“The air was chilly, and the sky was cloudy while whispers and footsteps filled the streets of the Whitechapel District. A dark, heavy cloud had hung over the residents since the early morning. The bars were already filled with men and women alike, drowning their fears in bourbon. They all paid no mind to a lone figure, cloaked in black, shambling down Hanbury Street.”
The air was chilly, and the sky was cloudy while whispers and footsteps filled the streets of the Whitechapel District. A dark, heavy cloud had hung over the residents since the early morning. The bars were already filled with men and women alike, drowning their fears in bourbon. They all paid no mind to a lone figure, cloaked in black, shambling down Hanbury Street.
A crowd had gathered around a dwelling, nothing more than a single-fronted complex, and a commotion could be heard from behind the building. The figure pushed his way through the onlookers, earning himself some dirty looks. He was eventually greeted by a young bobby and a few barriers, but was seen before he could slink past both.
“Sir, you can’t go in there,” the young bobby stated.
He seemed quite familiar with that phrase. However, the dark figure continued to press on and calmly walked into the dwelling.
The frantic voices from behind faded as the figure made his way around the furniture. There were the sounds of distant chatter, groaning wood floors, and the shuffling of the figure’s coat. Ahead of him was a passage that radiated cool air and pale, gray light. The figure did not pass through, but merely stood there until someone called out to him.
“What are you doing here, Blackford?” a coarse and vulgar tone fired at him.
“My job,” Blackford deflected.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and hopped off the stoop. His beady eyes scanned the scene before him: police dogs, a distraught Abberline, a corpse. Blackford’s eyes narrowed.
“How was she found?” he asked.
“Look down,” his companion replied.
Blackford did so and was greeted by the sight of dried blood.
“What’s that supposed to mean? ‘Hmm’.”
“Before you go to spare, how was your morning, Cunningham?”
“My morning? I’d oughta’ conk you, but you look shabby enough,” Cunningham sighed. “If you must know, my morning’s been nothing but chaos since the body was found.”
“They found it just before six, didn’t they?”
“Yeah… She’s been cut open too. Makes me think that we’ve got a killer,” Cunningham glanced from side to side.
“How bad was it?” Blackford pressed, his voice hushed.
“Ugh, just thinking about it makes me sick. It’s disgusting, it is.”
“Can I have a look?”
“Are you daft? I can’t just let you waltz around a crime scene, Blackford. Especially when you reek of a tavern floor.”
“That’s Inspector Blackford to you, chap.” Blackford reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an open envelope.
An orange wax seal marked with a falcon was prominent.
“And, I’m appalled that you would even imply that I look anything less than spectacular.”
Cunningham looked Blackford up and down. Black trench coat, black cahill, black gloves, and a ghostly white complexion. He had pale blonde hair and stubble, brown, sunken eyes, and a demeanor so impish, he could test a priest’s patience.
“So, he put you up to this? I should’ve expected this. He’s always sticking his blue-blooded nose where it doesn’t belong.”
“That’s why I’m here. Now, step aside, Cunningham, I’ve got a job to do.” Blackford lightly pushed Cunningham back, much to Cunningham’s chagrin. Blackford whisked his way past inspectors and bobbies alike, becoming uncomfortably close to the mangled body of what was once a woman. He kneeled down and saw how her tongue protruded, he saw the bruises across her skin, and the bloody wounds that had killed her. She’d been an older woman, short and stout, dressed well enough.
“Her name was Annie Chapman, born Annie Eliza Smith. She was a prostitute who lived in that very building,” Cunningham’s voice explained from behind him. “Found by her neighbor. Can’t imagine what he must be feeling.”
“Well, I know that I’m feeling ill-informed.” Blackford stood up and sauntered back over to his companion. “This should help,” he said as he snatched the papers out of Cunningham’s grasp.
“Hey! Give it here!” Cunningham objected.
“Now, now, Cunningham, don’t cause a scene in front of a lady,” Blackford teased as he glanced down at the papers.
His expression turned serious as he skimmed through the pages. To have such anatomical knowledge… perhaps someone’s gone and decided to play doctor?
“This will do. That Abberline should be of help. So, don’t let this queer your pitch.”
Blackford stuffed the papers back into Cunningham’s hands. He pulled down his hat, straightened his gloves, and was about to leave, before turning around and saying, “The ‘Leather Apron’ will definitely strike again. This wasn’t his first, and it won’t be his last.”
The door to the townhouse screeched open and was slammed shut almost instantly. The interior was dark and cramped, lit only by a few oil lamps. The painted wood carvings had faded, and the entire entranceway smelled of mildew. But, it was quiet, and that was all that mattered.
