Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(8)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(8)
Author: L.J. Smith

"I didn't. " I stepped away, hating her insinuation. "Violet is just a friend," I said coldly.

"Wel , do you need someone who's more than a friend?" she asked, batting her dark eyelashes.

"No! I need to know . . ." I glanced toward Alfred, but he was far down at the other end of the bar, busy playing a game of dice with the drunk man. Stil , I lowered my voice. "I need to know more about the murderer."

"You one of them coppers?" she asked suspiciously. "Because I told 'em before, I don't do discounts and I don't give out information on me friends neither. Not for al the gin in China."

I shook my head at her mangled expression. "I'm just concerned. Especial y now. Apparently another woman is missing. Do you know Cora?

She works here." For Violet's sake, I only hoped that Cora was alive.

"Cora?" The woman's face transformed into a grimace. "Why, she was the barmaid, right? Always thought she was so uppity and better than us, but Lord knows she was doing the same thing we was. Seems like she was just waiting for the right price," the woman said indignantly.

"Do you mean she left with a man?" I asked urgently. It was clear that this woman had been keeping a very close eye on Cora, and I hoped that would translate into a clue as to her whereabouts.

The woman nodded. "The same man who I'd been trying al night to be sweet on me. He was handsome. Said he was a producer or an actor at the Gaiety. One of them theater types. Funny sounding, though. A bit like you," she added uncertainly.

"He had an accent?" I asked, unable to contain my excitement. I didn't want to jump to conclusions, but I doubted there were many frequenters of the Ten Bel s who had a Southern drawl like mine. Maybe Damon had been here. And maybe, just maybe, he knew I was in town. Maybe that was why the message had been written on the wal . It hadn't been Klaus at al , only one of Damon's stupid traps to lure me into a cat-and-mouse chase.

"You got me going al hoarse. If we're going to talk any more, you've got to get me a drink," Eliza said, yanking me from my reverie. "Double gin, please," she said, her eyes gleaming greedily.

"Of course," I said. I went to the bar and came back with a gin and a whiskey. I licked my lips as I watched Eliza take a swig. I took a careful sip of my own drink. Although I didn't want to get drunk, alcohol occasional y tempered my cravings for blood. I hoped it would this time. I needed something to distract me from Eliza's neck. I took another large gulp of whiskey.

"There, that's better. Nothing beats a spot of gin in the afternoon, don't you agree, love?" she asked, already appearing in a much better mood.

"Wel , he was talkin' funny. Not like he bothered to say much to me," she added darkly. "He talked to her al night. I walked by a couple times.

Said he'd bring her to the theater, show her around. Maybe get her an audition. Men say whatever pops in their heads to get a woman to go to bed," Eliza said in disgust.

"Do you remember his name? Did he have any distinctive features? Was he intimidating her?" I asked, barraging her with questions as dread rippled through my stomach.

"I don't know! Like I said, he didn't even want to talk to me!" she said indignantly. "And I s'pose it's a good thing, especial y with them murders going on. Maybe it's best we stick with the blokes we know, even if they stiff us for our money when they can't . . ." She broke off and glanced at me, her eyes chal enging me to get her salty innuendo.

"But what did he look like?" I asked, barely listening to what she was saying.

Her eyes cut toward me suspiciously. "Oh, you're stil thinking about him? I don't know. Elegant. Tal . Dirty blond hair. But since Cora's body didn't show up in a ditch or nothin', they're probably just enjoying each other's company," she added darkly.

Dirty blond hair? I frowned. Damon's hair was dark. It was the first clue that hadn't been a perfect match. Of course, it wasn't as if Eliza was necessarily the most reliable eyewitness. I decided to keep focusing on what else she had to say. "Or maybe he real y was one of those producers she always talked about. Wel , la dee da for her. Then she'd always be thinking she was better than any of us," Eliza added.

"Were you close with Mary Ann?" I asked, changing the subject to the murder victim.

