Category Archives: Short story

A Bid Too Far

By William David Baker

4900 words
I was so excited. Nothing quite like it had ever happened to me before, and I’d only my gorgeous wife, Cassy, to thank. It was she who downloaded the form from the BBC. It was she who filled in the application. We must have been exactly what they were looking for because a confirmation mail came back pretty quickly, complete with all the arrangements for our appearance on Tim Whatahoot’s show – the mighty and the great “Bargain Buy.”

Cassy and I had both been fans of the programme for years, and we’d often talked about how stupid some of the contestants were. Buying at retail prices to sell at auction was a surefire recipe for disaster. There was no way we were going to fall for that trap. We had a game-plan in mind well before the show was due to be filmed:

One: bargain hard. There had to be profit in it – so buy cheap, sell dear. Yes, we wanted to beat the other team and make more profit than them. But above all, we desperately wanted to win the Gilded Gavel award, given for making a profit on all three items bought, even though the actual prize had been downgraded a while back from a real wooden auctioneer’s gavel to a tin badge each, with a gavel for a motif instead;

Two: small silver, but it had to be English, Scottish at a push, though it wasn’t our strong suit, and definitely no foreign;

Three: a bit of treen, small novelty Items in wood, but no brown wood furniture, the market was still down on it;

Four: definitely no Staffordshire, too many fakes around;

Five: Matchbox toys, but they must be in their original boxes and undamaged;

Six, and last: anything gold that the seller didn’t realise was.

As we finished compiling the game-plan, I found myself quite surprised and not a little shocked at the last item in the list, because love the show and its ilk as much as I do, I’d always felt uncomfortable watching the expert pick up a piece of cracked dirty pottery and offer a quid for it, only to reveal later that he knew all along that it was a unique piece of Clarice Clift worth fifteen thousand. Cassy said I would just have to toughen up.

The show was to be filmed at the County Showground in Staffordshire, where they held massive regular antique fairs. I went online and found a nice B&B, just outside a lovely little village called Tixall, which was just a hop away from the show grounds. We travelled up from London the afternoon before the filming. The owner of the B&B recommended a pub in the tiny village of Salt, nearby, called the Holly Bush Inn, that had won awards for its wine, beer and food. We found it strange that they did not take bookings, but we thought we’d try it anyway. We were not disappointed.

The pub was not so busy when we arrived, but soon became rammed. You could easily see why. We both had green shelled mussels to start. Delicious! Cassy ordered the Greek lamb, which, when it arrived, looked like it might be the whole lamb. I ordered the slow-cooked belly draft from the specials board. They boasted that most of their food was locally sourced, and it was as good as it promised to be, though I had to ask them to replace my slice of belly draft as the jus had soaked in, and ruined the crispness of my crackling. You can’t cut through rubbery crackling, let alone chew it. The offending meat was quickly, and satisfactorily, replaced without fuss.

The wine was as good as any decent London restaurant, and a damned sight cheaper too. We went back to the B&B, bellies full, and merry. Well, Cassy was more merry than me, as I was driving. I was well rewarded later for my sacrifice, and we woke the next morning, refreshed and ready for the competition.

The show’s PA was waiting for us when we arrived at the show grounds. A smart young thing – all clipboard and brightly polished media degree from Swansea. Jenna led us to the coffee bar, where a section had been cordoned off for the exclusive use of the broadcast team. She explained that their usual catering van had let them down, so we’d have to make our own arrangements for lunch but coffee was on the BBC. The crew were already tucking into enormous Staffordshire bacon baps, and all we managed to extract from the crew were muffled nods, as Jenna briefly introduced us. She lead us over to where the show’s two guest antique experts sat. One would be working alongside the Blue team, the other the Reds. Tim and the Director would join us shortly.

One of the experts was the new one, Derek Somebody-or-other. I didn’t rate him. Dozy Derek, I called him. Cassy had something even more cruel for him, but I won’t embarrass her by saying it. Please let it not be him, I thought. The other was Cute Bliss. The lovely Cute Bliss. All I’ll say about Cutie is that it was a good job that neither she nor Cassy knew just how blissful I thought Cutie really was. Let it be her, I thought. Please let it be her.

We all got on rather well. It’s a bit like when golfers get together. They are never short of something to talk about – usually golf, but not always. It was the same with us, though we mostly kept the chat to antiques. I even found myself warming to Dozy Derek. He was, to be fair, very knowledgable, even if you had to drag it from him kicking and screaming. Jenna took a phone call and disappeared for a minute, before returning, bringing with her the opposition, the Brickhouses from Birmingham.

She was built like the proverbial brick latrine. He was contrarily thin and tall, looming over everyone like a Banshee. Talk about chalk and cheese. Jenna introduced us all round, and we sat back down to drink and chat, but chat soon became hard work as the Brickhouses seemed to be a very quiet couple indeed. I became very suspicious straight away. I didn’t believe they were as quiet or as thick as they both seemed. Gamesmanship!

Jenna, who seemed quite unable to sit still for more than a minute, dashed off again, and this time came back laden down with four heavy looking fleece jackets. Horrible, chav things, really. Two blue, two red, the team colours. I snatched the red pair off her. There was no way Cassy would wear blue.

It was a one size fits all jobby and though mine was snug enough, without being stretched, Cassy’s hung around her like a deflated barrage ballon. My heart melted at the disgust in her face, but, bless her, she seemed to quickly shrug off the shock. I think it helped when she looked at what the blue fleeces had done for the poor Brickhouses. I was pleased that Cassy was blessed with good bladder control, as I watched her turn away, pretending to take care of a coughing spasm, but smothering a Cassy belly laugh into her hands.

The Director arrived with Tim Whatahoot, the host of Bargain Buy, and a renowned expert on all things antique. Tim was every bit of what I expected. Immaculately, dapperly dressed, he was like a grown up Rupert the Bear, but with a decent moustache. Affable? I’ll say so. He made everyone feel at ease immediately. I noticed when he looked over his spectacles at Cassie, with his trademark stare, that she blushed heavily and turned her head away. I hoped she still had her bladder well under control, as it looked like she was really being put under some pressure. I asked Tim if he’d enjoyed his ‘Strictly Gone Dancing’ adventure. He thanked me, and said he’d enjoyed every minute of it, except the getting kicked off far too early bit, and the pain in his legs, as they were still giving him some gyp.

The Director was the Director. That’s all I’ll say about her, as I don’t like to talk ill of the dead. Well, that’s the impression I got, with her Goth clothes, and Goth makeup, and Goth-glum attitude. Not very BBC, I thought, till I realised I was being a bit of a prat. Still didn’t like her though. She clicked her fingers at Jenna, which endeared the Director even less to me. ‘Faces.’ One word. That’s all she said. I’m sure I heard Jenna say ‘bitch’ as she dragged out this small shiny steel box from underneath our table. She proceeded to dab sweet powder on our shiny noses. After telling us what was to happen next, the Director called over to Derek, and informed him he was going to the blue team. I gave an invisible punch in the air.

We went into the nearest hall, which was vast, and the crew set up some of their equipment: a camera, a microphone boom, and a monitor. We stood in front of a stall specialising in delicious oily blue Moorcroft pottery. Tim introduced us to the camera, and asked his questions. Cassy told him how she ran her own training business specialising in improving customer relations in companies where they fell short in that vital area. He was fascinated to hear about her five charity parachute jumps, and her love of treen. He then turned to me.

I told him about the books I’d written, but I don’t think he’d either read them or heard about them, let alone me, the proud author. He was more interested to hear about my collection of Star Wars figures, and my Charles Horner silver hat pins going back to 1900. The pins not the Star Wars figures. He gave us our folded three hundred pounds, with a reminder that we had just one hour in which to buy our three antiques, and then he sent us off with his blessing to go and find out who our expert help was to be, though that, of course, we already knew. We actually moved just a few feet out of shot, while he did the same introduction for the blues. I can’t tell you a thing about the Brickhouses, as I was so excited I didn’t listen. Then the whole team went off to start filming the rest of the show. The camera crew, and equipment, was divided between the blue and red teams. Dozy Derek led the blues away, and we went with Cutie, our crew following close behind.

We followed the script and they filmed the brief hello to Cutie, like we’d never met before. We then started the serious business of rummaging around the stalls. I asked Cutie who was looking after the stopwatch. She laughed, and told me not to be so silly. They’d only once staged a ‘run out of time’ situation and were bombarded with so many complaints about it immediately afterwards that the idea was dropped. The viewers felt that ‘BB’ wasn’t that sort of competition. Competitive yes. But not punitive. In Tim’s closing script, yet to be filmed, he had recently begun to say that the show no longer had losers or winners, first or second places, though clearly they did really, unless there was a very rare draw. It’s an indictment on these PC times, I suppose. Anyway, Cutie said we could have as much time as we wanted, but the crew was booked for only two more hours, so we couldn’t dawdle.

