The thing that was once a girl lay in a pile against the cobblestone wall. I knelt down in front of her, pulled off my glove and felt the side of her face. She was young and so cold. I looked up. Dawn was still a way off but the angry red glare from distant coal fires was already casting unnatural shadows across the alley. A gust of wind, salty and noxious, blew in from the harbour and ruffled her dress.
“She was probably put here sometime last night,” I said. “It’s a busy street during the day but our boys stay away from this part of the port at night. He would’ve had time to set the body like this.”
I stood up and dug a cigarette out of the tin in my coat pocket. Constable Chapman walked over to me and little a match. He was shivering as he offered the light. I didn’t know if it was because of the body or the cold. I savoured a long drag.
“W…what makes you so sure that the body was moved?” he said.
I chalked the kid’s lack of common sense up to his fraying nerves and decided not to chew him out about it. The girl’s body had been desecrated. Her limbs had been torn off then fitted back into place in a cruel imitation of life. Yet, the killer had taken his time to make her presentable. The clothes, makeup and hair were all untouched. The eyes were affixed open and the lips still looked soft and inviting while carrying the faintest trace of a smile. The jagged rips and tears in her flesh were covered by delicate red ribbons, tied in a bow. The rats hadn’t even touched her yet, demonstrating a rare courtesy. Her porcelain stillness was the only sign that betrayed her true condition.
“No blood. Nearly all of it is gone,” I said.
“The papers are going to have a field day with this Jack,” Chapman said. “They already think we’re a clump of fools as it is, especially after that whole Ripper business. Most folk don’t have any faith in us.”
“I can’t really blame them,” I said, waving a hand at the body. “A young girl ends up dead in the street. Things like this shouldn’t happen. Besides, it’s not like there’s much faith going around these days.”
“As you say sir.”
I flipped open my pocket watch.
“We should move her. This street will be filled with works by the end of the hour. We move her, we minimalize the outcry,” I said.
Chapman moved over to the body. I turned and began walking to the end of the alleyway. A collection of grimy faces stared at us from the decaying buildings across the street. The body and our presence had piqued their curiosity. I felt a tugging on my coat and I looked down. A skinny urchin girl had grabbed the hem of my coat. Her hair, ragged and matted, clung to most of her face. She extended a shaky hand down the alleyway.
“He left another present,” she said.
Instinct caused me to hiss and raise my hand at her but she had already darted back into one of the households and into the arms of a similarly dishevelled group. I felt my pocket and found that my wallet was still there. I opened it and tossed a few pennies towards the girl, mumbling an apology.
I turned back in the direction the girl had pointed to see Chapman wrap his hands around the limp torso and grunt as he heaved the body.
“Don’t lift it like th...” I began to yell.
The torso was wrenched off the ground and the limps slid out of their sockets with a suckling plop. Constable Chapman doubled over, dropping the corpse, and began retching against the wall. I moved the limbs out of the way of the surge and offered him a handkerchief from my coat pocket after he had finished.
I inhaled deeply on the smouldering cigarette. Some days it felt that the dawn was always a long way off.
It was still dark but Scotland Yard was already circled by the sensation journalists by the time Chapman and I returned. Every bit as much a carrion feeder as the vulture or the raven, the journalist was one of the most disagreeable professions to burden my sensibilities and it seems someone had tipped them off.
“Sergeant Pendleton, Sergeant Jack Pendleton,” they said as we approached the cobbled brick entrance to Scotland Yard.
“What state was the body in?”
“How young was the girl? Was she pretty?”
“Is this another Ripper?”
“Is it true that you don’t know how she died?”
Their questions lost any individual distinction and faded into a sea of voices. Ignoring them, I shouldered my way through the mewling throngs. Chapman fell in behind me, offering apologies to the journalists I displaced. We crossed the length of Great Scotland Yard, ending up at the rear entrance to 4 Whitehall place, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service. As I entered, the incessant buzz that had followed me was silenced by the closing of heavy wooden doors and was replaced the clacking of boots on brick, the scratching of metal nibs on paper and the occasional bellow of an officer as he struggled with an uncooperative witness. Being here, at the heart of British law and justice, was the closest I came to feeling at peace. I savoured the moment, fully aware that the coming interview would strip me of any comfort I had left.
“Constable Chapman, I need the reports of any girls around the victim’s age that were found dead in the port district in the last five years. Cut out the common muggings and murders. We’re interested in the strange cases” I said.
“That’ll take a while,” he said.
“Jonathon in records is a demon for the drink. Offer to buy him one and he’ll be a lot more cooperative. Now move along, I have to inform Mrs Bathroy we found her sister.”
Relieved that our tasks weren’t reversed, Jonathon offered me a curt nod before heading off into the bowels of Scotland Yard, leaving me to my solemn task.
I reached the doors of my office. The name Sergeant Jack Pendleton was inscribed on the centre glass panel. The silhouette I saw through the door told me that my guest had arrived. I took a moment to tighten my tie and smooth out the creases on my shirt when I stopped. There was a patch of blood beneath my lapel, gritty and dark. I pulled my coat in tighter and opened the door.
