The gentleman got off the train at the Mile-End station early in the evening and walked quickly to the street, a tight smile on his face. He had a thin, yet handsome visage that did not quite match his muscular frame and athletic stride. He wore a bowler tilted forward at a rakish angle to enhance his appearance.
He crossed the street, a black leather bag in his gloved hand, and was careful not to slip on the wet cobblestones. A cold, heavy mist was rolling up from the Thames, and he could hear the foghorns in the distance. He breathed deeply and did not shiver, for over his well-cut dark suit he wore a fine lamb's-wool cape that kept out the chill. Except for a slight headache, he felt very well indeed. Yes, it was good to be back in the East End if only for a short while, and the weather suited his need for discretion.
He signaled for a passing hansom. The two-wheeled carriage stopped, its wheels skidding in the wet. He sprang lightly into the passenger seat and leaned forward, his dark, glowing eyes alert for the once-brazen and now downtrodden. He did not foresee a problem, for the district had not changed. Odors of stale petrol and dead fish wafted up from the docks. A mantle of damp suet covered everything, diffusing even the brightest of the gas-lit streetlights.
The gentleman had the cabby take him to the north end of
Commercial Street where the sloven of gin shops and flophouses began. He paid for his ride, then moved off into the night, his stride jaunty, his mouth wet with anticipation. As he neared the dismal corner of Folgate and Commercial streets, he saw a drab harlot emerge from a low-life pub, huddle into her dirty, threadbare coat and walk dejectedly toward him. He studied the tart from the vantage of an alcove. Her face was pinched and sallow, her eyes dull, her teeth rotten. Her belly was swollen from malnutrition. The gentleman's heartbeat quickened, and he nodded imperceptibly.
He was about to call her over when he saw her look back, then hunch over and hurry away. Something was wrong. He stepped out of the alcove. The reason for her distress was a bobby crossing the street to follow her. The gentleman smiled again. He would shadow them both.
He watched her run past the coal-blackened buildings, hurry by Spitalfield's Market, then turn onto White's Row. He pursued, surprised that she had the strength to move so quickly. When he reached the narrow street that stunk of foreign vagrants, he saw her dart into an alley. The bobby kept going straight, and the gentleman allowed himself a dry laugh. So much for the bobby.
The narrow, filthy passageway twisted behind factories like a dry moat, and the gentleman found that he had to labor to keep up with her, but that was fine; it only increased his desire for the sweet slime of the alley slut. When she reached Houndsditch Road, she doubled back into a maze of side streets that seemed to lead nowhere. But the gentleman was familiar with the area; all he needed was an occasional glimpse of her slight figure to keep on the trail. He moved too rapidly and quietly to be accosted by the beggars and thieves in the damp freeze. Even the boldest would have been intimidated by his powerful arms and shoulders.
Finally, he saw her stop and lean against the dank brick of a building, her chest heaving. While she worked to get her breath, he
slipped across the street to make it appear that he was coming from the other direction. He looked up and saw that he was near the corner of Fairclough and Berner streets, and he could hear the rattle of the District Line carrying citizens more fortunate than the harlot past this, the sinkhole of London. Then he approached, letting his footsteps ring with a hint of authority. He saw her listen, then look. She quickly straightened her clothes and forced her best smile. He stopped close to her and returned the expression. He noticed hope in her eyes that had not been there a few moments ago. Then she wet her lips and made a small, uncertain gesture with her head toward a high wooden gate that served as the workers' entrance to a garment factory.
The gentleman quickly looked in all directions, turned back to her and nodded. He allowed her to take his hand and pull him through the gates into a narrow courtyard bordered by brick walls. He heard singing, and as they crossed the small space he looked up and saw that the voices came from the second story of the building next to the factory. A socialist workers' club meeting was startingâthe members were singing the “Internationale.”
They reached the back end of the factory. She led the gentleman down several steps into a cloistered area where the walls were lined with commercial-sized dust bins, some of them filled with the remnants of cheap material. He hesitated and inspected the place. Once satisfied that the cloister was ideal, he smiled. He was certain that no one would interrupt them.
From his waistcoat, he removed an ornate gold pocket watch and opened it. Also a music box, the small timepiece began playing a French lullaby, and painted on the inside of the lid was the likeness of a beautiful, dark-haired young lady. The gentleman gazed at the portrait, then carefully placed the watch on a concrete ledge above a dust bin.
The harlot faced him, opened her coat and pulled her dress and
three petticoats up to her waist. She wore nothing underneath. He shuddered with pleasure at the sight of her shaved pubis just below the slightly distended belly.
“Five bob and you can do what you like, sir,” she whispered above the second chorus of the “Internationale.”
He said nothing and handed her a gold coin. She gasped with surprise, stepped back. He chuckled. No doubt, a guinea was the most the harlot had ever received for her favors. He knew she would have accommodated him for a few shillings, but he liked it better this way. The unexpected extra money made the tarts suddenly warm and loving, the way mothers were when they got flowers on their birthdays.
