Authors: Michael Slade
|Bed of Nails|
|Special X |
|2013 : Canada|
Isolated in the Riverside Insane Asylum is the Ripper. He believes he's
the notorious butcher who terrorized Whitechapel more than a century
ago. In the black hole of his imagination he reenacts the crimes. In the
darkness of his heart he still craves the thrill of the kill. Thank God
he can't escape. Unfortunately, in Riverside, there is no God...
has acted in over one hundred murder cases. His specialty is the law of insanity. He argued the last death penalty case in Canada’s highest court. Backed by his forensic experience, Slade’s Special X and Wyatt Rook thrillers fuse the genres of police and legal procedure, whodunit and impossible crime, suspense, history, and horror. Slade was guest of honor at both the Bloody Words crime convention and the World Horror Convention. As
puts it, “A thin line separates crime and horror, and in Michael Slade’s thrillers, the demarcation vanishes altogether.” Slade was guest speaker at the international Police Leadership Conference and several RCMP regimental dinners. As
puts it, “The Slade books have developed a strong following among police officers because of their strict adherence to proper police procedure.” For the stories behind his plots, visit Slade’s Morgue at
Also by Michael Slade
BED OF NAILS
BED OF NAILS
All Rights Reserved © 2003 by HEADHUNTER HOLDINGS LTD.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher.
Published by Headhunter Holdings Ltd.
Originally published by Penguin Canada.
Publisher’s note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Two little whores, shivering with fright,
Seek a cozy doorway in the middle of the night.
Jack’s knife flashes, then there’s but one,
And the last one’s the ripest for Jack’s idea of fun.
As I draw the knife across her neck, the clock strikes one, a single
from St. Mary’s Whitechapel, here in the East End. The chime echoes into Dutfield’s Yard from Berner Street, where it mingles with the sounds of revelry coming from the International Working Men’s Educational Club. Saturday nights are open house at the club, and as a political debate on “The Necessity for Socialism among Jews” has ended, an impromptu singsong is under way. The club is a gathering place for Russian, Polish, and German Jews displaced by the pogroms of eastern Europe, and here among close to a million people living in abject filth and squalor in the slums of London, those refugees have found sanctuary. Their sexual urges are serviced by twelve hundred whores who ply their trade in the dingy streets, one of whom I have lured into this pitch-black court, where the blood streaming out of her slashed throat now gushes onto the cobblestones of Dutfield’s Yard.
Clop ... clop ... clop ...
Berner Street runs south from Commercial Road. Dutfield’s Yard opens west off Berner Street. The yard narrows behind a pair of large wooden gates, which are still angled open so the stragglers singing in the club can exit to the street. The club occupies the right-hand side of the court, facing the terraced cottages of sweatshop tailors and cigarette-makers. To enter the court, you grope your way for twenty feet through a shroud of darkness that lies between the blind walls just inside the gates. Farther in, lights glimmer from the upper-story windows of the club onto the cottage roofs, but that seems only to intensify the gloom in the rest of the yard.
Clop ... clop ... clop ...
The horse draws nearer. It’s pulling a cart down Berner Street from Commercial Road.
Approaching wheels trundle over paving stones.
With no time to rip her, I dart into the angle between the gate and the club’s blind wall.
Clop ... clop ... clop ...
The horse turns into the yard.
Through cracks between the boards of the gate, I watch the driver enter on his pony cart. It is lighter out in Berner Street than it is within the court, and though the gas lamps have been extinguished for the night, I recognize the silhouette as that of a Jew who sells cheap jewelry by day and works as steward of the club by night. Suddenly, the pony shies away to the left, almost pitching the hawker forward onto his head. The Jew urges the frightened pony to pull straight, but the reluctant animal balks. The pony is more afraid of me than it is of the bleeding whore.
Still seated on the trap just inside the gates, the hawker jabs at the cobblestones with his long-handled whip, and when he pokes something soft and yielding with its tip, he jumps down from the cart and strikes a match for a closer look.
Knife in hand, I plan to stab him if he looks this way.
Those sulfurous fogs—“London particulars”—don’t aid my hunt tonight, but it is wet and windy enough to serve this Jack. I can see what the swag dealer sees by the guttering glow of that match, and it thrills me to wait for wide-eyed horror to twist his face.
The whore’s name is Long Liz Stride. Gaunt and scraggy, she’s a big, raw-boned woman, wasting away from hunger. Crumpled near the wall, she could be a pile of clothes: a black worsted jacket trimmed with fur over a dress of rusty black sateen. The jacket and bodice beneath are unbuttoned down her breast—as you expect with a common wench—but I had no time to dishevel the garments below. She lies across the yard on her left side, her legs in white stockings drawn up and her feet in spring-side boots against the wall. Her right arm, its hand slick and bloody, is over her stomach. Her left arm extends behind her back, its hand clutching a packet of cashews. Her bare head rests almost in line with the carriageway, and her white crepe bonnet is mired in the mud.
