Domini Mortum - The First Two Chapters
Tuesday, 24 May 2016
The campaign rolls on and, although past the 50% mark, there is still a way to go. By way of a ghostly premonition of what is to come I present you with the first two chapters of Domini Mortum.
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Death is not the end.
There is no eternal silence when one passes from the world of the living. There are also no such places as heaven or hell. I know this now, although I wish that I had remained ignorant and numb to these facts, like so many others.
I was raised with a firm belief in heaven in God’s greater glory. An unbending confidence in the existence of a better place, safe within the arms of our creator; a place towards which all those who have faith, and who lead a pure and simple life, are taken when their time upon this earth has ended. It does not exist.
But death is not the end.
“It is a truly evil thing that has been done here today.” The man in the dark brown suit looked down at the body at his feet. His voice sounded dry – impassive even, but I knew the man well and I knew how much scenes like this disturbed him inside.
He removed his scuffed bowler hat, scratching at his nest of red hair. His ruddy, stubbled cheeks puffed out as he looked upon her body. He was a large man; someone who I would imagine was powerful and dangerous in his youth. Now however, he looked beaten.
The child’s eyes were cold and blank, there was no soul in her body, just stillness. Her long blonde hair was dirty and matted, stuck roughly across her forehead like some ill-fitting wig. She was almost naked, for not even in death had she been afforded dignity. The remnants of a tattered grey dress showed upon her shoulders and, at the other end of her pale, skinny body, she wore a solitary shoe, well-worn with the beginnings of a hole. I only dared imagine what terrible ordeal she had been subjected to before her life was finally taken.
Had she been alive, afforded a bath and a set of new clothes, she would have been a sweet child to see, happy and smiling, eyes full of joy and wonder. I knew this area however; I had been in rooms like this before and I had seen countless others; different ages, different genders but one terrible thing in common; poverty, hunger and murderous death. I would have shed a tear at her demise, but to me she was the source of my living and my tears did not freely fall.
“How long has she been dead?” I asked, not taking my eyes from her face.
“I’m no doctor, but I would say within the last day, five hours, no more than that. The smell of death has not set in yet to this room.” He nudged the girl’s shoulder with the outside of his boot, flaking off some dried blood.
I crouched down and looked closely at the large splits which ran and down from her chest to her tiny waist. The weapon that had done this to her had not been sharp, and as such the force needed to create such large wounds must have been great indeed. The knife had not yet been found and I doubted that it ever would be. To the experienced eye, everything you wished to know about the weapon could be read from the wound though. I counted myself as relatively inexperienced but I would probably not guess that it was a large kitchen chopping knife, with a blade which was chipped through use, causing tears to the skin. I looked up at the Inspector; he would have thought this through already and noted it upon his first sight of the body.
“Are you sure it was the mother?” I asked, pressing her skin lightly and noting how cold the girl was to the touch.
“That is where the smart money is,” he muttered. “The father ain’t been on the scene for years. Mary Pershaw The mother, , has been falling foul of the law lately, trying to roll her marks, even getting the girl in on the act, as bait for nonces. I’ve pulled her in to the station three times this last month alone. Sweet girl really, I felt sorry for her. I even set her up with a new agency in Marylebone, temporary service work in some of the well to do houses. She should have started with them last week.” He shook his head. As much as he was good at his job, he had far too much heart. He would not last much longer. “She must have just lost it. Neighbour says she heard screaming in here first thing this morning, both Mary and the girl; he banged on the door telling them to shut up. Mary came to the door covered in claret and told him to leave her be, slammed the door in his face. By the time the local police arrived they found mum gone and the kid ripped to shreds, it doesn’t take a great mind to work out what happened.” He walked to the window, wiping his fingers across the glass and making a clear gap in the dust and grease. “Mary won’t get far before she’s picked up… poor sod.”
“You speak like you have sympathy for her. The woman’s obviously a hysteric. She needs the noose not a bleeding heart.” I had misread the level of pity in him, however, and he flew at me pushing me from where I crouched, leaving me sprawled on the blood-covered floor.
“Watch your mouth, Sam Weaver!” His gravelled voice cracked in anger. “You know nothing of what goes on behind these doors and you are only here because of my friendships with those above you! Get on with your business and make your leave, before I lose my good temper and throw you from this here window!” His burst of anger shocked me, I would never have imagined that someone so large could move at such speed. I had forgotten his reputation for sudden violence.
“I beg your pardon, Abe. I did not mean any offence to you. I was just speaking my mind.” I picked myself up from the floor and withdrew my materials from the leather satchel. It would not take me long to create the idea for my image, I had already taken in the sights of the room this first drawing would be concerned with the shape of the body upon the floor. I prided myself on being as realistic as possible, as brutal and horrific as you like; that’s what made me so good, that’s what sold newspapers.
