I’m delighted to welcome Tarn Richardson back to Kendall Reviews. Feedback after my recent interview with Tarn, RIPPED FROM DARKNESS has been wonderful, seems you all enjoyed it as much as I did. It was a joy to be able to chat to an author that really went that extra step to be so open and honest about the writing process and what drives him.
A modern-day Jack the Ripper is on the loose in Tarn Richardson’s next novel RIPPED. Four years in the making and a work he’s incredibly proud of, Tarn talks about this upcoming project in our interview. We won’t have to wait too long to see RIPPED on the shelves, to whet your appetite till then, I’m honoured to be able to share with you, the first two chapters as a Kendall Reviews EXCLUSIVE.
Thank you very much Tarn. It’s been a pleasure talking to you!
London. Friday 31st August, 1888
She never made a sound as I killed her.
Not a whimper or a cry, nor even a final plea came, as I choked the life from the woman and the last of her breath slipped away, sounding like surf receding down a beach. Her lifeless eyes rolled to the ceiling of the carriage, as if staring to the path her departing spirit would now be taking.
I watched her in that first moment of stillness, a cold calm engulfing me like an invocation. At first I felt nothing, my mind closed like hers, seemingly incapable of thought or perception, aware of nothing, not even time itself. Indeed, it appeared to me as if time had stopped, as if my sudden and unanticipated act had somehow tricked it, that I had torn a hole in the very fabric of the dimension through which I had slipped and that time was now trying to catch up with me. And whilst I sat in the carriage with her lifeless body my only witness, I found my trickery had empowered me with a coherence I had never before experienced.
I found my perception to my surroundings suddenly attuned with a shocking clarity. It seemed that every facet and aspect of the city around me now rose up and assaulted my senses, the narrow cobbled streets smelling of manure and hay, the cesspools of human workhouses, the acrid stink of the coal-charged night air, the rot from the slaughterhouse floor, the slow lap of waves in the Thames, the choking sewer of human waste winding its way to that poisoned river, a barked maniacal cry from an asylum, the clink of keys, the breaking of bones by a corrective truncheon, the gas works, the fat boilers, the malters sweating beside the churn from their vast copper vessels, the sharp sting of mercuric nitrate from the fell monger, the dazzle of moonlight on the tumbled down tiled rooftops, all of London about me never resting, always stirring, laid bare to my every enquiring whim.
For a fleeting moment I wondered if my actions had made a God of me, such was the lucidity of all I heard and smelt and felt. But then I laughed, quite unexpectedly, my own modesty mocking me. For I knew I was many things, but a God I knew I was not.
I did know, however, that I could now call myself a murderer.
The realisation struck me like a blow and, at once, time seemed to catch up with me, sweeping back into the carriage and making me shudder and blanch at its keen return.
I quivered and looked down at my hands, a slight ache in the joints from where I had gripped her neck. They were motionless, still betraying none of the emotion I felt within. The ease by which I had killed her surprised me, how effortless it had been to extinguish a life. Its significance was not lost on me, the fragility of our existence on this world blazing bright within my mind, as if my brain was now forever branded with this knowledge, the recognition that life is so very unlikely and precious and perilous in every waking moment of it.
Her name was Mary Ann Nichols and she stank of gin and the gutter. She had skin like china, but the sort long buried in the ground and then dug up again so that the very fabric of the stone is ruined beyond repair. Her face was swollen and round, as if death had already bloated her features, and her body was paunchy and generous on account of the large number of layers she wore to keep out the inquiring cold.
Beneath them I perceived her to be only a tiny withered thing.
Outside, in the pitch of Whitechapel, a cat slipped on tiles and sent one of them tumbling to the cobbled street below, the crash like blasphemy in that raw enveloping silence. I paused, looking to the window and listening to make sure no one had been drawn to investigate, before turning back to Mary Ann and pulling her petticoats back down around her ankles from where she had lifted them, thinking she was to accept me as a customer. Something caught the moonlight from the carriage window on her left hand and instantly I tore the wedding band from her finger, the sight of it sickening me. I dropped it into a deep coat pocket, wiping my hand on the rich fabric of my coat, as if soiled by touching the ring.
