September 8, 1888
It was the perfect hunting ground and she would do nicely for that night. Moronic newspapermen would label her the second victim – the poor, poor soiled dove that society never bothered to notice until her bloody corpse met the dawn. But she wasn't his second. Six other fallen women knew his murderous embrace all over the stinking, foul, darkened streets around London.
He had to make quick work of it. Daylight threatened.
She wore black; rough and simple like every other fallen woman in Whitechapel. A single face among thousands of ignored and forgotten in crowded, disease ridden slums. He followed her as casually as a gentleman strolling through a park. The woman huddled close herself and tugged a white neckerchief with a red border tighter around her shoulders. Something nagged within, sensing the predator, though she ignored it. Survival demanded money for a bed and shelter while she slept. Only one trade availed itself to isolated, middle-aged women like her in that idealistic, strict Victorian world.
Turning toward Spitalfields Market, he swooped in on Hanbury Street where the residents still slept. Always narrowed and suspicious blue eyes peered up at his face the moment she spotted him examining her like produce from a street vendor. She couldn't have been more than five feet tall with a pallid complexion suggesting that disease that he knew ravaged her lungs. He knew every detail of her forty-seven years on Earth.
"Fancy a ride, sir?" she asked in an attempt at flirtation so much younger than her age.
He strode closer, pinning her back against the shutters of the house. "Will you?"
"Yes," she replied, though her defenses tensed her body.
A curled finger covered by a black leather glove beckoned her out of sight along a rear fence between buildings. It concealed them from prying eyes passing by on the street.
Still so very dark in Whitechapel, she didn't even see it coming. He required no weapon for his work, though feeble human police minds would find her in short order and determine she'd been butchered with various blades. Perhaps tradesman. Butchers or upholsterers. Some horrified society minds might even recoil at the idea of an intelligent, civilized physician doing the grisly deed. The feebleness of the human mind never ceased to amuse him. He nearly chuckled out loud right there, seeing it all as if it had already happened.
"My lord and master thanks you for your sacrifice," he said, raspy and deep.
He leaned into the glow of a gaslight on the corner and allowed her to see his true self, the blackness flooding his eyes and leaving no human irises behind. Panic stricken her into silence as she realized her fate. Some women screamed like banshees when they set eyes upon his true nature, while others, like this Annie Chapman, became paralyzed by their own terror. The flaws of human mechanisms were fascinating, indeed.
Squelching her cry with a squeezed fist, his inhuman power ruptured the life-sustaining artery in her neck without ever setting a finger on her body. Blood drained from her throat and she slumped against the fence with a loud, sickening thump, and then the last moment of life dropped her to the ground. Rarely did they feel any pain, those sacrificial lambs. Sweet, imbecilic, trusting little lambs, he thought as he passed a leather gloved hand over her dark, wavy hair. Lifeless, cloudy eyes stared ahead at nothing, the soul having departed for that other place – the place his master once knew before being cast into his own domain, rejected by his father.
He set to work immediately and conducted the ceremony with quick precision. The corpse required the correct positioning and mutilation in order for the blood to be sanctified for his master's use.
Little did those feebleminded humans know exactly how powerful the blood of the falsely accused and martyred among their own kind could be.
September 20, 1888
"It's been two days. I still feel like the ground is moving beneath my feet," mumbled Dean Winchester as the coach rolled to a stop before one of the enormous Portland stone mansions. He planted his walking stick between his feet and held onto it as if it might keep him from swaying on a phantom ship.
His brother, younger by years but older by wisdom, glanced at him with a sly smile as he flipped open the coach door. "Pull yourself together. I don't think these are the kind of folk that care if working-class scruffs like us are prone to seasickness. Well, I mean you. I didn't feel a thing the entire voyage." Sam's sly smile turned cocky as he hopped out onto the street and waited for the older brother.
"I still don't have the foggiest idea why we're here in the first place," Dean replied. A fine lady in a perfectly pressed chocolate silk dress with the bustle carefully gathered over her rear, a matching bonnet, leather gloves, and a fur muff strolled by with her nose pointed in the air. Dean touched the brim of his bowler hat and gave her a polite nod the way they did in America, yet she didn't acknowledge him. "Scenery's nice though," he added with a smirk.
Sam grabbed the sleeve of Dean's jacket and, with an eye roll, pulled him along to the great mansion.
They were led into a library by a butler who resembled every other butler in those well-to-do neighborhoods all over the West End of London as well as Fifth Avenue in their home of New York City. Rich people weren't so different from city to city, Dean decided as he wandered around examining the selection of books. He had heard of none of them. Reading wasn't really his great skill anyway. He felt much more at home chasing down pickpockets, murderers, rapists, and thieves in Five Points. He guessed by the request that great Earl of Something had telegraphed their precinct that London police and detectives weren't worth a hill of beans if they sent all the way to New York City for someone to catch a murderer.
