The cops gathered at the (now cold) electric fence. They brought up an armored car of a wagon and dragged the black-clad Ripper in. Jack offered no resistance.
I hobbled nearer. Even with the suspect in custody, officers wandered around in shock. I hailed a member of the TAC team.
"I never saw anything like it," he said. "We hit him--we must have hit him a hundred times! He wouldn't even fall down!"
The paddy wagon rolled away. Five or six squad cars followed.
"But you got him," I said to the padded, rifle-toting officer.
"It was the fence," he muttered. "He jumped on the electric fence and he just seemed to wilt."
Before I could comment, a hard digit tapped my shoulder. I turned to find one of my "chauffeurs" curling his index finger at me. Well, good. We were off to see the Wizard, at last--or at least the little man behind the curtain, Captain Robert Warren.
JUNE 1, 9:45 P.M.
A gangly no-chin officer led me to Warren's office. Tony was there; so were my belt, jacket, tie, and camera. They hadn't even pretended to charge me. Warren had called Vincenzo to collect me.
No-chin unlocked the handcuffs.
"I hope you found our accommodations to your liking," said Warren. He beamed, so happy was he to have the Ripper in custody.
"Terrific," I replied, grabbing my camera. I wasn't being sarcastic. This story would make up for everything--Las Vegas, Seattle, the Dear Emily letters--
"Thank you for your patience, Captain," said my diplomatic editor.
I checked my Kodak.
Warren smiled enormously. "We opened all the containers."
I was genuinely puzzled.
"But I had pictures of the Ripper!"
The captain sat down officiously behind his desk.
"You can take some more at his arraignment."
"Arraignment?" I slipped on my seersucker jacket. "You think this is just some run-of-the-mill kook you can go out and arrest, anyway?"
Warren formed a steeple with his fingers. "Yes, I do."
"You do," I repeated, snatching up my belt. "Well, you're wrong. You can't, you won't, and you'll never be able to."
I threaded on my belt. Tony sat on the edge of Warren's desk with a painful "Ooooh . . ."
"No, wait a minute, Tony," I continued, grabbing my tie. "This guy doesn't just think he's the Ripper, he is the Ripper!"
I bent over Warren's desk, black tie wadded in hand.
"You ever hear of Jack the Ripper?"
The good captain rubbed his forehead.
"Let me see if I understand you correctly. You're saying that our Ripper is the same man who killed those seven women in London in the eighteen-eighties?"
I whipped my tie over my head.
"Eighteen eighty-eight to be precise, and it was five--always five women. Five is a very important number in necromancy and magic, you see. He killed five women in the Montmartre district of Paris in the autumn of 1888, but this was a second distinct series. Blood sacrifices," I added in an aside to Vincenzo, "to prolong his unnatural existence."
Tony clutched a handful of his gut and belched. I started knotting my tie.
"As a matter of fact, he has killed, mutilated and maimed over seventy women in the past eighty years in twenty-five major cities from Vladivostok to Milwaukee!"
I slipped the black knot up to my Adam's apple. Warren looked at Officer Chinless.
"I'd better tell Doc Harris to stand by--I think we've got a nut that needs certifying."
The mental inertia of the big city police captain never fails to infuriate me. I slapped my hand on Warren's desk.
"For once be a cop instead of an ostrich! You've read your men's reports! This guy doesn't play by the same rules we do. They tried to hang him in Germany and they couldn't. On August 14th of 1904, a crack-shot, twelve-man, Athenian firing squad tried three times to execute him, and couldn't!"
I appealed to Warren, Tony, and No-chin alternately in my ravings. I counted off points on my fingers.
"Okay, let's just take Chicago for example. He has killed four women--he has jumped off a four-story building and survived--he has been hit by an automobile going thirty miles an hour, and he has taken on your crack TAC squad in a tooth-and-nail confrontation."
I smoothed down my hair and adjusted my coat as I reached the end of my tirade.
"And you're just going to sit there and tell me this is just an ordinary guy you can go out and arrest?"
Warren smiled like Buddha with a Marine buzzcut.
"I can safely say that, Kolchak."
Christ, they're all deaf and blind. I bent over the desk again.
"Well, then, you're sitting on your brains!"
Warren rose and got in my face.
"Your superman is upstairs on the Maximum Security floor!"
I've mentioned before the unlikely coincidences that haunt my life--more coincidences than a fiction writer should use, certainly. One such bit of synchronicity was at work at that very moment upstairs.
Mickey Crawford, one of my major underworld sources in Las Vegas, was whiling away his time in Maximum Security. How he got in that deep is an epic of bad luck and bad vocational choices in itself. Suffice to say he came to Shy-town with a money-making scheme--and someone neglected to tell him they stopped making five hundred dollar bills in 1969.
"How was I supposed to know, Kolchak?" he asked me. "Monty Hall gave 'em out all the time on Let's Make a Deal!"
Mickey landed in the slammer only to be swept up in an escape plot due to his sharing a cell with the main conspirator. Thus did the Fates defecate on Mickey Crawford and exile him to this modern Bastille.
He was exonerated of the attempted escape plot, at least, and I'm not sure the jury took him seriously as a genuine counterfeiter. I caught him one Saturday night when he was out on parole.
"You're not going to publish any of that, are you, Kolchak?" he asked after delivering his tale of woe.
"Of course not," I said impatiently. "So what happened with the Ripper?"
Mickey drank Jack Daniels like Kool-Aid. (Why can't I ever interview a tea-totaler?)
"Well, I was in with this guy Rocky 'The Nose'--"
"Yeah. He'd busted a guard's head good, but he ain't so bad when you get to know him. Anyway, we were down at the end, right by the Hole. You'd have to see the Hole to believe it, Kolchak. It has a two-inch-thick steel door."
"I've seen it," I said.
