Letters Editor Chaim Mattis Keller, aka Legion-Reference-File Lad, is a computer programmer who lives in New York City with his wife and four children.

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"The Case of the Reborn Ripper"
A Star Hawkins Mystery
by Chaim Mattis Keller

"I hate London," complained Ilda. "The local television shows are stupid, and I feel myself getting rustier with every second we remain here."

I smiled a bit, knowing that my robotic secretary was exaggerating, as her skin was well rustproofed. Still, there was little I could offer to brighten the gray mood that hung in the dank London air other than, "Well, we can't turn down a well-paying job. I know that you don't like being pawned any more than I like being broke and having to pawn you."

Ilda sighed electronically. "Yes, but you must be the only detective in the Solar System who doesn't consider a murder case closed once the murderer is caught."

"Come now, Ilda," I scolded her. "Surely you understand that "Slasher Sam" Colby was nothing more than a tool, just like his knife. Someone set him up for those murders, and the woman we were hired to protect…which is our real job, Ilda…isn't safe until we figure out who did that."

Ilda remained silent, probably out of frustration. I didn't blame her. We'd been in London for two weeks already, and I could swear that Pluto receives more sunlight. What had seemed like a simple hunt had blossomed into an intriguing but time-consuming puzzle.

The crimes had started almost a month ago, on August 31, 2088. A woman named Patricia Neumann was assaulted, her neck cut almost totally through with a knife, and her abdomen severely mutilated late at night in a park on the grounds of the apartment building complex where she lived. The elaborate electronic security had recorded nothing. People were appalled by the act and concerned over how it could have happened, but it was thought to be an ordinary crime.

Eight days later, however, their opinions were changed. In the same complex, another murder and mutilation took place. The victim's name was Ann Cornwall. When news of this came out, most residents feared, correctly, that a serial killer lurked amongst them. However, only a few sharp-eyed observers connected that with the significance of the name of their home, Whitechapel Towers.

One of those showed up in my office a week later. "I'm scared for my sister," said Ellen Chin. "Her name is Miya Kiriyama, and she lives in Whitechapel Towers in London. I want to hire you to protect her."

This was not an unusual request. I'm a private detective by trade, name of Star Hawkins, operating out of New City, North America, Earth. But many people assume that a detective will take on any job that involves crime prevention, even jobs that could be handled by an ordinary bodyguard. Fortunately, in this instance, she was correct. I was flat broke, deep in debt, and willing to put up with any misconceptions that would improve my cash flow. "What makes you think she's in danger?" I asked.

"You haven't heard about the return of Jack the Ripper?" she shouted, incredulously. "What kind of detective are you?"

My ears perked up. Jack the Ripper! His identity remains one of the greatest criminal mysteries in all of human history. If I hadn't already been intrigued by the prospect of earning some cash, I certainly would have been by that. What a tantalizing challenge this would be! Exactly two hundred years earlier, the gruesome killings of Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes and Mary Kelly threw the citizenry of the most powerful nation of the time into a panicked frenzy. For decades afterward, the name Jack the Ripper was feared the world over as a clear and present danger, as the murderer was not known to have ever been caught or even identified. Now, of course, the murderer is presumed long dead and the incident is a historical footnote to all but serious scholars of criminal history, such as myself. Suddenly this was not a mere bodyguard job, but a true test of detective skills. "Ma'am, I stay current about local crimes, but I can't cover the world. Please, tell me more."

In response, she pulled out a printout of a British newspaper with the headline "Ripper Returns!" The story that followed described, in rather a sensationalistic manner, the murders of the above-mentioned two women. Patty Neumann was killed on the exact bicentennial of Polly Nichols's murder, and Ann Cornwall two hundred years to the day after Annie Chapman. Ellen correctly deduced that her sister, who shared her initials with Mary Kelly and lived in Whitechapel Towers, was a strong candidate for a similar fate.

"What are the police doing?" I asked.

"Nothing, as far as I can tell," she said. "They're acknowledging the problem when asked about it privately, but aren't saying or doing anything publicly as far as I can tell. You would think the police would warn the potential future victims. But my sister hasn't heard anything from them, and she thinks that as long as the police say nothing, she's in no danger! That's why I need a private eye."

"I'm on the case," I told her.

Two days later, Ilda and I were in London. Scotland Yard was now nothing more than the British Isles Division of the National Science Center, Earth's national law-enforcement agency, but it still felt special to be standing there as some of my literary idols of years past had. I spoke to Officer Nigel Jackson about the case. "Are these newspaper accounts true?" I asked.

"Mostly," he admitted. "We tried to downplay it in the press to avoid a panic, but this one…" he slapped masthead of the printout that Ellen Chin had given me, which I was holding in my hand. "Robert Marstock is a publisher from the old school of British tabloid journalism, and if he sniffs a whiff of potential in a story, he'll sensationalize it as much as possible."

"But isn't the article right?" I pointed out. "The correlations between these murders and those of Jack the Ripper can't be denied."

"And we're not denying it," said Officer Jackson. "That's why we're so calm about it; we have until September 30, the date of the next Ripper killings, before we need to worry about another killing by this guy."

"So what do you think?" I asked. "Could it really be the Ripper himself, still alive after all these years, or reincarnated?"

"No way," he replied. "Even if I believed in reincarnation, which I don't, this guy is nothing more than a poor Ripper imitator. He's got the superficial details of the Ripper murders correct, but he doesn't have the kind of surgical skill the original had. The real Jack the Ripper dissected his victims and carefully removed the organs he wanted, for whatever twisted reason he wanted them. This one just hacks up his victims, presumably to bring the Ripper case to peoples' minds. The real Ripper was fixated on prostitutes. This one will take any woman, as long as she's a Whitechapel resident…again, just to make people think "Jack the Ripper"."