My initial drawing would be taken back to my rooms, where I would spend time to embellishing and completing the sketch-work, before delivering it to the offices of The Illustrated Police News. It would then be passed on to one of the engravers employed by Mr Purkess, the proprietor. These engravers would finely carve my work into blocks of box wood. There are some who think that these engravers are artists in their own right; some who think the engravers are responsible for the quality of the pictures adorning the covers of the newspaper. They were merely workhorses, however, dull and mindless transcribers of a greater art.
As I pencilled the outline of the child’s body, I felt the presence of the police inspector behind me, looking down at the paper as her image slowly appeared. I heard the slight pop of a stopper, closely followed by the small slosh of liquid. It was a sound that I was used to when with him; whisky was probably the only thing that kept him going through the day.
“I apologise, Sam,” He grumbled. “I should learn to control myself better. It is hard though, when you know the victims. It’s a terrible thing when a child dies; there have been at least half a dozen like this in the last couple of weeks; child dead, mother missing. A cynical man would think that there was something funny going on, but there’s nothing that I can see to link the deaths.”
I did not reply, my mind was elsewhere; thinking of the words that I would use to describe the scene, words which I would submit along with the finished picture.
“Do you know the child’s name?” I asked, adding a picture of a wild haired, screaming woman wielding a knife.
“No. Does it matter?”
I did not reply and continued to draw.
He paced the room, waiting for me to finish. There would be others arriving soon, men to take the body off to be examined by doctors so that they could decide what the Inspector and I already knew.
“I’ll be finished in a whisker, Abraham,” I said putting the final touches to my initial sketches. “Maybe we can adjourn to the pub at the end of the street, catch a couple of quick ones before we have to go about our business, what do you say?”
I knew that the Inspector would never turn down a drink and I had other more pressing matters in mind, matters that only he could assist me with.
Over the past few months I had nurtured my but friendly relationship with the good Inspector Thomas; which included offering him the opportunity for drinks when possible. We visited various taverns across the west side of London and I always spent the time teasing out information from him whenever I could; always with subtlety, always in a friendly and caring manner. Deep within however, this information fed my obsession.
We entered the pub and approached the bar. Those that stood in our way parted before us like a tide, making a clear path for myself and my large companion, to avail ourselves of the liquid delights held therein.
The barman, who like everyone else in the pub knew the good Inspector, began to pour our drinks before either of us had said a word.
Abe reached for the inside pocket of his coat, a gesture of sorts and one which received the expected outcome; the barman shook his head.
“Have that one on me, Inspector Thomas, as thanks for all your assistance in the past.” The other customers lowered their eyes and stayed quiet.
I made a point of nodding slightly to the barman, a pre-arranged sign that he was to keep sending drinks and I would settle any debts.
“Shall we sit awhile, Inspector?” I said motioning towards a booth to our left.
He grumbled in reply and made his way to the seat, pushing his generous frame along the bench seat.
“Days like these weigh heavy upon the soul, Abe,” I took a small sip of my beer. “I find that a gentle drink helps to mask the horror of what our eyes have seen, does it not?”
He shook his head and lifted the tankard to his lips, draining half of the contents and leaving a line of froth on his broad red moustaches. He was in a drinking mood and I smelled my quarry.
“You are correct, Sam, most correct. It is a small mercy in this job, a small, but blessed, mercy. Today is nothing though. You would not believe the things that I have seen in my time.” His eyes cast towards the soot filled windows. “Did I ever tell you that I used to work on the other side of London? The east end?”
“I think you may have mentioned it before, Abe.” I said motioning to the barman to start pouring another drink for the Inspector. “Where was it you were stationed?”
“It was Whitechapel!” he intoned firmly. “H Division, the back end of the world, policing the worst what the world has to offer. I was a Sergeant under Inspector Frederick Draper.”
“Ah, Whitechapel,” I winced. “A horror of a place. I had even heard of it before I came to London.” I took another sip of my drink and eyed him carefully; he had lost himself in that place. The tension within me rose; I was so close to my goal now that it was hard to contain my excitement. “You must have seen some horrible sights. There’s been some big cases in Whitechapel in the past.”
The Inspector drained his drink and a new one appeared at the table just in time. He immediately reached for it - this was too easy.
“I knew Darke you know?” He said between gulps.
“The killer, Sibelius Darke, The Pale Demon”. Do not try to tell me that you have never heard of him, surely? I met him a few times, and had him down for it from day one. I had him within my grasp - but I was foiled by my betters and forces out of my control. I even had him the night before his most terrible act.” His faced flushed at the memory.