"Yeah, well, just the day before I ask Rocky, 'Who the hell they need that for? Godzilla?' Then--like, speak of the Devil--half-a-dozen cops come in trundling up this guy, looks like Abe Lincoln dressed as Dracula. They rush him by, and one guard fumbles with the keys for the Hole, like the perp's about to explode. They finally slam the door on him and leave, wiping their foreheads and whispering to each other like teenie-boppers.
"Soon the scuttlebutt passes down the row: It's the Ripper--the sicko that cut up those women. I was glad 'The Nose' was here, suddenly--otherwise they might've put the f___er in with me.
"An hour later I find out why they put him in the Hole. Rocky and I are playin' poker, and I hear this cracking, grinding noise. We get up and look out at the Hole.
"There's just this little rectangle of a window in the steel door, and this Ripper guy is peeking out. He steps back, and these cracks form in the cement around the door.
"'What's going on? What's he doing?' asks Rocky.
"I'm about to drop a brick in my pants. Chunks of concrete big as loaves of bread crumble out of the wall, and the door's bulging. The f___er's pushing down this steel door! Only through the slit, he doesn't look like he's doing anything. He's just starin' at the door, his eyes sort of glowing, like--like--"
"Like he had X-ray eyes?" I prompted.
"Yeah, I guess. Anyway, the door just falls out of its frame, and this Ripper steps over it, sweet as you please, his fancy suit and cape clean enough to go to the Met. Rock and I bounce around like monkeys, but he barely gives us a look."
Back down in Warren's office, Vincenzo tried to talk me into leaving. I tied my tennis shoes, selectively deaf. How could I get it through Warren's thick head that the Ripper wasn't human?
"I want to see that prisoner," I said suddenly.
Captain Warren rose with a sigh.
"Kolchak, he's in Maximum Security. You know what Maximum Security means? Nobody goes in, nobody goes out."
He took his dress jacket from a coat rack and slipped it on. Cue Officer Bob Randall, entering breathlessly through Warren's door.
"That prisoner," he gasped as if he'd just run here from Sheboygan. "He just broke out of Maximum Security."
Warren and No-chin followed Officer Bob out the door.
"Aha! Aha! I told ya! Aha!" I crowed as I chased after.
"Aha, aha, aha," muttered Vincenzo, bringing up the rear. "Ooooh . . ."
Pandemonium ruled the Chicago PD. Cops and TAC officers ran through the halls and up and down stairs. Warren warned me off several times on the way to Maximum Security, but I just fell in line with the cops.
I peeked over a sea of heads and saw the Hole at the end of the block.
The heavy steel door might have been knocked down by a Sherman tank. I raised my camera instinctively, but, of course, I had no film.
The confusion increased as I fought my way downstairs. The Ripper, it seemed, broke into the evidence room to regain his sword-stick and hat. Then he kicked open another locked door and escaped.
Cops ran around like ants from a dug-up colony. I found Vincenzo on the ground floor and dragged him to the pay phones. I had an idea I wanted to check out.
"Tony--Jane Plumm is dead set on interviewing Rippers," I explained. "She's liable to end up just plain dead. Call the Messenger and see if they know her itinerary, huh?"
I expected Vincenzo's frown, and I could have mouthed his retort, "Why don't you call them yourself?"
I plugged nickels into a pay phone.
"I have leads I have to follow. Tonight. Now. Come on, Tony!"
Vincenzo sighed and picked up a receiver. I called the New York Public Library long distance and spoke to a Mr. McAdams.
"I was wondering if you could tell me when the electric chair as a means of execution came into use."
I waited impatiently. Rivers of cops flowed by. The long distance operator asked me if I was still there.
"Yeah, operator, I'm still holding," I said.
Tony spoke to someone at the Messenger and hung up.
"Jane's newspaper hasn't heard from her since this morning."
"Hell," I muttered. "I'll try her mother's house."
I handed Vincenzo my receiver.
"Hold onto this and talk to this guy when he comes on, will ya?"
Tony took the receiver with his usual bemused expression.
"About the chair! The electric chair! Find out when it first went into use!"
I clapped him on the back.
"Go on, you're a reporter. Dig--go on, dig!"
Recognizing my leadership qualities at last, Tony pulled out a pen and scratch pad. I fished up more change for phone #3--but then I spotted Warren talking to Officer Randall. I left the bank of phones to rub it in--I mean, give advice. I waved and smiled.
"Hello, Bob--Captain Warren."
Officer Bob scowled and left on some arcane mission. Warren puffed up like a barn owl with constipation.
"You still around? You must like it here. Maybe you should spend the night in the slammer."
Warren tried to step away. I followed.
"Funny," I said. I swept my arm out to indicate the men in riot gear trotting down the hall. "This is useless, you know. You can't just shoot this guy, you know that."
"We caught him once, we can catch him again."
"You caught him once and he knocked down a steel door. How do you explain--"
Warren paused and spoke as if to a child: "He had an accomplice on the outside."
I slapped my hand to my forehead. "An accomplice on the outside!"
Tony's lips moved.
"What's going on? What's happening?" I called.
"Will you shut up a minute and wait? I can't hear!" he called back. "No, not you, Mr. McAdams . . ."
All this time policemen wormed their way back and forth. You'd have thought Canada had invaded. Warren eyed the translucent windows of his office longingly. He wasn't getting away yet.
"Listen, I was talking to one of your TAC officers. It was the fence--the electrified fence. That's what stopped him."
Again I demanded an update from Vincenzo.
"Nineteen-oh-eight," he yelled.
"Nineteen-oh-eight!" I repeated. I poked one of Warren's gold-plated dress buttons with my finger. "In nineteen-oh-eight in New York City they caught a ripper!" [Note 1]
"I haven't got time for this," muttered Warren.
He pushed past, but I followed. Ever see that cartoon with the Chihuahua bouncing and yapping around theg bulldog wearing a derby? That was me and Warren.
"Well, you'd better make time for it, because that's the one thing he has plenty of! And if you don't stop him now, he's going to go on forever!"
Warren finally reached his office.
"You're an absurd man, Kolchak."
