This story was published in the anthology From Hell to Eternity. Jack the Ripper has interested me since I was a child and stumbled across James Mason walking the East End in The London Nobody Knows. It’s called Son of Jack. Thanks to the excellent Whitechapel Society for their support and encouragement.
The day after the murder everyone was talking about Jack the Ripper.
‘They’re saying he’s a copycat,’ one of his regulars, a double espresso, said.
Finch nodded. Did the woman stare at him a moment too long or was he imagining it? She took her cup between fingertips and napkin, not waiting for an answer. Finch was like a barber. He was expected to listen and nod. No one cared for his opinions. Eric the Sweep, in his matted, yolk-stained council fleece, was second in line for his coffee. Three sugars, none of that Italian nonsense.
‘Horrible business,’ he said.
‘The police will get him,’ Finch replied.
‘They were high-class hookers weren’t they?’
Eric grew up inLiverpool. He made ‘they’ sound like D. Finch winced, but the pin-stripe suit he was serving either wasn’t listening or didn’t care.
‘We don’t know that,’ Finch said.
Eric tugged a copy of the Sun from his rucksack. It was folded over twice so Eric could stuff it in his arse pocket. Bean juice had soaked a photo of Kylie leaving a nightclub. Finch pointed at the stain.
‘Taking your business elsewhere?’
‘When you do a decent fry-up instead of lentil frigging flapjacks I’ll bring my trade here.’
Finch served two of his regulars – a man in cycling shorts who bought ginger snaps and a sour-faced woman who ordered hot chocolate and glared at Finch when he asked if she wanted marshmallows.
‘Not my fault she’s on a diet,’ Finch said when she’d skulked off.
‘Take a look. They’re all here,’ Eric said, scratching his chin.
Finch studied the page, touching each image with a fingertip.
‘They knew the risks,’ Eric said.
Finch glared at him.
‘They weren’t hookers. You can’t believe everything you read or hear. It’s some random lunatic.’
Eric raised a hand.
‘They had skirts up to their….’
He chose not to finish the sentence.
‘That doesn’t make it right to gut them like a bloody fish.’
Finch took a swig of mineral water. Beads of sweat had broken on his forehead and top lip, the way they did when he was sickening for a cold. There were two faces staring at him. And now, after last night’s double event, two question marks had been added. Black boxes filled with question marks. Coffins laid out on the page in readiness. What struck Finch was the photos the newspapers had printed. Each shot was blurred, red-eyed, badly lit or fuzzy. They were young women graduating, pulling faces inWest Endbars, their cheeks flush with alcohol. Not everyone had studio shots, but who’d want to be immortalized like this? Finch popped two aspirin through foil and swallowed them. He had barely enough water for one and the second lodged in his throat, causing him to wince as the acrid, bitter taste filled his mouth. Eric pointed at the first victim, Melissa Nugent. The photo showed her smiling in cap and gown, scroll in hand. Within two years Melissa became Lola. She had a baby boy taken away by social services and a hefty heroin habit. The blurred face was smiling but her eyes were glass. Her hair was died platinum, black roots showing. Her bottom lip was swollen and as she made to smile a trail of spit had fallen from her front teeth.
‘That’s not her anymore, is it? Just a shell really,’ Eric said.
She was found, legs splayed, throat slit, in a warehouse being converted into executive flats. The date:August 31, 1988.
‘She was a good girl. Someone got to her,’ Eric said, as if the fall from middle class comfort to filthy mattresses was a far more disturbing fate than the plight of the millions born into it.
Eric tapped the paper.
‘I’d better get on. These streets won’t clean themselves.’
Finch stared at the face of Amelie Carson-Butler. Amelie was a Parisian who’d come to London, married some minor aristocrat, then used her connections to make a killing as an estate agent at the luxury end of the market. One afternoon she’d taken a call from a Mr Hutchinson to view a penthouse apartment close toCanaryWharf. Her mobile was ringing when they found her. She was wrapped in polythene sheets, her throat slit and her stomach sliced open. The date:September 8, 1988.
