Longtimers, Victoria Introduction

London, Whitechapel district, half past one in the morning: It is mid-November of 1888 and despite the cold and the furor over the Ripper killings, Vickie Seely makes her way along the dirty street, hoping for a client who will pay enough for her to afford the rent on a tiny flat she shares with two other women. She is poor, illiterate, and her family gave up on her years ago leaving her to fend for herself, begging, stealing, walking the streets, taking pence or shillings from smelly men who want a “quick one” before heading home to their families. She cannot recall the last time she had a complete meal, just some scraps a friendly pub owner passed to her as she was scavenging in an alley.

Prostitutes are common in this section of London, but she doesn’t look like the others. She seems younger, more vibrant, her face and features not marred by alcoholism or the hard living that plagues residents of the area. She is shorter than average with a small frame, making her look almost childlike. Her strawberry blond hair is pinned up and tucked beneath a weathered cap that’s a size too big. She is a throwaway in a society overflowing with them, people who most won’t notice at all unless they need something from them and in Vickie’s case there’s only one thing anyone needs from her. As she walks, she hums a popular tune, stopping occasionally to correct a note or recall a lyric.

Ahead, she sees just the sort of person who’ll require her services, a well-dressed man. There is only one reason for someone like that to be in Whitechapel at this time of the evening. She falls into a slow saunter, staring in his direction. Seeing her, the man slows and as they meet, she says with a heavy Cockney accent, “Ev’nin’ sir. Lookin’ for some comp’ny tonight?”

The man smiles and produces a gold sovereign.

“You are lonely,” she says rubbing his arm. “Vickie’ll treat you right.”

She leads him into an alley, but as she turns to prepare herself, she suddenly feels her body shoved against the wall. Before she can react, even scream, a cord wraps around her neck and is jerked tightly, constricting her breathing. Desperate for air, she struggles to free herself, clawing at the rope to no avail.

“Not so fast, Vickie,” the man says into her ear, “I want to enjoy every minute.”

Soon, her body goes limp and she slumps against the wall. The man pulls her backwards and removes the cord then pulls a knife from his coat pocket and draws it across her throat, producing a steady trickle of blood. He shoves her onto the pavement and steps away from her. Just before he leaves, he looks down at her and says calmly, “Don’t worry, dear. You didn’t have much to look forward to anyway.” He flips the sovereign toward her, saying, “You earned it,” then heads back toward the street.

Manhattan, early-Fall, 2004: In an apartment overlooking the park on the upper West Side, a young, blond woman with a swimmer’s physique, her nude body partially covered by a bed sheet, lies on her stomach on a king-sized bed that’s messy from a night’s sleep and perhaps a little more. Her name is Dana. She occupies the left side of the bed and to the right there’s the impression of another head on a pillow though that side is now empty. She lifts her head and looks around then feels the opposite side of the bed.

“Vickie?” she calls out, “you here?”

Just outside the bedroom is a nicely furnished living room. There’s a baby grand piano in one corner and various other instruments arranged across the floor as well as numerous paintings on the walls covering nearly every artistic genre of the twentieth century. In front of the window looking out is a thin woman smaller than average, with long, curly, strawberry blond hair and wearing a flannel housecoat. She stares intently out of the window and idly, almost unconsciously, runs her fingers along an ugly scar across her throat. She is Victoria Wells.

Without moving her eyes from the window, she turns her head slightly in the direction of the bedroom and says in a voice that still bears the faint traces of a cockney accent, “It’s okay, sweetie. I’ll be in straight away.”

From the pocket of her housecoat, she produces a coin, a gold sovereign bearing the likeness of Queen Victoria, and rolls it over the tops of her fingers, then steps away from the window, flips the coin into the air and catches it before it’s halfway down. She heads into the bedroom.

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