Home > Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(9)

Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(9)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Not to be outdone, I lifted my chin. “If that’s what you want, then, you’re permitted to call me Audrey Rose. Or Wadsworth.”

Uncle stared up at the ceiling rose, sighing heavily. “Back to our murder, then,” he said, removing spectacles from a leather satchel and securing them on his face. “What else have either of you got for me besides the promise of a splitting headache?”

“I have a new theory on why this act was more violent than the last,” I said slowly, a new puzzle piece slipping into place in my mind. “It occurred to me the scenes appear to be tainted with… revenge.”

For once, I held their attention—as if I were a corpse with secrets to divulge.

“During our lesson you said first-time killers most likely start by murdering those they know.” Uncle nodded. “Well, what if the murderer knew Miss Nichols and couldn’t really let himself go as wild as he’d hoped? It’s as if he wanted to exact revenge, but couldn’t bring himself to do it once it came down to it. Miss Nichols was not as viciously mutilated as Miss Annie Chapman had been, leading me to believe Miss Chapman was unknown to our murderer.”

“Interesting theory, Niece.” Uncle absently stroked his mustache. “Perhaps Miss Nichols was murdered by her husband or the man she was living with.”

Thomas took up my uncle’s favorite habit of pacing in a wide circle around the room. With each movement he made, the scent of formalin and bergamot wafted through the air, creating a strange aroma that was both unsettling and comforting.

“Why is he taking their organs, though?” he muttered to himself. I watched silently as the gears twisted and ground their way through the maze of his brain. He was fascinating to study, no matter how much I pretended to detest that fact.

As if a light had illuminated the dark, he snapped his fingers. “He has a deep hatred for women, for what they represent to him, or something from his past. Somewhere along the line, a woman disappointed him greatly.”

“Why attack prostitutes?” I asked, ignoring Uncle as he cringed at my improper word choice.

“First, they’re easy, opportunity-wise. They also follow men into dark places eagerly.” Thomas walked closer, his attention landing on me for the briefest moment before moving on to the cadaver. “Maybe he fears the threat they pose. Or perhaps he’s some sort of religious zealot, ridding the world of whores and harlots.”

Uncle slammed his hands down on the table, causing a specimen jar to slosh onto the wooden surface. “That’s enough! It’s improper enough to be teaching Audrey Rose such things, we needn’t use vulgarity in the process.”

I sighed. I’d never understand the way a man’s mind worked. My gender didn’t handicap me. Yet I was blessed that Uncle was modern enough to allow my apprenticeship with him, and so I would tolerate these minimal annoyances.

“I apologize, sir.” Thomas cleared his throat. “But I believe if your niece can handle dissecting a human, she can handle intelligent conversation without fainting. Her intellect, though nowhere near as vast as mine, may prove useful.”

Thomas cleared his throat again, preparing himself for Uncle’s backlash, but my uncle quietly relented. I couldn’t help staring, open-mouthed, at him. He’d actually defended me. In that annoying, roundabout way of his. But still. Seemed I wasn’t the only one experiencing growing respect.

“Very well. Do go on.”

Thomas glanced at me, then took a deep breath.

“He loathes these creatures of the night. Loathes they’re alive, selling themselves. I wager the one he loves or loved has likely left him. Perhaps he feels betrayed in a way.” Thomas picked his tea back up, taking a careful sip before setting it down again. “I wouldn’t be surprised if his wife or betrothed committed suicide—the ultimate act of leaving him.”

Uncle, returning quickly to his scientific mind-set, nodded. “He also feels he’s entitled to take what he wants. Literally. He paid for it, after all. In his eyes, he’s telling these woman exactly what he’s after, therefore they’re willing participants in his…”

“Murders.” A sick feeling tied bows in my stomach. Someone was running about the streets tricking women into agreeing to be butchered. “Is it possible he’s living out a fantasy?” I asked, thinking aloud. “Perhaps he’s trying to play God.”

Thomas almost fell over from stopping so short. He twisted on his heel and crossed the room in a few short strides. Clutching my elbows, he kissed my cheek, rendering me both speechless and scarlet.

My focus shot to my uncle as I touched my cheek, but he said nothing of this inappropriate behavior; his mind was latched on to murder.

“You’re brilliant, Audrey Rose,” Thomas said, eyes glittering with admiration. He held my gaze a moment too long to be polite. “That’s got to be it! We’re dealing with someone who thinks himself a god of sorts.”