Heavy black boots shuffled and clunked along the stairs. Leather gloves creaked along the railing. Blackford stopped once he reached the top, taking a quick peek over his shoulder before continuing to his abode.
He pulled out his keys and slowly unlocked the door, but paused for a second before opening it. He grabbed the handle and opened the door with a flourish.
“Darling, I’m home!” Blackford called.
The comment just hung in the air as Blackford was greeted by silence. He laughed quietly to himself before hanging up his hat and coat and locking the door behind him. The gin bottle thunked as Blackford placed it on the table. He loosened his tie and made his way over to the kitchen to grab a glass. He passed by his windows along the way and stopped. At the end of the block, just before the turn, he saw what looked like a carriage. Not uncommon, but this one was different.
It was too ornate, too well maintained. Gold painted details, full white horses, a finely dressed coachman and footman. The passing pedestrians’ attention was caught by it for a moment, before they quickly turned a blind eye to it. Blackford decided best to ignore it for now, no one seemed to have exited it yet.
The kitchen was drained of energy. The cabinets were crooked, the tile floor was cracked, the windows were unwashed, and everything was caked in a thin layer of dust. The vermillion wallpaper still remained intact, however. Blackford thought he’d have to look into that.
He felt watched. It was that carriage again, always stalking him. Blackford wiped a bit of the window with a rag and looked out at the carriage again. Nothing.
Blackford let out a quiet sigh of relief. He stopped.
Or, perhaps he had not seen anybody exit, if they already had. A woman’s voice came from behind Blackford.
“Who do you think you’re kidding? You’re practically married to your job.”
He froze in his tracks. That sharp tongue and those silent footsteps could only belong to one person. Blackford spun on his heel.
“Hello, Mathilda,” Blackford greeted.
Mathilda stood on the other side of the doorway, still inside the parlor.
“Good day, Henry,” Mathilda replied dryly. “Here,” She held out a letter, the envelope sealed with that all too familiar brand. “It’s from my lord, Morristan.”
“I know who it’s from, I can see it perfectly clear.” Blackford gingerly took the letter from Mathilda’s grasp.
“I was just being thorough. The way you drink, you wouldn’t even be able to tell me apart from a clydesdale.”
“It seems you’re too late, then. I can hardly make the distinction already.”
Despite what he’d said, he had to admit that Mathilda was an above average looking woman. A willowy figure wrapped in a jade bustle gown, her black hair tied into a neat, tight bun. Her cognac and shawl were laid on the back of an armchair behind her. She had dark, almond shaped eyes, thin lips, and a heart shaped face.
“What does he want this time? I’ve already told him that I’d take the case,” Blackford groaned.
“Consider it a gift from the Viscount,” Mathilda smirked.
“That doesn’t sound too friendly.”
“It’s not supposed to.”
Blackford simply sighed before beginning his search for his letter opener. He searched under stacks of crinkled and curling papers, behind novels and empty bottles, even inside his rusted stove and barren fireplace. All to no avail.
“Mathilda, do you-?” Blackford questioned as he turned towards her.
Before he could finish his sentence, Mathilda, with a flick of her wrist, presented him with a gaudy knife. It was silver with falcons carved into the blade and a lotus into the guard. To top it all off, a large red jewel had been embedded into the pommel.
With a swift slash of the blade, Blackford sliced open the envelope. He twirled the knife in his hands, holding the blade between two of his fingers. Mathilda grabbed the hilt and, with a flick of her wrist, it disappeared.
“You could make a living out of being a pickpocket,” Blackford teased.
“I have my standards, Henry,” Mathilda answered, her expression unchanging.
Blackford scoffed. “Yeah, by being some nob’s lackey.”
“You’re one to talk. Just look where you are now.”
Instead of responding, Blackford immediately turned his attention to the letter, carefully unfolding it. Scrolling black calligraphy graced the crisp page, and a floral scent wafted from it. He scrunched his nose at the unpleasant smell.
“Let’s see what his lordship has to say today.”
He held the letter taught and up to the soft light streaming in through the window.
Dear Inspector Blackford,
It has come to my attention that Whitechapel has begun to reek of blood. I urgently press you to locate and exterminate this local pest problem. Discard all that you think, here is what you must know: This “Leather Apron” has a signature. Search the inquest. Find the patterns. Bring me the killer. You have five days to complete this task. I thank you for your cooperation.
The House of Morristan
“Well, that sounds a bit threatening,” Blackford commented.
“It’s supposed to,” Mathilda replied plainly.
She turned and grabbed her belongings from the armchair. The lacy shawl was wrapped tightly around her shoulders, and her plumed cognac was tipped ever so slightly.
“My work here is done. I’d best be on my way. Good day to you Henry,” Mathilda said quietly.
