Funny this, my letter lying before you. Don’t think that it came without reason, and don’t be so coy as to think you wouldn’t have sought me had I not you. Soon everyone will. You, though, I think you will have a particular interest in me.
News of my deed will reach you on the morrow, I’m sure.
In London the chameleon dwells.
Each and every spectre that haunts its streets,
A player in the city’s masquerade,
A reversed tarot, a bearer of another self to one with which they should be familiar.
Those paid to be familiar to the gentlemen of the city,
the connoisseurs of its alleys,
often the least to be feared for their numerous façades.
These women of midnight, their graces fewer than those who commission them,
they have become what was expected,
and for that they suffer.
Yes, in London the chameleon dwells, and under the sun it may bask, but beneath the moon it will hunt.
For some, this suits them just fine.
Cramped between its claustrophobic houses and choked by the smoke of its fires, Thomas Alderdice took a moment’s pause. He neatened the buttons on his tunic, adjusted the truncheon on his belt, all the while watching the rain lash against the road in front of him. It splashed into puddles and against his trousers, soaking his socks and leaving his shoes to squelch as he moved from his position and headed north.
“Cold night, Tom.”
Tucked in against a storefront, John Griffiths nodded his helmet covered head down, water spilling forth, droplets to join the storm.
“See it got you, too, John,” Thomas nodded, before turning his gaze to the sky. A flash across it summoned thunder. Knowing of its arrival, he hesitated to flinch, smirking instead at Griffith’s shuddered response to the noise.
“Bastard has us all,” Griffiths replied, drawing his shoulders in tighter to his body, resembling a snail soon to retreat into its shell. “Even the whores are calling it, and I’d be last to say it had been a busy eve’ for them. Most are already down the penny. They’ll be seeing the finest of the night, we’ll no doubt be called down.”
“No point to that and you know it. You’re looking for an excuse to stay dry.”
Griffiths crossed his arms across his chest, pushing the thick of his tunic’s material more closely against his body. He gave no reply, but a quick upturn from the side of his mouth gave Thomas the impression he’d guessed right.
“I’ll be carrying on, beat change at the stroke.”
“Go on with you then, pray your wears aren’t scratching the fuck out of you like mine are.”
They were, and the wool of the high collar catching against his neck as he continued down Whitechapel Road placed him in a bitter mood. The rain only made it worse, but, had he huddled beside John beneath a shop door roof that served no further purpose than a pigeon shitting point, coming back into the rain after a brief spell of dryness would have made his mood worse still. For now, the swell of bitterness in his chest that caught in his eyes with a glare dared any East end thief to test him.
“Fuck it,” he muttered to himself, soon dropping the act of knowing what he’d do should a gang come upon him. He kicked at a puddle without looking down for it. He knew it would be there, they’d been there all Summer. The usual muck of the London streets turned to a sludge, the only good thing about the rain was the heat it failed to bring with it. At least the cold gave his nostrils what his eyes couldn’t have: a break from the City.
Half way up Whitechapel Road he heard the four strokes of the bell and knew that soon a cry would go out. He was waiting on five, then he’d give his own cry and make his way back home to an empty bed.
He preferred it that way. Two nights before he’d found a letter on his pillow, a note: “Dear Boss” it had begun, and quite playfully continued with intentions to clear up the City. One of these nights, it had said.
Tom gave a snort, it would take more than one night.
His walk was to take him further up Whitechapel Road, but the flashing of a lantern down a narrow path to his left caught his attention. It was not unusual to see another officer on patrol or nearing on their new beat, but for one to be rushing as these footsteps sounded, the light of the lantern swinging back and forth and catching off the dull fronts of buildings with the man’s unsteady gait, gave Thomas cause to follow.
His own footsteps had the man quickly turning on him, his truncheon pulled from his belt with a speed that Thomas recognized as fueled by fear.
“Alderdice, this isn’t your beat, why are you here?” He looked on Tom with suspicion, but he could only look back with confusion. His expression calmed the man’s nerves before his words could.
Jonas Mizen replaced his truncheon and brought his hand to his dark moustache. In the light of the lantern Tom was unsure whether it was the rain or sweat that dripped from his brow.
“What’s got in to you? Seen one of the City’s ghosts?”
“Just the dead, Tom,” Mizen replied, “Just the fucking dead.” He turned from him and continued down to Buck’s Row.
Tom followed, his feet moving before he’d even had the chance to decide whether or not he should.
They exited the street and found a new road stretching ahead and behind them. Half way up, in an area that would be lit by a sole gas lamp on any ordinary night, lanterns flashed.
A woman lay on her back, her dress stained and a bonnet to the side. In the lantern light, Thomas’ found that his gaze was fixed upon her throat. A cut, jagged and deep, crossed it with such depth that in the shadows that passed over with each lantern sway her head appeared to be attached by only slithers of flesh.
At Tom’s utterance, a man that kneeled over the body glanced over his shoulder. He gave a grunt of acknowledgement, before looking to another officer.
“Thain, you accompanied me here, now you’re to accompany me to the mortuary. She’ll be more of a spectacle should the workers come on morning break and more arrive for shift. We must have her removed.”
“Agreed, Sir,” Thain replied before turning to Thomas, his awareness of him seemingly only now apparent after the doctor’s acknowledgement. “Alderdice,” he said, his lips held tight. “Your morbid curiosity will see you a part of this.”
Thomas bowed his head for one singular beat, his eyes drawn once again to the wound across the woman’s throat, his thoughts on words not from Thain, but from another.
Your nights must be awfully grim, this dreadful city your moonlight companion. The streets need a clear up the likes the rain will never serve. The end of this fine month will see the beginning of my helpful hand. Perhaps you will, too.
You’ll try to catch up with me soon, but you won’t.