"It was the electricity, don't you understand?" I yelled as he opened his door. "It was the only thing he was scared of in New York City in 1908, and do you know why?"
He slammed the door in my face. I stared at the legend CAPT. R. M. WARREN for a long moment.
"Because he was scared of the electric chair, that's why."
The door made no comment. I remembered Jane and pushed my way back to the phones.
"The rest of those guys went to their deaths with smiles on their faces."
Tony said good-bye to Mr. McAdams. I plugged coins into a phone and called Jane's mother. Jane lived only a block or two from Mrs. Plumm and visited her every day.
"Hello, Mrs. Plumm, this is Carl Kolchak. Is Jane there?"
"No, Mr. Kolchak, I haven't heard from her all day. I'm worried about her."
I heard the theme music to The Odd Couple in the background. I imagined the owlish little lady wrapped in a comforter, not-really-watching Tony Randall and Jack Klugman and waiting for her daughter to come home.
"Yeah, well I'm worried about her, too," I said. "Where is she? Do you have any idea? . . . Belmont Harbor--Fire Department Pier--"
I wasn't going to remember it all. I waved to Tony and told him to pull out his notepad again.
"No, not you, Mrs. Plumm. Sorry. Yes. Fire Department Pier on the Chicago River--and Wilton Park. Got it. Thanks, Mrs. Plumm."
"Wilton Park," muttered Tony as he wrote.
It hit me as I hung up: Prowling around nights in that foolish costume, looking right through me with his X-ray eyes.
"Wilton Park?" I cried.
I ran just as Tony ripped loose the 3x5 page of addresses.
"Kolchak?" he asked. "Kolchak!"
He held up the white sheet, but I didn't need it. I only needed a certain blue letter that smelled of potpourri.
JUNE 1, 10:50 P.M.
I trotted up to the third floor and burst into the INS office. I didn't even notice Ron Updyke tapping the Minute Waltz on his electric typewriter.
I reached my desk and yanked out the middle drawer. It slid too easily, revealing only pencil nubs and gum erasers.
My jaw dropped. Nine thousand frill-bordered letters don't just disappear! I slammed the middle drawer shut and opened the right-hand one. My Ripper books, nothing else.
Ron sauntered over. "What in the world are you looking for?"
I had no time to think up a real zinger.
"Nothing," I yelled, opening the left-hand drawer. "I'm looking for nothing!"
I was finding it, too. The left-hand drawer had been so well emptied, even the liner paper had vanished. I opened the right-hand drawer again.
"Mr. Vincenzo took them away from you," said Updyke snidely.
I froze. "Took what away?"
I slammed the drawer. Updyke waggled his mustache uncertainly.
"What you're looking for."
"The Dear Emily letters."
I tried to rise. My tie was caught in the drawer. I yanked it loose with a snap.
"What did he do with them?"
"I'm not going to tell you," Updyke chanted like a bratty kid.
"Uptight," I said.
"Updyke," corrected Ron.
I started toward him. He backed away, bumping the corner of Miss Emilys desk.
"Uptight," I repeated.
Ron shuffled backwards to his desk. I still advanced, so he had no choice but to hike his anal retentive ass onto its surface. I grabbed his scarlet silk tie.
"Uptight! If you think you were sickened by the murder of that girl, just imagine--Just think!--How sickened you're going to be at your own murder!"
"Now, don't touch me! Don't touch me!" he cried like a little girl.
"Where are those letters?
Ron's eyes rolled toward Vincenzo's office. I dropped his tie and ran in.
Nothing behind the editor's desk. I opened a drawer, realizing even as I did the letters were probably packed in one planet-sized mass. The only place big enough was Tony's closet.
I trotted across the room, shaking my fist at Ron on the way. In the closet I found a huge canvas mailbag. I dragged it out to the middle of the office and upended it. It vomited out pastel-colored cards and letters.
I scanned the paper mound in despair. There was nothing to do but plop down and look at them one by one.
Ron adjusted his shirt, jacket, and dignity and headed out the door to the men's room. Even I heard Tony Vincenzo's moan echoing up the stairwell. Ron altered course to meet him instead. Tony reached the landing, mopping his face with a beach towel of a handkerchief.
"So the elevator is out again," our fearless leader observed.
"Yes, it's terrible," said Updyke. "Mr. Vincenzo--It's almost eleven o'clock--"
"Eleven. Yeah. Sure."
"Maybe you've forgotten--my Ripper feature--the one I put on your desk this afternoon, the one you said you'd read?"
Ron bounced around him impatiently. Vincenzo stuffed his damp handkerchief into his jacket.
"Yeah, I read it, I read it, Updyke, I read it."
Ron followed him through the INS doors.
"Well, if it's to go out over the wire for the morning edition it'll have to go out by eleven."
Tony seemed to be miles away, maybe mulling over my tirade at CPD Headquarters.
"Huh? Yeah, sure. What? Yeah, sure, eleven."
"I thought I'd put it on the Teletype as is--it has been proofed."
"It's going to need more than proofing, Ron. Has Kolchak come back?"
The two passed in front of Vincenzo's office. Ron nodded at me."Uh--I didn't tell him."
Vincenzo stared through the window at yours truly as I flipped away note after note. He charged in like a buffalo.
"What do you think you're doing, Carl?"
"What does it look like I'm doing, playing jacks?" I snapped, waving a royal flush of letters at him. "It's on blue paper."
Tony pulled up a chair, sat, and sweated.
"What's on blue paper?"
"A Dear Emily letter postmarked about the eighth."
Ron pushed between us. "It's almost eleven--I have to send it."
"Yeah, well go ahead Ron," muttered Tony. "The eighth? We have letters there that have gone unanswered since the eighth?"
Ron snatched his feature off Vincenzo's desk and slipped between us again.>
"Sloppy. Sloppy," he said.
"Ron, hold it. Wait a minute," called Tony. To me: "What about this letter? What's so important about it?"
I looked up at Ye Ed. "A woman wrote a letter to Dear Emily complaining about her neighbor who had X-ray eyes. She lives in Wilton Park."