Cassy went right at it. She headed straight for a stall full of treen. She picked up a corkscrew bottle opener with a oversized but nice-looking wooden handle. Cassy told me it was Edwardian. Brazilian Rosewood. Telltale black spiderweb streaks in it. A protected wood now. She called Cutie over, and asked her what she thought about the item. Cutie told her to hang on as the crew were not quite ready. With the crew soon ready, Cassy again called Cutie over, and asked her what she thought about the item. Cassy was very good the second time. She was really getting the hang of being in front of the camera. Cutie liked the corkscrew as it appealed to two markets, the treen collector, and the corkscrew collector, and asked how much the stall-holder was asking for it. Cassy said he wanted seventy pounds, and they both agreed that was too much for taking to auction, if we were to make a profit out if it. After a bit of haggling, we got the owner to agree to fifty, his bottom line, no less. The game-plan was going exactly to plan.

It was my turn next. Cutie remembered how I liked silver, and she sent me over to a stall where the counters were covered with shallow glass cabinets. I spotted the hat pins straight away. Six of them in a tatty tin box. Silver. Charles Horner. I didn’t use my loupe to check the hallmarks. Didn’t need to, and I didn’t want to give the game away either. I asked how much and the owner told me gruffly he’d got better stuff than that rubbish for me to look at. I couldn’t believe my luck. He didn’t know what he’d got. I walked off with all six for a tenner. I was shaking, but had no regrets. No conscience. Cassy’s pep talk had done the trick. Not only was Cutie impressed, which puffed me up quite a bit, but the crew, too, who whistled their knowledgable acknowledgment of my good buy. We had one item left to find, and 240 pounds to spend. We were looking like winners all round.

Cutie called us to a large stall that we had seen earlier, but ignored as it was full of brown wood, the large stuff. She waxed lyrical over this whacking great lump of a tallboy. With camera rolling, we had the lot from her: The patina. The inlay. The veneer. The original handles. The hand made dovetail joints. The bun feet. Yadda, yadda , yadda. I couldn’t see it really, despite what Cutie said, and, anyway, they were asking three hundred for it. Cutie said she thought she could get them down to two. I hated to disappoint her, but I put my foot down, and said no. She turned to the crew, and did the fingers across the throat thing that told them to stop recording. Or it might have been my throat she was thinking about. I still loved her. We then had words, and some of them I hadn’t heard Cutie say on TV – ever. I got the gist that she was disappointed that I’d been so adamant that she was wrong and I was right, even though she was the expert, and I was not. Then Cassy joined in and backed Cutie up, which calmed things down a little. We carried on looking.

Now I know in my game-plan that I’d said no to Staffordshire, but the next stall had lots of interesting pots and figurines, and I somehow found myself drawn to it. I picked up this small figurine of an elephant. It was badly chipped and grimy, and didn’t look much like an elephant at all, except if you’d never seen one before, and you were just making one from someone else’s description of an elephant, and they’d never seen one before, either. Naive, Cutie called it. It was probably old, but not that old, she insisted. She also strongly suspected it might be a Chinese fake, which you could tell because they were often either too brightly coloured or too dull. This had a nice enough palette to it, but was a bit on the dull side, I had to admit. Anyway, Cutie insisted the damage made it a no-no. I knew I could get the figurine for under twenty pounds, and with two good buys in the bag, I dug my heels in, especially when the stall holder said nine would do it. I whispered to Cutie, off camera, that it would leave her enough to buy the tallboy for her bonus expert buy. She smiled at me conspiratorially, and whispered back that it would also mean we could have an early finish, get a coffee, and put our feet up.

So, our buying was done. We just had the expert buy reveal to tape, so Tim was summoned to do his bit. Cutie was filmed running off with the money we had left over, ostensibly to go buy a secret expert bonus buy item, which was really the already bought tallboy, which now stood just off camera. They stopped filming while two porters bought the tallboy into shot then covered it in a shiny red cloth. The cameras rolled again, and Tim asked Cutie to reveal her buy and how much she had paid for it, Cutie waxed lyrical over the tallboyagain, and said there was a definite profit in it. Tim reminded us that we didn’t have to make up our mind to use the bonus buy till the day of the auction, and then only after our three items had been sold. We might need it, if we were down, we might not if we were already in profit. He then said we’d cut over to the auction to let the viewers see what the auctioneer thought about the tallboy. That next bit would be filmed later and spliced in. And that was about it. The auction was arranged for the week after. Usually they tried to record the whole show all in one day, but Tim was still struggling with his leg pains from ‘Strictly,’ and he asked the Director to postpone, and also for a London auction house to be used for greater convenience. Ever the gentleman, he asked, and did not demand.

After we returned home, I could not get the elephant figurine out of my mind. The more I thought about it, the more agitated I became. I talked to Cassy, and told her I was convinced it wasn’t a fake. We did some research online. We discovered that Chinese Staffordshire forgeries are usually made of porcelain. I was sure the figure was pottery, just as a genuine one would be. Cassy asked me if I’d noticed any thick blue blotches on the back of it. I had, or thought I had, anyway. Another good sign she said. And it was moulded in two pieces, I remembered feeling the join – that’s a sign of age we found too. It seems that newer ones were slip cast in one piece.

Cassy asked me how much it might be worth if it was genuine. I thought about about a grand, but that might be me being conservative. I told her I wasn’t bothered about the money, but it would be good to be proved right. Nice thing to own too, if it was pukka. Classy said I should give the auction house a ring, check their website, and get a catalogue to see what they were saying about it, just out of curiosity if nothing else. I did all three and they hadn’t budged from their initial assessment of a porcelain figure, modern copy of a Staffordshire, some damage, estimate twenty to thirty pounds. We looked at each other and just shrugged. Ah well, we’ll see soon enough I told Cassy.

The day before the auction, Cassy’s best friend, Jill, paid us a visit. She had two matinee tickets for ‘Les Mis,’ and Cassy had agreed to go with her. Cassy was still humming ‘Bring Him Home’ as she came back in to the apartment a few hours later. She wasn’t carrying a bad tune either, and her deep contralto gave the song an interesting slant. I was just putting the phone down. She asked who I was calling, as she put her arms around me and gave me a big wet peck on the back of my neck. I could sense she and Jill must have really enjoyed the show’s intermission. I’m very sensitive like that. Cassy was in at least a half bottle of Riocha kind of mood. I told her I’d been talking to my Uncle Frank, which was quite true. She asked how he was, and I told her he was well again, which was also quite true. When she asked if we’d had anything interesting to talk about I told her a little white lie when I said just the usual old usual old, and we left it at that.

The auction house was near to where we lived, so to make a day of it I arranged for a taxi to pick us up the next morning. Jenna, efficient as ever, was waiting for us outside the auction house when we arrived. The Brickhouses had been on already and done their stint, and Jenna said we’d all meet up after our session to finish off the usual storyboard: the results, the farewell ‘New York, New York’ dance, if Tim could manage it, With his leg pain. Jenna told us we hadn’t much to worry about as any plus would beat the Brickhouses nicely. We weren’t supposed to know really, but I think Jenna had taken a shine to us. We took our positions with Cutie and Tim at the back of the auction rooms. Tim was actually feeling much better, having rested his leg. Our first item went up for sale – my hat pins. They quickly made ninety five pounds, which I was a little disappointed with, but we were eighty five pounds in profit after just one item, so Tim told me to buck up and smile.

Cassy’s corkscrew came up next and swiftly ratcheted up to forty pounds, then seemed to stick. That wasn’t good enough. I gave Cassy one of my old-fashioned looks, and she shrugged, but we didn’t need to worry as the bidders soon found their second wind, and it went quickly for eighty. A profit of thirty pounds. I couldn’t help but laugh. Two items down. Both in profit. £115 in the bank, and I knew we couldn’t lose now. I had the Gilded Gavels flashing in front of my eyes.

The auctioneer spoke again, and described our last item next, the ‘quotes Staffordshire end quotes’ porcelain elephant figurine. My heart almost stopped for a minute, and certainly until he’d completely finished his description. He hadn’t changed a word from his original valuation description, and was quite snotty about the figurine really, questioning its right to be there in his auction.

My breathing returned to something like normal. He paused, then flicked through his papers, looking suddenly very puzzled. An assistant called to him and waved her mobile phone. He cleared his throat. He told the room that he wasn’t sure what the hell was going on, that maybe some people thought they knew more than he did, but doubted it very much, but that he had an absent bidder who’d left a bid on the books for the elephant, and, it seemed, there was a telephone booked too. The room went quiet. Tim looked quizzically at Cutie, and asked her if they’d missed something. She hoped not, but everyone was suddenly tense. I should have been as happy as Larry, but my guts felt like they were trying to do a runner.