Eliza sighed and flicked her gaze away from me, toward the motley col ection of men who'd fil ed the bar since we'd begun talking. Since it was clear I wasn't interested in propositioning her, she was obviously looking for someone who would. Not seeing any targets, she glanced back at me.

"Mary Ann was me friend. At least she was before she went and got herself kil ed," Eliza said, a cloud of anger crossing her face. "Although, what do you expect?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Wel , she was me friend, and I'd'a said this to her face if I'd gotten the chance. She was one of them types. Took risks. Caroused with bad men. I don't even remember who she left with. After they found her, al cut up and kil ed, the police came in the tavern. Who did she go with, they asked. What did she say as she was leaving? And the answer was, we saw nothing, we heard nothing, and if she'd'a only told us who she was going off with, we might have been able to avoid him in the future!" Eliza shuddered, and I couldn't help noticing her heaving bosom. I glanced away, but not before she caught me staring.

She smiled lasciviously. "Are you sure you don't want to continue this conversation in private?" she asked, suggestively licking her lower lip.

"I'm sure!" I said forceful y, standing up so quickly the rickety chair behind me toppled over. "You're lovely, of course, but I can't," I said.

"I can give you a deal. Foreigner's special!" she said, wiggling her eyebrows.

"I have to go," I said firmly. I reached into my pocket and found a few florins. "These are for you. Please don't go off with anyone," I said. I dropped the coins into her hand.

Her eyes gleamed as she took the money. "You sure I can't give you a little something?"

"That won't be necessary." I scraped my chair back and strode out of the tavern.

As soon as I walked out, I stumbled, and immediately realized the whiskey had gone to my head. But I had a clue that would lead me to Cora and Damon.

"You there!"

I whirled around. The drunk man who'd been at the bar when I came in lurched toward me, the scent of stale gin on his breath.

"What?" I asked.

"I know who you are," he said, swaying closer and closer toward me. "And I have my eye on you!" At this, he laughed maniacal y, then staggered backward against a brick wal .

Fear buzzed in my brain. I looked down at him, stil laughing in a drunken heap. What did he mean, he knew who I was? Was it just the ramblings of a drunk, or was it another clue that my arrival in London hadn't been unnoticed?

Chapter Seven

I know who you are.

The words thudded in my consciousness. Who was I? I was Stefan Salvatore once. Damon knew that. So did whoever wrote the message on the wal . But who else?

He was a drunk. Let it go, I commanded myself as I hastily picked my way out of the park and toward the hotel, stopping along the way to purchase tickets for a musical burlesque at the Gaiety Theatre. I'd gotten two box tickets, each one costing more than a week's pay. But I'd compel ed them from the bewildered man at the box office, justifying it by reminding myself it would al be worth it if the play led to us finding Cora.

With the tickets in my breast pocket, I whistled to myself as I headed back into the hotel.

Violet jumped up as soon as I opened the door.

"How was your day?" she asked, sounding anxious and tired. "Did you find Cora?"

"I spoke to Alfred, and you don't have to worry about your job. And I think I know where we can find Cora," I said slowly, belying my own excitement. The last thing I wanted to do was give Violet false hope.

"Real y? Where? How?" Violet clapped her hands together. "Oh, Stefan, you're wonderful!"

"I'm not," I said gruffly. "And I don't know for a fact, but I think she might have met a producer from the Gaiety Theatre." I briefly explained my conversation with Eliza, although I left out the part about the man with the accent. But in Violet's mind, Cora was as good as found.

"Real y?" Violet beamed. "Why, no wonder she wouldn't have said anything! Because, see, Alfred would have gotten jealous. And if he'd known she'd left her job, he wouldn't al ow her back. So maybe Cora was just waiting until she got the theater job before she came to col ect me. That makes sense, doesn't it?"

"I suppose so," I said slowly. Violet's cheeks were red and she was striding back and forth across the room. She was excited and agitated, and I wanted to believe the story she'd spun. It could be true. But no good could come of us both pacing like caged animals in the hotel room. We had a few hours before the show, and Violet was stil clad in her stained pinafore from last night.

