Matthews stood on the Thames quayside and breathed in the night air. The stench coming off the river was foul, so thick in his nostrils that he could almost taste the raw sewage and refuse floating on the surface. He gagged.
There would be no more Constable Matthews, the riverside bobby. The judge had come through on his threat that afternoon and seen him stripped of his uniform, dismissed from the London constabulary.
Heavy boots tapped the cobblestones behind him and Matthews turned. The lamp above his head was broken so it was not until the person was within arm’s reach that he could see their face.
What caught his attention first though were the bright silver buttons reflecting points of moonlight on his navy blue overcoat. It was the constable, the one who had handed him the note earlier that day.
Matthews nodded to the man and he did the same, but neither one of them spoke. His hand slowly reached for the stout wooden truncheon stuffed into his belt.
But he was interrupted by the arrival of another man, one he recognised. It was a clerk from one of the trading companies, a studious and timid man.
A third arrived, this one unknown to him. He had the burly figure of a labourer, but a keen intelligence in his sharp black eyes.
More men came to join the group, from all manner of backgrounds. There were dockhands, overseers and academics. Some had grey hairs on their head and others had yet to grow their first stubble. A few were in rags, a couple in top hats.
Matthews felt the hand which gripped his truncheon grow cold and clammy. He could not hope to fight so many men if they intended him harm. But he still needed to know which was the murderer.
“Which of you men is Jack?” Matthews asked.
“I’m Jack.” The constable replied.
“Me, I’m Jack.”
“I’d be Jack.”
Thirty or more voices spoke the name that Matthews dreaded to hear. As they said it, his mind turned back to the bodies in the Black Flagon, heaped together and mired in blood. He heard the sound of thirty or more sharpened razors snapping open.
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