Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(3)

“Tell me, boys,” Uncle Jonathan said, moving about the low stage in the center of the gallery, his pale green eyes pausing on mine before continuing, “what does the evidence suggest if the blood found under the body was already coagulated? Better yet, if there was barely enough blood found to fill but half a pint, what might that say about our victim’s end?”

The urge to call out the answer was a miserable beast longing to break free from the cage I’d agreed to lock it in. Instead of exorcising that demon, I sat quietly with my lips pressed shut and my hat pulled low. I hid my annoyance by scanning my classmates’ expressions. I inwardly sighed. Most of them were the same shade of artichoke and looked a breath away from vomiting. How they’d stomach dissecting a cadaver was beyond me. I subtly scraped dried blood from my nail beds, recalling the way it felt to hold a liver in my hands, and wondered what new sensation today’s postmortem would bring.

A boy with dark brown hair—as carefully sculpted as his immaculately pressed uniform—raised his hand, straight as an arrow in the air. Inkblots covered much of his fingertips, as if he were too entranced with writing notes to be bothered with delicacy. My gaze had lingered on him earlier, fascinated by the methodical way he took notes. He was nearly manic with learning—a trait I couldn’t help admiring.

Uncle nodded toward him. The boy cleared his throat and stood, confidence pulling his lean shoulders back, as he faced the class instead of my uncle. I narrowed my eyes. He was also quite tall. Could he be the mysterious visitor from last night?

“It’s rather obvious, if you ask me,” he said, his tone bordering on disinterest, “that our murderer either propositioned the deceased for illicit acts to lure her somewhere private, or sneaked up on her—as she was clearly inebriated—and dispatched her from behind.”

It was hard to tell, since he’d barely spoken yesterday, but his voice sounded as if it could be that of Uncle’s late-night visitor. I found myself leaning closer, as if proximity might spark recognition in my brain.

Uncle Jonathan cleared his throat to stall the arrogant boy and sat at his wooden desk. I smiled. Posing as a boy certainly had its merits. Talk of prostitutes always put Uncle on edge, only now he couldn’t scold anyone for speaking freely in front of me. He pulled a drawer open, taking a pair of spectacles out and rubbing smudges from them on his tweed jacket before settling them on his face. Leaning forward, Uncle asked, “Why might you believe our victim was assaulted from behind, Thomas, when most of my colleagues believe the victim was lying down when attacked?”

I glanced between them, surprised Uncle had used his Christian name. Now I was almost positive he was the late-night stranger. The boy, Thomas, drew his brows together.

Golden-brown eyes were perfectly set into an angular face, as if Leonardo da Vinci had painted him himself. If only my lashes were as luxuriant. His chin was squared, giving him a look of steadfast determination. Even his nose was thin and regal, giving an air of alertness to his every expression. If he weren’t so infuriatingly aware of his own intelligence, he’d be quite attractive, I supposed.

“Because as you stated, sir, the throat was slashed from left to right. Considering most people are, in fact, right-handed, one would imagine from the downward trajectory you described, and the statistical probability our perpetrator was indeed, right-handed, the easiest way to commit this act would be from behind the victim.”

Thomas grabbed the student sitting beside him, and wrestled him to a standing position, demonstrating his point. Chair limbs screeched against the tiled flooring as the boy struggled to break free, but Thomas held tight as if he were a boa constrictor with its prey.

“He probably placed his left arm across her chest or torso, dragged her close, like so”—he whipped our classmate around—“and swiftly dragged the blade across her throat. Once, while standing, then twice as she fell to the ground, all before she knew what was happening.”

After simulating the near beheading, Thomas dropped the boy and stepped over him, returning to both his seat and his former disinterest. “If you were to investigate blood splatter at a slaughterhouse, I’m sure you’d find something like an inverse pattern, as livestock are typically killed while dangling upside down.”

“Ha!” Uncle clapped his hands with echoing force.

I jumped at his outburst, relieved most of the class jolted in their wooden seats along with me. There was no denying Uncle was passionate about murder.

“Then why, naysayers cry, didn’t blood splatter all over the upper portion of the fence?” Uncle challenged, pounding a fist in his palm. “When her jugular was severed, it should’ve rhythmically sprayed everything.”

Thomas nodded as if he’d been anticipating this very question. “That’s quite simple to explain, isn’t it? She was wearing a neckerchief when first attacked, then it fell away. Or, perhaps the murderer ripped it from her to clean his blade. He might possess some neurosis or other.”

Silence hung thick as the East End fog as the vivid image Thomas created took life inside each of our minds. Uncle taught me the importance of removing my emotions from these types of cases, but it was hard to speak of a woman as if she were an animal being brought to the slaughterhouse. No matter how far she’d fallen from polite society.

I swallowed hard. Thomas had a disturbing way of both predicting why the murderer acted as he did and turning emotions off when it suited him, it seemed. It took a few seconds for my uncle to respond, but when he did, he was grinning like a madman, his eyes two sparks of fire set ablaze in his skull. I couldn’t stop a twinge of jealousy from twisting in my gut. I couldn’t tell if I was upset Uncle looked so pleased and I wasn’t responsible or if I wished to be interacting with the annoying boy myself. Out of everyone in this classroom, he at least wasn’t cowed by the violence of this crime. Being afraid wouldn’t find justice for the family—this boy seemed to understand that.

Kerri Maniscalco's Books