Savage, p.4
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       Savage, p.4
 

           Richard Laymon

  After that, things settled down. The bed stopped moving. There was some hard breathing as if they’d both tuckered themselves out.

  Then the man swung his legs over the side. He got into his boots, stood up and stepped over to the table by the head of the bed. Coins jangled. “A bit of something extra for you, Mary,” he said.

  “And would you care to go again?”

  “Gotta be off, I’m afraid.” He bent over his coat and picked it up.

  “You wouldn’t want me to be going back out on such a night, now would you? And with that murdering fiend about?”

  “That’s none of my concern.”

  “Be a dear. Please. I’m in arrears. I’ll needs go out again if you don’t give me more.”

  “Take care,” was all he said. Then the bolt slid back. A chill gust swept over me, but went away a moment later when he shut the door.

  Mary let out a sigh that made my heart ache.

  I thought about the shillings in my pocket. I’d fully intended to leave them behind in payment for the rum I’d consumed, for the coat and shirt I intended to take. If she had them now, she might not need to go out again.

  She would be ever so grateful.

  And I knew I’d feel good for doing her such a kindness.

  But I was keenly aware of her lying naked on the bed above me. Though I wanted a look at her, I feared what she might have me do.

  Also, how could I make myself known to Mary without giving her a terrible fright? Why, she’d likely scream. I’d already had a narrow escape from those who mistook me for the Ripper. One round of that was enough to last me.

  I decided to stay put, and leave the money after she had gone.

  That was a decision I’ll always regret.

  I should’ve scurried out and planted all my money in her hand and risked whatever screams or shows of gratitude she might have thrown my way.

  I should’ve done whatever was needed to stop her from going out again.

  Well, you just don’t know what’s going to happen in this life, or you’d do a lot of things different.

  Even though I wanted to give her that money, I chose to play it safe for myself and stay hidden.

  Soon, Mary climbed off the bed. She walked over to her pile of clothes. I kept my eyes on her, hoping for a peek at her good parts, but never saw more than her legs and arms, not even when she bent down to pick up her things.

  It was something of a letdown, really.

  Though I didn’t know it just then, I would be seeing Mary sprawled out naked on her bed before the night was out. And that was a sight such as I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

  CHAPTER FIVE

  Bloody Murder

  Mary finished dressing and went out the door. I stayed hidden under the bed, figuring she’d reach in through the window hole to shut the bolt.

  Well, I waited and listened and wondered what was taking her so long.

  Maybe she’d decided not to bother with the bolt. But I was in no hurry to crawl out. If she’d just forgotten, she might come back in a minute or two when she remembered.

  Besides, I was feeling pretty good. My fears of being caught had eased off, now that I was alone, and that left me rather weak with relief. What with the fire, the room was warm and toasty.

  But I reckon it was likely the rum that kept me pinned to the floor. I’d never imbibed more than a trifle of such stuff before tonight. It had me all lazy and comfortable.

  By and by, I figured Mary wouldn’t be coming back to bolt her door, after all, and I’d best grab the clothes and make my getaway.

  Being so cozy, though, I wasn’t eager to move on.

  Figured to wait a few more minutes.

  Well, I drifted off. Right there under Mary’s bed, the warmth and rum and my general tiredness got me.

  I believe I slept longer than a few minutes. It might’ve been more like a few hours.

  When I woke up, it was too late to skeedaddle.

  I hadn’t even heard them come in.

  A squeal is what woke me up. It came from right above me on the bed. It wasn’t at all like the squeal Mary’d let out last time. This one sounded full of shock and pain, but muffled as if her mouth were covered. It ended quick.

  The bed kept shaking. I heard wet, smacking sounds. And grunts like a man putting a lot of energy behind his work.

  Blood started to drip off the edge of the bed and splash the floor beside me. It looked purple and shiny in the firelight.

  For a bit there, I tried to believe I hadn’t woken up at all and this was just a horrid nightmare. It was too awful to be happening for real. But I couldn’t convince myself. I knew it was real.

