NEW YORK, PRESENT DAY
The woman’s body, her belly cut open, her throat slashed across. Bile in his throat as his gorge rose, for this wasn’t neat surgical incision, or a wound sustained in battle, but an abomination, evidence of the depravity of which humanity was capable.
Henry jumped at the sound of Abe’s voice behind him. He slumped into the chair as Abe sat down next to him, his son’s familiar presence reassuring, grounding him.
“Don’t give me that. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Abe leaned closer, squinting at the newspaper, open on the table in front of him. ‘Medical bag discovered in police archives, reigniting speculation that Sir John Williams, physician to Queen Victoria, may have been the infamous Jack the Ripper,” he read out loud. “So what?”
“I recognise the bag.”
“It was mine. I worked with Williams. I had no idea what had become of the bag.”
“You worked with a Ripper suspect?”
“He wasn’t a suspect at the time. This ridiculous allegation was only made in the last decade, by a descendant who claims to have pieced together evidence while researching the family history. It’s obviously just a crass money-making enterprise based on spurious evidence.”
“Sure about that, are you?”
“Yes.” Henry took a sip of his MacCallan, savouring its smoothness on his tongue.
“Because I saw him.”
“You saw Jack the Ripper?”
“How do you know it was him?”
“How do you think?”
Abe took Henry’s glass and drained it, then got up and poured a refill and put it on the table in front of him. He rested his hands on Henry’s shoulders and began slowly massaging towards the familiar tight spots in his neck. Henry could feel the tension draining away from him, both from the massage and from the comforting gesture.
“You want to tell me about it?” he asked gently. Henry was grateful for his restraint.
“I was practising in the East End at the time. It was beset by poverty, families forced to live in damp, decaying, crowded tenements.” He paused, jarred by an unpleasant rush of memory. “The sanitary conditions were unspeakable. The people were uneducated, barely scraping by, the local police force woefully undermanned. I was often called to attend to the injuries of crime victims… domestic abuse victims.” He could see them now, in his mind, the children with rotten teeth, bleeding scabs, the women with black eyes, or worse.
“One night there was a banging on the door, a child had come to get me because her mother had gone into labour and the midwife was drunk, or taken up, I don’t remember.” He remembered the child clearly, she was filthy, her petticoats black from the street. He’d followed her down a stinking alley, up rotten and uneven steps into a room where the woman lay, panting and cursing. He’d expected the worst, he’d learnt to, and it had been a pleasant surprise, the easy birth, the smiles of the tired new mother, another daughter, presumably, wrapping the child in a ragged blanket, the children gathered around admiring their baby brother. He’d been smiling as he ducked into Castle Alley, he remembered, looking at his fob watch, surprised to find it was not yet one o’clock, and then he’d stumbled, quite literally, over the body.
“She was staring up at me, accusing me with her dead eyes. I can’t recall how long I stood paralysed – there was no life in her, nothing I could do for her. After a while a chill crept over me, a sensation of being watched and for a moment I couldn’t move; then I looked up and there he was, his hands covered with blood, the knife in his hand still.” For a moment he was right back there in that dank, grimy alley; he could almost taste the metallic odour of the woman’s blood. He threw back his drink in an attempt to get drown it.
The ticking of the walnut grandfather clock in the corner seemed loud as Henry became momentarily lost within his own silence. Abe took the glass from Henry’s hand and refilled it. He poured himself one and sank into the seat beside Henry.
“I realised of course, what I had stumbled across, the newspapers at the time were full of speculation over the Ripper’s identity… where he would strike next.” Henry rolled the glass between his palms, staring down at the flashes of gold catching the light as the liquid sloshed about.
“What did you do?”
“You know, it was odd. I should have shouted out immediately, tried to take him down, but all I could think was—he doesn’t look like a monster. He was staring at me, but it wasn’t a look of guilt, or rage, or malice. He looked… uncomprehending.” Henry stared at his hands, reliving yet again the horror of that moment. “We stared at each other. He could not pass by me, only retreat, and the passage was narrow, and dark outside the pallid light cast by the lamp post. I heard footsteps approaching the alley, and thought then to call an alarm but then he rushed at me. He was a big man; I remember trying to raise my hand to defend myself, the stink of beer on his hot breath against my face, the wheeze in his throat, his large hands closing around my biceps and the shock of breath leaving my body as he pushed me hard into the wall. I heard the policeman’s whistle, and shouts, and saw the shadow of the man’s arm. A crushing blow to my head, pain, then his arm raised again as I attempted to raise my own arm in defence, and then I woke up in the Thames.” He smiled wryly. “Not for the first time.”
“Did you go to the police?”
“I knew that I must – the man had to be stopped. Yet, I hesitated, I admit. The police were desperate for an arrest, the papers critical of their inability to catch the Ripper. I was afraid I would be made a scapegoat. Whitechapel police at the time were not exactly known for their efficiency. I was still trying to think of a plausible explanation for my having fled the scene when the decision was taken out of my hands.”
