The Touch of Time
Story by Martin Roy Hill / Illustration by L.A. Spooner
The lecture ended the same as all his lectures ended. Polite applause, followed by a hasty exit from the lecture hall. Muttered insults. “Ridiculous!” “Preposterous!” The only difference was the mutterings this time held more refined English accents than the ones that followed his lectures back in the States.
Professor Lawrence Hadley tapped his papers on the lectern to straighten them and placed them in his briefcase. He checked his watch and decided he had time to raise a pint before returning to his hotel. A voice disturbed his thoughts.
Three men huddled at the back of lecture hall. Each wore an expensive English-cut suit. One, the oldest of the three, was short and overweight, with a flabby face and a ring of unkempt gray hair circling a baldpate. He leaned heavily on a walking stick. Next to him stood a middle-aged man, tall and thin, with short graying hair and mustache, and gold wire-rimmed glasses. The youngest gentleman wore his blonde hair long, over the ears, and sported a snappy pinstriped suit. The oldest man raised his hand as if hailing a taxi.
“Oh, Professor Hadley!”
Hadley warily approached the trio. It wouldn’t be the first time skeptics harangued him following a lecture.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “May I help you?”
“Allow me to introduce ourselves,” the oldest man said. “My name is Roscoe. Walter Roscoe. This is Sir Malcolm Bonneville, and this handsome young chap is John Westminster.”
Each shook Hadley’s hand in turn.
“Fascinating lecture,” Westminster said. “Fascinating.”
“Absolutely,” added Sir Malcolm.
“We were all most impressed,” said Roscoe.
“Thank you,” Hadley said. “But?”
“But?” Roscoe repeated.
“Excuse me, but I’m not usually greeted with such praise following one of my talks. After all, not everyone accepts the idea of a psychic historian.”
“Some people are so closed minded,” Westminster said. “Stuffed shirts to the man. I, on the other hand, have always been fascinated by the idea of time travel.”
“I’m not a time traveler, sir,” Hadley said. “I simply have the ability to see what happened in the past. I never leave the present.” He tapped his head. “I see it here.”
“What young Westminster means,” said Roscoe, “is we have done our due diligence and reviewed your work, and we are quite impressed by it. You have no doubters or skeptics among us.”
“Thank you,” Hadley said. “That’s very encouraging. Now I must get back to my hotel. I have another lecture to give tomorrow.”
“Before you go, professor,” said Sir Malcolm. “There is a little business matter we would like to discuss with you.”
“Yes,” said Roscoe. “You see, we would like to hire your services.”
Whatever encouragement Hadley received from the trio’s praise evaporated. The only thing worse than skeptics were the paranormal buffs.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I am not a fortune teller. I do not stare into a crystal ball and I do not hire out my services. Now, if you will excuse me?”
Hadley made to leave, but Westminster stepped in his way.
“Please, professor,” Westminster said. “We don’t mean to insult you, but we— the three of us—are in desperate need of a man with your particular talents. Please hear us out. Please?”
Hadley thought a moment. It wasn’t every day wealthy men like these approached him with an offer. Perhaps he should hear what they had to say.
“Fine,” he sighed. “But after speaking at such length, I am very thirsty. Would you care to join me for a drink?”
— ♦♦♦ —
“Now why don’t you tell me about this business matter?” Hadley said.
The four of them crowded around a table in a noisy pub called the Upstart Crow. Their drinks had arrived—a brandy for Roscoe, a Scotch for Sir Malcolm, wine for Westminster, and a pint of ale for Hadley.
“This is the problem, professor,” Roscoe began. “Each of us here—Sir Malcolm, young Westminster there, and myself—have . . . troubled ancestries.”
All three men nodded.
“Let’s not beat around the proverbial bush, Roscoe,” Westminster said. “We’re all grown men around here. Let’s just tell him straight out.”
“I agree,” said Sir Malcolm.
Roscoe nodded, then said, “Professor, each of us is the descendant of one of three men who, at the time, were suspected of being the notorious serial murderer Jack the Ripper.”
Hadley studied the three men a moment, not certain if they were playing a joke on him. He had to admit they looked damned serious.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” he said. “What’s that have to do with me?”
