David W. Landrum teaches Literature at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. His fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. He is also a widely-published poet and edits the on-line poetry journal, Lucid Rhythms, www.lucidrhythms.com. His story for the first issue of Alt Hist is a retelling of the Jack the Ripper story.
You can read the first quarter of the story for free below. If you would like to read more please order the first issue of Alt Hist.
The Silent Judge
by David W. Landrum
Saint Ives, Cornwall, 1928
I got word of Mary’s murder from the morning paper. My wife and I reposed at a table set with beautiful china, fresh flowers smelling fragrantly in a silver bowl in the center, tea, croissants and fruit set out for us by the serving women. The children were eating in the nursery. The morning shone sunny through the French windows that looked out on our garden. The butler brought in the paper, slightly warm from ironing. It almost fell out of my hand when I read her name. Lillian noticed.
“What?” she asked, putting cream cheese on a section of croissant.
I tried to appear unruffled.
“Something we should not discuss,” I said, laying the paper aside.
“Another one of those horrible murders?” she asked, looking down.
“It appears so.”
She sighed. “Horrible, of course—but the kind of lowlife women he victimizes put themselves in harm’s way by the disgusting lives they live.”
I did not reply. I placed my hands under the table because they were shaking so badly. My appetite had gone. I tried to rally and managed to sip a cup of tea. We ate in silence, letting the unseemly matter of Jack the Ripper recede. After a while, I asked how she felt.
“A little tired, but that’s how it was with all the other children.”
Lillian was pregnant with our fifth. She was a strong, healthy woman who bore pregnancy and birth well.
“The children are going out today,” she commented. “To St. James’s Park, I think.”
“Lovely day for it.”
“Yes,” she smiled. “I’ll go with them.”
“Don’t strain yourself.”
“The doctor says it’s good for me.”
We finished. I kissed Lillian and our children good-bye, went outside, and walked two blocks to where I could catch a cab. Once inside, I collapsed. I had folded the paper inside my coat. As the carriage clopped toward central London, I read.
She was victim number five. Mary Jane Kelly, the article said, also known as Marguerite, a “free woman” (their euphemism for a prostitute) was found murdered in her room in Whitechapel. The police reported that the crime resembled those committed by the killer popularly known as Jack the Ripper. A wave of nausea passed over me. My head swam as we pulled on to Fleet Street.
I tried to calm myself. I had to confer with two important clients that morning and could not be preoccupied. They had proposed investing several hundred thousand pounds in our bank. My job was to convince them we would handle their money well, were a reliable and capable agency, and thus secure the contract. But as we rode along and as I read how the corpse was “horribly mutilated,” grief and panic enveloped me like a huge wave envelops a ship caught in a typhoon.
The paper had carried, in a section with a black border warning that its content might be repulsive, the coroner’s report. I glanced down at it:
The whole of the surface of the abdomen and thighs was removed and the abdominal cavity emptied of its viscera. The breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds and the face hacked beyond recognition of the features. The tissues of the neck were severed all round down to the bone.The viscera were found in various parts viz: the uterus and kidneys with one breast under the head, the other breast by the right foot, the liver between the feet, the intestines by the right side and the spleen by the left side of the body.
I felt an explosion from my stomach. Hot, bitter chime filled my mouth. I put my head out the window and let it spew into the street. The cabbie, of course, saw me and stopped.
“You okay, governor?” he asked, tipping his hat.
I nodded and waved for him to go on. I collapsed against the seat, my face hot, sweat pouring from my brow.
I had to fight my way out of this. We were a short distance from the rooms that housed our brokerage firm.
In a flash my mind went back to the first time I met her. My club members have a way of detecting men who are looking for opportunities to meet women discretely. One of them told me he knew of a very nice Irish place where I would find good ale and where the waitresses were quiet attractive. He would take me there if I were interested.
I went and met Mary Jane. She was pretty—bright-faced with blue eyes and ginger-colored hair, Welsh, not Irish, with a sweet- adorable body. I paid her well that first night and became a regular visitor to her establishment. I gave her quite a bit of money so she could cut down on the number of men she serviced and have more for me when I came to her. We had been seeing each other once a week for the five years. Now she was gone, victim of a ruthless murderer.
I remembered my nights with her. She would lie in her billowy bed. She wore the black bodice whores often wear, but I liked her naked, and she always made a show of taking the bodice off for me. Her skin, creamy white, made her dark red nipples more vivid. Below, her stomach curved down to her powerful loins and thighs, the tangle of black hair between her legs, the delightful beauty of her intimate parts.
Lillian rewarded me more frequently than many men said their wives rewarded them. She harbored progressive notions about the relationship of a man and wife and enjoyed our intimate times. But she was often pregnant and often too exhausted from caring for our children and running a household to express desire as frequently as I wanted. The wildness of the Welsh mountains ran in Mary Jane’s blood. The experience of a life spent pleasing men informed her embrace. She sang to me in the strange, enchanting language of her native land as we coupled. Our passion blazed like fire in the quiet darkness of her room.
Now she was dead. Murdered, the paper said, and horribly mutilated. As the taxi slowed, I wondered what I could do. But as strongly as revulsion and despair gripped me, resolution suddenly welled up in my soul. The police were baffled. No one knew the identity of the killer. Punch had carried a cartoon depicting a constable blindfolded amid of crowd of leering thugs with the caption, BLIND MAN’S BLUFF. I knew the police were doing everything they could do, but I would do everything I could do. I would find the man. I knew more about Mary Jane than they knew. I would investigate myself. And I would find him.
I walked into the bank with determination on my face and strength in my step. I closed the investment deal in only forty minutes. That night, when the newspapers published the details of Mary’s death, I grew ill reading them. The brutal mutilation of her body exceeded what he did to any of the other victims. My only solace was the investigating physician’s conclusion that her throat was cut first, causing death before the brute gutted her, removed her inner organs and viscera, and propped her destroyed trunk up on them as if they were cushions or pillows.
Lillian went away to the south to enjoy the salt air and took the children with her. I would join her in a week. Alone, I could begin to investigate.