Pea-soup fog rolled in, filling the air with a
thick, damp mist that smelled of death and fear. Chimneys jutting from
slate-tiled rooftops suffocated under the weight of the low hanging
clouds. A tomcat scampered across the cobbled lane; its snake-like tail
dancing like a vaporous specter. A scream erupted from the next alley
over. The sound of a knife clanging on the pavement echoed, mingling with
the blood curdling screams of terror and pain.
Windows were thrown open, the shutters banging
against the soot-coated brick walls. Under a rainfall of half-awake ogling
faces, I rushed around the corner, anxious to find the source of the
commotion. Several people arrived at the same time as me. The lamplight
could barely be seen through the dark mist, but enough of the flickering
oil flames bore through to see the victim lying in a pool of her own
blood. An elderly man picked up the victim, holding the mutilated body in
his gray-coated arms. After I did a thorough, yet quick, examination, the
first conclusion reached was that a murderer was roaming the streets of
London, preying on young women. The same incident had happened only two
nights before and in the same vicinity.
Several policemen appeared, each dressed in
worn dark blue uniforms; rounded tin hats sat atop their heads. They began
questioning people in the gathering crowd. “Excuse please, but did you by
chance see what happened?” The officer pulled a pencil and notepad from
his pocket; the pages bent and torn at the edges. Other scribbled names
and places filled the other pages. He walked towards me and stopped. With
eyes full of suspicion, he asked his questions.
“No, officer. Haven’t a clue what happened.”
“Did you hear anything?” Once again he wrong
on the paper.
“Just a few screams and a knife hitting the
“A knife, you say.” The policeman whistled to
the other officers. “Look for a weapon. It could be a knife, or perhaps an
“Can’t you tell by the wounds what was used?
Isn’t it the same weapon used on the other girl two nights ago?” I balked
at the incompetency of the officers.
They pushed wooden crates out of the way,
turning everything in their path upside down as they searched. Several
cats screeched before darting down the alley towards the river, unhappy
about being disturbed during their pre-midnight nap.
“Here it is!” A policeman with salt and pepper
hair shouted, holding up an ice pick. He carried it over to the girl’s
body, which now was covered by a not so clean white sheet. Blood seeped
through, turning it crimson, though the dim light gave it an almost black
“Sergeant Pennywhistle, does the ice pick
match the wounds?” The head officer examined the pick.
The flustered policeman, hesitant to look,
pulled back the sheet, inch by inch, until the first wound appeared. He
ran his finger into the hole between the girl’s copper eyes. “It’s a
match, Captain Barrymore.”
My stomach lurched at the sight of that much
blood, already coagulating around her body. Acidy bile rose, burning,
gagging and choking as it surged upward.
Glancing at the crowd, the captain made note
of each person. He muttered to Sgt. Pennywhistle. “That chap over there in
the dark, near the pub; do you see him?”
All gazes headed that direction, each seeking
a glimpse. Sgt. Pennywhistle nodded. Gasps came from the onlookers.
Windows slammed shut and shutters were locked, leaving us in an eerie
Captain Barrymore continued. “Take Dorrington
and Appleman, head over that way, but don’t let the bloke see you. He’s
What was he doing that caught the officer’s
attention? I glanced his direction. The man’s hair was filthy and matted
and by the look of the passer by’s facial expressions, he hadn’t bathed in
ages either. His clothes hung off him. He looked like a vagrant, but not
necessarily a murderer.
He seemed to notice the approaching officer
and rushed off into another alley, a sure sign of guilt. A scuffle ensued
as pursuing officers attempted to wrangle him to the ground. A few moments
later the policemen appeared, dragging the wretched scoundrel by his shirt
“It’s him, Captain Barrymore. His hands are
covered with blood.” Sgt. Pennywhistle threw the culprit to the ground and
pulled back the sheet. “Look at this girl. You bludgeoned her to death,
just for fun. Why, I ought to break your neck right…”
“Sergeant Pennywhistle! That is enough! Escort
him to jail immediately.”
I watched them drag him away. We made eye
contact for several seconds as they passed. His toothless grin changed his
entire appearance. I saw the still wet blood on his hands. It didn’t make
sense to me why he hung around to watch the events, but who knows the
makings of the criminally insane mind.
The body was carried away and soon the drama
ended. The alley fell silent; the only sign of death – a red stain on the
cobblestone. The fog rolled in, blanketing the dingy buildings packed
together like sardines. The stench of death seeped into my nostrils,
carried on a zephyr that blew in from the Thames River before disappearing
down one of the narrow streets.
A sigh escaped my lips. Footsteps echoed as
the crowd dispersed, each heading home to safety, leaving the streets of
London to the alley cats and pier rats.