“I’ve wanted to post something that better represents my actual written work for a while now. I wrote this for a submission (it didn’t make the final cut, (booo!) and didn’t think it appropriate for anything else, so here it is. Hope you like it.”
“Can’t this infernal contraption go any faster?” Inspector Abberline shook his fist out of the carriage window. Who he shook it at was a moot point, as the fog congealed about his black, leather glove.
“It’s thick as pea soup, guv!” a voice called back.
“Isn’t it always?” huffed Sergeant Edward Badham from his carriage seat.
“I won’t risk my ‘orse in weather like this!”
Abberline could fair imagine the cabbie sat there riding through purgatory, a pugnacious expression set upon his face. Though, in truth, who could blame him, as the weather did indeed seem in league with the damned?
“This is police business!” Abberline growled, thrusting his head out in search of his arm.
“Ripper business, you mean!”
“We’ll have less of that talk, my man. You have Scotland Yard as a fare this night.
“Hmm! Either ways, I can’t go no faster, not in this!”
Abberline gritted his teeth and retreated back to the cold comfort of his seat. “You may continue, Sergeant.” He gave Badham a cursory nod of the head, straightened his cuffs, then awaited his debriefing.
“He’s in a bit of a state, sir,” Badham began.
“Aren’t they always?”
“Never mind. When did the attack take place?”
“They can’t be sure, but not long ago. Fresh meat,” he added with raised eyebrows.
“I don’t consider that kind of evaluation a help to anyone.”
“Another whore, I presume.”
“No!” Abberline grabbed at the shabby, leather upholstery and set the wiry Badham with a fixed stare. “She’s not of a…higher class, is she?” The pause belied Abberline’s fear that the Ripper murders had taken yet another turn for the worse.
“What did the commissioner tell you, sir?”
“Just that the Ripper had struck and to get ready immediately, that you would be there any minute. So, I ask again. Is she of a higher class?” Abberline’s hazel eyes gleamed with intensity piercing the darkness as a tiger’s might.
“It isn’t a she, sir.”
“Good God! He’s murdered a man now, has he? Will this madness never end?”
“Not a man, either, sir.”
“Well, if neither woman nor man, I sincerely hope to have not been dragged out of bed to witness the slaughter of a stray dog, or someone’s pet cat!”
“No, sir.” Badham was larger than Abberline by a good three inches and broader across the shoulder, but he stood in fear of the man whose presence lessened the distance between them.
“Three men, sir.”
“Three! Then how in God’s name have they associated it with he?” Abberline’s growled inquiry.
“They said his signature was unmistakable, sir.”
Abberline paused the need for a deep, steadying breath upon him. The act did not go unnoticed as he released the seat from a vicelike grip.
“You sure you’re all right, sir?” Badham’s gloved hands fingered the curled ends of his black moustache.
“I don’t mean to intrude, but you look ill at ease.”
“It is nothing.”
“Is it these early mornings, or late nights, I’m not quite sure which is which anymore? Starts to take a toll on you after a while.”
“It is nothing.”
“It’s all right, sir, you don’t need to tell me. I’ve walked these damnable streets for too long, same as you. I know just what…”
“Sergeant, it is nothing! Do you not understand plain English?”
“I…I’m sorry, sir.”
“Inspector!” snapped Abberline.
“Yes, Inspector. Sorry, Inspector.”
Only when Abberline looked from the ashen visage of his junior officer to the arms shaking at his own sides did he realise, there was.
“My apologies, Badham. Bad night.” Abberline removed his hat and rubbed at his receding, black hair. “I think we should extract ourselves from this coffin on wheels and taste the London air. We can’t be far away now and I’m damn sure we’ll get there quicker on foot.”
“Good idea,” agreed his colleague relieved to be free of the Inspector’s iced gaze.
A sharp tap on the carriage roof and paying off a man who had just the sort of bulldog face that Abberline expected him to, and the pair found themselves disembarked on Whitechapel’s main thoroughfare.