I noticed how her eyes still stared blankly upwards, the colour of them pale like those of a blind man. They unsettled me, and I drew forward with my hand to close them, noticing next how her mouth was turned upwards at the corners, sneering. I looked again and realised her mouth wasn’t in fact sneering but smirking, as if belittling what I had done, this first tentative step I had taken along my path, as if she knew I had still such a long way to go and questioned whether I was capable of completing the journey. It disturbed me to think it, see it, to observe how she had been reduced to malice at her moment of her death.
“I know, Mary Ann,” I whispered quietly, fixing my thumb and fore finger to her mouth to force it straight, “I know I have much to do. But every journey must start with a first step and you are mine.”
Hard barked laughter shared between two people up the street snagged me fast and I froze, my eyes locked to the corner of the carriage, my ears pricked. I listened, barely daring to move lest the carriage I was in sway and draw the drunken revellers towards it to investigate. But the laughter and accompanying footsteps passed on and I let the air slowly out of me. I took it as sign to delay no longer.
What moon there was barely broke through the blanket of cloud above, as I stepped quickly along Buck’s Row, my medical case in my left hand, Mary Ann over my shoulder, as I might carry a sack of potatoes if I was so inclined. Every now and then a shard of silver moonlight cut through the cloud cover and caught the cobbles of the street below, turning them to grey, a vague pale light daubbing the front of the terrace houses.
And then, just as quickly, night triumphed and swallowed up any remaining light.
The dark of that place and how I was to work within it troubled me, but as I laid the body down, her back against those cold filthy stones, at once the clouds parted and I was struck by the moon’s full light, as bright as any theatre within which I had operated. The revelatory radiance transfixed me, as if this moment had long been preordained by the planets themselves. I felt that I stood not within a street of London but in a lecture hall, an enraptured audience watching me with baited breath, waiting for my performance to begin, for the first incision to be made.
I would keep them waiting no longer.
Opening my case, the eight inch Liston blade came quickly to my hand. I swallowed back on any nerves and raised the blade to the heavens, the bright oval spotlight above, watching my hand and knife form a perfect silhouette in front of the moon.
“To you this blade I offer,” I called skywards, my voice faltering with the gravity of what I was about to do. Everything I had considered and planned and dreamed distilled itself into this one moment. “And this body,” I continued, looking down at the woman prostate beneath me, my feet planted either side of her shoulders, “I dedicate to you.”
I crouched lower and swallowed, my dry throat crackling in my ears. I flickered a tongue across my lips in vague hope of moistening them, raising the knife in my left hand over my right shoulder.
“With this first faltering strike, I cast out any doubts,” I declared, the words like a spell, bringing the blade down into Mary Ann’s shoulder and across her neck, a feeble blow, just enough to glance skin and bone from her collarbone, only narrowly catching the front of her throat. The fabric of her coat at her shoulder turned a rich crimson and a narrow rivulet of blood appeared from the shallow wound at her neck.
I was aware of a hardening in my face and that I now held the blade more forcefully in my hand.
My lips pursed to a tight knot. “From this time onwards, when I strike,” I commanded, drawing the knife back up high above my shoulder, feeling the muscles in my arm tighten in anticipation of violence, “I strike with authority and control!”
Then, with every ounce of my strength, I slashed the blade hard across Mary’s Ann’s throat, the blow cutting deep into her neck and driving clear of the right side, a thick splattering of blood cast across the pavement slabs, black against the moonlight.
I turned back to the moon, breathing heavily, my brow dotted with sweat.
“Hiram Abiff, chief architect of King Solomon’s Temple, I have struck in the same manner by which your enemies were struck. Empower and guide my hand!”