“Well done, both of you.” Uncle’s eyes shone with renewed hope and near certainty. “We’ve secured a possible motive.”

“Which is what?” I asked, not fully following the motive they were talking about. I was having difficulty thinking of anything other than Thomas’s lips on my cheek, and the grotesqueness of our conversation.

Uncle inhaled deeply. “Our murderer is using his religious views to determine these women’s fate. I would be unsurprised if he were some closet crusader or perhaps he’s a failed clergyman, killing in the name of God.”

A new realization sat heavy upon my breast. “Which means there could be more victims.” And a lot more blood before this was through.

Uncle shared a haunted look with Thomas, then me. Words needn’t be said.

Scotland Yard would laugh us into the asylum if we went to them with this theory. And who would blame them? What would we say—“A mad priest or clergyman is on the loose, killing because God ordained it, and all of London won’t be safe until we find a way to stop him”?

My uncle was famous, but people still gossiped behind his back. It wouldn’t take much for him to be seen as a man driven to murder from picking apart the dead like a carrion scavenger. People would cross themselves and say a prayer he lived out his days peacefully in a faraway place, preferably in solitary confinement.

Thomas and I wouldn’t fare much better in the vote of public opinion. Our work was considered a desecration of the dead.

“It’s essential we tell no one of this,” Uncle said at last, removing his spectacles and pinching the bridge of his nose. “Not Nathaniel. Nor friends or classmates. At least not until we can prove ourselves to the police. For now, I want you both to scour the evidence we’ve collected. There has to be some clue we’re missing, anything at all we can use to identify the perpetrator before he strikes again.”

The murderer truly must be a madman if he thought what he was doing was helpful or righteous. And that thought was more terrifying than any other.

A knock came at the thick wooden door, followed by a servant bobbing a quick curtsy at my uncle. “Mr. Nathaniel Wadsworth is in the parlor, sir. Says it’s urgent he see his sister straightaway.”






Nathaniel was pale as a corpse when I rushed into Uncle’s stuffy parlor.

The dark greens and blue swirls of the wallpaper were meant to inspire a sense of tranquility, but did little to calm my brother. Sweat trickled down his brow, staining a ring around the starched collar of his shirt. His hair was as wild as his eyes; severe dark circles marred his normally flawless complexion. My brother hadn’t slept all night, it seemed, but the sorry state of his hair worried me the most.

I gathered my skirts and collided with him halfway across the room, ignoring the way the boning on my corset dug painfully into my ribs. He wrapped me into an uncomfortably tight embrace, tucking his chin to my neck and breathing deeply.

“You’re all right,” he whispered, half mad. “Thank the heavens, you’re all right.”

I pulled back slightly, peering into his eyes. “Of course, I am, Nathaniel. Why would you assume I wasn’t?”

“Forgive me, Sister. I just learned of the second murder and where it occurred. I knew the victim wasn’t you, but couldn’t shake the sense of foreboding gripping my heart.” He swallowed hard. “Imagine my worry. You haven’t the best history when it comes to sound judgment. I feared you’d been lured away someplace dreadful. The day has already been unkind to our family. I couldn’t help fearing the worst.”

“Why wouldn’t you think of finding me here sooner?” I asked, clutching the last unraveling thread of my patience. How infuriating having to deal with such doubt all the time. If I were a man, Nathaniel certainly wouldn’t be treating me as if I were incapable of looking after myself. “You know I spend most of my time with Uncle. Surely you can’t have been running aimlessly around the streets all afternoon. And what has the day done to our family that’s so horrid?”

Nathaniel’s features twisted with anger. “Why indeed would I be flustered? Perhaps because my sister cannot bother to remain indoors like a normal, decent girl!”

At first his words stole the breath from me. Why must I either be docile and decent, or curious and wretched? I was a decent girl, even if I spent my spare time reading about science theories and dissecting the dead.

I drew myself up, sticking my finger in his chest. “Why in heaven’s name would I leave a note Father could find? You know how he’d react to discovering my lies. Have you gone completely mad, or is this just a temporary spell of insanity?” I didn’t allow him a moment to respond. “Thank goodness it seems to affect Wadsworths born of only the superior gender. My lowly womanhood shall save me from you brutes yet. Now what is this nonsense about the day? Has it anything to do with Father?”

The fight drained from my brother as swiftly as it had come. He stepped back, rubbing the tension from his temples.

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