Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(8)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(8)
Author: L.J. Smith

I sidled up to the bar and perched on one of the stools. The air was heavy and damp. I unbuttoned the top button of my shirt and loosened my tie to counter the stifling atmosphere. I wrinkled my nose in disgust. It wasn't the type of establishment I'd envision Damon frequenting.

"You one of them newspaper boys?"

I glanced up at the barkeep in front of me. One of his front teeth was gold, the other was missing, and his hair stuck out in wild gray tufts. I shook my head. I just have a taste for blood. The phrase popped into my mind. It was an off-color joke that Damon would have cracked. His favorite game was to almost give himself away, to see if anyone noticed. Of course they didn't. They were too busy being dazzled by Damon.

"Mate?" the barkeep asked curiously, plunking a filthy rag on the bar as he looked at me. "You one of them newspaper boys?" he repeated.

"No. And I think I might not be in the right place. Is the Journeyman nearby?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

"Ha! You 'avin' a laugh? The Journeyman is that right proper supper club. Only admits the toffs. Ain't our kind, and you won't get in neither, even with that fancy shirt. Only option is to drown your sorrows with some ale!" He laughed, displaying one of his gold molars in the back of his mouth.

"So the Journeyman club isn't close?" I asked.

"No, mate. Close to the Strand, near al them shows. Where the fancy folks go when they want to get wild. But they come here when they want to get wicked!" The barkeep laughed again as I glanced away, annoyed. I wasn't going to find Damon here. Unless . . .

"Beer, please. A dark ale," I said, suddenly inspired. Maybe I could get the barkeep to talk and find clues to who - or what - was responsible for Mary Ann's death. Because if it was Damon, either directly or indirectly, I'd final y teach him the lesson he should have learned long ago. I wouldn't kil him or stake him. But if it came down to it and I had him on the ground, at my mercy, would I hurt him?

Yes. I was immediately certain of my answer.

"What?" the barkeep asked, and I realized I'd spoken out loud.

"Just that I'd like that ale," I said, forcing a pleasant expression.

"Al right, friend," the barkeep said amiably as he shuffled to one of the many taps that lined the back of the bar.

"Here you go." The barkeep pushed a glass of frothy brew toward me.

"Thank you," I said, tipping the glass toward me as though I were drinking. But I just barely let the liquid cross my lips. I needed to keep my wits.

"So you're not a newspaper boy, but you're not from around here, are you?" the bartender asked, leaning his elbows on the bar and gazing at me curiously with his bloodshot gray eyes.

Since I spoke to so few people, except for the Abbotts, I forgot that my Virginia accent instantaneously gave me away. "From America," I said briefly.

"And you came here? To Whitechapel?" the barkeep asked incredulously. "You know we have a murderer on the loose!"

"I think I read something about that in the paper," I said, trying to sound casual. "Who do they think it is?" At this, the barkeep guffawed, slamming his beefy fist on the bar and almost causing my drink to tip over. "You hear that?" he cal ed to the motley crew of men on the other side of the bar, who al seemed deep into their drinks. "He wants to know who the murderer is!" At this, the other men laughed, too.

"I'm sorry?" I asked in confusion.

"I'm just having a laugh," the barkeep said jovial y. "It's not some bloke who pinched a purse. This is an unholy kil er. If any of us knew who it was, don't you think we'd go straight to Scotland Yard or the City of London police and let them know? It's bad for business! That monster has al our girls half-terrified!" He lowered his voice and glanced at the cluster of women in the corner. "And between you and me, I don't think any of us are safe.

He's going for the girls now, but who's to say he won't go for us next? He takes his knife and like that, you're gone," he said, drawing his index finger across his throat for emphasis.

It doesn't have to be a knife, I wanted to say. I kept my gaze locked on the barkeep.

"But he doesn't start at the neck. Why, he cut that girl's innards right out. He likes to torture. He's looking for blood," he said.

At the mention of the word, my tongue automatical y slicked over my teeth. They were stil short and even. Human. "Do they have any leads? The murder sounds gruesome." I grimaced.

"Wel . . ." The barkeep lowered his voice and raised his eyebrow at me. "First off, you promise you ain't from one of those papers? Not the Guardian or them other ones?"

I shook my head.

"Good. I'm Alfred, by the way," the barkeep said, reaching out his hand to me. I shook it, not offering my name in return. He continued, hardly noticing. "I know the life we live here doesn't seem prim and proper like what you might be used to across the ocean," he said, taking in my brand-new Savile Row outfit, which made me wildly overdressed for this establishment. "But we like our way of life. And our women," he added, waggling his salt-and-pepper eyebrows.

"The women . . ." I said. I remembered the article had said that the victim had been a woman of the night. Just the type of woman Damon had enjoyed at one point. I shivered in disgust.

"Yes, the women," Alfred said grimly. "Not the types of ladies you're going to meet at church, if you know what I mean."

"But the type of women you pray to meet in bed!" guffawed a ruddy-complexioned man two seats down, holding up his whiskey glass in a mock toast.

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