  Mary’d found a fellow and brought him back to the room while I was dozing, and now he was busy killing her.

  Couldn’t be anyone else but Jack the Ripper himself.

  He was butchering her right on top of me.

  I wanted to scream, but kept my teeth gritted tight and lay there shivering, the scaredest I’d ever been.

  From all I’d heard about the Ripper, he didn’t seem like a man at all. More like a creeping phantom or a raging demon out of the pits of hell.

  I commenced to pray in my head that he’d finish up quick with Mary and go away.

  Pretty soon, he climbed off the bed.

  I figured the Lord had answered my prayers.

  Wrong.

  The Ripper wasn’t near ready to leave yet.

  What he did was stand in front of the fire. It was burning low, giving off just a murky glow and not much heat. All I could see were his shoes and the legs of his dark trousers. Then he tossed in a waistcoat and shirt. His own, I reckoned. They flamed up. He stood there for a bit as if warming himself, then walked over to the chair where those other clothes were heaped up. He returned to the fire. He added in the bonnet and petticoat. With a good blaze going, he came back to the bed. But he wasn’t done adding fuel. He stepped up to the fire again and stuffed in a big blanket.

  When that caught, the room fairly lit up and heat came rolling against me.

  He got out of his shoes and trousers. He had to bend down to take off the pants, but didn’t get low enough for me to see his face.

  Or for him to see mine.

  He didn’t add his shoes or trousers to the fire.

  He came to the bed again, and climbed aboard.

  Mary was probably already dead, by then. But he wasn’t done with her.

  He went to work all over again.

  Every now and then, he’d say something. “Oh, yes” and “Quite nice, really” and “Come on out of there, you tasty morsel.” He didn’t talk like the East Enders. He talked like a gent. “I do believe I’ll have this,” he said. And “Off you come, my charming tidbit.”

  Sometimes, he chuckled softly.

  Sometimes, he seemed to get worked up and breathless.

  Throughout it all, there came the most awful wet tearing sounds and lots of sloshing. I even heard him eat something. There were chewy noises, smacking lips, sighs.

  It’s a wonder I didn’t fetch up my supper.

  I tried not to listen. I tried not to think about what he was doing to Mary. I tried to keep my mind busy figuring a way to save my own hide.

  The knife in my pocket was pressed between my leg and the floor. I could get to it. But even with the weapon in hand, what chance would I have against such a monster? He’d get me for sure if I tried to scamper out from under the bed.

  The only thing to do was wait and pray and hope he’d leave without finding me.

  I spent a lot of time staring out at the room. There wasn’t much to see. If he had a hat and coat, they were somewhere out of sight. His shoes and pants were in front of the blazing fire. The wooden handle of a tea kettle on the grate was burning. Mary’s clothes were hanging off the seat of the chair. Her dress draped the tops of her muddy shoes.

  I was gazing out at these things, wondering about my chances of making a dash for the window and maybe taking a dive right through it to
the courtyard, when a gob of flesh dropped to the floor. It hit with a sloshing splash right before my eyes. It was a dripping red mound with a nipple on top.

  When I realized what it was, my head fogged up. My mouth filled with spit, the way it does if you’re about ready to toss. I heard a ringing in my ears. Each time I blinked, sharp blue lights flashed around everything. So I shut my eyes, swallowed and tried to pretend I was somewhere else.

  I started off pretending I was safe at home, comfortable in my chair and reading Huckleberry Finn. By and by, I turned into Huck himself. I was on the raft with Jim, floating along the Mississippi at night, sprawled on the deck and gazing up at a sky full of stars. It was all silent and peaceful, and I felt just grand. I wanted to drift down the river forever and ever.

  I must’ve been passed out cold.