“Mr Pendleton. I trust you have news regarding my sister?” said Mrs Bathroy. Her voice was soft and danced around the room as I entered.
My grimace had already conveyed more than my fumbled words would.
“I do. Unfortunately, none of it is good.”
“Oh,” she said. Her voice became heavy with sorrow.
Mrs Bathroy. Recently wed to a Jon Bathroy, a wealthy industrialist, and recently moved to London, accompanied by her sister, Elizabeth. As soon has Mrs Bathroy had heard about her sister’s disappearance, she had chosen to entwine herself with this case. She was a remarkable women and I relied greatly on her perceptiveness and insight into her sister’s behaviour while perusing this case. However, she had me wound tight around her pretty little figure and she didn’t even notice. I felt invested and that made me dumb and dangerous. It was for the best that this case was coming to a close.
“Mrs Bathroy, the body of your sister was found this morning just off Hartmann Road. We suspect murder,” I said.
Mrs Bathroy was silent. She continued to stare directly past me, apparently not registering my words.
“Are you al-“
“Who found her, Mr Pendleton?” she said.
“A dockworker pointed the body out to a constable.”
“And what makes you suspect murder?”
I idly scratched at my neck as I moved to place my bowler on the nearby hat rack.
“The nature of the wounds rules out an accident or suicide.”
“Come now Mr Pendleton. You are making that face again. The one you always make when you are trying to keep something from me.
“The details are rather unpleasant I’m afraid,” I said.
“And I’ll remind you that I am not afraid. Nor am I little doll to be coddled and protected,” she said, sitting up in her chair. “Please.” She softened her tone. “Grant me the truth at least.”
It wouldn’t bring her any peace, but I complied. I started to recount the exact details of the crime. The brutality, the horror and the tenderness the killer took in assembling the body was all exposed to her. I forced myself to keep speaking as she began to shake, as her face twisted in revulsion, as she hid her tears from me. When I was finished she looked a shadow of the creature that came into my office such a short time ago.
“Is that all?” Mrs Bathroy said.
“No other details that you believe are pertinent to the case?”
She stood and began to straighten out her bodice.
“Well, I thank you Mr Pendleton. I appreciate allowing me to work close to you during your investigation. If you will pardon me I need to begin making preparations for the funeral.”
She motioned for the door.
“Wait,” I said, placing my hand on her shoulder. She eyed the hand and then me. “If there is anything I can do to help you during this time, just ask.”
Mrs Bathroy turned and wrapped her hands around mine.
“Don’t let this one get away Mr Pendleton.” She let go of my hands, suddenly fixating on my lapel. “You have some blood on you Sergeant,” she said. Her skin paled and she covered her mouth with a gloved hand. Mrs Bathroy offer a curt bow then stepped out of my office.
I walked over to my window. Looking out over the journalists still milling there I took out another cigarette, lit it and forced the smoke deep into my lungs.
Hell, like I was going to let this one get away.
“Read it again,” I said to Chapman as we turned onto Blackpool road. A waxing moon was being filtered through layers of fog, casting a smoky light over the street.
“Inspector Joseph Graham. Six years ago he started as a constable, running a beat in Gravesham,” Chapman said, glancing over a collection of files. “Four months into his posting, he was called to check on a body of young women close to where we found the girl this morning. The body was in a similar state, almost complete lack of blood, meticulously arranged and well preserved.” Chapman flipped a page. “Three weeks later he made an arrest, a Joe Harding. He died two weeks later of consumption in his cell.”
“Good, now continue without looking at your notes.”
Chapman closed the file and paused for a moment. “The murders didn’t stop with Harding. Five other bodies were found in the next five years. All were young girls and all in similar conditions to the first. Graham arrested a suspect each time that soon died after from some affliction. Graham also resigned from his position last month, hence why we were given the case.”
We stopped on the doorstep of 18 Blackpool Road.
“Good, now what does all of this tell us?”
“First of all, the original killer is still unaccounted for. All these murders, in the same way, same place and with the same looking people,” Chapman said. “Graham himself could be the killer, unless he’s covering for somebody.”
I walked up the steps of the stoop and turned the doorknob. It was locked.
“And?” I asked.
Chapman thought hard for a moment before he turned to me and shrugged.
“It tells us that this house belongs to a dirty officer.”
I tensed up my body and booted open the door. The door jerked of its hinges and fell inwards, showering the hallway in a shower of splinters. The force of the blow jarred my right leg and I hobbled over the fallen door.
“What did you see?” I asked Chapmen as I crossed the threshold.
“I saw what appeared to be large vagrant kick in the door to 18 Blackpool Road. Sergeant Pendleton and I were forced to investigate.”
“Good job Constable.”
Chapman and I walked into Graham’s home. The immediate hallway led into the living room. It was open and dark, containing a scattering of chairs and a cold fireplace. There was a sliver of light emanating from underneath a side door.
I signalled to Chapman, who slowly drew out his truncheon. I moved up beside the door and gripped the handle. Chapman positioned himself in front of the door and nodded at me. I twisted the handle and threw open the door, rushing in together.