"Got any suspects?" I asked.

"Yes, one, and he's a pretty solid one as well," said Jackson. He went to his computer terminal and produced a copy of the rap sheet for Samuel "Slasher Sam" Colby. Colby had apparently been a jailbird for a while, having been arrested for several thefts and murders during which he had used a knife as a weapon. During his jail term Colby had begun to consider himself a reincarnation of Jack the Ripper, and, as his ravings to the effect grew more and more disturbing, he was marked for transfer to an asylum for the criminally insane. However, en route to the asylum, the vehicle transporting him became disabled, and Colby escaped.

"He's still at large," said Jackson. "One other thing about him is that he grew up in a state-run orphanage. His mother was a prostitute, and he was taken from her upon her arrest. The prison psychologist, Dr. Fen-Yu Kee, thinks that the abandonment issues related to this incident have given him an antipathy for prostitutes or at least prostitution, which in turn led to his identifying with Jack the Ripper. The only thing we can't figure out is how he got onto the grounds of Whitechapel Towers. There's recorded holographic footage of all people who enter the complex, and he's nowhere to be seen on it. But that's a minor detail; when we catch him, I'm sure we can find out from him."

"What exactly happened to the transport vehicle? Could Colby himself have sabotaged it?"

"One of the air intakes became clogged. Normally, the filtration systems handle things, but tiny things often get through, and it's not a problem. What got through this time…and I'm sure that Colby was responsible for it, since he's the only prisoner who managed to escape at the time…was a tiny wad of insulating foam that expands to enormous proportions when moistened. When we pulled it out, Colby's saliva was absorbed in it."

"Where could he have gotten the stuff from?"

"There's no shortage of it in the prison; it's what they use for insulation. It's not kept in a high-security area, since the stuff is soft and unusable as a weapon."

"How could he have gotten it into the intake?"

"Now there's a good question," Officer Jackson said. He brought up a schematic diagram of the prison transport vehicle on his computer screen and pointed to it. "Our best guess is that he slipped it through that vent, which is closest to the air intake that got clogged. Considering the forward velocity of the transport, there's a high possibility that it could have gotten sucked in. How he knew this, we're not sure. I suppose he could have gotten lucky, or learned about vehicle mechanics from a book in the prison library."

I thanked the officer for being so open. He waved it off. "Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Hawkins," he told me. "If anyone can help us find him, you can." With that kind of encouragement, how could I possibly fail?

Ilda and I returned to our motel room. She had brought along some files from the office that needed to be organized, and I had some phone calls to make. "Lemme talk to Slinky," I told the bartender who answered my call.

My man was brought to the phone. "Who is this?" he said suspiciously. "Slinky" Dan Rader was a zip (* 21st-century slang for criminals) who I had apprehended several years back. He was amongst the less violent criminals who I'd brought in, and while he was in jail I had visited him a number of times and bought his trust. I got him released on parole with the agreement that he would secretly act as my stoolie, and I never regretted the arrangement, even though he couldn't keep himself from committing a few infractions since his release. Playing both sides of the fence understandably made him very nervous.

"It's Hawk," I said, using a name we had made up to keep our connection secret. "I'm in London."

"Bit out of your way, ain't it?" he asked.

"Whatever keeps the bill collectors from the door," I responded, hastily adding, "legally, of course. I know that you worked a few jobs on this side of the Atlantic. Do you have any contacts in the underworld here who'd be willing to give me some information?"

Dan thought about it. "I know a guy who always had his ear to the ground and might be willing to help you, but not if it's known that you're a cop. His name's Ali, and you can usually find him praying in the East End Mosque."

"Thanks, Dan," I said.

"Don't mention it," he said, and he meant it literally.

I turned from the telephone to find my secretary taking a break from her filing and watching the television. "What are you watching?" I asked her.

"It's a late-night show rerunning an old local program from the late twentieth century," Ilda said. "A crime drama of some sort. A fraud case in which a con man has sold a dead bird as alive. I don't find it very suspenseful, though."

"Well, I'm stepping out to make some inquiries, so take care," I told her.

I left to find Ali, but, not being familiar with the man's religious customs, I was unaware that I wouldn't be able to find him in that location at night. I returned to the motel. "So, how did the show end?" I asked Ilda.

"Very strangely," she said. "A large, crude hand-drawing of a human foot came down from the sky and apparently crushed everyone. No real resolution to the plot at all."

"Stick with the familiar programs from now on," I advised. "Much of what made sense a hundred years ago would seem to be something completely different today."

The next morning at daybreak, I disguised myself and found Ali at the mosque. Pretending that Colby owed me a debt, and slipping him fifty credits, I showed him the picture of Colby and got him to give me the name of someone in whose company Colby was often seen. This man, a lowlife known only as Rat, I found in a seedy bar.

"Yeah, me 'n' him used to be real thick," said Rat. "But he's gotten weird. It's one thing to rob people for money, but after he got out of prison, he was talking about being Jack the Ripper or something…it was just too creepy for me to deal with. I've been steering clear."

"Do you have any idea where he might be?" I said.

"Don't know, and don't want to know," he said nervously. "You find him, let me know where he is so I can get away from there."

"Was there anything distinctive about him, that set him aside from other people?"

"Well, he used to cut peoples' throats with a knife and take their money," he offered helpfully.

"Besides that," I said. "Did he used to hang out with you here?"

"No," Rat said. "He preferred another joint down near the docks. Said they made a better Martian Googolplex."

"Well, that's a help," I said. I thanked Rat and set off in search of a bar in that area that served the drink. Colby wasn't to be found at any of the dockside bars, but I contacted food and drink critics from local tourist guides and newspapers and received the names of several other bars in London that were known to serve particularly good ones. I returned to Ilda, who had once again finished her day's filing and tuned into the television, this time displaying a number of people running back and forth across a large field kicking a ball.

