a regular boyfriend?”
“Who wants to know? Mr. Jason Davey or Mr. Private Investigator?”
“It wasn’t a chat-up line.”
“No, I do not have a regular boyfriend at this moment. But I have had, many times. You should know that if I’m going to be someone’s girlfriend, I will be a genuine girlfriend. No uniform and no acting. I enjoy being with that person because they’re not paying for my services.”
“What about love?”
“I’ve never been in love,” Holly answered, with complete certainty.
I opened my notebook.
“Professional time,” I said. “Can you tell me a little bit about your financial situation?”
“Where would you like me to start?”
“Perhaps if you were to begin with the reason why you had to borrow so much money?”
“Of course. I had been travelling…perhaps Sally told you about my adventures in the Mediterranean. I was making quite a comfortable living—so comfortable that I was able to stop travelling and live off my savings for a time. But all good things must come to an end. About six months ago I had to face the unfortunate fact that my bank account had been depleted.”
“And you didn’t want to go back to working aboard cruise ships?”
“I would have welcomed the opportunity…but unfortunately, the cruise ships are no longer as enthusiastic about having me aboard as they once were. Technology has become my enemy.”
“They know your face at the gangway,” I guessed. In the old days, the security crew had merely glanced at your cruise card as you’d boarded from shore. Nowadays your photo’s taken at the check-in desk at the start of the cruise and it’s sent over to a clever machine that compares you to your picture each time you disembark in port and then get on again.
“I was escorted off before I had even had a chance to occupy my cabin.”
“Shame,” I said.
“And so, to make ends meet, I found it necessary to take up employment as a dancer at Cha-Cha’s. It was while I was there that my financial difficulties escalated.”
“And the escalations were caused by…?”
“I enjoy the distractions of the casino,” Holly replied. “And occasionally, those distractions get the better of me.”
“Have you run into problems like this before?”
“Perhaps, once or twice.”
“And what did you do in the past when that happened?”
“I’ve always been able to cover the costs. This time, I couldn’t. So I decided to work at Moonlight Desires. The dancing at Cha-Cha’s was only ever meant to be a temporary solution, to tide me over until my circumstances improved.”
“So you handed in your notice.”
“Yes. The escort agency takes a 30% commission. But even that is a good deal more than I was earning as a dancer, with a much better clientele and far better working conditions.”
“So why did you go back to Cha-Cha’s on the night your money was stolen?”
Holly thought for a moment. “A special request,” she said. “A private performance in the VIP room.”
“Who made the request?”
“Is it important?”
“It might be.”
“If it turns out to be important then I’ll provide you with a name.”
“Married?” I guessed. “Or famous? Or both?”
“Or perhaps merely someone who expects—and can rely upon me to extend—a certain amount of professional discretion.”
“So let’s just go back to your financial problem. You borrowed some money to pay off your immediate debts.”
“Correct,” said Holly, stirring her tea.
“Who did you borrow the money from?”
“His name is Braskey. You’ve heard of him?”
I shook my head. “How do you spell it?”
Holly told me, and I wrote it in my notebook, resisting the automatic impulse to add a second “s” and a space.
“You’ve likely not had occasion to occupy the circles where he’s well-known.”
“How did you find him?”
“One of my colleagues at Cha-Cha’s introduced us.”
“What’s her name?”
“Shaniah,” Holly said, after a moment.
“I have no idea. Dancers often only know each another by their stage names.”
“Why didn’t you go to the bank or somewhere less risky than a loan shark?”
“I have no credit at the bank and under the circumstances I honestly wasn’t thinking. I was in a panic.”
“How much money did you borrow from Braskey?”
“Fifty thousand pounds.”
I tried not to show my surprise. I hadn’t expected it to be that much.
“And what were the terms of your loan with him?”
“The principal plus interest due in four months. The interest was 10% each week.”
I did some quick arithmetic in my notebook.
“And so, four months later, the loan was due to be repaid…”
“Yes. But I didn’t have the full amount.”
Holly smiled. “Expenses. Incidentals. A little holiday in Italy. And, of course, my unfortunate distraction. Braskey accepted what I offered, but then increased the interest on the amount which was still outstanding, and advised me that he would expect the balance in one month’s time. He made it very clear that he would not tolerate further delays.”
“So one month later you had the full amount.”
“I had some of the full amount. I begged for two more weeks. Very surprisingly, he allowed it. But it would be the last of his generosity.”
“And it was this last payment which was stolen from Cha-Cha’s,” I guessed.
“Correct,” Holly said, again.
“Ten thousand pounds. Not an insignificant amount. Hence my current situation.”
She’d get no arguments from me there. Again, the amount took me by surprise.
“Where was it stolen from?”
“The dressing room. I’d put it in my locker with some of my costumes at the beginning of my shift. And when I came back at the end of my shift, it was gone.”
“Along with one of your G-strings,” I said.
“Did your locker have a lock?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And it was locked when you left it?”
“It was, yes.”
“Was the lock broken when you came back?”
“And none of the other girls saw anything suspicious?”
“I don’t know.”
“What did you tell Braskey?”
“I didn’t tell him anything. I panicked. I didn’t show up for our meeting. I knew he wouldn’t accept any more delays. I was afraid for my life.”
“So you rang Sal…”
“It was the only thing I could think of. I was desperate. I had no money. I couldn’t go back to my flat. I couldn’t stay with any of my friends and my face and details were all over Moonlight Desires website. And no one could connect me to Sally. I’m safe here.”
“For the time being, anyway,” I said. “And then you thought of contacting me for help.”
“That was Sally’s idea,” Holly said. “Have you reached your decision?”
“About whether or not to take on your case?”
“I think your money’s long gone and it would be very difficult to find out who took it and to get it back.”
“Then I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”
“But,” I said, “I don’t want to let Sal—or you—down without at least asking a few questions. I’ll go over to Cha-Cha’s and find out if anyone might have seen something—or someone—that might give us some clues. And if there is something I can take to the police, I will. On your behalf. All right?”
“Yes,” Holly said. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome,” I replied.
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