Savage, p.5
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       Savage, p.5

           Richard Laymon
 

  I got to pondering what a hero I’d be for tracking Jack the Ripper to his lair. Why, I’d be the most popular bloke in London, in the whole of England, for that matter. Her Majesty the Queen, herself, would likely honor me. Mother, she’d be just so proud…

  That reminded me of Mother’s plight, the reason I’d set out in the first place. Well, I hadn’t managed to fetch Uncle Bill, but it didn’t seem very important just now. Barnes wouldn’t be getting out of the handcuffs. Mother ought to be all right.

  What I should do, I decided, was go and find Uncle Bill first thing after discovering the Ripper’s lodging place. That way, he’d get in on the glory.

  I picked up my pace when the Ripper vanished around a corner. I got him in sight again. He was strolling toward a street lamp, toward a woman who stood there holding on to the post.

  She spoke to him. I couldn’t make out her words.

  He walked over to her.

  There was nobody else on the street that I could see.

  I went all soft inside and felt like my heart might explode, it was thumping so hard.

  He doesn’t dare! I thought.

  I stood frozen while the woman took his arm and snuggled up against him and they started walking off together.

  He’d done two in one night before, so this shouldn’t have surprised me. But it sure did. I’d just known he would lead me straight to his lodgings and I’d end up a hero.

  It wasn’t about to happen that way, though.

  Mary hadn’t been enough for him. He was fixing to butcher this gal, too.

  It’d be my fault, if I let it happen.

  I dug the knife out of my pocket, pried open its blade and rushed after them.

  My father had died in battle. If it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me. I reckoned I might be meeting up with him any second. Eager as I was for the reunion, though, I hoped it wouldn’t happen for considerable more years.

  I didn’t want to die just yet. But I couldn’t let this gal get killed, either.

  I slowed down a trifle as the distance closed. Pretty soon, I was no more than a few paces behind them. The gal wore a bonnet. Her head was leaning against his shoulder, and her arm was hooked around his back. He had one arm around her. His other swung the leather case along at his side.

  They hadn’t heard me yet. I was holding my breath. It helped, too, having lost my shoes to the thieves.

  It went against the grain to backstab a fellow.

  I went on and did it anyway.

  Charged right up behind him and jammed my blade through his coat.

  He let out a sharp cry. I tugged the blade out to get ready for another go. Before I could stick him again, he whirled around. His case clobbered the side of my face and sent me staggering. As I fell on my rump, the woman took to screaming. Then she took to her heels.

  The Ripper didn’t go after her.

  I’d saved her.

  But matters were looking dicey for me.

  I scrambled to get up as the Ripper came at me. He didn’t seem to be in any great hurry. He switched the case to his left hand, reached inside the front of his coat, and came out with a knife. Likely the same knife he’d used on Mary.

  “You’re Jack the Ripper!” I blurted as I got to my feet.

  “Am I now?” he asked.

  It was the same voice I’d heard on the bed above me.

  I backed away into the street and slashed about with my knife to keep him at a distance.

  His knife was a damn sight bigger. He didn’t swing it at me. He just held it steady in front and looked like he didn’t plan to fool around, just ram it through my gizzard and hoist me off my feet with it.

  “Give yourself up,” I said, “or I’ll run you through.”

  He laughed at that. Can’t say I blamed him.

  I kept backing away. He kept coming.

  I kept hoping he’d topple because of the stabbing I’d given him, but my blade must’ve hit a place that didn’t count for much.

  Suddenly, he made his move.

  He lunged, thrusting at my belly.

  I leaped aside. His blade missed me by a hair, and I whipped mine down. I didn’t have any target in mind, just hoped to slash him somewhere, hurt him the best I could. But what happened, I whacked off most of his nose. It came clean off and fell.

  He squealed.

  Sounded a bit like the squeal he’d torn out of Mary.

  He dropped his satchel and clutched his spouting stub and roared. The sound of that roar made my heart quake.

  I made like a jackrabbit.

