Pushing aside a plethora of witness statements, Abberline took up his pen and sighed as he wrote: "I beg to report..." The poised nib of his pen wavered, then came to a stop. "I beg to report... what?" he muttered wearily. He looked up from his desk, gazing unseeingly at the hissing and popping gas lamp. "Just what is the balance sheet of my investigation to date? Five women murdered, two thousand witnesses interviewed, three hundred suspects investigated, but actual Whitechapel Murderers arrested and charged - none!" Abberline passed his hand across his brow.
"Are you all right, Fred?" rumbled a deep voice from the doorway. Abberline looked up to see the looming figure of Detective Inspector Moore, his forehead furrowed with concern above his deep set eyes.
Henry Moore sat down facing Abberline. With the Herculean physique of a prize fighter, he dwarfed the short and portly Abberline. But there was no mistaking the formidable intelligence that glimmered in Abberline's hazel eyes, even above the dark bags that swelled out beneath them.
"You look dreadful, Fred," said Moore. "When did you last sleep? When did you last go home?"
"How can I sleep? How can I go home? There's a monster murdering women in Whitechapel! My own dear Emma grew up only streets away in Shoreditch!"
"Emma's hardly seen you these past two months, Fred," said Moore. "It's not a time when any woman would want to be alone. You know what the newspapers are calling it - the Autumn of Terror."
"I see Emma when I can, Henry, and in the meantime I've asked her cousin Walter to watch over her and keep her safe. Thank God she's got family in London! I know what you’re going to say - but it's the best I can do. I didn't ask for the job of catching the Whitechapel Murderer. But it's my responsibility, and I'll not stop until the monster is caged."
“They had to give the job to you, Fred, you know that," said Moore quietly. "You're Frederick Abberline. Scotland Yard's best detective. The man who caught the Tower of London bombers. Besides, you served for fifteen years in H Division Whitechapel. No one at the Yard knows Whitechapel like you. Who else could they set to catch the Ripper?"
With a sudden glint in his eye, Abberline thrust back his chair and stood up. "And I won't do it sitting here writing reports. The Whitechapel Murderer is out on the streets searching for his prey. And that's where I'll catch him!" He opened a wardrobe behind him, and took out a suit of coarse and well-worn working clothes. Henry Moore shook his head, torn between sympathy and awe for the little man with mutton chop whiskers, who looked like a bank manager, but who would go on and on like a machine until the Ripper was caught.
He said, "You know what, Fred? If you don't do for the Ripper, he'll certainly do for you."
Attired in the rough garb of a labourer, Detective Inspector First Class Frederick Abberline slipped quietly from Commercial Street Police Station into the night. A pony and trap rattled past him up the street. As the clump of hooves and the rumble of iron rimmed wheels receded, he heard footsteps on the pavement close behind him. Abberline turned to see a familiar figure hurrying after him. The man was dressed, like Abberline, in inconspicuously shabby clothes, and his pale face was flushed by the exertion of running.
"Walter!" snapped Abberline; "what are you doing here? You promised to stay with Emma and keep her safe! I can't do this job unless I know that Emma is safe!"
"It's not Emma who's in danger, Fred," said Walter Beament. "It's you!"
"Are you mad?"
"Listen to me, Fred. You've got a team of top Scotland Yard detectives, and extra beat officers on the streets. But every time the Ripper strikes, he slips through your fingers! How is that possible?"
"It's impossible to police every square foot of Whitechapel. The place is a maze of alleyways and courts."
"The truth is that the Ripper is protected. Protected by men at the very highest level - even in Scotland Yard itself! The very men from whom you take your orders! Why do they insist that you send a full report to Scotland Yard every day? It doesn't help you to catch the Ripper, but it ensures that they know every detail of your investigation. At the first hint that you're close to catching the Ripper, they'll take you off the case, using lack of progress as a pretext. Any hint that you've discovered the Ripper's true identity, and you'll have signed your own death warrant!"
"You're letting your journalist's imagination run away with you, Walter" said Abberline; "how could you know all this?"
"Because Jack told me," said Beament quietly. As Abberline turned startled eyes upon him, Beament raised his hand deprecatingly; "I didn't find him. He found me. He'd read my newspaper articles about the Whitechapel murders, and he wrote to me today care of the Central News Agency. He's sick, Fred - in his mind. He wants to stop, but he can't. He won't reveal to me who he really is. But he told me about the conspiracy that protects him."
"Walter," said Abberline wearily, "if you knew just how many troubled souls confess to any murder just to get attention..."
"He said to tell you that he is the man who stole Mary Kelly's heart," said Beament.
"What!" gasped the detective, "the man you spoke to said that?"
"What does it mean?" asked Beament.