The auctioneer said he’d have to start the bidding at . . . Well, two hundred pounds. We’d done it! We had the Gilded Gavels in the bag. There was a gasp. I think it came from me, but in five seconds it had echoed once around the room. The phone assistant gesticulated wildly. Two-fifty on the phone, the auctioneer announced, then told us he’d got three hundred in the book to top the telephone bid. Three hundred had it. I started to sweat, really sweat. She signalled him back. Three-fifty! He had four. Four hundred pounds was with him. I heard someone muttering Oh my God, Oh my God. It was me. She signalled again, even more vigorously. Five hundred on the phone! He had six. I was about to faint. I could feel blood pounding in both of my temples. The room started to spin. The assistant took her phone from her ear, and shook it, but this time she looked worried, as if she’d lost the line. She shook it again. The auctioneer said that if there were no further offers he’d have to let the figurine go to the absentee bidder at six hundred pounds. The room was as quiet as outer space, but slowly a murmur began to move through it.

Jill, Cassy’s best friend, suddenly appeared, pushing her way through the crowd. She rounded on Cassy. Tim was in a state of shock. I don’t think there had ever been an attack on one of his set pieces before. Jill had her mobile in her hand. She was frantic and kept shouting Cassy, Cassy. Then she blurted it out to Cassy, as if she hadn’t even seen the camera, or Tim, or any of it.

She didn’t know what to do. She had gone over Cassy’s limit already. Should she carry on bidding? I thought Tim was going to explode. He threw his prompt cards up in the air, said a few choice words, and a To think I used to do ‘Antiques Roadshow,’ followed by a quick Bugger this for a lark, I’m orft, before legging it very quickly off camera, with absolutely no sign of leg ache at all.

The lovely Cutie Bliss looked distraught and I felt terrible for her, watching her run after Tim, sobbing. I hissed at Cassy and asked her what the hell she was playing at. She was close to tears. Jill was in tears. I couldn’t for the life of me understand what on earth had made her think it was a good idea to use Jill as a stooge, but it turned out later that, in fairness, Jill had never seen the programme, and hadn’t really known the wider implications of what she was asked to do.

The Director came frogmarching over, steam coming from her every visible orifice, screaming at the camera to cut, cut, cut, but the camera operator kept filming. I think he probably had a ready market for one of the greatest TV bloopers ever.

I grabbed Cassy by the hand, then thought of Jill, and grabbed her too, and I dragged them both behind me at speed, not stopping until we reached a nice looking pub just around the corner. I sat them down in a quiet corner and went to the bar. I came back a few moments later with a bottle of wine and three large glasses. I emptied the wine between the three of us, then sat down to join them. We each took a long drink, before I broke the silence. I asked Cassy again what the hell she thought she was playing at, and why she hadn’t told me what she was planning to do. She blubbered a lot, and I couldn’t make out every word, but it seemed that not only did she want us to with the competition, and the Gilded Gavels, but she also wanted me to have the figurine too.

What could I do? What could I say?

Then I told her about the bid left on the auctioneer’s books. It was mine. I’d placed it in Uncle Frank’s name. He’d been a party to it. We stared at each other for a minute, then burst out laughing. Jill kept asking what was funny, saying she didn’t understand. That just made us laugh even more.

But, you know, there’s a universal law that can never be broken. It goes something like: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Not sure if I can agree with the equal part though, as, not long afterwards, things all got more than a bit out of hand.

It started a week later, when this thick, signed-for letter arrived from the BBC. It contained a number of things.

There was a letter from the show Director telling us that once the BBC accountants had finished their calculations, we would be getting a bill for the cost of lost production for two days of shooting; it would run to thousands, she warned.

There was letter from the BBC’s solicitors, attached to a court order, informing us that we would be in contempt of court if we came closer than seventy five yards to any BBC building or broadcast activity again – ever.

There was a bill from the auction house for £600, with a note telling us that they had planned to ask me to pick up my purchase, but that unfortunately the elephant had been crushed in a terrible accident with a fallen tallboy, but that their insurance company had reimbursed the BBC for both items as, technically, the insurance was registered in their name.

There was a little note from Jenna, who must have had last hands on the post, thanking us for the laugh of a lifetime. Oh, and two tin badges dropped out of the envelope too.

End

Frankenstein’s Monster

by William Baker

1150 words

WARNING

Contains low level schoolboy language and humour

Sonny Frankenstein was a Jew. That bothered some, but not me. We were good mates. We were mates ever since the time I found him on the floor in the toilets at school, surrounded by these kids who wanted to see why his knob made him so different from everybody else.

One was on his knees, holding on to Sonny’s legs, trying to stop him from kicking, but not making a very good job of it. Sonny was always a fighter, it didn’t matter what the odds were. Another kid was stretching Sonny’s arms. He had his knees jammed hard against the top of Sonny’s head. He was making a better job of things than the other one, and it looked like it hurt. A third kid, the biggest of the three, was bent down, pulling Sonny’s belt undone. I knew him, his name was Brackley. He was the sort who likes to push other kids around, but only when he’s got some other prats around to back him up. Get him on his own and he wasn’t so big.

“What’s up, lads? Had a heart attack, has he? Trying to resuscitate him, are you?” I like to rely on humour at times like these. Most of the time it works, but I’d still got one set of fingers crossed, just in case. Brackley wheeled round to face me.

“Great,” he said, thumping one big fist into one big palm, and sounding like a thunderclap in the neat acoustics of the bog. “Nice one! Looks like we get to find out what a Mossie knob looks like as well!”

Mossies was what some kids at school called Muslims, which was daft really, as far as I was concerned, because if I was anything, I’d probably call myself C of E (elapsed,) as the last time I went to church was when I pissed on the vicar. Well, he started it when he poured water over my head. Anyway, that’s how my mother liked to tell it, when she wanted to embarrass me. Another thing was that although, true, my mother was married to a an Indian doctor named Rahul Mastry, and he came from Goa, he was more Portuguese than anything, and he was a Christian, and he was my step-father, because my father was killed in a car crash when I was two. I suppose it didn’t help that I tan a little bit too easily, and it had been a very good summer, and I’ve always found face fuzz easy to grow, even when I was fourteen. Brackley jutted his chin out, and started to clomp towards me, looking not a little unlike a bull in a Spanish bullring, only he was on two legs and he’d got no horns, and I was no matador.

I still kept my fingers crossed, more in blind hope than anything, but as a precaution I clamped the fingers of my other hand tight around the handle of the cricket bat I’d got hidden behind my back. When I’d heard on the grapevine what was going down on Sonny that afternoon, I thought if I was really going to be his white knight, then at least I ought to to get tooled up for the job.

When Brackley got near enough for me to begin questioning the sanity of my ambition to play the hero, I brought the bat around and grabbed it with both hands, all my previous faith in the power of crossed fingers gone. I jabbed at him. If Brackley had taken the warning he would have stopped dead, and who knows what would have happened next, but I guess his brain synapses weren’t firing quickly enough, and he kept coming. My bat ended up deep in his midriff and, badly winded, he stopped then alright, before falling back on his arse.

The other two got up from their knees, and I could see they were thinking very seriously about helping their bigger mate out. They quickly changed their plans when I started waving the bat at them. It made a good whooshing/swishing noise, not quite a Lightsabre, but close. They looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders, then, keeping their heads down to avoid eye contact, they shuffled out, muttering a few ‘Sorry, Bracks.’

Sonny got to his feet. “Thanks, Mate. You saved my bacon. Chris, isn’t it? I’ve seen you around.”

“Yeah. Chris. Chris Mastry . . . I know. Don’t laughI – and don’t say anything either – I’ve heard it all before. Anyway, what’s this about bacon? I thought your lot didn’t have anything to do with bacon.”

“Don’t you believe everything you read in the press. Me, I love a nice bacon sandwich, but don’t let my Dad know. He’s old school. Now Marmite you can stick.”

“Why don’t you two bumboys get a room?” Brackley said, still wheezing a bit and holding his belly, but still every bit Brackley. “I’m gonna get my big bruvver onto you. He’ll kick the shit out of both of you.”

I thought about Brackley’s threat for a moment. I didn’t doubt it for one bit. I’d heard stories about his big ‘big bruvver’ and what he could do, and I didn’t fancy having to face him off, even with a bigger bat in my hand. Then I had an idea.

“Sonny,” I said. “This cock of yours that Brackley seems so fascinated with. Get it out and piss all over him.” I loomed over Brackley, smacking my bat into my palm, making sure he didn’t try to do a runner. God bless him, Sonny did exactly as I asked him, and though he struggled to get it going to begin with, he was soon at it like an Ozzie firefighter at a bush fire. Brackley’s hands went up to shield himself from the yellow flow, and I noticed he was not so thick he didn’t keep his mouth shut. Once it was safe, the last thing I wanted was piss all over my wheels, I bent over Brackley again who looked like he’d got tears in his eyes, but it might have been piss.

