The Devil's Workshop: A Novel of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad

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9780399166433: The Devil's Workshop: A Novel of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad

They thought he was gone, but they were wrong. Jack the Ripper is loose in London once more.

Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad faces the most shocking case of its existence, in the extraordinary new historical thriller from the author of the acclaimed national bestsellers The Yard and The Black Country.

London, 1890. A small group of the city’s elite, fed up with the murder rate, have made it their business to capture violent criminals and mete out their own terrible brand of retribution. Now they are taking it a step further: They have arranged for four murderers to escape from prison, and into the group’s hands.

But the plan goes wrong. The killers elude them, and now it is up to Walter Day, Nevil Hammersmith, and the rest of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad to hunt the convicts down before they can resume their bloody spree. But the Murder Squad may already be too late. The killers have retribution in mind, and one of them is heading straight toward a member of the Murder Squad, and his family.

And that isn’t even the worst of it. During the escape, one of the killers has stumbled upon the location of another notorious murderer, one thought gone for good, but who is now prepared to join forces with them.

And Saucy Jack has learned some new tricks while he’s been away.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Alex Grecian is the nationally bestselling author of The Yard and The Black Country, as well as of the long-running and critically acclaimed graphic novel series Proof. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and son.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***

Copyright © 2014 by Alex Grecian

PROLOGUE

 

 

LONDON

LATE APRIL 1890

 

The white canvas hood covered his nose and eyes and ears, but there was a slit near the bottom of it for his mouth. He could hear muffled sounds, low voices when his captors entered his cell, direct questions when they were spoken close to his ear. When they asked him things, he could feel their hot breath through the canvas, on his cheek and on his scalp, and it raised goose bumps along his arms and the back of his neck, an almost sexual thrill. He could see floating halos of light whenever they brought a lantern into the room, a pale orange haze. They had cut off his long black beard where it curled out from under the edge of the hood. He had been proud of that beard, and the loss of it hurt him almost as much as the abuse his captors heaped on him. He could breathe through his nose, but inhaling caused the canvas to snug up against his face unless he kept his breath shallow. When he breathed through his mouth, through the hole in the canvas, his tongue dried out, and when he tried to swallow he felt an unpleasant clicking sensation at the back of his throat. They never gave him enough water. Food came once a day, barely enough to keep him alive. He couldn’t smell it, could barely taste it. They fed him, poking chunks of bread through the slit in the hood and into his mouth. It was dry and hard, but he choked it down. They spooned broth through the slit and past his lips, spilling it into the rough fabric and dripping it down his naked chest. The heat from it made his skin itch. He still tried to scratch himself, and tried to reach for those men when they came, but his wrists were chained to the wall behind him and his ankles were shackled. The irons bit into him, but the wounds had scabbed over and had bonded with the shackles so that they seemed to be a part of him now. It was this last detail that had convinced him they were never going to let him go. If they tried to remove those shackles, they’d have to rip them out of his skin. He accepted that they meant to keep him here, wherever this was, for the rest of his life. But he didn’t want to die. Even here, in the dark and the silence, he still wanted to live. So he ate their bread and their broth and he sipped at the ladleful of water they gave him twice a day, and he tried not to think about his absent beard.

He didn’t know how long he’d been there. A month? A year? More? The men came every day in shifts, sometimes one at a time, sometimes three or four at once. Always men; never a woman. He had long ago decided that he must be in a small room made of stone, no more than ten feet across and ten feet deep. The ceiling was low, not even six feet, but the shackles prevented him from standing anyway, and so it presented no great hardship for him. Some of the men who came had to stoop as they moved around him. He had learned to recognize the voices of all the men by now. He listened to the way they moved, to the pace of their shoes on the stone. He would know any of them if he met them in the street, even on the darkest of nights. Two of the men were familiar to him from his life before, when he had been a free man. He was sure of it. Something in their voices, something in the way they walked. They had pursued him and he had led them on a merry chase, but in the end he had been careless and they had captured him before he could finish his grand design, his nasty business.

And now they kept him in a box.

He was part of an old story, a story that spanned many centuries and many cultures. He was Loki chained in the Netherworld, Prometheus on the rock. He was a god and these men were mortals. They could hurt him, but they had not killed him yet. Perhaps they could not kill him. He was more than a man. He was an idea and was, therefore, immortal.

Sometimes, in the stillness, he found peace. He couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or closed. The darkness was absolute. He sat without moving, partially suspended by the chains that held him fast. He was a spider, made helpless in its own web, unable to seek prey.