“Professor, you need to understand something about us,” Roscoe said. “The three of us are quite successful, both through birth and entitlement, and through industriousness. Yet despite whatever honors we have accrued over the years, the possibility that one of our ancestors may have been the most notorious murderer of the 19th century hangs around our necks like an albatross. If we were commoners, it might be different. But we are who we are.”
“Let me explain my dilemma,” Westminster said. “I wish to be married, but the family of the woman I love disapprove of me simply because one of my ancestors might have been Jack the Ripper.”
“Being a politician,” Sir Malcolm said, “I am always the target of attacks. This possible genetic link to Jack the Ripper has plagued my campaigns for years.”
“I’m a successful banker,” said Roscoe. “You can imagine what many of my competitors say about me. ‘Oh, you can’t trust old Roscoe. You know who his ancestor is? The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, you know’.”
Hadley nodded. “I see your problem,” he said. “But what does this have to do with me?”
“We thought a man with your . . . skills could discover who Jack the Ripper was and clear our ancestors’ names,” said Sir Malcolm.
“Yes, you know, go back in time and follow each of them around, see if either one of them was this killer,” Westminster said.
“Gentleman, it doesn’t work like that.” Hadley said, shaking his head. “My skill, as you call it, isn’t something I can turn on and off. It just happens. When I was a kid, I picked up one of my grandfather’s war souvenirs from World War II. Suddenly, I was seeing the horrors he experienced fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific. I had several similar experiences as I was growing up. It was years before I realized what was happening, years more before I could control it to the point where I could concentrate on the visions and, for lack of a better term, be there in the past. It wasn’t until I became a professor of history that I realized I might use this ability to view history as if it were happening to me and record it in my writings. You saw tonight how few people believe in what I can do.”
Hadley paused, and sipped his ale.
“I have to admit I am intrigued by your proposal,” he said. “I have never before tried anything like this. But, as I said, I do not hire out my services.”
Disappointment showed in the faces of the three men.
“But I am willing to attempt what you ask as an experiment,” Hadley added.
Disappointment flew from the men’s faces and they looked at each other, then at Hadley, with excitement and joy.
“But—” Hadley held up a finger. “You must understand nothing may come of it. As with all experiments, it may fail.”
“Of course, of course,” said Roscoe. Sir Malcolm and Westminster joined Roscoe in nodding their concurrence.
“Have you considered what might happen if I discover one of you is, indeed, descended from Jack the Ripper?”
“Yes,” said Sir Malcolm. “We decided better one man live in misery than all three of us.”
More joint nodding.
“Fine,” said Hadley. “What I need from you is something once owned by your ancestors. I prefer something they carried with them on a regular basis.”
Sir Malcolm pulled a gold pocket watch from his vest pocket.
“As we said, we thoroughly researched your work and are familiar with your requirements. This belonged to my great-great-grandfather, Dr. Clarence Bonneville.”
“And this belonged to my great-great-great-grandfather Sir Clive Westminster.” Westminster handed over an expensive, silver cigar cutter.
Roscoe placed his walking stick on the table, its silver eagle handle pointing at Hadley.
“This has been in the family for generations,” he said. “My great-grandfather, Robert Roscoe, carried it every day.” Roscoe laughed. “However, without it, I may need assistance getting up from my chair.”
— ♦♦♦ —
Back in his hotel room, Hadley used the Internet to research the Jack the Ripper murders. Officially referred to as the Whitechapel Murders after the East London district where they took place, the killing spree lasted from 1888 to as late as 1891. During that time, the Ripper killed at least five prostitutes and perhaps as many as eleven. No one was certain when the killings started and when they actually stopped. The “Canonical Five”—victims Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly—all died between August and November 1888, the height of the killer’s reign of terror, and are considered the only certain Ripper victims.
Suspects were as plentiful as victims. They ranged from royalty to immigrants, Englishman to foreigners.. As most of the victims had body parts and organs removed, many believed the killer had medical training. Others believed the brutal butchery made it more likely the murderer was a butcher or slaughterhouse worker.