“Inspector Reid, thank God,” Henry exclaimed, when the door finally opened to admit the policeman. “What has occurred that I am summoned, and then left to cool my heels in this dismal room?”
“Dr Morgan, you are here because there has been another murder.”
“I feared as much. May I see the body now?” Henry asked. He gathered himself to stand, but something in the fixed way Reid was regarding him, and the still presence of Sergeant Drake, looming by the door, warned him he’d best be on his guard. He settled back in his seat, attempting to project an attitude of ease.
“Dr Morgan, I have been examining your notes on the Mary Kelly murder. You state that a post mortem bruise suggests that the Ripper is a larger than average man, yet no other doctor has reached that conclusion. Do you have any other evidence to support your claim?”
“What has this to do with the latest murder? It too is definitely the work of the Ripper, then?”
“Answer the question.”
“Wait, you suspect I am responsible for these murders?” Henry said, his heart beating faster in alarm. “For what reason?” he asked, affecting bewilderment.
“Many of my colleagues, as I am sure you are aware, believe that the killer must have knowledge of anatomy.”
“Inspector Abberline mentioned as much when he called on me to inspect the body of Mary Kelly.”
“How did Inspector Abberline come to request you? You are new to Whitechapel, are you not?”
“Yes, I am working with Sir John Williams, who is aware of my interest in the potential for doctors to assist police in the identification of murderers by deciphering medical clues left on the body and at the place of death. He must have recommended my services to the Inspector.”
“Indeed?” Inspector Reid leaned over and picked up something from beside his chair. He placed the item on the table squarely in front of Henry.
“Then how comes it that your medical bag is now found by the body of another slain woman?”
Henry stared at the bag on the table in front of him. It would be little use denying ownership. The gold embossed H.M., a thoughtful personal touch when John had presented it to him as a gift, now damned him.
“You would have us believe that your medical bag, without which contents you cannot practice your profession, was lost to you three days ago, yet you felt it not worth reporting its disappearance?”
“Inspector, you know these streets, of what use would there have been my making a report? I assumed it long gone.”
“Yet it was found by detectives not six feet from where the victim lay. What odds do you give for an item lost in Castle Alley remaining there more than a half day?”
“Unlikely, I admit, yet—“
“Therefore it was placed there but recently. By whom else but one who would use its contents for evil purposes?” Reid placed his hands flat on the table and leant forward, staring intensely at Henry. “Do you know?” he asked. “A policeman was sent to summon you to attend the scene, yet you were not to be found at your lodgings an hour after midnight?”
Henry rubbed his hands over his face. He was too tired to think clearly. He hadn’t been able to sleep, roused from his restless tossing and turning by the insistent knocking of a policeman to bring him to the station, to examine a corpse, he had assumed. It had not even occurred to him that he was a suspect. He couldn’t exactly explain that he had been skulking through the streets attempting to avoid notice, stinking of the foul water of the Thames, a hessian flour bag he’d stolen from a market yard wrapped around his waist.
“I contend that you, sir, are the fiend known as the Ripper and that you were interrupted in your monstrous work by the approach of the constable, whence you fled, mislaying your medical bag as you departed—”
“Reid, that’s not—”
“—and that you had not time to return unobserved to your place of lodging and make yourself presentable before the policeman’s arrival!”
Henry didn’t dare attempt to claim that he’d slept through their first attempt to summon him. He couldn’t be sure that he had not been seen upon his return, or that they hadn’t obtained entry to his rooms and confirmed his absence. “It is true I was late returning to my rooms after I had been called to attend a patient in Whitechapel, but I was summoned to the docks,” he said. That was true enough, even if the summons was an abrupt, terrifying translocation to the river nearby. “There were no cabs to be hailed at that hour, so it took me the better part of an hour to walk home.” He was bound to have been seen by someone, despite his efforts to avoid notice. He would just have to claim he’d been assaulted, robbed of his clothing.
Reid obviously did not believe him. He slammed his hand loudly on the table. Henry flinched despite himself. “I would have the truth from you!” the Inspector roared.
Henry abandoned the idea of trying to explain his walk home. It was too improbable; he’d only make himself sound more guilty, even if he didn’t trip over his own lies. “You would not believe me, were I to say what truly happened,” he sighed, slumping in his chair.
“Do let me be the judge.”
Henry rubbed his face with hands, then clasped them in front of him on the table. “I tended a patient in Mary Street that night, then cut through Castle Alley on my way home.”
Reid sat back in his chair with a satisfied air. “I knew it.”
“I saw the woman; by the gaping wound in her throat, I knew there was no help for her. There was a man stood over her, a knife yet in his blood drenched hands. I surprised him in the act, yet he had not the look of one who has committed such an evil deed. He appeared intoxicated, whether by alcohol or opium or some other euphoriant I know not.”
Reid’s face took on a triumphant cast and he turned in his chair to the man who loomed beside him. Drake had yet to say a word. From the look of him, Henry had the uneasy feeling that were Reid to give the word, stronger means of persuasion would be used to compel him to confess. “See you, Sergeant. This tallies with my theory of a drunkard let out from the alehouses upon closing.”