Jack’s idea of fun.
Perhaps the Jew thinks Liz is drunk. He reaches out to touch her face. The dead don’t come any warmer than her, and the flickering flame of the match seems to burnish her with life. Her facial features are sharp and pinched. She looks much older than her forty-odd years. All the teeth are gone from her lower left jaw, a detail exposed by her gaping mouth. The Jew’s fingers drop to the silk scarf around her neck, its checked bow tugged tightly to one side from when I cinched it sharply to stifle any cry, its bottom edge frayed from when my knife slit her throat, severing her windpipe and one carotid artery. Abruptly, a puff of wind snuffs the match, but not before the gawking hawker has light enough to see blood hemorrhaging out of the fresh wound.
Up he jumps.
Off he dashes.
That glimpse should send him screaming bloody murder into the club.
I escape up the street. Tonight will have to be a double event. September 30, 1888. A night London will remember for a long time. First came Polly Nichols, on August 31. Then came Annie Chapman, on September 8. Now Elizabeth Stride has fallen to my knife. Who will be next to face Jack the Ripper in this, my autumn of terror?
My cape billows around me as I run west toward Aldgate. Drizzle collects in the brim of my top hat and overflows in my wake. The streets of the East End form an intricate maze, but I’m familiar with their many twists and turns. Rows of rotting houses slip by on my flanks as I weave through the passages and courts with interconnecting alleys that are the crumbling ruins of forgotten slums in this dark metropolis. Only the main roads glow with gaslight, and even there the small lamps glare hundreds of yards apart. The shadows I cast swallow up chunks of their sickly illumination.
Whitechapel is a slag heap of humanity. Smoke begrimes its brick cliffs, which are pockmarked with grubby windows. Crammed cellar to roof behind each sooty facade is a welter of rags, refuse and disease, open sores and bestial faces. Beggars, thieves, fraudulent tricksters, and middle-aged drabs pack into vermin-ridden doss-houses for the night, while those who can’t afford four pence for a bed are turned out to fend for themselves in the mean streets. Outside, after dark, the East End is one vast brothel in which tired, broken-spirited harlots offer gin-puffed lips and sagging flesh to any man who wants them for a few pennies or a crust of stale bread. They trudge the cobblestones in hobnailed boots, their only homes the garments on their backs and their only possessions the measly items stuffed in their pockets.
Whores ripe for ripping with Jacky’s hungry knife.
Come and get it, luv.
Who’ll be next?
The smell of blood is in the air of my destination. Also known as Butcher’s Row and Blood Alley, Aldgate is home to the slaughterhouses and offal dumps that serve genteel Victorian London. So overloaded with death are the abattoirs that the killing of animals is also carried out in the streets. My nostrils flare and my lungs fill as I close on Mitre Square, for bloodlust fuels my occult quest.
I spot her as I turn up Duke Street from Aldgate. In the pub beside me, tipsy women dance on the sawdust-strewn floor of a raucous, rowdy bar, kicking up their legs to flash their frilly bloomers amid a chorus of appreciative hoots from the soused men. The whore staggers down Duke Street on unsteady feet, so I slow my pace to encounter her at the mouth of Church Passage into Mitre Square. I know this square, and it’s a good place for ripping.
The time is just after one-thirty on Sunday morning. Mitre Square is half a mile west of Dutfield’s Yard. I met other whores along the way as I detoured from there to here, but they were in the
place at the right time. If I’m to project myself into the astral plane, if I’m to breach the barricade to the other realm, I must sacrifice life at the final point of the cross.
I must kill here, at the
And I must do it quickly, for a police constable patrols through the square every fifteen minutes.
One-thirty saw him pass.
One-forty-five will see him return.
An odor of cheap gin wafts from the tart as we come face to face. Addiction to the bottle has ravaged her. She’s in her mid-forties, but she looks sixty to me. I’m several inches taller, so I gaze down on her bonnet of black straw trimmed with black beads and black-and-green velvet. Her black cloth jacket has a fake fur collar and three large metal buttons. The dress beneath is of a dark green print, patterned with Michaelmas daisies and golden lilies.
“’Allo, old cock,” she slurs. “A shilling for m’ cunny?”
I tip my hat.
I flash a smile. I yearn to flash my knife.
Instead, I hold up a shiny coin to lure her into the passage.
“What’s your name?” I inquire.
“Kate,” she replies.