“The Pale Demon,” I said. “I had not heard of him before last year though. Even in York, a city where we pride ourselves on knowing the nations events, the name of Sibelius Darke is not one which I had heard mention of.”
This was of course an extreme lie; I had known of the name Sibelius Darke since the first stories of him appeared on the front pages of every newspaper worth its salt six years earlier.
An immigrant of Finnish descent, Darke had brutally carved a name out for himself in Whitehall during the late autumn of 1877. He was a portrait photographer who had a studio on Osborne Street, a short walk away from his family’s undertakers. Despite not following in his father’s footsteps in the funeral trade he did have a peculiarly morbid speciality regarding the photographs that he made his business from. It was from family portraits of the recently deceased that he made his name, creating what had become known as Memento Mori; a reminder of the loved one passed and of the fleeting nature of our time in this world.
Following a series of deaths in the area involving young street children, Sibelius Darke had come to the attention of the police and the investigating Inspector Frederick Draper, following the discovery of Darke’s father and brother, murdered in their home and suffering from similar injuries to those suffered by the street children. He was questioned on more than one occasion, but never arrested for the string of murders, which eventually came to a crescendo following the terrible murder one night of over twenty boys in St Mark’s orphanage, just yards from Inspector Draper’s Police Station.
Still, strangely he was not arrested, despite being seen outside the orphanage on the night if the killings. The following day, Darke visited The Dolorian Club in Pall Mall, shooting many members at random and setting fire to the building. His guilt could no longer be denied; but, before he could be taken in by the police, he committed suicide by poison before setting his own studio ablaze.
The case of Sibelius Darke had been an obsession of mine since I first heard the name, and when I moved to London I began to collect as much information on him as I could, in the hope of bringing it all together a writing a book on his terrible crimes. The fact that I was now sat drinking with Abraham Thomas, who knew both Inspector Draper and Sibelius Darke was no lucky coincidence; I am a man who always succeeds in getting what he wants, whatever the price.
I looked at Thomas now and drummed my fingers upon the table. “Tell me,” I said innocently. “Is it true that he was a child killer and a cannibal?”
“He was, and more besides. Do you know that he killed his own father and brother? Strung up by their ankles from the staircase like sides of beef they were. The things that he did to them do not bear belief. His brother, Nikolas’s head was torn clear of his shoulders, separated by nothing more than a madman’s hands. That poor boy was spared though, when compared to the treatment meted out to their father. Tortured he was, slowly ripped and shredded with no weapons other than teeth and nail, his tongue was even taken from him whilst he lived. The doctor said that it was probably bitten out. You can only wonder at the depths of depravation and blood lust that Darke sank to in his murderous frenzies.”
He pushed some more of the drink down his throat, before placing the now empty tankard on the table.
The barman came over with another and I asked for a whisky for the pair of us, a small tot to push the big man over the edge.
“I had him you know, Sam. Just before he did his worst.” He continued.
“The orphanage? I heard that it was a terrible scene.”
“Poor little bleeders. Darke was in the station and being held on both sides by my officers on the night it happened. I shall never forgive myself for not keeping him, but I knew that I would be for the chop if I held him.”
“What do you mean, Abe?” I asked. This was new to me.
“I had been told that he was not to be held, not to be locked up, my hands were tied. We were to follow him, to watch him, but that he was in no way a suspect and was not to be treated as such. We were told that our killer had been found the previous night, a man named Downing, found hanged from his rafters on Love Lane.”
The Inspector paused for a moment. “He came to us though! He came through our very doors at Leman Road and told us what was going to happen, what he was about to do! I bade the men hold him for a while, but I was just playing with him, having some sport. Nobody believed that he would actually do it. When he made to escape from the hands of my men I told them to leave him be. He was crazed and harmless, I told them - Those boys, those poor, poor boys.” He drifted away from me. “I saw their remains, Sam. I walked among their broken and torn bodies, saw what was left of them, what he had done.”
“How did it end? How was he caught?”
“He wasn’t caught. He died and got away with it all. Burned to ashes at his rooms he was, two days after the orphanage. I remember a young Constable, Townsend I think his name was, ran into the station calling out that the Darke place was alit, so we ran to it thinking that the mob had burned him for a child killer
“When I got to Osborn Street, the place was on fire. Crowds had gathered; most had come to see it and to help to try to put it out before it spread, but there was some fighting an’ all. Some of the crowd had started shouting out to let the place burn to the ground, let the flames take Darke back to hell. They tried to stop the people carrying water; they knocked the pails out of their hands. That was when the woman ran out of the building and into my arms.”
“A woman? There was a woman in the building with him?” I had not heard this before.