“Assuming the Doctor here isn’t feeding you a cock and bull story,” said the man, folding his arms and leaning casually back against the wall. If anything, it only increased his air of menace.
“True, true.” Reid turned back to Henry and raised his eyebrows.
“The killer attacked me and I received a blow to the head which left me dazed. By the time the policeman arrived and raised the alarm he had long disappeared. I was outside of the light cast by the lamp post and as yet unseen. I knew I would have a devil of a time explaining how I came to be standing over the woman’s body.”
“So, instead, you fled.”
“I did,” Henry admitted. He didn’t think he imagined the contempt in Reid’s eyes. He couldn’t blame the man.
“But you would recognise this villain again, should you see him?” Reid pressed him.
“I would say so.”
“Sergeant,” Reid said, still staring at Henry.
“Sergeant, what do you make of this man’s testimony?”
“His description of his meeting of the man seems truthful enough,” the Sergeant said, sounding a little dubious.
“I agree, and it does fit my theory that the Ripper is a man for whom alcohol affects the brain in such a manner that he attacks these women in a fit of maniacal blood-lust.”
“But he’s lying about something. Perhaps there was no blow which rendered him near insensible; perhaps he was merely too afeared to act, and seeks to explain his inaction, lest he be accused of cowardice.”
“That may be,” Reid agreed, giving Henry an appraising look. Henry didn’t attempt to defend himself. Better to be judged a coward than convicted as a murderer.
“My own surgeon now examines the body of the victim, one Alice McKenzie,” Reid said. He pushed his chair back as he stood. “Come,” he said, looking down at Henry, “let us see what conclusions he reaches.”
Henry stood up. Sergeant Drake stood aside from the door. Henry eyed him warily as he passed, Drake’s reputation as Reid’s bulldog was well known.
For a moment Henry forgot his predicament as he took in the polished tiles, the sink with taps for running water, the electric light fixtures and the assortment of forensic equipment. “Magnificent,” he breathed.
“Something else, ain’t it?” said a voice behind him.
Henry looked at the man. “No such room existed when I was surgeon here.”
“’It’s modelled on the John Hopkins at Baltimore. I described it once to Inspector Reid, and see, this is the result.”
“You’re American,” Henry said.
The man looked at him quizzically. He was unshaven and, apart from his immaculate white apron, he was carelessly dressed. He seemed an unlikely candidate to be so valued by the punctilious Inspector Reid Henry had met during the Mary Kelly murder investigation.
Reid stepped forward. “Captain Jackson, what is your conclusion?” he asked, looking down at the mutilated body. “Are you in agreement with the physician who attended the scene, Dr Phillips, that this is not the work of our man?”
“Reid, I cannot state conclusively yea or nay as to whether this murder was done by the Ripper,” the American said. Henry assumed he must be Reid’s pet surgeon. “It has similarities, certainly, the slash of the throat, left to right, matched previous reports, as does the attempted mutilation of the groin. However, a shorter knife was used, as you can see from the shallower cuts, and no body parts have been removed.”
“That may be because he was interrupted in his work,” Reid said, turning to stare at Henry.
“That may be,” Captain Jackson said agreeably.
“I interrupted him,” Henry admitted, shaking off Drake’s arm, sparing a moment to be surprised that the man let him go, and stepping closer to the table on which the poor dead woman lay. “See here, Doctor,” he said, looking up at Reid’s medical examiner briefly, pointing, “those marks upon her chest; are they finger marks, as Phillips alleges.”
“They would seem to be so, yes.”
Reid looked disappointed. “Of a left-handed man.”
“If she was held down with the right hand in order for him to inflict the wounds, then yeah. However, if the bruises were inflicted by the man taking hold of her in order to drag her into the alley, see here.” Captain Jackson positioned his hand over the bruise in such a way as the killer might have if he had grabbed the woman as she passed him. “It’s impossible to say for certain.”
“But the size of the marks - belonging to a man at the least, 6”4’, would you say?”
“A greater than average sized hand, certainly,” Jackson agreed. He looked curiously at Henry. “What do you mean, you interrupted him?”
“Dr Morgan’s medical bag was discovered at the scene; he claims he stumbled upon the murderer but was rendered insensible and unable to raise the alarm at the time.”
Jackson studied Henry for a moment as if making his own personal judgement. “Dr Morgan, would you please put your right hand over the bruises, as you just saw me do.”
Henry did so.
“See here, Reid, this man’s hand is significantly smaller than that of the man who inflicted these marks.”
Reid peered at Henry’s hand on the woman’s skin, then looked up at Henry doubtfully. “Are you sure that it was made by the killer, and not some time earlier, by another?”
“I can tell you it was made very shortly before death occurred, that’s all.”
Reid studied Henry intently for a long moment, taking the measure of him, judging whether or not to believe in his innocence, Henry suspected. He met Reid’s eyes as openly as he could, willing the man to trust him.
