RISKING ETERNITY, Chapter 6


Valentin’s fingertips were so cool they made hers tingle. The words “time for what” formed in her mind and dissolved. She twined her hand in his and let him lead her back downstairs to the study. When they crossed the threshold he let her hand drop and walked over to the bookcase that lined the far wall. Her hand felt as it had been burnt. She opened her palm and stared at it, half expecting to see blisters.

There was no change—the skin was pale, cool to the touch.She watched as he pulled out a book and pressed a button that was hidden behind it. She waited for a secret passageway to open but she had guessed wrong. A door did open, but there was no passage, only a safe. He deftly punched in the code and the door clicked open, revealing a stack of manila folders. Without a word, he removed the top folder and handed it to her.

Seating herself in a wing-backed chair closest to the fireplace, she opened the folder he had given her and found herself staring at a yellowed newspaper clipping: The Murder in Whitechapel. The London Times headline blared across the page in oversized letters. The date on the top right-hand corner of the paper read August 10, 1888.

“I don’t understand,” she said, looking up at him.

His dark eyes seemed to bore into her. “Read,” he commanded. “There’s no point in speaking until you’ve familiarized yourself with your enemy.”

Your enemy. The phrase struck a warning note in her head but she ignored it as she began reading the article.

Yesterday afternoon Mr. G. Collier, Deputy Coroner for the South-Eastern Division of Middlesex, opened an inquiry at the Working Lads’ Institute, Whitechapel-road, respecting the death of the woman who was found on Tuesday last, with 39 stabs on her body, at George-yardbuildings, Whitechapel. She had been dead some three hours. Her age was about 36. The medical examiner’s office has since made a post-mortem examination of the body. According to reports from that office, the left lung was penetrated in multiple places, and the right lung was penetrated in two places. The heart, which was rather fatty, was penetrated in two places, and that would likely be sufficient to cause death. The liver was healthy, but was penetrated in five places, the spleen was penetrated in two places, and the stomach, which was perfectly healthy, was penetrated in six places. The neck was also penetrated in two places and the face was notable as well for its radically disfiguration. The body was remarkable for its lack of blood, though this may be explained by the extensive lacerations that characterized the body. The medical examiner’s office did not think all the wounds were inflicted with the same instrument. The wounds generally might have been inflicted with a knife, but such an instrument could not have inflicted one of the wounds, which went through the chestbone. . .

The second and third articles were much the same, the only difference being that the inhumanity of the crime scenes seemed to escalate with each subsequent killing. Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Mary Jane Kelly. The names of the dead prostitutes were vaguely familiar, as were the details of the case. She remembered reading about it in one of her criminal law classes. The murders had simply stopped. Modern forensics had concluded that “Jack” would have faced his victims before he strangled them, then slashed their throats. As a criminal justice student, it had seemed like something out of a bad horror movie. She read what she’d needed to, passed the unit test with an A and promptly forgotten about the infamous “Jack the Ripper.”

After she finished the first few articles she looked up to find Valentin’s gaze still fixed upon her, willing her to keep reading. The only sound was the crackling of the fire in the grate and the wind rattling the window panes. The stories that chronicled the murders were brutal, even couched in the antiquated language of Victorian England. More than once she had to stop and close her eyes.

It wasn’t the murders themselves that bothered her, it was their uncanny resemblance to recent events. Like Autumn Skye, Jack the Ripper’s victims has been mutilated. Like the most recent killing, several of Jack’s victims had organs removed from their bodies. Hayden read the testimony of the doctor who testified at several of the inquests with a growing sense of unease. According to George Bagster Phillips, the body of the first and second victims had multiple small cuts on them. Parallel cuts. Separated by approximately one inch. Worst of all was the physician’s certainty that the cuts had been made prior to death, not afterward, as the other abrasions on the body had been. Moreover, Bagster Phillips had been convinced that no ordinary weapon had made the incisions.

