"Another bloody Ripper murder," growled Detective Inspector Colin Wallis. "How many does this make now?"

"This brings it up to twenty-four, sir," one of his detectives said from the hall outside, where he'd been patting the constable unlucky enough to be first on the scene on the back. The sickly-sweet smell of vomit lanced through the tiny room, but barely made a dent in the overpowering scent of blood. Even the general stink of London wafting in through the open window couldn't suppress it completely, and didn't that just say it all.

Flecks of red, already fading to brown, were visible on nearly every surface, every piece of furniture. The wooden floor was sticky with it, and the bedding was soaked where the corpse lay on it.

The girl hadn't died well. Sometimes corpses just looked asleep to Colin, at least if you got to them before too much bloating had occurred. The Ripper's victims were never so lucky. This poor young woman looked like she'd suffered an accident in one of the factories Colin had worked in as a lad. There were numerous small cuts along her limbs, which increased in frequency towards the extremities until her hands and feet were nothing more than a mass of bloody flesh. There were much deeper and larger cuts in her torso – all the organs seemed to be there, this time, which was a mercy. Her face… well. The less said about her face, the better. Finally, a cheap table knife had been plunged into her heart, pinning a scrap of paper to the body. From the looks of it, it had been torn from a book, and Colin could see handwritten script on it.

Judging from the sheer scope of the blood spatters on the furniture, the vast majority of the cuts had been inflicted while the girl was still alive.

Colin had long since gotten used to that kind of thing after over twelve years with the Metropolitan Police Service, but he could see why the constable had felt the need to contaminate the crime scene with his breakfast. He'd still need a stern lecture from Colin about the value of a strong stomach and stiff upper lip, though. It was only a corpse when all was said and done, after all.

"Do we know who she is?" he said to no-one in particular, still examining the body. Another of his detectives answered.

"According to the landlord, she was the tenant here, one Aster Russel. Not much family to speak of. Mother dead years ago, unknown father, a half-brother that looked after her, which is why she was able to afford a room of her own at all. We'll send someone round to give him the news today."

"Hrm." As the lead investigator, that should really have been Colin's job, but it was well known in the Whitechapel station that Detective Inspector Wallis simply didn't do home visits. It wasn't like Colin didn't try, but he just didn't have the slightest idea how to act around grieving people. As far as he was concerned, once he'd told them his intention to catch the killer there wasn't anything more to be said. Personally, if Colin's loved ones had been killed he'd have been more comforted by the thought that the police were actually doing their jobs and working to collar the one who did it than by some meaningless platitudes and a pat on the shoulder.

Mind you, Colin would have had to actually have loved ones for someone to kill them in the first place. He didn't, partly for that very reason and partly because, well, he was too busy actually doing his job and working to collar killers.

There were a lot of them around lately. Whitechapel was, in Colin's opinion, an absolute hole. Overcrowded, noisy, filled with the underclasses and all the problems they imported from wherever the hell they all came from; no wonder everyone drank to forget their problems, which of course only made the whole thing worse. Colin knew a lot of his officers didn't share his opinion. He could hardly blame them – they hadn't been born here and didn't have any nostalgic memories to brighten their view of the place.

Shaking his head, Colin removed the table knife from the girl's heart, and carefully folded the piece of paper away into a pocket. He tapped his truncheon against the floor a couple of times, and the detectives and constables around the room and hall fell silent. When Colin addressed them, his voice was stern.

"Thank you all for coming so quickly. As I'm sure you've guessed, we're treating this as another Ripper case. I know it's frustrating to watch this devil rack up body after body, but every scrap of information we gain could be vital to eventually catching this man. Therefore, I want you to work as hard as possible on tracing the victim's last known movements. In a district like this, nothing happens without someone somewhere knowing about it, so keep digging. Check her work, her known haunts, her family… well. I don't need to tell you your jobs.

"If you find any leads – anything at all – you know where to find me. Do not attempt to corner this man yourself. He is certain to be armed and dangerous, and if our guesses are right may possibly be -" Like me. "Talented. If you find him, I want to be the one taking him down. I'm the only one with a shot of actually surviving the experience."