“Very well, then,” Reid said at last. “You will this night accompany myself and Sergeant Drake upon a visit to the local public houses, whereupon you will look upon the patrons therein and say if any among them be the man you saw stood above the tart’s body and who, you claim, subsequently attacked you.”
Henry let go the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. Here was an opportunity not only to clear his own name, but to actually catch Jack the Ripper.
NEW YORK, PRESENT DAY
“I assume it didn’t work out like you’d hoped,” Abe said.
“Obviously.” Henry shook his head. “We scoured the pubs in the vicinity of the murders for several weeks, but I never saw the man I’d seen beside Alice McKenzie’s body.” He’d been over it a thousand times in his head, trying to see if there was anything he’d got wrong, anything more he could have done to help catch the killer.
“But they let you go? I mean, you’re not listed on Wikipedia as one of the suspects and never told me, right?”
“Very funny, Abraham.”
“Sorry, go on.”
“Eventually even Inspector Reid’s zeal faded, I think to the relief of his colleagues, Sergeant Drake and Captain Jackson. I got to know them quite well in those weeks, over pints of bitter.” Drake had been a good man, direct yet unassuming. Jackson had been more complicated. There’d been something cagey about him. Henry had even wondered for a short time if Jackson might not be like him, someone who’d been forced to change personas, forced to lie to all those around him. He’d seemed loyal to Reid though, following him sanguinely into the workmen’s pubs, and proving more than once he could hold his own when fights broke out between drunken dock workers.
“They couldn’t keep it up in the end. Working other cases during the day—Whitechapel at the time was extremely crime-ridden and its police force under-resourced—and then scouring the pubs most nights till closing time. Reid drove himself to near exhaustion—his men finally persuaded him to let it rest, out of concern for his health more than anything, I believe. Finally Reid extracted a promise from me that were I to see the man I was to send someone with a note while I kept eyes on him, or if they made an arrest I was to be on hand to identify him.”
“And that was it? They just let you go and that was the end of it?” Abe sounded doubtful, understandably, Henry thought.
How to explain the weeks spent under the intense focus of Reid’s judgement? He could only assume that Reid had come to be certain of his innocence, or he would not have been let go. “Yes,” he said plainly.
“Should we be concerned about this bag of yours turning up now?”
“I shouldn’t think so. Why?”
“What if they connect it to you?”
“It says in the newspaper that they believe it to be John Williams’”.
Abe’s brow creased. “Maybe we should go check it out, just in case,” he suggested.
“Go to London, you mean?”
Henry looked at Abe’s raised eyebrows, his too-innocent expression. Ah, yes. One of Abe’s lady friends lived in London. Sally? Sarah? He’d be able to keep better track if he was ever allowed to meet them. “My boy,” he said, leaning forward and putting a paternal hand on Abe’s shoulder. “If you want me to take you on a vacation to London, you have only to ask,” he said earnestly.
Abe huffed. “Gee, thanks Dad,” he said, and then caught Henry’s eye and grinned. Henry returned his smile, thankful as always for whatever fate had brought Abraham into his life.
WHITECHAPEL, PRESENT DAY
The special Jack the Ripper exhibit was in a little museum close to the Aldgate tube that Henry hadn’t been to before. It included many of the old favourites, but the highlight was Williams’ knife and the newly discovered medical bag, in glass case in the centre of the small room.
“Are you sure that’s your bag?” Abe asked him. “You haven’t seen it in over a hundred years.”
“Trust me; it’s seared into my memory.”
“It doesn’t have your initials on it.”
Henry walked around the side of the case, tilting his head to peer from a side angle. “See, there!” he said.
Abe came to stand beside him. He peered closely through the glass. “What?”
“There, the top corner, it’s scuffed. The embossing has come off.”
“Or been deliberately removed.”
“Why would someone do that?”
“A very good question!” boomed a voice behind them and they spun around. A portly middle-aged man in a tweed suit beamed at them, rocking back on his heels slightly. He had an expectant air about him, as though eager to be questioned.
Henry decided to oblige. “Do you know the answer?”
“Alas, we can but speculate.”
Abe rolled his eyes. “So speculate already.”
“This bag was discovered at the scene of the murder of Alice McKenzie on the seventeenth of June, 1889, in Castle Alley. Like most of the previous murders, her left carotid artery was severed from left to right. In addition, there were wounds on her abdomen, though the wounds were shallower than the previous murders, as a shorter blade was used. At the time it was believed by the detective investigating the murder, an Inspector Edmund Reid, that Alice McKenzie was one of the Ripper’s victims. Pathologists at the time were divided in their opinion as to whether this was the case, and Inspector Reid’s belief was not shared by the police surgeon at the time, who linked only five victims to the same killer, a belief that is supported by contemporary research.”
“Why did this Reid character believe this woman was one of the victims?” Abe asked.
“Inspector Reid differed from his peers in his belief that the Ripper picked his victims up at public houses, murdered them while gripped in a fit of drunken maniacal blood lust, then recalled nothing of his act the next day. Reid also believed there were, in total, nine victims.”
