THE ACCOMPLICE

By J. T. Seate




Autumn 1888 – Whitechapel

 

Do you know what its like to feel immortal? Of course not. That lofty platform is reserved for those who take the reigns of life and death from the creator and place it into their own capable hands, much like a painter or wordsmith who attempts to embellish creation with passionate sonnets, or splotches and swirls of pigment on canvas. Like these artisans, I have dreamt of being an extraordinary man, revered by my colleges, and hailed for my contributions to mankind, a man basking in the light of success and praise. And I am pleased to say a portion of my dream has been realized even if it must hide amidst the shadows. My acts have been given to a nameless phantom the public fancies as Leather Apron, or Jack the Ripper, names chosen not by me, but by wags working for the London tabloids. But no matter. My work speaks for itself. Jack the Ripper Strikes Again, the presses print without any thought of the craft employed to render the service. Be that as it may, my accomplice and I find our crusade compelling.

The ill-fated women stand before me. They breathe with less than saintly sighs until their miserable beating hearts are stilled by my hand. And then it comes, the exultation of extreme accomplishment, carried higher by the frenzied, primal acts of self-indulgence. It is then my specialty is performed, exhibiting the talent for which I am recognized as well as vilified.

Unfortunately, self-preservation then comes into play and I must leave my canvas behind, but not without a memento. I take some small part of the dead thing with me. I deserve that much for immortalizing the body from which the organ is removed. My accomplice and I once again become mere mortals, players in the continuing farce of existence.

I shall not name myself. Jack the Ripper will have to suffice, but I will tell you that I am a trained professional and practice medicine at one of London’s prestigious hospitals. I am assistant to a renowned surgeon and good at what I do. I witness the ebb and flow of life on a daily basis, not unlike the mighty rivers that flow through the cities of Europe in which I have lived. My chemical dependency began in Warsaw, my native home. At first, it was something to help me through the long hours of cadaver study, and later, to help deal with the sufferings of living patients with twisted faces and tortured wails. I have seen the scourge of syphilis and consequently, have formed few intimate relationships.

My first residency was at the School of Medicine in Glasgow. From there, I made my way to London. Like so many western cities, immigrants of all types and flavor flood in, but none quite like me. My slight Eastern European accent gives me an added quality of mystery which comes in handy now and then. How I’ve managed to finance my travels and ongoing education is a tale for another time, but should fate ever cause my detainment, it will no doubt come to light.

I live simply. I seldom eat…oh, an occasional kidney pie and an ale in a tavern, but it is my other appetites that sustain me — my work, my barbiturates, and my proclivity for carving. There are no piles of books or knick-knacks to clutter my room in the boardinghouse owned by an elderly spinster. Within my sanctuary, my world is tidy and straightforward. I often sit alone and play out different scenarios to my life and guess at what society’s reactions might be. My life as a physician is one that requires dedication, yes, but my other compulsions require a change of scenery every few years.

There is little ornamentation to my life other than the admittance of a young woman to whom I have provided a bit of adventure. She is a prostitute and still turns tricks in her own lodgings far away from my residence, and equally far from redemption. Still, I have shared more than narcotics with her. I have allowed her to watch as I butcher sinful women of the night. A female as an accomplice is the perfect ruse, you see, and like me, fear is no longer an emotion she carries. It was stripped away in her youth.

As a physician, there is much to see; wounds, intestinal ruptures, inevitable sepsis, deteriorated organs, an unending list of maladies. But how much more there is to discover with flesh not yet in such a detestable state, where only moral decay has taken effect. Within the hospital, people suffer greatly before dying. My streetwalkers do not. Though not painless, my method is quick with little more than a slight whimper squeezing from a convulsing voice box. A simple mind is a trap. Better to set it free, a maudlin existence changed into an epiphany.

My accomplice and I hide in the shadows like hungry, vigilant wolves looking for a target, a victim to wander away from the herd, waiting for the smallest sign of vulnerability. Then I strike. Mary Nichols was put down in Buck’s Row, and then Annie Chapman in the backyard of Number 29, Hanbury Street. Elizabeth Stride was a different situation. Had it not been for my accomplice’s alert, an approaching passerby might have walked upon the scene. On that occasion, I had to settle for slitting her bloody throat and fleeing in the rain. The interruption hadn’t set at all well. It was left to Catherine Eddows to fulfill my mission the same night at Mitre Square.

Reports are larded with rumor and embellishment. Fogs of gossip in churches and pubs give my handiwork an almost supernatural tone. How exquisite it all is. The authorities believe I attack from the rear, unseen until the throats are slashed, but that is not the case. I want them to see the man who is ending their miserable lives. I pause long enough to study their unremarkable sad faces with their silly hats held in place with scarves that are the most colorful thing about them. I focus on the body inside the veneer of their clothes, the blood and muscle beneath the penetrable tissue. Then I cut and slash, my blade in control, doing what is not allowed in the hospital. Although I admit I have often been tempted to put certain patients out of their misery. But for now, the ladies of the evening suffice. The knife was their way to salvation. I exhibit no rage, only solemn commitment. I respond to a haunting siren’s call and sometimes hum a Polish tune my mother sang to me while I cut away.

