On the Coast:
Doyle glided his steam-powered two-wheeled Hero-cycle through the foggy congested streets of San Francisco. He could’ve walked to the most recent crime scene, but he promised his inventor friend to test his latest invention as often as he could. He had a list of significant concerns as he barely missed a beer wagon, blazing around it at fifteen miles an hour.
He had to keep constant attention on the road, especially today with the visibility being measured in tens of feet. The streets overflowed with life. Life went on in his precinct—fog, robbery, diseases or even murder were not enough to keep people away from scratching out a living.
His mind wandered to how he missed the warmer June weather merely a few miles away near Mount Diablo and even in Santa Clara where he had spent most of his early adult years. However, now he had taken this position in San Francisco, specifically the precinct which included Chinatown and the Barbary Coast.
That’s where he was headed now. A body had been found in an alley off Pacific Street on the border between Chinatown and the Barbary. He suspected this was the third in a string of murders, the bodies all found in the same general location.
He hit a giant pile of fresh road apples, covering the right leg of his riding breeches in their foul smell and causing him to fishtail on the damp cobbles. Chaps, he thought, he needed some chaps or maybe half-chaps. The last thing he wanted was to arrive at a new crime scene smelling of a barn.
He navigated the steam-powered bicycle and parked behind a horse-drawn police wagon. He removed his leather helmet and brass goggles, black hair tumbling out from under them, then stuffed the pair into his satchel. The alley blocked with a line and a police guard, keeping the gawkers at bay while the men did their work, he smiled, happy to witness some of his suggested procedures had been followed.
Ducking under the line, and making his way down the alley, he searched for any evidence that might be recognizable from the crime. He became instantly disappointed. There were many footprints in the lane, and he suspected most had belonged to the people that found the body and the officers that later arrived. He scanned the area down to where the officers gathered, all standing around a rough wool blanket. Another crime scene ruined by the clods I work with, he thought. Judge not, lest ye be judged, he corrected himself swiftly.
A red notebook appeared in one hand, a fountain pen in the other, both a gift from his inventor friend. A marvelous item, a pen that wrote in invisible ink, he was able to read with a unique color of light. He took secret notes this way, like about the four men who now stood directly over the victim, one eating a flaky muffin and dropping crumbs all over the area. At the top of the page, he wrote Friday, June sixteenth, eighteen hundred and ninety-nine, in an elegant, well-trained script.
“Good day, gentlemen.” He used the term loosely. The police department was notorious for hiring officers with morals little better than the criminals they chased.
One waved a hand in front of his face, shooing a fly while continuing to eat. The others grunted all manner of pleasantries. Doyle scanned the area, pretending to find things interesting while noting the officers’ badge numbers in his book. All would require more crime scene training. He planned to change the culture of the department if it killed him—or them.
“Any clever deductions on the demise of our body?” the short chubby officer asked around his muffin, still more crumbs contaminating the scene.
Doyle fought the sudden urge to lash out at the fat patrolman and his mocking of his technique and ability. He used the inspection of the overhead windows and the audience of faces watching the scene from above until lost in the mist, as a moment to calm himself before answering. “I have a few ideas, but I would be more interested to hear your outstanding theories on the subject and would be willing to ascertain the validity of any hypotheses you mental giants would be prepared to propose.”
“What?” the crumb-covered man asked.
“He wants to hear your ideas.” The voice came from behind a stack of boxes a dozen steps down the alley.
“Yes, any astute observations you wish to share?” Doyle asked again.
The man scratched his beard with the bread a few times, more crumbs falling, before answering, “Well, she was positively robbed first.” This drew a round of sniggers from the other three.
“Maybe it was one of those vampires!” a second added.
“Only if it wanted hair too,” another chimed in.
“Then maybe one of those wolf creatures!” The third man needed to join in the game.
“Yeah, with razors for claws.” With this, muffin man stuffed the remainder into his mouth all at once to leave his hands free to make a gesture of claws.
Doyle feigned a laugh, making scribbles in his notebook.
“Just another whore been murdered for doing the devils work if you ask me,” the youngest officer said, crossing himself after he had finished.
“Come now. I think they like to be called Pretty Waiter Girls,” another corrected with a snarky tone.
“Well, this one wasn’t pretty,” the fat one added.
“O’Bannon, you would still do her. I’ve seen your wife... and your mistress,” the tall, lanky one cut in.
“You know I will do anything with perfect legs, sex on one end, feet on the other!” the fat one added on.
“And the feet are optional!” the thin one blurted out.
Promptly growing disgusted, Detective Doyle Longstreet needed a change of company. Here and now, he favored the companionship of the dead to the living. “Thank you, gentlemen. You may continue your rehearsals for the Midsummer Festival out on the street. I would like to be alone while I examine the body.”
The four comedians wandered toward Pacific Street, joking with one another the whole way, making impromptu phalli with their forearms and attacking each other.
“Do you really have any theories you would like to share?” The voice came from behind the stack of boxes again.
Kneeling, and taking a deep breath in preparation, Detective Longstreet uncovered the corpse and instantly, exhaled to control his nausea. Speaking sympathetically, “No, none I care to share.” He took a few deeper breaths as he held back the urge to further contaminate the crime scene with his vomit before continuing. “Why don’t you come out from behind the crates? At least you can understand English well enough.”
“I would rather not. The sight of blood makes me squeamish,” the voice said.
“I am afraid to disappoint you, but there is no blood here or viscera.” He inspected the naked cadaver, or the parts left of her, taking invisible notes and sketches while he worked.