“Now that, Brackley, is going to remain our little secret. Just you, me and Sonny. But if you put one foot wrong – if you, or any of your mates, or your ‘big bruvver’ come anywhere near me or Sonny, ever again, I’ll tell the whole school how you cried like a baby while Sonny pissed all over you.”

Brackley jumped to his feet, and balled both of his fists. I could see he was mad. Well, who wouldn’t be? But I’d got an ace ready.

“Or if you like, you could tell your mates that you had to give us both a good kicking, after we both put up a bloody good fight, and that we’re not to be messed with again. We’ll back you up on that story, if you want, won’t we Sonny?” Sonny nodded yes. “It’s your choice, Brackley.” I said. The cogs in Brackley’s head ground slow, but I could see I was getting through, as his fists started to relax, losing the white from his knuckles, and he backed down nicely.

“Alright,” he said, “But I got my eyes on you, both of you. Right?” He left, but as he went through the bog door I shouted “As long as you keep them off my knob I don’t mind.”

Talking about knobs, the one thing I did notice when Sonny gave Brackley his wetting led me to wondering whether Mary Shelley ever met an ancestor of Sonny’s, and where she might have got the idea from for her novel.

 

End

The Rout of Jack the Ripper

By William David Baker

9000 words

The Inventor sat at his work bench. It occupied the far end wall of his pokey garret room. The room was remarkable for its contrasting conditions. While his work bench was full, with its many cogs and cables, and different opaque glass retorts all bubbling incandescent with this and that, it was nonetheless scrupulously clean and tidy. The rest of the room, however, except for his bed, was piled high with boxes, cases, newspapers and rubbish, and there was hardly a square inch of floor to be seen. To get from his bed to his workbench, the Inventor had constructed a tunnel through his mountainous hoard. Another tunnel lead to his door which he kept locked at all times, day or night.

In front of him, lying on the bench beneath a large magnifying glass supported by a steel tripod, was a small thin card made of a rigid green material. The card was streaked with a spider’s web of silvery lines. Using a smoking soldering iron, the Inventor carefully added more gossamer strands to the silvery web. He paused to wipe some grimy sweat from his brow, and noticed, on his otherwise pristine white sleeve, a blackened stain from the work to which he had so dedicated himself. He brushed at it obsessively, then, seeing that the mark remained stubborn, tore off his laboratory jacket and threw it onto the mountainous pile behind him. He took a box down from the top of one stack, which made the stack teeter for a moment, then took out from it a brand new jacket which he then put on with a flourish. After carefully replacing the box he resumed his soldering. For the first time he noticed the distractive noises intruding from the floor below. He ground his teeth and muttered obscenely. He was interested only in his work. Nothing else mattered. Down below there was a world as alien to him as Venus might be to a Martian. He was soon lost in his work once again.

A clock tower nearby told all but him that it was three in the morning, though it was probably true that few of the drunken revellers below him took much notice of its tolling either, as they poured ever more copious amounts of cheap gin and sludgy porter down their seemingly insatiable throats. They knew they would not be disturbed. They knew that both the City Police Force and the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee had their hands full enough, without concerning themselves with the bawdy goings on in their back-street flea-ridden ill-named gin palace. The City Police Force and the Vigilance Committee were, in any case, well enough represented among the participants in this particular Bacchanalia.

Most of the carousers, though by no means all, were shabbily dressed and grimy poor, but where they found the coppers from to pay for their low enjoyment was a concern that few voiced out loud. ‘One man’s money was as good as any other,’ was the motto of the owner of the establishment.

The walls of its large single room were stained yellow with tobacco, and smoke from the fires. Rough wooden benches were fitted around the room, and those that needed more comfort, or demanded greater privacy, had brought with them their own filth-ridden blankets. An oddment of tables fitted whatever floor space they might. Many smells wafted the room, some of which were unpleasant, while others were distinctly foul.

A number of customers leaned against a rough oak counter, where a large breasted barmaid sweated buckets as she tried to keep up with their urgent demands for ‘More gin’ and ‘More porter’ – and still get their money tucked safely into her ample money pouch. A swingeing swipe from her muscular right arm was enough to keep most of them in check, a lean forward over the counter enough to encourage the interest of those not yet deserving of a slap. Some of her customers had succumbed and were slumped, heads resting on the counter, though still standing, their snores rippling across the soaking wet bar top. In quieter moments, she prodded the sleepers, and those she could wake were topped up with more drink; those that she could not wake were, on her nod, lifted up by bruisers and roughly thrown outside.

In one corner of the room two red faced beer bellies were trying to beat the other at arm wrestling. Wagers were being raised and their backers cheered and jeered according to their allegiances. In another quiet corner, a foppishly dressed man pulled a sister to the barmaid onto his lap, though she was a much smaller and more shapelier sister. She pretended to palm him him away. Then, with a wicked laugh, she lifted her beery black skirts, revealing a shocking amount of lily white leg, and swung herself over to straddle him, burying her face in his. His hands disappeared into her beery black folds. Around the room people laughed and fought. They drank and smoked, and played their own little games. One group stood together in a bunch, in the centre of the room, arm in arm, singing for all they were worth, which was, truth be told, very little.

“Daisy. Daisy. Give me your answer, do.”

The group was competing with the EdisonTeleViewer, a large wooden box about the size of a tea chest, encased in a cast iron frame, and hanging from the ceiling by stout iron chains. They were doing quite well too, almost drowning out the music hall performer singing from the EdisonTeleViewer.

“‘ere, Flo,” one of the group cackled. “Look at ‘er hat. A right toff, innit?”

“Yeah, Gert,” her friend replied, wheezing and coughing. “And how many toffs you gonna have to tupp tonight to pay for the likes of an ‘at like that.” They fell into each other’s arms and rolled around the floor in rude laughter.

The scene displayed on the front of the EdisonTeleViewer that had attracted their attention was at times fuzzy and grey, and every few seconds flickered so wildly that nothing could be seen at all. The artiste’s voice, though, continued to ring clear throughout her performance, as her voice was projected, not from the EdisonTeleViewer, but from two smaller boxes, EdiSonSpeakers, that lay underneath it, and that did not seem to appear to suffer the EdinsonTeleViewer’s flighty visual limitations. Despite of all the interference, the artiste’s performance was well appreciated, and the whole room applauded her warmly as she finished and took her bow. As she opened her mouth to sing her next ditty the scene went completely black, and stayed that way for a few seconds, which resulted in much booing and whistling from the floor. When the scene reappeared the artiste had gone, and was replaced by a stern looking man in full beard, top hat and tails.

“‘ere. What’s going on?” one of the ugly choir shouted.

“We don’t want this toff geezer. Put Marie back on,” another shouted.

“We interrupt your programme of enjoyment to bring you an important civil announcement.” The man’s voice was deep and sonorous, though its impact was diluted somewhat as there was a noticeable time lag between the words he spoke and the movement of his lips.

“We apologetic for the break in the performance, but news has just reached your correspondent and goodservant of yet another most horrible death in the East End of our Great Capital City. The monster, of whom many now coin the cognomen, Jack the Ripper, has slain yet another unfortunate, his third to date. At one forty four this Holy Morning, the Thirtieth of September, in the Year of Our Lord, 1888, one Edward Watkins, Police Constable, whilst patrolling his Eastgate beat, came upon the dead remains of a woman, lying upon the ground in Mitre Square.”

The whole room gasped as one, and then fell uncommonly silent.
“Initial reports, which have yet to be given the official approval of either the Coroner or Police Surgeon, suggest that not only was the sorry victim cut from ear to blessed ear – ” Gasps and murmurs. “But that the body was also treated to a terrible punishment.” His deep voice wavered. “With several body organs found in places never intended by nature, and some that have yet to be found at all.”

There were screams. Several fainted, men and women both. Willing hands, some a little too willing, rushed to loosen bodices and wallets. Cries of ‘Shame’ and much worse echoed around the room.

“What are them bleedin’ guv’nors doing abaht it, I ask you?” screamed one.

“That’s three of them now he’s done,” another.

“I’ll bet he’s done for more than three if the truth be told. That’s the trouble. The buggers don’t tell us everything.”

“Ain’t that the bleedin’ truth! What about that body they pulled out of the river yesterday. No bleedin’ arms or legs. Nor no head, it hadn’t. Westminster, weren’t it? Though they said that it weren’t him as did that one!”

“What do they know? More important – what are they doing about it? What are they trying to hide? It’ll be one of their own they’re trying to protect. That’s what it is. Mark my words.”

“Shaddup! Let’s hear what he’s saying, not your codswallop.” A few punches were thrown before order was restored. The announcer continued.