"What's this?" I asked her.

"Some sort of arty dance show, I think," she told me. "My artistic appreciation circuits aren't one hundred percent accurate, but I think the choreographer is trying to symbolize the futility of life. See?" she said, pointing at the screen. "They never get the ball in the net. And then the next movement begins."

"Well, if you can bear to part with your newfound entertainment provider, I could use your help. We need to patrol these locations, and two sets of legs are better than one."

"Fine by me, boss," said Ilda. The two of us worked out a division of territories, and we spent the next few days staking out those bars. Finally, I spotted Colby at one of my locations. This time, Jack the Ripper had been caught! The thrill was unbelievable!

Colby, when caught, flashed his knife at me and looked at me with an insane leer. "You think you've caught Bloody Jack, Old Boss, but I still got seven of the evil women. I cut out their sinfuls, I did, and you only got me once!"

I didn't even bother trying to answer his ramblings. Before he could make a move, I stunned him with a blast from my gun. Knife creeps are so easy that way.

After we received special commendation from the National Science Center and payment from Mrs. Chin, I went to Rat and thanked him for his help. "But," I asked him, "if you knew what he was like, why did you hang out with him in the first place?"

"He wasn't like that until he was in prison for a while," Rat told me. "He was just an ordinary mugger. I don't know what got into him. Maybe he really was possessed by the ghost of Jack the Ripper or something."

I was puzzled. "You're trying to tell me that he never considered himself a follower of the Ripper beforehand?"

"He sure never mentioned it to me," said Rat. "As far as I knew, he didn't even know that Jack the Ripper ever existed beforehand. I sure didn't until he busted out of prison and started talking weird to me."

"Interesting," I said. What, I wondered, could possibly have caused this murderous historical obsession? Did he read about the murder in prison, perhaps?

My curiosity piqued, I headed down to the maximum-security prison where he had been held before his intended transfer. I spoke to the prison librarian, who denied that it could have come from a book. "We don't allow any books detailing crimes in here," she told me. "These people are already criminals, and that would only feed their anti-social tendencies. Anyway," she continued, punching some keys on her computer, "your boy never checked anything out of this library. For all I know, he could have even been illiterate."

That's when I realized that there was no way Colby's transformation from knife-wielding robber to criminal avatar could have happened on its own. Someone triggered this in him, and must have fed him all the details of the Ripper crimes, including names and dates, just to fan the spark of whatever low-level mental imbalance he had into a raging inferno. On top of that, the technical knowledge necessary for his escape couldn't have come from the library, since according to the librarian he never checked anything out. Someone else wanted the Ripper murders to be repeated.

Three women were still in deadly danger.

"So the way I see it, Ilda," I said, "Someone convinced Slasher Sam that he was Jack the Ripper returned to life in order that one or all of these women be killed. The only person who could possibly make such a scheme work would be someone who could have arranged for his release."

While Ilda headed back to our motel, I went back to Scotland Yard to use their computer files to find out who fit that criteria. The police referred me to the district attorney, who explained to me the procedure for transferring a prisoner to an insane asylum. "On the first of every month, the board meets," he told me. "The board is composed of three people: the local judge, who authorizes the legal aspects of the transfer, the prison psychiatrist who determines whether or not a prisoner is mentally disturbed, and the prison chaplain, who determines whether or not the prisoner is spiritually disturbed. In Colby's case, those three are Judge Anton Marter, Dr. Fen-Yu Kee, and the Reverend Scott Paulson, respectively. At such a meeting, they introduce candidates for evaluation. Any such candidates are intensely scrutinized over a two-month period, after which a report may be filed and a determination made. According to the filed documents, Colby was placed under evaluation on the first of June and the decision to transfer was made on the first of August."

"Can I see those documents? Are they full details of the meetings?"

"Sure you can see it, but no, it's not detailed," the D. A. said. "The meetings are kept pretty informal, and no specific comments are recorded unless a reporter thinks something newsworthy is about to happen and comes to record. The only official documentation is the report of the business transacted at the meeting." He showed me a copy on his screen.

"Thanks," I told him. I left with my suspicions heightened. The timing was too precise for Colby's escape and crimes to have been accidental. In order for Colby to properly imitate the Ripper murders in his style, the first killing had to be on August 31. If his transfer would have been suggested any later than at the June meeting, and approved any later than the August one, this whole thing could never have taken place.

I returned to Ilda. "Plug yourself into a data port," I ordered her. "We've got some leads to follow up."

"Sure, boss," she replied. After a series of clicks and beeps from her head, she told me she was ready for input.

"Okay," I told her. "Compile a list of every woman who lives in Whitechapel towers that have the initials P. N., E. C., E. S., C. E. or M. K.."

"Got it."

"Now, search the news databases for any of those names linked with either Judge Anton Marter, Dr. Fen-Yu Kee, or the Reverend Scott Paulson and compile a report on any articles."

Even for a robot like Ilda, a search that comprehensive took a while. Finally, she said, "I've got two hits for you."

"All right, let me have them. In chronological order."

"Last year, there was a scandal in the church that centered around Reverend Paulson. He was suspected of having an affair with Patricia Neumann…"

"Colby's first victim," I interjected.

"Right," she replied, and she continued. "Both of them denied any impropriety, and no one could prove that they had done anything wrong, but to keep his position, he was forced to swear that he would no longer have any contact with her."

That one sounded promising, I thought. If he was guilty, and for some reason, he thought the woman might begin to talk, then he has a motive for killing her. And working on the prison grounds gave him plenty of opportunity to talk to Colby, telling him everything he'd need to know about Jack the Ripper to imitate the murders. "Okay, now give me the other one."