Looking down at the corpse, I shuffled backwards over the body and knelt either side of her thighs, ruffling up the many petticoats so that they lay bunched across her chest, her naked belly like a round of pork on a butcher’s block.
The tip of the blade sank effortlessly through her skin, just above her belly button, two, three inches into her rich flesh. Blood bobbled up from the wound and trickled in cloying puddles down her sides, as I drew the blade towards me in a single firm cut. So little blood, I pondered, as my knife worked the wound wider, wide enough for me to pass both hands inside and grasp at the organ I was seeking. It is as if the poor waif has been bled dry by life itself.
For a little time I fished around inside of her until my hands clasped around what I was looking for, my fingers working their way around it for a firmer hold. It made a sound as it came free, like a tree root does when plucked from the ground. And then my hands were clear and the bloodied dripping thing was in front of me. I shuddered and wept, my mouth slackening, my chest heaving.
“Elijah! Elijah, you were right!” I cried, my eyes heavy with tears, watching in wonder and disbelief, holding the thing of my fixation up in front of me. “We are all full of light!”
London. Saturday 1st September. Present Day.
The sun was coming up over a grubby London skyline, the sky a mix of dawn reds, pollution and aircraft vapour trails. The faint amber light from the Marlboro Light caught in the hollows of detective chief inspector Kate Vouch’s face, giving the dark shadows beneath her eyes a devilish hue. She reached forward and stubbed it out, the ashtray on her bedroom window sill heaped with bent and crushed filters, vomiting its contents.
She pushed her hair behind an ear and lit another cigarette, her brown eyes glittering from the orange flame of the lighter. Her mouth tasted black from insomnia, tar and nicotine, her throat raw and dry. She felt the first of the day’s warmth from the window on her face and closed her eyes to it, drawing smoke deep into her lungs, holding it for longer than was comfortable. She enjoyed the initial pangs of panic as her body fought to breathe, her head going light. She leant forward, resting elbows on knees, hanging her head down, resisting the convolutions in her chest. She’d investigated countless suffocations, always assuring the bereaved that once the panic had passed, the sensation of asphyxiation was quite pleasant, a peaceful way to die. She never admitted that none of the bodies she’d pulled from ponds, from the ends of rope or from under pillows had ever looked at peace.
The excited shriek of an early rising child from somewhere in the depths of the city below made her flinch, losing her fight against her breath, hacking for oxygen like a cadaver brought back from the dead. She drew her hand across her mouth, wiping spittle from her lips, her eyes coming to rest upon the picture of the boy in the photo frame on her bedside table, as if reminded of it by the squeal of the child, an unopened packet of benzodiazepines lying alongside. A tremble of emotion threatened to come out of her, but she seized hold of the weakness and buried it as deeply as she had her breath.
Her son, Toby, had been killed coming home from friends three weeks ago, a route he’d walked a hundred times before, the familiarity of it why it had become dangerous. He’d been hit on the corner where the alleyway cut the long pathway through the park in half. A car had hit him as he crossed the road, breaking virtually every bone below his navel and puncturing his lungs. But it had been the landing which had killed him. A catastrophic head injury. Only immediate assistance on the scene might have saved him, but the driver never did. The driver never even stopped.
They’d found the car abandoned an hour later, burnt out on Hounslow Heath, where stolen cars and those involved in hit and runs usually ended up, plates removed, VIN numbers cut from the engine block and wheel arches too, the onboard computer smashed up as well. A thorough job. Professional. They knew their stuff, whoever was responsible.
And she’d been abandoned too, at least that’s how it felt, by those she thought she trusted, sent away to Flint House, near Goring in Oxfordshire. A stretch of convalescence prescribed by the police. They had meant well, the suited coiffured managers located in the floors above the station investigation room who’d sent her there, those desk bound pricks who decided policy and signed off people’s careers, who never recognised the connection between the detective and the streets, never understood that it wasn’t just a job for some of them. That it was their life.
“You need rest,” newly promoted superintendent Teague had assured her, holding the slim but strong detective by the shoulders so that she would see the insistence in his eyes. “We’ll find who hit Toby.”