New Scotland Yard was inundated with calls and letter from around the world. Police chiefs were forced to call a press conference and answer difficult questions. Was there a copycat killer on the loose? What were they doing to find Son of Jack?
It was exactly a century since Jack the Ripper had struck. The dates of the two women killed, and their initials, corresponded precisely with Jack’s first victims Mary Anne Nichols and Annie Chapman. The killer was playing; making references to 1888.Hutchinson, Finch knew, was surely a reference to George Hutchinson, one of the original investigation’s chief suspects.
Eric’s fascination with Jack began as an eight-year-old boy. His dad had fallen asleep in the armchair, pissed as usual, mouth catching flies and fingertips dragging on the shag pile. Eric had changed channels and sat fascinated watching The London Nobody Knows. He loved James Mason’s voice, the echoes of Marie Lloyd inCamden, the bizarre egg-breaking factory and the wriggling, writhing eels in the street market. Mason visited a Ripper murder scene. Eric had played that short piece of film over and over; Mason’s cane tapping on the flagstones, the filthy, litter-ridden yard, the stray mongrel dog. Mason said old people still remembered those days. It started an obsession for Eric. Course, he kept it private. That kind of thing tended to bother folk.
Finch ran a hot bath, stirring in salts leftover from Christmas. He soaked for an hour, letting the hot water seep into his bones and muscles. He’d got hold of a copy of Stephen Knight’s The Final Solution and got through it in three days. It was a decent read, but he didn’t buy into the Freemason theory. Finch had three shelves crammed with real crime books in the spare bedroom. Killing for Company, Blood Relations, She Must Have Known. And there was a whole shelf dedicated to Jack. He’d read the Son of Jack killings had led to a huge increase in sales of books about the Ripper killings.
Finch tugged on his dressing gown and slopped through to the kitchen to make coffee, leaving wet footprints on the lino. He flicked on the TV. It was an ad break. The secret lemonade drinker was making his call. Big Ben’s chimes announced the News at Ten. A cop with sharp cheekbones in a shiny, chain-store suit sat a table, fingers tapping on the cloth. Flashbulbs went off. Beside him sat a senior officer in uniform. He stared straight into the camera, unable to resist the urge to fiddle with his collar. Alongside them sat a woman holding her head in her hands, sobbing. Her husband was rubbing her shoulders, absent in his grief.
‘Is Freddie Abberline coming out of retirement?’ one of the assembled hacks shouted.
The uniform spoke first.
‘In light of yesterday’s events I don’t think that comment’s appropriate, do you?’
‘But we’re dealing with a copycat here, aren’t we? This is Son of Jack?’ the same voice said.
The cameras zoomed in on the Chief. He turned to the cop with the cheekbones who cleared his throat and began to read a statement.
‘Yesterday evening at around7pmMetropolitan Police officers were called to a new development of flats inCanaryWharf. On arrival security staff directed them to the eleventh floor where they found the body of a young woman. The woman has since been identified as Cathy Evans.’
The woman alongside them gave a stifled sob. Cathy Evans. Catherine Eddowes.
Cheekbones took a sip of water.
‘At9pmlast night officers were called to a flat inCommercial Road. The body of a young woman, believed to be in her 20s was discovered. She has yet to be identified.’
A reporter shouted: ‘Double event!’
Finch turned the television off. He poured himself a brandy, smiling. The police didn’t have a bloody clue. It was just like 1888. The woman had to be ES: Elizabeth Stride. Finch went into the kitchen and flipped over the calendar. He circled November 9 in red, scribbling the name Mary Kelly in the margin.