Plus there was no way Colin was going to let anyone else get that particular feather in their cap. The Ripper was his bloody target, and he'd put in entirely too much effort not to make the arrest himself. By the time he was through, no-one would remember Jack the Ripper as anything except Colin Wallis' ticket to Chief Constable.

When Colin had inherited his office from his predecessor, it had looked exactly the same as any other-

No, actually, that was a complete lie. Colin's old boss might have been a hero to Queen and populace alike, and would certainly be the head of the Metropolitan Police Service today had the Raging Russian not torn him in two, but the man wouldn't know what 'organised working environment' meant if you wrote it in the sky using one of his jetpacks. Colin had started excavating the piles of paperwork, accolades, and mementoes on every surface the day he'd moved in, and was usually pretty good about organising things. In this case, however, he'd decided that in order to really make headway he'd need a shovel, a wheelbarrow and probably a handpicked team from the Royal Geological Society, and had torched the entire lot out in the courtyard.

Now, it was neat, efficient, and exactly as Colin liked it. Once he'd really gotten started on settling in, the office resembled a workshop more than anything, although the old desk still took pride of place. It was a reminder of his predecessor, and besides the thing was too heavy to lift by three strong coppers. Colin half-suspected it was hiding more paperwork somewhere, but hadn't dared to check.

Colin's paperwork took up exactly two drawers – an in-tray, and an out-tray. There was a bit of dust on the bottom of the in-tray, actually. The rest of the space was filled with worktops done in sturdy pine. These in turn were filled with various tools, bits of wire, gears and cogs, and everything else a man of the more technical persuasion might need to build his various knick-knacks. Everything had a place, and there was a place for everything.

In this case, Colin was working with a special locked drawer that had recently contained, among other things, twenty-three scraps of card in a beige folder. These weren't forms or loose minutes or official statements; the drawer was in the 'evidence' cabinet and the folder had just two words on it:

Ripper Letters

In a minute the folder would contain twenty-four scraps of card, but for now Colin had all the scraps side-by-side in order to better compare them with the one found pinned to Aster Russell's body. First things first, then.

The letter was written on a post card, but hadn't actually been posted. It could have been picked up anywhere, the post offices were full of them. It had been addressed to 'Dear Boss' – meaning Detective Inspector Wallis, from context. The text was handwritten, in a looping style, using red ink (not blood – Colin had tested for that straightaway). The letters were quite large, and there were a few blots of ink on the page, but the penmanship indicated an educated man.

Three of the letters had been slightly separated on the worktop. These were the oldest, the card yellowing slightly and curling at the edges. The writing on these was slightly smaller, more neat, and these ones had been posted, although the stamps were almost falling off at this point. Besides that, they were similar – a letter from the purported 'Jack the Ripper', to 'Boss', daring the police to catch him and gloating about his crimes. The first three were more graphic but less philosophical, and spoke less directly to 'Boss'.

Colin had his theories, but without the man in front of him that was all they were. Sighing, he read the most recent letter again.

Dear Boss,

Oh dear oh dear it looks like Ive done another one what am I like ha ha. Sort of makes you wonder if you lot are even trying to catch old Jack I certainly didnt see no coppers around. Id hate to think you werent paying attenshun or maybe you have something more important to do? Aint it funny how the longer you leave me alone the more attenshun and fame you get for going after me and all. Im sure youre trying your best tho.

Still dont leave me alone too long or who knows what I might take it into my head to do ha ha. I can see your having a hard time so I left a few more clues this time around. Hope to see you soon Boss and Good Luck.

Yours truly

Jack the Ripper

If Colin had been younger, he might have been angry at the implication that he was deliberately drawing out the chase to further his career. These days it didn't register, although he made sure to confiscate the letters for his own personal examination as soon as possible. It wouldn't do to have the men spreading rumours. That kind of talk only hurt morale.

Stony-faced, Colin filed all the letters away into their drawer. Then, because it was no good just waiting around while his men investigated, he allowed himself a little time to indulge his Talent. It was no accident his office looked like a workshop. While the Whitechapel station had traditionally been the home of those Talented in engineering and the natural sciences, it was only after Colin took over as Detective Inspector that it started putting out devices that a normal copper could carry in his pocket on a beat.