“Yes, young thing she was, little more than a child herself. God only knows what horrors he had put her through; she was crying and raving, as crazed as I had ever seen someone.” He shivered, and took another drink, knocking back the whisky and starting on the next beer. “The words coming out of her mouth didn’t make no sense; demons and spirits, hell and death.” He paused for a cold second, before adding, “I believed her.”
I let out the slightest of laughs and immediately cursed myself, as the large man lunged across the table at me, knocking its contents onto the floor. Huge hands found my throat and his damp, red face came within an inch of my own, the stench of stale whisky and sweat overpowering.
“Laugh at me?!” he growled. “Laugh at old Abe Thomas! Stupid old drunk am I? Is that what you think? Someone to be laughed at?”
Around the room, all other movement and sound had stopped, every face turned towards us.
“I... I’m sorry, Abe.” I breathed; each word carried pain and effort as it was forced out through my constricted throat.
“I know what I saw, Weaver! I am not a madman and I know what I saw!” He suddenly noted the silence around him and, seeing that we were the focus of attention, released his grip on my throat, his voice dropping to a tight whisper. “As I held that poor girl into my chest and listened to her ramblings, I looked towards the fire and saw something that I shall never forget.”
“What was it?” I croaked. “What did you see?”
“I saw the beast that was Darke, rising up in the smoke as it poured from the building. Large and white he was, unearthly and cold - a pale demon. He rose into the air, above that blazing building, dragging with him the souls of his victims. She was right, the girl was right. Darke was from hell itself, returning from where he came. And I could see them, God help me, I could see them dead boys being dragged off to hell with him.”
He let go of my neck, with a push that sent me tumbling over and onto the floor. Standing up on unsteady legs he made his way towards the doors growling and snapping at those who came in his way, causing them to jump backwards in fright.
“The girl, Abe? I called after him, in desperation. “What was her name?”
He stopped in his tracks.
“She was called Beth, Beth Finnan,” he said his voice a low rumble, “She was the fiancée of Darke’s brother Nikolas, her father, Tom owned The Princess Alice.” His hands shot forwards, hitting the doors hard, sending them crashing outwards, a sudden and final noise signalling his departure, as he disappeared into the bright street beyond.
The noise echoed through the bar as the dust slowly settled once more.
I allowed myself a smile and, pushing myself to my feet, I made my way towards the door throwing money onto the bar as I went. My investigations and eventual road to fortune could now begin in earnest.
Over the next week I threw myself into discovering more about the identity of the girl, Beth Finnan. I travelled across the city to Whitechapel at the first opportunity, taking with me a small binding of sketch paper, a couple of pencils and a portion of my spare ready to use for the procurement of useful information.
I decided to take the most direct route going straight to ‘The Princess Alice’, which I found, as prominent as ever on the corner of Wentworth Street and Commercial Street. I knew from my previous inquiries that this place was a regular haunt of Sibelius Darke from his childhood, required as he was to regularly visit public houses in order to recruit hired mourners for his Father’s funeral business.
As I stepped through the doors into the bar I wondered how many times the pale demon himself had walked through these doors with murder in mind. Light within the bar was a precious commodity, despite the fact that it was mid-day outside; the only sign of such were the dulled white beams which fought their way into the room and did little more than highlight the dust, smoke and flies which thickened the air. The central point of illumination came from a grate on the far side of the room, the small fire within giving off a cold yellow glow which added nothing more than a heightened impression of movement.
I approached the bar, ignoring the staring eyes of the other customers. In places like these, any new person could easily attract attention through the cut of his clothes or simply by being a new face. I knew that someone as square-rigged as I would be under scrutiny as soon as I entered the door and I would quickly be taken for a mark.
I had, of course, visited the area many times in the six months since my arrival in London. My sharp interest in Darke had made that a necessary pilgrimage. I had visited the shop front where his photographic studio once stood, long since gutted by fire and now a bakery. I had also journeyed around the corner onto Whitechapel Road to the undertaking parlour once owned by his family. It was now under the ownership of George Woodrow a one-time friend of the family who would not, despite my best appeals, talk of Darke.
“What will it be?” asked the young woman behind the bar, a pale looking, plain thing with a sullen look upon her face.
“I’m looking for some information actually. Is the landlord around?”
“No drink then?” her dull eyes showed little in the way of any willingness to engage in conversation.
“I’ll have a small beer and the landlord, thank you. That is all.”
She did not respond and lifted a glass from the shelf above the bar. With a numb spirit shown only by the most ignorant of society, she poured my drink before placing it on the bar before me. She then turned away and started towards the other end of the bar. As I raised my hand to further attract her attention, she barked over her shoulder, cutting short my reminder.
“I’m getting him!”