But they hadn’t found him yet and they never realised that their best intentions, by giving DCI Vouch forced leave, had bereaved her twice.
Just a week into her time away, Vouch had ended it, discharging herself, returning back to her London flat, still marking time away from active service, but no longer around people claiming to know her and know best. Since then she had endured the torment of her own company and the demons it brought. But somehow anything was better than the group sessions and one to ones into which they had tried to coax her. Workshops to heal her wounds, to reconcile questions, to pacify the anger of her sudden loss. There might not be anyone else in Vouch’s life with whom to share her grief, but she sure as hell knew she wasn’t going to share it with the psychologists and therapists at Flint House, with their clip boards and softened voices and tender words, no matter how well meaning their intentions. She’d shared enough with physiologists in her past. Those days were over.
Now she was more tired and confused than that moment when the news of the accident reached her and she collapsed onto her case file at the time, digging grooves into her desk with her nails. They’d taken her badge, her authority and her daily routine, and replaced it with sleeplessness and nightmare-filled days, all in the name of good management.
For all that she still retained enough of her spirit to run everyday, along the Thames, four miles out, four miles back, the only therapy she was willing to face. No couch would ever claim her. No counsellor would get inside her head. To feel the pavement of the streets beneath her feet once again would be all the counsel Vouch believed she needed to recover from her loss. She’d find a way. She always had done, in her own way.
She extinguished her cigarette and leant back, stretching her taut body beneath her cotton vest. She needed strong coffee and then to check the secure police feed on her laptop for any developments with her son’s case. To date there’d been none. The lack of results had tested her patience to breaking, and beyond. It was one of the main reasons she’d left Flint House, feeling isolated and frustrated there, exasperated by the lack of progress at finding her son’s killer, needing to get back to London, to get closer to the scene of the crime, to ensure the team working the case weren’t being distracted or sent away by other easier or more promising cases. It happened. She herself was guilty of commandeering men from cases where the likelihood of a conviction had sunk.
As well as her freedom they’d taken taken custody of her police laptop when they’d sent her away for convalescence. It was young detective sergeant Myers, back at the station, who had recognised the folly of this and had arranged for the case feed and the connecting encryption key to be routed to her personal computer. Of all the people she’d missed from work, it was sergeant Myers she missed most. Dependable, grounded, loyal. Only Myers had rung her on her return to London. Only Myers had told her they’d been wrong in pushing her out. Only Myers had spoken to her like a human being.
Vouch got up and padded over to the open kitchen, flicking on the kettle and lifting the laptop screen, as her mobile vibrated into life. The teasing prick of excitement caught in her gut when she saw Myers’ name appear on the screen.
It was early for a mundane call. Too early.
“Myers,” she answered cooly, attempting to hide any hint of anticipation of what the call might mean, perhaps some news at last regarding her son’s case.
“DCI Vouch?” his voice, almost apologetic, asked,. “I’m sorry if I woke you.”
Myers’ voice sounded refreshing, like rain after a drought. For too long she’d heard only her own voices in her head.
The young sergeant paused and cleared his throat. She pictured him playing with his tie as he always did, tugging at the shirt collar too tight for his neck. “How are you?” he asked, the words coming hesitantly.
“I’m fine,” Vouch lied, looking down at the faux granite grain of her kitchen top. “Have you got news? About Toby?” She tried to rein in the hope straining at her words.
“No news about Toby I’m afraid,” and Vouch felt her heart sink. “But I do have some news. The Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden, Tower Hill? Do you know it?”
“How long will it take you to get down there?”
“I need you back, ma’am, if you’re ready to come back?”
“Why?” repeated Vouch, crueller than she intended. “Why the change of heart?”
“I’m out of my depth with this one, ma’am.”
“With what, Myers?”
“They need you back. We all do. There’s been a murder.”
You can find out more about Tarn via his official website www.tarnrichardson.co.uk/
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