Darkness Is The Coldest Colour (complete)
A murderer is at large. Named Jack the Ripper, he strikes terror into the heart of Victorian London and it's Victor Stride's job to bring him to justice. With the help of two old friends, Victor sets out to capture the killer, but will he become a target of the Ripper's cruel game, killed before the investigation is completed, or will his findings reveal enough to tilt his world off its axis forever?
A Revelation Too Late
"You know perfectly well what it is," I say.
I can't bring myself to face him, but I can hear him frowning. "What are you talking about?"
"Don't play games with me, Penbar. I've had quite enough of those. Do you think I never suspected you? Because I did. In the time you were away I forgot about how cold you are, how unaffected you are when you see a corpse. You don't care about anyone, do you?"
"I don't feel affected by a corpse because it's my job."
"What about your other job, Penbar, the one you never told me about?" I narrow my eyes and turn to face him.
"I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Don't lie to me!" My scream bounces off the walls and I throw myself at him with all my force, pushing him onto the ground.
His eyes widen. "What the Hell, Victor! Have you lost your mind?"
"How ironic that the murderer accuses the detective of being mad," I shout, burning with fury.
"I'm not the murderer!" There's so much desperation in his voice that I so want to believe him, but I can't.
"Oliver, please," I say. "I know about your wife's infertility now. I know why you did it but you need to understand that killing prostitutes isn't the right way to deal with it."
"What do you mean, 'wife'?" He asks, frowning.
"It's okay, Oliver. I won't hold it against you that you courted a married woman, I understand."
"I don't have a wife."
I freeze. "What?"
"Who told you all this, Victor?"
It's amazing how much everything can change in a single second. One second earlier I was looking at my best friend's face, whose ivory skin was wrought with confusion. Now, one second later, I am staring in horror at the river of red which gushes freely from his forehead. The blood sticks to his dark hair, dying everything vermilion.
I scream out as I realise what has happened. This has to be a cruel trick, a sick illusion. I shake his shoulders, willing his face to crease with laughter and an illusionist to step out from a secluded corner grinning. Nothing happens. He doesn't move.
"Oliver!" I scream at his lifeless face. "Oliver! Move, god dammit! Why won't you move? Please, Oliver! Tell me you're still alive! Please, Oliver, please!"
His eyes are fixed on a far off place I can't see. They are glassy and motionless. Still screaming his name, I latch my hands to his neck, aching to feel the current of blood under his skin. I want to feel the beat of his pulse so much it hurts. Realisation hits me in waves as I realise that I will never exchange another word with him, never laugh with him, never see him smile. The infinity of the word 'never' hasn't hurt me so much in my life.
I strain to recall his last words to me. When I finally remember them ('who told you this, Victor') I frown and look up to the person who did indeed tell me.
Edith Westwood stands above me with a hand enclosed around a knife.
A knife which is dripping with blood.
"Edith," her name plagues my tongue like a disease.
"He was lying, Victor. He was a murderer." The past tense burns me like a red hot poker and a fire of fury rages up my spine.
My eyes are drawn to the knife. She holds it expertly, enveloping it with her hand comfortably as if shaking the hand of an old friend.
"No, Edith," I say slowly, each syllable slipping off my tongue. "You're the murderer."
"I..." she pauses, licking her lips nervously. "No! He was lying! I couldn't stand it! He killed those people!"
"You killed those people! You lied about him having a wife in the hope that I'd kill him. That's why you killed him when he asked who lied to me! Why, Edith, why?"
Her face changes from mock desperation to fury in less than a second. "He was a sacrifice I had to make! There are casualties in every war."
"So you admit it! You killed those women!" I exclaim.
"Those weren't women," she snaps. "They were animals- dirty, greedy animals! I did them a favour. They didn't deserve to live! Children should be born out of love, not by accident! Prostitutes shouldn't exist- they're an abomination to London! How can we sing God Save The Queen when those disgusting people roam the streets?"
"Your personal opinion doesn't give you the right to kill people!"
"I didn't kill them because I wanted to! They're parasites and I was simply ridding London of those vermin. I will make London great again!"
"By murdering? How can you say that cold-blooded murder is for the greater good? You're just saying all this because you can't admit that you're jealous that they can give birth and you can't!" I conclude, every inch of my body tingling with hatred.
"My husband left me because I couldn't bear the children he so dearly wanted! It's all right for you, Victor- you've never been married. You don't know how much it hurts to disappoint the person you love again and again with nothing you can anything do about!"
"Listen to yourself, Edith! You killed four women and you killed my best friend, your friend."
"He wasn't my friend."
"Yes, Edith. Yes he was."
Suddenly, she drops the knife and it clatters onto the floor. Her chest rises up and down as she gulps back shivering sobs. Her hands begin to shake and she presses them against her face.
"Oh my God," she whispers. "What have I done?"
I step back as she shakes even more. Tears escape her eyes which flicker around madly. "What have I done?" She repeats and repeats the four words again and again, turning it into a chant. The syllables slur together as she run her bloodied fingers through her hair.
"No," she shrieks. "No!" She collapses onto the floor and presses her forehead against the newspaper ground.
"I didn't mean for it to happen like this," she sobs. "I had to tell someone. It was always there, my dirty little secret, it just sat there in my heart and taunted me. I couldn't keep it in any more, I had to tell someone, somehow. I brought you here so I could confess to you but I couldn't tell you- you were so disgusted at the knives. I knew you'd hate me if I told you."
"Why me? Why not Penbar?"
She swallows hard and looks away. Unspoken words sit on her tongue but she can't bring herself to say it. What would be the point? It means nothing now.
"I didn't just plan to kill four," she whispers. Cautiously, she extends a shaking arm to a piece of newspaper and turns it over.
The yellowing paper is covered in a spider-like scrawl of names. They cover the page, all in the same handwriting.
'Joan Peters' is scribbled on line. 'Elizabeth Helmsley' is written on another.
I turn over another sheet of paper, then another, and another. Every page is covered with names.
"All the prostitutes in London," she explains in a shaking voice, "every last one."
Then, in one swift movement, she grabs the knife and strikes it into her neck. She is dead before gravity captures her and she slumps onto the paper floor, swimming in a pool of my best friend's blood.
I shut my eyes and listen to my own heartbeat. It is the only thing which reminds me that I'm still alive, and not in hell or a horrifically vivid nightmare. I wait for my breathing to slow down and steady my shaking hands.
Then, I open my eyes and bend down to her motionless body. I pick her up in my arms and lay her in the room with the knives. Then, I close the door and replace the lock. Anyone who finds her body won't know who she is or what she's done. On the day that I finally join her and Penbar in the night sky the secret will have died with my body, unlike my soul which will be set free.
I turn away from the room for the last time and bend down to Penbar. Salty tears trickle down my cheeks as I close his eyes. At first glance, they are black but when I look closer I see that they are really the colour of shadows and mystery and the night sky. As humans, we always appreciate things when they're gone, when we can miss them and mourn their disappearance. I miss the light of his eyes; I miss the way he talked; I miss his voice; I miss my best friend. I miss Oliver Penbar.
With a deep breath, I close the door behind me and make my way home. The Ripper has taken her last victims but I am not one of them. I will not let The Ripper take my life the way she took theirs. As I walk down Key Street I make a silent vow to do the only thing I really can- live, not exist, but live.
I miss Oliver Penbar and I miss Edith Westwood. I mourn them too but I will never forget them.