The Adventure of Jack the Ripper
I woke up coughing and fell off the chair I had been dozing in. It was late at night in late December and in 221B Baker Street, things were quite bleak. Holmes was unemployed and in the process of trying to poison both of us with his filthy smoke. He didn't even look up when I fell off the chair. Cursing under my breath, I got up to open a window.
Letting in some relatively fresh air I noticed Inspector Lestrade walking up to the door. Thank God, I thought, this might be exactly what Holmes needs.
"It's Lestrade," I said over my shoulder. "He looks decidedly grim."
Holmes sat up straighter, taking the pipe out of his mouth. A good sign. We heard the footfalls on the stairs, and Holmes called, "come in" before the inspector had even had a chance to knock. He came in, ready to say something, saw me, and shut his mouth.
"This is hardly business for a lady to hear, Miss Sherwood," he said.
I frowned at him, standing up. "Three points, Lestrade: first, if you take that attitude, I'll only be more curious to know what it is. Second, I'm not a lady. Third, and most important, if women are being murdered, it certainly is my business."
He gave me a suspicious look. "You know about this?"
"Please," Holmes broke in. "What happened, Lestrade?"
"Whitechapel," the inspector turned to look at Holmes. "A woman's been murdered… pretty nasty."
He drew a line across his throat and gut with his index finger.
"Who was the victim?" I asked.
"A woman of the street… she hadn't been identified yet when I left."
He then proceeded to give the full details. Holmes sat still, fingers steepled, eyes closed, drinking in the description. I shrugged on my cloak and checked my reflection in the dark window. I heard the details the same as my mentor, but I knew he got more out of them than I did. Still, a dead woman, no witnesses so far, and the person who found the body was the man on the beat. No motive, either, I thought. Prostitutes don't have anything of value on them as a rule. I suppose there are some who do, but not the ones in Whitechapel.
We went with Lestrade to the scene of the crime. It was late enough that most people wouldn't be out, but it seemed that everyone that was had gathered to ogle at the murder. The police shooed them away as best they could, and Holmes and I went to look at the corpse. The smell of blood was so thick in the air that I almost heaved, but some rapid swallowing kept it down. I did not look to see what Holmes would do but went straight to my own bit of searching. There was a trail of blood that went to the fountain nearby. The water was red and cloudy. Our fiend had washed his hands here; I knelt down and stood back up, having knelt on something hard. It was a button. I put it in my pocket, and took out my glass. There wasn't much to see in the fountain, but when I looked back at the corpse, I realized that whoever had done the deed knew almost exactly where to put the knife. Or maybe he did know where to put it, and his knife wasn't the best. Either theory was possible.
I had never cut the throat and/or the abdomen of a living thing, but if the fish I'd been forced to clean back in America were anything to go by, it was no easy task. Holmes probably knew what the murderer did for a living, where he lived, who his barber was, and all the issues of his love life. I chuckled to myself. It was a rather ghoulish laugh, and I only let one escape.
"Rigor hasn't set in yet," I observed to cover that up.
"Still warm when he found her," Lestrade said.
"Indeed?" Holmes appeared. "Where is he?"
"There," the inspector pointed out an ugly young man, close to my age, possibly a little older, with a faintly greenish tinge to his countenance.
I listened to the young man and failed to find anything useful in what he said; Holmes and I returned to Baker Street in relative silence.
"Well, Holmes?" I asked.
"What did you see?"
"Strong man… killing a person like that is no easy task, and he knew almost right where to put the knife. Oh, and the knife might be a bit on the dull side. I can't see a sane person committing a murder like that. Or a person without a lot of hate for poor Miss X committing the deed, but I think that unlikely."
"It's purely conjecture, of course, but most people don't care about prostitutes enough to do something like that. Usually people pretend not to see them, whether they use them or not. At least during the day. Nighttime is probably different."
"Very good. How do you know it's a man?"