“Thank you, my dear” I called, in a tone that she would not have recognised as sarcasm.
The landlord appeared presently, an overweight man with a ruddy, unshaven face, who bustled over to me, squeezing his frame past his dour employee.
“Selling something? I’m not interested, so there is no need for any patter.” He grumbled as he approached, his eyes flicking over me.
“I am not selling anything, sir” I said, raising my palms. “Merely wishing to find someone, a client of my employers, Hodgson, Hathaway and Head.”
“Debt collectors are they?”
“No, nothing so brutal. They are solicitors; I have been tasked with finding their client regarding the sale of a business within which he has a stake.”
“Money due, eh?” His face scanned the room as he settled his broad arms on the bar in front of me, leaning forwards. His voice lowered to a whisper, “Is there a fee to be paid to those that can help?”
“I have expenses at my disposal.” I gained his interest immediately. “The man in question is the previous owner of this establishment, Tom Finnan. Do you know of him?”
“I met the man on one occasion a few years ago. He lived here with his sister and daughter. They left in a bit of a hurry, it was a quick sale.”
“Excellent, and do you know of his whereabouts now?”
His eyes narrowed and he remained silent. I reached into my coat for my wallet which I placed on the bar in front of me.
“Pluckley, I think he moved to Pluckley in Kent. I heard he took on a pub there, The Black something, it could be Swan or maybe Horse. I can’t remember too clearly.”
I pulled a pound note from my wallet and placed it within his grasp.
“Horse, it was, definitely horse, he left something behind as well.” A spark lit and I withdrew a further note.
“Did he? Well then perhaps I could deliver it. Is it a large package?”
He said nothing and snatched the paper up from the bar, walking off to the doorway which led upstairs. He returned holding a large black tin.
“It’s locked.” he said. “I never tried to open it of course.” I examined the tin, it was old and dented in places, the paint had been scratched off around the lock and rim.
I lifted the tin from the bar; there was a little weight to it and, upon shaking it, there was a rattling sound.
“I shall make sure that it is delivered to him. Tell me, you say that he left in some haste. Was there a reason for this?” The landlord folded his arms and set his face in stone.
“Family business. His daughter was... unwell.” His head lowered and turned away; it was clear that our conversation was over.
With the location of Finnan found and my battered package in hand, I left The Princess Alice with a broad smile across my face and headed back to the offices of my employer.
“This fixation with Sibelius Darke will lead you to trouble, Sam. You drive idle curiosity to the limits of obsession!”
“But it is a good story, sir - possibly the greatest. I am finding new, important information every day, information which you would be the first to publish, enough for a special edition all of its own. I could fill eight pages with the information and pictures that I have already, people will buy it, you know they will. It would sell more copies than Calcraft.”
“I admire your spirit, Sam. You have a lot to offer. You are superior with a pencil and ink and I have seen no other who can quite recreate a scene the way you do.” The warmth in George Purkess’s smile was truthful and sincere and I felt a surge of confidence growing within me. “However, you are one of seventy artists that I have at my disposal. Others are begging for the kind of attention you demand and it would be easy for me to cast you aside if you continue to press me with these matters.” He reached onto his desk and picked up a piece of notepaper. “If it’s murder you want then this city is producing it afresh every day. Nobody wants to hear old news, I cannot sell it. Go to this address in St John’s Wood, there has been some kind of incident at a house in Boston Place. My man in the police has been a little touchy about the details, but go and see all the same - for me.”
I looked at him in hope for a change of heart but there would be none. For a day that had promised so much and provided me with such excitement, the spark of exhilaration caused by the news of Tom Finnan’s whereabouts was quickly being extinguished by my normally malleable patron.
Purkess was a man large in both size and in presence; he had an innate ability to be able to walk into a room and immediately draw all eyes towards him like moths towards gas light. His frame was round, although not so stretched as to make him seem fat, he was more solid, like an oaken barrel, immovable and well formed.
As he sat behind his desk now idly rubbing his fingers over his pocket watch, which attached to his waistcoat with a heavy gold chain, I could see that his immovability stretched to stubbornness in this matter, I would have to work further on the man to turn him to my path.
I sighed in temporary defeat, a sign to George that I was, for now beaten. His little victory for him made him straighten himself somewhat and he once again pushed forwards the piece of paper with the address on it.
“Take this job, Sam. They are expecting you and it is on your way home. You are dear to me, boy, but I cannot allow you to disappear off hunting for things that no one wants to hear of anymore.”
I forced a smile and took the note. “I will not give in you know, George.” I said, the over familiarity of my tone fully intentional and aimed at annoying him. I misjudged his response however as he laughed out loud and stood, guiding me to the door.
