The very next thing that happened was that I got arrested, in Soho. Outside the Golden Girl. I'd been taking care of business - dropping off copy at the Sunday Times and signing a pile of contract letters for BBC reading, and I thought it would be neat to pop in and see if anyone wanted to go for coffee. K had looked at me a bit snarkily when I tossed her the keys and left, taking the cooker and the fridge with me - hey, they could afford secondhand stuff themselves.; and I wanted to be right with people.
K wasn't there - busy preparing for a big night with the boy she planned on having take her virginity - and M was off somewhere, but V was up for it. She was full of excitement because she had got a date for her surgery and was glowing with it; I don't ever think I saw her look so happy or so glamourous or so good.
We had not got ten yards before two young cops grabbed us, shoved us against the railings outside one of the buildings further down Meard Street. The one that had me twisted my arm behind my back and twisted my wrist in what was too much like a schoolyard Chinese Burn not to be deliberate.
'We've watched you two slags' - I couldn't believe they actually said slags- 'parade your disgusting bodies up and down this street for the last two hours, and we're busting you both for soliciting.'
'And for being big ugly poofs dressed as women,' the other one said.
V was already crying from the humiliation and pain; it was all so especially unfair because, of all of us, she was the most innocent. I didn't go hustling in London, but I had in Chicago, so I couldn't actually plead entire virtue, but V had always made absolutely sure to keep herself out of that sort of trouble, and had only ever worked in clubs.
'Excuse me, sergeant.' I used my most officer-class intonations and looked the older of the two very fixedly in his blue eyes. 'I think you are making some sort of mistake.'
'No,' he said. 'It's you that made -...'
'Yes, yes.' I said.' We've all heard the dialogue. But if you are arresting us for parading Meard Street for two hours, you've got a bit of a problem. You see, twenty minutes ago and for half an hour before that, I was with a senior Contracts officer at the BBC, who will swear to that. And before that, I was with the literary editor '- actually, I lied, and it was the deputy literary editor-' of the Sunday Times, in his office, and then in a taxi. You see where this is going - we can go down to the station or we can agree that you made an honest mistake and we all part on friendly terms.'
I gave him a big cheesy grin and would have crossed my fingers if my wrist hadn't hurt too much.
They stopped pushing us against the wall, though we knew without having to be told that we would be very well advised to stay exactly where we were,. and they strutted off to a point about five yards away where they had a whispered conversation.
'OK.' the older one said. 'You can go. Forget about it.'
V had recovered enough that I could see her about to say something stupid.
'Forget it kid,' I said. 'Let it go. We can't win here more than we did.'
I walked down to the Wardour Street end of Meard Street and hailed a taxi.
'We are getting out of Soho,' I said, ' and we are doing it now.'
'I want to go for coffee,' V said. 'They aren't going to try it on twice in an afternoon.'
'Don't rely on it,' I said, and got into the cab. ' Are you coming or not?'
I should have bullied her; sometimes respecting autonomy can go too far, because she shrugged and walked away, and I got the cab to take me a few hundred yards away, and that was the last any of us saw of her for six months. Because she stopped ten minutes later, on her way back to the Golden Girl with coffee and a sandwich, to talk to Goldie and the same two cops had swept by and had arrested both of them.
( The back story of Goldie was that her rich Republican parents had shipped her off to a mental hospital in New York State for being vaguely dykey and druggie and faghaggy, and that Stacey had bluffed her way in and dragged her ass out of there about half an hour before serious electro-convulsive therapy. And then got her across state lines as quickly as possible.)
What none of us appreciated was that V had brothers and that one of her brothers was a policeman. When posted down to the Met, and to Soho, and to the Vice Squad at West End Central, he had not mentioned that he had a sister who was a transexual hostess around the clubs, but surnames and accents and general family resemblances are the sort of thing which always cause these things to come out in the end.
Her brother actually signed the papers on her when they took her to the station, and did the interviews with the arresting officers; it was never clear that he realized how entirely it had been a frame up, but the point was that he had to prove his loyalty.My own feeling, and I may be wrong about this, is that much of what happened to V later happened because of the effect on her of his betrayal.
They shipped her off to Brixton on remand, charged with soliciting, and this is where the real cruelty starts they kept her there for months after month, always opposing bail in spite of the triviality of the alleged offense and perpetually deferring actual hearing of her case by the officers involved always being unavailable on any court date that actually came up. Because she was a tall busty redhead in every respect but one, she could hardly be put in with the general population there, but they certainly weren't going to put her in a women's prison. Nor was she going to be any safer with the grasses and sex offenders on limited association not that her pride would have let her be there. So V spent those long months in solitary, agonizing that she could have had her surgery by now and that her brother had chosen to help his colleagues frame her.
Of course, we did everything we could to help her most of the time she didn't want us to visit because she felt too humiliated, and she did not want to see me because she was angry that she had not taken my advice in the first place. I went to her solicitor Julian and made a full deposition of what had happened earlier that afternoon, and after that I stayed well away from Soho because I really could not be too careful. In fact, it was about this time that Susannah summoned me back to Chicago and so I was out of the way for most of the next three months one of the first things I did when I came back was ring up Julian and ask him what had happened and was appalled to find out that she was still in Brixton though the case was finally imminent.
Julian told me that I might have to come to the court on the second day if the trial ran on there was no chance that the defense witnesses would be called on the first day. I rang up at lunchtime to see what was going on and when I needed to be there and Julian told me the case was already over the judge had simply thrown the case out.
'It was great,' said M, who was there. 'They bring V up from the cells looking pale and persecuted like Charlotte Corday or something and he harrumphs and riffles through all the paperwork. You can see the prosecutor getting worried that the case just isn't starting and he just goes on looking at the papers.'
'And then he says "I see the officer who took the statements of the arresting officers has the same name as the accused. I trust they are not related" and her brief confers with Julian and then he stands up and says 'Her brother, m'lud.' And the judge smiles one of those smiles full of teeth like an alligator and he says to the foreman of the jury 'I don't think we need waste any more time on these and he sort of shudders family quarrels' and directs the prosecutor to withdraw the charges instantly...'
Which was not the triumph it seemed, because this was not, overall, a story that ended entirely happily - V never really got over the whole thing and never forgave me. There was the lighted cigarette accident at Stacey's funeral and I sort of avoided her after that.
Of course, that was also the period when we used to see Dennis the relief washer-up from Diana's Diner in the Golden Lion with various doomed young men, and before we knew about him and his tie collection and his Kentucky Fried Chicken...I wonder whether he will crop up in the show.