Home > Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(11)

Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(11)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

“How did you see that?” I asked, eyes narrowed. “You’d already left the room.”

Thomas didn’t reveal the answer to that question, but a flicker of amusement was there and gone, so I knew he’d heard me. Spying scoundrel.

“Now, when I mentioned your poor relationship,” he continued, “your eyes darted to that ring you were absently turning round your finger. Judging from the style and fit, I deduced it was not originally your ring.”

He paused again, rechecking his suit pockets. I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was looking for, but his agitation was growing. He shook his hands out.

“Whose ring was it, one might ask? Considering the somewhat old-fashioned style, it’s not hard to believe it belonged to someone old enough to be your mother,” he said. “Since you sneak about in the late-night hours and spend time in this laboratory, coming to the conclusion your mother is no longer living and your father doesn’t know your whereabouts wasn’t hard.”

Thomas bit his lip, seeming lost for how to continue. Now I understood the way his mind worked. Cool detachment was a switch he flipped while working out problems. I braced myself for something unpleasant and waved him on. “Go on. Out with it.”

He studied my face, gauging my sincerity. “What kind of father doesn’t know where his daughter is? One who doesn’t have the best relationship with said daughter because he’s likely too consumed by his own grief or addiction to really care.”

Thomas sat forward, intrigue and possibly even esteem lighting his gaze. “How might a young woman such as yourself become obsessed with the macabre? By bearing witness to a scientific act of desperation meant to save a life. Where would you come into contact with that, I wonder?”

He purposely glanced around the room, driving his point home. “See? All the answers I sought were plainly visible. I didn’t know until now your uncle was involved with your mother’s…” He trailed off, realizing he was straying close to a sensitive subject. “Anyway. You simply need to know where to look for the questions. An easy mathematical formula applied to Homo sapiens. And behold! Science reigns over nature once more. No emotions needed.”

“Except you’re wrong,” I whispered, shaken by the level of his accuracy. “Without humans and nature, there’s no such thing as science.”

“That’s not exactly what I mean, Wadsworth. What I’m talking about is trying to solve a riddle or crime. Emotions play no role there. They’re too messy and complicated.” He leaned on his elbows, staring into my eyes. “But they’re good in other situations, I suppose. For instance—I’ve not yet figured out the formula for love or romance. Perhaps I shall learn one day soon.”

I gasped. “Would you talk this indecently if my uncle were present?”

“Ah, there you are,” he said, picking up a journal and ignoring my last question. I lifted my chair from the ground before reading through my uncle’s notes again.

Or pretended to, at least.

I stared at Thomas until my eyes crossed, trying to force some clue to rise to the surface about him or his family. The only thing I could deduce was that he was unabashedly bold, his comments bordering on impropriety.

Without lifting his head from his own journal, he said, “Not having any luck figuring me out, then? Don’t worry, you’ll get better with practice. And, yes”—he grinned wickedly, eyes fixed on his paper—“you’ll still fancy me tomorrow no matter how much you wish otherwise. I’m unpredictable, and you adore it. Just as I cannot wrap my massive brain around the equation of you and yet adore it.”

Every retort I was thinking fell from my thoughts. As if sensing the shift in the room, he glanced up. If I expected Thomas to feel ashamed by his forwardness, I’d be cursedly wrong again. Brow quirked, his look held a dare.

I wasn’t the sort of girl who backed down, so I kept my gaze locked on his. Issuing my own challenge. Two could play his game of flirtation.

“Are you quite through being a detective, then?” he finally asked, pointing to a passage in Uncle’s journal dated nearly four months prior to the first murder. “I think I’ve found something of great note.”

My skin prickled with our proximity, but I refused to move away as I leaned over and read.

The victim, Emma Elizabeth Smith, was assaulted by two or possibly three attackers, according to her own testimony in the early morning hours of 3 April 1888. She either didn’t see or, as authorities believed, purposely refused to identify the perpetrator(s) responsible for the horrific act committed on her person. An object (rammed inside her body) proved to be the cause of death one day later as it ruptured her peritoneum.

I swallowed bitter bile down as quickly as it rose in my throat. The third of April was my mother’s birthday. How horrid something so despicable could happen on such a joyous day.

A peritoneum, if memory served me correctly, was the abdominal wall. I had no idea why Thomas thought this was related when, clearly, this was an act committed by some other savage wandering the London streets. This murder occurred in April and our Leather Apron had only just begun his rampage in August.