Tony's glazed eyes slowly focused.
"Wilton Park!" I reiterated. "Will you get off your upholstered seat and help me?"
A glimmer of realization sparked in Vincenzo's eyes. He rolled off the chair and onto his knees. He dug through the Matterhorn of mail like a St. Bernard.
Ron stood nearby, useless as a stump.
"Mr. Vincenzo, what's wrong with my story?" he asked.
"It reads like an expose of the massage parlors, Ron!" said Tony.
I flipped letters like Frisbees. Jane Plumm was not the Rippers "type", but he had taken four lives so far, and somehow I knew he needed a fifth--for a sacrifice, a vampiric feeding, or something. Detective Cortazzo had been too well protected. If he needed a second woman for a "double event," he needed her soon--
"That's my angle!" protested Ron. "What really goes on inside a massage parlor. The excessive sensuality--the suggestive costumes--they have mirrors in the ceilings--"
Tony read over a pink sheet. I slapped it out of his hand.
"Blue!" I told him.
"No, as a matter of fact they were antique gold," said Updyke.
I groaned. "The paper. Blue paper!"
"What about the murders?" asked Tony.
Updyke wrinkled his nose.
"Well, frankly, there's not much to say about them. Nobody even cares to discuss them, and I can certainly see why."
Tony reached into the pile at random and plucked a cerulean note from a pearly envelope. I grabbed it out of his hand.
"That's it! That's the one!"
I rose, slipping and sliding on the scree of mail.
"Listen, just leave everything the way it is, I'll come back and clean it up."
I trotted out, oblivious to Tony's parting "Kolchak!"
Updyke waved his story in front of Vincenzo like a cape in front of a bull.
"What do you think about it?"
I wish I could have seen the glare Tony gave him.
"Weren't you on your way to the john, Updyke?"
JUNE 1, 11:14 P.M.
The author of the "X-ray Eyes" letter was a woman named Gretchen Agenweiler. Her apartment building in Wilton Park had the appearance of a stately southern mansion carved into separate flats. I parked by the curb and ran to the front door. A series of speakers bore nameplates of the people within. I pushed the Agenweiler button.
Please, God, let her be up!
"Miss Agenweiler?" I asked of the intercom. "My name is Carl Kolchak. I'm with the Independent News Service. I'm here about your Miss Emily letter."
"Oh, yes. Go to the end of the walk," buzzed the voice.
"The end of the walk."
"The end of the walk?"
The only "walk" led back to the street. I obeyed, puzzled and impatient.
I waited for a few seconds by the Yellow Submarine. I glanced up at the windows on the second story of the apartment house; a set of curtains parted, and I glimpsed a frilly head of hair atop a short, stout body. I waved the letter at the figure, which gestured me back toward the door.
I trotted back. "Come on up," said the little speaker. "I'm Number Four. Turn right at the top of the stairs."
I pushed against the door; it buzzed and unlocked, and I pitched forward into a hallway that smelled faintly of boiled cabbage.
The door to Number Four opened a few inches before the safety chain stopped it. I pushed my face into the crack. Miss Agenweiler stood just over five feet tall, with a stoop that indicated a calcium deficiency. Her round, wrinkled face and curly gray hair reminded me of Miss Emily herself. She wore a paisley dress, a black shawl draped over her shoulders, and white orthopedic shoes.
I poked her note through the crack.
"Miss Agenweiler? Here's your letter."
She glanced at it for only a second. "Show me some I.D."
"I.D." I pulled out my worn wallet and flipped it open to show my press card. "Carl Kolchak, see?"
Miss Agenweiler nodded and shut the door to unlock the chain. I grunted as she caught the toe of my tennis shoe. She opened the door wide.
"Well! This is really more than I expected from the paper! I read that column all the time."
She started back across the room. I smelled the inevitable potpourri and some godawful grape-flavored deodorizer.
Miss Agenweiler's apartment was decorated in Early Grandma, with white doilies, brass light fixtures, and macrame flowerpot holders everywhere.
"Charming apartment you have," I remarked, doffing my hat.
Miss Agenweiler waddled past a horsehair sofa.
"Why, yes . . . Is this all you do for Miss Emily?"
The old lady looked back, turning her whole body as if her neck was stiff.
"You know--check on weirdoes?"
For a moment I thought she meant herself, then I chuckled.
"Well . . . Only the really weird ones."
Miss Agenweiler led me to an amateur telescope Galileo would have envied. It sat just within the small semicircle of a balcony, hidden from the casual observer.
The old woman peered through the eyepiece and adjusted a knob.
"There's his house. Right over there. Old X-Ray Eyes himself. Never goes out in the daytime. Only goes out at night."
I sighted out the window along the telescope's bronze tube, finding only streetlights and a distant, blocky silhouette. I looked through the eyepiece and saw an old, two-story house surrounded by shrubs and trees. I half expected Herman Munster to come crashing through the front door.
"Ah, yes, indeed," I muttered. "Was he out tonight?"
"Why, yes, he was."
Miss Agenweiler opened a notebook sitting on a small end table.
"Ten--twenty-two," she read. "I've got him clocked for the whole month."
I flipped through the notebook myself, reading Miss A.'s tiny but neat entries.
"Yeah, I see you have," I observed. "I see you have indeed."
X-Ray Eyes--out all night on May 21--the 24th--the 25th--yes.
"Mean anything?" asked the old lady.
"Yes! Well--certainly these names and dates coincide with some rather--unusual events."
I thought of the Ripper as a mile-long shadow staining the land. A blood-dripping, eternal god of Murder. That his downfall might be traced to a harmless old lady who spied on the neighbors just to kill her empty hours--
As Dr. Helms might say, How are the mighty fallen?
"What happened tonight?"
Miss Agenweiler crowded up and pointed.
"Well, he met this girl right down below there in the park."
A chill ran along my spine.
"What did she look like?"
The old woman shrugged.
"Fat . . ."
"Sort of fat," continued Miss Agenweiler.