"Let's go shopping," I decided, standing up and making my way to the door.

"Real y?" Violet wrinkled her nose. "Of course I want to, but I've no money . . ."

"I have a little bit saved. Please, it's the least I can do after everything that happened last night." Violet hesitated, then nodded, accepting my help. "Thank you!" she said. "I can't wait to see Cora. She won't believe that I had my own adventure. Why, I think she might be jealous," she continued giddily. I started to relax.

After al , I could play Violet's what if game, too. I could pretend the drunk outside the tavern had been hal ucinating and had mistaken me for his long-lost cousin. I could pretend I was a human.

And that's where the game ended. Because I wasn't, and as much as I wanted to believe it, none of the rest was true either.

"We should go before the store closes," I said awkwardly. What was I doing? Why did I care whether this girl or her sister lived or died? Stefan Pine would go back to Ivinghoe and wake up tomorrow to milk the cows. Stefan Pine would stop reading the London papers. And Stefan Pine wouldn't be taking a girl from the gutter and buying her a dress to make up for the fact that his brother was most likely drinking her sister's blood.

But I wasn't Stefan Pine. I was Stefan Salvatore, and I was in too deep to leave. Together, we strode out into the dark afternoon. I raised my hand to fetch a coach.

Immediately, a coach pul ed up to us. "Where to?" a driver asked, tipping his hat.

"Where can we go to get a dress?" I asked boldly.

"I'd bring you over to Hyde Park. Harrods."

"Real y?" Violet clapped her hands in delight at the mention of the name. "That's where everyone classy shops! I read about it. I've heard even Lil ie Langtry goes there!"

"Let's go," I said grandly. I had no idea what Violet was saying, but al I cared about was that she seemed happy.

We took off through the streets of London. Compared to Whitechapel, this part of the city was lovely. The streets were wide, wel -dressed men and women were walking arm in arm on the sidewalk, and even the pigeons seemed clean and wel -behaved. Violet looked back and forth, as if unable to decide where to direct her focus.

Final y, the driver pul ed up at an imposing marble building. "Here you are!" I paused. Should I compel my way into not paying for the ride?

"Thank you!" Violet hooked her arm in mine as she hopped out of the coach. The opportunity to compel was lost and I felt through my pockets, pul ing out a few shil ings and handing them to the driver.

He drove away, and Violet and I stepped through the doorway into a vaulted hal way fil ed with the competing scents of perfume and foods. The marble floors were so polished I could see our reflection when we gazed down. Everyone spoke in a slightly raised whisper, as if we were in a church. And indeed, it seemed like a holy place.

Violet sighed in ecstasy. "It sounds like a sin, but when I was little, our priest asked us to imagine heaven. I always thought it would look like this.

Everything shiny and new," she said, echoing my thoughts as we walked through the winding aisles of the department store. A section sel ing stationery gave way to one sel ing toys, which opened into a massive food hal . It was as if anything anyone could imagine was under one roof.

Final y, we reached the back of the store. Dresses of al colors were hanging on racks, and women were mil ing around the displays as if they were at a cocktail party. Saleswomen were standing behind glass cases, ready to help customers.

"You can have anything you want," I said, splaying my hands as if to show her the extent of the wares.

But Violet seemed sad. "I wish Cora were here. She would love it."

"We'l find Cora," I said firmly.

"May I help you?" a woman in a dark black dress asked, gliding up to us.

"We need a gown," I said, nodding toward Violet.

"Of course," the woman said. She gave Violet a glance from head to toe, but refrained from saying anything about her shabby clothes. Instead, she smiled.

"We have some things that wil do very wel . Come with me," she said, motioning for Violet to join her.

She turned toward me. "You stay here. When I'm through with her, you won't even recognize her." For a second, I paused. I didn't want to let Violet out of my sight. Then I laughed to myself. I was being paranoid. We were in the finest department store in the world. It wasn't as if the saleswoman would hurt her.

"Al right, then?" The saleswoman arched her black eyebrow as if sensing my discomfort.

   
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