Her heels clacked against the worn wood floor, echoing throughout the entire apartment.
“Are those new?” Blackford called to her.
Mathilda didn’t even look back before opening the door and sealing it shut behind her.
Looks like I’ll be paying a visit to the morgue in a few days.
Over a fortnight had passed since the murder of Annie Chapman, but there had been no trace of the killer. Blackford had looked over the inquest and morgue reports, most of which seemed consistent with any unsolved murder. Most of it. The strangest and most disturbing part of it was that Chapman’s uterus had been removed. Removed with almost surgical precision.
Blackford rounded the corner of the alleyway, shortly followed by Cunningham.
“That Chandler, that numpty thinks he can waste my time?” Blackford mumbled.
“Calm down, will you? You got what you came for,” Cunningham groaned.
Their shoes shuffled against the cobble. Blackford was a few feet ahead of his companion, walking at a brisk and agitated pace.
“He just didn’t want anyone to touch the body until the examination.”
“Touch it? He wouldn’t even let me see it!” Blackford said angrily. “People already think that I wag off during work! I don’t need him to help spread the rumor.”
They stepped out onto the sidewalk of the main road and struggled against the current of people.
“Well, now you know as much as we do. Happy?” Cunningham asked.
“As a clam!” Blackford shouted.
They stopped in front of shop, and Blackford lugged open the large, wooden door. He didn’t even bother holding it for Cunningham. The inside was warm, welcoming, and mostly empty. The interior was mostly wood with a dirty tile floor. Oil lamps gave the room a golden glow, and the air was tinged with the sharp aroma of alcohol. The bartender switched his gaze to the new arrivals.
“Ah, you lads again,” he greeted.
Blackford couldn’t tell whether or not his smile was tired or forced.
“Your normal seats are free.”
“I can see that,” Blackford sighed.
He and Cunningham took their usual seats at the bar, a place close enough to every exit, but still hidden enough once the pub got crowded.
“What’ll it be?” the bartender asked.
“The usual,” Blackford said dryly.
“Really? That can’t be good for you. You should eat something first,” Cunningham warned.
He went ahead and ordered for both of them. A Fish-Friday meal.
“I personally prefer a nice Sunday joint,” Blackford grumbled.
“That’s your own fault for not ordering.”
The other customers filtered out, and the bartender had business to do in the back, leaving the bar deserted. The inspectors sat and ate in silence for a few moments before turning to each other.
“So, what they’re telling us is that she would’ve died anyways?” Blackford whispered.
“Yeah. Probably would’ve died of consumption by now,” Cunningham assured.
“Still, that killer is one bloody maggot. She died from asphyxiation rather than those ghastly wounds,” Blackford hushed his voice even more.
He looked over his shoulders, and Cunningham checked for any employees. Nothing.
“Ghastly wounds indeed. What kind of maniac could tear someone apart like that?” Cunningham continued.
“A maniac killing in cold blood,” Blackford murmured. “Can I trust you with my thoughts?”
Cunningham looked a bit surprised for a second before nodding his head. Blackford wanted to remark on his questionable reaction, but decided against it. For now.
“I think it’s most definitely a doctor, or at least someone within the medical field. Someone with a sick obsession with the female anatomy,” Blackford explained.
“Whitechapel is dodgy at best. I wouldn’t be surprised if we found someone truly sick hiding out there.”
Blackford saw movement out of the corner of his eye. It was the bartender making his way back over to them. Blackford turned to Cunningham and placed his finger on his own lips. Cunningham got the message and remained silent.
“I think that just about does it for today! What do you think, old friend?” Blackford asked gallantly.
“Just about,” Cunningham answered.
In a flash ,they stood up, paid their bill, and disappeared into the dark alleyways of London.
Scotland Yard was a hectic mess the next day. A letter had been forwarded to them, a letter claiming to be from Whitechapel’s newest killer. Blackford, with a bit of the viscount’s influence, had been able to weasel his way into headquarters to get a look at it.
His eyes flicked over every red letter, every smudge and fold. What he deemed most relevant he read as such:
“Dear Boss,” he said aloud. He mumbled through what he thought was nothing more than psychopathic nonsense. “I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they won’t fix me just yet. I laugh when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track.”
He almost chuckled at the next line. “That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. Blah blah blah…” he continued.
“How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games.” Blackford scowled. “Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp. I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck.”
His gazed lowered to the signature at the bottom. “Yours truly, Jack the Ripper…”
There was yet more.
“Don’t mind me giving the trade name.”
An extra message was written as well. Blackford turned the page sideways to view it. Once he did, his heart almost stopped.
“P.S. Wasn’t good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands, curse it, no luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. Ha ha.”