When the work is finished, I signal my accomplice. I remove my blood-spotted coverlet and cram it into her tapestry bag for her to wash. Then I place whatever part of the woman I might fancy in a piece of cloth within my black bag. I keep them temporarily, long enough to indulge myself in the privacy of my austere abode. I do not leave false clues. The words written on a wall; that was my accomplice’s doing.

Then the two of us are off. On one occasion, we passed strolling bobbies showing courtesy by touching their fingertips to the brim of their helmets, just a man and his sinful companion walking away from what appears to be no more than a bundle of rags. Safely away, my harlot returns to Spitalfields. I flag a hansom and, within its cabin, slowly come down from the rush of achievement as the horse clip-clops toward my boarding house. That is all there is to it.

It seems Scotland Yard is talking to every known sex offender and all the blokes arrested in Whitechapel for drunkenness with little result. The authorities are fools. They occasionally need to be stirred up, have their noses tweaked, and stew in their contempt and terror. There is a rumor that members of the Queen’s family occasionally look for services found in the squalid section of the city. How desperately amusing.

I also spend time walking the city, but it isn’t peaceful contemplation I seek. I pick up a handful of publications to see what terrible calamity they are either reporting or forecasting. The collective mania suggesting the worst for the remainder of the century intrigues me, all the more so since my own exploits have gained considerable recognition. I also rather enjoy the guilty pleasure of reading the Penny Dreadfuls.

London has its share of impressive edifices to dazzle modern man and would have him think of order rather than chaos. But it is the ravages of an age I see. Dead women’s bones speak to me. Voices of runaway hungry girls who thought little of themselves, their eyes dark sinkholes of despair, lives spent without meaning. Many have grown into something less than human, something that ignores the sense of danger for a few shillings. My accomplice has expressed it. “Once the worst has happened, the place where fear begins is lost. Only scar tissue remains.” I am able to relate, and only I have come to her rescue. Only I have shown her other possibilities. I plan to see her only twice more. Once in my lodgings, and once in…

Now she has arrived, standing in my room with a small package. It could be anything—a pair of gloves from an emporium, something from the bake shop. But it is neither. She places it on a table before me, her eyes shining with conspiratorial pride. I open the package, unfold the cloth, and smile at what is inside.

“Better than a kidney, as good as a womb. No internal cutting necessary. You did well, Missy.”

“Tit for tat.”

“Indeed. Tit for tat. How did you feel?”

“At the moment they breathe their last, I feel like I might be the Queen of England. I stand over them for an instant, until inside of me, it becomes like nothing.” She paused, reliving the moment. “Then I complete my work just as you have instructed.”

The murders of two men was the completion of her apprenticeship. “Men who indulge their pleasure from darkened alleys or fornicate in filthy beds are no better than the tramps that please them,” I had instructed her.

Only once had she offered a disparaging word during the course of her transformation. “You have the coldest eyes I’ve ever seen,” she told me. I took heart in telling her they were merely calculating, an important distinction to those of us who see a great purpose to our lives, acts that define our nature.

It was on London’s east side that our paths crossed. I saw a girl growing old before her time, her soul lost in the pit of debauchery, yet something burned inside, something pleading for more than the life of harlotry. That spark of want convinced me to take this waif under my wing and give her a sense of mission, the chance to feel extraordinary.

She has come a long way from the dirty faced urchin I’d found amongst the miscreants prowling the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields. Beneath the grime, I also saw the hardness and resentment of her status. Away from the dustbins, a pretty face with eyes the color of Burmese Jade lurked there as well. I am no fool. I insist she wear a cloak with the hood held tightly around her face when she visits. She is to speak to no one. Let anyone who might take notice think her a woman of mystery, but I doubt anyone has. In boarding houses, people come and go like ants to their underground labyrinths.

She has now committed two acts alone. The slightest of smiles creeps across my face as I study the package’s contents for nothing is more satisfying than an apt pupil. Well…almost nothing. I can only trust she has learned my methods of stealth. Her syntax speaks to more than a common slut. My interest in her was validated by her sharp mind and tongue. Just as my nocturnal activities are a righteous dalliance, my accomplice’s taste for blood has become equal to my own. She has both killed and maimed. In the package lies the proof.

She notices the daily laying on the table next to her parcel. “Anything in here yet?”

“Read for yourself.”

She picks up the paper. “Look ’er. It says ‘with callus cold-bloodedness,’ and ’er, ‘dispassionate evil.’”