"The other one is the judge. He's running for the parliamentary seat representing his district, and he's being opposed by another judge, named Corrine Evans."

"A political assassination?" I mused aloud. "I doubt it. Anyway, the judge doesn't work within the prison. Still, it's an angle to work on. All right, secretary of mine," I said. "Let's talk to some people. Set me up an appointment to speak to Dr. Fen-Yu Kee about this case."

"Dr. Kee?" she asked, puzzled.

"Sure," I smiled knowingly. "Whoever plotted to turn Colby into the Ripper had to be the one who brought up his name as a candidate at the meeting on June 1. If our two suspects are Paulson and Marter, then Dr. Kee is the man who's most likely to tell me truthfully who that was."

So the following day I found myself in Dr. Kee's office. As I was waiting to see him, my eye wandered over to his bookshelf and I noticed two books on Jack the Ripper. My first thought was that he got these books in order to examine Colby's case. But a closer look showed me that those books were actually written by Dr. Kee himself. I flipped through one of the books, which was an attempt at conducting a psychological profile of the Ripper, using recently-discovered analytical techniques.

"So, you like my book?"

I jumped. I had gotten so engrossed in the book that I didn't even hear Dr. Kee walk through the door behind me. "It's fascinating," I told him. "I didn't know you were a Jack the Ripper expert."

"Oh, I'm a Ripperologist from way back," the prison psychiatrist chuckled. "What you're looking at there was my first attempt at a doctoral thesis. It didn't make the grade, but it made a good book. And, of course, when you publish anything it raises your standing in the professional community."

We sat down. "Why wasn't this accepted as your thesis?" I asked Dr. Kee.

The doctor's face turned sour. "My examiners were, in my opinion, unfairly demanding," he said. "They insisted that while my analysis was methodologically correct, my conclusions couldn't be truly proven unless Jack the Ripper's identity were known."

"And that's impossible," I offered.

"I tried," said Dr. Kee. "I practically begged Scotland Yard to open up their Ripper files. They denied that any secret files even exist, but there are too many statements that imply that the police had knowledge of the perpetrator. In the end, I couldn't get them to help me. I had to do a thesis on a different topic, although, as you can see, I maintain a high degree…no pun intended…of interest in the matter."

"So with your interest in the subject, finding Sam Colby in your charge must have made you very happy."

"Well, I don't think anyone could ever truly be happy at the thought that anyone believes he's destined to imitate a psychopath," the psychiatrist replied. "But I must admit, much of what I understood about the original Ripper was true of him as well."

"Providing some sort of validation for your thesis, eh?" I asked.

Suddenly, Dr. Kee's face turned red. "If you are implying, Mr. Hawkins, that I have manipulated a patient in order to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, you will have to defend yourself in court," he said. "That is a gross violation of professional ethics, and I will not hear myself accused of it!"

I backed down. "I never meant anything like that," I said, in as conciliatory a tone as possible. "I was merely wondering if you were vindicated after all."

"Yes, I was," he said shortly. Obviously, I had touched a raw nerve. "Do you have any other questions that do not accuse me of driving my patients insane?"

I decided to try my luck. "Just one," I said. "At the June meeting, during which Colby's case was recommended for review, who brought him up?"

"Judge Marter," the doctor answered. And our interview was over.

"So," I later told Ilda, "it looks like the good doctor is a potential suspect after all. We were concentrating on the victims, but didn't look at the big picture: the Jack the Ripper murders themselves. Dr. Kee may be looking for some form of academic vindication. Perhaps he was even hoping that once word of the "Reborn Ripper" murders got out, he could raise a public outcry for Scotland Yard to release the secret Ripper files from two hundred years ago, furnishing him with information he's coveted for years!"

"Then why wouldn't he have done so before now?" asked Ilda.

"Because the copycatting would be meaningless if not for the fact that it's the bicentennial," I replied. "This crime couldn't be performed any other time this century."

"So what's our next step, boss?"

"Well, if we're not sure we can trust Dr. Kee's word, we'll have to interview the other suspects as well. I guess we'll start with Judge Marter, since he was fingered by Dr. Kee, and then we'll talk to the Reverend. In the mean time, we should check out some other angles as well."

"Such as?"

"How did Colby enter and exit Whitechapel Towers undetected? According to the news articles and the police, there are video cameras at every possible entrance. And how did Colby learn what he needed to know in order to escape the transport vehicle? It had to be the manipulator who arranged these things."

"What do you want me to do?" asked Ilda.

"Set up meetings for me with the judge and the chaplain," I told her. "Also, get me someone in security at Whitechapel Towers. If the complex is as tightly watched as they claim it is, I can't believe there isn't some sign of him…or, we'll find the hole in their security."

Judge Anton Marter was a very busy person. "I can only give you five minutes after court," he told Ilda. "After that I have three publicity events to attend…that's life on the campaign trail."

So I made sure to be there on time. As the judge was changing from his judicial persona to his political one, I casually asked him, "So, how's the campaign going?"

"This is off the record, right?" he asked.

"I'm not a journalist," I assured him. "And I won't tell the press anything."

"Badly," he told me. "When I decided to get into this, I thought I had a way to contribute my skills to the people in a more effective way than as a judge. If I had known what politics was really like…if by some miracle I get elected, I don't know if I'll have enough energy or idealism left in me to truly help anyone."

"That bad, eh?"

"Worse. I guess I was naïve to think that a campaign could truly focus on the merits of the candidates' positions. But they've attacked me so personally, so viciously…I'm already bitter at the world. To a degree I've already lost."

"I'm not local, so I haven't followed the campaign. But surely you knew that if you had any skeletons in your closet that they'd come out now."