I was already out the door.
JUNE 1, 11:45 P.M.
I drove three or four blocks, parking on a lane behind the old house. I walked slowly through the darkness, whistling like a kid in a graveyard.
This was getting to be a habit, creeping through the night, exploring eerie, decrepit buildings. Crickets and frogs peeped, an owl fluttered through the trees, and I jumped at every noise. More and more I was learning that there were things in the darkness to make you jump!
I'd noted a plaza in the middle of the park as I drove over, with a few scattered streetlights piercing the night. I could just see Jane Plumm in her Columbo-style trench coat trotting across the plaza on her way to her twenty-first "Ripper" interview.
I edged around an overgrown garden and stepped into full view of the house's front windows. I saw no lights. Maybe "Old X-Ray Eyes" didn't need them.
A gravel walkway led to the porch. I scooped up a white-gray chunk and tossed it at the eaves. The thack was unsatisfying. No one stirred. I tossed a rock. A window on the second floor shattered.
That ought to attract attention, I thought as I ducked behind a mound of honeysuckle.
Nothing happened. Eventually I crept up to the front porch. The hair rose on the back of my neck as if someone were watching. I was probably giving Mrs. Agenweiler a better evening's entertainment than Johnny Carson in his prime.
I approached a set of double doors quiet as a ninja. With a sharp crack, my right foot plunged through a rotten board. I pulled it out angrily and stepped aside--then my left foot cracked through another plank. So much for stealth.
I tried the doors. Locked. There were windows with pink and blue stained glass, but I feared to break in--yet.
I hopped off the porch and crept through the bushes to the back. I found a kitchen door with its own small, roofed porch. This door, too, was locked.
Near the back porch I found a fuse box and electric meter. The disk within the plastic case turned ever so slowly. Jack used electricity for something, it seemed.
I found some old couplings. I was no electrician, but if one wired a cable to the busses here and here . . .
I trotted across the yard, angling away from my car. Below a purple pom-pom of a redbud I found a little fishpond, perhaps thirty yards from the Ripper's back door. The pond looked shallow--only three and a half feet at its deepest, it turned out--and you know electricity and water are a dangerous combination.
I climbed into the Yellow Submarine and drove off. I had a half-assed idea at last. My only clue was the electric connection, and even this seemed slim: the electric fence at the construction site, and the electric chair that "Eugene Lang" did not wish to face. Unfortunately, it was straw-grasping time.
JUNE 2, 12:08 A.M.
Brennan Building Supplies stayed open 'til one o'clock in the morning. I quickly gathered thick electrician's gloves, one hundred yards of insulated copper cable, a few yards of rubber hose, heavy snips, and a pair of pliers. I paid with a check, hoping I could get money into my account before it bounced.
I opened the trunk of my Mustang and slipped in a cardboard box full of equipment. The coil of cable I tossed in the back seat. I drove back to the park and stopped near the fishpond. I opened the trunk, pulled out the box, and slipped the loops of cable over my shoulder. Then I hauled it all around the shore.
I slipped on the insulated gloves. I could have used galoshes too, but the bank was firm and dry. I'd have to depend on the rubber soles of my good old sneakers.
I uncoiled the cable on the bank opposite the old house. I lined up that end of the wire with the kitchen door and tied a strip of red cloth around it. I had the feeling I'd need to find it again quickly. Then I trailed it off toward the house.
I wired the cable to the old-fashioned connector on the back wall. When I grounded the other end, the juice would flow. I tossed the gloves aside and pulled a loose banister from the kitchen porch. I stepped up to a likely window and smashed the glass.
Crickets chirped. A locust buzzed, prophesying a muggy summer. Nothing else. If the Ripper didn't hear that, he was either deaf or gone.
I reached in, swearing as jagged glass snagged my sleeve. I unlatched the window and forced up the sash. I dragged myself over the sill, puffing and grunting. I decided not to take up burglary if Vincenzo ever kicked me out on the street.
I clicked on my penlight. Strangely enough, the first floor of the decaying house did not lie in total darkness. Several streetlights burned nearby, and few of the windows had curtains.
Dusty sheets covered chairs, sofas, and crates. I crept from the dining room to the den, wincing at the creaking floorboards. Did Miss Agenweiler imagine "X-Ray Eyes"? It didn't look like anyone had lived here for years. Yet the electricity worked.
I found no sign of Jane Plumm. If someone did live here, he might have been a harmless eccentric, like the twenty "rippers" she had interviewed already.
I passed a wingback chair, ghostly under its sheet. I heard a distant whistling noise. I ran into a huge spider web and thrashed it to ribbons--silently.
A staircase curved up only five or six feet from the front doors. I crept across the den toward it. One or two boards sank alarmingly. If someone lived here, he walked light as a cat.
The whistling grew louder. I recalled something from H. P. Lovecraft: "the high, thin whining of a cracked flute clutched in a monstrous paw," or some such. It came from the second floor.
I started upstairs. On the third riser I stepped on a loose banister. I crashed down, but fear blocked the pain of a banged knee.
I rose after thirty seconds. For sure no one was home. I crept up the curved staircase and reached the second floor landing. The landing ran along the south wall, and from this vantage point you could look down upon the whole first floor. For some reason I thought of Orson Welles as the preacher in Moby Dick.
The landing ran twenty feet to a series of doors. The whistling came from the nearest. I opened it to find my Lovecraftian horror: a teakettle on a hotplate spewing a cloud of steam.
I stepped in, jaw dropping in amazement. I had discovered a neat little Victorian flat, a room that (save for the modern hotplate) might have flown forward through time from 1888.
A fancy light fixture holding 25-watt chandelier bulbs barely outlined the room. Scarlet drapes hung over the windows and over another doorway. The velvet wallpaper was a William Morris print in ruby red and gold. A double bed--not a four-poster, as I half expected--stood across the room. The comforter was blood red. I could guess the Ripper's favorite color.