“Why don’t you go on ahead like a good chap. Let the others know I’ll soon be there. Keep things straight, and the like. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Of course, Inspector. You know Miller’s Court?”
A brief salute and Badham vanished, lost to the fogs of another cold, November night. Even the thuds of his footsteps were swallowed long before they should.
Inspector Frederick George Abberline was a man of distinction, a policeman who had sought to bring law to the lawless streets of London for many years. He had never wavered in his resolve, flinched from his duty, despite the opportunity to do so on many occasions. But times had changed for the man once regarded as the equal of any. The Ripper murders had affected him.
“Get a grip, Frederick. He only meant to be friendly,” he chastised himself. “You can’t let this lunatic bother you. You just cannot. Must not!”
The clip-clop of a hansom cab caught Abberline off guard; he was a man unused to surprises. Twin carriage lanterns reared up devil-like from the swirls of grey, a momentary flash of hell. Deciding it prudent to remove himself from harms way, he stepped into one of the many passageways that ran as warrens around that part of the city. The winding, back alleys were not for the feint of heart, but Abberline had bigger worries than the backwaters of the lesser criminal classes. Finding himself quite alone amongst the steep sided squalor, he glided off wraithlike into the night.
The twin scents of coal dust and mould clung to his chosen labyrinthine path like an unwelcome guest. The stench of human squalor permeated his senses; Abberline was unconcerned, lost in thought as he was. His feet led the way as his mind strayed elsewhere. Of late, the only place his thoughts ever took him happened to anger him. He’d seen more terror in three months than in all his years on the force combined and it troubled him beyond words. The Ripper case seemed a precursor to oblivion, or so Abberline saw it. What passed for civilised society stood in fear of a mere man as though he a demon. The presence of God had been challenged by an abomination of a being and Abberline would not stand for it. When the Commissioner had requested his return to the area, his honour had demanded he accept the challenge. He would put an end to the so-called Ripper and prove once more that London was under the protection of law and order. But as the days grew darker and the nights longer, Frederick George Abberline had come to regret his decision. The Ripper was wearing on him, a slow gradual thing, but to a man whose senses were attuned to such minutiae the decline was dramatic.
“Mornin’, guv” came a gruff voice. The sudden appearance of another human almost caused Abberline to stumble against the dank, passage wall, so lost in his thoughts was he.
“Good Morning, he replied, fast regaining some semblance of decorum.
The stranger touched his dirt-ridden cap and ambled by without another word. Two or three steps later and the local became just another ghost in a nightmare world. Abberline had wanted to ask him what he was doing patrolling the alleyways at five in the morning, and a summer ago he should have, but not anymore.
Abberline headed back out onto Dorset Street, where the pavement was wide enough to preclude the unwelcome interventions from either wheeled or non-wheeled traffic, and redoubled his pace. To be seen as lollygagging behind more attentive subordinates would not look good back at the Yard. The Commissioner frowned upon such things, more so than ever in such dark times.
Counting off the streets, Abberline stopped before a road end of particular decrepitude. He could barely make out the sign affixed to the street corner. Giving the fog a frustrated swish, his destination stood revealed, ‘Miller’s Court’. The nameplate looked in as dilapidated a state as the crumbling masonry it clung to. Covered in the city’s detritus the nameplate reflected the nature of the area better than any words Abberline could muster.
The desire to call out to his fellow policeman, those who he suspected to be nearby, was hard to resist. Such streets were not for a policeman to walk alone, but Abberline was made of sterner stuff and brushing the collected water droplets off his suit, marched off into the gloom.
It did not take long to witness the first seeds of the Ripper’s work. A young policeman barely of an age to grow whiskers stood propped against the courtyard wall being violently sick.
“Don’t worry, son, it happens to the best of us,” said Abberline.
“In…Inspector,” the young man managed, but the need to turn away quelled his desire to appear untarnished by events.