"I don't, but I can't see another woman doing something like this. If I were going to murder someone, I would use poison, or a gun. Knives are messy, and they require more physical labor."
He nodded, and lay back on the sofa. I hid my smile behind my hand; he had no idea how alluring I found him when he did that. I started to turn back in the direction of my room (it had been Watson's until his marriage) when his voice stopped me.
"One thing, Sherwood," he said.
"Don't bluff Lestrade like that. You had no way of knowing the gender of the murder victim, and if you had been mistaken…."
"Yes. I just hate being coddled like that because I am a woman."
No reply. He was probably trying not to notice my sex, which is an uphill battle. I keep my long blonde hair unbound unless the situation is very formal, and my shape is very womanly. His issue with women was something I was very curious about. Having lived with him as long as I had (we could have been brother and sister), I concluded that he was interested in women, but hadn't a clue what to do with or around them.
I attempted to sleep, but had no luck. It was too early in the morning for me to sleep, no matter how tired I was, so I went back out into the main room and resumed reading The Body Snatcher where I had left off. Holmes was nowhere to be seen. He could probably sleep on command. When I finished the story it was early enough to be qualified as day. However, I did not move from my spot. My eyes ached with tiredness. Mrs. Hudson would be by with breakfast soon; unlike Holmes I actually ate at regular intervals.
I shivered. It was cold in just my nightgown. I went back into my room and started to get dressed. I got my dark blue dress out of my wardrobe, and the button fell out of the pocket of the jacket I had been wearing the day before. I picked it up and looked at it. It was a sailor's button, with a splatter of dried blood on the top. The back was clean, however. I turned the button over in my hand; it could be nothing, or it could be a clue.
Returning to the other room I saw Mrs. Hudson come in.
"Good morning," I said. "Papers come yet?"
"Right here," she handed me the paper. "Is that dreadful story why the inspector was here at that unholy hour last night?"
"Holmes' deduction skills are rubbing off on you," I said. "Good God. Did they have to include the photograph?"
"Do you still want your breakfast?" Mrs. Hudson asked, drily.
"Yes. Thank you."
She muttered something and left. I weighed my choices. I could awaken Holmes and tell him about the button, and make him eat breakfast. However, he did not like to be woken up, and that could put him in a nasty mood for the rest of the day. After thinking for a few minutes I went to Holmes' room and shook him awake. He pushed me away but not to be driven off, I lit a cigarette for him. He took it from me, and the nicotine pushed some energy to his sleep-fogged brain.
"What is it?" He asked, smoke falling out of his mouth.
"I might have a clue."
I handed him his purple dressing gown. "A sailor's button. I picked it up last night, but I forgot about it until just now."
He took it from me. He was still staring at it when Lestrade came back, after I had eaten breakfast. Holmes had only taken coffee; he was still in his nightshirt and dressing gown. I was fully dressed, though my hair was unbrushed.
"Good morning, Inspector," Holmes said, without looking around.
"How'd you know it was me?"
"Your footsteps," I answered for Holmes. "Would you care for some coffee?"
"No thank you, I have to be going again, but I just wanted to tell Mr. Holmes that the victim has been identified."
Holmes waved his hand in a "well, go on" kind of gesture.
"Her name is, uh, was, Mary Ann Nichols."
"No, just that it was the throat wound that killed her. She was already dead when…."
"He cut her stomach," I finished. "One has to wonder why."
"Well, I'll leave the philosophy to the two of you."
As well he should. Lestrade then took his leave of us, and I helped myself to the last of the coffee, writing down what we knew for sure about the case.
Victim: Mary Ann Nichols
Date of Death: 30 November 1888
Cause of Death: Throat cutting
I erased "Motive" after I had written it down and replaced it with "Misc."
Misc.: Stomach also slashed. She was already dead when this occurred: mutilation.
"What are you doing?" Holmes asked.
I read him back the list, and when he did not reply I asked him, "did I leave something out?"