  It might sound cowardly, but I’d had enough. That roar did it for me. He stopped being a wounded man and turned into the monster that had cut Mary into a faceless, gutted carcass. That had eaten her.

  I wanted shut of him for good.

  And I’ll tell you, I didn’t feel much like a coward as I raced off. I’d done my duty. I’d saved that woman from him and I’d marked him in a way he couldn’t hide.

  I figured, if I could only make my escape and live to tell my tale, Jack the Ripper would either disappear forever or end up in jail next time he showed his noseless face.

  I hadn’t killed him. I hadn’t captured him. But I’d stopped his reign of terror.

  That’s what I thought, anyhow.

  Even though he was chasing after me, I figured he wouldn’t catch up. After all, I was young and quick. And I wasn’t hurt.

  From the sounds of him dashing along behind me, I hadn’t lost him yet.

  I took a glance back when we were near a lamp, and saw how near he was and shriveled up inside. The knife in his right hand was pumping up and down. He’d lost his hat. His coat had come open, and was flapping behind him. His face and bare chest were black with blood.

  He looked like the worst kind of nightmare spook.

  I took to yelling for help. Not that I had much breath to do it with. The yelling came out feeble. And nothing seemed to come of it. After a while, I gave up and put all my energy into staying ahead of him.

  I dashed down streets and alleys. I plowed around corners. Every so often, something came out of the dark and bumped me. I tripped a few times, but always got up and running again in time to keep from getting killed.

  We ran past people sometimes. None was a constable. None tried to help. They all either ignored us or cowered or ran out of our way.

  That eager mob must’ve turned in early.

  Well, I’d about had as much running as I could take, but I kept at it. And so did he. He wasn’t about to give up the chase. I wasn’t about to let him catch me.

  The race seemed to go on for hours. Couldn’t have been that long, really, but it felt like it.

  And then I dashed out of a space between a couple of warehouses or factories or something and straight across the road from me was the river Thames.

  I made for it.

  The Ripper was quick on his feet, but how would he be in the water? If he wasn’t much at swimming, I’d be in fine shape.

  I raced out onto a dock that had some boats beside it. I glimpsed some other boats moored a ways offshore, and saw Tower Bridge off in the distance. The bridge gave me a clue as to where I’d ended up, but where I was didn’t count for much. All that mattered was getting into the river ahead of the Ripper, who was clomping along the boards behind me, snorting and growling.

  The tide was in, so I figured I wouldn’t wind up pounding myself into the sand.

  At the end of the dock, I flung my arms out straight and dived, shoving off as hard as I could. It seemed I was in the air forever. Then the river smacked my front. It wasn’t much colder than the rain, and I was so hot from all the running that it almost felt good. I kicked along, staying below the surface and fighting my way through the currents. No splashes came from behind me, though I’m not sure I would’ve heard them anyhow.

  Maybe he hadn’t followed me into the water.

  Or any second he might just grab one of my feet.

  I changed my angle a
bit to throw him off.

  I needed a breath in the worst way, but I stayed under and kicked and paddled with my arms. The knife in my right hand was slowing me down. Figured I might have a call to use it, though, so I kept hold. Wasn’t long before my chest felt like it might either burn up or explode, so I surfaced. My head popped out of the water. I sucked in air, and twisted around.

  And saw the Ripper.

  He was nothing more than a dim shape in the rain and darkness, but the way he was crouched at the edge of the dock, busy working on a task I couldn’t rightly see, I figured what he must be up to.

  Untying a painter that belonged to one of the dinghies floating by the dock.

  He aimed to come after me in a boat!

  Didn’t seem fair. But I wasn’t about to waste any time cursing him or my fate. I swung around and churned the river.

  Next time I looked back, he was in a boat and rowing after me.

  I took to diving under and changing course. Thought about doubling back on him, but knew I couldn’t hold my breath long enough to pull it off. On top of that, I was getting mighty tuckered out from struggling with the currents.

  Then it came to me that I might take cover behind one of the bigger boats that were moored nearby.