“We take you now to the scene of horror where we hope our peripatetic reporter can bring us right up to date with the very latest account of this most heinous crime.”

The view faded to black, soon to be replaced by a sticky yellow glow as thick fog was pierced by a series of powerful EdisonStreetLamps, making sparkles of the tiny water droplets hanging in the smog. An oxcart carried a single giant lamp, an EdisonSoptLamp. Its operator fought to twist the iron lamp left and right, cutting a yellow swathe down a narrow cobbled street, picking out buildings on both sides, hovels so bent they almost touched at their roofs. Bundles of rags puckered up in doorways, in a vain attempt to hide from the beam’s intrusion.

“Spare a copper, Boss?” a braver of the bundles asked, but was ignored.

“Three-penny upright, Duckie?” another asked.

“Be off with you, you dirty puzzle,” the lamp operator shouted.

“We’ve gentlefolk watching here, so we have.”

Piles of rotting refuse filled the gutters, blocking the flow of putrefied foul water. The street cobbles were matted with still-steaming horse droppings and straw. Thick black cables hung from poles and roofs, disappearing into the murk.

A young man walked into the mobile beam cupping a handkerchief to his mouth. He was dressed in the latest fashion: a dark short-coat with turned down collar and large-checkered trousers. In his other hand he held what looked like a small bedpan. It had a cable trailing from it, similar to those hanging in the street, but narrower.

“Calvary! Calvary!” the young man wailed, cupping the bedpan to his mouth.

“Pull yourself together, man,” an older man said, stepping into view.

“Ask your damned questions, and let’s be gone from here. Be quick about it.”

“I am sorry, Sir,” the younger man said. “It’s just that never have I seen such a sight before. So . . . So – ”

“When you’ve seen as many dead ‘uns as I have, you gets used to it, melad. And some of them worst than that, I can tell you.” he said, pointing backward with his thumb. The light ratcheted to the doorway he was pointing at. “Now cut out yer caterwauling and let’s get this done with so as I can complete my investigations.”

The elder’s words seemed to do the trick and the younger regained his composure.

“Viewers. This is Theo Grant, your roving reporter. I’m here at the scene of the Ripper’s latest outrage.” He turned to the other. “You are Doctor Gordon Brown, Surgeon to the City Police Force of our great city of London, are you not?”  The older man muttered.

“Into the EdisonListener if you please, Sir,” the reporter said, pushing his ‘bedpan’ into the other’s face.

“Damn fool nonsense!” the other said, wincing at the whining feedback his outburst caused.

“And if you could face the EdisonRecorder,” the reporter said, beckoning to a colleague hidden in the fog. His colleague, dressed exactly as he was, but with the addition of a cloth cap which he wore back to front, came to him carrying an oblong iron box on his shoulder, which trailed the ubiquitous cable, and which he pointed at the Surgeon. The Surgeon closed his eyes, and muttered under his breath. He then took a deep breath, and released it slowly.

“Yes! Yes! I am whom you say. Now, please get on with it. There is much work yet to be done.”

“Doctor, what is the news from the square?”

“Well, lad. She’s a dean ‘un. I can vouch for that alright. Her head hangs on by but a thread, and her cheeks have been opened up like mouths. And her innards are strung all,over her shoulder. That was a peculiarity to me. I must confess, even in my compass.”

“There was some rumour of missing organs, Sir?”

“Aye lad, she’s a kidney awry – that much we know. And there’s been some peculiar goings on in the vicinity of the womb. I’ll know more about that tomorrow when I’ve got her on the slab. Oh yes, and be blowed if he hasn’t nipped chunks out of her ears as well.” The Doctor chuckled. “Mebbe it was that Van Gogh fellow out for some diabolical revenge or other.” No one else seemed to get the Doctor’s joke.

“Sir, the perpetrator – he is likely to be well bloodied for his effort?”

“In my opinion – not necessarily so. This butcher is careful. He seems to know precisely what he’s at.”

“Some say the Ripper must be a medical man. What say you to that?”

“I take great exception to such calumny. That’s what I say, lad. True, the devil seems to have a modicum of knowledge in him, he knows his anatomy. But so does the butcher and the slaughter-man. I believe his handiwork to be crude and clumsy my – ”

“I beg your pardon, Doctor, but is that Sir Charles I see approaching yonder?” A top hatted man approached them dressed as if stepping out from the Opera.

“Sir Charles! Sir Charles!” The reporter dashed to the newcomer, pushing his EdisonRecorder colleague ahead of him.

“Ladies. Gentlemen. We have before us Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner to the City Police Force. Sir Charles, do you have a statement for us?”

“I have indeed. Shall I speak it now?”

“In a moment, Sir. First, a quick word from our sponsors. The reporter drew his hand across his throat as a signal to his colleague to cease their shooting.

“What are you playing at?” the Commissioner demanded, grabbing the reporter by his lapels. “You cannot treat the Commissioner of Police in such a cavalier fashion. You ask me to speak then cut me off like a servant. Who is your superior at the British Edisoncasting Corporation? I’ll have your job for this insult.”

“No insult intended, Commissioner. Indeed, just the opposite. I could not but help but notice as you came into the better light that your face looked rather shiny and red – no doubt as a result of your vigorous attention to your duties this night. And all on our most undeserving behalf.”

“Explain yourself, young man.”

“It’s the EdisonRecorder, Sir. It does tend to exaggerate such complexions, and I did not want you to appear before your discerning public any less than one hundred percent.”

“I see, and I thank you for your keen eye. You have a remedy I suppose?”

“Indeed I have. I always carry with me the wherewithal in case of such emergency.”The reporter took out a sliver powder compact and approached the Commissioner. “Let me dab the offending parts.”

The Commissioner stepped back in alarm. He then seemed to think better of it, and allowed the young man to finish his work. The reporter was pleased that he had not only helped the Commissioner avoid a communications faux-pas, but also earned himself a good bonus from his uncle who ran the sponsorship program at the BEC. There were enough businesses jumping through hoops to get on board these Ripper Specials. His money was on Lyon’s Tea Shops or Robin’s Starch. He ushered the Commissioner back to the EdisonRecorder.

“Right-ho. Ready in five.” He counted back on his fingers, and cued the Commissioner to begin.” The Commissioner cleared his throat. His audiences everywhere huddled beneath their EdisonViewers, and waited in silence.

“The victim has been identified!” he said, then paused, drawing well on his EdinsonPublicRelationsCourse he had recently completed. His audience drew a collective sharp breath. Would the victim be a stranger? Or, would it be someone they knew? Wouldn’t be a toff, that was for sure.

“The woman is Catherine Eddowes, a local harlot by all accounts, though she hails originally from the Black Country – the town of Wolverhampton, I’m given to understand.” In most places there were great sighs of relief, thought not everywhere.

“Katy? I know Katy. She was no strumpet.”

“The liars! I know her old man. The bookseller.”

“Lordy! I wuz ‘op pickin in Kent wi’ ’em only last month.”

“She was a worker, that one. A real skivvy.”

“Yeah, she charred for the Jewes, so she did.”

“Whatever the woman’s background,” the Commissioner continued. “She deserved nothing of what was meted out to her. And now I come to ever more grave news.” His audience quieted gain.

“As I left the scene at Mitre Square, my officers brought me reports of another body found earlier. They were not sure at first if it was the Ripper’s work, as she seemed to be not so badly treated as the others, so they saw fit not to alert me. Now, it seems that he may have been disturbed and so sought elsewhere to have his fun. It now seems true enough that the Ripper has indeed done for two tonight. This second one’s been found right here in Duffield’s Yard. It seems there can’t have been more than a half hour between the killing of them both, and as yet we don’t, despite all the reports, rightly know who was first to perish. We will no more in a day or two.”

“Holy Mother of God! Will naught protect us from the Beast?”

“Steady, melad. If you mean to intimate that we’ve been slow in our pursuit of him then think again – because I can tell you and all of your watchers out there that we have him. Yes, by Harry, we have the Ripper within our grasp.”

“You’ve caught him, Sir? You have him in custody? Hurrah for the City Police.”

“Hold, young man. I said he was within our grasp. Not yet taken. But, we will have him soon enough – with the help of your viewers.”

“What do you mean, Sir? Let us have it. How may we help?”

“It’s like this. Long before these murders began, your Government, concerned with the lawlessness that pervades our great city, put in motion certain plans to stem this tide of criminality. These dreadful murders have provided us with the first opportunity to test our provisions. We have the very best brain in the world working with us on this.”

“Who is it, Sir? Name him. We’ve had no one of his ilk since Holmes fell at the Reichenbach Falls. God bless his soul.” The Commissioner glared and cleared his throat at length.

“That’s as maybe – and a matter of opinion. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s that most worthy of Yankees, the great Mister Thomas Alva Edison, whose been assisting us the many weeks past in casting the noose around the Ripper’s neck. He, that with his marvellous inventions has so dramatically changed our lives. Aye, and one more invention did it, by Harry.”