"Dean, sit down," beckoned Sam, who straightened his jacket as if he actually cared about what those hoity-toity people thought of him.
Before Dean could answer back, the butler stiffly entered the room and announced, "His Grace, Castiel, Earl of Rothes," and promptly stepped aside with the kind of stiffness still that made Dean wonder if all butlers had sticks installed in their asses before getting hired.
The brothers exchanged peculiar glances as Sam, obviously not knowing what to do, burst out of the armchair to his full height - well over six feet tall.
Rather simply suited in black with a steel gray waistcoat, the Earl greeted them with the kind of cool propriety that his position demanded. He never shook hands. Things done in America were apparently considered too close for comfort, making Dean believe all the English were cold and humorless. Yet, as he looked at the Earl's bright blue eyes and the way his full mouth twitched as if he wanted to smile after all, something intrigued him. Dark, messy hair suggested he didn't care so much about his appearance as others in his position did. He nodded politely to Sam but he held Dean's eyes for a beat longer as if trying to read something private in him.
Dean cleared his throat and averted his eyes. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Earl."
Again, his full mouth twitched. He found it amusing.
Then it was Sam's turn to uncomfortably clear his throat. "Your Grace, forgive my brother. We're simple Kansas boys. We just don't know how to address people of noble heritage," he said, fumbling his way through words that were certainly wrong.
"Your Grace?" Dean's nose wrinkled before he could stop it, the quiet entreaty passing to Sam nearby.
Sam hissed, "That's what you're supposed to say."
"Gentlemen, you needn't worry," came the Earl's first words. "I foresee us working quite closely to search out and capture the Whitechapel killer, and in which case, I see no useful titles. You may simply call me by my given name, Castiel."
That was the strangest name Dean had ever heard. "You French or something?"
Abruptly, Sam's boot stomped over the toe of his own boot in a warning to keep his mouth shut because clearly everything he said was disrespectful.
"No, Mr. Winchester," replied Castiel, that smile threatening again, though neither of them actually saw it. "I am, as you might say, foreign to England but I'm not French. Please, gentlemen, have a seat. You must be quite exhausted from such a long journey. I've got a footman bringing up tea and biscuits from the kitchen for you."
"Nice pile of bricks you got here," commented Dean as he planted himself on the nearest sofa, deciding it looked far more comfortable than the stiff armchair Sam favored.
"Yes, thank you," Castiel said. His blue eyes glanced around the library as if he'd never really looked at it before. "It's just a house. My wife, Margaret, decided our country estate was too dull and secluded for her taste. She prefers the excitement of city life in the cooler months."
The way he spoke of his wife with such indifference struck Dean as peculiar. He might as well have been speaking of a maid or a distant neighbor down the street.
"Your Grace - I mean Castiel, sir - why is it that you requested American detectives for a simple murder investigation? Does your own police force not have detectives?" asked Sam, eager to get down to business.
Kindly, Castiel gave him full attention as he lowered himself in the closest chair. "American detectives are not swayed by English prejudices and politics. This is, Mr. Winchester, anything but a simple murder investigation. Were you not given any of the particulars before you left New York City?"
"Hold on," interrupted Dean. "Why do you care about this? You're an Earl of some estate far away from here, I assume, not a servant of the London police. How do we know you're not swayed by some political interest in this murderer and you're using us as some sort of pawns to win your game?"
"--I expect a reaction nothing less than that from you, Mr. Winchester," Castiel said with some amusement over Sam's pleading for his brother to keep his mouth shut.
That man's quiet, observant way about him of knowing exactly who people were around him unnerved Dean and he found himself leaning forward defensively on the sofa, eyes narrowed. "You don't know us, sir. You've never met us in your life and we've never even heard if you, snotty aristocrat or not, before we set foot in this country. Presumptions like that would get you shot in New York City. Lucky for you, I have no interest in experiencing the fine prison system in this uptight little country of yours."
In spite of the pallor of horror sliding over Sam's face like a veil, Castiel finally let loose and his face erupted in a smile just the way his belly erupted in laughter. He nearly even sounded American the way he laughed at Dean.
"I know more about you than you think," Castiel said once his laughter calmed enough to allow words to pass.
He infuriated Dean, though the detective couldn't quite pinpoint why, but furious fire built up in his gut. He shot up from the sofa and grabbed his brother by the elbow. "C'mon, Sammy. We're getting out of here. I've had enough of these games played by people who think they're better than us just because they have money and breeding."
