“So, all of it was a lie?” My quivering voice betrayed me as I confronted him.
He stood there, silent, with his eyes avoiding mine. The light from the candle behind him gave his whole appearance a mysterious shadow. God only knows what would happen if anyone saw me standing in a young man’s home unaccompanied, although society's cage was far from my mind.
“Edwin! Look at me and tell me this all hasn’t been a lie?” I didn’t care who heard me call him by his Christian name because I was furious.
“Clara, please, this isn’t how I meant it to happen.” His voice was so small compared to his usual confidence.
“How did you mean it to happen then? Were you just going to pop over for some tea with my uncle and me and tell the story of how you are the one who was robbing the cemeteries all this time?”
“I had a good reason,” he said, looking up to finally meet my eyes. There was dirt on his nose and normally I would have taken the excuse to touch him, but this time I couldn’t. I felt betrayed and confused as we spoke.
“What kind of reason could you possibly have for digging up the dead? Actually, I don’t want to know. What I’d rather you tell me is why you lied to me all this time.”
“I didn’t lie to you, I simply never spoke the truth.”
“Does that make it any better?” I screamed at him and immediately regretted it. He winced at my words, hiding his face from me once more, “You were the first person to believe that I wasn’t weak just for being born a woman. You let me go along with you to solve this case and yet you were the one we were chasing this entire time? Was any of this real?”
His head shot up and he made to reach out to me but I backed away, unsure of how I felt towards him now.
“I let you work with me because I knew you could handle it. You aren’t like those other girls who sit around gossiping at their tea parties. You want to help the world and don’t care if you get your hands dirty while doing it. I admire that about you.”
“This isn’t what I meant by getting my hands dirty.” I tried to hide my sweating palms in my skirts, “Why help with the investigation then? Why even bring me on with you?”
“No one suspects the one investigating, except you, however. I truly am sorry, Clara.” He held out his hand again, waiting for me to take it with his apology. I shook my head at it, “I don’t want you calling me by my Christian name any longer. You have lost my respect, and the right to my name, with it.”
“Clara—Miss Thompson,” I could tell it pained him to speak to me like any other man on the street, “I was only doing this for you. I can prove it.”
“Why would you think I would want any of this?” I swung my hands out, motioning at the blanket covering the freshly dug up cadaver on the floor.
He took a deep breath, “You said your birth mother was a victim of Jack the Ripper, yes?”
I paused, unsure of where he was going with this, “Yes. She was murdered when I was sent to live with my uncle just last month. What does my personal life have to do with any of this?”
“I have only been digging up Jack’s victims. I must admit, I thought that I was clear of your suspicions when you suggested that it was The Ripper back at it again.” His old, arrogant self was slowing making its way back to the surface as he spoke. His eyes shone with equations and puzzles as he began to piece everything together before filling me in, “Even though these bodies have suffered much having been buried a month or more ago, I’ve still been able to gather some clues.”
“What clues did you find that no one else was able to spot when the bodies were only days old?” I started putting my anger aside, knowing he wasn’t going to let me leave without explaining himself.
“He wanted to be caught, Cla—Miss Thompson. He wanted to be remembered only we were too dull to figure it out.”
“How do you mean?”
He lifted the body up onto the table and unfolded it from the blanket. I held back tears as I looked down at the decomposing body of my mother.
I was grateful that Edwin didn’t give me too much time to dwell on this, “I hadn’t seen it at first but look here on the rib bones,” he pointed through what was left of the flesh at a bone, “Do you see that carving there?”
“How did you discover this?”
“After focusing on the missing organs, I realized that those were part of something else. These carvings were simply for the fame that would come with them. I haven’t had much time to study the carvings to fully read them.”
I sighed, looking away as it was all becoming a bit much. I took a deep breath before turning back to him, “What does this have to do with me?”
He finally turned away from the rib bone and looked up at me, seeing the pain etched across my face. He stepped around the table and stood in front of me, “I couldn’t help seeing who you became after she was taken from you. You didn’t fight your uncle when he decided to find a husband for you. You become obedient to society and left your true self to rot. I know the real you. I have been by your side since childhood and I know we don’t come from the same social standards but I still care for you with all of my heart. I wanted to help you help your mother. I’m sorry if keeping this from you made you feel as if I had lied to you.”
He searched my face when he finished, holding in a breath. I took a moment to think it over. The empty graves were a minor thing in the police eyes. They were still looking for Jack the Ripper even though he had been gone for a month with no trace left. Edwin had good intentions, he always did.
“You do understand the predicament this puts me in, don’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
I sighed, “I either keep this quiet and lie about knowing information about this case, or I turn you in.”
We stood in silence for a moment, the weight of the past month weighing heavily on our shoulders.
“Give me tonight.”
“Give me tonight, to prove myself to you that I only meant good. To prove that it would be better to not turn me in.”
His eyes pleaded with me to give in, and I couldn’t help feeling I should, “Alright, but only because these carvings might actually lead somewhere.”
He smiled that sideways grin and pulled gloves on, “You won’t regret this.”
Before I knew what was happening, he yanked the carved rib from my deceased mother’s body with a loud cracking sound, “By God, have some respect! That is my mother!”
“Sorry, just a bit excited is all.”
I almost laughed at that, falling back into our bantering routine.
We got to work quickly, writing on parchment the letters we could make out before cleaning the bone. With neither of us properly sure what would happen to the bone if we used any sort of chemicals, we wanted to be safe. Once cleaned, we found a magnifying glass and held it over the bone. I gasped, “Is that a name?”
“It is indeed.” You could hear the wide grin in his voice as he realized what we had just discovered.
“I recognize that name! That’s the man they found dead by the river just two weeks ago!”
“So Jack is dead?”
I looked back at my mother, not easily recognizable in her current state, “You said you think he wanted fame from all of this?”
He nodded, reaching over to pull the blanket back over her lifeless face. I let a small smile escape to my lips as I thought, “What if we kept this discovery to ourselves?”
“Why would we do that?” He seemed as confused as anyone would be after hearing that. Even a small part of me wasn’t sure where these thoughts were headed. I grabbed the bone in my hand and stared at the name, “If this monstered wanted to have his name remembered, let’s take that away from him. Just as he took the lives from those women.”
“I like the way you think, Miss Thompson.”
We spent the rest of the night cleaning up any evidence of the bodies and the discoveries. I had completely forgiven Edwin from lying to me as we stood over my mother’s grave. All we had to do was fill it up, hiding The Ripper's true identity under the dirt. We were the only two people in the whole world who knew Jack the Ripper’s true name.