Horror Mystery Historical

Oh Have You Seen the Devil?

By Stephen Dedman
3,784 words · 14-minute reading time
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From the author: On November 9th 1888, the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper murdered Mary Jane Kelly. She was his last victim - but was she the fifth, or only the fourth?


OH HAVE YOU SEEN THE DEVIL?

 

by Stephen Dedman

 

“I reckon he’s dead,” said Kate, cheerfully.

The journalist managed not to wince, but he stared into his glass to hide his sour expression and wondered whether he should risk drawing attention to himself by contradicting her. Fortunately, Michael broke the silence by asking, “How would we know? Nobody knows who he is. Or was, if he is dead..”

            “Well, the jacks aint caught him, that’s one thing certain,” said Bill. “They couldn’t track a bleedin’ elephant through a snowdrift, much less through all this bloody fog.”

            There was a murmuring of assent at this; September had been unusually foggy, even by the standards of the East End, and the police were not much loved by the clientele of the Ten Bells.

            “Maybe he’s a jack,” suggested Esme.

            “A Jack Tar, more like,” said Jenny. “That’s why he’s been quiet. His ship’s bin out to sea, but next time it’s in port…” She drew a finger across her throat.

            “I reckon he’s a Jew, like that Lipski,” said Maggie. “No Christian would –“

            The door opened to admit another shabbily dressed woman and the sound of the church bells, and Michael shook his head as she weaved towards the bar. “Right-o,” said the landlord. “Those of you’s got homes to go to, go there. The rest of you, clear out anyway.” 

            “One drink, Johnny?” the new arrival mumbled. Her Swedish accent, slightly marred by her missing teeth, was thick enough to tell Michael that if she wasn’t quite drunk, she was well within spitting distance of it.

            “You got any push?”

            She looked around, then pointed at Michael. “He’ll pay.”

            “Hell I will,” said Michael, shooting her a look as poisonous as the cheap gin. “Sounds like you’ve had enough already, Liz – more’n enough. You comin’ with me?”

            “You can’t send us out in that,” Esme whined. “’E might be out there, waiting for one of us.”

            The landlord snorted, and the man they called Mr Memory shook his head. “He’s never done it on a Monday night. Only Friday or Saturday. Nor when it was foggy, neither.”

            “Don’t mean he won’t,” said Jenny, uncertainly. Mr Memory eked out a living as a sideshow freak at Tom Norman’s penny gaff show with his ability to memorize and reel back long strings of numbers or other words – a popular joke at the Ten Bells was that he drank to forget – but his tendency to see patterns everywhere meant that he was less reliable as a prophet.

The crowd stared at him for a moment, until Michael asked, with mock politeness, “You know when he’ll do it again, then?”

“A Friday or Saturday, or maybe Sunday; Friday, Saturday, Sunday, it’s a pattern. And it’ll probably be the end of the month, like it was when he killed Polly Nicholls. It’ll be this weekend, if it’s not foggy.”

            Everyone stared, a few of the women gasped, the journalist made a note on his cuff, and Bill nearly choked on his gin. As far as anyone could tell, Mr Memory utterly lacked a sense of humour and had never told a joke, drunk or sober. Michael was the first to ask the question on everyone’s mind. “D’you know who he is, then?”

            Mr Memory blinked. “No. Do you?”

            This started most of the drinkers in the pub laughing. “I wish I did,” said Michael. “I could do with a hundred quid.” He glared at his common-law wife again, then emptied his glass and walked towards the door.

            “Couldn’t we all,” said the landlord. “Righto, everybody, you heard the bloody bells, so clear out.”

            Sluggishly, the drinkers obeyed. “’We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow’,” Mr Memory muttered as he disappeared into the fog. The journalist sighed, and headed home.

 

* * *

 

            Michael rolled over in his bed and glared at the snoring woman next to him. He’d known she’d been a whore when he’d let her move in, and had never held that against her, but far too often she’d disappeared with whatever money was in their rooms, and sometimes anything she could carry easily that she could pawn or sell, staying drunk until all the money was gone. Not that he was a saint in that regard, either – he’d done three days for being drunk and disorderly back in July – but sometimes she didn’t leave him enough to pay the rent, or took something he’d managed to steal from the docks. She always came back – she seemed to like him better than any other man, at least while she was reasonably sober, though less than she liked gin or rum – but he was fairly sure she’d added injury to insult by giving him the pox after one of these jaunts, too.

            He turned his back on her, and before falling asleep, made a mental note to lock her in and to take all his money with him when he left, as well as his best hat and coat, his new razor, and his clasp knife.

* * *

            The editor looked up as the journalist walked in, and grunted, “Mornin’, Bulling. Any luck?”