Before I gave him a proper tongue-lashing, he pointed to the most monstrous part of all. “Yes. I found that rather disturbing the first time around, Cresswell. No need to revisit the horror again, unless you’re deriving sick pleasure from watching me nearly vomit.” I couldn’t stop the venom from injecting itself in my tone.

“Take your emotions out of the equation, Wadsworth. Having a heart that gets distracted by such frivolous things won’t aid you in this investigation,” Thomas said softly, reaching across the short distance separating us, as if he longed to touch my hands and remembered his place. “Look at it as if it were simply a puzzle piece with a very unique—albeit gruesome—shape.”

I wanted to argue that emotions were not frivolous things, but my interest was piqued by his detachment during investigations. If his method worked, it might be a useful switch to flip on and off in myself when needed.

I read the journal again, this time my focus snagging on the repugnant details in a clear manner. Thomas might be mad, but he was a mad genius.

On the surface this crime didn’t resemble either Miss Nichols or Miss Chapman. The timeline didn’t fit. The woman was still alive when discovered. No organs had been removed, and she was not a brunette.

It did, however, fit with our theory of a man driven by his desire to rid the East End of sin. She was nothing but a lowly disease-spreading prostitute, and she did not deserve to live.

Had I not already turned myself into an immovable block of ice, I was certain chills would be raking their talons down my spine.

The detective inspectors were wrong.

Miss Nichols wasn’t our murderer’s first victim.

Miss Emma Elizabeth Smith was.

SEVEN

A STUDY IN SECRETS

WADSWORTH RESIDENCE,

BELGRAVE SQUARE

10 SEPTEMBER 1888

I pushed the herbed potatoes around my plate until they formed a question mark in my gravy.

Two days had passed since my father had been escorted to the country and Thomas and I had discovered our murderer’s actual first victim. Not much progress was made in the interim. Now the space at night formerly haunted by the ghosts of things I couldn’t control was filled with questions I couldn’t answer. I swear I ate them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I thought I’d had my fill, an entire new course brimming with more questions was served on a silver platter.

Nathaniel watched me over the rim of his wineglass, his expression a mixture of worry and annoyance. Our aunt and cousin were arriving within a week, so I needed to get myself together by then. I hadn’t made for an amusing housemate, and my brother’s patience was quickly evaporating. Uncle swore me to secrecy; even if I wanted to share my thoughts with Nathaniel, I couldn’t.

Not to mention, the subject matter was hardly appropriate for the dinner table. Discussing missing ovaries, then asking him to pass the salt would be revolting for anyone, let alone a girl of my station.

I took a small bite, forcing the food down as best I could. Martha did an exceptional job making roast turkey, braised carrots, and rosemary herbed potatoes, but the aromatic scent and congealing dark brown gravy was turning my stomach. Giving up all pretense of eating the vegetables, I pushed my turkey around the crisp white plate instead.

Nathaniel slammed his glass down, rattling my own with the force. “That’s quite enough! You haven’t eaten but a few bites in the last two days. I’ll not allow you to continue assisting that madman if this is the result.”

I stared at him, fork poised over my uneaten dinner. We both knew it was an empty threat. Nathaniel broke away from our locked gazes first, rubbing circles in his temples. His suit was exceedingly fashionable this evening, made of imported fabrics and tailored to his frame perfectly. He called for a servant to bring in a bottle of his favorite wine, crafted in a year not even Father was alive in.

I could tell by the way his shoulders slumped slightly forward, as if they were growing weary from carrying a heavy load, that Father’s ill health was weighing on him.

He’d always been the more sensitive and kind one, setting every bug that found its way into our house free. Feeding each stray that ended up on our doorstep more food than it needed, while I imagined what the insides of the animal would look like should it expire. He saw a butterfly as an object of beauty, deserving to flutter about the world, sharing its multitoned splendor. I saw the shiny metal needle I longed to slide into its body, pinning it to a board for further scientific inspection.

He took after our mother.

“I cannot have you starve, Sister.” Nathaniel pushed his own plate forward, pouring himself another glass of wine from the freshly filled crystal decanter set before him. I watched, fascinated, as little spots of red splashed onto the white tablecloth like blood splattering on the walls near the victims’ heads.

I closed my eyes. Everywhere I looked there was some reminder of the atrocious acts being committed in Whitechapel.

   
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