As the list of suspects cut across the social strata, the East End nearly erupted into class warfare. The police and the aristocracy believed the killer was commoner who lived in Whitechapel; Whitechapel residents believed the Ripper was an aristocrat who visited the East End to victimize women. Dozens, some say hundreds, of letters were sent to the police and newspapers by people claiming to be written by the Ripper. Though all were considered fake, they served to fan the flames of social distrust.
Among the list of suspects, Hadley spotted the three names he was given. Robert Roscoe was a successful merchant. Sometime after his death in 1902, a diary surfaced apparently written by Roscoe that depicted the Ripper murders from the viewpoint of the killer. The diary, however, contained several errors about the slayings and many dismissed it as a hoax.
Dr. Clarence Bonneville was a prominent London physician with a penchant for prescribing various narcotics for his own use. His drug addiction and predilection for East End prostitutes brought him to the attention of Scotland Yard, though he was never charged. He committed suicide in 1892, only months after the last of the Whitechapel Murders, leading many to suspect he was Jack the Ripper.
Sir Clive Westminster was also a wealthy physician. At the time of the Canonical Five killings, he was not considered a suspect. In 1891, however, police arrested Sir Clive for various “unnatural acts.” That brought him to the attention of the Ripper murder investigators. Released on bail, Westminster disappeared and was never seen again. About the same time, the Whitechapel Murders stopped.
Hadley closed his laptop and looked at the three items on his desk. He picked each up and examined it. “Where do I start?” he wondered. “Which one of you will work best for me?” His answer came when he picked up Sir Malcolm’s gold pocket watch. As he examined it, Hadley had the vivid mental image of a dark street. Hadley stood and walked to an easy chair. Still holding the watch, he sat, closed his eyes, and relaxed.
— ♦♦♦ —
Deep shadows slithered over the street, cast by the flickering light of the gas lamps. Dim candle light seeped from one or two windows of a public house. The street was much broader than Hadley would imagine, and reeked of horse manure and urine. Somewhere to the right, came the sound of footsteps. The figure of a man in a frock coat and hat emerged from the shadows into the flickering gaslight. He paused beneath the lamp, removed a pocket watch from his vest, and checked the time. In the dim light, Hadley saw the flash of gold from the watch.
Dr. Clarence Bonneville.
The image faded, replaced by a darker one. There were no gas lamps here. Only moonlight showed he was in a narrow alley. The man in the frock coat was there, talking to a shabbily dressed woman. Bonneville was laughing, as if enjoying a devilish joke, while the woman tittered.
A price struck, the woman turned her back to Bonneville, raised her dress above her waist, and bent over. Pulling a knife from his belt, Bonneville drew it across the woman’s throat. She seemed not to notice at first, then her hands went to her neck and she sagged to the ground. The killer looked around and, assured there were no witnesses, bent over the woman, raising his knife.
Somewhere in the dark, someone whistled a wistful tune that echoed through the narrow alley. The sound of a horse cart approaching accompanied the whistling. Dr. Bonneville froze, his knife still poised above the woman’s abdomen, and looked around. Like his descendant, Sir Malcolm, he had a long face with a full moustache and matching sideburns. His eyes were large and maniacal. Standing, he backed away from the woman, turned and ran down the street.
— ♦♦♦ —
The image faded again, and Hadley opened his eyes. So Sir Malcolm’s great-great-grandfather, Dr. Clarence Bonneville, was the Ripper, he thought. But the Ripper was known for mutilating his victims. Dr. Bonneville didn’t get that chance. Was the woman really one of the Ripper’s victims?
Hadley returned to his desk and opened his laptop. He selected one of the web pages he had bookmarked that night and began reading about the Ripper’s victims. While most of the Canonical Five victims were savagely mutilated, one was not. Louis Diemshutz found Elizabeth Stride dead on September 30, 1888 as he drove his horse cart into the yard of the Working Men’s Educational Club where he worked.
Hadley sat back and looked at the pocket watch on his desk. The whistling man with the horse cart he heard must have been Diemshutz. Dr. Bonneville’s victim must have been Elizabeth Stride. Bonneville was leaning over Stride with his knife ready to disembowel her. Only Diemshutz’s approach prevented him from doing so.
Hadley thought about what Sir Malcolm had said. “We decided better one man live in misery than all three of us.” Well, Hadley thought, Sir Malcolm is going to be one miserable knight.