Then there was the small matter of the lack of blood in the corpses.

Was it possible that the killer she was looking for was Jack the Ripper? Hayden flipped to the final clipping and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She was tired, maybe even tired enough to consider Valentin’s bizarre theory. Tired enough to trust him.

And that, she was convinced, was a mistake. The kind of turn-in-your-badge mistake she had seen cops make before. The kind cops made right before they got themselves killed.

The last clipping was shorter, the headline set in a typeface much smaller than the others. It announced the death of an unidentified female, aged 17 years, a few yards from Whitechapel Church. Face mutilated beyond recognition. 18 January 1890.


She raised her eyes to him. “Annika?” She wasn’t sure why she said it, or what it meant, but the act of speaking the name aloud made her feel slightly nauseous.

“Yes.” Valentin’s expression darkened, but he said nothing more. It was as if she had slapped him across the face.

She knew she should stop asking questions but couldn’t help herself. “Why didn’t her murder receive the same publicity as the others?”

He shrugged. “Two years had passed. Jack the Ripper was passé—the public had lost interest. Not that the newspapers ever made a connection between Annika’s death and the other murders. Unlike the others, she wasn’t a prostitute.”

She closed the folder. The fire had gone out and a chill had settled over the dimly lit room. Aside from a few embers in the grate and the bright glare of the reading lamp beside her, the room was full of shadows. “Who was she?”

He hesitated, as if reluctant to say the words. “Annika was my sister.”

For a few seconds she had an impression of intense pain—of a vast expanse of darkness she could sense the edges of but couldn’t touch with her mind. “Why was she killed?” she asked after a slight pause. 

“Revenge,” he said dully. “Quid pro quo. I killed the woman he loved. He was only returning the favor.” He smiled, ever so slightly. “When I first saw the love note on her writing desk it didn’t mean anything to me. I recognized the handwriting, of course—after all, it belonged to my best friend. But, beyond the mere shock of that recognition, I couldn’t conceive of anything sinister in it. I was even glad at first, to think he had moved on after what happened. That he’d finally decided to forgive me—even more than any happiness I felt for Annika was that. It was a kind of redemption. Or so I thought.”

“Let me guess,” she said. “It wasn’t redemption.”

He gave her a slight nod. “The letter suggested an illicit meeting just a few blocks from where Annika’s body was found. She was on her way to meet him. And, I suppose, she did meet him.”

“You’re saying Jack the Ripper set your sister up? To punish you?”

“At first, before the murders began, I grieved that Henry—that was his real name—must be suffering, suffering even more than I was. Then, gradually, the truth began to dawn on me. Annika had always been half in love with Henry but he had never taken any interest in her. He’d always been too in love with Sarah.”

“But I still don’t understand,” she said, trying to keep the frustration out of her voice. “Who’s Henry? And if time’s running out, why am I sitting here reading about murders that happened more than a hundred years ago?” As soon as she said it she regretted it but she went on anyways. There were dead girls turning up all over town and he’d promised he could help her. “You say Annika was your sister, but she’s been dead more than a hundred years. You say I need to know my enemy, but Jack the Ripper—or Henry or whoever he was—is dead.”

Valentin reached for the folder and set it onto the desk, then replaced it with the second. “Annika was my sister and she died as a result of my carelessness. I should have anticipated Henry’s rage and taken steps to protect her. The man known as Jack the Ripper was known to me as Henry Wyatt. In the years before the killings, he was a close friend. My closest friend in fact. We were medical students together and I think Henry loved me as a brother, but what he loved even more was the fact that his family would have nothing at all to do with me. Medical school was bad enough, in their opinion, not at all the thing for the son of a Lord. But to associate with an impoverished Russian immigrant? It was too much. Henry, of course, loved their disapproval, and I rather liked having a brilliant, wealthy rebel for a friend. I suppose it was his brilliance that drew me to him most—as well as his passion and his absolute fearlessness.” He lifted a second folder from the pile on his desk, then rose out of his chair and crossed to where she was sitting. “Then one day Henry went a little bit mad.”