“Tell us what it is, Sir. Tell us now.”

“That I will. No, I’ll do better than tell. I’ll show you. Over here, men.” Two policemen crabbed their way over to them carrying a heavy oblong box, almost identical to, but slightly larger than that carried by the reporter’s colleague. His colleague spoke.

“That’s nothing new, Theo. it’s just an EdisonRecorder like mine. I’ve seen them being strung up all around the city this last fortnight.”

“And you thought not to to tell me? Fool! Do you not see a story until it snaps at your heels?”

“It is indeed a story worth the telling, ” the Commissioner said, “And your colleague was only in part correct, for it is the troublesome East End where we have concentrated the installation of the first of these instruments – and EdisonRecorders they well indeed may be, but no ordinary ones, believe me. As you will soon see for yourselves. Fetch it out, men. Fetch it out. ”

One of the officers fiddled with Bakelite knobs and buttons on the top of the machine and a small mahogany drawer slid out. He withdrew a box, the size of a small novel, from the drawer and handed it to the Commissioner.

“The machines we have installed have been modified by Mr Edison. He has added a new mechanism which he calls his EdisonTeleViewerStorer. It creates a permanent record of all it sees and hears, which it stores on this EdisonBeta.” He waved the small box for all to see. “We can, at will, review what it has recorded, time and time again, whenever we so wish. Better still, we can link our machine and its recording to your EdisonRecorder and broadcast it’s story to all of those watching us this instant. We have him on here.” He waved the box again. “Dead to rights. In the very act. And I call on you all to help us identify the blackguard as you watch his terrible deeds. Your crime-watching may well lead us to his crime-stopping.” With an eye on a possible future move into politics, he made a mental note of the slogans which he thought might well prove useful to him again.

“Show it, Sir. Let us all see.” The EdisonBeta was placed back into its machine and a cable linked to his colleague’s EdisonRecorder.

“There’s some as reckon these things will not only help us to catch criminals red-handed, but will even deter them from committing criminal acts in the first place, though I don’t see it meself,” the Commissioner whispered to the reporter. A large EdisonTeleViewer, complete with its pair of EdiSonSpeakers, was carted forth and parked close by. The reporter’s colleague gave them the thumbs up. They all turned to watch.

A man dressed in white was seen in the distance. Suddenly he filled the whole box. Everyone drew back in audible alarm. “Ah, the EdisonZoom,” the Commissioner said. “I should have warned you. It is a feature new to you all. But, worry not. The operator will get it right in a moment or two .” As if to order the white figure receded a little into the distance. He paused at a dairyman’s barrow, where he bought and quaffed a pennyworth of milk. His face was still turned away from view, but his attire was much clearer and it seemed he wore what looked like engineer’s overalls, though in pristine white, and not the more usual blue. A shiny black leather hold-all lay at his feet while he drank.

“’tis a dreadful thing, this Ripper business!” the nan said to the street vendor, keeping his face well hidden in shadow. He laughed in a strange high pitch as he handed back his bottle to the dairyman. The watchers were again audibly taken aback. “We have his voice? The Ripper speaks! And an American, by Harry!”

The dairyman fumbled the bottle. It shattered noisily as it hit the cobbles. He grabbed the shafts of his barrow, and rushed to get away from the strange man with his wild looks. The wild man picked up his hold-all and proceeded towards Duffield’s Yard.

“We’ve cut it a bit here just to speed things up a little,” the Commissioner said.

A cacophony of noise blared from the EdiSonSpeakers. Police whistles and rattles drowned out all else. Their man came scurrying back into view, his white overalls no longer pristine. He halted in the shadows to strip off his reddened overalls which he quickly stuffed into his hold-all. Clean shirted and trousered, he moved out of view, but not before giving them a good view of his face, smeared with blood which he wiped away with a large rag. He ran from view, cackling. Had he mounted a besom broom and flown away he could not have shocked anyone the more.

The reporter said suddenly “That face. The chubby jowls. The fairness of skin. The white wispy hair. I’m sure I know him. Yes. I have it. I’ve seen his likeness in the Thunderer. Is that not Mr Thomas Edison?”

The Commissioner almost choked. “Balderdash, you young fool. Our Consultant? Can’t be . . . I know the man. Been working with him for weeks. . . . It can’t be . . . ” Doubt suddenly drew his face down to a frown.,”Rewind, man. Rewind, man. Play it again,” he ordered his officer. They watched again, the operator assisting them by slowing down the speed of the recording, and at the right moment, revealing the murderer frame by single frame. The Commissioner was wide-eyed. “Why did I not see it? I am no man’s fool,” he said, close to collapse.

“’tis a fresh pair of eyes that does it, Sir,” the reporter said. “You have been so close to this horror for so many weeks now it is no wonder that – ”

“That’s as maybe, young man. But now I must to my job. The City Police Force is extremely grateful for your assistance, but I go now with my men to the Savoy to confront this American madman.”

“May I accompany you, Sir,” the reporter asked.

The Commissioner thought for a moment and then said “You may. You have earned the right to be in at the end of this. Though hear me well, I want full disclosure beforehand of anything you write on this matter. Is that clear?” He happily took the reporter’s offered hand, and shook it with vigour. Carriages were arranged and within minutes more than a dozen officers headed to the hotel as fast as their coachmen dared.

They piled into the hotel lobby, much to the consternation of early risers going to breakfast and the hotel staff. The Commissioner banged his cane on the desk in Reception, and demanded to know in which rooms Mr Edison could be found. The Receptionist took a key from underneath and volunteered to show them the way. Officers drew their pistols and carbines ready.

They reached the floor where Edison had his suite, and needed no further help to find his door, as an officer quickly spotted a blood trail down the centre of the hallway carpet. It lead to a door where a food trolley stood from the night before, waiting for its collection. They quietly and closely examined the door. Its finger plate was smeared in gore. An officer moved the dinner trolley to one side, so as to give them more room to make their swoop. He lifted the polished silver dome off the large platter beneath expecting to find a tasty morsel to eat. Instantly, he muffled a scream and was violently sick. Revealed on the platter was a human kidney, with several neat slices taken from it.

“Take care, men,” the Commissioner whispered. “The man is clearly deranged. Be not afraid to shoot him dead if you have to.” The door to Edison’s suite opened.

“What the Cahoots is going on out here? What’s all this damned commotion – ”

Edison was pounced upon and then held down on the floor, his mouth covered by a pair of large beefy constabulary hands. The Commissioner ushered a small team of men into Edison’s suite with orders to search it thoroughly. Edison, now seated on the floor, was still,gagged, but was now cuffed, and manacled.

“Here you are, Sir.” The Commissionaire was handed a leather hold-all taken from Edison’s rooms. It looked identical to the one they had been watching just a short while before. He opened the bag and carefully took out the bloodied whites they’d seen the Ripper remove. He delved deeper and drew out a long metal box, which, when opened, revealed an expensive looking set of gleaming, but as yet uncleaned, surgical knives and scalpels.

“Get me a cloth. Quick,” he shouted, his face draining of colour. “I’ve found something else. I’ve touched it. For the Love of God. Get me a cloth. Get me a cloth!” He shook feverishly, flicking thick red spots from his bloodied hands.

“Will someone tell me what the Heck is going on here?” Edison had managed to free his mouth. “You, there. Sir Charles. I demand an answer. You can’t treat an American like this.”

The Commissioner glowered. He bent over Edison and hit him in the face with a balled fist, just once, but that was enough to silence Edison, who did cot come round until after the cell door slammed shut on him.

The press had a field day. The news went around the world like wildfire. Edison naturally proclaimed his profound innocence, believing the world, or at least the British portion of it had gone completely mad. The American government was outraged, even when they were shown the strong evidence against Edison. They demanded he be sent back to them, to answer his case at home, but the British public, urged on by its Press, would have none of it. Old Bailey schedules were thrown out, and a trial quickly arranged. Questions were asked in Parliament, and a Bill was passed in rapid time that would allow EdisonRecorders to be used for the first time in a trial.

The trial began, and the Prosecution placed its case before a bewildered Edison. A number of horrid murders had taken place in the months before the Ripper began his bloody spree. The Authorities strove valiantly to catch the madman, yet seemed stumped. Rumours had been propagated blaming the Jews, resulting in a growing number of anti-Semitic attacks. The best brains in the country had been gathered together but no one had an answer, until some bright thing suggested that an outsider, the likes of say Thomas Alva Edison, the brilliant American inventor, might be the answer. He was contacted immediately, and agreed to help, and in mid-July, 1888, landed in London, by steamer, ostensibly to determine if technological advances could be brought to bear, that might impact a solution. The prosecution emphasised the word ostensibly, claiming that it was all a cunning front, an excuse for Edison to import into their Great Country, his very own brand of decadent depravity, the brutality and the lawlessness of which was so indicative of the Wild West of America. He lost little time. Mary Ann Nichols was slaughtered in the early morning of the 31st August. Just over a week later, the 8th of September, to be precise, the body of Annie Chapman was found. Both had been similarly butchered. When questioned by the City Police prior to his trial, Edison could offer no corroboration of his whereabouts at the time of these two murders, either in the evening time before, or in the early hours of the morning in question, other than to say he was alone in his rooms at the Savoy. An unlikely, highly coincidental set of insubstantial nonsense, given his stature and renown, the Prosecution insisted.