A dresser with a huge mirror stood to the left of the door. I passed it and looked over the teakettle. Steam jetted from the spout. How long had it been boiling?
The Ripper's murder weapon! One of them, at least. I shut the sword-stick and dropped it back. I took a picture of the umbrella stand with my Kodak, then I turned to the dresser.
The dresser, a dark walnut antique, supported a wide oval mirror. On its work surface sat fancy bottles of perfume and cologne. I picked up a hexagonal jar of some ice blue liquid, then I noticed something in the mirror.
I spun and jumped back against the bureau as if magnetized. The toes of two black, shiny, patent leather shoes poked out from beneath a red curtain near the bed!
I waited several agonizing seconds. The kettle-whistle drove me nuts. The shoes didn't move. I slipped along the wall like a shadow and edged up to the crimson drapes.
I yanked away the curtain. The shoes were empty. I wilted like a prom night boutonniere in relief.
I picked up a shoe and examined it. It looked ordinary enough, although it was an old-fashioned button-down type; it was in good condition, if slightly worn at the heel. For some reason I wedged it into the pocket of my jacket.
JUNE 2, 1:00 A.M.
The checkout clerks at the Britannia America store were used to oddballs coming in during the graveyard shift. They raised their eyebrows the first few times the man in the slouch hat and black cape shopped there in April and May. Now, however, he was an almost common sight.
The strange man bought cut Pekoe tea, a package of scones, and Yorkshire pudding, all imported from Jolly Old England.
Eighteen-year-old Pamela Joyce commented on the stranger's extremely formal attire as she rang up his items. The man paid with an ordinary ten dollar bill. He said, "I have a late dinner engagement."
Pamela smiled innocently and asked, "An English tea party?"
"Very English," said the man in black. "Steak and kidney pie."
The stranger took up the paper bag containing his purchases and strolled through the darkness, unafraid of man or beast. The fog and the night were his elements now. They had been ever since he decided to follow his present path.
He smiled at the joke he made in the grocery store. It was quite true, but whether this occasional treat was necessary or merely a personal preference, the man in black was not saying.
He clopped down the concrete steps to the plaza. The police, idiots though they were, might trace him yet. He would have to leave Chicago again. Such was his existence--a wraith, drifting from town to town, city to city. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Adelaide, Yokohama . . .
London. Eventually he would walk her narrow alleys again. Petrol fumes may have replaced coal smoke, and sirens might have superseded the bobby's rattle, but one yearned to recapture one's youth--even when one was eternal.
The caped man stepped onto his front porch and paused. Something had punched a hole through the rotten board right before the door.
The man considered this. A vagrant? Children daring one another to approach the old house? The double doors were still locked. The caped man decided in favor of the children playing theory. How many boys had thrown rocks at his various abodes over the decades? All he ever had to do was make a loud noise, and they would flee.
He unlocked the door and shut it behind him.
I heard something over the shriek of the kettle. I stepped out on the landing.
Down below a streetlight outlined a long rectangle on the floor. One of the double doors had opened. The lean silhouette of a man wearing a slouch hat slipped over the threshold. The door shut again.
It was a good time for the "F" word, but I didn't dare make a sound. I crept on tiptoe back to the Victorian bedroom and closed the door. I looked around in panic. The window? Covered with grillwork.
I imagined the Ripper spotting the broken banister. He'd know someone had been here. I had to hide! The only place was the closet. I slipped behind the red drapes and pressed myself to one side.
The Ripper spent a mind-numbing eon climbing the stairs. The door opened with an Inner Sanctum squeak worse than fingernails on chalkboard. I didn't peek, but I heard the rustle of paper, then the whistle of the kettle faded.
Well, Mr. Super Reporter, I thought. What now?
I doubted the Ripper would grant me an interview, as Richard Malcolm had. My plan to rid the world of Jack trailed from the back wall to the pond--and it required the presence of both of us out there.
The red curtains parted five or six inches. A gray glove and black sleeve reached by and grabbed a coat hanger. I'd have pissed my pants, but my scrotum shrank to the size of a raisin and dammed it in.
The Ripper pulled out the hanger. Cloth rustled, and he poked the hanger back in, a skinny black tie dangling from it. He fumbled for a second hanger, and on the way out, so help me, his sleeve brushed my nose. I couldn't take much more of this!
Jack hung his cape over the hanger and stuck it back in. X-ray eyes or no, he still missed seeing me. Maybe I could have stuck it out, waited 'til he went to the john or to bed--assuming he did such things--but fear welled up in me like a Frito pie after my fifth beer. When the Ripper moved away from the closet, I gave a godawful scream and spilled out.
The Ripper turned, hitting the light fixture with his forehead. I looked up from the rug (another Morris pattern). For an endless second I stared into the Abyss. The Abyss stared into me. The Abyss didn't know what to make of it.
The Ripper matched the Victorian decor, with his black trousers and jacket, his button-down shoes, and his white, high-collared shirt. His slicked-down black hair and Van Dyke beard were straight out of the Illustrated Police Gazette.
I scrambled to my feet. The Ripper could have broken me in two right then, but he obeyed a century of habit: He lurched across the room to his umbrella stand of swords.
I rocketed down the landing and hit a poorly placed column. I bounced sideways into the railing, which gave with a CRACK! I hit the floor twelve feet below on my heels, then my ass. I felt nothing but the urge to flee.
I jumped up right in front of the double doors. I grabbed a knob and pulled. The knob popped loose, leaving a brass baseball in my hand. The door stayed shut. I grabbed the other knob, but sliding bolts held the second door at the floor and lintel.
The Ripper popped out of his bedroom and looked down, a sword-stick held high. Now I thought of Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab.
It was time for Moby Carl to blow. I ran through a maze of sheeted furniture. Jack trotted halfway down the stairs then bolted over the railing. I managed to clear a dusty ottoman (yet another Morris print; maybe he and Jack were drinkin' buddies) and hit a sheet-shrouded armchair.
I toppled over the chair, bringing it down with me. I lay stunned, and something soft and heavy rolled onto me. I touched wavy hair and a meaty arm.