She took the folder from him and set it down on top of the first, but left it unopened on her lap. Somehow that would be giving in to him—validating his bizarre fantasy about some psycho friend. On the other hand, did she really want to antagonize him? He’d built up his story over time and if she tore his little construct down, how might he react? “Jack the Ripper was more than a little bit mad,” she said carefully, “he was a monster.”

“Is a monster,” Valentin corrected her. “Or, to be more precise, a vampire. A vampire who happens to be a little bit mad.”

It was too outlandish. She wondered if the only mad vampire—or wannabe vampire—within a hundred-mile radius were Valentin. “Okay, let me get this straight. You’re saying that this guy Henry who supposedly was your best friend was really Jack the Ripper? And that he killed your sister? And that the person responsible for the deaths here is a vampire who’s gone crazy?”

He nodded gravely, seemingly oblivious to her tone of disbelief. “Yes.”

“Do you honestly expect me to believe this stuff?” So much for not tearing down his elaborate construct, she thought, wincing at her heavy-handedness. Still, she couldn’t shake the idea that she was wasting time on a theory that just wasn’t valid. She might be attracted to Valentin but that didn’t mean she had to believe his horror story. If anything, her intense desire to let him take her to bed had clouded her vision.

“You may as well stop resisting, simply for the sake of appearing rational,” he said. “We both know you believe me.”

“Like hell I do.”

But she did. In spite of everything, she believed him—though it meant ignoring every rational thought she’d ever had about the case. About everything. she couldn’t say why, though she had an idea it had something to do with the way he could insert his thoughts into her mind without speaking. 

Which was why she didn’t trust herself. Didn’t trust him. There was something he wasn’t telling her. She opened the second folder and stared down at a black-and-white photograph of a young girl.

It was like looking into a mirror.

There wasn’t a news story in this folder, only the single picture. The photo was grainy and somewhat faded, but it was clear enough to scare her. It looked like a younger version of herself, with long blonde hair pulled back from her face. The shot could have been Hayden’s senior picture. “Is that Annika?” she asked, her voice a whisper.

Valentin shook his head. “Sarah Whitcomb,” he said matter of factly. “The woman Henry believes I killed.”

She closed the folder and handed it back to him, trying to ignore the fact that her hand shook. “Thanks for the history lesson,” she said, rising out of her chair, “but I’ve got a killer to catch.” She took comfort in the fact that her voice at least sounded a bit more controlled than it had a moment earlier.

His eyes locked onto hers, as if he were willing her to comply. “I need you.”
“Well, sorry to disappoint you but I’ve got to be going.” She was already halfway across the room but she could feel his mind, pulling her back, sapping her strength. “But I’ve heard enough horror stories for one night.”

Valentin crossed the room and stood a few inches away from her, his expression angry and desperate. And dangerous. “Sarah Whitcomb—Lady Sarah Whitcomb—and Henry were lovers, though Henry hadn’t performed the rites on her. I think he loved her too much for that. As badly as he wanted it, he held back. I suppose that was how he rationalized the sexual nature of their relationship—as long as he wasn’t sucking her blood she would be safe. But she wasn’t safe, as it turned out. At least not in her eyes, or—in what mattered most back then—the eyes of the elite group of families that controlled most of the wealth in England. Her family. His family.”

She stood in the doorway, unsure what she should do. Less than 10 yards away, the enormous front door offered a means of escape. She could turn and run, and if she were lucky, Valentin might let her go. Or, if she could just get to the door, she might be able to elude him once she slipped into the darkness outside. But there was a small part of her that knew if he let her escape she would lose her chance to the catch a killer.

“Did the families disapprove of their relationship?” she asked, playing for time. Stay and go along with his crazy scheme? Go and search for the killer on her own? Make a decision, she told herself.

