Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(9)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(9)
Author: L.J. Smith

"None of that talk! We're a respectable establishment!" the barkeep said, a wicked spark in his eye. He turned his back to me and fil ed two glasses with several inches of amber liquid. He then turned and ceremoniously placed one in front of me.

"For you. Liquid courage. You need it around these parts, what with the murderer walking the streets," Alfred said, clinking his glass with mine.

"Although my best advice is to stay here until sunrise. Maybe meet a nice lady. Better than meeting the Ripper."

"'The Ripper'?"

Alfred smiled. "That's what they're cal ing him. Because he doesn't just kil , he butchers. I'm tel ing you, stay here for your own protection."

"Thanks," I said uneasily. I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay. The smel of iron hadn't lessened in my time in the bar, and I was growing increasingly sure it was emanating from the wal s and floor. The man in the corner kept staring at me, and I found myself staring back, trying to see any glimpse of fangs or blood-flecked chins. I could hear the women behind me whispering, and I wondered what they were discussing.

"Did Mary Ann . . . the most recent murder victim . . . did she ever drink here?" I asked hopeful y. If I couldn't find Damon, then I'd just do the next best thing and find out al I could about Damon's victim.

"Rest in peace," the barkeep said reverential y. "She was a good girl. Came in from time to time, when she had enough pennies for gin. This ain't a charity, and the girls al knew they needed to pay the proper fee in order to spend time here. It was a system that worked out. The locals left the girls alone while they were out on the streets, unless they were striking a bargain. The girls respected the rules of the bar. And now, everything's fal en apart. If I ever find the bloke who did it, I'l rip his throat out," Alfred said savagely, pounding his fist against the table.

"But did she leave with anyone, or was there ever a man you saw her with?" I pressed.

"I saw her with a lot of men over the years. But none that stood out. Most of 'em were the blokes who worked down by the docks. Rough types, but none that would do that. Those blokes aren't looking for any trouble, just a good pint and a good girl. Besides, she left by herself that night.

Sometimes, when there's too many girls here, they go out to the streets. Less competition," he explained, noticing my confused expression. "But before she left, she'd had a good night here. She had some gin, a few laughs. Was wearing a new hat she was so proud of. Felt like it drew the men over to her. The good kind, too, not the ones who only pretend to have money. I wish she'd stayed, God bless her," Alfred said, raising his eyes piously to the ceiling.

"And her body . . ." I asked.

"Wel , now, the body was found in Dutfield Park. It's where the ladies sometimes go when they can't afford a room. I don't say nothin', whatever goes on outside the premises ain't my business. But that's where he got her and slit her throat." I nodded, my mind racing back to one of the many overgrown squares of grass that dotted the area. The weeds, garbage, and peeling paint of the iron fences surrounding the parks al made the area seem more dismal than simple city squares.

"And if you are one of them newspaper boys, then I didn't say nothing. What's your name anyway, boy?" Alfred asked.

"Stefan," I said, taking a huge swig of whiskey. It did nothing to calm the dread in my stomach. A soul ess kil er was loose, and he would stop at nothing.

"Wel , Stefan, welcome to Whitechapel," he said, raising his second glass. "And remember, better whiskey down your throat than the murderer on it."

I smiled tightly as I held up a glass to my new friend.

"Here, here!" one of the drunk men at the other end of the bar said. I smiled at him, fervently hoping that too many whiskeys drunk at the pub wouldn't lead them al to their doom.

The devil you know is better than the devil you don't. The phrase floated into my mind. It was one that Lexi would often invoke, and it was one I'd only found to be more and more true as time passed. Because as horrid and soul ess as the crime was, if Damon had done it, at least I wouldn't have any other vampires to worry about. But the longer I stayed at the bar, the more another thought tugged at my brain: What if it wasn't Damon, but another vampire?

Down at the other end of the bar, Alfred had drifted into conversation with a few of the other customers. Rain pelted against the windows, and I was reminded of the fox den at the far side of the Abbotts' farm. Entire families of beasts huddled there, waiting for the moment when they thought it was safe to head into the forest. The unlucky ones would be hit by a hunter's bul et.

I glanced around again. A woman in a lilac dress al owed her hand to slide down a man's shoulder. The real question was, who were the foxes and who were the hunters? Al I could hope was that I was a hunter.

Chapter Four

The longer I spent at the pub, the more crowded it became - but there was no sign of Damon. I told myself I was staying to try to find more clues.

But the truth was, I didn't know what I could do. Stand outside the supper club? Plod up and down the streets of London until I happened to run into Damon? Sit in Dutfield Park myself until another attack happened? The last was the one idea I kept toying with. But it was ludicrous. For one, why would the murderer strike twice at the same place? For another, what would I do if I saw the murder? Scream? Cal the police? Find a stake and hope for the best? None of the options seemed ideal. And if the murderer wasn't Damon . . . wel , then I could be dealing with a fiend from hel . I was strong, but not that strong. I needed a plan.

I watched as customers poured in. Each seemed seedier than the last, but al were reassuringly human. Some men, the ones with cracked nails and dirty shirts, had obviously just gotten off their construction jobs, while others, reeking of cologne and furtively glancing at the women at the corner tables, were clearly there to consort with ladies of the night. And indeed, I couldn't help but notice each time a garishly garbed woman stepped into the tavern, the crowd surveyed her as if they were gamblers at the racetrack sizing up the horses.

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