“Get out of my office before I lose my humour and retire you early! Get out to Boston Place and do not come back until you have drawn for me a grisly murder set to shock and disgust everyone who sees it!” I joined in his laughter and set off. Despite my need to carry on my investigation, I could not deny him.
I had first came to George’s establishment in The Strand a little more than six months earlier, fresh from King’s Cross. I had travelled down from York carrying only a small suitcase containing a set of clothes, a toilet bag and some examples of my illustrations. My only previous communication had been a letter asking for an appointment to see him, along with a letter of reference from my previous employer Harold Stradling of the York Herald. I had boarded a train, convinced that luck and fortune were prizes to be sought and manhandled.
I had presented myself at the offices of The Illustrated Police News and found myself quickly embroiled in an altercation with an older gentleman named Edmund Cope, the current editor, who mistook my zeal and confidence for arrogant impertinence and refused all hope of allowing me an audience with the newspapers owner.
“You cannot just walk in off of the street and demand to see Mr Purkess; he is a busy man!” Cope snapped, the long grey wisps of hair, normally drawn across his pate, became loosened and waved in the air as he became increasingly angry.
“I wrote to him over a week ago, he will be expecting me, if you could just be so kind as to check his diary you will see my name there.” I remained calm and polite throughout, persistence and endeavour were the keys to success.
“Do you know how many letters Mr Purkess receives every day? He does not even read his own mail, lad, someone else to does that for him. Only the most pressing of communications are passed forward to Mr Purkess.”
“Which would include mine; of course, I think you will find, sir that my letter will have been given to him as a matter of urgency.”
“It will have not! I read his mail and I have no memory of your letter.” Cope stormed, and I noticed with interest a thick blue vein, drawing a line down the middle of his tall forehead. What sport! I did not reply immediately but simply gave the man my sweetest smile; something, which I knew, would irk him further.
We stood at an impasse. I knew my own inordinate strengths with regard to stubbornness, Mr Cope obviously did not. I had time however, much more time than old Edmund. There was no return ticket booked and the visit to these offices was my only engagement. I looked around the room at the other gentlemen sat at their desks preparing the next edition, most continued with their work; however more than a couple were observing the exchange between Mr Cope and myself with some amusement.
“If you will not leave these offices immediately I will be forced to resort to other measures.” I could sense the exasperation within his voice now, which he attempted to mask with bravado and authority.
“And what would these measures entail?” I asked calmly. “Fetching the owner of your newspaper downstairs to eject me? Do not allow me to delay you any longer.”
“What I meant was that I would bring in an officer of law to remove you!” He barked, pushing his way past me towards the entrance to the offices and reaching for the handle of the door. His exit was halted however, as the door opened inwards and the large figure of George Purkess himself bustled. The other men within the office rose from their seats immediately.
“Good Lord, Mr Cope, we are in a hurry.” Purkess boomed. “What is such an emergency that you should leave my offices in such a hurry?”
“I was fetching a policeman, Mr Purkess. We have an intruder on the premises who has refused all reasonable demands to leave.”
“I’m not sure that your demands could be described as reasonable.” I cut in before stepping between them and offering my hand to Purkess. “Allow me to introduce myself, Mr Purkess. My name is Samuel Weaver; I wrote to you as a matter of introduction and informed you of my visit. You were expecting me of course.” My eyes stared into his and I dared the slightest of curl to the side of my mouth.
Purkess took my hand and met my gaze and, for the briefest of moments, there was an uneasy silence. The other workers remained stood, awaiting his response.
“Weaver you say? Samuel? I can’t fully recall the name but then I am a busy man.” My hand remained held within his own firm grip. “Humour an old man with a poor memory and remind me of the nature of our business together?”
“I am here to take employment with you,” I responded. “There was an article in the Pall Mall Gazette, where you stated that you only employed the best artists and writers. I wrote to you informing you of my forthcoming visit and journeyed from York this morning. You want the best in word and picture - I am both and at your service.”
His eyes flicked from mine to Cope’s and I saw the eruption of a smile within him that told me I had won this particular battle.
“Do you mean to say that you have travelled across the country in search of a job based on a passing boastful aside to a hack writer from a rival paper? You must have something, boy, perhaps just a misjudged sense of worth. Let us go upstairs to my office and you can continue to amuse and blind me with tales of your wonderful work.” He released my hand only to place his arm firmly around my shoulders to lead me to the stairs. “Edmund, have one of the lads sent out for coffee from Verrey’s on Hanover Street for myself and this promising young gentleman.”
As I passed the now puce Mr Cope, I allowed myself a sly smirk and made a vow to myself to engage in the sport of baiting this fine gentleman at every opportunity.