“Sounds far-fetched,” Abe huffed. “Was he incompetent?”
“On the contrary, Inspector Reid was a highly respected police officer, although not by the criminals, presumably.”
Abe peered into the case again. “If Alice McKenzie isn’t believed to be a Ripper victim, why is this bag part of the exhibit?”
“We’ll never know the real story. Alice McKenzie and the others not numbered among the ‘canonical five’, whether true victims of the Ripper or not, are tied up in the mythos that has fascinated scholars and curiosity seekers alike since that day.”
“You seem to know a lot about it.”
“At one time I was considered one of the foremost authorities on the subject,” the man said, with evident pride. Then his face sagged, almost comically. “However, I have now diversified my area of expertise to facilitate my work assisting police with their investigations.”
“Impressive,” Henry commented.
The man’s chest puffed out. “Edward Buchan’s the name. Perhaps you’ve read my book ‘A History of—
“—Murder in Whitechapel’,” Henry finished with him, smiling. “Yes, I have.”
“Oh, you have,” Buchan said, shaking his proffered hand, sounding surprised and pleased.
“And your previous book about the Ripper, although I believe you recanted one of your theories shortly after it was published?”
“Yes,” Buchan said, and for a moment he looked tired and old. “It was a misguided attempt to prevent a copycat from going after his last victim.”
“I thought that might have been the case—I followed the story in the newspapers.” Buchan looked surprised. “I have an interest in murder,” Henry explained.
Abe leant forward. “He meant that in a non-creepy way,” he said.
“I’m a medical examiner,” Henry hastened to clarify.
“Here in London?” Buchan said, looking intrigued.
“No, in New York.”
“We’re on vacation,” Abe said helpfully.
“Hmm,” said Buchan. “Look, I’d be happy to talk more on the subject over a pint later, if you are interested.”
“We’re not here for very long,” Abe said, taking Henry’s elbow.
“Oh well, I’ll be at the Ten Bells at 8pm if you do decide to join me. It’s—”
“—where two of the victims were known to drink, yes, I know it. Commercial Street?”
“That’s right. You do know your Ripperology,” Buchan said, admiringly.
“Yeah, well, it’s been nice meeting you, but we gotta go,” Abe said, and tugged Henry’s elbow. Henry looked at him in surprise, but Abe obviously had a bee in his bonnet about something so he let himself be dragged away, smiling an apology at Buchan as he went.
“What was all that about?” he asked, when they’d left the exhibition and were strolling through Old Spitalfields Market. They usually called in when they were in London, nostalgia mostly. It was mostly cheap mass produced imports for tourists nowadays, but every now and then they were able to pick up a genuine antique for a song, which always made Abe happy.
“Something about that guy,” Abe said, bending over to study a Victorian lamp shade. “He was way too interested in you.”
“Men occasionally do show an interest in me, Abraham,” Henry pointed out. “Possibly because of my impeccable taste in clothing,” he joked, relieved when Abe smiled, albeit reluctantly.
“Well, if you are after a date tonight, far be it from me to stand in your way, I can always give Sandy a call, see if she’s free.”
Sandy. That was her name. “By all means, call her. I’ll be fine. I’ll just have a drink with him; see what he knows about the medical bag. He wasn’t bragging, Abraham. Buchan really is the foremost Ripper expert. And if he does make a pass at me, well, it won’t be the first time I’ve gently declined such an advance.”
Abe straightened up. “I was joking about calling Sandy!” he said, poking Henry in the chest. “I’m not convinced that your stunning good looks are all that Buchan is interested in. If you insist on meeting him, I’m coming with you and that’s final.”
Henry put his arm around Abe’s shoulders and gave them a squeeze as they walked on. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said sincerely.
Buchan wasn’t alone when they arrived, and if Henry was any judge after all these years, the men with him were police officers. Abe took one look at the trio and turned around on the spot, muttering under his breath as he tugged at Henry’s arm. Henry resisted the pull, studying the dynamic. Buchan looked to be torn between nervous and smug. The well dressed, good looking one looked uncomfortable. He was taking generous sips of his cognac and periodically touched his left hand to his other wrist, as though for reassurance. The short, older man just looked pissed off, though to be fair, Henry had a feeling that might be the man’s default expression.
“Let’s go, Henry,” Abe said. “It’s a set up.”
“Indeed,” he agreed. “But what kind? I’d swear that Buchan doesn’t mean us harm, and those police officers look like they’d rather be having root canals than be here.”
“You’re going over there no matter what I say, aren’t you?” Abe said, sounding resigned.
Henry turned to him. “I have a hunch,” he explained earnestly. “I really think we should hear Buchan out.”
Abe crossed his arms. “Fine,” he said, grumpily. “But when we end up in jail or lying dead in the gutter, I get to say I told you so.”
“Fair enough,” Henry agreed, and made his way over to the table, Abe following behind.