In the intervening weeks the police got no closer to an arrest. Someone chalked ‘The Jews are the men who will not be blamed for nothing’ on the wall of a merchant bank in the City. New Scotland Yard received hundreds of Dear Boss letters; several had attempted to write in blood. Columnists and crime writers speculated on the identity of Son of Jack. A madman, a terrorist wanting to ignite theEast End, a vengeful butcher and, perhaps most creative of all, a man with a political point to make embittered at the demolition and emasculation of theEast End. Grim headlines greeted the arrival of November 9.
PC Megan Kerr closed her eyes and imagined a mug of thick, creamy hot chocolate, a bath filled with enough suds to make Joan Collins jealous, then a glass of wine or three. She was about to complete a run of eight shifts; seven nights and a late. Heroin addicts didn’t suffer sleep disruption like that. The final shift was meant to be an easier one. Yeah, right. She’d arrested a drunk threatening to glass his mate, took statements at a domestic where chip fat had been thrown and seized four hundred-odd quid in counterfeit notes. She checked her watch.
‘Fancy knocking it on the head?’ she said.
Stan Lovell nodded.
‘Get some chips on the way in?’
For a second she imagined Lovell leaning across a checked, candlelit table dropping chips into her mouth and offering a boat of Daddies ketchup to her. She smiled. There was no significant other for Stan, but she wasn’t that desperate for company.
‘I’ll pass,’ she said.
‘Is something funny?’
‘I don’t fancy trying to kip on a plate full of cod and chips.’
Lovell turned the key in the ignition. He had a wispy hair, like a watch spring, sprouting from his chin. It put Megan in mind of high school, when the new boys had tried to cultivate facial hair.
‘Let’s Foxtrot Oscar then,’ Lovell said.
He pulled into the lay-by at the front of the nick, told her she should get home.
‘Get some shut-eye,’ he said, leaning through the driver’s window, ‘and make sure you take care.’
Megan raised an eyebrow.
‘Son of Jack,’ he said.
Megan rolled her eyes.
‘Do you want a lift home?’
She raised a hand to say goodbye.
‘I’m a big girl,’ she said.
Megan could already taste that bottle of Jacob’s Creek. She jogged across the road, narrowly avoiding a speeding black cab. When they’d rebuilt the nick they’d lost most of the car park. The price for a half decent kitchen and mess room was parking in a vacant lot with waist-high weeds and crumbling half bricks in place of tarmac. Megan walked the perimeter fence, as she always did, checking she didn’t have company. It hadn’t taken the local criminals long to work out cops were using Jennings Yard. Aerials were torn off, paintwork scratched and a windscreen peppered with air rifle pellets. Someone had spray painted Pig Pen on a tumbledown brick wall. Megan had a ten-year-old Polo with rusting wheel arches. She doubted she’d tell the difference if the local toe-rags did have a pop. She paused and listened, hearing distant sirens, a lorry changing gear and a battered drinks can running the gutter, caught by the breeze. She turned the key in the lock and stiffened. Something cold was pressed against her neck. She smelt breath like sour milk. His leg was braced hard against hers, bending her knee so she was off balance.
‘Get in and drive.’
The blade pressed harder into her flesh. She got into the driver’s seat, turning the key in the ignition. The rear door clicked open, then slammed.
‘I can’t drive with that-‘
The blade was taken from her throat. She smelt mints. It reminded her of Dad. He’d eat packets of them and splash on the Old Spice; anything to mask the drink.
‘Nothing smart,’ the voice said.
Megan tried to focus. She tried to listen, tried to think.
‘Left,’ the voice hissed.
She turned out of the car park, blinking away the tears that threatened to come. She glanced in the mirror. The man was wearing a hood pulled down over his face. He turned sideways to avoid her glance. The knife touched her cheek. She thought of her brother who’d started his first year atLeicesterUniversity, her mother baking endless cakes.
‘Faster. Come on!’
Megan put her foot down. Driving faster would draw attention. Maybe a traffic car would think she was worth a tug. She weaved across the carriageway. Sodium lamps blazed in puddles. A BMW tooted at her. The cold steel blade stroked her neck. She felt a trickle, a warm sensation. She felt sure he’d broken the skin.