            Thomas Bulling, still more than slightly hungover, shook his head. “No new evidence at the inquest. Nothing from my friends at the Yard. I talked to Le Queux, and he said he hasn’t heard a bloody thing either, nor have Springfield or Hands; they’re even starting to run out of theories that’re worth printing. And I went ‘round the pubs in Whitechapel and Spitalfields, like you asked, and folks are saying Leather Apron’s dead – either that, or he’s skipped town, probably on some cattle boat, or been locked up in Colney Hatch. It’s been two weeks, two weekends, and nobody’s found a clue, much less a body.”

            “Not in Whitechapel, leastways. Some woman’s been killed and ripped up, near Gateshead; they’ve sent Dr Phillips up there to look at the body, just in case. Maybe he has moved on.”

            “Want me to go up there?”

            “No, go back to the inquest. Did they say anything about the doctor who was paying for quims or whatever?”

            Bulling shrugged. “They don’t think he’s the killer, just the boy who buys the beef, but the killer might be working for him. But since nobody knows his name or where he lives, just that he’s American, that’s not a lot of good. But I’ve got an idea that might help…”

            “If it involves killing some poor whore, I don’t want to know about it.”

            “Nothing so crude. What if we published a letter from this Whitechapel Murderer?”

            “How do you propose –“ The editor blinked, then grinned. “Have you got it?”

            “Not yet, but give me a minute… and some red ink…”

            The editor handed him an old Waverley pen. “It’ll help sell some papers, anyway. And who knows, maybe it’ll inspire the real killer to write a letter that gives the bobbies a clue.”

            “Good point.”

            “And see if you can come up with a better name than ‘Leather Apron’ or ‘Whitechapel Murderer’ while you’re at it.”

            “Already done,” said Bulling. “What do you think of ‘Jack the Ripper’?”

* * *

            Michael returned home from the docks to find Liz gone and the padlock he’d put on the door tossed onto the sagging straw-filled mattress. The cow must have had a key, he thought sourly, as he searched the squalid little room to see what she’d taken with her. While all of her clothes were gone, at least she hadn’t stolen his other coat… not that a pawnshop would give her much for that. Even if she’d saved some money of her own from sewing or cleaning or from begging from her church, it probably wasn’t enough to stay drunk on for more than a week – two at the outside, and she’d be back. She’d always come back before.

* * *

            The Chief Constable looked at the facsimile, and snorted. “’I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet.’ No wonder Bulling says he treated it as a joke. He’s probably laughing fit to burst.”

            “Shall I file it with the other one, sir?” asked his clerk.

            “No, send it to Abberline, just in case. All the newspapers will have it by now, and they’ll probably print it, and if this lunatic does strike again, they’ll ask why we ignored it.” He looked at the accompanying note again. “Tell Abberline that it’s bound to be a fake, not that he won’t work that out himself.”

            “How do we know?”

            “If the real murderer decided to write a letter, which I very much doubt, he might send it to us, or he might send it to a newspaper, but he wouldn’t send it to the Central News Agency. Only a journalist would think to do that. Bulling most likely wrote it himself – no, don’t write that down: we’ve no proof. Is Dr Phillips back from Gateshead yet?”

* * *

            “Michael! Michael Kidney!”

            Michael spun around, not quite overbalancing. The fog had lifted, but it had started raining heavily and water was dripping from the brim of his hat, so it took him a moment to recognize the driver of the laden cart as Bill, another regular at the Ten Bells. He waved, and was about to continue on his way to the pub when Bill called, “You still looking for your missus?”

            He hadn’t been, but it occurred to him that it would be reassuring to know where she was. “Have you seen her?”

            “I think so. It looked like her, anyroad. D’you know the Queen’s Head, on Commercial Street?”

            “Yeah.” He knew most of the pubs in and around Whitechapel, but that one was memorable because Liz had been arrested there for drunk and disorderly a few months before.

            “She was just leaving, with another woman. Heading north. I waved at ‘em, but I had a load to deliver so I couldn’t stop.”

            “When was this?”

            “I dunno. Ten minutes ago, maybe. Likely she won’t be far away.”

* * *

            “’Ere! Gummy Amy! That’s Leather Apron gettin’ ‘round you!”

            Liz stopped kissing the well-dressed man she’d met in the Bricklayer’s Arms, just long enough to look around and notice two laborers standing on the footpath nearby, clearly intent on seeking refuge from the heavy rain inside the relative warmth of the alehouse. She stuck her tongue out at them, showing the gums that had earned her one of her nicknames, but pulled her escort out of the doorway far enough to let the two men squeeze past. The man she’d been kissing raised his sandy eyebrows at the accusation, but he looked more amused than outraged; he glanced across the street, and with a faintly murmured, “Shall we?”, led her across the road towards Berner Street.

