Croxley Mews is a typical London street: narrow, winding, and dark. Sherlock Holmes has never trod its cobblestones—until the day a woman is found lying dead on them. It is a murder gruesome enough to shock even the battle-hardened Dr. Watson, who has never before seen a woman disemboweled. It looks unmistakably like the handiwork of that notorious murderer who stalked the alleys of Whitechapel a decade before. Holmes is not fazed. He caught Jack the Ripper once—and he will do so again.
At the height of the Ripper murders, Holmes was called in by his brother Mycroft to catch the killer, whose social position made him impossible to arrest. The killer was exiled, but now he may have returned—bringing all the terrors of the apocalypse in his wake.
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About the Author
Barry Day is an author, scholar, and expert on legendary playwright Noël Coward. Born in England, Day was educated at Oxford and made his name writing impeccably researched books on legendary wits Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and P. G. Wodehouse. In addition to producing a series of mysteries featuring Sherlock Holmes, Day wrote the book considered to be the definitive Holmes biography, Sherlock Holmes: In His Own Words and the Words of Those Who Knew Him. He is also the editor of the essential The Letters of Noël Coward.
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and the Apocalypse Murders
By Barry Day
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2001 Barry Day
All rights reserved.
"Blimey, Inspector, talk about somebody wearing their heart on their sleeve ...!"
"Lestrade, if your officer has nothing more tasteful to contribute, I really think ..."
"Quite right, Mr. 'Olmes. You get off and start interviewing the neighbours and see if anybody heard anything. Mind you ..." — and he turned towards Sherlock Holmes — "if the last lot's anything to go by ... Sorry about young McLinsky ..." — this to the departing back of the sheepish police constable — "he's a good lad but a bit quick with the tongue, if you know what I mean. Comes from having a Scots father and a Russian mother, I shouldn't wonder. Why, when I was on the beat ..."
"Quite, Lestrade, quite," said Holmes, cutting off what promised to be an endless biographical anecdote. "Now, what have we here that you considered important enough that Dr. Watson and I had to interrupt our dinner?"
I was wondering precisely the same thing, as we stood shivering in our thin evening clothes in a poorly-lit mews not far from Oxford Circus but a world away from the bustling atmosphere of our favourite watering-hole, Simpson's-in-the-Strand.
Earlier that evening — in late January 1895, according to my notes of the case — Holmes had proposed the outing. For the past three days he had spent every waking moment hunched over his deal-topped table in the corner of our sitting room, cooking up one malodorous compound after another, until on the very stroke of six he had raised a triumphant test tube aloft, as though he were about to give a toast — which in a way it turned out that he was.
"This, my dear Watson, will hang the third most dangerous man in England and the cleverest poisoner who has ever crossed my path. I can now prove how he tampered with the Oppenshaws' poached eggs without breaking the skin. When you come to record it, you may wish to call it something like 'The Affair of the Locked Egg'— but it is not for me to interfere in literary matters ..."
I muttered something I hoped was incomprehensible from behind the Evening Standard. Holmes's teasing about my chronicling of his cases was inclined to be increasingly heavy-handed and I could not help but feel that there was a tinge of jealousy about the reputation I was beginning to enjoy. Why, only this morning ...
" ... and your latest royalty cheque seems to have exceeded your expectations ..."
"But how ...?" I said, before I realised that I had once more fallen into his trap.
"My dear Watson, we are given features to express our emotions and yours are an open book. Mrs. Hudson brought you three letters this morning. The first was clearly an advertising circular, since you tore it up unread. The second in a buff envelope was equally a bill of some sort, which you hastily pushed behind the toast rack. The third you opened in considerable haste and immediately beamed — rather smugly, I might add — from ear to ear. You next took a pencil, retrieved a portion of the torn envelope and jotted down a number with three figures in it. From which I deduce that you were examining your royalty statement and that it was more than the £93.5s.9d. you received the last time.
"After which you did something that totally convinced me that I was not in error ..."
"And that was ...?"
"You fetched The Sporting Life from your overcoat pocket and began making those enthusiastic but invariably abortive hieroglyphics on it. You were in funds. Capital, Watson, capital. So we both have something to celebrate. You may keep your ill-gotten gains. Tonight the treat is on me. Would a little something nutritious at Simpson's suffice?"
"It would, indeed."
And so we were cosily ensconced when the mâitre d'hove into view to tell us that a police constable needed to see us urgently with a message from Inspector Lestrade. Holmes and I exchanged glances over the succulent rare steaks we had just that moment been served. I had been picturing them in my mind since he had made the suggestion and I could just visualise my knife poised for that first incision ...
But right now I was doing my very best to banish the thought, as I watched my friend bend to examine what we 'had here'.
Croxley Mews, W.1. was a secluded spot, to say the least — one of those typical London backwaters that exist only a very few paces from a major artery, yet one could and did pass it day by day without even knowing it was there. Yet tonight someone had found it who would not be leaving.