"We kept it from the press and the public, but when the Whitechapel Murderer left Mary Kelly's dismembered body in Miller's Court, he took her heart with him. No one would know that but the murderer."
"Then the man I spoke to..."
"Where is he?" snapped Abberline.
"He's right here; in the very heart of Whitechapel. I can take you to him. But you have to come alone. We don't know who else we can trust."
Abberline only hesitated for a moment. "Come on!" he said.
The detective and the journalist hurried through the streets. On the main thoroughfare, light and noise streamed out of beer houses and gin palaces, cook shops and side shows. From one of the beer houses came the tinkling sound of a piano, and a chorus of slurred voices performing a half mumbled, half shouted rendition of a music hall favourite. Boisterous throngs milled about on the pavements outside the noisy attractions, basking in their light and warmth. But behind the main road stretched dark silent labyrinths, where the light and warmth did not penetrate. In the Autumn of Terror, the maze of courts and passages was deserted, as people barricaded themselves in their lodgings after nightfall, or fled to the light and noise of the bustling highways. It seemed to Abberline that the brightly lit main road was like a tightrope on which desperate people tottered. And on either side of it yawned a black abyss.
At length, Beament turned off the highway and led the way through a warren of alleys and courts at such a speed that even Abberline, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Whitechapel, straggled to keep his bearings. Finally, they emerged onto a narrow street, and crossed to the front door of a run down house in a row of identical properties. To the left of the door, a low arched passage led to a central courtyard. To the right, was an unlit and uncurtained window. Abberline looked up to see that the windows of the upstairs rooms, at least at the front of the house, were also in darkness. The house looked empty. But his eyes were drawn back to the narrow black mouth of the passage.
"If this is the lair of the Whitechapel Murderer, it’s horribly like finding the wolf sleeping in the fold!" he said.
"What do you mean?" said Walter Beament.
"I've seen scores of places just like this all around Whitechapel. A block of houses built around an enclosed courtyard. Only one way in and only one way out. The prostitutes favour these courtyards. They feel safer there. They think that they can keep an eye out for each other. I'll wager that most of the houses in this block are rented by prostitutes. Just like Miller's Court!"
"It didn't do Mary Kelly much good!" said Beament.
The journalist pushed on the peeling paintwork of the front door, and it swung inwards. The door was unlocked like so many amongst the decaying slums of Whitechapel. People who didn't have the money to buy food weren't likely to pay to repair broken locks or replace long lost keys, especially when they owned nothing worth stealing. But Abberline still felt an unpleasant prickling between his shoulder blades as the door swung silently open. There was darkness within, save only for the palled moonlight streaming in at the open door.
"At the top of the stairs," said Beament. "I'll wait here. You have to go up alone. Jack insisted on that."
Abberline began to ascend the uncarpeted stairs, his footsteps echoing hollowly in the empty house. If the Whitechapel Murderer is at the top of these stairs, he thought, he'll know someone's coming up, and he'll know that it’s one man alone. He found himself wishing that he had something more formidable in his pocket than a police whistle.
Abberline pushed open the door at the top of the stairs. The room was lit by a multitude of flickering candles in brass lanterns of oriental appearance, throwing deep shadows into the corners of the room. A square of rich, deep Persian carpet covered the floorboards in the centre. The far end of the room was concealed by an ornately carved wooden screen of Indian craftsmanship. Above the top of the screen, Abberline could just see the top of a door, which he knew would open onto a wooden staircase leading down to the central courtyard below. If the Whitechapel Murderer was behind that screen, he had his escape route prepared. Perhaps it was a good thing after all that he had come alone.
Abberline squared his slightly stooped shoulders, and making his voice as firm as he could, he said, "I'm Detective Inspector First Class Frederick Abberline, of Scotland Yard. And you are - ?"
The only answer was an oppressive silence. Abberline took another step forward. As he did so, he glimpsed a movement behind the carved arabesques of the wooden screen. He stopped, and the movement stopped too.
"Will you not speak?" he said. "You asked for this meeting..." Abberline stepped forward again. And again, there was a movement behind the screen. Abberline sprang forward, and gripping the wooden screen by its upper edge, he pulled it to the floor. As he straightened up, his eyes opened wide with astonishment as he found himself looking at his own reflection in a full length mirror! Then, in the mirror, he saw a long strip of yellow cloth, weighted at one end, swing round in a graceful arc, and wrap itself around his throat. A hand thrust into the small of his back, pushing him forwards, whilst the noose jerked back his head, tightening on his windpipe.
"I thought the mirror was a nice touch," hissed the voice of Walter Beament in his ear. "After all, Fred, if it wasn't for you, there would be no Whitechapel Murderer."
"I don't understand," gasped Abberline, his fingers clawing at the tightening noose.
