Jack the Ripper in the Wild West
The saloon doors swung shut and a new person entered the establishment to no particular fanfare or even notice. Whorehouse music filled the room, and in a corner Rancher Pete had one of the regular girls all but pinned up against a wall.
It had been years since Pete was a rancher, before what he called the government men had come and taken his ranch away from him, forcing him to make money the dishonest way. Challenging gunslingers to duels and then collecting what was bet against him at best, outright pillage at worst. He had an ugly wound covering half of his face which some said was a birthmark, though not in his hearing. He said that it was a burn from when the government men torched his ranch.
The way he told the story, he’d risen from the flames like the broad-winged bird of myth, a pistol in each hand to execute the lousy bastards as they tried to turn on their horses and gallop away, bullets tearing through the thick Louisiana cotton of their overcoats.
Neither he nor the girl he was currently monopolising noticed the approach of well-heeled black shoes, more accustomed to a dance in Regency Essex, of the Old World, than the aching timber of a saloon in 1890s Texas. A gloved finger tapped Rancher Pete on the shoulder. ‘I say, old chap, may I cut in?’
The girl, decked out in the cheap imitation finery of a Moulin Rouge can-can dancer, sidled a touch towards freedom. She was all bosom and collarbone, trussed like a ham, presumably on the assumption that she was, therefore, less likely to escape the dinner table. Pete looked at his questioner. He saw a pomaded British dandy carrying his top hat in one hand and a large leather doctor’s bag in the other.
The man’s face hadn’t seen a ranch in its entire existence, let alone ranch work. Pete spat and uttered an obscenity at the interloper. He started turning back to the girl, convinced that whatever insanity had encouraged this cream puff to approach him had now passed. But then he felt the grip on his forearm, the one he was using to block the girl’s exit. The pianist kept playing and everyone kept drinking and smoking and playing cards, but the noise perceptibly dimmed.
‘Come along, old chap, be a sport’ said the Englishman, stiff with opprobrium but smiling slightly at the left corner of his mouth. ‘This might be the West, but surely we haven’t forgotten how to behave in front of women?’ Pete answered this with a grab for his pistol, planning to shoot this crazy wuss in the gut before turning his face into hamburger.
The Englishman replied with a kick to Pete’s gunslinging hand, crushing it against the piano and forcing the player to stop, temporarily. The gun rattled out of Pete’s grip and with the grace of a dancer the Englishman spun him around by his forearm, broke that arm with a sickening crack, and cut short Pete’s scream when he picked up his gun and shot him through the back of the head. The legendary ex-rancher’s birthmark/battle wound exploded like a cyst, spraying blood, bone, and gore across the trousers of a stunned card player.
‘My dear fellow!’ the Englishman exclaimed, pulling a clutch of dollars from his coat, ‘I do apologise. Here, take this, please. But a token of my thousand apologies.’ He stood and addressed the wary crowd, mostly long-bearded men who lived and worked locally and had never seen a man who looked or sounded like the Englishman. ‘They teach you how to execute like that on the farms’ he said jovially, ‘so as not to get innards on your outards, as my father’s valet used to say.’
No one moved to retrieve Rancher Pete’s remains. That was until the Englishman turned to the girl, the pianist resumed playing, and a couple of bartenders picked Pete up. They slung him through the batwing doors, not turning to look once his flesh was out of their hands. The Englishman turned to the girl, who was eyeing him with renewed interest. ‘I hope I didn’t leave many grieving friends?’
‘Of Rancher Pete? Everybody hated him. Go to the bar and you’ll probably find six drinks lined up on your behalf, free of charge.’
‘Not a popular chap, then?’
The woman looked him up and down, letting the full brunt of her seductive Texas drawl into her next sentence. ‘Not as popular as you right now, sugar. Care to go upstairs with me?’
‘I’d love to, dear lady, but I must ask if you’re always so accommodating to men who’ve just taken a life in front of you?’ She grunted and turned her head to spit into a brass spittoon, but then thought better of it. ‘Do you know what that cheap cowpoke was telling me before you tapped on his shoulder?’
‘He told me I’d be just as pretty dead as alive. That it was all the same to him.’
He introduced himself as Jack and she led him upstairs. The cold blue night crept in through the woman’s window, which was open despite the extreme chill in the desert air and, Jack presumed, risk of intrusion. ‘Bloody Nora!’ said the woman, noticing the window and going to close it. ‘I let her get ready in here. Nora’s not her real name, of course.’ Jack plopped his bag on a rickety davenport, on which a vanity mirror was placed, and which observed his gloved hands as he undid the bag’s shining silver clasp. The woman lit a fire in the hearth, rubbed her hands above it. ‘And what would be your name, my hostess for the evening?’ said Jack.
‘You can call me Mary.’
‘Mary’ said Jack. As if he hadn’t known. He exposed to the light a seemingly bottomless maw of surgical instruments, metallic and maintained to a point where they flashed like silver. He selected a thin scalpel and pushed it up one sleeve. ‘I knew a girl in London called Mary.'