At the very end of the mews was a Georgian house, shuttered and deserted — except for what lay at the bottom of the 'area' steps. As I peered over the railings, I could see Holmes and Lestrade bent over the body of a stout, middle-aged woman. Then, as Lestrade straightened up that whippet-like frame of his, I suddenly saw what had prompted McLinsky's inopportune remark. At that moment I could wish that I had been back at Simpson's ordering the fish — for not only was it clear that the unfortunate lady lying so immodestly on that filthy paving had been brutally murdered but whoever had killed her had removed several internal organs and arranged them carefully on top of her body.
In the course of my medical career I had seen some horrific sights, particularly in the field of battle, but never could I recall something which sent such a chill of horror through my veins as the sight of that art directed obscenity.
"Holmes!" I cried. "There's been nothing like this since ..."
But before I could say more, he was beckoning me to join him beside the body — which, with only the slightest hesitation, I did.
"Watson, I beg you to say as little as possible until we return to Baker Street, for reasons I will explain later," he said in a tone that only Lestrade and myself could hear without it carrying to the knot of police standing at the top of the steps to keep the inevitable onlookers at a safe distance.
"Before Lestrade has his men remove the body, I would call your attention, gentlemen, to two things. Despite being taken by surprise, the victim being a substantial lady, gave a good account of herself and managed to secure a token ..."
And he held up a single long blonde hair. "This was caught in a fingernail. And here ..." With that he gently lifted the woman's averted head and I could see the throat was neatly cut. In life she must undoubtedly have been a woman of strength and purpose, for the face was well-fleshed with a minimum of make-up carefully applied. In death, however, she looked defeated. It has never ceased to depress me that all the knowledge, memories and wisdom that it takes a lifetime to accumulate can be snuffed out literally in an instant.
Then I saw what Holmes was indicating. There, just below the angle of the chin, was a tiny additional 'x' cut into the flesh, so gently that it had hardly bled at all.
I heard Lestrade say — "He might as well have signed his blooming name, eh, Mr. 'Olmes."
"I think he did, Lestrade. I think he just did," Holmes murmured, almost to himself, as he let the tired head rest back on the ground.CHAPTER 2
"But, Holmes, I had no idea ..."
"There was no reason you should and very many good reasons why you should not, old fellow. The business of the so-called 'Jack the Ripper' killings was one of the most disturbing I have ever been associated with and caused me more heart searching than you can possibly imagine ... and you of all people are not deficient in that department."
We were back in Baker Street, where Mrs. Hudson, as if anticipating our needs, had banked up a substantial fire. I had exchanged my dinner jacket for a smoker and Holmes for his favourite mouse-coloured dressing gown. That and the old clay pipe told me that he expected to be in for a long night of contemplation.
As we sat in our familiar positions on either side of the fire, I observed that Holmes was staring into and beyond the dancing light of the burning coals, as if he were seeing visions that disturbed him. As so often, I was his necessary audience, so that he could empty his mind.
"Even when the murders started back in August of 1888, I think I may say that I had acquired a certain reputation in my field ..."
I nodded firmly but I doubt that he saw it in the dimness of the room.
" ... many people expected Scotland Yard, who were clearly baffled — as they so often are — to send for me right away when Mary Ann Nichols was killed on — I believe, August 31st. And then, when Annie Chapman was butchered on September 8th and there was still no sign of my involvement, you will remember that the popular press began to make an issue of it. I remember you even commented on it yourself?"
"I did, indeed," I replied. "It was a national disgrace."
"But you see, I was called in," Holmes said simply, "though not by Scotland Yard."
"I don't understand ..."
"It was my brother Mycroft, at the behest of the very highest in the land. And on the strict understanding that my presence and anything I might discover was to be kept completely secret. I was to report only to him. As you can well imagine, Watson, such conditions went very much against the grain with me but I was given no choice in the matter ..."
"But these were not high born women. I don't mean that the way it sounds — well, you know what I mean, Holmes ..."
My friend continued to peer into the flames, as though he were looking back down the years.
"Mary Ann Nichols ... Annie Chapman ... Elizabeth Stride ... Catharine Eddowes ... Mary Jane Kelly ... and perhaps others we were never sure of ...
"You're quite right, old fellow. By no means 'ladies'— except of the street in some cases. Pathetic creatures ... but with the God-given right to life that somebody, playing God, decided to take from them without even knowing them. But, you see, it wasn't the victims that concerned those in high places, though I exempt Mycroft from that callousness ..."
"Then what was it?"
"The powers-that-be had reason to believe that the killer was one of their own. And they look after their own. Of course, once they found him and his crimes could be proved, he would necessarily be punished — but discreetly. Out of the public gaze. One must never disturb the Great British Public — or frighten the horses."
There was a bitter tone in his voice as he continued ...