The judge threw up his hands. "If only I could blame myself for having done something foolish in the past. Then I could explain myself! Or repent publicly and beg for forgiveness! Do you know what they did?" I remained silent and let him rant rather than answer the obviously rhetorical question. "They held against me the fact that my brother is an embezzler! That Evans witch and her sprocking allies are telling people not to vote for me because of his sins! And it's working!"

A heavy silence hung in the air for a few moments. The judge was just about ready to leave, and I realized my five minutes were just about up. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring up a painful subject. One quick question before you have to go…at the June 1st evaluation board meeting, I heard that it was you who brought up Sam Colby's name. Where did you hear about him and his Jack the Ripper fixation?"

"Scott mentioned him in passing during a phone conversation the night before the meeting," the judge replied. "Sorry I can't spend more time with you, but if I'm going to get any votes at all, I've got to be downtown in ten minutes." And the two of us parted company.

The "Scott" who the judge had been referring to was Reverend Paulson, who I met with the next day. "How are you?" he greeted me, shaking my hand and offering me a seat.

I liked him immediately. "I'm fine," I told him. "Yourself?"

"Okay, I suppose," he said. "What's on your mind? You wanted to know about Sam Colby, the Reborn Ripper, I'm told."

"That's right," I replied. "Do you believe in reincarnation?"

"I believe that some souls which haven't completed their missions on Earth might be sent back to complete them in some manner. I don't believe it occurs to everyone, as Hindus or Buddhists do."

"Do you think Colby could have truly been a reincarnation of Jack the Ripper?"

"Beats me. I'm not a medium, and I'm not a hypnotist who does past-life regressions. I'm a minister, a spiritual…counselor, if you will. I read what's in the Bible and try to inspire people to live by that."

"What if someone was truly a reincarnated spirit, whose mission on Earth conflicted with what the Bible says is the right path for people to take?"

"I don't believe that's possible," said the Reverend, looking upward thoughtfully. "The Lord gives everyone their mission, and the Lord gave us the Bible as a guide to helping us find our true peace. When I speak of a mission, that's what I'm referring to. Not whatever Earthly concerns a man invents in his mind while traveling the world."

"So you essentially don't think he could be Jack the Ripper reincarnated."

"Well, it's possible that the Ripper's soul is within him, but I can't believe that killing people is part of that soul's mission on Earth."

"Not even the killing of sinful women, such as prostitutes?" I asked, remembering Colby's line about cutting out the women's "sinfuls."

"I hadn't thought of it that way," he said thoughtfully. "Jack the Ripper killed prostitutes. I suppose that could be interpreted as a mission. Punishing women who violated sexual morality. Hmm."

I saw an opening. "And was Patricia Neumann in violation as well?"

The mere mention of her name was enough to bring him back from his musings. "Most definitely not," he said, his face red. "Patty was not a sexual sinner."

"Then you wouldn't mind telling me about your relationship with her?" I goaded him.

He quickly regained his composure. "Of course not," he said, only sputtering a little. "Patty was one of my parishioners. One Sunday, after a sermon, she came to me and asked some questions about it. She exposed some logical flaws in my speech."

I interrupted him. "Logical flaws? I thought you just tried to be inspirational."

"No one can be inspired through anything less than full honesty, and spiritual truth and intellectual honesty go hand-in-hand," the minister explained. "If I can't find a logical basis for what I am saying, why should other people follow it? Patty had the clear logic and incisive sense of reasoning to see where I had gone wrong. As a result of that meeting, I began to make a renewed effort to keep my sermons logically correct. After she had found flaws a few more times, I decided to take her as a partner in reviewing and preparing my sermons. We met twice every week, on Sunday nights to review my most recent sermon and on Friday nights to hash out the next one. We'd discuss and debate for hours."

"But then the relationship grew into something more?"

"Absolutely not!" the Reverend denied. He pointed his finger in my direction and said "I never had sex with that woman, Ms. Neumann. Never!"

"Then what was all the fuss about in the church?" I asked.

He mellowed a bit. "Well, the appearance of impropriety was definitely there, I must admit. I was alone with her and completely impossible to reach at those times; the debate wouldn't have proceeded as well if we allowed any interruptions. However, our relationship was purely intellectual. She was an incredible debater, and I really miss her."

"Her death must have hit you hard," I said consolingly.

"You couldn't imagine," he said with a sigh. "I still give sermons every week, but it doesn't feel the same without that sharpness of logical clarity that my debates with Patty lent them."

My eyebrow raised just a slight notch. If this was an effect of her death, then he must have continued seeing her up until she died…despite the vow to stay away from her that he swore. I kept silent on that, believing that this card was better kept in the hole. So I changed the subject instead. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring up painful memories. Let's get back to Sam Colby. Where did you first hear about him?"

"Dr. Kee mentioned him to me at the June 1st meeting," he answered.

I was surprised. "Dr. Kee?" I asked. "He had led me to believe that the judge brought up Colby's name first."

"Oh, maybe he did," said Reverend Paulson. "I took a brief…ahh…break at one point. When I returned, Judge Marter…err…stepped out, which is when Dr. Kee mentioned him."

This answer caught me completely off guard, and my inquisitive mind was suddenly a blank. "Thank you," I told the Reverend, and I returned to my hotel.

And now, here I was with Ilda walking toward Whitechapel Towers in the hopes that Ilda's ability to analyze data could provide us with a clue as to how Slashing Sam got into the complex undetected, and somehow thereby tell us which of our three suspects set him up. Each one had a possible motive for wanting to see Jack the Ripper murders recreated. And each one fingered a different one of them as the source of the information that led to Sam Colby's escape, which enabled the murders. Two of them had almost constant access to Colby, since they worked in the prison. One of those, the Reverend, was definitely a liar about a key aspect of his potential motive. Yet these suspicions didn't truly amount to proof, and wouldn't…unless I could figure out how the mastermind was able to ensure Colby's escape and undetected access to Whitechapel.

