Standing directly behind the Duke of Clarence, I smelt the dead whore’s scent on his collar. The surgical knife in his hand came up, then poised. Together we watched droplets of blood run down the blade before they plopped one-by-one onto the cobblestones.
In Mitre Square’s flickering gas light, the mutilated body at his feet was framed by long, wet slicks.
Bending down, the Duke hacked at Catherine Eddowes’ left kidney, severing it from the surrounding flesh. In an Aztec gesture, he held it towards the gas lamp.
My lips came close to his ear. “Sweet Catherine will be the death of you.”
Trying to spin around, he lost his footing on the blood beneath his boots. Sprawled on his back, the knife still in his hand, he shouted: “Who in God’s name are you?”
“Not in His name, Your Grace.”
The Duke’s moustache, a vain man’s affectation with waxed tips, twitched. Sculling on the Thames had given him a lean, muscular build – all the better to pin a fallen woman to soiled sheets. Rolling, he pushed himself off the ground. The knife trembled within inches of my face.
The back of my gloved hand brushed the knife aside. “Earlier tonight, I gave you a chance to run.” I dangled a nickel-plated police whistle. “When you heard the blasts, you should have abandoned both the pale throat of Liz Stride and Whitechapel. Instead, you choose to stay.”
“A Peeler?” He was fighting to stop the trembling. Defenceless trollops were more his game.
“No, Saucy Jacky. The whistle was a warning. The Vigilance Committees and the Yard are coming to get you. Liz and Catherine take your toll to four. There will not be a fifth.” Lifting off my homburg, I tapped the gutter crown with the edge of my hand. “I have a message from my client. Put away your toys and return to your cold Norfolk castle and even colder wife or come with me.”
“Never.” His shoulders went back. “Do you know ...?”
“Being Queen Victoria’s grandson must thrill the Cleveland Street pimps and their boys.” Mention of The Duke’s other hobby triggered another twitch. “I am here, Your Grace, because you are giving crime a bad name. Opium sales, prostitution, cock fighting, even pickpocketing – all down. Like an evil spigot, our savagery has turned off East London’s flow of wickedness. By year’s end, your zeal together with the vigilantes and the Rozzers will make this place safer than Vatican City. Tonight it all ends.” Whistle against my lips, I blew three long blasts.
A spectre, he slipped away through Church Passage. I stood my ground. Boots thumped on cobbles. Two of Colonel Sir James Fraser’s finest came into the square, helmets skew-whiff, lanterns swinging.
Suitably theatrical, I called out: “That way! Jack the Ripper has struck again!”
Chief Inspector Donald Swanson proved a harder man to command. Feet planted wide apart, he straddled the corpse. “And just why should I not suspect you?” His Scottish brogue was soft, menacing.
“A consulting detective’s role is to assist the authorities, not to create mischief.”
“Mischief?” He bent closer to Catherine. “This woman has been gutted and her face almost cut away. The work of a brute.” His attention was back on me. “I have seen your kind a hundred times before. Lifetaker’s eyes. Who is paying your fee?”
“Someone who believes society should have choices. Ideally, of course, men should make choices which appeal to my client. However, this killer limits such opportunities.”
Although eager to feel my collar, Swanson could not argue with one fact: the Ripper’s clothes would be as bloodstained as a Smithfield butcher’s apron. I was, at least for one night, unblemished.
Six weeks later, in unprepossessing Spitalfields room, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, scooped the last of Mary Jane Kelly’s organs into a bucket beside her bed.
“Tsk, tsk,” I said from the doorway.
“Possibly. But I have found a doppelgänger to replace you. A former rower just like you. Obviously, his social habits are not as adventurous as your’s, but he is highly motivated. Greed is such a delightful virtue.”
More twitches of the aristocratic moustache.
I gestured for the Duke to step closer. “The sooner we leave, the sooner you will meet my client.” Reaching across, I plunged my hand deep into his chest and ripped out his heart. “The Devil, as you will discover, has a wonderful sense of irony.”
Copyright © 2013 GREG FLYNN