"As those two months of ritual bloodletting went on, a clear pattern began to emerge. The man's psychology was progressively unravelling. Each crime was more savage and yet more indulgent than the last. It was as though he wanted to show that he was a conjuror who could out-perform each trick with the next and hold his audience spellbound ..."
"He certainly achieved that. The papers talked of nothing else."
"He knew the Whitechapel area intimately and had his escape routes well worked out. There were no credible reports of a 'toff' running through those crowded streets covered in blood ..."
"As he must have been. From what I read ..."
Holmes continued, as though I had not spoken ...
"The man had some medical knowledge. The eviscerations were not the work of some amateur butcher and yet they fell some way short of the work of a professional surgeon ... To cut a long story short, Watson, I took their confounded list and started there ..."
"There was some talk at the club that there was a Royal name on it ..."
"Oh, young Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence? Heir apparent, if and when our beloved Prince of Wales ever does succeed to the throne? Yes, someone had thought fit to add his name in what I can only suppose was a joke in doubtful taste. Apart from the fact that he had unbreakable alibis for each of the nights in question, the young man — sadly, no long with us — was, shall we say, intellectually negligible. It was as much as he could do to cut up a grouse after the Glorious Twelfth. No, though the yellow press would have had a field day, I'm afraid the putative Prince was never — as you gambling men would say — a runner."
"Then who ...?"
"As to that, old fellow, I'm afraid I am still bound by that earlier promise. All I can tell you is that I approached the matter in my accustomed manner, as you would expect. That is to say, I tried to sweep my mind clear of any preconceptions and assess what little evidence there was.
"Fortunately — or, I should say, unfortunately — I was being presented with evidence on a distressingly regular basis. Then, when I had weighed it and eliminated the impossible, what remained ... but you of all people know my favourite axiom ..."
"So you came to the truth?"
"And like so many mysteries, once one had solved it, the answer was obvious. And that was where the real problem started. For the man in question did indeed walk tall in the corridors of power."
"And he was allowed to walk away?"
"I'm afraid he was, Watson. You may remember that hundreds of extra police were moved into the Whitechapel area when the crimes were at their height? You may or may not know that within days — immediately after I had made my report, to be precise — they were removed overnight, much to the public's dismay."
"And wasn't there some fuss over the Police Commissioner resigning?"
"Sir Charles Warren? Yes, though it was hardly his fault. The man was incompetent and our friends needed a visible diversion. The whole thing was poorly handled throughout — except in the efficient way some of the files subsequently disappeared, so that the truth could never be proved."
"No," — and he gave the fire a savage prod with the poker, so that the new flames lit his face from below like some embittered Mephistopheles — "It was far from my finest hour, Watson, but it was one which I hoped I had put behind me. Until tonight ..."
"Yes, what was all that about, pray?"
"Lestrade was the one person in the force who was allowed to know of my involvement — I suppose it was known that we had worked together over the years with a degree of accord ..."
I thought back to some of the things I had heard Holmes say about the Inspector's competence or, rather, lack of it but I said nothing so as not to interrupt his flow.
"We would meet privately and he would pass on such information as the Yard did have and arrange for me to see the bodies with no one else present. Neither of us has spoken of it from that day to this but when he found himself faced with a murder that brought back those dire memories, it was a matter of instinct, I suppose, to send for me. What happened tonight was the very thing that was not supposed to happen ..."
"But how was that to be expected?" I interrupted. "When a man has killed once — and this man has killed several times — sure there is a blood lust at work? He is clearly mad!"
"That I had ascertained quite early in the piece, you may be sure, Watson. Clinically demented and incredibly clever, as such people often are. For several weeks he kept the police on the hop and left barely a clue. He had the ability to appear and disappear in crowded streets. He was several times glimpsed but never clearly seen and he had the nerve to telegraph what he was doing. And even when I had unmasked him to the authorities — as I say — nothing could be done ..."
"Next to nothing. Because of the distinguished position he held, he was taken before the Home Secretary of the day — I believe the Prime Minister was so sickened by the man's crimes that he could not bring himself to attend.
"The Home Secretary there and then ordered a special jury of his peers to hear the evidence and come to a verdict. A highly unorthodox procedure, as you will observe, but one designed to save many people from the scandal an ordinary trial would have created. Even I never knew who they were."
"And, of course, he was found guilty?"
"He was found guilty — the verdict was quite unanimous — and literally banished. He was stripped of all his honours, taken under guard to an unknown European destination and told he must never return to England. And that was supposed to be the last we should hear of 'Jack the Ripper'. Oh, what fools these mortals be, Watson. What fools ..."
"But even supposing the Ripper is back, Holmes, there are things about this evening that still don't make sense. For one, this man, you say, was well known. He's bound to be recognised ..."
Excerpted from Sherlock Holmes by Barry Day. Copyright © 2001 Barry Day. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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