Closing the laptop, Hadley yawned and stretched. He stood, turned down the bed covers, and changed into his pajamas. His work was finished, he told himself. He knew the identity of Jack the Ripper.
He opened a drawer and placed the watch and cigar cutter inside, then picked up Roscoe’s walking stick. The vision that hit him made him stagger. A woman trying to scream. The smell of blood and feces. Hadley dropped the cane and the image disappeared. He leaned against the desk to steady himself.
There was another murderer?
Hadley picked up the walking stick and noticed the silver eagle handle was loose. Twisting the handle to the left, he withdrew a foot-long knife. The blade glinted in the light of the desk lamp, but in his head, Hadley only saw darkness. He took the cane to the easy chair, sat down, and closed his eyes.
— ♦♦♦ —
Another dark street lit only by moonlight. Not a street; more of a square. There was a woman in the square. She appeared drunk, staggering, and singing softly to herself. Footsteps approached from the dark, accompanied by the tap of a walking stick. A man in a top hat and cloak emerged from the gloom. Hadley saw the glint of a silver handle on the man’s walking stick.
Robert Roscoe, Walter’s ancestor.
“Well, well, there’s my beauty,” Roscoe said to the drunk woman.
“Well, ain’t you the proper-looking gentleman,” the woman said. “Come slumming?”
“Come looking for a little entertainment,” Roscoe replied.
“You ain’t gonna find none of that with me,” the woman said. “I ain’t no whore.”
“Oh, aren’t you?” With unbelievable swiftness, Roscoe unsheathed his cane knife and slashed the woman’s throat. She tried to scream, but with her throat cut there came no sound. She dropped to the ground.
Roscoe bent over the body and lifted her dress over her waist. He stuck the blade into her abdomen and, using a sawing motion, cut her open vertically. Hadley watched in horror as Roscoe reached into the woman’s body and pulled out her intestines, draping them over her shoulder like some macabre shawl. He reached inside her again with both the knife and free hand, and cut something free. Roscoe pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wrapped it around whatever he removed from the woman, and placed it in his pocket. Standing, he moved to the woman’s head and, with three slashing motions, cut away a piece of each cheek and her nose. He stood back, admired his work, then turned and ran out of the square.
The scene faded and another took its place. Dr. Bonneville sat inside a hansom cab looking sullen and waiting impatiently. The door opened and Robert Roscoe stepped inside.
“Well?” asked Bonneville.
Roscoe grinned like a maniac. He pulled the handkerchief from his pocket and opened it. Inside was a human kidney.
“Did a right good job on her, too, I did,” he said. “You?”
Bonneville frowned and shook his head.
“I slashed her dead, I did,” he said, “but some bugger came along and interrupted me before I could finish.”
“There, there, my good Bonneville,” Roscoe said. “There will be other nights.”
Bonneville grunted, then Roscoe rapped his cane on the cab’s ceiling and called out, “Driver, take us to the club!”
— ♦♦♦ —
Hadley opened his eyes, saw the walking stick still in his hands, and dropped it as if it were on fire. Roscoe and Bonneville knew each other? The Ripper killings were the work of two men?
Back at the desk, Hadley opened his laptop again and read more about the Whitechapel Murders. On the night of September 30, 1888, there were actually two Ripper killings. The first was Elizabeth Stride. With no mutilation, other than her slashed throat, police believed the killer was interrupted and fled. Minutes after the discovery of Elizabeth’s body, a patrolling constable discovered the body of Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square, not far from the first murder scene. It was the only time the Ripper struck twice in one night. Investigators assumed that, having been denied completion of his first killing, the Ripper struck again to satiate his hunger for mutilation.
But there was something different about Catherine’s murder. The mutilations in the earlier Ripper murders led many to believe the killer had medical training. Catherine’s disembowelment had none of that finesse. An examining doctor believed the person who killed Catherine had only the most basic knowledge of anatomy. Hadley remembered how Robert Roscoe sawed through Catherine’s abdomen. Unlike Bonneville the physician, Roscoe was a merchant.
Then there was Sir Clive Westminster. Sir Clive was also a physician. Did he know Bonneville and Roscoe? Did all three of them work in concert? Was Sir Clive responsible for the earlier Ripper murders, those whose mutilations seemed to be the work of a medical professional?
