A short story based on Jack the Ripper’s last victim, Mary Jane Kelly. I’m not suggesting this is actually what happened, but it takes into account the documented evidence.
‘Good night, Joe.’ I say, resisting the urge to slam the door behind him. He’s a good man, but never seems to know when he’s outstayed his welcome. I feel anxious, certain I heard St Mary’s chiming eight o’clock, and hope there’s enough time to deliver the letter and get to my appointment with Garrett. Sliding a hand under my pillow, I pull out the letter and read it one last time. It says everything required – that I know who he is and he must meet me in my lodgings at two-thirty tonight. Good. I fold the page neatly and tuck it into an envelope, before writing a name across. As an afterthought I fold up my handkerchief and tuck it into the envelope too, to show I mean business.
It’s a cold November evening, so I wrap up as best I can. No point locking the door – I have nothing to thieve, and even if I did the lads round here would only break the window, and I cannot afford another one.
Doing my best not to be seen, I slip down the alleyway and along Dorset Street. It really is bitterly cold. Dark also with the gas lamps turned down so low, and the cobbles are damp and slippery. Thankfully the house I seek is not that far away.
I came across it quite by chance. I am, or at least was, a friend of Annie’s, the second victim of Leather Apron or, as they now call him, the Ripper. She lived in a dosshouse up the street and we often worked the same places. I’d been speaking with her that night, along Little Paternoster Row. I was done for the night, but she was still out looking for bed money having spent the rest on gin. She found someone too, and I got a good look at him as he swept her away towards Hanley Street and her death. I hadn’t recognised him, at the time, he was just another John – or rather Jack – but when I heard what happened I went straight to the cops. They refused to listen, of course, due to my drunken state.
Then, completely by chance, I happened to spot that exact same fellow emerging from a house nearby. I knew him then, but kept it to myself, planning to snare him first and collect the three hundred pound reward. And tonight I am setting the trap!
I find the house easily enough and slip the letter through the door before hurrying away to the Ringers.
It’s one of my favourite pubs, and I’ve been to a fair number, but, as I walk in, the noise and the stench remind me just how much I hate this place. Not just the Ringers, but the whole of this diseased city. I don’t belong here. I’ve ended up here, but that’s an entirely different thing altogether, and I want to get out. That’s what tonight is all about – my ticket out of here. And three hundred pounds will take me a long way away.
I have to elbow my way through the crowd, nodding at various acquaintances I really don’t want to talk to this evening. I’m well known here, but the man I’m meeting is not. He’s already there, sitting in a smoky corner, working his way through a jug. No drink for me, I notice, so I grab one and sit with him.
‘Best not talk ‘ere.’ he suggests, pulling conspiratorially at his ginger moustache.
‘Shall we go to mine?’ I look up at his blotchy, red face, taking in the huge side whiskers and his foul overcoat, and hope he doesn’t take that as a more intimate invitation than intended.
‘There’s no rush, lass. We can ‘ead out in a bit.’
His ‘in a bit’ turns out to be quite lengthy. By the time he’s ready, it must be nearing midnight and I’m a little worse for wear. The oily filth they serve here is as rank as you can get, but it sure does the trick.
‘I’ll get us a pail of ale for the journey.’ says Garrett, and even though my lodgings are only yards away, I agree. I’ll need a drink if I’m to get through tonight.
Back at mine, I bid Mrs Cox a good night, warning her that I’m in the mood for a little singing, and Garrett and I stumble into the tiny room I call home.
There’s a couple of small tables that are in dire need of a carpenter’s touch and a rickety chair that I happily let Garrett take the risk of sitting in. I have a wardrobe with precious little in it and a bed for business and personal use. I sit on its shallow mattress and ask Garrett to pour the drinks into whatever he can find.
‘So, ‘bout our little business.’ he says, grabbing a couple of tins from the corner and dunking them in the pail. ‘You invited the gentleman in question?’