Buchan looked up and saw them approaching and his face broke out into a relieved smile. He stood up in welcome. “Good evening, Dr Morgan,” he said, “and, er…” He looked at Abe, nonplussed. Abe just stared back at him. “What’ll you have?” he asked, looking from one to the other, rubbing his hands together.
“We’ll have what he’s having,” Abe said, gesturing at the well-dressed man’s cognac glass. Henry agreed with Abe’s assessment—this was a man who would only drink the good stuff.
“Good, good,” Buchan said. He turned to his companions. “Joe? Miles?”
“Yeah, why not? Same again,” the short man said, in a typical modern day Cockney accent.
“Yes please, Ed.” The other man’s voice was smooth, his accent polished. “Won’t you join us?” he asked them as Buchan bustled off, gesturing at the empty seats opposite.
Henry took a seat, and after a moment Abe sat too, edging his chair closer to Henry’s.
“My name is Joseph Chandler,” the man said, “and this is Miles. You’ve already met Ed, of course.”
“Yes,” Henry said. He recognised the man’s name. DI Chandler had been in charge of the Ripper copycat investigation a few years ago. The press had been highly critical of his handling of the case, which had apparently culminated in his allowing the killer to escape. It was probably just as well for Chandler’s career that the alleged killer had committed suicide shortly afterwards.
What could they possibly want with him?
“Thank you for coming,” Chandler said. “You’ve probably guessed that Ed asked you to come here tonight for a reason.”
“Yeah, we got that,” Abe said, pointedly.
“Oh?” Miles said.
“The fact that we never introduced ourselves to Mr Buchan this afternoon, yet he obviously knows who Henry is, for a start.”
“Yes and no,” Chandler said.
Miles leaned forward. “You mean to say your name really is Henry Morgan?” he asked, his tone one of complete disbelief.
Henry’s pulse jumped with sudden alarm. He kept his expression bland. “My name is Henry Morgan, yes,” he confirmed. “This is my friend, Abe.”
“Bloody ‘ell,” Miles said, shaking his head. He drank the rest of his pint of beer down in one go. The glass had been more than half full.
“I admit I am at a loss to understand your reaction,” Henry said, letting his confusion show. “Perhaps you have confused me with another man with the same name?”
Miles nodded. “That’s probably it,” he agreed.
“We have to be sure, Miles,” Chandler said. He touched his wrist with his other hand again. He looked pensive.
“Look, what’s going on?” Abe demanded, leaning forward, just as Buchan reappeared, carrying a tray with their drinks. He looked between them worriedly and then bent and slid the tray carefully on to the table. He sat down in the remaining empty chair.
“Ed works with us. He researches historical crimes to find patterns to solve modern crimes.”
“You’re police officers.”
“Yes sorry, Whitechapel division.”
“And why do you want to talk to me?”
Chandler’s fingers twitched, as though he wanted to fidget, but wasn’t allowing himself the luxury.
“Perhaps Ed should start,” he said.
Buchan looked like he was bursting to explain. He placed his glass on the table and took a deep breath. “You’re wondering why I have invited you all here tonight.”
Miles rolled his eyes. “Get on with it, Buchan!”
Buchan looked mildly flustered for a moment. Then he took a deep breath. “My interest was first aroused when I overheard Mr Morgan here and, er, Abe, in discussion at the Jack the Ripper exhibit earlier today,” he said.
“Eavesdropping, were you?” Miles asked.
Buchan looked defensive. “Absolutely not!” he said. “They were discussing a certain recently discovered medical bag, believed to have been the property of Dr John Williams, physician to none other than Queen Victoria herself. In recent years Dr Williams has been named as a suspect, although not by any Ripperologists of note. Intrigued by their suggestion that the bag had once had initials embossed on it that may have been deliberately removed, I spent the afternoon in research in the old archives.”
“I thought you already knew everything there is to know about Jack the Ripper,” Miles said, but mildly. The two of them obviously knew each other well.
“Once upon a time, I may indeed have made that claim. However since my time is now occupied studying matters pertaining to our open cases, I have not had the leisure to keep abreast of current Ripper theories.”
Buchan looked around at each of them in turn. “I was unable to discover any more information pertaining to the medical bag amongst the records kept by the detectives,” he explained. “However, I recalled that Inspector Reid numbered amongst his associates a surgeon by the name of Captain Homer Jackson, an American, late of the Pinkertons, and that this Jackson was known to be an intimate of Reid’s. I wondered if Reid might not have consulted with Jackson regarding the provenance of the item. Imagine my interest when I discovered, deep amidst notes Jackson had scrawled relating to other cases, a reference to having consulted with one Dr Henry Morgan regarding the wounds upon a murder victim. Although Jackson’s notes do not identify the victim, the description of the mutilations matches those of certain Ripper victims. That in itself is not surprising. A Dr Henry Morgan was the attending physician at the murder of Mary Kelly. He was a doctor of good reputation who worked with Williams.” Buchan puffed up his chest. “No, what is intriguing is a personal aside referencing visiting certain public houses with Dr Morgan.”
“So?” Miles said, looking unimpressed.