"I've loved Emma since we were children. But then the Great Detective, came along and swept her off her feet. Eventually I realised that I could never be happy until she was mine. I knew that I needed time alone with Emma, if I were to work my way into her affections, and for that I needed you out of the way for a while. So I began a series of crimes perfectly tailored to the unique knowledge and skills of Frederick Abberline, and Frederick Abberline alone!"
Abberline suddenly flung his arms back over his head, but his scrabbling hands couldn't reach Beament. With Beament's hand pushing his body forwards and downwards, and the encircling noose pulling back against his throat, Abberline was pinioned. Struggle as he might, he couldn't break free! With a groan of despair, he grabbed again at the fabric of the noose, trying to loosen its strangling grip on his windpipe. But Beament was content to keep Abberline pinned and helpless for now, so he could prolong his hateful gloating.
"Every evening I spent alone with Emma," he sneered, "while you were scouring the streets of Whitechapel looking for Red Jack! All I had to do was rip another whore whenever the investigation looked like winding down. It should have been the perfect plan. But Emma remained besotted with her fat little detective. Finally, I realised that she could never be mine whilst you lived."
"You're mad," gasped Abberline, trying to work his fingers under the noose. He was sickened by the thought that, night after night, he had left Emma alone with this monster. Beament ignored him.
"When you're dead, I'll find some starving strumpet too desperate to stay indoors, and Jack the Ripper will do his bloody work one last time. They'll find the body of Detective Inspector Abberline in the courtyard next to the whore, and conclude that he gave his life fighting in vain to save the life of the harlot. The dead hero's widow will be consoled by her devoted cousin, and eventually she will find happiness again - when they marry. But first things first!" he snarled with sudden fury, jerking the noose tighter around Abberline's throat.
To Abberline, the room seemed to be spinning and growing darker. He cursed himself for walking so readily into the trap. He could see it all now with a horrible clarity; the story of a conspiracy to make him come alone, the screen at the end of the room to suggest a hidden presence, the thick carpet to deaden any footfall behind him. Suddenly the thought dinned in his head; how had Beament crept silently up that echoing staircase behind him, with its uncarpeted wooden treads? With every last vestige of his failing strength, Abberline brought his heel down viciously on Beament's naked foot. There was a howl of pain from behind him, and the grip on Abberline relaxed. He spun, and tore the end of the noose from Beament's nerveless fingers. Throwing it off, he gulped in the cool air, his chest heaving.
Beament staggered unsteadily on his bare feet, then limped forward, his hand reaching inside his coat to pull out something long and narrow that gleamed in the candlelight. Abberline turned, and leapt over the fallen screen. He pushed open the back door, and springing through, slammed it shut behind him. Setting his foot against the lower edge, he pulled the police whistle from his pocket. Then he hesitated. With a sickening feeling, he realised that, once the true story of the Whitechapel Murders was known, the gossips, the press, and the mob would all point their accusing fingers at Emma. Even on this monster's evidence, she was blameless. But that would not stop them from blaming her for the Whitechapel Horror, and turning his Emma into a figure of hatred and loathing.
As Abberline hesitated, the whistle silent at his lips, the door burst open, and Beament crashed into him at full tilt. Behind him, the rotten wood of the stair rail gave way, and the two men plunged to the flagstones below.
Abberline didn't know how long it was before he became aware of his surroundings again. He fought down a wave of nausea, and struggled unsteadily to his feet. Beament lay on the flagstones in a dark pool, his breathing laboured and uneven. His eyes flickered as he saw Abberline, and he reached out weakly towards the long, keen knife that lay by his outstretched hand. But before his straining fingers could close upon the handle, he fell back with a groan onto the flagstones. Abberline took three paces towards the passageway, then his legs abruptly gave way beneath him.
When the world eventually stopped spinning, Abberline found that he was lying on the cold, damp flagstones of the courtyard. He became aware of a crowd gathered about him; a crowd of women. Their faces were haggard with poverty and deprivation, or swollen with the poisonous solace of drink, their eyes deadened by despair.
From somewhere in the crowd a voice said. "I know you. You're Inspector Abberline. Did you catch him for us, Mr Abberline?"
Another voice said, "Is that him? Is that Jack?"
Abberline nodded, and gasped hoarsely, "That's Jack."
Without a word, the crowd of women moved forward to where Walter Beament lay, like a silent sea flowing up a beach. Moving as one, they bent over the feebly moving man. For a moment, the only sound was the clink and scrape of something metallic being picked up from the flagstones. Then the man on the ground began to scream. When the screaming eventually stopped, it was replaced by other, even more hideous sounds. Then, one by one, individual women turned and walked away from the group, each holding in her dark stained hands, a crimson trophy that gleamed wetly in the moonlight.
In the moments before unconsciousness claimed him again, Abberline knew that the police would never find the body. There would be precious little left to find.
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