IT’S MIDNIGHT and I’m standing on the corner of a deserted South London street watching a rent boy getting picked up by a shark. It’s not the shark—the one I’m looking for—but the man is still a predator. He asks the boy too many questions, tries to beat his price down to nothing, and threatens to drive off when the boy refuses. It’s all for manipulation. Sharks aren’t looking for a cheap fuck—they’re looking for the right responses, for someone they can humiliate and control.
On the nights he was sick of selling himself, Dashiel used to take me for walks around the streets he worked with other rent boys. “This is glitter-bound London,” he’d say to me, pointing out the boys who looked like boys and the boys who looked like girls. I’d blush in the darkness, though I didn’t know why at the time, other than I found some of the boys beautiful, especially the ones he said looked more like girls. Then he’d tell me about the sharks and how they’re attracted to these glittering streets and the creatures that walk them, attracted like there’s blood in the water.
“Not all punters are sharks—some are just fish. Harmless, mostly,” he’d say. “You have to learn the difference if you want to survive.”
I didn’t always know what Dashiel was talking about. He used to talk about a lot of stuff. Maybe it’s why we were friends—he needed someone to talk to, and I needed someone to talk to me. But it didn’t matter why we were friends, what was important was that we just were, unlikely as it must have seemed.
Now all I do is try to recall our conversations. Everything Dashiel ever said to me has taken on some stark significance because I think I’m beginning to understand something I never understood before. Sex isn’t always about sex. Sometimes it has nothing to do with desire. Sometimes it’s only about power and control. And sometimes it’s about destroying someone.
And I don’t want to see anyone else destroyed.
THE BOY I’m watching from my street corner looks a little like Dashiel, with his large dark eyes and messy mop of dark hair. It’s the only reason I followed him here. There are plenty of other boys—and girls—selling the only thing they have left to sell, risking themselves out here tonight.
I wish I could watch all the sharks who circle these streets. I wish I could destroy them. But I can’t. I can’t.
After about ten minutes, the boy is practically begging to get in the car with the shark. He just wants it over with. He doesn’t understand what’s going on and why the man is fucking him around.
I wonder if this is how it happened with Dashiel—if he knew he was going to die, and at that point he just wanted it over with.
My heart lurches. Hurts. I squeeze my eyes shut and focus on the crumpled notepad gripped in my shaking hands. I focus on the reason I’m wandering the streets in the middle of the night doing this.
The pain slowly lessens, though it doesn’t leave me. Perhaps it never will.
When the car starts up with them both inside, I pull myself together enough to make a note of the make and registration. I note the car is a saloon with a boot big enough to stuff a body in. I mark the colour as just dark. It’s hard to reliably gauge the true colour of anything in the sick glare of the streetlights. Even the falling snow looks orange. From the registration I can tell the car is new, and the engine has a quiet electric purr.
They pass right by me, so close I think I might catch the boy’s eye. I sink farther into the shadows as I scribble down a brief description of the shark and the direction they head off in.
When I see him in profile in the passenger seat, the boy looks old enough to be legal. Most of the boys and girls selling themselves around here don’t, and they aren’t. Most of them are so, so young.
I wish I could help the boy. I wish I could help them all. But all I can do is grit my teeth and hope that tomorrow he’s not another body dumped on the wasteland.