He didn't like to do it too much, because to his mind there was no substitute for hard work and discipline. On the other hand, it did help reduce his workload significantly when PC Bloggs could send an entire bar fight to its knees with a single blow on his enhanced whistle, and send a telegram about the incident by dictating to his helmet.

So Colin carefully hung his jacket and waistcoat on the door, slipped an apron over his shirt, rolled his sleeves up and began to tinker. He was between projects at the moment, but the radio transmitters in his officers' badges had started wearing down, and a few had handed them in for repairs. Always work to do.

He didn't know how long he'd been at it when he was interrupted. He fought down the irritation he usually felt when someone got in the way of his work and snapped, "Yes?"

The red-faced lad, who'd just run up the stairs by the look of him, paused to catch his breath. "Sir! We've got a witness!"

"What?" The Ripper never, ever left a witness. It wasn't that he was some master planner, one step ahead of the police – it was just that the police hadn't ever found anyone who'd seen him in action.

Of course, Colin realised with a sinking feeling, maybe they'd have had more luck looking in the river. Just because the Ripper liked to make grisly exhibitions of his victims didn't mean he had to do it every time.

"The victim's boss, one Peter Somer. Saw her leaving the pub she worked at with some guy, he says. But… I dunno, it's weird, sir. That was as much as he said, then asked to see you. Wouldn't speak to no-one else, sir."

Colin was already pulling on his coat, and spoke while hurrying out of the police station. "I wouldn't have it any other way. Where's the pub?"

"Ten Bells, sir. Corner of Commercial Street and-"

"I know it. Hold the fort, will you, lad?"

Without waiting for a reply, Colin strode into the street and hailed a cabbie. Finally. Finally an actual lead, after months of nothing at all! He thumbed the butt of his truncheon where it swung at his hip. Oh yes, he was going to make the most of this.

The Ripper had made his first and last mistake.

The Ten Bells was, well, a bit of a dive. The wood-slat floor was sticky with spilled drinks and worse, the windows let in just enough light to illuminate the pipe smoke, and there was exactly one drink on offer, that being 'ale, warm and cheap'. It was the kind of place Colin would have gone for in a hot second had his local not been the also acceptably grimy Kings Stores on Widegate Street.

It was usually busy, even at this time of day. Mass unemployment and overcrowding meant that often people just didn't have another place to go. Well, they'd have to find another place for a few hours – Colin had cleared the place out so he could talk to Peter Somer in private, without worrying about the press or worse listening in. He had officers cordoning off the area, and a couple more providing close security, hovering somewhere nearby.

He sat across from the owner at a small table in the centre of the bar area. It wobbled slightly whenever the other man shifted his weight, which was often. Peter Somer was a stout man who'd clearly been fitter in his youth. Although his hair was thinning and his nose was ruddy, he had muscles in his arms like steel cable – from lifting kegs and stores, Colin assumed. Somer was constantly fidgeting and glancing out of the window, and though the room was cold in the February air he had beads of sweat in his forehead. More than once, he flinched when someone passed by, and clutched the arms of the chair he sat in.

Colin had seen quite a few nervous people in his time, even a few nervous witnesses. He hadn't seen any who were still on edge while surrounded by London's finest – under his own personal protection, even!

He regarded Somer with a flat expression and said, "I am Detective Inspector Colin Wallis. You wanted to speak to me. Talk."

Somer pulled at his collar and said, "Right. Right… I got a clue about the Ripper. Jack. Jack the Ripper. Him."

"That's what I'm here for," said Colin, carefully keeping his voice level. "What's the information?"

"Th- the clue is, not a doctor like the other one, but still a worker or flesh."

"I'm sorry?"

"Not a doctor like the other one, but still a worker of flesh."

Colin paused. "You're going to have to explain that a little better, Mr. Somer. Are you saying you knew a previous killer who was a doctor, and this Ripper is a separate man?"

Somer groaned and put his head in his hands. "Look, I can't- just, not a doctor-"

"Yes, thank you, I get the message," Colin interrupted, a hint of coldness in his voice now. He looked sternly over his spectacles at the other man. "We at the Metropolitan Police service take prank tips very seriously indeed. I'd advise you to think very carefully about just what you want to say."

