Jack & Jill (and Steve!)
By David Eccles
Shivering in silence in the early hours of a cold, damp November morning, Jill Harmon stood in a deserted alley; one of the many thousands that linked the streets of England’s capital city. Sheltering under a brick-walled porch in the doorway of a school next to the alley, her back against the solid oak door, and shrouded in deep shadows, she did her utmost to blend in, to disappear. She clasped her hands, held them up to her mouth and blew on them to try and restore some small sense of warmth in her rapidly freezing fingers. Jill resisted the urge to stamp her feet, fearing that such action would announce her presence and potentially scupper her mission. It suddenly occurred to her that there was a distinct possibility that she might die tonight. Now that just would fuck everything up, she told herself. Cursing herself inwardly at her own negativity, Jill banished the thought from her mind, and then stiffened as the earpiece in her left ear buzzed.
“You rang, milord?” she joked, her voice a whisper.
“Just checking in, chick,” came the reply. “The voice-activated throat mic’ works well.”
“It’s a good job that it does, Steve, ’cause my fingers are like ice!” Jill complained.
“I thought you were born here, Jill. You should be used to all of this fresh London air!” Steve Peavey teased in an American accent that Jill had never quite been able to place.
“Ha! Fresh London air? Have you smelled this alley, Steve? It reeks of piss! I swear I squished a few turds too, on the way here!”
Jill continued to make light of her situation, even though her stomach contents threatened to make an unscheduled appearance. Her nose wrinkled in disgust and she dry heaved before adding, “Frying Pan Alley? More like Dogshit Alley!”
Steve guffawed so loudly in her ear that the vibration of her earpiece set off a reaction that quickly spread throughout her body and set Jill’s spine tingling. It made her want to urinate, but common sense told her that the mission took priority; peeing would have to wait. It was imperative that she remain vigilant. Jill knew that if it came to it, she would just have to empty her bladder while standing guard, then clean herself up once they had completed their mission.
Banishing all thoughts of personal hygiene from her mind, she brought her thoughts back into focus; the smile on Jill’s lips melted, replaced instead by a hard, grim line, her brow furrowing as she reminded herself just why it was that Steve and herself were there, in that place and at that particular moment in time. Murder.
Four victims amassed in just a little over two months—all of them female. Each had met their end in the most horrible manner imaginable: in all instances, the victim had had their throat cut; most had suffered facial, genital and abdominal mutilation, brought about in a frenzied yet surgical attack. Tonight’s victim was number five.
Jill and Steve had borne witness to each of these horrific crimes—they were under orders, after all—both totally powerless to intervene as each victim, each woman was rent asunder, dehumanised in the extreme, turned into a mass of torn, bloody rags and shredded flesh then cast aside, just as one would dispose of a used tissue. Concealment had been an issue, but they both had managed to watch each grisly event as it happened from separate vantage points, both straining with every fibre of their being to hold on to their sanity, to remain in hiding and do nothing except watch as the killer’s knife glinted; cutting, stabbing and slashing, over and over again.
Jill drew in a silent breath and held it there as she recalled an evening a little over a month ago when they had had to watch a double murder take place. How the hell did we manage to shadow him that night and remain unseen at both locations, she wondered. She exhaled sharply before sucking in huge lungfuls of air, realising as she did so that she must have been holding her breath for close on two minutes.
“Jill?” Steve enquired, sounding worried.
“I’m okay, Steve,” she reassured him. “Just reliving some of this shit. I’m fine now”.
“I hope so, ’cause this one’s the worst by far”.
She listened intently, her mouth watering, and she swallowed the excess saliva, making a gulping sound as she did so. “Thank God it was your turn to be there tonight and not mine. Was it really bad?” Jill wasn’t sure, but she swore she heard a distinct tremor in Steve’s voice.
“It was absolute carnage, Jill. The others were bad, but…” He failed to finish what he had begun to say. Steve sounded drained of all emotion. There was a moment’s silence before he found his voice again: “He’s heading your way. You were right about his escape route. I’m just on the corner of Dorset Street, about to turn left into Bell Lane. He’s approximately twenty metres ahead of me.”
Less than three minutes away, Jill calculated.
Checking her equipment, she readied herself to apprehend the monster that Steve and herself had seen brutalize and butcher five women. Her Taser was functioning as it should, she noticed as she held it up in front of her face, squeezing the trigger and grinning as blue fire arced between the electrodes. Yep! Drive stun mode was working perfectly, though she had no intention of letting the bastard get close enough to make her use that particular mode. She’d let the barbs do all the work, driven home by compressed nitrogen at high velocity. “God bless Thomas A. Swift’s electric rifle and its inventor, Jack Cover,” she muttered.
