Chandler let himself into the cramped basement flat no more than a stones throw from Marylebone Station. Inherited from his father it was crammed with research books and materials that he had yet to organise. They were piled against the sides of the narrow hallway and threatened to topple over every time he squeezed by. He knew with a pang of sadness, that had his wife been alive she would never have allowed things to get this out of hand.
He went into the small room that served as a study. On a table a yellowed pile of paper, a manuscript entitled "WHO WAS JACK?" a novel by CHANDLER TRAVIS. More piles of research notes spilled onto the floor next to a laptop computer. Dust clung to the screen.
He picked up a book lying face down next to the computer "Jack The Ripper - The First American Serial Killer." Placed it on a shelf groaning under the weight of yet more books. The wall was festooned with cellophane wrapped newspaper clippings from the Penny dreadfuls of 1888 -- articles about Jack The Ripper. Another wall is covered with modern day articles from magazines and internet printouts -- all of them offering different theories about the Ripper’s identity.
Chandler trailed his finger over the clippings. Switched on the laptop. The screen flared into life. The cursor winked reproachfully halfway down a page. Chandler headed for the kitchen and procrastinated by making himself a cup of fresh coffee. He liked to grind the beans himself, that was at least something he could control in the mess he called his life.
He stared at the screen as if willing the book to write itself. He’d edited the pages his father had started and added a substantial amount of his own conclusions into the work. But it was still a murder mystery without a face. For over a century various authors and so called “Ripperologists” had expounded various theories both learned and farcical that had claimed to throw fresh light onto one of the greatest unsolved crimes of the last century. Films, documentaries and factual reconstructions had been shown worldwide, but none of them, in his opinion had added anything new to the debate.
Chandler took a sip from the steaming mug of coffee. Wiped the dust from the laptop screen with his sleeve. He’d reached a dead end, and like his father before him was struggling to make sense out of the vast amount of conflicting opinions laced with theories and archive reports that threatened to overwhelm him with their chattering voices. His great grandfather Edward Travis had been a cub reporter at the time of the Ripper and the family had inherited some faded notes and a few of the articles he’d written while covering the crimes.
Chandler had tried to decipher the faded pages of scrawled notes on yellowing paper but hadn’t made much progress. He knew deep inside why he wasn’t making progress – why he probably never would. His wife hadn’t approved of this particular trip down the rabbit hole of Jack The Ripper. She didn’t share his determination to get to the bottom of an obsession that had run through three generations of his family’s history. And although it was the part of his nature that made his career in the police force so successful, she found dealing with the present day pressures of modern policing enough.
Being surrounded by his morbid curiosity into an unsolved Victorian case on top of all his other work was asking too much. She’d wanted the flat cleaned up. The boxes of notes and books put into storage to create room. His study was to be turned into a nursery. They’d had fights and arguments over this decision, ultimatums had been levied. Either they go or...
They’d still been simmering from a particularly nasty quarrel that morning. The morning that had changed everything. It was her 30th Birthday. Once again the discussion about time passing and the ticking clock of motherhood had caused tempers to flare. His plans for an evenings outing had hung in the balance. He’d dropped Claire off at Kings Cross on his way to work. Her face cold and stiff to his peck on the cheek. Neither of them willing to back down.
He knew that by the evening things would have thawed out, and that perhaps with a bottle of wine and a takeaway from the Indian restaurant opposite they could reach a compromise and he could move some books around and show enthusiasm for the nursery plans. But that never happened.
On July the seventh 2007 his phone rang before he got to work.
A terrorist bomb had ripped through the early morning commuters between Liverpool Street and Aldgate. His blood had run cold at the news. But in one of those ironies that he would replay time and time again over the years she had missed her train. She rang him. Above the screaming and the chaos he learnt that she was getting onto a bus service that was replacing the tube system…she was safe.
Traffic was already a nightmare as he made his way through the back streets in an effort to avoid the worst of the jams. His phone rang again. There’d been an explosion in Tavistock square minutes from where he was…a bus had been blown up, a suicide bomber they thought. Every available member of the force was being pulled in. He rang Claire’s mobile. It went through to her voice mail. He tried again and this time the network was down.
He abandoned his car and ran the last few hundred yards towards the flaming wreckage of the bus. Its roof had been torn off. People were still trapped inside. Claire had told him the number of the bus she was on…she’d only mentioned it because it was the same as her age. As he raced towards the bus he saw its number and his heart stopped. The smoking remains of the roof had been thrown across the road but the number seared into his brain. Ignoring the shouts of the emergency services he flashed his warrant card, pushed past them and ran towards the twisted steel and flamesa
The passengers in the back had taken the brunt of the blast. There was hardly anything left of them. His nostrils took in the smell that he would never forget as long as he lived. His eyes searched the dark amidst the flames for something, anything. His foot trod on something soft.
He looked down. It was an arm. But it was what the arm clutched onto that shook him to the core of his being. It was a brightly coloured carpetbag. Just like the one he’d bought for Claire at Camden market the week before. His mind went into overdrive. Spewing out protective thoughts. Lots of people probably had exactly the same bag. And then he saw the wedding ring on the finger…the one that matched his.
They told him he’d run into the bus through the flames and tried to rip the red hot metal away with his bare hands. When they finally managed to drag him away from the site and take him to the nearby burns unit in St Johns Hospital he was badly injured and his mind was dislocated for months. Gradually he got over it, his wounds healed and his mind found a way to cope.
But now, sitting in the study, surrounded by his research and the accusing screen of his laptop he knew that he’d either have to solve the mystery or give up on it entirely to find any kind of closure over Claire’s death. He upended the mug, drained the last of the aromatic brew and wondered if he could delay things any more. A slice of toast…maybe a look at the papers. There was always a way to put the task at hand aside for another few minutes. He headed towards the kitchen and was staring at the bread crisping in the toaster when his phone rang.