By now Somer's face was ashen, and he gaped uselessly at Colin. After a moment Colin prompted, "Well?"

"N- n-"

Colin sighed. Clearly something was up beyond the usual problem of a flaky witness. Most witnesses were either only too happy to give out far too many details in the hopes of being helpful, or else were the hard-bitten criminal sort that stayed tight-lipped. What didn't happen was witnesses repeating a single specific phrase to the exclusion of everything else. There was something else happening here.

"Mr. Somer. How about we try this another way?" Colin offered as kindly as he could manage. "Start from the top. How did you come by this piece of information? What were you doing? You don't have to give me any more clues if you don't want to."

Somer looked slightly sick. "I- I can't. I'm not allowed."

That set off alarm bells. An idea started to form. "Not allowed? By whom?"

"No, no, no..." the man whimpered.

Connections were being made now that Colin knew what to look for. "You've met him? You've met the Ripper?" The serial killer had clearly made an impression. Somer was all but hiding under the table and sobbing.

"What did he tell you? What did he look like? When was he- God's grace, man, pull yourself together!" Finally losing his temper, Colin slammed his fist down on the table and pulled the landlord upright by his collar.

The man's face was a mess by now, eyes red from terrified tears. He took a shuddering breath and said, "I'm not allowed- he said- my family, he had pictures-" He almost broke down again, but stayed steady this time. "He, he said I had to give you the clue. N- Not a doctor like the last one, but still a worker of flesh. Jack the Ripper said you had to get the message. Had to be you. Not just the police. He made me say it again and again so I'd remember. He hurt me if I got it wrong. Then he left with- with poor Aster..." He squeezed his eyes shut, and shuddered.

Well. That changed things. Someone who could confirm the Ripper's identity if necessary, a positive witness linking him to the last known location of one of the victims. All they needed was to calm him down and get him talking about the man who'd threatened him, get a description, maybe take in some likely lads for a line-up.

"Mr Somer," said Colin slowly and calmly. "I need you to listen very carefully. I understand you've been through an awful ordeal, but the important thing is that you are safe now. Do you understand me? The police can protect you, from the Ripper or anyone else. We can protect your family. With your help, we can put this madman behind bars where he belongs, and stop him from hurting anyone ever again. But we need you to be a man and face your fears. Think about his victims. Think about Aster. Do you really want to let this devil roam free a moment more when you could do something to help catch him? Good God, man, you may be our only hope!"

Somer stared up at Colin with something approaching awe. He said, in a very quiet voice, "You promise you can protect me? You can find where he's keeping my boys?"

"I give you my personal guarantee that the Metropolitan Police Service will do everything in its power to help," said Colin solemnly. "You don't even need to go home if you don't want to, we can put you up in one of our cells until we've caught the Ripper." Yes, there was not a chance on God's green earth that Colin would let his star witness slip out of his hands if he could help it.

Slowly, the stout man nodded. "O-Okay. I'll help." He looked down at himself, seeming to notice for the first time how much he was trembling. "God's truth, I'm in a state, ain't I? Can I have a moment to freshen up before I start? My bathroom's only upstairs, won't take a mo."

"Go," said Colin. Somer gave a grateful nod, and went upstairs. Colin checked that his security cordon was still in place, and one of his constables followed him up.

The other came and sat down in the seat the pub owner had just vacated. "Reckon he'll give us anything useful, guv?"

Colin scratched his beard. "Usually, I'd say it was hard to tell. He's clearly terrified, not thinking straight. That has a way of muddling descriptions to hell and back – scary people seem taller, that sort of thing. And I'd wager he's had a stiff drink or three before I got here, am I right, Roberts?"

His detective nodded. "Like a fish, he were."

"From the colour of his nose, not the first of the day either, I'll wager. So most of the time he'd be dashed near useless as a witness. But in this case..."

"He's all we got?"

"He's all we have, yes. I suppose we have our answer as to how the Ripper never seems to leave a witness – he simply scares the bottle out of anyone who might get close enough to see him at work. We only have as much as we do because he deliberately decided to leave a clue. His poor luck that Mr Somer believed, in the end, more in the power of the law than the knife of the criminal."