Jane Plumm lay across me, extremely dead, her face a mask of horror. For what it was worth, the Ripper had not mutilated her.
Instead of righteous anger, Our Hero felt only a greater impetus to leave. I pushed the limp corpse of my friendly rival aside and jumped back up. I ran around a corner and shouted as I collided with a pale, bug-eyed apparition.
I about-faced into another hallway before realizing that the "ghost" was my reflection in a mirror. I charged a window ahead and dove through the glass. I somersaulted and ended up on my feet again. My high school gym teacher would have been proud.
The Ripper filled the window behind me like a vast black bat. Where was that pom-pom of a redbud?
There! I swallowed air and ran. I reached the pond and sloshed across like a Central American Basilisk lizard, barely breaking the surface tension.
The Ripper splashed in right behind. I traipsed up the opposite shore and grabbed the electric cable, risking a fatal shock myself. I threw the length of copper at Saucy Jack.
The fireworks began. I collapsed on the muddy earth and watched. The Ripper might have been a marionette shaken by an angry child. Sparks flew from his shoulders and head. He whipped his sword-stick around spastically.
Back at the house, the old couplings couldn't handle it. The ancient wood around the fuse box burst into flame. Globs of fire dripped onto wind-blown leaves piled against the mansion.
The juice stopped flowing, but it had done its job. The Ripper melted like tallow within his Edwardian finery, smoke spurting from his collar and sleeves. He didn't so much sink into the pond as deflate.
A Black Cat firecracker burst caught my attention. The old house burned as if soaked with gasoline. I thought of Jane, but she was already beyond help. I could only tell myself that I had avenged her.
When they drained that pond, they found nothing--nothing but some old clothes, as if the Ripper had never existed at all. The police decided they wanted those--and my head, because it didn't take Sherlock Holmes to connect me with the fire.
I didn't know how Vincenzo would handle the charges of arson and malicious mischief lodged against me by Captain Warren, but the fire was a big one--a six alarmer. A blast furnace couldn't have done a better job. Everything gone, the house, my story, the evidence--
Like they say, ashes to ashes.
One thing survived the inferno, however: The shoe I had stuffed into my jacket pocket. Somehow it stayed put until I jumped through the Ripper's window, and I tripped over it when running back futilely to the blazing house. I secreted it in my seedy apartment before Chicago's finest arrived to collect me.
There was enough of the shoe left to read the name of the maker: Peale's Footwear, London, SW 1. They're still there, of course, but they don't make this style shoe any more. It had been discontinued over seventy years ago.
Seventy years ago . . .
My fat was pulled out of the fire, so to speak, by none other than loopy old Mrs. Agenweiler, who watched the proceedings of June 2 through her trusty telescope. She was so grateful that I had rid her of the man with x-ray eyes, she testified that the Ripper started the fire--and returned to the burning house after chasing me off!
Did she actually believe she saw that? Whether she was on her rocker, or off her rocker, or out flying with Timothy Leary, I could've kissed her.
Captain Warren was so glad to have this escape hatch he dropped all charges. The story Updyke finally sent out on the wire read something to the effect that the killer, "panicking as the police net closed in," committed suicide by immolating himself and his house.
The funeral for Jane Plumm commenced on June 6th. It was a quiet affair, attended by a few friends, relations, and fellow reporters. Jane's mother sued the publishers of the Messenger for approving of the lunatic assignment that took her daughter to the Ripper's lair. She was awarded two million dollars in damages, and the Messenger closed its doors soon thereafter.
When the dust finally settled, I crept up to the third floor of the INS building long after midnight, the button-up shoe in a crumpled paper bag. I planned to write the story of the Ripper while the horror still burned in my mind.
I slipped paper into my Underwood and stared at the shoe for several minutes. I felt only confusion and depression. Vegas, Seattle, Chicago--nothing I did or wrote seemed to matter.
"How could you explain it?" I asked of the shoe. "Who could explain it?"
I tore the paper out of my typewriter and crumpled it. Nobody wanted this. Nobody cared.
"Who would believe it?"
I tossed the wad into the wastebasket and left the shoe on my desk, mute remnant of the gibbering Unknown. I whistled cheerily as I left. To hell with Jack; I'd get another story tomorrow.
My life had taken such a frenetic turn that summer that I had no time to let Jane's death sink in. Something akin to shock kept me dry-eyed through the funeral, but not even a burned-out, cynical news-hawk can hold it in forever.
The dam burst in mid-June as I typed up a safe, ordinary story about a drug bust on the south side. Tony had given us the news that a bright, young, vivacious girl was joining our little INS family--the proud offspring of Abe Marmelstein's youngest nephew. I expected a vacuous Barbie doll who would spend the first couple of days wondering which end of a pencil to use.
"Okay, everybody," announced Vincenzo as I tapped out my -30- sign-off, "I want you to give a big welcome to our newest recruit, Miss Monique Marmelstein."
Ron and the copyboys were there in a flash. Like Miss Emily, I grunted and groaned out of my squeaky chair. A few ball bearings popped out--of the chair, not me--and skittered off like silverfish.
"I'm sure you'll enjoy it here, Miss Marmelstein," whined Updyke. "The INS staff is a friendly and mutually-supportive team."
He glanced back and spotted me. His open smile zipped shut.
"Most of it, anyway."
"Oh, I'm sure you'l fit right in," said Miss Emily.
"Thank you, Miss Cowles," said a voice with a slight Brooklyn accent. "I've always adored your column . . ."
The crowd parted, and I saw Monique Marmelstein for the first time. She could have been Jane Plumm's brunette clone.
". . . And this is Carl Kolchak, our crime reporter," said Tony with a Santa Claus smile.
Monique shot out a chubby, Charlie Brownish hand.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Kolchak," she said, trying to hide a wad of chewing gum in her cheek. "Mr. Vincenzo had so many interesting things to say about you."
I became a pillar of salt. Vincenzo's Santa smile evaporated.