Henry didn’t say anything. Buchan was obviously the type of man who liked to show off his knowledge. Henry had a feeling that they would shortly know everything Buchan knew about him, without any prompting. He’d rather not risk saying anything that would incriminate him.
Chandler sighed. “Ed, you said you had proof?”
“Indeed I do!” Buchan reached down beside the table and came up with a leather satchel from which he withdrew two sheets of paper. Ceremoniously he laid them out on the table side by side.
They were sketches. One, a simple, clearly drawn portrait of a man’s face. The other, rougher, of three men sitting at a table, drinks in front of them, one of them the same man as in the portrait. A very lightly drawn background of workmen and doxies identified the setting as a pub.
The addition of a moustache notwithstanding, the man looked very much like Henry.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Miles said. “That’s probably his great grandad or whatever.”
“Ah, but that’s not all,” Buchan said. “Once I realised the potential of this discovery, if true, I did more digging. I found references to Dr Morgan that go back even further. No likenesses, but in 1815 a Dr Henry Morgan was committed to Bethlem Royal Hospital, more commonly known as Bedlam.”
Chandler rubbed his temples. “Ed, it’s a common name,” he said tiredly. “There’s probably hundreds of Henry Morgans if you look long enough.”
“Ah, but Joe!” Buchan exclaimed excitedly. “Dr Morgan was committed on the testimony of his wife after he returned, a year after he was lost at sea, claiming to be immortal. His wife feared that he would harm himself attempting to prove his claim. In Bedlam, Dr Morgan initially maintained his belief in his immortality, but after extensive treatment he recanted, claiming to have regained his senses.”
Treatment. That’s what they’d called it, that torture in the name of science. Henry put his glass down on the table too firmly, and beer sloshed over the edge. Everyone stared at it.
“What is this really about?” Henry asked. He’d assumed this was about the Ripper, no matter what else Buchan might have discovered, but to have gone so far as to researched him in particular…. This was something else.
The whole conversation seemed surreal. Buchan seemed to be leading up to accusing him of being that Dr Morgan. That in itself Morgan could accept—Buchan seemed like the type who would be a conspiracy theorist. What he couldn’t understand was why Chandler and Miles, who seemed like sensible men, were going along with it.
“Immortality, of course,” Buchan breathed.
The word hung in the air. Henry looked around at the three of them. Buchan, looking excited and expectant. Miles, doubtful still, but not calling Buchan out on his wild theory. And Chandler, clasping his hands together on the table, looking at him almost hopefully.
Henry had a feeling no matter what he said now they weren’t going to believe him. He had to try though. He couldn’t just give up his secret to these strangers. The consequences to him—to Abe, even. “You’ve decided I’m immortal and what, the three of you want to know the secret, is that it?” he asked, attempting to sound puzzled, instead of frightened. “And when I can’t give you the answer you want you’ll what? Torture me? Reveal my supposed secret to the world?”
“No, not at all,” Buchan said, looking distressed.
Abe got up. “I’ve heard enough out of these nut jobs. Henry, let’s go.”
Henry stood up. Abe put a protective hand on his shoulder. “If you don’t leave us alone we’ll file a police harassment report,” he said fiercely, glaring at Chandler. He was bluffing, of course, they couldn’t afford to draw even more attention to themselves, but Chandler and co didn’t know that, and it’s what innocent people would do. No, they’d have to run, lose themselves completely. It was long past time he changed his name for good. No more going back to his birth name out of nostalgia. For the sense of permanence—of self—that it gave him in a world that shifted faster and faster under his feet.
“Wait,” Miles said, in a more conciliatory tone that he’d used with them so far. “We’re not interested in you, so much as….” He trailed off, and Henry saw the way he looked at Chandler out of the corner of his eye, concerned, protective.
Chandler wasn’t meeting their eyes anymore. He looked as if he was lost his own thoughts, and they weren’t happy ones. The dread that knotted Henry’s stomach eased, and was replaced by a sense of… anticipation. Could it be? He sank back into his seat, barely hearing Abe’s huff of exasperation behind him, and stared at Chandler, holding his breath.
Finally Chandler looked up, and his eyes were full of dread. “I died,” he said, barely audible over the background hubbub of the pub. “At least, I think I did. I chased a suspect down an alley—”
“Instead of waiting for back up,” Miles interjected bitterly, clearly a point of contention between them.
“—and then I was stabbed. I remember pressing my hands to my stomach, trying to stop the bleeding… there was so much blood… and then everything went black and I knew it was too late, there was no way anyone would find me in time.”
Miles made a frustrated, upset sort of noise and Chandler put a hand on his arm, just for a moment, looking at him apologetically. There was clearly affection between these two men, despite their obvious differences in personality and station. Henry relaxed a bit more—this really wasn’t about him.
“I woke up in an alley half way across London,” Chandler said, as if he still didn’t believe it himself. “Naked and completely healed. I would have thought I dreamt the whole thing, except for this.” Chandler unbuttoned his shirt, revealing an ugly scar on his stomach.