  Even better to board one. Then I might have a chance at bashing him if he tried to climb up after me.

  I swam for a sloop that was anchored off to the right. The way it floated there, all dark and quiet, it looked deserted.

  That’s where I’d make my stand.

  The Ripper’s dinghy was still a good distance off when I reached up and grabbed the anchor chain. I clamped the knife between my teeth, pirate fashion, and shinned up to the prow. It was no easy trick, but I made it. I clambered over the side and got the deck under my hands and knees. Felt so tuckered I wanted to flop and rest, but the Ripper wouldn’t give me any time for that.

  I stumbled to my feet and took the knife out of my teeth. As I turned to look for him, a shape came rushing at me.

  I didn’t have time to say hello or ask for help or duck.

  The bloke laid a club across my head.

  The night flashed real bright for a bit. Then the deck pounded my knees. Then I didn’t feel a thing.

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  On the Thames in the True D. Light

  It came as a great surprise to wake up at all. If I’d been aware enough to give the matter any thought, I would’ve concluded that my days of waking up were over for good.

  When I opened my eyes, I met so many surprises they pretty much left me dumbfounded.

  It was daytime, gray light coming through the portholes of the narrow cabin where I was stretched out.

  There was a mattress under me, covers heaped on top of me.

  I felt ropes around my wrists and ankles.

  The way everything pitched and rocked, it didn’t take much figuring to realize I was on a boat. Probably the same boat I’d boarded hoping to fight off the Ripper, the same boat where someone had brained me senseless.

  So what had become of Jack the Ripper?

  Though my head was aching fierce, I raised it off the pillow for a look around.

  The young woman on the other bed wasn’t covered. She wore a white nightdress. Her arms were lashed against her sides, her feet bound together. Her head rested on the lap of a man wearing trousers and a heavy sweater and a bandage that masked most of his face. The bulk of the bandage was where his nose used to be.

  The bandage was muddy brown in its center with blood that had seeped through and dried.

  This was my first good look at the Ripper. Though finding him sitting just a few feet away gave me an awful turn, he didn’t appear particularly fiendish in the daylight. His black hair was neatly trimmed, parted up the middle. He had rather dainty eyebrows. His brown eyes were small and close together, while his ears stuck out like big flaps. His mouth wasn’t much more than a slit, and had only a trace of lips. What with his thin lips and sunken chin, his upper front teeth stuck out in a way that might’ve been comical if I hadn’t known who he was.

  With his right hand, he stroked the woman’s hair. The knife was in his left, resting on her belly while he stared back at me for a spell. Then he raised it and gave the blade a twirl in the air.

  “Greetings,” he said. He sounded like he had a stuffed up nose.

  The woman was wide awake, gazing up at him with weary, scared eyes.

  “I’ve spared your life, you miserable whelp, so I expect your everlasting gratitude.” He said that as if it were a joke.

  “Bugger off,” I told him.

  He laughed.

  The gal darted her eyes over at me.

  I sat up. The covers fell down to my waist. I was shirtless. From the feel of the bedclothes, I was trouserless as well.

  The Ripper kept his eyes on me. They looked amused.

  “You wouldn’t like to leave your bunk,” he said. “There is a lady present.”

  “And you’d better not harm her, if you know what’s good for you.”

  She gave me a wild, pleading look as if she hoped I’d settle down and not get myself killed in her presence.

  “I shouldn’t risk vexing me,” the Ripper said, “were I in your rather precarious position. I’m quite displeased with you. It would do my heart wonders to peel the hide off your body and enjoy your screams.”

  “It did my heart wonders to lop off your nose,” I said.

  His upper lip twitched. He pounded his left hand down on the gal’s stomach. Her wind gushed out and she bucked, half sitting up. He yanked her hair so her head dropped down on his lap again. Her face was bright red as she gasped for air.

  “I quite enjoyed that,” he said.

  His message was clear. If I should do anything to displease him, he would take it out on her.