I thought of this first meeting as I made my way to Boston Place and the supposed murder scene. I was aggrieved to have taken on this job, not because I did not think that the scene in prospect would not be worthy of attending, but more in anger at my own incompetence in persuading George to allow me to indulge in my obsessions. I had spent long months nurturing our relationship but had not yet reached the point where he would fully bend to my will. This assignment almost felt a punishment as a result, a punishment for daring to believe that I had the man under my control.
As I turned the corner of the street I immediately spied the house. There were two policemen stationed outside, rocking on their heels and looking for all the world as if they would rather be elsewhere.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen!” I called as I approached them. I immediately recognised the older of the two as he had been in attendance at many of my jobs over the past six months. His name was Finlay as I recalled, possibly Jim, I had never yet had reason to remember his name.
“I hear there is some nastiness inside this fine house. Is it a sea of blood in there?”
Normally I would have expected a darkly comical response from the men as they witnessed every imaginable horror on a daily basis. Today however there was none such response. They simply looked to each other nervously before opening the door and standing aside.
“No jokes today, Sam lad.” Finlay muttered as I passed, his mouth twitching edgily under his moustaches. “This is not one to make humour of.”
I entered the gloom of the house, a darkened silence blanketing my ears the moment I crossed the scarred stone of the threshold. The household itself was a three-storey tenement much the same as every other in the street. It had a foreboding edge to it though, which stroked the back of my neck with cold steel pins, as I walked through the dim light of the entrance hall.
A staircase ran up the left side of the hallway, each stair bare and wooden, worn and split in places. I took a glance upwards but saw only blackness in the upper landing and felt glad that I would not be ascending into that particular unknown.
“This way,” Finlay said, the sound of his voice shaking me from my thoughts. He gestured farther down the hallway towards a large wooden door ahead of us; closed and forbidding. My eyes shot from the door to the Constable’s face and I could see that he would not be going any farther forward unless forced.
A surge of nervous energy erupted within my stomach. I always felt an edge of excitement when entering the scene of a killing. It was not necessarily bad, it was a necessary energy boost, a force to drive me on. At this time however, in this house, in this place of murder and death, the feeling was different somehow, not necessarily stronger but more urgent. I somehow knew that whatever lay within this room would not be a fit sight for human eyes.
“Am I to enter alone?” I asked, more in desperate hope than expectation.
“The Inspector said you have twenty minutes,” he replied, shaking his head. “I have been in once and I will not return unless ordered.” He removed his helmet and drew his handkerchief across his forehead. “It is not... a good place. It is not for lingering.”
I ran my tongue around the inside of my dry mouth and forced myself to swallow, hoping to push downwards the ball of fear which had become lodged within my throat.
“Very well,” I murmured and walked slowly down the hall. As I reached the door I noticed that the dark green paint upon it had blistered and bubbled as if it had withstood a dangerous heat from within creating a web of cracks and fine splits in the paint. I took a brief moment to brush my hand over the door lightly, almost expecting to feel the sting of heat upon it. It was cold.
I reached down towards the door handle, glancing over my shoulder towards the policeman as I did so. He studied me intently and I guessed that he wished to see a reaction from me where I witnessed what was beyond.
My hand touched cold brass and I flinched slightly as I felt a tremor in the metal. At first I thought it to be a vibration from within the room but soon realised that the tremor came from my own hand. Steeling myself I gripped the handle hard and pushed downwards opening the door.
As it opened the first sensation which struck me was an acrid metallic odour. The sheer weight and force of the emanation filled my nostrils and barged its way to the back of my throat, its thickness causing me to retch somewhat. I instinctively withdrew my handkerchief from my coat pocket and covered my mouth and nose to prevent further assault. A noise from behind caused me to turn; the Constable was exiting through the front door. I caught a final glimpse of his back as he scurried away. The door slammed behind him. I was alone.
I had been to many places of death and horror each had a similar feel, a silence that I had become almost inured to. This house however, placed within me a sense of true terror. Stepping through the doorway and into the stench, I took in the scene before me.
There were few lights in the room, no more than a couple of candles of various sizes and colours lighted along the skirting and upon the mantelpiece. The small yellow flames struggled to survive, flickering in the darkness and giving off a dim smoky light. The mantelpiece itself sat above a large and dominating fireplace of once-white marble. The wax from the candles, red and cream coloured, had ran down onto the shelf and began to drip onto the hearth, creating stalactites which resembled teeth surrounding the maw of a cold, black opening.
It was to the far side of the room that my eyes were drawn, for that was where the bodies lay, the bodies of twelve young women, the soles of their feet pointing at me.