They moved to the next two murders. On the pretext of helping the Authorities, though more likely, they contended, only to justify the substantial amounts of money he’d demanded in advance for his services, he installed his surveillance inventions in order to catch the East End killer, by then dubbed Jack the Ripper, never believing for one moment that their wonderful Police Force would so quickly become so skilled with his equipment as to catch him red-handed in the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, for which he again, incredulously, he could offer no decent alibi. There was a polite ripple of applause from the gallery. The court was shown the EdisonBeta tapes revealing Edison to be the Ripper. The Prosecution then catalogued the actions of Sir Charles Warren, which brought an even bigger ripple of applause from both the gallery and the jury. The ripples died away quickly, as he described the grizzly findings at the Savoy, especially when it was confirmed that the remains of the human kidney found outside his rooms did indeed show the same signs and method of removal as that so cruelly taken from the poor defenceless Eddowes woman. The Prosecution rested their case, and handed over to the Defence, which was headed by large Texan, who insisted on keeping his Stetson on all through the proceedings. When admonished by the Judge, he offered to remove his hat, if the Judge would remove his wig. This did his case little good, though to be fair little defence was offered other than an insistence on his client’s complete innocence of all of which he accused. He finally drew on Edison’s previous good name, and fell on the immeasurable debt owed by the world to Edison for his wonderful inventions.

There was a brief summing up by both side, followed by a few wise words from the Judge to ”Consider the evidence. Consider the evidence.”

Thirty minutes later, the Jury Foreman pronounced ‘guilty as charged,’ when asked for the jury’s verdict on each of the four charges of capital murder in turn. The Judge stood the Jury down. He asked Edison if he had anything to say before he passed on him the only sentence the Law allowed him to. Edison, white-faced, nodded in the negative. The Judge then placed a black silk square on top if his bewigged head, making sure a corner pointed forward, and told Edison that having been found guilty of capital murder there could be no sentence in Law other than the death sentence, and that henceforth, he would be taken down from that place, hence to another place so deemed by the Law for the purpose, where he would, at a time decided by her Majesty’s Justice, be hung by the neck until he was dead. He called on God to have mercy on his soul, and ordered warders to take Edison down.

There was a quick appeal that was equally quickly turned down. The execution was fixed for the 5th November, the Government’s idea of a good date to do the deed, when the public would be revelling in their Guy Fawkes’ celebrations. They were keen to return to some normality, both at home and abroad. The day came round quickly and only a chosen few were allowed to bear witness. Sir Charles Warren took front row seat and sat impassively as the hooded fiend was shuffled over to the trap door. Neither showed any remorse as the drop was executed.
#
Despite the harshness of her life, Mary Kelly retained much of her younger beauty. A few pounds heavier yes, but not bad at all for a twenty five year-old forced eventually into a life of prostitution as the only means to live. Everyone knew her as a quiet, pleasant girl, who only when in drink was ever not so.

It was Friday evening of November the 8th. Mary had dined frugally on a mishmash of boiled potatoes and dubious smelling fish. She tried desperately to sleep, but her body craved the soporifics she now found only in gin. She rose well after midnight, threw on her shawl to protect her from the cold, and ventured out into the night to see what prospects she might find.

She came across George Hutchinson, a labourer, with whom she had exchanged several favours over previous months. She begged him for a sixpence but, as much as he would have dearly liked to make another mutually enjoyable exchange, he could not help as he was penniless till next pay day, and half of that to come was already promised to the pawnbroker.

Hutchinson watched her go. A man stood in the street opposite. He thought Kelly might know him as she seemed to make a beeline for him. Hutchinson didn’t like the look of the man. A swarthy Italian type, all dark curly hair and bold moustache. He carried a hold-all. Hutchinson thought he’d follow them. He had little else to do, and there might be a shilling in it for him, if he played his cards right. As he neared them, he heard Kelly tell the man how upset she was – how she had lost her white silk handkerchief. He offered his red one to her to wipe away her tears. She thanked him, and after a brief exchange, took his arm, steering him to where she lived. Hutchinson laughed, thinking how well Mary played her part, better than any of those snooty tarts up the West End. He thought he would give it a short while, then burst in on them, and see what he could scare from her punter. As they entered her place, Hutchinson stopped to light his pipe. A pal of his weaved by, carrying a jug of beer and a pint of gin. Hutchinson forgot all about Kelly once he was invited to share his pal’s bounty.

Kelly’s visitor studied her closely, as she slipped off her skirt and climbed on to the bed. He had never been with a woman, being devoted only to his work, and neither wanting nor needing any other distraction. Neither had he ever wanted to do what he planned to do next. Before, it was a means to an end, and the end having been achieved, he thought that he could leave that part of him behind, but alas, that was not the case. If anything, he wanted more, craved it, and this woman was to be his masterpiece. He would rearrange her, and make her more beautiful than ever she could imagine. He would immortalise her. He opened his bag, and felt inside. He moved towards her. She shuffled herself over to the far side of the bed, and beckoned him to join her. In a movement so fast she hardly had chance to see the flash of thin steel, he slit her throat wide and deep. He was not a cruel man. He made certain that she breathed no more before beginning his rearrangement of her. He smiled, grateful at the thought of all the time he now had to do his work, and set to it.

Kelly’s body was found at 10.30 the next morning by an agent of her landlord who had been sent to shake unpaid rent from her. A hue and cry went up, and the Police came running from all quarters, surprising many, not only by the speed of their response but also its depth, for leading them was no other than the Commissioner himself. He was closely accompanied by an officer who carried a large ironclad wooden box in front of him, supported by a leather belt around his neck. “We have him, Sir,” the officer called. “Two clicks North from here.”

“Come on, Men. Let us finish this. All haste, now.”

Two burly policemen were sent forward carrying brightly painted nine inch steel tubes filled with concrete, EdisonDoorOpeners, though only one blow was needed to splinter the flimsy door wide. They were met with a huge wall of rotting rubbish. Two policeman died within minutes; one suffocated, when the tunnel he was navigating collapsed, one crushed when a pile of heavy boxes fell on him. The Commissioner called his men back and organised a chain gang, and box by box, pile by pile they carried the rubbish from the room, along the chain, down the stairs and into the street. When they eventually broke through, they found the Inventor sitting at his workbench, completely oblivious to both them and the noise their exertions had made. The reporter had his assistant quickly set up his EdisonRecorder. Only then did the Commissioner move forward, flanked by two armed officers, and placed a hand on his quarry’s shoulder.

“Sir, you are under arrest for Murder. Please come quietly now.”

The Inventor turned around slowly, looking confused, as if his mind was in another place.

“Your name, Sir? For the record.” The Commissioner asked, as their prisoner was cuffed and manacled.

“I’ll tell you who that is, Sir Charles.” A burly white-haired man entered the room. Their prisoner, suddenly finding himself dragged back into their reality, gasped.

“Edison! But, how? It’s not possible.” The swarthy prisoner spoke, also in an American accent.

“Sir Charles. Let me introduce Mr Nikolai Tesla, a former employee of mine, back in the States.”

“Employee! Employee!” Their prisoner screamed, and despite being fully shackled, and further constrained by two beefy coppers, he tried to hurl himself at Edison, who was immediately shielded by officers allocated his protection.

“I was more than your employee and you know that, you cheat! You blackguard! I saved your sorry ass when you hadn’t got a clue, and you robbed me of the million dollars you promised me for my effort. I swore I’d have my revenge on you.”

Edison looked to the Commissioner, who was scratching his head in puzzlement. The EdinsonViewer continued to record, a matter appreciated by the Commissioner, despite his confusion, and he nodded a waning to Edison to take care.

“It is true that this man was of some little help to me in my development of direct current electrical equipment. There were some few piddling problems we needed to overcome. But as to the money, Tesla simply did not comprehend the American sense of humour. A million dollars, indeed. Who would believe?” Tesla’s swarthy looks turned purple.

“Little help, you say? Piddling problems? Your whole direction was flawed, and you know it, truth be told. But I fixed your generators easy enough, did I not? I fixed your motors. I tried to tell you were on the wrong track altogether. Direct current was never going to be practical. Such a piddling voltage. And such massive cabling, with its awfully poor transmission capability. And all those clunking great power plants of yours There would have to be one giant power plant for every square mile to give your system even the slightest chance of success. It was never going to win over my alternating current system, which you also later stole from me.”