“I’m amazed you read so well considering your humble beginnings.”

“I didn’t start out where I ended up, but you know that. You know everything about me.”

It was true. I know her inside and out, everything except her methods of false passion when she plies her trade. There was no doubt she would welcome me between her thighs as quickly as anyone on the street that offered a pound or a pint of ale for her charms, but a seduction is not my métier. The night she kissed the back of my neck I knew it must end. Physical intimacy or even infatuation has no place in our partnership. I do, however, finance a once a week trip my youthful accomplice makes to a doctor. In addition to money, I gave her an alias to accomplish the task, and insist on a written doctor’s report with each visit. All my efforts would have been wasted should she become infected or ill. “You must remain free of social diseases, or our partnership is at an end,” I told her. She has followed my instructions in every way which makes my plans for her all the more prophetic.

“Are you pleased with my acquisition?”

Returning from my reverie, my attention moves from her prize back to her. “Of course, but it is uncertain retribution. How much better to give them the blade, see the expression of terror and then the ebbing of their lives. That is the just punishment. But I must say, you have a knack for symbolism.”

“Let their privates hang from the tower,” she suggests.

I had prepared the narcotics for her visit. This was an occasion to celebrate. “Take it down to the furnace and destroy it,” I tell her. “Keepsakes are not for us. We are not fetishists.”

 

* * *

 

I have recently turned thirty-two years of age and rutted with only two women, both prostitutes. I did not achieve orgasm on either occasion. That pleasure was arrived at only through self-abuse which I prefer to the acrobatics of intercourse. I found the liaisons to be little more than expeditionary, my harlots’ passageways too often entered. Women are of little use other than to procreate, and most of them have no business doing that. These two I killed.

My third victim was in Scotland before coming to London. Her playacting at pleasure, with false moans and low cries, I found obscene. I took a part of her with me, soon learning that nothing quite satiated my passion like the aid of one organ or another after a kill.

My trained eyes take note of everything as I tramp along the cobblestone streets into areas of London where the neighborhoods grow ever more shabby and sordid. Along my path are tatty storefronts followed by a string of roach-infested flophouses and tenements surrounded by the smell of rotting garbage. I pass humans scuttling about like hungry rats, and drunkards shambling along with unstable waddles. These are places where evil thrives, where narrow streets consisting of towering structures seem to lean ominously inward like great sleeping beasts, enveloping the pathways below, allowing only minimal sunlight to find buildings coated with industrial soot. Alleyways sparsely lit by faulty gas lamps fan out like spider webs where people who have sunk to their lowest level might debase themselves further. Yes, this is the place where I can perform services to mankind beyond the confines of the hospital.

One might think my proclivities owe their origins to some terrible or uncommon event. Nothing could be further from the truth. A depraved wretch who delights only in carnage I am not. I am quite the opposite. There are scientific words for my motivation, but few would understand my high calling and even fewer agree with my tactics. I am no fiend, no compulsive madman. My actions do not haunt my dreams with rent bodies or spilled blood, or rage. I consider myself a professional who makes rational decisions with a cool head. I am a moral executioner, a noble assassin, the provider of imminent justice. There is no telling how many will be saved from social diseases with each elimination.

My accomplice’s tactics have worked on unsuspecting swells from uptown, but my work on the curmudgeons who live in the East End is a horse of a different color. Better to make an example of those who struggle through life dallying nightly in vulgar activities. Although my accomplice’s aptitude is quick and cunning, and her company amusing, I cannot depart London without the fait accompli. Her knowledge is her death warrant and I shall treat myself to a final display of my craftsmanship before sailing to America where a new position at a large hospital and a new life await.

I do not deny my vanity and admit to some embellishment of my motives. Perhaps I just like the rapture of killing and observing the critical moment of transition. The unwritten pages of my life will play out and eventually tell an intriguing tale. New York is sure to be as fertile a hunting place as London. A cleansing will be needed in the alleyways of its slums for I know, as surely as winter yields to spring, I shall accomplish what is needed. These plans are unknown to my accomplice, and for one evening, I have offered her the world.

“I’m going to let you assist me tonight, Mary Kelly. You may help the master at his work.”

 With my words, she at first looked shocked, and then gleeful. I knew she had not expected such an honor, but her time has come.

“I’ll collect you around midnight.”

 

* * *

 

My accomplice lives in a squalid, rented room. She has been off and on again with a lowly fish porter, but that appears to be over. I resent the unselfconscious way in which harlots go about their lives and detest the catchy nicknames they give one another. Mary has her share; all of them beneath her, if that is possible considering what she is. More than once, I have questioned my good sense in forming such a relationship, but as for my other habits, I never question nor feel regret.