The head of security greeted us with the video footage we asked to see. I handed Ilda the tapes and told her to analyze them thoroughly. "It's reasonable to assume that Colby entered the complex within a day before his killings, and he had to have entered it through one of the entrances watched by these cameras. Make sure that the tapes don't contain any anomalies. If there's a single second on that tape which doesn't seem like it flows smoothly from the second before it, note it."

"What about the time between changing tapes?" Ilda asked.

The security director waved it off. "There's no time that tapes aren't running," he answered. "Five minutes before the end of a tape, the system automatically detects it and begins the next tape, so you get a few minutes of duplicate footage, but no break."

Ilda opened a compartment on her torso and inserted the first tape. I chatted with the security director as she went through it, and then through the second and the third. Mid-way through the fourth tape, she jumped slightly. "I think I found something, boss."

"Excellent. Could you show it to us?" I asked.

She hooked up a monitor to one of her data ports. We saw the camera looking at a blank doorway. We watched it for about three minutes, noticing nothing, when Ilda said, "There it is!"

"There's nothing there," the security director said. "Hawkins, what's wrong with your robot?"

I hate when people doubt Ilda's abilities almost as much as when they doubt my own. "Nothing," I hissed at him. "Could you explain what we aren't seeing?" I asked Ilda.

She was silent for a moment and then said, "Now I see. Here, let me re-run that footage better." She did so, and sure enough, there was a sudden jump in the minute details of the scene. Specifically, I noticed that the shadows around the doorway, which were cast by the sun, suddenly became about a half-inch longer in an instant. She explained what she just showed us. "When you told me that the end of one tape and the beginning of the next had an overlap, I set my internal scanners to filter out the duplicate footage so it would seem more continuous. This jump is the result of about fifteen minutes being duplicated on the tape, a one-minute segment being played over and over. When the tape is in continuous motion, it's harder to notice the jump, since these details are still moving in minute amounts, although they're moving back and forth rather than in one direction. When the duplicate moments are filtered out, the difference is obvious."

I shot the security director a smug look, then turned to my robotic secretary. "Excellent job, Ilda!" I exclaimed. "Obviously, Colby got his hands on some sort of device that gets video systems to re-receive the last minute of input over and over. While the security camera was re-recording a minute of an empty doorway, Colby walked in undetected. Now we just have to figure out who could have given him that."

As we left Whitechapel Towers, she said, "I'd guess the same person who gave him the technical details of the prison transport vehicle," Ilda said. "The odds against Colby meeting and befriending two different people with technical talent while in prison are pretty high."

"Good thinking, Ilda!" I said. "If one of them supplied Sam Colby with what he'd need to carry out his mission, there must be some trail of it. Ilda, we've got some sleuthing to do. I'll go back to the prison to see if I can find anything in Dr. Kee's office or Reverend Paulson's study. You go to the courthouse and see if you can somehow get into Judge Marter's office."

As I headed for the prison, I decided to make Dr. Kee my last stop. It occurred to me that if the Reverend knew of a way to slip in and out of Whitechapel Towers undetected, that could explain how he managed to visit Patricia Neumann even after his vow without being caught. Since the prison officials already knew me, they let me through without bothering to verify that I had specific business there. I headed for the chapel and slipped into the Reverend's study. I nosed around for a while, flipping through a bookshelf full of church publications, but they all seemed pretty innocent. Unfortunately, I didn't look quite that innocent when the minister himself barged in on me. "Star Hawkins!" he shouted. "What the hell are you doing in my study?!"

"Easy on the language, Reverend," I said nervously, biding for time. "This is a church." My eyes scanned the room to see if there was anything helpful I might discover before being thrown out of the room…and worse, out of the prison before I could even check out Dr. Kee.

"Don't you tell me about proper conduct in a church, you two-bit snoop!" he yelled at me. "How dare you break into my study?!"

His indignation was justified, and I had to quickly defuse that. "You should know about breaking things. I thought oaths were sacred. How could you break yours not to see Patty Neumann?"

Suddenly, he was on the defensive, as I had hoped. "I…I…that's no business of yours!" he said, weakly.

"It certainly is," I countered, my eyes still scanning the room, "when she turns up dead shortly afterward, and one man whose career she could greatly damage helped release her killer from prison! And speaking of shortly afterward, just how shortly are we talking about? When did you last see her?"

The righteous anger drained out of his face and was replaced by a shocked sadness at the thought that he might have been partially responsible for his dear friend's death. He was silent for a few seconds as the concept sunk in. "The night before she died," he whispered. "I saw her the night before she died."

I felt somewhat sorry for him, but I knew I had to press on with the inquiry. "Surely that wasn't the only time you broke your oath to not see her."

He regained some of his composure, but he remained visibly shaken. He sat down at his desk and put down the piece of mail that he had been holding, and, as he put his head in his hands, I grabbed it and looked at it. "No," he answered my question. "I tried to get by without her, but my sermons truly felt like they were missing something when I prepared them without her. I felt like a complete hypocrite getting up in front of my congregation and saying them without being sure if I was totally convinced of their truth. I couldn't continue to do that and keep my job, so I decided to risk it and meet with her secretly. To make people not suspect that we had resumed, we changed the nights on which we met. Mondays and Thursdays instead of Sundays and Fridays. She was killed on August 31, a Tuesday night…I had seen her just one night earlier."

"Does this have anything to do with how you got in and out of her house secretly?" I asked. I was pointing to a page in the catalog that he had received in the mail, which he was holding when he came in. It was a catalog of personal security devices, which every employee of the prison apparently received on a regular basis, and it contained a listing for an image scrambler, which would create video interference. As a detective, I was familiar with such devices, but I wasn't sure if they worked on the same principle as Colby's device did. It made a good starting point for inquiry, though.