“The Patents Office would have it different, my boy,” Edison said. “It’s alright having all these ideas in your head. I get them made and sold. That’s why I’m where am, and you? Well, you sure are up shit street, that’s a fact, and without no paddle.” He walked over to Tesla’s workbench, and picked up the green card Tesla had been absorbed with when arrested.

“How did you find me?” Tesla asked. “How did you escape the noose I thought I’d so cleverly placed around your neck?”

“As to the latter first, you have to understand Tesla, that back in the States, my name is . . . well, I won’t say I’m bigger than Jesus, as that would only stir the wrath of those rednecks in the Bible Belt, and I got some good customers there, believe me, but you get my meaning. There was even serious talk of America going to war on my behalf, which was kinda touching, but it sure put a rocket under these Limeys, I can tell you.”

“But the trial! The hanging! I thought I’d planned it all so well. I knew that by giving the police here a few problems they couldn’t solve, they’d eventually turn to the great American genius – ”

“By that, I suppose you mean the murders leading up to the Ripper’s reign of terror,” the Commissioner said.

“Quite right, Sir Charles. You catch on quickly. I’m almost impressed,” Tesla said. “And once you had him, here in London, I could then set in motion my master plan. To frame him for the masterpieces that I would create. A fitting plan, I think, as he has always been so ready to take from me, why should he not take my guilt and my penalty?”

“The trial, though serious enough in its intent at the beginning, soon became our ploy to hoodwink you into thinking you had won,” Edison said. “As it happened, it turned out to be a very useful exercise to us. It gave us the opportunity to really focus on the spiders’ web that had been so cleverly woven against me. It opened up to everyone the enormity and the compass of the enemy we just had to bring to book. It was during our further investigations, that our experts noticed how lifeless looked the Ripper’s face on our images of him – you – when caught on the EdisonRecorder. Enlargements were made, and clearly showed the joins between mask and skin. The eyes especially gave you away. Difficult to keep the rubber gummed down, eh? Your masquerade was uncovered. All we needed then was to lure you out in the open.”

“But a man died. You didn’t fake that. That was real enough.”

“I can answer that,” Sir Charles said. “He was a convicted man, due to die in any case. The promise of money for his widow-to-be made him a willing volunteer for an earlier drop than he’d been allocated. A hessian bag over his head from the start helped us keep our subterfuge secret.”

“But, what of your former, Sir? How was it you found me?”

“Well, Tesla. Perhaps you should know it all, for all the good it will be to you,” the Commissioner said, while Edison continued to study most closely the small green card in his hand. “We were advised by the medicos that you would strike again. They saw, in the pattern of progression in your behaviour with your victims, that you were becoming addicted to your work.”

“And armed with that understanding, that knowledge that you would kill again, I laid my trap for you,” Edison said. “A new invention of mine. I call it the EdisonHoveringRecorderPlatform.” Tesla winced. A tic triggered in his eye. “It’s a lighter than air balloon that carries my EdisonRecorder. We launched a dozen of these all around the East End and tethered them to the ground. All we had to do next was to wait for you to strike again. When the hue and cry went up the Commissioner had his men untether the platforms which we then pulled around the area using them like bloodhounds in the sky. Once we had you spotted you were followed easily enough back here to your lair.”

The Commissioner coughed out loudly, not wishing to have too much attention focussed on their decision to sacrifice as many more victims as would be necessary to catch their adversary, but the thought had not escaped Tesla.

“So, Mary Kelly was your handiwork, after all,” Tesla said. “Sir Charles, perhaps you should know a little more about this great man with whom you have thrown in your lot. This is the Great Inventor, who despite full awareness that my AC electricity system was far superior to the DC that was his, employed youngsters back home in America to bring him cats and dogs from their locale, and not all waifs and strays either, I can tell you. And what did he do with those wretched animals? He made public displays of them, wiring them up to my machines. Frazzling them alive before aghast audiences, slurring my name, making my devices look far too dangerous to consider, bringing me ruin.”

“Ah yes,” Edison said, showing just a hint of embarrassment, as he tugged at his collar to allow a few beads of sweat their escape from his neck. Taking attack as his best ploy for defence he added “I later reworked that little idea, by the way, and very profitably I might say, too, selling the patent to several states. My EdisonExecutorChair I called it. “But right now, I’m curious about this.” He waved the small green card in his hand.”What is it?”

“You will never understand. You with your great clunking machines.”

“Try me.”

“Very well. So I will. Miniaturisation. That is the key to the new electrical machinery that will revolutionise the lives of everyone. I have given it a new word, I call it electronics. That, Sir, is an electronic circuit. The equivalent cabling in your sad understanding would more than fill this room.”

“And these devices? These small nodules. What are they?”

“I call them transistors. It is my belief that they are the most significant scientific invention of the 19th Century – mine, of course. I have managed to sandwich together three incredibly thin layers of semiconductor material – silicon it is, that I use. This affords me a bipolar junction by which I can regulate the relationship between voltage and current and thereby amplify or switch electrical flows howsoever my circuit design requires.”

“Stuff and nonsense to me,” the Commissioner said. “And I’m getting hungry. Let’s be gone from here.”

“Hold you’re horses, Sonny,” Edison cautioned him.”if I understand what he’s saying, and I believe I do, then by Golly, he’s right. This is just blowing my mind. Think of it Sir, as a faucet, if it helps. A tiny effort to turn the faucet brings the greater benefit of a powerful flow of water.”

“Oh and more, much more than that” Tesla said, warming to the understanding Edison was showing him. “Much more than just the flow of electrons. I have so many ideas flooding my mind. I often cannot sleep.”

“You will sleep long enough, soon enough,” the Commissioner said, and beckoned men over to escort the prisoner out.

“Not so quick, Commissioner,” Edison said. “My friend Nikolai here has suffered enough. I tell you now that i intend to take him, right here and now, under the charge of the American Government.”

“What! But, this man’s a foul murderer. He must hang for his crimes.”

“Sir, if I have to appeal to the Queen herself, I’ll have my way. And you saw how my country nearly went war for me. Think what they would do for this.” He waived the green card furiously in the Commissioners face.

Sir Charles, his face unhappy, yet resigned, beckoned officers to release Tesla from his bonds. The Commissioner snatched the reporter’s notebook from his hand and ordered the confiscation of his colleagues equipment, ignoring the reporter’s shouts of ‘Free Speech, Sir. Free Speech!”

Edison hooked a fatherly arm around Tesla, and walked him through the door, much to astonishment of the officers gathered there. Tesla jabbered excitedly to him, and Edison had no intention of telling him to stop. He talked about his ideas for radio, communications without the necessity for wires, and about radio waves from space that he had already begun to study and next wanted to record, and something he called x-rays, and hydroelectricity, and something else he called cryogenic engineering, and did Edison know that their planet had its own resonant frequency? It indeed did and he, Tesla, had discovered and measured it. He told of the plans in his head for an earthquake machine, and how he was the only scientist to have created ball lightning in a laboratory. Electronic remote controls. Neon lighting. A new electric motor. He even had an inkling of how to draw down electricity from the ionosphere without wires. He saw in their full completeness, many new incredible devices so clearly laid out in his head, like gifts from the gods. He talked about something he called Radar, which ships could use to detect the approach of their enemies. Edison, knowing a good deal about things military, drew a line in the sand at that point, just before the radar notion, instantly dismissing that one as poppycock, though he was to think well enough later of everything else Tesla had ranted about.
His main concern at that moment was Tesla’s predilection for slaughter. Edison had studied the Autopsy reports closely, and was encouraged that in most cases it seemed not to be the kill that spurred Tesla on, but his strange dissections. If the medicos couldn’t cure him of it, which he thought was the likely outcome, then he’d have to make sure he was given access to a compliant mortuary, where there would be plenty of Jane Does on which he could practice his art, properly supervised. After all, who is to say what is Art and what is not. Edison was filled with ideas of worldwide exhibitions, where the public would pay in their millions to see Tesla’s handiwork. He shelved those thoughts for later consideration. As they walked to his waiting carriage, Edison could not help but whistle a few refrains of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy,’ oblivious to the fact that the song had been written by the British as a music hall insult to the American people.

The Commissioner walked into the fresh air, though had to move well away from the piles of rotting refuse they’d carried from Tesla’s rooms to find some, and took a deep breath. He felt so tired. He felt older than his years. He thought about his world, and how technology had so changed it already. He feared about the speed of progress, and looked forward not, to what was to come once Edison and Tesla fully renewed and cemented their former, rocky friendship.

It finally dawned on him what a small world their planet,      TerraAltemis, was becoming.