Hadley slid open the desk drawer and stared at the cigar cutter once owned by Sir Clive. After witnessing the horrors Roscoe inflicted on Catherine Eddowes, did he want to pick up the cutter?
Before he realized he was doing just that, the cutter was in his hand and he was walking back to the easy chair. He sat and closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and braced himself for the worst.
— ♦♦♦ —
Mary Kelly’s room at 13 Miller’s Court was small even by the standards of the day, barely large enough for the bed let alone the small table next to it. One of the windows was broken and papered over, and covered by a curtain. The only light in the cramped room came from two half-burnt candles. Even in the dim light, Hadley could see the insidious horrors being done to Mary’s body.
Mary lay naked in the middle of the bed, her head turned to the left toward Hadley, her dead eyes frozen in terror. Her face was latticework of cuts and slashes, and her throat gaped like a second mouth. Beneath her head, Hadley saw what looked like a woman’s breast, a kidney, and her uterus. The flesh of her abdomen and thighs was completely removed.
Sir Clive, tall, blonde, and a dandy dresser like his great-great-great-grandson, stooped over the body, his hands busy removing and dumping viscera on the bed. On the table to his right was a mound of human flesh.
The son of a bitch was whistling while he worked.
— ♦♦♦ —
Hadley threw himself out of the chair, screaming. He stumbled to the bathroom and vomited into the toilet. It took several eruptions to empty the contents of his stomach.
Twenty minutes later, Hadley was back at the laptop. He read again about the class warfare that almost erupted over the Ripper murders. The police hierarchy refused to believe the killer could be a gentlemen or a member of the aristocracy. The people of East End thought differently. At the height of the terror, a citizens’ vigilante group formed to protect Whitechapel residents from marauding gentlemen.
Hadley believed it possible that a man of means might go rogue. After all, both Bonneville and Westminster suffered their own private demons. Bonneville was a drug addict and Westminster performed “unnatural acts,” whatever that meant. But three of them?
Was Roscoe’s diary, a purported hoax, actually genuine? If the three of them conspired to commit the murders, each working independently, it would explain why there were discrepancies in his writings. He was getting descriptions of some of the killings second hand.
Why would three men decide to go on a murder spree? What was in it for them?
Hadley eyed the three items he’d been given, and an idea came to him. He’d seen Bonneville and Roscoe together in the hansom cab and heard part of their conversation. What if he held all three items, the cane, the watch, and the cigar cutter?
Picking up all three items, Hadley walked back to the easy chair.
— ♦♦♦ —
Sir Clive removed a key from his pocket and used it to unlock the door. The door opened onto a steep staircase leading dozens of feet below London’s streets, ending at another door. Sir Clive gave the second door a series of sharp, irregular raps. Some type of code, Hadley suspected. A tall, thin man in a butler’s uniform opened the door.
“Good evening, Sir Clive,” the butler said. “May I take your cloak?” Sir Clive removed his cloak and handed it to the butler. “Your robes await you in the changing room.”
Several minutes later, wearing a white robe and hood over his otherwise naked body, Sir Clive entered a cavernous room dug out of the earth. Raw rock walls lined the cavern. Statues and paintings of Dionysus and Venus, naked in the Hellenistic style, were the only décor aside from gas lanterns on the ceiling and a large dining table in the middle of the room. A white tablecloth draped over the table. Wine bottles and ornate gold goblets littered the top of the table.
Several men, women, and young boys inhabited the cavern, most in various states of undress, many engaged in various sex acts. Sir Clive scanned the room, glanced with disinterest at a young woman who raised her robe and lasciviously spread her legs toward him. Instead, he stepped up to a young, blonde teenage boy, who in turn stood and let his robe slip to the floor.
Hadley recalled what he read about Sir Clive’s arrest for “unnatural acts.” Now he knew what they must have been. Sir Clive was a pederast.
“Hear ye! Hear ye!” A tall man with slicked-back gray hair stood at the middle of the table tapping two goblets together to get everyone’s attention. The cavern echoed with groans of protest. “Now, now. We’ve all had our entertainment for the evening. I now call to order this meeting of the Demonological Society.”