He raised his brows, as if Hayden were as mad as everybody else seemed to be. “No, of course they didn’t disapprove of it,” he said. “Sarah and Henry were meant to be together—were virtually engaged from the time they were in diapers. The great merger of two of the most powerful families in London.”

Almost in spite of herself, she felt herself being drawn into his story. “What went wrong?”
“What went wrong was that Sarah happened to be the sort of woman who didn’t play by the rules. 

She thought propriety was nothing but a pitiful construct designed to keep women under the thumb of men. So when she had the chance to overthrow 18 years of instruction about the importance of keeping one’s virginity until one was properly married by the Church of England….she took it.” 

Another smile, as mirthless as the others. “She took it rather a lot, at every opportunity. So it wasn’t all that surprising when she turned up at my rooms one night, begging me to examine her.”

“Why didn’t she go to Henry?”

“Isn’t it obvious? For all her talk about liberation, she was just as frightened of being a “fallen woman” as the next debutante. She thought if Henry found out she was pregnant he would drop her. 

At least that’s what she told me that night and I believed her. Not that I thought for one moment he would ‘drop her.’ If he hadn’t dropped me—a Russian immigrant of doubtful parentage without a penny to his name—then he certainly wasn’t going to abandon the woman he loved. And it wasn’t as if Sarah was the first high-class lady to find herself in that sort of predicament. Marriages could be accelerated. It happened all the time, actually. But I suppose I should have known Sarah wouldn’t see it that way—that she wouldn’t want to feel she was forcing Henry’s hand. Because there was no formal engagement, merely an understanding between dynasties. Sarah hated that. God, she hated it. So when my rather fumbling examination revealed what we both knew to be true, she didn’t burst into tears or wring her hands. She was like you in that way. She never showed emotion in front of anyone if she could avoid it. Not even Henry.”

She experienced a pang of sympathy for Sarah Whitcomb. How awful, to be a pawn, an object to be bartered in exchange for power. “How far along was she?”

Valentin took a deep breath, as if he were becoming impatient with her questions. As if he hated the idea that he couldn’t simply command her to agree to help him and be done with it. “Three months, give or take a few days. She wasn’t showing yet but it wouldn’t be long. She begged me for an abortion. Wanted it done that very night. Of course, I refused. I was studying medicine to save lives, not take them away. It wasn’t just a matter of a simple operation either. As inexperienced as I was, I could easily have killed Sarah as well as her child. And I firmly believed Henry would be overjoyed—I told her that repeatedly but she was such a remarkably stubborn woman. At one point, after we’d been arguing for hours, she asked permission to use the bathroom. When she didn’t return I became concerned . . . I called out to her but there was no answer. By the time I broke down the door she was dying—she had slit her wrists.” His face clouded at the memory. “She died in my arms.”

She resisted the impulse to touch him. Because at that moment she wanted nothing more than to take him into his arms and kiss away his pain. Instead she said, in her most professional voice, “Henry blamed you?”

“Not at first,” he said slowly, as if he weren’t in the room at all but somewhere far beyond her reach. 

“At first he merely wept, wept with all the pent-up fury I had felt that night in her. He blamed himself—for his vampirism, which he had pursued willingly, then for sleeping with her and getting her pregnant. The next week I found out he had dropped out of medical school and severed ties with his family. Apparently he had moved to Whitechapel and taken a room next to a brothel. One night I returned to my rooms to find him waiting for me. He was raving, out of his mind on opium and hate. He cursed me for not giving Sarah the abortion, for not summoning him as she was dying. He said he could have saved her if only I had gotten word to him before it was too late. He was convinced that he could have performed the dark rites on her and that they would have had all eternity together.” He paused, as if he were turning an idea over in his mind. “When Henry bit me I thought he meant to kill me but he stopped just short of that. He slashed his wrist and held it out to me, knowing I’d be too weak to resist. I didn’t want to die, not yet, not before I’d saved some money, taken care of Annika.”

