Home > Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(2)

Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(2)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco





31 AUGUST 1888

There wasn’t as much blood as one would expect from such a violent throat slashing, according to my uncle. I barely kept up with his account of the gruesome scene he’d attended early this morning, and my notes were looking rather scattered, much like my thoughts.

“Tell me, boys,” Uncle Jonathan said, moving about the low stage in the center of the gallery, his pale green eyes pausing on mine before continuing, “what does the evidence suggest if the blood found under the body was already coagulated? Better yet, if there was barely enough blood found to fill but half a pint, what might that say about our victim’s end?”

The urge to call out the answer was a miserable beast longing to break free from the cage I’d agreed to lock it in. Instead of exorcising that demon, I sat quietly with my lips pressed shut and my hat pulled low. I hid my annoyance by scanning my classmates’ expressions. I inwardly sighed. Most of them were the same shade of artichoke and looked a breath away from vomiting. How they’d stomach dissecting a cadaver was beyond me. I subtly scraped dried blood from my nail beds, recalling the way it felt to hold a liver in my hands, and wondered what new sensation today’s postmortem would bring.

A boy with dark brown hair—as carefully sculpted as his immaculately pressed uniform—raised his hand, straight as an arrow in the air. Inkblots covered much of his fingertips, as if he were too entranced with writing notes to be bothered with delicacy. My gaze had lingered on him earlier, fascinated by the methodical way he took notes. He was nearly manic with learning—a trait I couldn’t help admiring.

Uncle nodded toward him. The boy cleared his throat and stood, confidence pulling his lean shoulders back, as he faced the class instead of my uncle. I narrowed my eyes. He was also quite tall. Could he be the mysterious visitor from last night?

“It’s rather obvious, if you ask me,” he said, his tone bordering on disinterest, “that our murderer either propositioned the deceased for illicit acts to lure her somewhere private, or sneaked up on her—as she was clearly inebriated—and dispatched her from behind.”

It was hard to tell, since he’d barely spoken yesterday, but his voice sounded as if it could be that of Uncle’s late-night visitor. I found myself leaning closer, as if proximity might spark recognition in my brain.

Uncle Jonathan cleared his throat to stall the arrogant boy and sat at his wooden desk. I smiled. Posing as a boy certainly had its merits. Talk of prostitutes always put Uncle on edge, only now he couldn’t scold anyone for speaking freely in front of me. He pulled a drawer open, taking a pair of spectacles out and rubbing smudges from them on his tweed jacket before settling them on his face. Leaning forward, Uncle asked, “Why might you believe our victim was assaulted from behind, Thomas, when most of my colleagues believe the victim was lying down when attacked?”

I glanced between them, surprised Uncle had used his Christian name. Now I was almost positive he was the late-night stranger. The boy, Thomas, drew his brows together.

Golden-brown eyes were perfectly set into an angular face, as if Leonardo da Vinci had painted him himself. If only my lashes were as luxuriant. His chin was squared, giving him a look of steadfast determination. Even his nose was thin and regal, giving an air of alertness to his every expression. If he weren’t so infuriatingly aware of his own intelligence, he’d be quite attractive, I supposed.

“Because as you stated, sir, the throat was slashed from left to right. Considering most people are, in fact, right-handed, one would imagine from the downward trajectory you described, and the statistical probability our perpetrator was indeed, right-handed, the easiest way to commit this act would be from behind the victim.”

Thomas grabbed the student sitting beside him, and wrestled him to a standing position, demonstrating his point. Chair limbs screeched against the tiled flooring as the boy struggled to break free, but Thomas held tight as if he were a boa constrictor with its prey.

“He probably placed his left arm across her chest or torso, dragged her close, like so”—he whipped our classmate around—“and swiftly dragged the blade across her throat. Once, while standing, then twice as she fell to the ground, all before she knew what was happening.”

After simulating the near beheading, Thomas dropped the boy and stepped over him, returning to both his seat and his former disinterest. “If you were to investigate blood splatter at a slaughterhouse, I’m sure you’d find something like an inverse pattern, as livestock are typically killed while dangling upside down.”

“Ha!” Uncle clapped his hands with echoing force.

I jumped at his outburst, relieved most of the class jolted in their wooden seats along with me. There was no denying Uncle was passionate about murder.

“Then why, naysayers cry, didn’t blood splatter all over the upper portion of the fence?” Uncle challenged, pounding a fist in his palm. “When her jugular was severed, it should’ve rhythmically sprayed everything.”