He heard them coming long before they reached his cell. Their hard- soled shoes struck the cobblestones and packed earth, and their footsteps rang out ahead of them. They stopped nearby, out there somewhere in front of him, and there was the faint splintery scrape of metal on metal before a door swung open on rusty hinges and they entered. There were two of them today.

He moved his tongue, tore it free from his teeth. It rasped against the roof of his mouth. He tried to muster some moisture, but there was none. He tried to laugh at the men, but the only sound he could make was a low dry rumble somewhere behind his sternum.

He heard the clunk of the ladle against the inside of a wooden bucket and then felt a welcome splash of water on his chin as the ladle was pressed against the hood and emptied in the general vicinity of his mouth. He gobbled at the air, at the meager stream of water, sucking in as much moisture as he could, but felt most of it dribble away. The canvas hood absorbed some of the water, and it spread upward through the fabric against his face. It felt wonderfully cool.

The ladle was taken away and there was a long moment of silence. He knew what was coming and he tensed. His senses were hyper-vigilant, but he willed his muscles to relax. There was nothing he could do to prevent the coming trauma.

Far in the distance, beyond the confines of the cell, there came the hard, fast rapping of boots on stones. It came nearer and slowed, and he heard a man panting as he entered the cell.

“Exitus probatur.” The man’s voice was low and halting as he gasped for breath.

“Ergo acta probantur,” said another voice, another man.

This was a greeting he had not heard before, and he presumed it must be something formal, a way in which his tormentors identified themselves to one another, or a part of some ritual. This man must have been late, missed some scheduled rendezvous with the others. They rarely spoke when they were near him. How many of them were there? Where did they meet before they paid him their daily visits?

Now he heard the snap of a clasp, the creak of leather on leather. The one with the bag was here. He was the worst of them. Was he the one who had been late? Had he brought the bag or did he always leave it here in the cell?

“Use the iron?”

“No,” one of the men said. “I told you. He didn’t use it, we don’t use it.”

There was a grunt, a faint guttural protest from the other men, but no further argument.

Two metal instruments touched each other, a soft clink as the man took them from the bag. Silence again. Then a hand on the back of his head. The man with the bag grabbed his hair through the hood and yanked his chin up, exposing his throat. He felt metal against the stubble of his old beard and he closed his eyes. Then a blade dug in, deep, but not so deep that he would bleed to death there in the small stone cell. It was a careful cut, and he felt a brief flash of admiration for the skill involved before pain turned the insides of his eyelids red. A moment to let him recover, then the blade sunk in on the other side of his throat. Two cuts. He felt the tickle of blood running down his neck and pooling in the hollow of his collarbone.

They had cycled back to Chapman.

He had learned to recognize the rhythmic pattern of their violence. Every few days, he was being made to experience the pain of one of his victims, at least the victims these men were aware of. They only knew about five of the women, and so they rotated their torture, giving him the wounds of each of those five victims, one after another, then back to the beginning. Again and again. They would hurt him and then go away and, when he had begun to heal, they would return and hurt him again. He took strength from the cycle. Ritual was life.

He knew what came next, but gasped anyway when he felt the scalpel enter his abdomen and slash sideways. He waited for his guts to spill out on the floor, but they didn’t. They never did. The men knew what they were doing. They had cut just deep enough to hurt, to bleed, but not deep enough to kill. They were reenacting the injuries to Annie Chapman’s body, but not going so far as he had. How could they? They didn’t understand the drama. They were only mimics.

Blood ran down his thighs, and he heard it splash on the floor. What terrors would sprout from that blood, he wondered, if it took root in the earth?

His pulse pounded in his ears, and only when it began to settle did he hear the men packing their evil bag and leaving. They swung the door shut again and he heard them lock it. They walked away down the tunnel, leaving him in silence once more.

Only when he was sure they were gone did he finally allow himself to scream. It was a waste of strength and energy, he knew, heard by no one except the rats and worms that surrounded him in the dark. But he screamed anyway. It wasn’t a scream born of pain or helplessness or fear. It was pure anger.

Under the streets of London, Jack the Ripper screamed bloody murder.

 

1

 

Two men stood waiting beside three horses in the dark at the side of the railroad tracks. One of the men, the shorter one, moved nervously from foot to foot and blew into his cupped fists, despite the relative warmth of the spring night. The other man stood still and watched southward down the length of the rails.

