The Transformation of Major Jack Garrison
Whitechapel, London, 1888
Lightning shattered the grey sky and flickered through the dusty windows of the London tavern. Two men at the bar ignored the thunder, gazing instead into their pints as if divining for a future absent of a brewing darkness. The pub buzzed with the conversations of a handful of other men chatting up the day’s business.
“How are you going to do it?” The thin man asked quietly.
The older gentleman, a field surgeon loosely draped in a bloody and ragged uniform, didn’t respond. “Sir?” Thom Gill nudged Jack’s shoulder, took another drink and pursed his lips as though it might squeeze an answer out of him.
“It’s not going to be civil,” he said without looking up.
“I don’t understand the nature of the Yank Army’s mission in London.”
“What do you infer, lad? I’m just here on rest and recuperation.” He raised his pint to Thom and took another drink.
“Yes, sir. Of course. Just a visit, I’m sure.”
“Did you bring the gear?”
Thom kicked the rucksack at his feet. “I did, sir. I have everything you asked for.”
“Nay. The missus nosed about a bit, but I shut her up. And the blacksmith won’t miss the leather apron. It belonged to his late apprentice.”
“Consumption took him, sir.”
Jack tried to hide the shiver running up his spine. Tuberculosis had ravaged his wife and newborn daughter to their deaths.
“Another pint for me and the Major.” Thom called, then to Jack, “With respect, sir.” Thom eyed Jack’s unkempt appearance.
“A straggly appearance turns the dogs’ noses away from the U.S. government. I can’t be a murderer and an officer in the same ilk.”
The barman slid a pair of pints their way.
“How many made the list?”
Jack tightened his lips and frowned. “Fifteen.” But he thought, “How can I serve my country after this?”
“Yes.” Jack meant to be gruff, but softened it by asking, “Do you have any children?”
Shuddering at the thought of fifteen dead women, Thom said, “Yes, sir. A boy, John. He’s seven this year.”
“A fine lad, I’d wager.” Jack leered at Thom, an expression that defied his statement. He fought to temporarily hide the sinister smile.
Thom’s voiced quivered as he said, “A thorn in his mother’s side, but fine enough.” He traced the outline of years of wear on the wooden edge of the bar top with a callused finger. His eyes darted along the path as though he was afraid to look Jack in the eye.
“Do you have the stomach for it, sir?”
“Might you mean have I cut the life out of another man before?”
Thom nodded apprehensively.
“I have saved countless lives on the war torn battlefield, but I have not performed such brutal acts as this order.”
“Why so vicious? Can’t you kill them in the night and be off?”
“A resourceful man in my government has traced great evil to these few. Even as unpleasant as their lot in life may be, he has convinced my command that the surest way to prevent the spread of darkness is to kill them with a great and swift wrath.”
“Wouldn’t a pistol to the backs of their heads do the same?”
“A man, sane and God-fearing, cannot undertake carnage that likens him to a beast.” Jack slumped over the bar, his face long. “It darkens my heart, but it’s not a sane man that will rip the hearts, livers and entrails, the very souls, of your women from their bodies. The ripper shall be an unclean man, a straggly man purporting death in his eyes, and I will be that beastly man by order of my government.”
“You intend to hide behind the façade of insanity, depravity, the shroud of fear you will surely veil over Whitechapel?”
“No one can know the dreadful thoughts that weigh upon my morality. No one.”
“What do they have against you to force you into such acts?”
“You are young, green. I’m tired of pushing the Indians further west; I’m tired of seeing blood spilled on my homeland. Volunteering for this last mission is the fastest way out of that hell.”
Thom swallowed back a gag with the warm swill. “From one hell into another, sir. A fiery hell for certain.”
“Another, barkeep.” Jack pointed to his empty glass.
“Who’s named first?”
Jack took a well-worn paper from his coat, unfolded it and said, “Mary Ann Nichols of 18 Thrawl Street, Spitalfields.” A letter fell to the floor.
“Aye, I’m familiar. She is a drunk, a cheap dollymop that goes by Polly. What would your government want with her?” Thom retrieved the fallen envelop and held it out.
Jack pushed Thom’s hand back, but not before Thom flinched. “Keep it. Put it in the post to the Central News Agency next month.” Closing the deal, Jack grabbed Thom by his neck and pulled him in. Jack ground his teeth together, an evil glazed black over his eyes, and he whispered, “Little John will make fine collateral should you think of betrayal, Thom.”
Thom scrambled back against the bar. “I’d never, sir. You have my…”
Jack pushed the demon deep inside and nodded toward the unsealed envelop. “Read it. It’s my confession.”
Hands shaking, Thom opened the letter and started reading. “Dear Boss…” He trailed off and didn’t speak again until the end. White-faced, he said flatly, “Signed, ‘Jack the Ripper’. Barbaric, Major.”
Thom, defeated, pushed the warm beer to the back edge of the bar and slumped his shoulders. He saw the invisible blood of the women Jack would eviscerate wrapping his hands like worn shoe leather.
Jack smirked. “Push it aside, boy. This blight will do the dirty work for us; I give you my word as an officer.” He tapped his chest just over his heart for Thom to see.
The pale light from the next moon will shine inside Mary Ann Nichols.