The body had been quartered. Split in half at the waist, then the lower half divided again between the legs. That would entail a sizeable, powerful saw, the sacrum sliced and not shattered. The abdominal wall had been carved as well, by what appeared an incision of surgical quality, right down the centerline from the xiphoid process down to the genitalia. Closer inspection revealed the diaphragm intact, indicating the upper organs, including the heart and lungs, should be in place.
Doyle looked up to see a slender built man standing and watching him work from the crates, still more than far enough away to not glimpse the body.
“You’re not a copper?” Doyle asked.
“No, I never claimed I was. I am a reporter. Any additional information you would like to share?” the man asked.
“No comment,” the detective’s only reply.
“Any comment of the similarities of the killings in Whitechapel area of London a decade ago?” he pressed again.
“If you are implying the Ripper killings, no comment. Now, please leave before I have you arrested for disrupting a crime scene,” Doyle said in a calm non-threating way.
The reporter had all he was going to find, and with a deadline approaching, what he didn’t find here, he would make up. He turned to leave, then stopped. “The other coppers don’t like you very much, do they?”
“Men tend to fear what they don’t understand,” he said without looking up from the detailed notations he took.
The reporter shuffled down the street, not wanting to antagonize a future source by wearing out his welcome.
Detective Longstreet watched the man hurry off then went back to taking notes and making sketches of the area. At once, he realized the body had been discarded here, but why here when they were so close to the bay? Once dumped in the water, the body would be swept out to sea.
It must have been a message for someone. Then he noted the hair had been all removed, even down to the minuscule hair on the woman’s face. And lastly, in keeping with this not being the murder scene, they left zero body fluids on the alley cobbles, all very peculiar.
Lost in thought, Doyle didn’t notice the feet approaching until they were almost upon him. Prepared to chastise the intrusion, he jerked up, ready to speak harshly when he saw the face of Doctor Carlyle the city coroner and two black orderlies standing three paces away.
“Ah, Doctor, I have been assigned the case.” Doyle rose and offered his hand to each man in turn.
Once finished with the pleasantries, Doctor Carlyle waved the two stretcher bearers off. “Give us a moment, will you, fellows?”
Once the two men stepped back out of earshot, “I’d hoped you were. I went to visit Alderman Black last night, interrupted his dinner, and told him I would quit if you weren’t given this case. The case needs you, the city needs you,” said the doctor.
“I wish you hadn’t done that. I am not worth the risk to your family,” the detective answered.
“The city needs more men like you. You haven’t learned how to play the politics yet, but you will. In the meantime, you’ve me to teach you, or at least cover for you when you don’t know.”
“I’m a copper like all these other officers.”
“I never thought I would hear you compare yourself with the likes of O’Bannon and the hundreds of others like him. You have a gifted mind toward investigation. You will solve many crimes if we can keep the politicians out of your way. Besides I like working with you.”
“You knew what I meant. I am no more special than anyone else.”
“Did you pay to become a detective?”
“No, the department recruited me.”
“That is the first thing that makes you different. Everyone on the force bought their position from the lowest to the highest. Someone pulled strings to get you on the force. They must’ve paid your fee. Like it or not you have a patron in the city.”
“Why tell me this now?”
“Now I have a reason. Since you are now lead on a case, I thought you should know someone is watching you and your progress.”
Doyle thought about this new information, and the hotter part of him wanted to walk off the scene, quitting police work forever. However, the more relaxed side prevailed.
“I’m not going to worry about things I can’t control. Can we focus on this poor soul?”
“Sure. What are you thinking?”
“Are you familiar with the Whitechapel case from a decade ago?”
“I think the world of law enforcement is familiar with that case, why?”
“This look familiar to the case?”
“Only superficially, the missing organs. There are many differences, like the missing hair, the total lack of blood, among other things.”
“Are the other victims dance hall girls?”
“I’ve not been able to identify them. Do you think this woman was a Pretty Waiter Girl?”
“I am not sure, but I think we may have a copycat of Jack. Without knowing who the victims are will make it harder. What if we run sketches of the women in the paper? Maybe we can find someone to come forward.”
“I can get on that. We will need to bury the bodies of the first two victims soon.”
“You ever thought about a few photographs of the bodies to keep as evidence?”
“That’s not a bad idea. It might even work for crime scenes.”
“But who would pay for it?”
“I have an idea. We can approach the city to pay for it. I’ll pay for these first victims.”
“Here is something I’ve never seen.” Doyle motioned for the coroner to inspect the lower half of the body. “How could a person split a sacrum like that?”
“I’m not sure. It wasn’t chopped or rough sawn. I’ve never seen bone cut like that, outside of an operating room.”
“Obliviously, not the Highbinders. I have seen their dismemberments, and they’re nothing like this. They are more like hacking or a butcher. Now, I am going to ask this, but please don’t laugh. What do you think of magic or supernatural creatures causing the dismemberment?”
“I have someone I consult with from time to time. I will ask her.”
“Once I have a picture, I have an inventor I can ask if he knows anything mechanical that might do this.”
“Just think, we only have a week to the full moon. It is only going to get crazier.” The doctor stood and waved to the orderlies to collect the body parts and cover them with a wool blanket.
Doyle stood, as well, and started slowly walking through the haze to the street. “You understand there is no scientific evidence the moon has any effect on a person’s mental state or actions?”
Doctor Carlyle raised his right eyebrow. “Really? Tell that to a lycanthrope.”