Jack stood, swathed in shadow, invisible from the brightly-lit street, watching the beer-hall across the way. He’d been in there, walking among them, even talked to them, like a huntsman out checking his game trails for signs of prey.
He’d found it.
He’d found her.
The smile, the laugh, the toss of the head that sent blond hair flying. The eyes. The mouth. Both colored. Both tinted.
She was hunting as well, baiting the trap with her smiles and wiles, a trap he’d fallen into as a youth.
Staring through the night he found himself softly giggling.
They’d feared the whore’s pox would drive him mad, as it had with so many others.
The giggle grew louder.
It hadn’t made him mad; it had made him angry. Angry enough that the hunters had become the hunted, though they didn’t know it.
The sounds of fun and frolic became suddenly loud, riotous light and color spilling out into the night like ink from a tipped well. Flowing out with this current of light and sound, like flotsam pushed by a quickening tide, the whore and her two whore friends came, laughing, into the street. Jack’s pulse quickened and he felt an immediate pull — some sort of force, not quite physical, but so, so close — drawing him forward, toward his chosen strumpet. He resisted, watching them walk down the night street away from the safety of the light and sound of the bar. They walked in a knot, talking among themselves, chattering like geese and almost completely unaware of their surroundings.
Had they glanced back they might have noticed a shadow detach itself from the surrounding dark and move, silently, out of the alley to follow them.
Jack’s face split into a grin so wide he felt the night air cooling his gums.
They might have seen something. Probably not.
It’s not like this is my first time at the dance, he thought. I’ve had partners-a-many, though I think I have time for one more dance before this ball is through…
He leaned casually against a lamp post, as they gathered on the corner. There were hugs and back-pats all around. They said “girl’s night out”. They said “do this again soon”. He leaned his back against the pole, closed his eyes and made a wish, like a child faced with cake and candles. The noise died down. He spun about, but the ladies were nowhere in sight. He ran to the corner where he’d seen them last, moving swiftly but silently. To the right, two women walked, bumping into each-other occasionally as they stumbled along. To the left, a lone women strolled, her destination somewhere other than that of her two companions.
His chosen prey walked alone through the night.
“Happy birthday to me,” he whispered, the night air cooling his gums for a second time.
She was passing an alley when a soft click-tick made her pause. She faced the alley warily, peering into the shadows, trying to find the source of the sound in the dark.
As if she might spot the pebble Jack had tossed into the alley, sending it right over her head to rattle invisibly against the tarmac just as she passed the alley mouth.
Jack’s shoulder struck the middle of her back, sending the breath bursting from her lungs. He caught her arm as she stumbled into the shadows, swinging her about to smash face-first into the alley wall. Her nose broke, a front tooth shattered, but she made not a sound, her diaphragm fluttering uselessly, still paralyzed from his initial blow.
“Hello, Pretty,” he breathed, so close to her ear the lobe tickled his lips. “You were leaving without our dance. Come now, that won’t do at all.”
He spun her to face him, gripping her throat and slamming her head back into the alley wall in one smooth move. Her eyelids fluttered as she fought for consciousness, then opened wide, focusing on the hand he held right in front of her face.
The hand that held his favorite knife.
She inhaled to scream and his grip shifted, fingers digging deep into flesh, painfully paralyzing vocal cords.
“Now, now, none of that! We need a little privacy so you can dance for me, Love.”
The knife sliced low, a razor edge parting shirt and skin. His arm moved back and forth in great, curving swipes, each drawing forth great arcs of blood. He held her pinned to the wall like a butterfly in a lepidopterist’s tray as her feet kicked and her hands flailed, and with each pass of the knife his smile grew wider as he repeated the words:
“Dance for me… dance for me…”
~ ~ * * ~ ~
Barry woke on his kitchen floor; his back sore, his neck stiff.
His hands bathed in blood.
He rolled to the side, vomiting on the linoleum. He got to his feet, staggering to the sink to wash the gore from his hands… and found the knife on the sideboard.
He pictured Madame Starra’s face as he vomited again. The medium had told him that yes, it was Jack the Ripper’s knife he’d nicked from the evidence lock-up. Not had-been, but still was. Yes, he should have left the damn thing where he’d found it. Yes, she could break the connection between Jack and the knife, yes that would break the connection between Jack and Barry, and yes, oh yes, it was going to cost a lot.
He had paid.
She had chanted.
He stumbled off to watch the telly. Maybe he’d see the news, find out the name of the girl Jack had killed last night.
That he had killed.
And maybe, just maybe, if he concentrated until the next full moon, he could plant a name deep within his mind for Jack to pick up on when next he rode Barry out on a hunt.