“So you—drank his blood?” she finished for him, trying to keep her voice neutral. “And became a vampire?”

He gave her a slight nod. “But even damning me for all eternity wasn’t enough for Henry,” Valentin said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice any longer. “Even mutilating innocent women wasn’t enough. He had so much rage—rage toward women, toward society because of the way it had forced Sarah to choose between desire and purity. In destroying those women I think he wanted to destroy the entire city, wanted to expose London for what he believed it was: an evil place, full of hypocrisy. He had seen far too many men pretending to be happily married then sneaking off to their “clubs” as soon as they could get away. His own father had a mistress in a brothel not far from Whitechapel. Henry had known about it for years, actually, but it wasn’t until Sarah’s death that he began to see him as a monster. He wanted to expose them all—the rich men who believed they were above morality, above the sacredness of love itself. In a way, he nearly succeeded.”

She reached up and brushed the back of her hand over his flowing hair. From the way he was looking at her she couldn’t help wondering if it were Sarah, not her, that he saw standing before him. Did he see her as an incarnation of his worst sin—a living, breathing reprimand?

At her touch, he stiffened. “I. . .can’t. . . not now.”

She nodded, fighting back tears. Tears? she thought disgustedly. Was it possible she was actually crying? She tried to remember the last time she had shed tears over anything and failed. Surely, she must have cried as a child. Yet no such memory sprang to mind. She finally understood the source of his hatred. It wasn’t so much hatred for her, as hatred for himself—for his failure to save Sarah and Annika, and even Henry. A chill ran up her spine at the thought of what it must be like, to hate as much as Valentin.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she told him, dropping her hand. “You couldn’t have guessed Sarah was going to kill herself.”

“Perhaps not,” he agreed. “Arguably I should have summoned Henry so he could perform the dark rites on her. I don’t know—“ he broke off and looked past her, toward the door. “She would have lived, in a sense. But would that death-in-life have been better than what did happen? And what of the child?”

Hayden turned her gaze to follow his. She could feel his increasing impatience, his desire for her to stop pressing him for facts. He had said time was passing and asked for her acquiescence, but could she agree to something without knowing why he wanted her to do it? “You did what you thought was best,” she said at last. “And you tried to save her, to the best of your ability.”

“Regardless of what happened,” he said, regaining his composure at last, “we need to stop Henry. He’s been killing for so long he’ll never be caught. Even a century ago, he was no match for the police. Now he’s literally unstoppable. At least, he’ll never be stopped by conventional means. Which is why I’ve devised a plan, the only plan that has any chance of putting an end to the murders. Why I need your help.” 

She stared up at him, willing herself not to let him sway her. Because beneath the emotions he’d tapped into, her intuition was telling her something was wrong. It had been telling her that from the first time she had seen him, watching over her at the first crime scene.

“Why did the killings stop?” she asked, still searching for a way to put off answering him.

“Henry sailed for America on January 20, 1890. Two days after Annika’s death.” Valentin gripped her arm as the clock struck one and Hayden winced at the cold fire that traveled up her arm. “I’ll answer any questions you have later. We have little time left before dawn. After that, it will be too late. Will you come with me?”

A thousand questions flooded her mind. Where did he want her to go? Why would it be too late after dawn? She opened her mouth to refuse, but before she could form the words a vision of a woman rose before her. The woman’s hair was pale and she was dressed as a Victorian lady, but Hayden couldn’t be sure of her identity. It looked like Sarah—but it felt like her. Was she seeing the past or the future? And unlike her other visions, when she’d felt the traces of Valentin’s thoughts mixed with hers, this image seemed to come from somewhere deep within her. Yet how was that possible?

“Yes,” she agreed, forcing the vision out of her head.

“Thank you.”

There was real gratitude in his voice, even joy. But when she looked up and saw the grim set of his face she wondered if she would live to see morning.

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