‘Of course,’ I say, taking a tin and sniffing at it. It smells like beer. Unfortunately it tastes as though it’s been drunk once already. ‘He’ll be here at two-thirty.’
‘My acquaintance will meet you at two – corner of Thrawl Street.’
‘Has he a name?’ I take another sip of the distasteful beer. It’s beginning to grow on me.
‘Far as you’re concerned, he ‘as no name.’ Garrett smiles at this, clearly very pleased with his cunning. ‘He’ll need sixpence for the two hours, and another for dealing with your guest.’
I laugh at this, despite the fact I have only one sixpence to my name. ‘My guest! If only you knew who he was.’
‘Why?’ he says, looking all intrigued, ‘Who is ‘e?’
‘You’ll find out soon enough.’ I down what’s left in my tin and plunge it in his pail. ‘Two o’clock. Corner of Thawl Street.’
‘That’s the one.’ Garrett sits back in the chair, which creaks ominously under him. ‘Now ‘ow about you give us that song you promised?’
The disquiet I felt earlier in the evening has gone. Partly thanks to the drink, but also because I’m looking forward to my three hundred pounds. It’d take me twenty years to earn that on my back, at sixpence a push. And I’ve got it all planned out. I’m going back to Ireland, back to the family. Away from the disgrace and depravity of Whitechapel. How I long to be home again. And so I sing for Garrett, and for myself, and for the dream of good days past and those yet to come.
‘Scenes of my childhood arise before my gaze,
Bringing recollections of bygone happy days…’
It’s almost two hours later. Garrett’s long gone as is the pail of beer, and after a scrap of dinner, I reckon it’s time to go and meet up with Garrett’s mystery man.
The night feels even colder than it was before, despite the warming effect of the drink. I hurry along to the broad thoroughfare of Commercial Street. Coming up the road is one of my regulars, trudging home late from work as usual.
‘Mr Hutchinson,’ I say with a smile, remembering the lack of funds for my current venture, ‘can you lend me sixpence?’ He knows what I mean. I mean to earn it, though not necessarily right now.
‘I can’t,’ he tells me, with an almost genuine look of regret, ‘I spent all my money going down to Romford.’
It’s not true, of course, and we both know it. And we both know that we both know it, but that’s the way these things work here. The sooner I’m in Ireland the better! A short way down the street I spot a man standing in the shadows by Thrawl Street. That must be my man, so bidding Hutchinson a ‘good morning’, I head toward him.
He’s not exactly as I expected – not quite as butch or well-built. Still, apart from that he looks the part with his dark features and his long, black coat. A real cloak and dagger man. In fact, it looks as though he actually has not just one dagger, but a whole set of them, neatly wrapped in a bundle in his left hand. I also notice he has a gold tie pin and a gold chain in his waistcoat. What kind of man carries that sort of treasure around with him while happily roaming the murderous slums of Whitechapel? A bloody tough man, I decide, and in my head I nickname him ‘Goldie’.
‘You Garrett’s man?’ I ask quietly.
‘Yes,’ says Goldie, and even with just that one word I can tell he’s not from round here. Russian, maybe, or thereabouts. He places a hand on my shoulder and glances over it at the same time. ‘There is a dirty man watching us. Pretend I have said something funny.’
I laugh, and so does he, though his sounds more like in injured mule.
‘Say something nice and loud.’ he whispers.
‘Like what?’ I find myself enjoying the whispering – this is real espionage stuff.
‘It does not matter. It is only for your friend here.’ he nods towards Hutchinson.
‘All right.’ I say loudly.
‘Ha! You will be all right for what I have told you.’ He says even louder. And with that he puts an arm round my shoulder and whispers, ‘You will lead me to your lodgings now.’
We walk together back up the street, past the nosey Hutchinson who, by the look of him, is clearly wishing he had given me that sixpence after all. Ignoring him, Goldie and I cross into Dorset Street and stop at the entrance to my alleyway.
‘Your friend follows us.’ Goldie whispers, ‘You must make him think I am one of your… clients.’