            Forty minutes later, another workman saw her in the doorway to number 63, kissing a sailor in a black cutaway coat, and heard the sailor comment, “You would say anything but your prayers.”

             Shortly after half past twelve, she was seen outside the International Working Man’s Educational Club with yet another man – first by Police Constable William Smith, and then by Michael Kidney, who ran towards her with an expression of such utter fury that Liz’s prospective client quickly retreated along the street. Liz spun around to face her lover, who grabbed her by the shoulders and snapped, “You’re coming home now.”

            “No,” she replied. “Not tonight; some other time.”

            She tried to wriggle out of his grasp, and staggered backwards through the gateway into Dutfield Yard, screaming softly as she fell onto the slippery cobblestones. Michael glanced back into the street, and saw a Jewish-looking man watching him; he yelled, “Lipski!”, and the man fled, not slowing until he’d reached the shelter of the nearby railway arch. Another man, emerging from the Bricklayer’s Arms, also took fright and headed in the same direction. Michael smiled, and strode towards Liz, who scrambled back into the shadowy yard.

            “You don’t get to tell me what to do,” she said. “I got more’n ‘nough for the doss house, still, and I’ll come back when I want, if I want. I met a man tonight, a real swell; he said my mouth was bang up to the elephant, best thing he’d ever stuck his pogo in. He gave me a whole shilling and bought me gin and a rose too and –“

            “What d’you want fuckin’ flowers for? Fuckin’ flowers is for fuckin’ funerals.” He reached for her wet tangled hair with his left hand and tried to pull her to her feet. She struggled until she’d slipped out of his grasp, then turned away from him and tried to pick herself up off the cobblestones. He grabbed at her again in the near-darkness, grasping the check silk scarf tied around her neck and twisting it. Liz clawed at the makeshift garrote, gasping as it began to choke her, but Michael was too drunk and too angry to notice. She fumbled in her pocket, hoping for something she could use as a weapon, but found nothing more dangerous than a comb, a pencil stub, or a spoon. Her fist closed around a small bag of cachous as she blacked out for the last time.

          Michael continued to tighten the noose for nearly a minute after she’d stopped moving, before the realization of just what he’d done slowly cut through the alcoholic fog in his skull. He let her fall, then turned the body over and stared at her. He slapped her face twice, hoping for a reaction, some sign of life, then tried to think.

            Mr Memory had said that the Whitechapel murderer would strike again that weekend, end of the month, if it wasn’t too foggy. Well, here it was Saturday night, maybe even Sunday morning, raining too heavily for fog, and Michael hadn’t heard of any other attacks yet – and that was the sort of news that travelled fast. So, if he could make this look like Leather Apron’s work, maybe the jacks would blame the murderer instead of him.

            Michael blinked, remembering that he still had his clasp knife in his pocket, then drew a deep breath, knelt by Liz’s head, and tried to remember what he’d heard about the murders of Polly Nicholls and Annie Chapman. He knew that their throats had been cut, and that Dark Annie had also been butchered, but he couldn’t recall any of the details of her mutilations. He opened his knife and hacked at her throat, trying not to weep, then froze at the sound of a horse and cart approaching. He hastily backed into a corner away from the passageway into the yard, glad that his clothes were mostly black enough to blend in with the soot-caked walls in the near-darkness, black enough to conceal the bloodstains on his sleeves. He waited silently, and bit his lip as he heard the horse shy.

          The carter probed the darkness with his buggy-whip, crying something in a foreign language as the tip of the shaft poked Liz’s lifeless body. Michael held his breath as the man grunted something in a foreign language, then climbed down from the cart. Michael raised his knife in case the man came any closer, then nearly sighed aloud with relief when, after a moment peering into the darkness, the man turned on his heel and walked towards the door of the International Working Man’s Educational Club. Michael dropped his knife into his pocket and hastily slipped out of the yard, heading south and turning the corner into Fairclough Street before slowing his pace to something approximating normal.

 * * *

            Inspector Abberline glared across the mortuary table at Dr Phillips, and repeated the question. “Do you really think we have two lunatics running around ripping up women in Whitechapel?”

            George Bagster Phillips refrained from pointing out that Catherine Eddowes, the night’s second victim, had actually been murdered in the City of London, not in Whitechapel: he knew that Abberline was well aware of that, and was fuming because this placed it in the jurisdiction of the City Police, not the Met. This had enabled the commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, to personally destroy what might have been a vital clue, some graffiti found near a public handbasin where the murderer had left part of Eddowes’s apron. “It’s possible, but that’s not what I said,” Phillips replied patiently. “There are similarities, but there are also differences. This woman, Elizabeth Stride, was also drunk and believed to be a prostitute, as were the other victims, and died either from strangulation or from having her throat cut, either of which would have silenced her. But she wasn’t mutilated like Eddowes or Chapman –“

            “The killer may have been interrupted,” Abberline interjected. “The man who found her, Diemschutz, said her body was still warm. Nicholls wasn’t mutilated, either, and neither was Tabram.”