They had arrived early and had to wait nearly a half hour before they first felt the track vibrate and began to hear a train in the distance, slowly moving closer. And then it was there, only a few yards away from them, huffing along, away from the city’s center. With a shriek of metal on metal, it braked in front of them and a stout man clambered down to greet them.

“Exitus probatur,” he said. The ends are justified.

“Ergo acta probantur,” said one of the waiting men. Therefore the means are justified.

The train’s enormous engine purred and grumbled behind them. An owl hooted. One of the horses snorted. The stout driver coughed and spoke to the other two in a low whisper.

“I’m having another thought about all this,” he said. “It’s too dangerous.”

“Is it empty?”

“What?”

“Is the train empty? Are you the only one on it?”

“Yes, of course. Just me and Willie.”

“Willie?”

“The fireman. He’s in there feeding coal on the fire.”

“We only brought one horse. We didn’t know there would be two of you.”

“It’s fine. We’ll ride together. But I’m trying to tell you we’ve been talking about it, Willie and me have, and we’ve changed our minds.”

“Bit late for that,” the short man said. “You’ve taken our money.”

“You can have it back.”

“You should do as you’re told.”

“I just don’t feel right about it. Willie neither.”

At last the taller man spoke. “The warders have been warned already and they’ve been paid to stay well away from the south wall. Nobody will be hurt except perhaps a prisoner or two.” He used the tip of his cane to point at the driver. “Is it the well-being of convicted murderers that concerns you? The fate of men who are already waiting for execution?”

“Well, no,” the stout man said. “I suppose not, but—”

“Such a man as that is no longer truly a man. His fate has been decided, no? This is what we say.”

“Well, yes, but—”

“Then we’re in agreement. You have ten minutes to convince Willie. Wait until we’ve got it sorted at the back of the train, and then get this thing moving again.”

Without giving the driver a chance to respond, the tall man led his companion down the rails to the last carriage, the guard’s van. He leaned down to peer at the coupling that held it in place. He looked up at the shorter man and smiled, his teeth glinting in the light of the moon. Then he knelt in the dirt and got to work. The other man ran up the line and began to work on another coupling there.

The train was fastened together with loose couplings, three heavy links of chain that allowed the individual carriages to get farther apart and then closer together as they moved, reacting to the speed of the train. The guard’s van was weighted to keep the back end of the train taut, stopping the last few carriages from breaking their couplings and f lying off the track at every sharp curve.

The tall man unfastened the last coupling, freeing the empty guard’s van. The other man sawed halfway through a link in the coupling between two of the four rearmost cars. The birds and insects in the surrounding trees went silent at the sound of the saw as itvoosh-vooshed its way through twisted iron. Weakening the link was probably unnecessary, but the men had agreed to take no chances. Their mission this night was the culmination of months of planning.

When the link was sufficiently damaged, the man stepped away and tossed the saw as far as he could into the trees. He rejoined his companion, and they walked together to the front of the train. The driver shook his head, but didn’t renew his argument. He climbed up into the engine and released the brake and the train began to roll forward. It picked up a little speed, the wheels rolling smoothly over the rails. A moment later, the driver hopped down again. He stumbled forward but caught himself before he fell. He was followed by a thinner man who landed awkwardly, fell forward and rolled into the grass, but stood and nodded to the others to let them know he was unharmed.

The four men stood beside the rails and watched as the driverless train chugged away from them, gaining speed as it disappeared into the darkness. A soft plume of black smoke drifted up across the moon and then dissolved.

The stout driver quietly accepted the reins of a mottled bay. He and his fireman, Willie, heaved themselves up, turned the horse around, and followed the two other men toward the city.

 

The locomotive rocked and bounced along the tracks, swaying from side to side and picking up speed as the last load of coal in its firebox burned away. The track approached the southwest corner of HM Prison Bridewell’s outer wall, then curved sharply to the east, but there was no driver to slow the engine and ease it around the bend. The train had accelerated to forty miles an hour by the time the prison hove into view and the engine slammed through the curve, dragging ten carriages behind it. The loose couplings between them contracted and then quickly stretched taut as the carriages moved forward and back to accommodate the sudden turn. Seven carriages from the front, the middle link in the chain snapped where it had been weakened. The back of the train tilted, then slammed down onto the rails. A forward wheel jumped the track and, unmoored and empty, the final three carriages left the rails and powered down the embankment toward the prison walls as the front half of the train continued through the curve and away.

 

Twenty minutes later, a few cautiou...

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