"Beats me how one man can be that scary," Roberts said in hushed tones. "I mean, if it were something like the Dragon Triad I could understand. But a single killer? No matter how good he is, he's no match for us, eh guv?"

Colin lowered his voice. "I've suspected for a while that the Ripper may be Talented, as a matter of fact."

"He never is!"

"So I believe. I think it's something subtle – not something the Crown would notice or get involved with. Just enough to make it difficult to get evidence we'd expect to see in a normal killing, and enough to be terrifying beyond belief to someone who's never seen a Talent before. Well, I suppose we'll get the details from Mr Somer."

"Yeah, if he ever gets ready. And here I thought my missus took a… while..." The two men looked at each other, then at the stairs.

Colin was faster to his feet, knocking the table to one side as he sprinted from a standing start. Across the floor, up the stairs, along the corridor in less than five seconds. He rounded the corner-

Blood, bubbling from the slit in Peter Somer's throat. Blood, in a spreading puddle from the slumped form of the constable who'd gone with him. Blood, all over the clothes of a figure ducking out of the open window.

He dropped down into the streets a fraction of a second before Colin pressed a button on the handle of his truncheon. Lighting lanced into empty air, and Colin cursed.

No! He was not catching his first glimpse of his foe just to let him slip away! He accelerated, making a running dive through the window truncheon-first, like a mad fencer's lunge. The second the truncheon emerged he felt a jolt through it, so hard he damn near dropped the thing mid-leap. What in blazes? He hadn't heard a gunshot.

As he landed and rolled, he caught sight of the running figure, and a glint of steel. Colin sprinted after it, taking a moment to inspect his beloved weapon. There was a long groove in it about half-way up the length, as though someone had taken an axe to it. Colin shook his head, and focused on his quarry.

As a policeman, there was a minimum standard of fitness that Colin was obliged to maintain. The fitness instructors were utter fanatics about the importance of fresh air and exercise.

These instructors thought Colin took his physical training a bit too far.

He practically flew down the narrow streets in pursuit of the Ripper, feet pounding, arms pumping. There wasn't a man on the force who could outrun him, and he'd never met a criminal yet who he couldn't run down and capture.

Jack the Ripper was, somehow, staying ahead. He wasn't that he was all that quick. He wasn't bad at all, but Colin was definitely the faster of the two. But the killer used the streets and alleys and passageways like he'd been born in them, and Colin could never quite get a clear line of sight. Whenever he rounded one corner, there the other man would be, just ducking round the next. All he could see was brief glimpses of someone running just as hard as he was, and the occasional flash of bright metal.

Oh, and the blood.

Wherever the Ripper went, people bled. Colin could just about see him take a wild swing backwards every now and again – and whenever he did, there were screams as anyone nearby suddenly sprouted long, gaping cuts. As he rushed past and leapt over the bodies and the wounded, he noticed that they looked almost like blows from a sword. Was this the Talent that had chopped a gash in his truncheon from half a street away?

On they ran. The Ripper seemed to be heading roughly south and west, although he made so many twists and turns it was hard to be sure. After a while he ducked into an unlocked housing block, and slammed the door behind him. Colin skidded to a stop, and kicked it down. Some instinct made him raise his truncheon in front of his face, and another gash appeared in it as the Ripper disappeared up the stairs.

Colin could see him sprinting up, taking them two at a time, and smiled. Standing in the centre of the stairwell, he raised his truncheon, and twisted the butt a quarter turn to the right. The last third sprouted hooks, and shot off with a hiss of released gas, trailing a thin and light metal cable behind it. The grappling hook attached to the top floor bannister, and Colin was pulled up the stairwell. He'd drawn his revolver by the time he drew level with the killer, and aimed a shot-

It was struck from his hand in a shower of sparks as the Ripper fell back into an apartment, slashing with knives in both hands. Colin cursed and vaulted the bannister, releasing the hook with another deft twist. Just before he entered the apartment he paused, and plaster flew from the wall next to his ear as a gash appeared there. Colin flattened himself against the wall next to the door.