Still no reply.
"What does that button tell you?" I pressed on.
He handed it to me, along with his glass. "You discovered it, but did not really observe its significance. Look at it again and tell me."
I frowned, looking at it. "It's a sailor's button, like I said before. There's blood on the front of it. Wait a minute. If it were already there when the crime occurred, wouldn't the blood be on the back of it?"
"Yes, because I knelt on the back of it. Was our murderer wearing it?"
"Perhaps he did… you remember that you must be careful when you form theories."
"I know. There's always the danger of twisting facts to fit the theories and therefore missing the point entirely. You told me that when we were investigating the ambassadors to see which one was extorting from the Bank of England."
"You were convinced it was the French ambassador."
"I was close, it was the Spanish Ambassador."
His blue eyes darted in my direction, a trace of amusement flickering there, though his face remained emotionless.
Nothing happened for about a week, but then at six AM on December 7th, I was awakened by Holmes himself. It was very odd for him to be up and about at this hour.
"What's the matter?" I asked, sitting up and throwing the quilt off my legs.
"Another murder, just like the last one," he said, and a smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. "It must be a serial killer; I love those."
"Ghoul." I said, and the smile flitted across his face again. I got out of bed and grabbed some clothes. "Give me ten minutes."
He disappeared, not offering any objection to the time, which I took as a yes. I pulled on my dark red skirt and jacket, dragging a comb across my head before I bundled up for the icy morning. I didn't have a thermometer, but if it were very much above twenty degrees, I would have been very surprised.
I recognized this woman when I saw her. Her name was Annie Chapman, and like Mary Ann Nichols, her throat and abdomen had been slashed. Unlike her predecessor, the stomach wound was a good deal messier. He must have cut something out, I thought.
"Bolder," I observed.
A few of the policemen nodded or muttered something. Holmes was looking at the wounds and did not reply.
"Same knife," he said. "It has the same jagged appearance as the other."
"Can't be sure until the medical examiner has his turn," Lestrade said, probably just to be saying something.
No matter how much the poor man tried to save face in front of his troops, or kidded himself into believing that he was Holmes' intellectual equal, we both knew damn well that if Holmes said that the same knife had been used, we could take that statement to the bank. I took a deep breath and bravely squatted down next to my teacher to look at the wounds. From what I remembered of the others, they were a perfect match.
He stood up and pulled me into a standing position as well, thanked Lestrade, and announced that we had seen what we needed to see. Well, he had, anyway. I wasn't finished.
"Where are we going, Holmes?" I asked.
"In search of a fishmonger," he replied. "I want to see the way fish are gutted."
"Of course," I fell into step beside him, thinking that this morning I might not need breakfast.
The stench of the dead fish is enough to wake the dead if the strong-lunged vendors hadn't done that task already. Holmes immediately drifted away from me, and when we met up again he was looking pleased.
"Was Miss Chapman gutted like a fish?" I asked, sotto voiced.
"Yes, and now we must leave before we are forced to buy something."
I nodded. "I spent this entire time avoiding that, and I don't like to argue with people holding knives."
A clock chimed somewhere. It was only eight o'clock in the morning. When we reached the rooms at Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson had already laid out breakfast, which by now I didn't especially want, but felt a little guilty in leaving. I poured myself some coffee, and an idea popped into my head.
"You know Holmes," I said. "If we get desperate, I can always dress up and walk the streets. Bait."
"Absolutely not," he replied.
"Follow me and pick me up if you see someone who has designs on my inner organs. Wear a disguise if being seen like that troubles you."
He didn't reply, and I let the subject drop. I thought it was a good idea, and it might improve his reputation. A lot of people who had read Dr. Watson's books had the two of them in bed, which wasn't how things were, but people have no imagination. They see two people living in close proximity and they assume sex. I imagine that Lestrade thought that we were sharing much more than the rent.
I chuckled to myself then pretended my coffee had gone down the wrong way.