Abberline slowed to a steady walk, patted the young man on the back, and continued on his way. There was no need to say more, as the first cadaver materialised out of the darkness.
“Inspector,” nodded Badham, who was stood over the corpse.
Abberline inclined his head in return. Sitting on his haunches besides his fellow officer, he surveyed what was left of the man before him. “Scalpel,” his solitary word.
“Looks that way, Inspector. Sliced and diced,” he added, then quickly silenced himself at his superior’s withering glare.
“So many cuts.”
“Enraged for some reason. It’s almost as though a wildcat’s torn at the man. There’s not the same precision as usual, but its his tools all right.” Badham heaved a breath then coughed into his gloved hand.
“Where are the other two and the witness?”
“Constable Jennings!” called Badham. His shout was met by the hurried footsteps and hasty appearance of yet another pale countenance.
“Jennings is it, you look like you’ve seen a ghost man!” Abberline exclaimed.
The new arrival, almost alabaster with fright, did not reply. Instead, he attempted the pleasantries of a smile, but failed.
“Show the inspector to the witness, Jennings, there’s a good chap.”
Abberline took note of the way Badham spoke to his distressed colleague. Even amongst such carnage Badham’s first thought was to his colleague’s wellbeing. Abberline made a mental note of the quality.
“This way, Inspector,” said the young man leading off into the gloom, his feet beating a stifled staccato.
If truth be known, Abberline’s guide was quite unnecessary. A trail of blood, black in the night, more oil than human outpouring, led a wicked pathway.
“I’d prepare yourself, Inspector, it ain’t a pretty sight.”
“Can it be worse than the other?” Abberline asked. Having seen the Ripper’s work on numerous occasions, he already knew the answer.
“You could say that, sir. It was enough to turn my stomach and I’ve eaten haggis.
“Well, I don’t think we shall be using that as a benchmark to depravity, shall we?”
“No, no, Inspector, I don’t suppose. Here we are,” said Jennings coming to an abrupt halt before another lantern wielding policeman. And like fireflies in the night suddenly revealed from beneath a net curtain, Abberline found himself stood before three more officers. Two of the men were in similar states of distress to the first he’d seen. Another, a grizzled looking customer that Abberline recognised as a colleague named Edmund Reid, had a face set for murder. He stood towering over a seated man, who whimpered into a flat cap that he continually crumpled between blood-soaked hands.
“Reid,” Abberline spoke. His fellow Inspector, a man of middle age and a face cut from granite, continued to stare at the man on the floor. “Reid!”
“Abberline,” he replied waking from his stupor. “Thank God you’re ‘ere. I’ve never seen the like.” He indicated with a nod behind him.
Three beams of light were cast toward the wall that Abberline found himself directed to. It was a scene sketched straight from the pages of Dante’s Inferno. One of the constable’s couldn’t even bring himself to look at what lie under a set of rotten looking stairs. Another officer trembled so much that his lantern cast a jerking, spasmodic light over the murder scene. The third constable was silently sobbing. If not for a renewed determination to catch the beast that had caused such horror, Abberline would have done the same. But, he was an Inspector, a role model, and was charged to act.
“I presume this man the witness?”
“That is our supposition,” replied Reid.
“He hasn’t said a word since I got ‘ere. Shock.”
“Was it he whom attracted attention to this carnage?”
“I believe so. Jennings was the first to reach the scene. He secured the area and sat the young fellow down until the rest of us arrived. We weren’t far behind, unfortunately.” Reid took so deep a breath into that barrelled chest of his that Abberline thought he might be sucked into the man’s maw.
“Remind me at a later date to send a commendation on behalf of Officer Jennings’s. An admirable performance in these trying conditions,” he added.
A grunted response belied Reid’s constant appraising of the situation; his eyes never rested.
“I only did my duty, Inspector,” interjected Jennings, clearly embarrassed by the attention.
“Dare I ask if there were any other witnesses?”