  “I suppose you have a name,” he said to me.

  “Trevor. Trevor Wellington Bentley.”

  “What a high-sounding name for a scurvy ruffian.”

  I held my tongue.

  “Trevor, you know who I am, I daresay.”

  “Jack the Ripper.”

  “Bravo! A keen mind. In plain truth, however, my name is Roderick Whittle. And this dear morsel is Trudy Armitage, a Yank. Trudy has agreed to play the role of Helpless Captive for the duration of our voyage. You have the honor of being aboard her family yacht, the True D. Light. Rather disgustingly clever wouldn’t you say?”

  I chose to say nothing, and just stared at him.

  He stared back.

  After a bit, he said, “You led me a merry chase, young Trevor. I was quite set to cut your heart out, you know, but all’s well that ends well, as the Bard is apt to say. You rendered me a service, leading me here. Things were getting quite warm for me. I’d been considering the merits of a sea voyage, and you led me to just the proper craft for such a venture. It hasn’t the necessary provisions for the trip I have in mind, but it came equipped with crew and captive.” He stroked Trudy’s thick brown hair, and smiled down at her. “They were all set to sail with the tide, Trudy and her groom fast asleep while her father busied himself with final preparations. I was forced to dispatch the father.”

  When he said that, Trudy’s eyes blinked and watered. Her chin trembled.

  Whittle patted her head. “There, there, no use in crying over Papa. He’s with the Lord now—and the fish.”

  She cried all the harder, gasping and shaking as the tears rolled down her face.

  I felt mighty sorry for her. I knew how hard it was, having a father killed. But that wouldn’t be nearly as hard as what Roderick Whittle likely had in mind for her.

  She was a pretty thing, no older than twenty. She looked buxom and healthy, broad across the shoulders and hips, with heavy bosoms that bounced around under her nightdress because of how she shook with her crying. I caught myself watching how they moved, and looked away quick.

  Not that the sight of them stirred me up. Not after the pair I’d seen in Mary’s room.

&
nbsp; I watched Whittle stroke her hair.

  And feared what might be going through his head.

  “Where are we going?” I asked, intending to distract him.

  He looked over at me. “Just now, we’re sailing down the Thames. The original destination was to be Calais. Isn’t that right, Trudy?”

  She nodded and sobbed.

  “However, my command of the French language is really quite poor. I’d be quite silly to take up residence where the natives don’t speak my tongue. No, such a place is not for me. I rather fancy trying my luck in America, instead.”

  “America?”

  “I’m sure you must’ve heard of it. The Colonies?”

  “That’s three thousand miles away.”

  “Quite. A trifle farther, actually.”

  “We can’t make a crossing this time of the year!”

  “Oh, but we shall certainly have a go at it.”

  The man was mad. But that goes without saying when you consider what he’d done to women. I chose not to point it out. Trying to sound calm, I asked, “Is this boat large enough for such a voyage?”

  “How do you suppose it came to our fair isles?”

  “We made our crossing in the summer,” Trudy pointed out between sniffles. “And Michael had…Father and I to help him. He won’t…be able to manage it alone.”

  “Which proves my foresight in sparing young Trevor. Have you ever been to sea?” he asked me.

  I shook my head.

  “Not to worry. You’re a quick study, and we have ample cause to know you’re agile and strong. We’ll give you double duty as my servant and as Michael’s hand. No doubt you’ll perform admirably.”

  I gave it some thought. Though the idea of seeing America appealed to me, going there trapped on a boat with Whittle sure didn’t. I wanted more than anything to get home to Mother. By now, she was likely frantic with worry. If I let myself get shanghaied, I’d be on the seas a month and she’d figure me lost forever or dead before I might find any way to let her know otherwise.

  Of course, I reckoned I’d never get a chance to let her know a thing.

  Trying to cross the Atlantic in November in a boat that couldn’t be more than fifty or sixty feet from stem to stern, with only me and a stranger named Michael for its whole crew, we’d probably all wind up blowing bubbles.

 
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