"Well, don't stand there like a post, Kolchak, say something."
The tears swelled as I took the faux Jane's hand in mine.
"I'm--I'm sure you'll be a valuable m-member--"
I let out a honk like a duckbill dinosaur. I shook my head and crowded by Vincenzo and Updyke.
"Carl?" asked Tony in astonishment.
"You'll have to excuse him," said Miss Emily quickly. "Carl's a very deep and emotional man."
I heard Tony and Ron's twin "What?"s as I pushed open the glass doors of the Independent News Service.
I've no time to tell you how
I came to be a killer,
But you should know, as time will show
That I'm society's pillar.
--supposedly written by Jack the Ripper, 1888
In 1994 the late Melvis Harris, a teacher and BBC broadcaster who was acknowledged as a leading authority on the Ripper murders, published a book entitled The True Face of Jack the Ripper. In it he listed thirteen "essential points" that must be met for a suspect of the 1880s to be the Ripper. Only one man, in his opinion, fit all thirteen items: an English soldier, doctor, and self-professed "black magician" named Robert Donston Stephenson, better known to his contemporaries as Dr. Roslyn D'Onston.
I almost passed by this little black volume because a flood of Ripper books hit the stands after the 1988 centennial of the Whitechapel crimes. I did skim it, however, and I almost keeled over in a B. Dalton's.
This Dr. D'Onston was the same man accused by Aleister Crowley of being Jack the Ripper, the man who gained "the supreme black magical power" by killing when Mercury and Saturn were on the horizon. He was the author of the article in Lucifer that discussed murder and mutilation as being essential to gaining power from the black arts. Even more disturbing, it turns out he was also the author of the article published anonymously in the Pall Mall Gazette, the one that explained that a necromancer needed "a certain portion of the body of a harlot" and that the Ripper murders marked the points of a profaned cross over London.
There is no room to go over all of Harris' book, but D'Onston was a man of mystery on many counts. When accidentally blasted with a shotgun in Hull, the buckshot "miraculously failed to injure" his leg. He kept an "icy" hold on his emotions at all times, and made "no noise" when he moved. Vittoria Cremers, a young Victorian woman who worked with him for several years, wrote of their first meeting: "There was an uncanny absence of sound in all his movements, and I can honestly say, that throughout the years of our association he was the most soundless human creature I ever knew." No one ever caught him eating; some people swore he never ate, period.
A more recent book, Jack the Ripper's Black Magic Rituals by Ivor Edwards, expands on the ritualistic aspect of the murders. Edwards studied every detail of the Ripper case and went so far as to compare the relationships between the murder sites with a distance measuring wheel. The sites formed the points of a geometric form called Vesica Piscis, an important symbol in occult practices.
Most interesting of all, Dr. D'Onston disappeared as thoroughly from history as the Ripper himself. In 1904, according to Harris, after publishing a book called The Patristic Gospels, "He simply vanished without trace. Despite repeated searches no death certificate can be found within the British Isles or anywhere else." The last man to see Dr. D'Onston/Stephenson was his publisher, Grant Richards, who called him "a weird uncanny creature."
Or was the last man Carl Kolchak, underpaid news-hawk?
And here came another of those strange coincidences that plague my life. I thought the New York Ripper of 1908 escaped because he feared the electric chair, which, as Tony passed on from the New York Public Library, no less, came into operation that year. But as Idanna Pucci points out in The Trials of Maria Barbella, the Chair was first used in New York, in Sing Sing prison, on August 6, 1890, to execute one William Kemmler. Very odd that the date I received over the phone was just the date I wanted . . .
Anonymous. "Who Is the Whitechapel Demon? (By One Who Thinks He Knows)." Pall Mall Gazette, 1 December 1888.
Boucher, Anthony. "The Demon in the Belfry: The Legends." In Joseph Henry Jackson (ed.), San Francisco Murders. New York: Bantam, 1948.
Crowley, Aleister. Confessions of Aleister Crowley. London: Mandrake Press, 1929.
--. Edited by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant. New York: Hill & Wang, 1970.
Cullen, Tom. When London Walked in Terror. Boston: Houghton, 1965.
Edwards, Ivor. Jack the Ripper's Black Magic Rituals. London: John Blake Publishing, 2002.
Farson, Daniel. Jack the Ripper. London: Michael Joseph, 1972.
Gaddis, Vincent. Mysterious Fires and Lights. New York: Dell, 1968.
Graysmith, Robert. Bell Tower: The Case of Jack the Ripper Finally Solved . . . in San Francisco. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1999.
Gribble, Leonard. "Was Jack the Ripper a Black Magician?" True Detective, March 1973.
Harris, Melvin. True Face of Jack the Ripper. London: Michael O'Mara Books, 1994.
Helms, Kirsten. Murder and the Occult. New York: Fafnir & Grendel, 1962.
Hollis, Guy. Ripper Murderers Throughout the Ages. London: St. George Press, 1940.
Keyes, Edward. Michigan Murders. New York: Pocket Books, 1976.
Little, Gregory L. Grand Illusions. Memphis: White Buffalo Books, 1994.
Nash, Jay Robert. Bloodletters and Badmen. New York: M. Evans and Co., 1973.
Pucci, Idanna. Trials of Maria Barbella. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.
Steiger, Brad. Psychic City: Chicago. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1976.
Stephenson, Robert Donston. "African Magic." Lucifer, November 1890.
West, Pamela. Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.
Wilson, Colin. Casebook of Murder. London: Frewin, 1969.
--and Patricia Pitman. Encyclopedia of Murder. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1962.
--. Occult. London: Hodder, 1971.
Carl Kolchak, Tony Vincenzo, and related characters are copyright © by the Estate of Jeff Rice. The articles and fiction on these web pages are not for profit and are not meant to infringe on the copyrights of Jeff Rice, Darren McGavin, Rudolph Borchert, Mark Dawidziak, ABC Productions, Dan Curtis Productions, Francy Productions, or Universal Studios.