“Not one window light since I got ‘ere,” Jennings replied. “I was on Spitalfields foot patrol, not more than two minutes sprint away, and I haven’t seen or ‘erd a squeak from the neighbours since I arrived. See no evil, an’ all that.”
“You two.” Abberline spoke to the other constables. “I think we can safely say that the victims aren’t going anywhere. So, the pair of you can start at the entrance of the court.”
“And do what, Inspector?” the trembling man asked.
“Knock on doors.”
“At this time of the morning!”
“There has been a triple murder! I believe we are entitled to wake up those who’ll pretend that they weren’t already. I cannot imagine these three will have died in anything less than a clamour.”
“Yes, Inspector. Of course, Inspector,” the two said in unison.
“And tell Sergeant Badham to come up here if you will.”
“Inspector,” the saluted replies.
‘Now, Jennings,” Abberline started, “I need you to tell me exactly what you saw when you arrived on the scene.”
“Well, it wasn’t pleasant, as I’m sure you can imagine.”
“I have no concern over pleasantries only whether our man has escaped.”
“This is a dead end, Inspector, and he didn’t run past me.”
“Are you sure?”
“Damn, too late again!” A single balled fist communed with the grimace on Abberline’s face. So, who is this fellow?” he asked, turning his attention to the shivering ball of a man at Reid’s feet.
“Won’t give us his name, Inspector.”
“Will not, or cannot? I for one find there to be a marked difference between the two.”
Abberline took that as a negative and crouched beside the man. He was in a terrible state. Although covered almost head to toe in blood, Abberline realised immediately that it was not his own.
“Sir,” Abberline said. The fellow did not bat an eye. “What is your name?” Again, not even the stirrings of cognition. Deciding on a different course, Abberline signalled for Reid to give him a hand to stand the fellow up, which they did. Other than having his full height revealed the man continued in his twitching, knuckles shining white even in the wan lantern light.
“What’s your name!” growled Reid, growing more impatient by the second.
Abberline cast his fellow Inspector a look of temper before taking charge once more. “What is your name, son,” he said, gently prising the man’s fingers from his hat, and taking it from him. The action had an instant effect. The man, having his focus stripped from him, instead, turned to look Abberline in the eye. “What is your name?” Abberline repeated.
“I am sorry you have had to see this, Joseph. Whitechapel is no longer a safe haven for any man.”
“Or woman,” chirped in Reid before silencing at Abberline’s hand gesture.
“Did you stumble upon this?”
“I know your name, Joseph. I’m asking in a roundabout way if you saw him, spied where he went?”
“Who?” Joseph whispered.
“The Ripper,” Abberline’s blunt response.
“Jack the Ripper. You must have ‘eard of him,” spat Reid.
“I…I only saw the man who did this.”
“Yes, the Ripper, Jospeh. That is what my colleague and I need to know. Can you help us?” Abberline smiled to the timorous being before him. He responded with such a look of puzzlement as to make the gathered constabulary think him simple. “We are desperate, Joseph. Unless you pull yourself together, we may never find the person who has committed such an atrocity against his fellow man. If you do not speak it could be you, or I, or even Inspector Reid who he chooses to vent his fury upon next. Do you understand what I am saying?” Abberline raised Joseph’s chin up with his hand, undisturbed by the blood that ran back onto it. “You are the key to capturing a serial killer, a man we have not got close to on previous occasions. So you see, you have to speak. You simply have to!” Abberline beseeched.
“My name’s Joseph, Joseph Barnett,” the poor man whimpered.
“Lord give me strength,” Reid muttered, kicking out at a door with a resonating thud. If anyone in Miller’s Court heard, there was no evidence of it.
Abberline was about to protest to his colleague’s attitude despite the presence of the witness, when the sound of hurrying footsteps echoing in the darkness turned them all to an advancing individual. Even the simpering Barnett raised his eyes, as if expecting the Ripper to return from his murderous rampage to finish off the only one he’d missed.