Just as they hit the threshold of the library doorway, Castiel began to speak in such a monotone voice that all humanity bled away from it. "You are Dean and Sam Winchester of Lawrence, Kansas, sons of John Winchester and Mary Campbell. Dean was born January 24, 1853, and Sam was born May 2, 1857. Your father built and repaired wagons and carriages. Your mother came from a frontier family as rough as it was strict in skills of survival. She was killed in a house fire on August 21, 1863, when Quantrill's Raiders attacked and destroyed Lawrence. Unable to cope with the loss, your father became a drunkard and wandered Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, and Illinois, seeking out each survivor of Quantrill's Raiders to kill them in retribution, leaving your boyhood completely unstable and gave each of you an incoherent education. John Winchester died eight years ago in a failed attempt to kill one of the Raiders. At which point, the both of you settled in New York City and rose through the ranks to become detectives."
Pausing, Castiel twisted around in his chair and looked both men in the eye, who stood utterly stunned in the doorway of the library. He continued, "While Sam is the more studious brother, having admittance to Harvard, he left it all behind to join his adventurous brother. Both of you have excelled at your positions and acquired brutish reputations among the criminal class, as well as inventive reputations among your fellow detectives, solving the most impossible murder cases." He stood and faced them full on. "You see, gentlemen, I know you better than either of you expect. And I know you are the only ones capable of capturing this killer."
"How do you know all of this? You hire spies or something?" Dean demanded.
With a chuckle, the Earl folded his hand behind his back and stepped closer as he spoke. "I have a vested personal interest in the capture of this killer and that, sirs, is all you need to know at this time. You'll be paid handsomely for your work in addition to room and board already arranged. Allowances for personal expenditures will also be provided."
The unfortunate truth was neither Dean nor Sam possessed the funds to get back to America should they refuse working the Earl. How easily he slipped between cold indifference and basic human warmth. It chilled Dean as a something in him warned of something amiss in that man, while another part of him needed to unravel the mystery for himself aside from being part of the Winchester brothers detective work. Exactly how Castiel knew every detail of their upbringing and present lives left him feeling like a raw, exposed nerve, and did not allow him to think clearly at that moment. So, he nodded dumbly, and Sam followed his lead.
"Wonderful, gentlemen. Now, follow me to my personal office, if you please," said Castiel, leading the way.
Deeper into the house they penetrated, through a meandering labyrinth of drawing rooms and a grand central staircase up to the second floor. Castiel brought them to a small, modest office nestled between two bed chambers – obviously one for himself and one for his absent wife. The identity of that woman, whoever she was, had Dean curious. It seemed fairly clear to him that the Earl preferred things to be his way, making him wonder if the wife lead a miserable existence under his control, or if he simply didn't care where she went and with whom she kept company.
Opened file folders scattered across the desk seated at the center of the office. He recognized postmortem photography without effort but said nothing. Somehow he knew Castiel needed to take the lead on explaining everything already collected about the case. The deep, personal vested interest, whatever it was, brought him to a heightened obsession by Dean's estimation.
"There have been seven victims between December 26 of last year and September 8 of this year," explained Castiel as he leapt through his files. "All of them were females and all of them were mutilated, butchered really, and all of them have been located around the East End." Blue eyes flashed up at them, remembering that they were in fact foreigners. "London's poor population lives and works in the East End. Namely Whitechapel. Each of the women has had reputations for leading disreputable lives before they were killed and some of their organs were missing as found by their postmortem examinations. This is not, gentlemen, a typical murder case by any stretch of the imagination. I believe there are ritualistic elements suggesting something rather unholy."
"But we were told in the papers that there have been two victims," said Sam cautiously.
"Indeed," replied Castiel, "newspapermen think they know everything about it already, but I believe earlier murders of similar women have been tied to the same killer." That said, he passed over a file folder containing newspaper clippings to both of the men. "Take this with you and study each case as reported in the papers. Tomorrow night, you will both attend dinner here with my wife and myself where we can discuss fact from fiction."
Dean didn't like how he was brought into that case or how that man knew everything about his family. It still bothered him in spite of his interest in the strange case. Nothing in New York had turned up like that before that he knew of, especially when someone so clearly mutilated victims in such a depraved manner. He accepted the file folder with some hesitation. Strangely, a chill passed over him in accepting the case right there in that office as if a warning beckoned him to give it up and go home. Go back to New York. Get away from that murderer terrorizing fallen women in the impoverished sections of London. Yet he fought those urges and quickly thumbed through the postmortem photographs, routing his mind in the investigation process. He couldn't help himself. The way he approached investigation of any crime resembled the manner a hunter stalked a deer in the woods.
The Earl quickly scrawled an address on a piece of paper and handed it over. "This is the address of the building where you will live while in my employ. It's within walking distance. You needn't waste money on public coaches. Tomorrow we will work out your per diem in greater detail. A widow owns this building by the name of Mrs. Jessie Moore. She's expecting you. Good day, gentlemen."
Apparently, that was it. Castiel was finished with them for the day. For such a highly placed men in society, he certainly lacked polished social skills, Dean marveled to himself.
And so, Sam and Dean Winchester embarked on hunting down the Whitechapel killer.