"What?" he said, surprised. "No, I didn't dare risk meeting her at her apartment. We held our debates in a room at a nearby Trappist monastery. We knew they'd never talk."

I didn't think he was lying this time.

I called Ilda before going any further with the investigation. "How's it going with the judge?" I asked her.

"Not so well," she confided. "There's too much security in the courthouse for me to sneak into the judge's office."

I thought about how we should go about investigating him. "Well, make sure to follow him wherever he goes," I told her. "Maybe he's going somewhere he doesn't want to be seen."

"In the middle of a political campaign?" she pointed out.

"Well, maybe not," I conceded. "But shadow him anyway. At the very least, if we have questions for him, we'll know where he is. After court, he's constantly running around from one campaign event to another."

After I hung up with her, I called the company which made the video scrambler that appeared in the Reverend's catalog. "Will this make me invisible on video?" I asked the company's representative.

"Virtually," she said. "If you're carrying this, a slight burst of static will appear in your place. You'll be detected, but no one will know it's you."

That didn't sound like the device Colby had used. I decided to describe it to them and ask them if they knew who produced such a thing.

"We'd heard that one of our competitors, Vidshadow, Inc., had such a device in development," the company's representative told me. "I don't know when they expect to bring it to market, though."

I thanked her, and hung up. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dr. Kee walk past, indicating that he was not at his desk. I decided to call Vidshadow later, and take advantage of this opportunity while I could.

The prison psychiatrist had many technological books in his office, but all of them appeared to be related to brain scanning and conversational analysis and other necessities of his profession. However, I noticed that he left his personal day-scheduler open on his desk computer.

I quickly did a search on the word "Vidshadow." The word appeared in his address book with a contact number for them. I looked at his appointments to see if the number was referenced, and it showed a note on the May 15 daily schedule for him to call that number for information on something he referred to as "H. M." That day's to-do list also had a mention of discussions with his publisher about a third Jack the Ripper book. As I wondered what that "H. M." might be and whether it was connected to the Ripper incidents, I heard him returning. I quickly switched his day-scheduler back to the month-calendar view that was visible when I first saw it, but since I had been looking at a May appointment, the calendar for May, 2088 came up. Something about it nagged the back of my mind, but I had no time to think about it now. I switched it back to the current month and slipped out as secretly as I had slipped in.

I called Ilda again to see if she could find anything about the judge. "I'm following him right now," she told me. He's been walking in a straight line down this street for a long time. Hold on," she said. I heard someone in the background yell, "Watch where you're going in the street, you crazy robot!", to which she replied, "Well, don't drive on the sidewalk, moron!" Then she returned to me. "I still see the judge right in front of me, walking straight."

"Well, keep it up," I told her. I wondered briefly why she'd be disputing right-of-way with a vehicle, but shrugged it off. Londoners drive on the wrong side of the street; maybe Ilda had gotten confused.

I placed a call to Vidshadow, Inc., using the number I had seen on Dr. Kee's computer. "Sentient Being Resources," the person answered.

Was someone in that department Dr. Kee's contact for procuring the video-jamming technology? I couldn't afford to ask them, then. "I'm sorry," I told them. "I meant to call Research & Development. Can you transfer me to them?"

The person from Sentient Being Resources did so, and I asked the new person on the line about a device to cause repeated reception of a recent video image. "That's in development," their customer service representative told me.

"When's it expected to come to market?" I asked.

I was transferred to the head of engineering, who answered my question. "We no longer have a timetable for that," he told me. "The engineer who was heading up the project was fired, and the prototype and his notes haven't been seen since. We're sure he stole them, but we haven't been able to press charges."

"Why not?" I asked, curious.

"We were already suing him for having embezzled a ton of money from the company. He was getting approval to purchase twice as many units as he actually ordered and was pocketing the difference. We had proof of that, but not of our theft accusations, so our lawyers agreed to pursue the embezzlement and not ruin the case by making unprovable accusations. In fact, I've probably already said too much. Our lawyers don't like us talking about the case publicly."

I tried to thank him, but he had already hung up.

I called Ilda again. "Are you still following the judge?" I asked her.

"Sure," she said. "He's still walking down this street, in a straight line."

I was surprised to hear bubbling and swishing sounds in the background. "Ilda, are you underwater?" I asked, puzzled.

She hesitated. "My aural and tactile sensors do seem to indicate that," she told me, surprised. "But I don't see any water, or fish, or anything like that."

After a moment's thought, I suddenly realized what had happened to her. "Ilda, remember when we were in the security office of Whitechapel Towers? How you were able to filter out the duplicate visual data?"

"Yes," she said.

"Can you turn that on your own visual sensors?"

"Sure," she said, a second before exclaiming, "Great circuits! How did I get stuck at the bottom of the river?!"

"Your visual sensors kept playing back a minute's footage of the judge walking in a straight line," I said. "I'm going to turn on my homing signal. I don't know where I'll be for the next few hours, but track me and meet me there."

As I rushed to the nearest phone, I thought of the information I had gathered over the past several days. The judge had to be the liar. He said that Reverend Paulson had called him the night before the June meeting and told him about Sam Colby. But May 31 was a Monday, which I had subconsciously registered when I saw the May calendar on Dr. Kee's computer…that night, the Reverend was discussing the Bible with Patty Neumann. Once I knew who the puppeteer pulling Sam Colby's strings was, the rest fell into place. "Marter campaign headquarters," the person on the other end of the line responded.

"Hello," I said. "Can you tell me where I can find Judge Marter at this time?" I asked.