With reluctance, couples uncoupled and stood. Hadley spotted Roscoe and Dr. Bonneville among the revelers.
“I now thank our entertainers and respectfully request they leave now,” said the tall gray-hair man.
The women and boys collected their robes and made their way to the changing room. That left only eleven men in the cavern, each of whom took a seat at the table. Hadley noted the number. Eleven men. Eleven total Whitechapel victims. He suspected it wasn’t a coincidence.
“Brother Clive,” the man said, “please stand.”
Sir Clive stood. “Yes, Brother Horace?” he said.
“You are our man of the hour this evening, Brother Clive,” the man called Horace said. “We have all delighted in reading about and talking about your endeavors last night. You have done us all proud. And you have certainly out done all of us so far.”
The other men at the table murmured agreement, and tapped their goblets on the tabletop in approval.
“Of course, Brother Clive,” added Horace, “you do have the advantage of not being particularly fond of women.” Chuckles and smirks filled the air. Sir Clive grinned. “Not that we pass judgment on anyone’s preferences. After all, that is the reason the Demonological Society exists. So each of us can experience to the greatest heights the pleasures and thrills this life can give us without social or religious judgment. And what greater thrill can there be than to hunt a prey and kill it, to consume its very essence. And now you, Brother Clive, are initiated into that special, nay, elite club. Would the other successful initiates please stand?”
All but four of the brothers stood. Hadley assumed that meant those still seated were uninitiated, that they had yet to kill a woman. After Mary Kelly, Hadley knew there were just four more victims of the Whitechapel Murders, the last murder occurring in November 1891. Investigators suspected their murders were the work of Jack the Ripper, but there was so much uncertainty, they were not included with the Canonical Five.
Hadley had seen enough. Now he knew what happened, why there were so many discrepancies among the Whitechapel victims, both the Canonical Five and the six others. In some sick game of thrill seeking, the members of the Demonological Society set out at night to victimize the poor women of the London’s East End. It was class warfare after all, with members of the wealthy class preying on the disenfranchised. No doubt, the society’s members also wrote the Jack the Ripper letters sent to the police and news media, hoping to ramp up the fear of residents and, in doing so, stimulate their own level of thrill.
Disgusted, Hadley opened his eyes.
— ♦♦♦ —
“Gentlemen, I have completed the mission you gave me last night,” Hadley said.
The four sat in the same pub they drank in the night before. After witnessing the ceremonies at the Demonological Society’s cavern, Hadley spent the rest of the night deciding on what to tell Roscoe, Sir Malcolm, and Westminster. He couldn’t tell them, “Yes, your ancestor was Jack the Ripper, along with a bunch of other rich assholes.” Yet, as a historian, he couldn’t lie and say their ancestors were not involved in the Whitechapel Murders. Also as a historian, he knew no one would believe the truth, not the way he had come to it. So he settled on a compromise.
“So soon, professor?” asked Roscoe.
“I have to admit I got little sleep last night. Here are your things.”
He handed back each of the men’s mementos. Then from his briefcase, he drew three sheets of paper and handed one to each man.
“I wrote up these affidavits and had them signed and notarized this morning,” Hadley said. “They each contain the findings of my investigation.”
Roscoe, Sir Malcolm, and Westminster all stared at the papers in their hands, afraid to open them and discover which one of them was the progeny of a fiend.
“But, professor,” Westminster said, “which of us is the spawn of Jack the Ripper?”
Hadley looked at each man before answering.
“What those affidavits say is that the findings of my investigation indicate that none of your ancestors was the Jack the Ripper, and that I now doubt there ever was a Jack the Ripper.”
Hadley had decided they didn’t need to know any more than that.
“There was no Jack the Ripper?” asked Westminster.
“There was not,” Hadley said.
“You mean all those women were murdered by different men?” asked Sir Malcolm.
“Each by a different person,” Hadley said, nodding.
“As in some form of copycat killings?” Roscoe said.
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Hadley said. “As if one were trying to out do the other.”
“Now if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I have another lecture to give.”
After the death of his sister, a man has his eyes opened wide to the mysteries of supernatural horrors. Luckily, there are people who “fight the good fight”. Who knows…he might even become one of them.