‘Okay,’ I whisper, then say aloud, ‘All right, my dear. Come along. You will be comfortable.’ And just to seal the pretence, I give Goldie a kiss. On the cheek, of course. Turns out it’s a bit of a wet one, and I go to wipe it, but realise I posted my handkerchief through the Ripper’s door.
‘I’ve lost my handkerchief.’ I explain as I wipe his cheek with the back of my hand, and with a flourish, Goldie whips one from his pocket and hands it to me. It’s very red. Not really my colour at all, but I’m not going to complain – a handkerchief’s a handkerchief after all. We walk together down the narrow alleyway to my lodgings.
‘What time will this man arrive?’ he asks.
‘In about twenty minutes, by my reckoning.’ I open the door to my room, ‘Would you like to wait in here?’
‘I think here would be better.’ says Goldie, pointing around the corner to the small paved area outside my window, where we do out washing. ‘I will be here by the pump. This way, when he comes, you can open the door and I will trap him from behind.’
‘Make sure you do!’ I say, starting to feel anxious again, ‘I don’t want to get hurt.’
‘Do not worry, he will not lay a finger on you while I am here – this I promise.’
All this for sixpence! Or rather for two, though I still don’t have the second. Still, this is excellent service, and feeling reassured I retire to my room to wait.
And wait is what I do, sitting on my rickety chair, staring at my door for what seems like forever. St Mary’s rings out three o’clock, and as the ringing dies away footsteps echo in the alleyway. I hold my breath, my heart thumping in my chest. But the footsteps do not stop and through the window I see Mrs Cox making her way to her lodgings. As the minutes drag past, it begins to rain, and I start drifting off. Suddenly the bells are ringing again – it’s four o’clock.
There is a gentle tap at the door and Goldie enters.
‘It is time.’ he says, ‘My two hours are up. It appears your man is not coming.’
‘Apparently not.’ I say, trying to rub the tiredness from my eyes. ‘Thank you, though. And here is your sixpence.’ I hand over the sum total of my worldly wealth.
He bids me good night, and turns away down the alley before being swallowed by the darkness.
I’m disappointed my quarry didn’t show. Perhaps he’s even more of a coward than I already took him for – who else would cut up poor, middle-aged women in the night? Still, I’m not about to take any chances, now he knows where I live. As soon as Goldie’s footsteps die away, I shut the door and lock it. I bolt the windows too, for good measure.
I hum a little song to myself as I undress for bed – shoes in the corner, clothes folded neatly just like my mother taught me – and realise I’m still quite merry. Sure, the Ripper might not have taken the bait tonight, but I know who he is so I’m still first in line for that reward. Still humming quietly, I turn down the gas lamp and slip under the covers.
It is then, as my ear is pressed against the thin material on my bed, that I hear the breathing. I freeze, suddenly afraid, and listen. There is someone beneath me, under my bed. And I just lie there, paralysed, with my brain desperately trying to work out what to do.
There’s a scraping noise, like something heavy being dragged across the floor – or dragging itself across the floor. Slowly, trying to make as little movement as possible, I turn my head and in the darkness I see something unfolding, standing up, leaning over me. As it reaches towards my lamp and turns up the gas, the man’s face is bathed in light. My heart seems to stop.
‘Murder!’ I shout, or at least I try to, but my throat is dry and my voice hoarse. Surely no one can hear me through the rain. I stare into his cold, impassive eyes, until a glint in the darkness draws my attention. I look down and see there is a knife gripped firmly in his hand.
‘Well, Miss Kelly,’ says the Ripper, for it is him, standing over me in my room, ‘You present me with a conundrum. You see, I had finished with killing – I had done what I set out to do – and then you show up with your scheming and your letter.’ He pulls the letter from his pocket, shaking his head, and drops it on the floor. ‘You’re a little young for my personal tastes, but as you now know, we cannot win them all, can we? Still, since this will be my last performance let’s make it a good one!’
He raises the knife.