But it was not one man that emerged lantern in hand, but two. Abberline was glad to see both Sergeant Badham, and the authoritative figure of Superintendent Thomas Arnold. However, Arnold looked in no mood for niceties.
Without acknowledging even Reid a man he worked closely with and from the same division, Arnold charged past Abberline to slap the witness hard across the cheek. The sting of his act rang around the ragged buildings.
“Where is she!” roared the newcomer. “What have you done to her, you murdering bastard?” Arnold grabbed Joseph by his tatty waistcoat and thrust him up against the damp brickwork.
“Never mind the stammering. I want answers!”
“Steady on, Arnold,” Abberline said, catching the Superintendent by the elbow. “This man is not the Ripper. I would stake my reputation on it.”
“Then, explain this?” Arnold shook his arm free and held out a dripping shred of garment. The thing would once have been of reasonable quality, perhaps, the hem of a lady’s satin skirt. It was clear to all that it was not of a material attributable to a gentleman. “I say again, where is she?” His voice, controlled once more, sounded even more capable of imminent violence, so frosted was its tone. “This is not bunting I hold stripped from the Lord Mayor’s Day celebrations. This is part of a woman’s skirts.”
“Superintendent, may I?” Abberline asked, politely prying Arnold off the terrified Joseph with gentle but steady force. Once eased to one side, he took the rag from the Superintendent’s hand and showed it to Joseph. “Where is she Mister Barnett? Where is the woman who started this?”
“If that is indeed her name, then yes. The Ripper has her, I know it. You have to help us locate her.
“Mary,” he repeated.
“Yes, bloody Mary!” exclaimed Reid thumping the brickwork.
“Yes, the Ripper, Joseph. Where is he, my friend?”
“You must mean ‘e that saved ‘er.”
“What!” four voices as one.
“They ‘urt ‘er. What’s left of ‘em, anyways. I was on my way to meet ‘er, see out the evenin’ if you catch my meaning, when I saw ‘im. The three men ‘ad ‘old of ‘er, and ‘e wasn’t having none of it.”
“You saw this?” Abberline pressed.
“Sure as I see you.”
“So you say he aided you.”
“He tore into ‘em, sir. They didn’t knows what ‘ad ‘it ‘em. I stumbled upon it all as I walked into the street, see. Tried to ‘elp too, but I got thrown to the ground and bashed me noggin’. She’s my girlfriend, you see. The…Ripper, as you call ‘im, took ‘em on singlehanded. But it was such a mess, such a terrible mess. I couldn’t bear to look. Couldn’t even get back to me feet. I wanted to ‘elp, I really did, but I just couldn’t move.” Jospeh raised his red hands to his face and began to sob. “There was so much blood, sir. So much blood. I didn’t thinks a man could ‘old so much.”
“They interrupted him,” Abberline muttered, eyes narrowing, hand stroking chin. “They tried to help her and he butchered them.”
“Then, he is a hero, is he not?” interrupted Badham. Taking Joseph by the shoulder and winking at Abberline, who stepped to one side, he placed his arm about the poor man.
“Yes, sir. I suppose he is, sir.”
“Well, can you tell me where he might have taken her, so that I can personally thank him? I should be very grateful for your cooperation. The police force owes this man a debt of thanks for saving your…girlfriend.”
“Why, of course, sir,” replied Joseph seeming almost back to full lucidity.
“She lives up there, number thirteen.” If not for the manic gleam in his eye, Joseph should have appeared quite unaltered by his hellish night, but he had, and he was.
Reid was the first to act making a sprint for the staircase. Abberline followed close behind with Badham, whilst Arnold kept guard over the beaming Joseph Barnett.
“Jennings, the rest of you!” bellowed Abberline, as the sound of shattering glass perforated the Whitechapel fogs.