Narrow, covered Church Passage runs between a synagogue and a school, from Duke Street to Mitre Square. Separated by another corridor in from King Street, the warehouses of the tea merchants Kearley and Tonge line the two sides of the quadrangle immediately to our right. Across the square, straight ahead, is the broad opening that exits out to Mitre Street beyond. To its left, three unoccupied cottages form a blind corner that’s the darkest nook in the empty, lonely square. That’s where I lead Kate to transact business.
Here, a high fence seals off a hidden yard. The ground is too dirty to fuck me lying down, so the whore leans back against the planked wall to service me standing up. Reaching down to grab her lower garments by the hems, she hikes up her dress, along with her drab linsey skirt, her dark green alpaca petticoat, and her grubby white chemise. I glance down to glare at what she offers me. She wears no drawers or stays above brown ribbed, knee-high stockings and laced men’s boots, so I take in the slack flesh of her pale, bare belly.
“M’ shilling?” she says.
“From hell,” I reply.
That’s when I seize her by the neck to squelch any cry. My hands grip her relentlessly until she passes out. Her pockets contain everything she owns in this world, and as she jerks, a thimble and a metal box clatter to the cobblestones. Pushing her to the ground so her head angles left, I draw the knife from beneath my cape with my right hand. Yanking the blade across her, I slice through the vessels on just one side of her neck so the initial spurts of arterial blood are directed away from me and my clothes. The seven-inch slash cuts so deep that I feel the blade scrape across buried bones. Around her neck she wears a ribbon and a piece of old, coarse white apron in place of a scarf. The blood gushing out of her turns the white band crimson.
In a frenzy, I go to work on her face. Light from the warehouse across the square glints off the steel blade as it crisscrosses through her features. It slits both eyelids. It nips off the tip of her nose. It gashes over the nasal bridge and angles down to her jaw. It peels triangular skin flaps from both cheeks. It widens her open mouth in a grisly grin. It clefts her upper lip down to one incisor tooth. It—
Clomp ... clomp ...
Out in Mitre Street?
Clomp ... clomp ...
Approaching the gap to the square.
This time, it’s not the
of horse’s hoofs.
Instead, it’s the
of flat feet.
PC Watkins, walking his beat?
Is it one-forty-five already?
My, how time flies when you’re having fun.
Again, there’s no time to rip her, but rip her I must. She’s the right person in the right place at the right time. So, careful to avoid the pool of warm blood creeping across the pavement, I kneel over the dead whore and cleave my knife into her belly just above the pubic bone. Clutching the garments she raised for me with my other hand, I shove them up so they bunch on her chest as the blade begins to rip, shearing up her abdomen like the sound of a torn sheet. To make sure she’s open, I stick and rip her several times, the steel angling and cutting upward to her sternum.
Clomp ... clomp ...
The constable is entering the square. The rays from his bull’s-eye lantern precede him as he turns in from Mitre Street. The footsteps that herald him echo behind my back. Lamplight spilling across the pavement borders the dark nook of the southwest corner, where I’m still ripping the whore.
Out come her intestines.
I heave the slimy entrails across her right shoulder.
My haste in disemboweling her has loosed a two-foot coil that flops with a telltale splat onto the cobblestones between her left arm and her body.
The smell of shit fouls my nostrils as I grip with both hands and pull her apart like curtains.
I know anatomy.
I grope around inside her.
A slice here, a slice there, and out comes her left kidney.
The cop is in the square.
I can tell by the dimming of the lantern’s light that the bull’s-eye swings away.
A horizontal cut through the membrane over the uterus enables me to yank out her womb.
Yes, that does it!
I’ve signed the cross in blood.
And through that occult symbol, I’ve opened the path to the astral plane!
The bull’s-eye is turning.
The lamplight now swings this way.
And what its glow reveals to the startled bobby is Jacky’s bloody art. The whore lies sprawled on her back, with her head inclined toward her left shoulder. Head to the wall, her feet are to the square. Her bonnet is still tied in place. Her throat yawns open from her right lobe across to behind her left ear. Blood is pooled on the pavement around her left shoulder and upper arm. Blood streams under her neck and flows away with the ground slope. With both palms up, the fingers slightly curled, her arms lie at her sides as if feeling the air for rain. Her left leg extends in line with her body. Her right leg is bent at the thigh and knee. Organs disarrayed, and two of them missing, her belly is ripped open like a pig’s in the market.
What the lamplight doesn’t reveal to the constable is
Opening the path to the astral plane allows my consciousness to fly through space and time, to intercept vibrations from the occult realm and ritually alter the wavelengths to change the here and now.
Quod superius, sicut inferius.
“As above, so below.” That’s how reality works. The basic law of Magick.