            “It’s certainly possible that he was interrupted. I don’t know whether whoever stabbed Martha Tabram also slashed the others – the attacks do seem to be getting worse – but I don’t think it likely.”

            “I disagree.”

            Phillips shrugged. “All I can say for sure is that Annie Chapman was killed and mutilated with a blade that was at least six inches long, narrow, and very sharp; Nicholls and Eddowes were killed with the same knife, or at least one very similar. Tabram was stabbed with something larger, possibly a sword-bayonet, as well as something as small as a pen-knife. And Stride’s throat was cut with a blade that was rather blunt, probably less than six inches long but an inch wide, with a rounded or beveled tip. That could have been done by anyone, with or without any anatomical knowledge, in just a few seconds. So if it was the same killer, he acquired a much more suitable knife sometime in the forty-five minutes between the two attacks.”

            Abberline looked sour. “The papers are already calling it a double event, and calling Stride the fifth victim, counting Tabram and Emma Smith. And we received a postcard from ‘Jack the Ripper’ yesterday, taking credit for both; it’ll be in the papers tomorrow, along with the letter we received the day before the murders.”

            “Do you think either is from the killer?”

            “More likely they’re both from a journalist who doesn’t know any more about the killer than we do. Of course, everyone has a theory. Stride’s common-law husband, Kidney, came into Leman Street yesterday, full up to the knocker, saying that he could catch the killer if he was in charge of the case, but when they questioned him, he couldn’t actually tell them a damn thing.” He stared at the body on the table. “Why does he do it? I could almost understand if he was an ordinary sadist, but all of the women were already dead when he mutilated them, weren’t they?”

            “Apart from the cut throats – maybe – yes, I’m sure they were.”

            “So why does someone cut up women’s bodies that are already dead? Present company excepted, of course,” he added hastily.

            Dr Phillips was silent for a moment. “Maybe it’s not about pain. He doesn’t hide the bodies, he knows they’ll be found; maybe it’s about the way they’re displayed. Maybe it’s all about fear. Maybe he just wants people to be afraid.”

* * *

            Three weeks later, Michael was back in the Ten Bells doing his best to drown his sorrows, when he thought he heard his name. He looked up, and saw that the landlord was reading from a newspaper. “What was that?” he asked, as clearly as he could.

            “The Ripper sent Mr Lusk, the cove from the Vigilance Committee, a letter and half a kidney,” the landlord repeated. “He said he’d taken it from his last victim, and ate the other half.”

            “Catherine Eddowes,” said Thomas Bulling, reclaiming his paper. “The Ripper did take one of her kidneys.” Mr Memory nodded his agreement.

            “Bloody hell,” said Esme. “What sort of nutter takes a bloody kidney as a keepsake?”

            “Maybe he was signing his work,” said Bill, who was sitting opposite Michael. “Maybe Kidney’s his name.”

            Michael, white-faced, tried to lurch to his feet, then held onto the table to steady himself. “You saying I’m the Ripper?”

            Bill held up his hands in a placatory gesture. “Nobody’s saying that. You can’t be the only bloody Kidney in London.”

            “They usually travel in pairs,” said Bulling.

            There were some subdued chuckles at this, but most of the pub’s clients, atypically silent, waited to see whether a fight was about to erupt. Michael stared at the carter, then sat down again. “I spoke to the jacks. They know it wasn’t me.”

            “I know,” said Bill. “It was just a joke.”

            “Not very bloody funny.”        

            “A bad joke,” Bill conceded. “I know you’re not the Ripper. I know.”

             Michael grunted, and looked Bill in the face, still wanting to erase that faint smile with one good punch… and then, in what was either a flash of drunken delusion or horrible sudden clarity, he realized how Bill knew.

            I know it wasn’t you, the smile seemed to be saying, but I also know that you killed Long Liz. That’s why I took the other whore’s kidney – I thought it would lead the jacks to you, but they’re too bloody stupid to pick up a clue, even one as obvious as that. But whether they think you did the others or not, you can’t prove I had anything to do with it and they can still hang you for Long Liz, so I wouldn’t go talking to the jacks again or trying to claim any rewards if I was you.

            Michael stared helplessly as Bill finished his beer and walked out of the pub. The Ripper stopped briefly to exchange a few words with the once-pretty redhead standing outside, then vanished into the thick October fog.

 

This story originally appeared in The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Stories.


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