At present, Mary shares her room with another trollop, but there is to be no one there whenever I visit, for it is from her room we set about to perform our nocturnal deeds. Even though I have convinced her I am sending her fellow gutter-sluts to a better place, I have not encouraged her to stop the practice of prostitution, for I never had the intention of supporting her, nor for there to be knowledge of our strange liaison. Believing in the rightness of my convictions, she wanted to experience the same rush as I, something even better than the euphoria that comes with the injections we share, and I have provided such stimulus. Convincing her that the men, the procurers of women’s bodies, are as guilty as the recipients of their lust, she desires to catch up with my body count. I understand the longing to do it again, only better. The more blood she spills, the further she is removed from her guilt, tit for tat.

Her two killings were a noble start, but they lack a flair for the dramatic. Great artwork cannot be explained. Genius cannot be summarized. Those without a true gift will be prenticed all their lives. Besides, she is still one of them, cleaner and prettier perhaps, but a harlot nonetheless. And I plan to honor her peculiar position of someone in my confidence with a hallmark to savagery, a lasting impression for Londoners to remember me by. I’m even bringing her a special gift: a packet of chocolate bourbons purchased at a corner Turkish shop, a token with which to begin this final dance.

So I go to her squalid room where a crucifix bearing a suffering Christ hangs. It is accompanied by two candles, one bearing the image of the Virgin Mary and the other, the likeness of some grimacing saint. The scene is always worth a chuckle. These are not symbols of love and peace, but representations of the eternal battle with Satan, the fight that festers in every man to one degree or another. Is the Dark One any worse than Catholics who believe bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ, thus turning themselves into cannibals? I think not.

God…the devil, two gods competing for the minds and souls of men. Take your pick. One must take savage action to perform a proper sacrifice for either. If anyone knows the futility of prayer, it should be my companion. The room’s sainted crew will have something different to see this night. The Irish are a superstitious lot. I will tell her to have no fear. If there is a hell, it is surely overflowing and Satan will soon re-populate the earth with the fallen.

Death, the fulcrum of our relationship must now come full circle. This will be the climactic scene, the end of the three-act play that will lead to her inevitable destiny. I will make her death quick as always, yet memorable in the horror of the ceremony to follow. That will take time. But first, I shall deliver magic from inside my black bag, its gravitational pull already calling my name. We will chase the dragon together. Then I will provide her with the supreme experience. Her neck will open with a dark wet smile. The entire room will be transformed into a crimson wound, a poignant closure. She will become a sacrifice on the altar of a decadent society, my finest work to date, a sublime creation.

Contradictions in both life and death abound. My heart begins to beat like the wings of a trapped bird. The night is my friend. My blood pounds like a war drum. I will be remembered here, but self-preservation calls me to a distant shore. How glorious might such a future be with heroic pages yet to be written. My mind is possessed by such thoughts as I rush to Miller’s Court off Dorset Street in Spitalfields to the vermin infested room, an appropriate secretive location not amenable to traffic, anxious to begin for there is so much to be done.

The time has come to create. Tonight, I might even sing while I work.

 

* * *

 

On the morning of April 24th 1891, a woman's body was discovered in a cheap hotel in New York City. She had been murdered in a most vicious manner. Her stomach had been cut open and her intestines strewn about. Most shocking was the fact that some of her female organs were missing. The prostitute had been seen going into her room with a male client the night before. People remembered that she was drunk and giggling while the man had been silent and grim. It was reported he carried a case much like that of a doctor.

The details concerning the mutilation would never have been made public if not for a tabloid insider leaking the similarities between the New York City murder and those in London’s Whitechapel district known to have been committed by the infamous Jack the Ripper. The matter intrigued the public temporarily, but nothing more about the incident was allowed to be written, or about several homicides to follow. The last thing needed in the burgeoning metropolis was a panic.




J. T. Seate is author of eight stories in the popular Inspector Basham series.  “Turn About” (November, 2012), “Letting Off Some Steam (July, 2013), “The Case of the Open Grave” (October, 2013),  “Basham's Theory” (April, 2014), “St. Andrew’s Cross” (August, 2014),  “Cat and Mouse” (December, 2014), “Winds of Change” (March, 2015) and The Chopper (April, 2015).

Nine non-series stories have also been published here on omdb! — “The Return”  (October, 2015), “Moments To Remember” (June, 2015), “Light My Fire” (March, 2015), The Thompson Kid” (December, 2014), “The Songbird” (August, 2014), “The Constant Reader” (April, 2013), “Mask” (March, 2013), “Montezuma's Revenge” (January, 2013).

The author’s other publishing credits include six novels/novellas, a dozen one-author anthologies, and more than two hundred short stories and memoirs.

Recent publications can be found at www.melange-books.com and www.museituppublishing.com for those who like their tales intertwined with the paranormal. See it all at www.troyseateauthor.webs.com and on amazon.com. You may also wish to visit the author's blog.


Copyright © 2015 J. T. Seate. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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