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The Whitechapel Horror
© 2003 by Chris Bridges



It was a black day indeed when my friend Mr.  Sherlock Holmes was called upon to aid in stopping the horrific deeds being done in Whitechapel.  Three prostitutes had been brutally slain and the police, never at their best with such things, were at odds with themselves.

I must admit I had grave misgivings myself.  While it was certainly true that Holmes was possibly the only man quick-witted and capable enough to catch the fiend responsible, and while Holmes was himself never happier than when he was investigating the strange and the peculiar, this case looked to be beyond even his powers.  What good deductive reasoning when all evidence points to the Devil himself?

On the morning he contacted me I was at the breakfast-table with my wife and such a trial it was.  Not the repast, which was excellent, but July of 1889 was leaving us with muggy weather and alleyway abominations.  The papers were full of the most sensational of reports and none of them were nearly as scandalous as the reality. "Shedding blood in England," indeed.  How could anyone decipher such a confusion of events? It was, of course, precisely at that point that the telegram from Holmes arrived.

"If you've some days to spare, your help would be invaluable.  Meet me in Middlesex Street on Tuesday at 2pm.  Take precautions."

My wife looked up in trepidation, the newspaper held in front of her. "You're not going out after that madman, are you?" she said.

"I fear so.  Holmes would be quite beside himself were he kept away from such an intriguing and bewildering case, and he'll need a stalwart friend at his back.  At least I'll be joining him in the day-time."

My dear wife argued for form's sake, but she knew me better than I knew myself.  In jig time I was packed and ready, my service revolver—my "precaution"—tucked safely away.  She kissed me deeply on our step, heedless of the passersby. "Return to me, John," she said plaintively.  I swore to her that I would, God willing.

Her expression as I left made it clear that any agency, celestial or otherwise, that dared interfere with our reunion would be making a terrible mistake.

And so it was with a gloomy mood that I took a hansom to Whitechapel and to Middlesex, more commonly known as Petticoat Lane.  I daresay it earned the sobriquet, for nowhere else in London could petticoats be seen more easily, and for less money.  Hardly had I alit from the carriage before I was approached by no less than three ladies of the evening, all apparently unaware it was hardly one o'clock.

"Polish y' knob, guv?" asked one bewigged horror, oblivious to my hastened refusals.  The others circled me, plucking at my coat and hat until I was forced to hold myself as if in a high wind.

"Please, ladies! I am here on official business!" Which was true, though I fear no respectable agency would claim me.  Unfortunately my protestations of authority failed to produce the effect I had hoped for.

The second of the three and arguably the ugliest was quick to grab my arm. "Oh, we giv' discounts to officers like, ain't that right?"

"Usually have to, cheap bastids," muttered the third soiled dove.  The other two were quick to motion her silent before turning their smiling faces back to me.

"Look, I really must refuse, I'm terribly sorry," I stammered.  This was absurd.  I was a doctor, a military man, trained in the arts of war and victor of countless night-time battles and terrifying rooftop chases, yet I was outflanked and outbluffed by three ladies of the eveni...  of the afternoon.  No wonder someone was killing them off, I thought with some disgust, and then I stood stock-still, horrified at my own thought.

In my paralysis the third prostitute, the younger and prettier of the three, seized the opportunity to pull me away from the other two. "Come on, then," she hissed. "They'll niver leave ya alone while ye've got coin in y' purse nor blood in yer stick.  Come off wif me, we'll pretend a bit, you toss me a few pence and a free man ye'll be, eh?"

I nodded assent swiftly and she all but yanked me off my feet towards the nearest alleyway.  My nice quiet home already seemed years in the past.  When we arrived in the stinking alley she pushed me against the wall and pushed her firm bosom against me.

"Now shut yer gob, luv," she said. "The harpies'll be watching, you wait.  Let's make this look proper." Before I could say another word she had dropped to her knees in the filth and run her hands over my trousers.

"Madam, please, this is entirely unnecess—"

"Ooh, got a gun do ya? Yer cert'ly not 'appy to see me, that's for sure.  Oh, 'ere's the lit'l divil," she said.  In seconds, and with hands more practiced than the Queen's surgeon, she had me out in the cool air and popped in her mouth before I could take another breath.

I must confess, I was undone.  I take full responsibility for this lapse in my judgment and moral certitude, and looking back in time I can see clearly that my worry and tension concerning the vile killings contributed to my acquiescence in no small measure, but God help me it felt wonderful.  She was skilled and efficient, as competent with her hands as any combat nurse, and I relaxed against the rough brick and submitted to the inevitable.  My only consolation was that I was over an hour early for my meeting with Holmes, who, being a long-confirmed bachelor himself, surely would not understand.

In moments it was over.  She accepted my seed with dispatch, cleaning me with her mouth before tucking me back safe and sound and considerably drained.  I was blushing a bright crimson when she rose to her feet and lowered her eyes before me.

"Yes, thank you, you really didn't have to..  oh! Yes, I almost forgot..." I blustered as I fumbled for my change.  What was the going rate? "Look, here, take this," I said as I pressed a ten pound note in her warm hands.  Here eyes popped.

"Cor, 'at's a bloody—"

"Yes, I know, please take it and tell everyone to please leave me alone for now, all right?" Even as she rushed to hide her booty I was scanning the streets, looking for my friend, half expecting to see a demonic shape leap out and gut someone before me. "Now go, quickly, I'm expecting someone and he'll be here any minute—"

"Or even earlier," came the familiar voice from behind me.

My blood ran cold in my veins.  Humiliating as my moral lapse was to myself, even doubly so was being caught at it by a respected friend.  Surely this was the sort of thing that tested the very mettle of friendship! Would he scorn me? Would he tell my wife? Still, this was the inestimable Sherlock Holmes, and he prized forthrightness over all With bravery more pronounced than any I showed in the War, I turned to face my accuser, and in so doing nearly became a soiled dove myself.

The young prostitute was gone.  In her place stood Holmes, in tattered dress, wig and shawl.  The impeccable makeup of a Dorset Street doxy was still in place, but he had added his familiar meerschaum pipe and was now standing straight and tall.  My money was still in his hand.

"Rather magnanimous of you, Watson.  For future reference, current street prices run closer to four pence for such an exchange, perhaps as much as a shilling if you fancy the girl." He tucked the bill into his bodice. "For expenses.  To the chase, what?"

Had he burst aflame and began dancing I could not have been more confused. "But Holmes!" I cried, mortified to the core. "How could you..."

"I've been here for a week, my old friend, learning the ways of the land and the habits of its unfortunate residents.  And making a fair bit of coin, as it seems that regular washing and the most basic dental care does wonders for the trade.  I must suggest it to the other women here before we leave."

"But...  but the killer?"

"Ah," Holmes said with a twinkle and a slight twirl. "It's obvious to the most casual observer that he'll not strike again this month or the next, but I have my suspicions regarding where we might find this bloodthirsty fiend. Good thing you brought your revolver," he declared, and he patted the front of my trousers as he stalked off down the alleyway.

Befuddled beyond belief, I followed.

Next week, chapter two: The Fiendish Plan.

© 2003 Chris Bridges.  All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.


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