This one was no different. While he pulled down his trousers, she gratefully kissed him. She tasted foul, but wasn't that the way women were? He welcomed the rancid kiss. His breath quickened. He felt her hands on his thighs. He could wait no longer.
With a guttural sound, he spun her around hard, lifted her skirts, bent her over and roughly entered her from behind, eliciting from her an agonized groan. For a guinea, she must think the pain exquisite, he mused.
He used his hands to guide her hips until she was in rhythm with his thrusts. Then he noticed that she was moving with him eagerly, her head arched back, her breath coming in quick gasps. He smiled. She was going to have an orgasm. That was fine, that was the way it should be, this, the first time.
He threw his head back and hissed through his gritted teeth. Then he closed his eyes, relaxed his muscles and let go of his feelings. His mind raced. From the blackness emerged colors and forms. The harlot writhing against him became his sister, and her beautiful face was twisted with desire despite the innocence of the lullaby. God, how he loved her. He wanted to be with her for the rest of his
life. How could they say it was wrong? How could they punish him? He would run away with her to a foreign country. They would marry and no one would know. Their life together would always be like this, it would always feel this good. There would be no othersânot for either of them. There was no need. They were one â¦ .
What was that she was whispering at the height of her passion? There had been others? He was not the first? She had lied to him all along? She had not saved her precious maidenhead for her true love?
The pastel forms in his mind took on shades of red and black, and he grunted as his climax began, his hands fumbling in his coat pockets underneath his cape.
“Touch me, sir, touch me!”
The harlot reached behind her to take his hands, but they weren't there. She groped for them, waved around for them, whimpering frantically, her body already starting to jerk spasmodically.
He was the first and only. With one hand he grasped her hair and snapped her head all the way back. He was the first and only. With the other he cut her throat from ear to ear with a postmortem knife.
The singing ended, and the gentleman released a deep breath in a long, continuous sigh. His headache was gone. Then he proceeded to cut up the harlot's corpse, working with considerable speed and expertise. When he finished, he carefully placed her parts in an empty dust bin and arranged them in a mock pose of horror. Then he stepped back to view his work, his shoes sloshing in the blood that now covered the floor of the cloister. He turned one hand a little to the left, then admired his composition much like a sculptor who was carving a bust.
Satisfied, he returned his watch to its pocket and attached the chain to his waistcoat. He started to leave, but stopped at the head
of the steps to listen for a moment. The socialist workers applauded a speaker, and then all was quiet except for the murmured voices of the meeting.
The gentleman quickly crossed the courtyard and hurried through the gate out into the street. He heard horse hoofs on the cobblestones and the telltale squeaking of the springs of a hansom. The cab stopped at the end of the block, and he saw someone get out of the carriage and walk briskly into the building, perhaps late to the meeting. He smiled at his luck, ran to the cab, hailed it and jumped inside. The cabby flicked his reins, and the horse trotted away.
Once the hansom turned onto Brick Lane, the gentleman sensed that he was out of any possible danger and relaxed. His body tingled inside with the memory of encounter. The harlot had been so willing and excited that he deemed her worthy of the creative collage he had constructed out of her bloody parts. Yes, it had been one of the most satisfying experiences for him, ever. Perhaps the best. The afterglow would keep him happy for weeks, maybe months. And when it ended, then he would return to Bethnal Green or Shoreditch.
The only problem was the police. After the news of this one got about, there would be another public outcry, probably the most massive response yet. Scotland Yard detectives would swarm around the East End for a long time. He would have to be very careful and selective in the future, a fact that he did not relish.
Perhaps it was time to leave England. He could certainly afford it. Yes, that might be a solution. Although once he killed again, people would know where he was. His style was definitely not commonplace. Perchance he would go to southern France where the women were coquettish and the police inept. He smiled and imagined using his knives on some dark-haired courtesan under a moonlit night on the beach at St. Tropez.
He heard another train in the distance, and the sound brought
him back to reality. He reached down, opened his bag, took out white rags and a bottle of cleaning fluid. He meticulously scrubbed the bloodstains off his hands and shoes, then noted with satisfaction that there weren't any on his clothes. He attributed that fact to his talented hands and surgical knowledge.
The hansom stopped in front of the Whitechapel station. The gentleman got out fully composed, paid the cabby and quickly walked inside. He bought a ticket for Mornington-Crescent and listened patiently as the clerk told him he would have to transfer from the District Line to the Northern at Charing Cross. He already knew.
What the gentleman didn't know was that the bobby who had originally followed the harlot had arrived at the intersection of Fairclough and Berner streets just as he was leaving. The bobby had become suspicious, had investigated and had found the harlot's remains in the cloister at the end of the courtyard. He had summoned his fellow officers, who responded quickly after hearing his brief report. Seven minutes after the gentleman boarded his train, the cabby positively identified him to the police. And five minutes after that the station clerk confirmed his identity and revealed his destination. Within the hour Scotland Yard had the “H” Division mobilized and was on a prowl of their own.