Henry looked at the shadows under his eyes. He looked like he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long time. “What did you do?” he asked, neutrally, not wanting to confirm their assumption about him yet, but not wanting to Chandler to stop talking, if he thought he wasn’t believed.
“I staggered out onto the main road. It was late, there was hardly anyone around, but there was a pay phone. I called Miles and he came and picked me up.”
“We drove back to the alley,” Miles said gruffly. “There was nothing there. No blood, no clothes, nothing. We figured someone must have moved him. Cleaned up the area.”
“But we couldn’t explain how I’d healed so fast.”
“We chalked it up to some sort of miracle,” Miles said.
Abe snorted. “Just like that?”
Miles shrugged. “What else could we do?”
“And then it happened again,” Henry said, his heart beating faster. He was thrilled to finally be meeting someone like himself—someone not a 2000-year-old psychopath, that was. The implications were extraordinary. When it had been just he and Adam, he had believed they were anomalies… freaks… but here was Chandler, just newborn, as it were, as an immortal, so maybe they weren’t so unique. Maybe there were more people just like them, hiding as he had hidden, out of fear.
“Yes,” Chandler said. “Out of all things, a random mugging. A youth with a ridiculous samurai sword that was nearly bigger than he was.”
“You oughta of just given him your damn wallet,” growled Miles.
“I thought I could talk to him.”
“Yeah, well, you were wrong.”
“I’m sorry, Miles,” Chandler said, in the conciliatory, yet slightly exasperated, tone of someone who’d had this conversation many times.
“You’re going to be the death of me, Joe,” Miles grumbled. “And I’m guessing coming back from the dead isn’t an option for the likes of the rest of us.”
Chandler’s eyebrows went up. “The likes of?”
“Those of us who aren’t smooth, good looking toffs,” Miles said. “What, is there a secret club or something?”
“If there is, no one told me about it,” Chandler replied, smiling slightly.
“We were hoping you could help us,” Buchan said to Henry, hesitantly, for him. Henry looked at him. His face was creased with worry. He was obviously fond of Chandler too.
Henry hesitated. Two hundred years of secrecy and paranoia were hard to overcome. But Chandler was a good man. And with Adam out there, a looming, threatening presence in the background, Chandler had to be warned. “I’ll tell you what I know,” he said.
NEW YORK, PRESENT DAY
“I’d forgotten about them,” Henry said, watching Abe hang the now framed portrait sketch on the wall. He hadn’t exactly been able to tell Jackson not to draw him, not without potentially raising suspicion against him again. He couldn’t have imagined that Jackson would keep them, though, or that they would be unearthed 125 years later in a dusty police archive. The group picture was locked in their safe with their photos and other potentially revealing memorabilia.
Abe stepped back to stand beside him. He clapped Henry on the back. “I forgot to say, the moustache? Very dashing.”
“I haven’t had a moustache in years,” Henry mused. “Maybe it’s time I grew one again.”
“Over my dead body,” Abe said.
“I wasn’t serious, Abe,” Henry said. “There’s a time and place for facial hair, and that’s when everyone else is sporting it. That’s how to blend in.”
They studied the portrait together for a few moments. “Well, as family vacations go, that was memorable,” Abe said dryly, as they turned away.
Henry sighed. “Do you think I did the right thing?” He couldn’t help worrying. He felt exposed.
“Telling them the truth? Absolutely,” Abe said, emphatically. “Chandler’s a good man. He deserves to know what he’s in for, especially in this day and age. He doesn’t have the luxury of making the same mistakes you did; he’d be found out in no time. It’d be all over the papers. His life would be over. And that’s even before Adam gets to him.”
“You’re right, of course.”
“Chandler’s a lucky man, you know,” Abe said.
Henry stared at him in disbelief. He wouldn’t wish his affliction on anyone. Abe caught his stare and flapped his hand dismissively. “I don’t mean the immortality. I mean because he has friends who care about him, who he can trust with his secret,” he said pointedly.
“This is about my telling Jo, isn’t it?”
“I’ve been telling you for ages to just tell her already. She’s your partner, she deserves to know. Meeting Chandler and his colleagues has just proved my point.”
Henry sighed. “Maybe you’re right.”
“I’m always right,” Abe grinned.
Henry returned his smile, fondly. Abe was worried about him being alone after he was gone, Henry knew that. Perhaps he should bite the bullet and tell Jo. After all, he wouldn’t want her to find out the hard way, by watching him die. He couldn’t put her through that.
“All right,” Henry said, watching Abe’s face crease into a relieved smile. “Next time the moment seems propitious.”
Abe sighed, and heaved himself to his feet. He picked up the phone and brought it over to Henry and placed it firmly in front of Henry. “There will never be a better time to have this conversation, only worse ones,” he pointed out.
Henry looked at him. Abe put his hands on his hips. “Do it for me, Henry.”
Henry picked up the phone. “Jo,” he said, when she answered. “Would you like to meet for coffee? There’s something I need to tell you.”