The campaign worker looked up his daily schedule. "Judge Marter is scheduled to be speaking to a group of ministers right now," I was told. I got the location and headed right there. On the way there, I stopped at the offices of a local newspaper. I looked up some articles which confirmed my suspicions and explained the "H. M." at Vidshadow on Dr. Kee's computer and I printed them out. I got to the meeting hall while the judge was speaking. I heard him say, "My opponent has tried to brand me as soft on crime! Don't believe her! I had my own brother put in maximum security…that's how much I care about the rule of law!"

I pushed my way through the crowd and onto the stage. "That's how much you care about committing murder, you mean!" I said. This statement drew a collective gasp and one individual surprised "Star Hawkins?" from the audience.

The judge backed away from me. "I didn't murder anyone! You don't know what you're talking about!"

"Thanks, but this time, I'll judge my own sanity," I said, as I held up the printouts of the newspaper articles I had just gotten. "Your brother, Horace Marter, was convicted of embezzlement…a crime for which people would normally be imprisoned in minimum security. However, once Corrine Evans began to use his crimes against you, you decided the only way you could beat her in the election would be if she were dead. Inspired in casual conversations with your friend Dr. Kee, who was writing a new book about the Jack the Ripper killings of two hundred years ago, you hit upon the idea of getting her killed in a Jack the Ripper copycat crime. You pegged Sam Colby as a plausible hitman and you knew that the video-jamming device that your brother stole from his former employers at Vidshadow could get him past the security cameras. So, under the guise of being very tough on crime…which, if I dare say so, is a disgusting bit of political calculation…you sent your brother to the maximum-security facility where Colby was held, to manipulate Colby into thinking of himself as Jack the Ripper reborn and to feed him the technical information necessary to allow his escape. You and Horace also arranged a place where you could meet Colby after his escape to give him the video-jamming device when he'd need it."

The murmur of crowd started to get louder. The judge said, panicked, "To hell with the election! I knew I'd lose anyway! But that witch Evans destroyed my career and debased the name of my family, and I'll have my revenge on her yet!" He ran for the exit of the stage.

I was about to try to catch up to him, but he was stopped before I could move…by Ilda, who had finally caught up with my homing signal. The judge, realizing he was right in her line of sight, smiled, took a device out of his pocket, aimed it at Ilda, and backed up in my direction. "You can't catch me, robot!" he taunted her. Suddenly, instead of backing up in a straight line, he jumped to the side.

I then realized that he had just used the video jammer to make Ilda think he was continuing to walk straight backward, in the expectation that she'd grab me by mistake. But my robot secretary was a step ahead of him the whole time, and she grabbed him instantly. "Since the last time you tried that on me, I've been filtering duplicate images out of my vision," she told the captured culprit.

The room was abuzz. "Does this mean that we'll have to vote for Evans?" one of the ministers wondered aloud.

Judge Marter, despite his capture, remained defiant. "No!" he said. "Don't do that! She and her dirty, slanderous tricks drove me to this! She doesn't deserve your votes!"

Murderer though he was, I had to agree with him. As I tried to think of a solution, I scanned the crowd and saw a familiar face…and the answer to the voters' dilemma. "No, you won't have to vote for Evans," I said. The crowd fell silent and turned toward me, wondering what I was thinking.

"You'll just have to replace the judge as your candidate," I told them, "and I know just the replacement. He's a man of such high ethical standards that he risked his career to serve his clients as well as he could. He's a man whose mind cannot be contented with any concept that he's not convinced is absolutely true." I fixated on one specific face, and it looked back at me. "Reverend Scott Paulson, will you please join me up here?"

"M…me?" he said, meekly. "You want me?"

He climbed the stage and approached me. I spoke to him quietly. "You told me that your sermons seem empty without Patty's input," I said. "You need a change of career. In Parliament, you'll be forced to thoroughly debate every point that you wish to get across. What better place for you?"

"But I have no public-policy experience. I have no campaign platform," he protested.

"Look over the judge's platform and see if you agree with it," I told him. "Decide on issues as they come up. Stick to your own convictions. As for experience, you have the experience of working with people both in the regular world and inside the prison system. Now you'll work for people on a larger scale."

"It doesn't matter to you that I broke my vow?" he asked me.

"I trust that you did nothing improper," I said, patting him on the shoulder. "And the monks won't say anything. You've lost your taste for sermonizing. Maybe that's not your mission on Earth, but this is. Go ahead, give it a try."

And he took the stage and declared his candidacy.

Epilogue:

It was four more months before the victorious candidates for office, including Reverend Paulson, were installed. I returned to London for that ceremony and sat down next to Dr. Kee. "Where's your robot assistant?" he asked me.

I thought of Ilda, who was currently in a pawn shop to solve my cash-flow problem. "She stayed home. Prefers the weather there. How's our little project going?" I asked him.

"Quite well," he said. "It's rather amazing how well we're able to collaborate on the book, considering how we got off on the wrong foot last autumn."

"Circumstances change," I agreed, hoping that I'd see some royalties from Jack the Ripper: Bloody Bicentennial. "And I'm sure it helped that my police contacts got you some new information. So do you know who the Ripper was?"

"That information was too highly classified. I don't think I'll ever see it, I'm afraid. But it beats not even knowing whether or not it exists. On top of that, there's an intriguing parallel between the case you had solved and the original Ripper that what they did tell me revealed. It's the reason why the police were so open with you when you were looking into the crime, why they thought you were the best hope for solving it."

"Oh? What's that?" I asked.

"Well, you know how Colby copied the crimes by focusing on the initials of the victims? It seems that the solvers of the mysteries are linked by initials as well."

"Really? The person who eventually caught Jack the Ripper for Scotland Yard had my initials? Who was it?"

He looked at me with a smug smile. "Who else," he said, "but Sherlock Holmes."

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This story is © 1998 by Chaim Mattis Keller.

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