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Jak Baron

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4 April 189...

The Devil take Jack the Ripper! His bloody exploits have taken over all the newspapers in London. My meticulous inquiry into the pawnbrokers of Soho has gone unnoticed. Three months of unremitting toil reduced to nothing, with my article stuffed into a thin column on page four, between two advertisements for corsets and ladies’ underwear. Lord, but the profession of a journalist is full of ingratitude! I find myself in an irksome situation, as irksome as the two weeks’ rent I owe Miss Chester and the dinner at the new Music Hall in Pelham Road that I promised the delectable Jane. Jane is such a cultivated woman, so refined she intimidates me, so much so that I have not yet dared ask for her hand. Just imagine, Jane is one of the first woman doctors in England; in barely a year she will have finished her studies. And I, poor scribbler that I am, am I worthy of such a ladylove, a beauty as of marble with such a great intellect? How complicated is life!

5 April 189...

I have made up my mind! After careful reflection, as I am far from impulsive, I have decided to act with the utmost speed. That is, this very evening. It is no doubt a reprehensible act, but do not some of our politicians commit equally blameworthy acts for reasons of State? I will be committing this crime in the name of journalism, a religion worthy of such a sacrifice. Of course, the idea for the crime only came to me as a last resort, because it is an inconceivable act for a good Christian, but one is sometimes led to commit misdeeds of exceptional gravity in particular circumstances. In my case these happened to be the absolute necessity of obtaining an exclusive article on the latest misdeeds of Jack the Ripper. I am duty bound to anticipate the crime by myself becoming the author of the criminal act. Is this not a curious ethical dilemma for a journalist? To the Devil scribbling whatever events dictate, here comes the age of the journalist as creator! One day a statue will be put up to John Benedict Shylock, and Jane will be so proud. But I think Jane has left her surgical bag in the left-hand drawer of the dressing-table. The long scalpel will suit my purpose to perfection. Whitechapel here I come! I wonder what will be the name of my victim?

6 April 189...

In the early hours of the morning
My task is accomplished. Somewhere in a dark alley lies the tortured body of a wretched strumpet. As soon as I returned, after the sacrifice had been made, I wrote an article totally inspired by the crime. I may even say that this masterpiece of journalism contains a morsel of divine essence because is not a crime in itself a divine act? God gives life but may take it away! I will send in my article around ten o’clock, sufficiently late for the police to have had time to discover the victim and sufficiently early for me to get the scoop on this story, at least a day ahead of my stupid colleagues forced to comply with the exigencies of events. Poor wretches! I have created the news!

In the afternoon
It must be around three o’clock. In a stupid incident during my... er... let’s say my ‘work’ in Whitechapel, I broke my watch. The woman struggled for a few moments and kicked out, breaking the chain of my watch which shattered on the pavement. When the prostitute had been eliminated, I hastened to clear the pavement of any giveaway cog or watchmaker’s mechanism. I am not stupid enough to leave clues like that for the sleuths of Scotland Yard. Nevertheless, that business still cost me a watch, but on the other hand I gained fifteen guineas in advance payment for my article which my editor-in-chief, Mr Broomfield, thought caustic and marvellously ironic on the setbacks suffered by the police. Guineas which will be devoted to a delightful evening at the Music Hall with Jane. I must celebrate my first article on the front page of the Post in the best possible fashion.

7 April 189...

Jane greatly appreciated our little evening. It was a pleasant diversion from her studies, she confided to me, and the chaste kiss we exchanged around eleven o’clock left me with the promise of other delights in the very near future. Oh, life would be magnificent were it not for these wretched headaches ceaselessly crashing against my skull, which has become a sounding box for drums and cymbals! I now seriously doubt whether the beverage called ‘champagne’ at Heavens Gates, the Music Hall, was actually a champagne of quality; it was more likely a mixture of sparkling wine and methylated spirits. Lord, how my head is ringing, I am going to stop writing because my body is sick while my heart is floating in happiness. Oh Jane, you have stolen my heart…

In the afternoon
It must be five o’clock. I have slept like a log, knocked out by the ‘champagne’ at Heavens Gates. From now on, I shall make do with a glass of good old brown ale at the Irish Tavern. Strangely, as I was shaving just now, I noticed a little cut near my left ear. Jane must have scratched me as I helped her into the carriage. I must have been too drunk at the time to notice. 
I have read a most instructive chronicle in the Bedlam Gazette, a formidable competitor but one which is gradually losing its readership because it is failing in the area of the sensational. The article, signed by Tyrone Laughton, is a model of precision and journalistic analysis. Laughton has amassed a heap of information on the murders of Jack the Ripper, after consulting, one knows not how, certain confidential reports by Scotland Yard. This exemplary journalist has dissected these reports then linked together certain points of similarity. In other words, he has done the work of a high-ranking police inspector, really cocking a snook at Scotland Yard! As I reread the article, one detail leapt out at me. At the site of the third murder, the investigators found a broken nail that undoubtedly did not belong to the victim. A broken nail! The police had said nothing about that in their official statements. “A broken nail may provide clues as to the sex of the murderer,” suggested the chronicler. “A broken nail is more common in women whose nails are longer and therefore more fragile. It would therefore not be outrageous to suggest that Jack the Ripper might be female.” With this sentence, the brilliant article drew to a close. The possibility of a female Ripper had also been put forward by Scotland Yard. My headaches are vanishing as I lay down these curious thoughts in this journal. I take one more slice of this delicious roast beef that Jane knows how to carve so well. I see once more her long, diaphanous hand slicing with consummate skill the cold meat on a silver platter. Her long alabaster hand whose middle finger has a... a broken... nail. Jane should be here around seven o’clock... Some-one is knocking at the door, I recognise Jane’s discreet tap tap. It is seven o’clock precisely. Jane is always punctual. She knocks again, with a more fractious tap tap. Should I let her in? I get up, then slowly open the door to her... Jane is so beautiful...

Translated by Wendy Cross


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