The women lay in a line across the bare-boarded floor. Each one carefully positioned, each one identical in appearance, their arms lying at their sides, hands outstretched, palms upturned. I noticed then that through their wrists and ankles were struck large nails, the type used in railways, each one driven hard through sinew and bone. Each thick spike sealed its victim to the wooden floor beneath and I wondered whether the women had been alive and conscious when the spikes were hammered home.
Their expressions were impassive and unemotional, one would almost think them merely sleeping, the lids of their eyes being closed in rest. It was clear however that this was not the case though for the rest of their poor bodies told a different tale. Each wore roughly sewn, grey cotton skirts, coarse to the touch. Their upper halves, however, although unclothed, were decorated in a fashion. The bare arms of each of the bodies carried upon them patterned carvings.
The blade used had been sharp beyond compare; each cut upon their bodies was intricate and clinical, creating symbols and patterns upon their pale canvas. Beautiful lines of red painted their soft skin and I wondered at the time it had taken to create them and whether the girls had been alive or dead when they were carved; had they watched as their torturer had made his mark upon them?
I did not rest my gaze upon these pictures for too long, for of all parts of these poor young women that attracted my eyes, it was their torsos which were most gruesomely entrancing.
The same sharp blade which had been used to dramatic effect upon the arms of the women had delivered, to each, a long and deep incision from the base of their pale throats to the navel. I prayed that these cuts were made after death, anyone enduring such butchery whilst living would have suffered unimaginable pain.
I stepped closer to the bodies, edging nearer to those poor souls. The skin of their chests had been peeled back to the edges of the body on each girl. The preciseness of the cuts showed that this had been done with the utmost care, love even. Within each chest cavity I saw that the breastbone had been sawn neatly down the middle, the ribs pulled apart exposing the vital organs of each woman.
The flicker of the candles brushed light across the wall which rose from each of their heads and it was then that I saw the picture painted upon the wall. It was the head of a stag. I moved closer still, admiring the simplicity of the work, despite the expression within the stag’s eyes, one of vehemence and dark brutality.
It was as I studied the stag’s face that I realised with horror that it was the women, laid eviscerated upon the floor, who had provided the ‘paint’ for this creation.
The head, although large in itself, was given the appearance of greater size by the outgrowing antlers which sprouted from the upper sides above the ears and stretched like long fingers out towards the outer walls and ceiling. It gave the stag the appearance of a tree, its branches reaching desperately out to heaven.
My eyes followed the branches and it is with the greatest of terror that I reached the end point of one of these tendrils. For upon the wall at the tip of this painted antler was a heart, a human heart nailed to the wall with a large spike like those which had impaled the hands and feet of the young women upon the dusty wooden floor.
I stepped back in shock, and it was only then that my eyes took in full view of the painting upon the wall. For there was not just one but twelve hearts nailed there, twelve human hearts, one belonging to each of the poor women laid at my feet.
I stood, mouth agape for what seemed like an age, trying to take in all that was before me. This was partly because of the pure cold horror of it all but also, so that I could memorise it fully.
Whatever brief sketches I made at this stage would never be the final product delivered to the offices at The Strand. Often the pictures which made their way to the covers were different. I did not dramatically change anything that I saw, however there would be some degree of artistic license to enhance and where possible make clearer that which my eye had observed. I prided myself on truth and loyalty within my work but I was also aware of the need for clarity and the expression of feeling which I wished to draw from the reader. If I could inspire horror, fear, anger or loathing, then this was success in my eyes, more importantly it was success in the eyes of Mr Purkess, who strongly desired the impact which I was able to strike upon those who had paid their penny.
Almost panicked, I pulled my sketchbook from the satchel at my side and immediately scribbled as much as I could, as if it were liable to disappear from my gaze at any moment. I became lost, my mind becoming one with the paper as the fine tip of my pencil began sketching all before me.
On most scenes that I attended I would make maybe a dozen different sketches; varying angles of the bodies, close ups to show particularly grievous wounds and even, when provided with such information by the attending police, a vision from my own imagination of the situation which brought about the death. This could be in the form of a cruel, violent man plunging his knife towards his cowering wife or perhaps a group of children arms outstretched from a window and surrounded by the flames of their home as their desperate parents attempted to re-enter the building.
For this room however, this place of abject terror and unimaginable suffering, I found myself almost crazed by the images in front of me and the machinations that they created within my mind.
I was so immersed within my task that I did not notice a presence in the room behind me; in fact I had no notion of how long it had been there.
The effect of this was that the large hand, which fell suddenly upon my shoulder, caused me to jump in such alarm that I tumbled from my crouched position and fell forwards onto the bloody floor.
As I hit the ground, I rolled over to look up to the owner of the hand, seeing a face briefly before the candles blew out in the room.
I was plunged into a terrible darkness.
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