  But then I came to just in time to see the Ripper’s feet right beside the bed. He bent down. My heart almost gave out. I figured he was onto me, and any second he’d be yanking me out from under the bed and slitting me open. But what he did was clamp a bloody hand over the breast and pick it up. He didn’t have a good enough grip on it, though. It slipped out of his fingers and fell again. This time, it landed on its side and sort of caved in a bit. He used both hands to scoop it up.

  He took a couple of steps to the table.

  Then he went over toward the fire. He got into his trousers and shoes. When they were on, he walked off to the side where I couldn’t see him because my shoulder was in the way. I heard some rustling of clothes, and hoped it meant he was putting on his coat.

  There came a sound like creaking leather. It put me in mind of stories that the Ripper was thought to carry a valise like maybe a doctor’s bag, that he toted his knife or scalpel in it, and used the satchel to carry off innards from his victims.

  Well, he came back to the bed and stood there, near enough for me to reach out and touch his shoes. From the goppy sounds that came next, I figured he was putting something from Mary into his case.

  My mouth filled up again. My ears rang. I saw those old blue flashes. But I hung on.

  And finally he went to the door. It opened, letting in a breeze that chilled my bare back and made the fire blaze even brighter than before.

  The door shut.

  I stayed put.

  It was a puzzle, what came next.

  He locked the door. He didn’t reach through the window and slide the bolt, he used a key from the outside. I heard that key scrape its way into the lock, heard a loud clack, and then the key pulling out.

  I wondered if he’d found the key on Mary. But if she’d had it, how come she didn’t use it instead of reaching through the window for the bolt?

  I wondered why I was even bothering my head with such a mystery.

  The main thing was, the Ripper was gone.

  He might’ve locked me into the room. That was fine, though. I could get out by the window.

  I thought about waiting a while to make sure he wasn’t coming back. But what I wanted more than anything was to get shut of this room and all that had happened here.

  I scurried out from under the bed, slipping and sliding on the bloody floor. On my feet, I made the mistake of looking back.

  There was Mary.

  She didn’t look much like a person at all, the way she was carved up. It was so awful, if I did any kind of job telling you about it here, you might get so revolted you’d quit reading my book. Besides, I’d feel guilty for putting such pictures into your head. My aim is to inform you and entertain you with the tale of my adventures, not to give you black thoughts or put you off your feed.

  Let me just say, the way the Ripper left Mary, you couldn’t have figured out whether she was a man or a woman. She didn’t have much face, either.

  I looked longer than I should’ve, mostly because it took me a spell to figure out what the mess on the bed really was. When I caught on, I gagged and looked away. But I looked away in the wrong direction, so I saw the stuff on the table. Both her breasts, and a gob of innards.

  I started to keel over, but somehow stayed on my feet and stumbled to the window. I shoved it open. Tried to climb out, but fell out instead. The cold and rain cleared my head some. As I picked myself up, I recalled why I’d snuck into the room in the first place. But I wasn’t raring to climb back in to fetch any shirt and coat. I saw them on the chair when I pulled the window down, and kept my eyes on them so I wouldn’t catch another look at Mary.

  Then I ran through the courtyard. The rain quit when I was under the arch. I stopped running, and leaned out far enough to glance up and down the street, scared the Ripper might be there. I didn’t see him or anyone else. But the gas lamps didn’t give off a whole lot of light, and left plenty of black spaces where someone might be lurking.

  All I wanted, just then, was to find my way home without running into more trouble. The last thing I wanted was to meet up with the Ripper. But a close second was getting took for the Ripper myself.

  Being shirtless and bloody in the Whitechapel area at an hour like this, I was bound to rouse suspicion in anyone who might see me. That being the case, it shouldn’t matter a whit whether I tried to walk casual or raced along like the devil was on my heels.

  At least if I ran, I’d be quicker about getting away to somewhere safe.

  I stepped out from under the arch. The rain came down on me. While I tried to decide which way to go, I rubbed my hands together until I figured most of the blood was off. Then I rinsed my chest and belly real quick.

  Being lost, it didn’t matter much which direction I picked.