Jill patted the small pouch at her side that contained medical equipment needed to take blood and tissue samples; the larger pouch in the small of her back held a supply of zip ties. She was ready.
Approaching footsteps from the direction of Bell Lane warned Jill that she was soon to have company, and barely a second later Steve confirmed it in her ear. Peering around from behind the porch where she was hiding she had a clear view all the way down the alley. A typical London fog blanketed the ground; it swirled and moved like a living thing, and it muted the footsteps of the man they had watched for over two months, but Jill didn’t need to hear him.
Backlit by the streetlamps on Bell Lane, Leather Apron hurriedly made his way down Frying Pan Alley. Steve Peavey had made his presence known purposely, so as to alarm Leather Apron and shepherd him towards Jill, who was waiting for him, Taser in hand. Jill emerged from behind the brick-walled porch to stand squarely in the path of Leather Apron, who immediately halted before turning once more to face the way he had come from. A huge figure turned into the alley, seeming to fill it, barring Leather Apron’s escape route. Weighing up his options, Leather Apron chose not to tangle with Steve, a 250lb 6ft 6in NCAA Division 1 All-American wrestler, preferring instead to take his chances with Jill, 5ft 10in and 142lb of hard muscle and steel determination.
Jill turned on the flashlight she had pulled from yet another belt pouch, focusing the beam directly at Leather Apron before turning it off again. In that one brief second, Leather Apron’s night vision was rendered useless. He dropped the Gladstone bag he had been carrying, raised his hands to cover his eyes and Steve moved in to kick it away while at the same time aiming a heel of the palm blow to the base of Leather Apron’s skull. Leather Apron dropped to the floor, unconscious before he hit the filthy cobblestones.
“Aaaw! I could’ve taken him without your help, Steve!” Jill complained, sounding like a child who had just been told she couldn’t have an ice cream. “You could’ve at least let me kick him in the balls!”
“Damn, girl, you’re just nasty!” Steve chuckled as he secured Leather Apron’s hands behind his back with zip ties. “Why don’t you go take a look in that bag o’ his, see what he’s carryin’.”
“You know very well what’s in there, Steve!” Jill snapped, stabbing her index finger at Steve’s chest. “You read the same books that I did!”
The joking expression on Steve’s face became one of seriousness. “Hey! Chill, girl! I know I did. It just slipped my mind, is all.”
“The sick bastard kept her heart! And those others! Look what he did to them! What kind of an animal would want to cut out a woman’s uterus, huh?”
Steve motioned at the miserable wretch on the ground. “His kind of animal, Jill.” Jill nodded in agreement.
“You’re right, of course, Steve. We had a job to do, and we’ve done it. It just makes me so angry that we couldn’t do anything; couldn’t save any of them.” Tears began to well up in her eyes; tears of sadness, and of frustration.
“You know there’s nothing we could have done, Jill. Come on. What’s the first thing we learn as agents?”
“Don’t mess with the timeline,” she muttered in a low voice.
“That’s right,” said Steve. He took hold of Jill by the shoulders and looked her in the eye: “Those girls were already dead. It’s written in the history books. We can’t change that.”
Jill nodded, ran her fingers through her hair then playfully tapped Steve on the jaw with her fist, rattling his teeth a little. “I guess we’d better clean up this shit, then.” Her smile was fake, but the smile that returned to Steve’s face was absolutely genuine.
“I guess so,” said Steve, hauling Leather Apron to his feet with one arm. “This is one turd I’m going to enjoy flushing! I mean, it’s cool just to be able to time travel back to 1888, but to be able to time travel and capture Jack the Ripper—that’s something fucking else!”
Jill pursed her lips and nodded. “Yes it is, Steve.” She activated the temporal displacement device on her belt, setting the date to November 9th 2238. “Let’s go home.”
“You mean that by bringing Leather Apron back with us we not only prevented further deaths, we actually created a mystery that’s remained unsolved for 350 years?” Jill asked. The science of it all baffled her; something she didn’t mind admitting.
Steve scratched his head. “I guess so, yeah. If you think about it, there were no more proven murders attributed to Jack the Ripper after Mary Kelly’s death, and he was never found. He just disappeared.”
“Spooky,” said Jill, the tiniest of smiles beginning to appear on her lips. Steve winked. “Yeah, spooky.”