Reaching into a pocket, Colin pulled out a small brass canister. He tossed it round the door frame into the room, and closed his eyes. A loud whumph noise came from inside as the flashbang went off, and Colin charged in. He saw his quarry over by the far window, pulling his fingers from his ears, and aimed his truncheon. Not enough power for another lightning bolt, but the end popped open and a gunshot rang out.

The Ripper was already diving out the window onto the fire escape, and Colin cursed. The man's reactions were too damn quick, and Colin was running out of tricks. But he was so close. We wasn't giving up now.

Colin clambered out onto the fire escape, and shot up it as fast as he could. He blocked another opportunistic long-range knife strike from the Ripper as he crested the roof, and then straightened up, breathing hard but relaxing. Across the roof, not fifty yards away, the Ripper did the same.

The man had finally made a real mistake. There was no other way off this rooftop, and the street was four stories below. Colin allowed himself a nasty smile as he got a good look at the man who'd made his life hell for the last five months.

He wore simple and cheap clothes – hard-wearing cloth trousers, white cotton shirt with the sleeves up, and a butcher's apron. Did he work in an abbatoir, maybe? They fit well and were well-pressed, but they were all peppered with flecks of blood. The apron was covered in it, soaked in for so long it looked stiff. The man himself was almost as tall as Colin, but slim. He didn't look malnourished like a lot of whitechapel's underprivileged, either – some way or another, he'd been eating well. Colin forced himself not to think about that.

His face wasn't what Colin been expecting. A lot of criminals had a certain toughened look to them, from a lifetime of fights. A broken nose, at the very least. The Ripper looked almost boyish, despite the brown goatee on his chin. He grinned at Colin, and twirled a knife.

"Well, well, boss, ain't I in a pickle?"

Colin's voice remained hard. "Surrender yourself to the Queen's justice, and I promise you a fair trial, and, God willing, a swift and painless drop to mark your end. It's more than you deserve."

The Ripper tutted. "Nah, you don't want to do that to little old me! Not when you was having so much fun chasing me. Don't say you wasn't, I seen you run past all them poor devils I left for you on the way. One of your own, even! And you a policeman as well… what kind of copper just lets people die in the street, eh?"

"If I stop you, it's better in the long run. Don't try and hold some moral high ground when you're the one that cut them up in the first place, Ripper."

"Call me Jacky." The Ripper bowed. "At your service, boss."

"That your name?"

"Nah, nah. But I'm making better use of it than the last chappie, ain't I? He had the right idea, but no vision! In the end, all his book learnin' did him no good when I sat him down to have a little chat about his legacy. So I took his name, took his style, and carried on his game of having a laugh with the police."

"I'm not laughing, Ripper." Colin tightened his grip on his truncheon.

"I told you, call me Jacky. An' of course you're not laughin', coz you was bleedin' useless at the game! I may not be as lettered as you or the last chap, but I ain't stupid. I got no plans to meet my maker just yet, so I tried my best not to be caught. Like a fool, I thought you'd try your best to catch me, but apparently you ain't never played cops and robbers as a kid. I watched you draggin' your heels, getting' nowhere, and said to myself, Jacky, if anyone's gonna help the poor bobbies out it's gonna be you. So I decided to have the fat man send a little message, little place to start looking. Of course," his face turned sour, "he couldn't even do that right, could he? Sometimes I just don't understand people. I know you know what I'm on about there, boss."

"You know nothing about-" Colin stopped and forced himself to calm down. "Actually, no. I'm here to arrest you, not to debate you. Surrender, Ripper. You're wanted dead or alive. I don't particularly care which, but I'd prefer a confession, trial and execution to us putting together the pieces after the fact."

The Ripper smirked, and twirled his knife, strolling around the rooftop seemingly lost in thought. "Oh dearie me. And here's me without an exit and all. I could try and cut my way out… but you're a bit of a tough cookie, aincha? Nah, what to do, what to do?" He paused suddenly, and stood still, right at the edge. "Oh, here we go. See ya next time, boss."

Then he held his arms straight out to the sides and fell backwards off the roof.

"No!" Colin barked, and shot forwards, but it was too late. He reached the edge so quickly he damn near fell off himself, and looked down.

The dark waters of the Thames looked back, and Jack the Ripper was nowhere to be seen.

Next time: Victory on the Victory