  So I turned to the right and kicked up my heels. I went splashing through the street top speed. So much motion started my head to hurting something fierce, but I kept on chugging. At a corner, I checked both ways. My heart did a tumble when I spotted some folks off to the left. One was a constable. Nobody let out a shout, though, so maybe I wasn’t seen.

  Safe past the corner, I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t go back and tell the Bobby everything. Just didn’t have the gumption, though. First thing you know, he’d be thinking I was the one that done in Mary.

  And I was the one that stabbed Ned or Bob in the alley tonight. Rain or not, there might still be blood on my knife from him. I could throw my knife away. Didn’t fancy doing that, however. Aside from it being a gift I prized, it was my only weapon and I might need it.

  So I figured my best plan was to keep shut of constables or anyone else.

  Well, I rushed around a bend in the road and pulled up short and lost my breath. My stomach dropped down to my heels.

  Not that I recognized him. Cramped under the bed that way, I hadn’t seen enough: just his legs, his hands when he reached down a few times, his trousers and shoes. There was nothing particular about any such thing.

  The fellow walking past the street lamp ahead of me wore a hat and overcoat. Below the hem of the coat were trouser legs. They might’ve belonged to the pants I’d seen in Mary’s room. Looked the same. But dark pants are dark pants. From where I stood, I couldn’t see enough of the shoes to know if they were like the Ripper’s.

  But he carried a leather case like a doctor’s bag.

  That was enough for me.

  I just knew, deep down, this was Jack the Ripper. In my rush to hightail, I’d chanced to take the same route as him, and caught up.

  What with the distance and the rain smacking down all around us, he hadn’t heard me come around the corner. Or if he did hear, he didn’t look back. He kept on walking, and left the glow of the street lamp behind him.

  I stood still and watched.

  It’d likely take me hours to scribble out all the thoughts that went through my head then. But they boil down to this: much as I wanted to get away from the Ripper and go home to bed and pull the covers over my face, I reckoned as how it was my duty to follow him.

  And that’s what I did, even though it scared the tarnation out of me.

  I was fifteen and wet and cold and terrified, and as I f
ollowed Jack the Ripper in those dark morning hours I reckoned I might not live to see the daylight.

  But I kept after him, all the same.

  Here’s the thing.

  He was a monster who’d done unspeakable things, not only to Mary but to a handful of other women. He deserved the worst kind of punishment for that. More important, though, there’d be more women falling under his blade if somebody didn’t put a stop to him.

  Maybe it was chance. Maybe it was fate or the will of God. But somehow, I’d ended up being the fellow with an opportunity to put the quits to his string of bloody murders.

  It wasn’t a job I could walk away from.

  CHAPTER SIX

  I Tail the Fiend

  My plan was to follow the Ripper to his digs, wait till he’d settled in, and then fetch the police. I sure didn’t aim to tangle with him. He’d had a lot more practice in the way of knives, and he was a head taller than me so he’d have me beat on reach. Besides, I was scared witless of him. I’d be doing enough if I just stayed on his trail.

  He led me this way and that, picking streets that were mostly deserted. I hung back. I kept off to the side so I could duck into doorways or alleys in case he might take a notion to look over his shoulder.

  He acted like he didn’t have a worry. He never once checked his rear. I got a side view of his face a few times when he turned corners, but couldn’t tell much. Just too dark, and his hat brim shadowed it from the street lamps. All I could see was he had a beaky nose and a weak chin.

  I judged as how it might be a good thing to get a close-up look. But I didn’t dare have a go at that. Knowing his face wouldn’t count for much if I ended up dead for trying.

  The trick was to stay alive and not lose him.

  After a while, it started seeming like a fairly simple trick. He wasn’t being cautious or dodgy. He walked along like a gentleman out for a stroll. I didn’t have a bit of trouble keeping my eyes on him.

  Though we sometimes walked by other folks, they minded their own affairs. A few gave me odd looks, but none spoke to me or raised any sort of fuss.

 
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