As usual the jump had flashed upon me without warning. Walking along a street that had no familiarity, my eyes probed the bleak shadows as I attempted to get my bearings. The darkness was an oppressive and creepy thing. My stomach was clenched and hurting. Only one thing ever caused my belly to ache with such constrictive intensity—evil.
Evil was in the vicinity; pure and slithering evil had found a host. In what moldering crevice was it lurking, and what was evil’s masquerade this time?
I stopped. It was planet earth; the constellations told me so. There were ramshackle buildings jammed up against each other. Grime and garbage was everywhere—the whole setting signified impoverished overcrowding. From the architecture, I surmised that it was nineteenth century Europe.
No one was on the street; no one that I could see. An obscure form moved a fair distance ahead of me. I started heading in that direction. My stomach was squeezed into a granny-knot.
The air was soggy and thick. A woman’s voice peeped laughter, then in the space of a heartbeat became a hideous screech that was promptly strangulated into a choked, gurgled silence. My heart jumped, my body went rigid, with every nerve ending on edge.
Gooseflesh crawled over me. I came out of my frozen state, moving with a hesitant stutter-step shuffle. A whoosh of movement fifty yards ahead shifted me into high gear—in five steps I hit full speed.
Someone or something was running into the night. I kept my eyes fixated on the dark figure moving rapidly. When I approached the place where I’d first glimpsed activity my feet got tangled and I nearly tumbled as a hideous sight raked me. A woman’s body was twisted at a grotesque angle, lying at the entrance of a narrow alley. I knelt beside her. My stomach cramped painfully. The trauma to her body was complete, and there was no helping her.
Two severe gashes slit her throat, nearly decapitating her. That ugliness was diminished by the beastly horror visited on her private region. There were ghastly wounds in her lower abdomen; it was ripped open and laid bare by a diabolical madness that defied reason.
Her face was splattered by specks of blood. I touched her chin, and gave her a good look over. A long time ago she’d been pretty, but age and a hard life had destroyed beauty. I stared into eyes that mere moments earlier were alive and vibrant. They were now bugged open and suspended in an appalling reflection of unspeakable terror.
Footfalls were approaching. I didn’t wait. Evil was escaping. I took off in the direction I’d been running; the direction the killer went.
I ran with a purpose, my eyes continuously scanning for any marking or sign that’d indicate which way to go. Instinct took over. A hundred yards were gobbled up, and then another hundred. I darted left down an alley.
A lather of cold sweat covered me. I halted. The hair on the back of my neck prickled. The granny-knot of my stomach twisted even tighter. Evil was close-by. I crept forward examining all the shadowy nooks. A brush of sound touched my ears. I stood still. A minute ticked away; another.
It was quiet, the kind of quiet that unnerves and permeates the action just before a razor sharp knife blade slashes out of the darkness. Every muscle felt frayed and edgy. There were whispers of voices drifting in from the crime scene, but the silence enveloping me was loud and frightening—time swirled away and was swallowed by stillness.
My breathing was shallow. Suddenly there was a faint creak far above and slightly behind me. I tilted around and with wide-eyed vigilance studied the area from which the sound had originated. I carefully backed up. What I saw made me sick with fury. A wrought-iron ladder embedded in the brick wall ran straight to the roof.
Had the killer been on that ladder when I’d entered this alley? Had fear blinded me and skewed my intuition and sensibilities? Had evil been suspended above me; had I allowed the vile creature to escape? I cussed myself out because I’d missed seeing the ladder. The tension in my gut started to dissipate. I let out a loud hiss of air as relaxation began to take hold and logic swayed me.
Evil had once again made its getaway. It would resurface again and again because that is the universal nature of evil. There’s no end to its manifestations or its appetite to kill and steal and destroy. With a grim resignation whipping me down, I headed back to where that unfortunate woman had been murdered.
The telltale prelude to dawn was a delicate blush of color in the east. I was cautious as I walked at an easy gait. A crowd was gathered around a pair of uniformed cops whose heads were close together as they carried on a conversation. Residents were coming awake as the grisly news of murder leapt along neighborhood grapevines, bringing more and more onlookers by the minute. No one had covered the dead woman’s body—she remained on display like a piece of meat on a butcher’s block.
The bystanders were ragged looking people with thick accents, chattering in muted tones. It was easy to follow the flow of the dialog. I listened with care, and as necessary, piped up to ask an innocent sounding question here and there, mimicking the cadence of their brogue.
My memory banks were rifling files. I was able to determine we were on Buck’s Row in the east end of London. That information allowed me to discern time details which gave me certain knowledge of the crime.
A hard featured man with a hatchet face appeared from a doorway, and pushed his way past the crowd. Slender and whippet-like, he had a ramrod stiff military bearing. He spoke brusquely to the police officers, and stepped directly toward the gawkers.
“Can anyone identify this woman?” he asked, close-set eyes targeting one face after another.
“She’s a chirpie piece of tail,” a gruff looking man offered. “Her name’s Mary something or other. I was never interested in more than that.” He gave a shrug as lips parted to reveal a toothless smile.
“Mary Ann Nichols,” a twitchy-eyed woman said sadly.
The hatchet-faced man glared at her. “What’d be your name?”
“What’d be yours?” she shot back, spitting the words at him with a disdain that was palpable.
His face softened, his eyes becoming bright and charming. “I’m Inspector Charles Pringle. You could be of great help to the Metropolitan Police Service,” he said, his voice as smooth as the sweetest honey imaginable.
The woman leaned away from him. “Lizzie Stride, but it’s really none of your bloody business, is it?”
“Bloody business, indeed,” Pringle muttered, then turned toward the body. He knelt and bent close, his head shaking continually as he surveyed the wounds.
I broke away from the spectators and strolled near enough to peer over his shoulder. He sensed rather than saw me. He made a half turn, then cut it short, his eyes flaring sharply for a moment before he straightened to his full height.
“Who are you?”
“Jodat. Jedediah Jodat,” I replied, accompanied by a tip of my hat.
The Inspector ignored me. He motioned to the constables, who swiftly stood before him. “Take this chap to headquarters. He’s going to be our guest,” he instructed, then pressed into me and grinned. “You should’ve washed up better.” I frowned at him. He lifted my right hand and pushed it under my nose. “That’s a nasty bit of evidence, Mr. Jodat.”
My brain took a slow drag roll as I eyeballed dried blood on three fingers. It must’ve got there when I’d given the victim a thorough look-see.
There was no point in resisting. I went along without complaint. After all, being in the custody of Scotland Yard at the beginning stages would give me opportunity to help. Maybe I could steer the investigation so that this first notorious bloodletting would be the last.
Or maybe not—perhaps Jack the Ripper was an inevitable reign of evil.