‘Don’t get clever,’ he said.
Megan bit her lip and accelerated. She wasn’t dying in some filthy industrial unit or badly-lit yard. She wouldn’t be chained to a mattress. She wouldn’t be patched together by an undertaker for her mother to ID.
‘Easy. Take it easy bitch.’
Megan leaned into the driver’s door, away from the blade, gunning the engine. She had the only airbag.
He never walked through the rec at night. Blokes did things in the bushes, kids got mugged. He grabbed Murphy’s lead and whistled him. Out in the night air he whistled and blew plumes of breath at the stars. He stepped it out to get warm doing two laps of the park. He got a pint of milk from the corner shop because Arv always let him take Murphy in. He hated leaving the dog outside, knowing he was stupid and ready to make friends with anyone. Kids round here would probably feed him rat poison. He guzzled down the chill milk, watching a plane’s tail lights blinking as it began its ascent into the darkness. He wondered where it was going; thought he wouldn’t mind a trip too, if he had the cash. He was wiping his face, pinching the cream from his mouth with thumb and forefinger when he heard the screech of rubber, the scrape of metal on stone. Headlights flashed across the turf, freeze-framing the ragged outline of the football pitch against the night sky. He covered his eyes, shielding them from the blinding light. He dived to his right landing with a thud in the frosted turf as the car shot past him. There was a loud thump as the front end shot into a ditch. The horn sounded. He ran to the car. The driver’s door was open, wedged into the soil of the ditch-wall. The frosted blades of grass glittered like jewels in the headlights. He began to scramble into the ditch, palming the muddy bank to keep balance. He ducked inside. A woman in a white shirt was slumped across the wheel. The airbag had gone off, but she wasn’t moving. There was no blood. He had no phone. He climbed up the ditch, stabbing his toes into the slippery bank for purchase. When he reached the top he screamed ‘Help!’
A man walking an Alsatian stopped and stared. He called back, cupping his mouth with his hands.
‘Help. There’s been an accident,’ he shouted, but the wind blew his words back.
He dropped back into the ditch, sliding down the wet bank. He smelt petrol. The engine was still running. He felt for the woman’s wrist. Nothing. He pressed his fingertips against her neck, finding a faint pulse.
He reached to tug her arm and jumped back as an arm darted out. There was a flash of steel. He grabbed the wrist, twisting it back on itself till the bones cracked. He heard a scream, then whimpering. He unclipped the seatbelt, dragging the woman free. His heart was pounding. His legs trembled. Blue lights bounced off the car roof. He slumped against the earth bank, exhausted. His calves and thighs were slicked with thick mud. A cop called from the top of the bank.
He told the cop the guy in the car had a knife. Murphy was barking, running in tight circles around the cop’s boots.
‘What’s your name bud?’
Eric gave his name and address.
Eric was waiting for his coffee when Finch pulled up the shutter.
‘What you doing here this early? Did you wet the bed?’
Finch shut up when he saw the smile on Eric’s face.
‘They’ve caught Son of Jack,’ Eric said.
‘Not saying who it is yet though, are they? They want to make sure.’
Eric took a wooden stirrer from the counter and nibbled it.
‘They’re sure they’ve got the right man, don’t worry about that.’
Finch flicked the boiler on, set out the bowl of white sugar on the counter.
‘Go on then.’
Finch shook his head.
‘One of your mates has obviously told you something.’
Eric made Finch wait.
‘Come on, Eric. Either you know something or you don’t. Stop playing the MI5 stuff, you’re a sweep.’
Eric stared at Finch, eyes like flints.
‘The guy who did it’s a copper called Stan Lovell. I know because I caught him.’
Finch stared at Eric; then laughed.
‘Suit yourself. You’ll read about it later,’ Eric said.
Finch watched him collect his cart and drag it back up the ramp to street level.