Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(10)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(10)
Author: L.J. Smith

These women stood in stark contrast to the serving girl who seemed in charge of the entire room. She couldn't have been older than sixteen or seventeen, and skinny as a jaybird, but every time I saw her, her arms were laden with plates and pint glasses. At one point, I watched her hurry toward the kitchen, but before she got there, she paused to clear the plates from a nearby table. Al that remained on one plate were a few scraps of meat, some potatoes, and a half-eaten rol . She stared hard at the plate, before cautiously grabbing the meat and slipping it into her pocket.

Then, she crammed the rol into her mouth, her cheeks puffing like a chipmunk's, before scurrying back to the kitchen.

I closed my eyes. I'd long ago given up praying, and I didn't think any sort of God would want to hear my requests, but I did wish that no matter what happened, that this helpless seventeen-year-old would stay far, far away from Dutfield Park. Or, for that matter, any bloodthirsty vampire.

"Lookin' for a good time, love?" A woman with blond curled hair and crooked teeth perched on the wooden seat opposite me. Her white bosom was overflowing from her bodice.

"No. Sorry," I said roughly, waving my hand away. A memory from New Orleans flooded back to me. It had been in my first few weeks as a vampire, when I'd been bloodthirsty and bul headed, and had dragged Damon to a house of il repute. There, I'd feasted on a young girl, sure that no one would notice or care that she'd disappeared. I couldn't even remember her name now, and I wondered if I'd ever even bothered to learn it in the first place. It was details like those that would cause me to sink into the depths of misery, and here, in this dank tavern, I couldn't escape these split-second flashbacks. Al of them were reminders that no matter what I did, and no matter who I helped, I'd never do enough good deeds to wash away al the blood I was responsible for - and would be for eternity - off my hands. Al I could do was try. And I would do anything to ensure that these women would not die at the hands of a demon.

I glanced back down at the paper, now creased and smudged from my hands. I could almost recite every word of the article, and none of it seemed to make sense. Why had the kil er just left her like that? It was almost as if he'd wanted her to be found. But if the kil er had wanted her to be found, he had to be very, very careful to cover his own tracks.

"What would you like to eat, love?" a lilting voice asked. I looked up to see the skinny, wide-eyed serving girl. She was wearing a tattered and stained rose-colored dress that was covered by a filthy white apron. She had wide blue eyes and long auburn hair that hung in a single braid down her back. A smattering of freckles dusted her angular face, and her skin was as smooth and pale as ivory. She kept nervously biting her lips, a habit that reminded me a bit of Rosalyn, my fiancee back in Virginia. But even Rosalyn's extreme caution hadn't prevented her from getting kil ed by a vampire. My heart went out to this girl.

"Whatever you recommend," I said, putting down the paper. "Please," I added. My stomach was growling, but what I most wanted wasn't on any menu.

"Wel , a lot of people have ordered the fish . . ." she said, trailing off. Even from where I was sitting, I could hear her heart beating, as fast and lightly as a swal ow's.

"That sounds fine," I said. I tried not to think of the dwindling coins in my pocket.

"Yes, sir," the girl said, turning quickly on her heel.

"Wait!" I cal ed.

"Yes?" she asked, concern in her eyes. She looked so much like Oliver when he was worried that Mrs. Duckworth would scold him. There was something about the deliberate way she spoke, her ultra-cautious movements, and those wide, seeking eyes that made me feel she'd seen or heard something in connection to the murder. It was more than just an air of teenage self-consciousness.

She seemed haunted.

"Yes?" she asked again, her eyes furrowing. "You don't have to order the fish if you don't like. We also have steak-and-kidney pie . . ."

"No, fish is fine," I said. "But may I ask you a question?"

She glanced at the bar. Once she saw Alfred was deep in conversation with a patron, she tiptoed a few steps closer.


"Do you know Count DeSangue?" I asked steadily.

"Count DeSangue?" she repeated. "We don't get counts here, no."

"Oh," I said, disappointed. Of course they didn't. She kept glancing between me and Alfred.

"Did you know . . . the girl who was murdered?" I asked. I felt like I was at a church social in Mystic Fal s, wondering which cousin of Clementine's knew which cousin of Amelia's.

"Mary Ann? No." The girl set her mouth in a tight line and took a step away from me. "I'm not like that."

"Violet?" Alfred cal ed from the bar.

"Yes, sir!" Violet squeaked. "He don't have to eat my head off," she murmured under her breath. She pul ed a pad of paper from her pocket and hastily scribbled on it, as if she were taking down an order. Then, she put the paper on the table and hurried away.

Are you the police? My sister is gone. Cora Burns. Please help. I think she may have been killed.

I shuddered as I read the words.

Moments later, the girl reemerged from the kitchen, a steaming plate in her hand.

"Here's your food, sir," she said, curtseying as she placed the plate on the table. A grayish slab of fish was covered in heavy gelatinous cream.

"I'm not the police," I said, staring into her eyes.

"Oh. Wel , I thought you might have been. You were just asking so many questions, you see," the girl said, color appearing high on her cheekbones. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have troubled you." She took a few suspicious steps away from me, and I realized she probably thought I was just like the other louts who frequented the bar, who only offered initial kindness and interest in order to have their way with her later.

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