Our boots slid along the bloody floor as we charged into the room. Grabbing onto the wall, I managed to keep myself steady. Chapman glided past me, slamming into the wall on the far side of the room. Between the two of us, in a bathtub in the centre of the room, was Graham. The bathtub was filled with blood, diluted and overflowing due to the trickle of water flowing from the tap. One of Graham’s arms hung above the water, revealing a long red gash.
That’d be the source of the blood.
Chapman gingerly managed to straighten himself. He then noticed the body in the room as well as the considerable amount of blood now covering him. He covered his mouth and began to gag at the smell.
“Get out of here and report this in before you end up retching everywhere,” I said.
Chapman sprinted out of the room, leaving me alone with the body. I approach the remains of Graham and placed and hand against his forehead. He was still warm and so was the water. Whatever happened had happened recent-
Graham’s arm erupted from beneath the water and grabbed mine. His pale and anaemic body began to inhale and exhale rapidly as he began to speak.
“It can’t have me now. I’m no good to it anymore,” he spoke. His eyes were wide with panic. “I got rid of what it wants from me.” He raised his free arm, showing me the bleeding wound. “I’m finally free.”
“No, you’ve just gone and saved me the trouble of ending you myself.” I said, slapping his arm away. “Who’s been killing all those girls?”
“It doesn’t have a name.” His breathing increased. “It’s been here for a long time and it doesn’t want to leave. I found it, I helped it or it would have killed me.”
“Where can I find it?”
“Victoria, the first girl. She was so beaut-“
Graham’s eyes began to close.
“Focus, I need to find it and stop it from taking another girl.”
His eyes snapped open but they were glazed and listless.
“The mill where Victoria worked. That’s where it lives. I went there at night and it spoke to me. Made me promise to help it, keep it hidden, bring it food. I did, I didn’t want to but it did. I didn’t do it this time though. Something else helped it.”
He lifted both arms. “No blood means I’m free from it.”
Graham began to cackle in the bathtub. His movements caused more water to spill over the sides. I took a step back, avoiding the gore. His cackling turned into a series of rapid breathes. I fumbled in my pocket for another cigarette and lit it. Inhaling deeply, I left, leaving Graham to enjoy his bath.
There was no sign of Chapman outside which was good. The kid didn’t need to see what I was going to do. Graham had lost it and killed himself but even that was getting off easy compared to what I had planned when I got to that mill.
It had got the drop on me. I limped through the cotton mill, clutching my handkerchief against my neck in an attempt to staunch the blood. The monstrous gears and looms were all silent as I ran past them. My feet rang out along the wooden floors as I ducked behind a spinning jenny. An animalistic roar tore through the air behind and was answered by an equally ferocious one. I pulled myself deeper into the shadows.
My neck was burning, the edges of my vision were blurring and handkerchief was becoming slick and laden with my blood. I had rushed in here, thinking I could get kill whatever had taken those girls. But, it was strong, silent and managed to stay standing after I sunk a full chamber of lead into. Whatever it was, it wasn’t human. But the time for answers came later. Another one had followed me here, giving me a chance to escape.
I slowly rose to my feet. My vision began to cloud as I took my first hesitant step. The spinning jenny lurched forward as a tremendous force slammed against the back of it. It hit me in the back of the leg and I tumbled to the ground. The jenny lurched again, crushing my legs against the floor. The pain was tremendous but gone in an instant, replaced by an unnatural numbness. My handkerchief had fallen and my blood began to flow from the two punctures in my neck and pool upon the ground.
“You poor unfortunate creature,” cooed a hollow voice behind me.
Mrs Bathroy strode out from behind the spinning jenny. The sleeves of her dress were torn and her mouth and hands were covered in red gore.
“I must congratulate you on finding your killer Sergeant Pendleton. “Your assistance during this investigation has been invaluable.”
I lifted my head and looked up at her. “Eliza… Elizabeth,” I said between ragged breaths.
“Ah yes. She wasn’t my sister if that’s what you were wondering. She was just the pretty face that finally got your kind interested in the actions of our late associate. I practically gift-wrapped her for you.”
“It’s simple really. I needed to expel a previous tenant so I had you find him.” She inhaled deeply. “London fits my temperament much more than the old country. But, dawn is on its way so our time together must end.”
She knelt down, cradling my head within her hands and lightly kissed my forehead, leaving a smear of blood where her lips touch me. She placed my head on the ground and began to walk way. I lifted up an arm to grab her but she was already out of reach. My strength left me and a laid on the ground, watching the blood expand around me. Death felt light, like letting go. The big sleep
Shortly after the death of Jack Pendleton, the thing that was once a man crawled out from underneath the loom. It dragged himself on broken and torn legs, ignorant of the pain. Dawn was rising and with it the sun’s light was slowly illuminating the factory. The thing wouldn’t feel much anymore, only the pain from his neck wound and the instinctual fear of the sun. It scrambled with a bestial grace towards the back of the factory. There it would find the den of the creature that now lay mangled against the back of a nearby loom. There it would rest.
It was thirsty and the small flask of whiskey in its pocket wasn’t going to satisfy it. Perhaps someone would come along; perhaps it would have to find someone. That was a later concern. Sleep, drink and then it would see a woman about the payment he was due.