“Heya, Adam. Come o’er ‘ere, and bring yer cant hook.”
“Wot yer got, Thomas?” Adam sauntered over to peer into the murky depths of the Thames River. He cursed under his breath low and hard, then thrust the pole with its hook end toward the middle of the river.
“Wot d’you suppose it is?” Thomas stared toward the filmy peach-colored cloth that danced upon the choppy tide.
“Wel, it aren’t no fish, if that’s what yer mean!” Adam cursed again. “Gi’ me a hand, will yer?”
The two men strained to drag the cloth and its contents toward their low keeled boat.
“Pull!” Thomas grunted. With one last tug, the peach shroud was alongside them.
“Lor’, have mercy!” Adam whispered, as he drew the grim treasure onto the deck.
Inspector Creighton Simms of Bow Street followed Lister into the room. A chill pervaded the atmosphere and yet once again Simms wondered how the man could work in these surroundings. The corner of Lister’s mouth twitched into a ghastly half-smile before he raised the sheet which covered the body on the table.
Simms realized with one glance that his twenty years around London’s East End had not adequately prepared him for this sight. Bile rose in his throat, kept down only by clenching one fist and breathing through his mouth.
The lass had been a beauty. Her auburn hair framed a face which, though swollen and bruised, retained its innocence. That is, the half of the face that remained.
“Lovely sight, eh, Inspector?” Lister drew the sheet back and pointed to white-edged gashes in the corpse’s torso. “The victim was slashed several times, probably before the mutilation to her face. The bruising came from her time in the river.”
“Clothing?” Simms muttered through clenched teeth.
“A peach gown and an emerald ring.” The coroner frowned as he shrouded the body once more. “If this one was a woman of class, what was she doing here on the East End? And to whom did she belong?”
“To whom, indeed?” Simms echoed.
Inspector Simms rubbed his forehead in exasperation and leaned back in his chair. Before him, Police Constable Peter Harms shifted his weight from one foot to the other, clearly uncomfortable.
Simms glanced up at Harms with a snort of disbelief. “No one has come forward to claim the body? For heaven’s sake, man, it’s already been three days.”
Harms bowed his head in silence.
“Who was she?” Simms muttered. He thrust out his hand to pick up the September 7, 1888, copy of the Times. “If she was a lady, why isn’t someone looking for her?” He tossed the paper back onto his desk and glared at the artist’s rendition of the “Lady of the Thames” he had last seen on the coroner’s slab. In a smaller drawing was a sketch of her ring.
“She was no commoner,” Harms agreed.
From the corridor came the sound of a scuffle. “This is an outrage!” a voice thundered. “I demand to see your superior!”
Then the door banged open.
Standing on the threshold, a young man in his twenties carefully brushed his jacket before glaring at Simms. “What I need to say to you, sir, I wish to say in privacy. Send your underling away.”
The Inspector dismissed Harms with a resigned nod. Both knew of the upper class and their low regard for the police.
Simms arose from his desk as the office door closed.
“I am Lord Ayles. I want the ring you found. It’s a family heirloom, and I’ve been sent to retrieve it.”
“The ring?” Simms questioned. Then relief settled in and he smiled. “You’re here to claim the body?”
“I’m here to reclaim a possession. What you do with her body is no concern of ours.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She was my sister.” Ayles sniffed. “Enid was not content to help those wretches through traditional means. She chose to live among them. We told her never to come home again.”
Anger bubbled within Simms. This was the product of a Victorian aristocracy more content with family image than Christian mercy.
“May I have it, please?” Lord Ayles sneered. “Or do I speak to your superiors?”
With stomach churning, Simms relinquished the ring.
“The name of Enid Ayles is never to come up in your investigation,” the young man added before opening the door, “if you know what’s good for you. Good day, sir.”
Simms cursed, knowing the “Lady of the Thames” would remain unnamed, her murder unsolved.
Author's note: On September 8, 1888, Annie Chapman, the second known victim of Jack the Ripper, was murdered in Hanbury Street.
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