Reid raced up the final steps and up to the door handle, which resisted his agitated advances. So, throwing all caution to the wind, the Inspector put his shoulder to it. There was only one result. When a man of Reid’s build was in determined mood, a decrepit door would not stop him. In a splintering of wood and crack as of lightning, he was through and stumbling into a small living room where he collapsed to the floor in a heap. Abberline and Badham rushed past without a word. Badham turned into one room as Abberline rushed into another, the kitchen, and the scene of another shattered doorway. Taking the thing by what was left of the handle and flinging it inwards, he rushed through it to find himself dangling over a narrow balcony. If not for the rusted railing that ran across it, he should have lain prostrate on the cobblestones below. But it was not the fright of almost falling headfirst to his death that angered Abberline, as so much the sound of distant laughter vanishing into the Whitechapel gloaming. They had missed him, and Abberline felt himself dragged into the pits of hell.
The sound of Badham’s voice in clear distress snapped Abberline back into the realms of the living. He pulled himself clear of the railing, took a breath, then retreated back to the small hallway that had marked his and his associates splitting of ways. Badham was stood there chewing on his bottom lip and shaking his head.
“Is she…?” Abberline’s words trailed off unfinished.
His colleague responded with a shake of the head.
Reid, back on his feet and seemingly refusing to accept the inevitability of Badham’s gesture, bustled his way past into what was a bedchamber. The sound of choking soon followed.
“I need to see her.”
“You don’t, Inspector,” Badham interceded barring the way.
“I have to, Edward, don’t you see. I have to show him that just as he, we cannot be stopped. There shall be no backing down before this monster. He shall not have the pleasure of thinking we fear him. Now let me pass,” he said in hushed tones, “there’s a good man.”
Reid’s exiting of the room in a similar state of distress to Badham did nothing to dissuade Abberline. “You two go outside, see if there’s anything else needs to be done. I’ll deal with this end.”
Reid did not need to be told twice barging past and into the mildly less rancid air. Badham followed, but slower. Abberline could see the concern in the Sergeant’s eyes. He would even have thanked him in another lifetime. But it was not another lifetime, and he had a job to do.
Inspector Frederick George Abberline was some time before he exited number thirteen Miller’s Court. His fellow officers had garnered rather more attention during the period he had spent away from them. A milling crowd of undesirable types pushed and shoved at the officers present. Curses flew from wicked tongues; the Ripper had indeed sown fear amongst the crowd, and the entire world seemed enraged. But it was the man at the head of the ranting bodies, a man with a beaming smile and wide eyes that stood between the grip of Badham and Reid that caught his eye. Whilst Superintendent Arnold conducted the other officers, several more of whom had arrived to aid the herding of the wretched inhabitants of the hovels, Abberline focused on Joseph Barnett’s smiling face. He made the long walk down the staircase to stand before the man who had obviously been told nothing of what had occurred in the small lodgings.
“Her name’s Mary Jane Kelly,” said Badham, as Abberline drew closer to them.
“How is she, sir? Over the shock of it all, I ‘ope.” Joseph stood there nodding away to himself, beaming out a radiant if black-toothed smile.
“I just need to ask you one thing before I let you see her, Joseph.”
“Of course, sir. Anything at all, sir.”
“Did your Mary wear blue eye-shadow?”
“Oh, yes, sir. She wouldn’t leave ‘ome without it.”
“Then, I can confirm it is she, but she is tired. Very tired,” he added, although Badham could not be sure if he meant the woman or Abberline himself. “I think we should take you to the station and get you cleaned up first. You don’t want to scare her looking like that.” Abberline looked the eager man up and down.
“Yes,” Badham continued, taking up the lie. “Lets go get you cleaned up, shall we?”
“But I’d like to thank that Ripper fella for what e’s done for us both. He’s our saviour, you see.”
Abberline looked the fellow in the eye. It was a meeting of opposites, life and death, innocence and guilt, a stand-off between hope and reality.
For a moment, Sergeant Badham suspected the Inspector would not answer, but he did.
In a voice as of the grave, Abberline replied, “You’ll get your chance, son. I swear, you’ll get your chance,” before walking silently off into the beginnings of a brand new day.