Thomas nodded as if he’d been anticipating this very question. “That’s quite simple to explain, isn’t it? She was wearing a neckerchief when first attacked, then it fell away. Or, perhaps the murderer ripped it from her to clean his blade. He might possess some neurosis or other.”

Silence hung thick as the East End fog as the vivid image Thomas created took life inside each of our minds. Uncle taught me the importance of removing my emotions from these types of cases, but it was hard to speak of a woman as if she were an animal being brought to the slaughterhouse. No matter how far she’d fallen from polite society.

I swallowed hard. Thomas had a disturbing way of both predicting why the murderer acted as he did and turning emotions off when it suited him, it seemed. It took a few seconds for my uncle to respond, but when he did, he was grinning like a madman, his eyes two sparks of fire set ablaze in his skull. I couldn’t stop a twinge of jealousy from twisting in my gut. I couldn’t tell if I was upset Uncle looked so pleased and I wasn’t responsible or if I wished to be interacting with the annoying boy myself. Out of everyone in this classroom, he at least wasn’t cowed by the violence of this crime. Being afraid wouldn’t find justice for the family—this boy seemed to understand that.

I shook my thoughts free and listened to the lesson.

“Brilliant deduction skills, Thomas. I, too, believe our victim was attacked from behind while standing. The knife used was most likely between six and eight inches long.” Uncle paused, showing the class about how big the blade was with his hands. Uneasiness crept into my blood. It would’ve been around the same size as the scalpel I’d used last night.

Uncle cleared his throat. “Judging from the jagged cut in the abdomen, I’d say the wound was inflicted postmortem, where the body was discovered. I’d also venture our murderer was interrupted, and didn’t get what he was originally after. But I’ve an inkling he might be either left-handed or ambidextrous based on other evidence.”

A boy sitting in the first row raised a shaking hand. “What do you mean? What he was originally after?”

“Pray we don’t find out.” Uncle twisted the corner of his pale mustache, a habit he often indulged while lost in thought. I knew whatever he’d say next wouldn’t be pleasant.

Without realizing it, I’d grabbed the edges of my own seat so hard my knuckles were turning white. I loosened my grip slightly.

“For the sake of this lesson, I’ll divulge my theories.” Uncle glanced around the room once more. “I believe he was after her organs. Detective inspectors, however, do not share my sentiments on that aspect. I can only hope they’re right.”

While discussions broke out on Uncle’s organ-removal theory, I sketched the anatomical figures he’d hastily drawn on the chalkboard at the start of our lesson in order to clear my mind. Dissected pigs, frogs, rats, and even more disturbing things such as human intestines and hearts adorned the inside of my pages.

My notebook was filled with images of things a lady had no business being fascinated by, yet I couldn’t control my curiosity.

A shadow fell across my notebook, and somehow I knew it was Thomas before he opened his mouth. “You ought to put the shadow on the left side of the body, else it looks like a pool of blood.”

I tensed, but kept my lips shut as if they’d been sewn together by a reckless mortician. Flames quietly burned under my skin, and I cursed my body’s reaction to such an aggravating boy. Thomas continued critiquing my work.

“Truly, you should erase those ridiculous smudges,” he said. “The streetlamp was coming from this angle. You’ve got it all terribly wrong.”

“Truly, you should mind your own business.” I closed my eyes, internally scolding myself. I’d been doing so well keeping quiet and not interacting with any of the boys. One slip could cost me my seat in class.

Deciding one should never show a mad dog fear, I met Thomas’s sharp gaze full-on. A small smile played upon his lips, and my heart trotted in my chest like a carriage horse running through Trafalgar Square. I reminded myself he was a self-important arse and decided the stutter in my heart was strictly due to nerves. I’d rather bathe in formaldehyde than be ousted from class by such a maddening boy.

Handsome though he might be.

“While I appreciate your observation,” I said between clenched teeth, taking careful pains to deepen my voice, “I’d like it very much if you’d be so kind as to leave me to my studies.”

His eyes danced as if he’d discovered a vastly entertaining secret, and I knew I was a mouse that had been caught by an all too clever cat.

“Right, then. Mr.…?” The way he emphasized mister left no room for misunderstanding; he was quite aware I was no young man but was willing to play along for God only knew what reason. I softened a bit at this show of mercy, dropping my disguised voice so only he could hear, my heart picking up speed once more at our shared secret.

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