Chapter 515 I Have A Few Questions To Ask You
The East and West Ends were like two completely different worlds come nightfall.
Only one street lamp still glowed, and the rest were either broken or vandalized. Until now, no one took the initiative to repair them. Hence, a many spots were left dark and unlit. The low, squalid, dilapidated buildings, uneven roads, and dark alleys made navigating around the area an awful nightmare. After the Whitechapel serial killings, the police sent an entire battalion to strengthen waning security.
Up until now, Zhang Heng had come across two teams of very serious-looking police officers. They sternly held onto their batons while a whistle hung around their necks, ready to be blown at the earliest sign of trouble. No matter how many officers were deployed, making them patrol the area seemed to yield pointless results. They couldn’t keep their eyes on every street corner. More importantly, the police simply couldn’t maintain such intensive patrols for an extended period.
In fact, the police had increased their workforce when the second murder case surfaced. Thus far, they still hadn’t found any leads, and instead, a large number of low-level officers had started complaining about the dreary working hours and how they simply weren’t paid enough. Before the murders, patrol officers typically headed to the tavern for a cool-down and a pint amid their patrols. After the series of brutal killings, none were inclined to pull such stunts anymore.
Zhang Heng still wore the old coat he bought when he first arrived, and Irene had also given him the scarf she wore when she masqueraded as a gypsy busker. Coupled with his recently mastered makeup skills, few would doubt that he wasn’t from around here.
Zhang Heng first headed to the location of the most recent homicide. This particular spot had now become the focus of the police. Since residents inhabiting the area had done well to avoid the place at all costs, Zhang Heng could stand quietly behind the fence during the day without having anyone to bother him. During the day, he attempted to identify the soil using the method that Sherlock Holmes taught him. However, that provided him with little useful information because the entire East End’s infrastructure was in shambles. Puddles and mud smeared every inch of the road, and even if the murderer’s shoes were stained with dirt, it was no longer reliable evidence.
At night, Zhang Heng came here to look at the lights, curious to know if the nearby houses were lighted at that time. To avoid unnecessary trouble, he trod lightly, careful not to overstay his welcome. He quickly walked out from behind the apartment, and it was about then that he spotted a girl in her early twenties on the side of the road. She had an old coat draped over her shoulders, and she lugged around a wine bottle in her hand. When she saw Zhang Heng, she took the initiative, saying, “Hi?”
Zhang Heng raised his eyebrows, feeling amused, and flabbergasted.
“Exciting, isn’t it; I won’t let you down!” The girl’s smile seemed somewhat forced.
“Since you know about the recent tragedy here, you should have stayed home,” said Zhang Heng.
“I need to pay for rent and food. I just borrowed this half bottle of wine from someone,” replied the girl. Her English sounded like she wasn’t from this country, a heavy accent embedded among her words.
“No matter what happens in this world, we have to keep working, don’t we?”
“Well, at least stay in a crowded place, or with your companions, perhaps. You will feel safer.”
“This line of work is not as simple as you think it is. We, the prostitutes, have our designated territories. I am just a foreigner who arrived here not too long ago. They will definitely not accept me,” the girl sadly related, “I can only linger in places they won’t go. Anyway, what are you thinking?”
“You shouldn’t be here,” said Zhang Heng lightly. “Know what kind of men come here at this hour?”
“They say a murderer wouldn’t commit two crimes at the same spot.”
The girl’s body had been trembling a little from the beginning, and obviously, she wasn’t as bold as she seemed on the surface.
“That’s right, but, ever thought that even if that serial killer doesn’t come here, there will be others with ill intentions dropping by this place. Behind every famous serial killer lies many impersonators. You being here provides them the opportunity to honor their idol by killing you,” said Zhang Heng as he took half a step towards the girl. The girl could not help but gasp in shock, subconsciously stepping back. Zhang Heng then took the half-finished bottle of wine from her and looked at the label. “Do you usually drink this kind of wine?”
“That’s right.” The girl replied, her eyes darting around wildly, scanning her surroundings to see if there were passing cops. Zhang Heng opened the cork and smelled the bottle’s contents. “How much can you make in one night?”
“Huh?” The girl pondered for a while. “Three or four pennies. If I am lucky or if someone is generous, I may be able to earn more. Or I can meet several customers in one night.”
Zhang Heng then threw a half-pound gold coin to the girl.
“Come with me tonight.” The girl was thrilled at the prospect of earning a gold coin. No wealthy men were living in the East End, which was the first time encountering such a generous and rich customer. However, she later recalled what Zhang Heng said. Her heart sank instantly. She was not that valuable, anyway. To be more precise, she possessed nothing of value as well, except for her own life. “Don’t overthink it. I just want to ask you a few questions,” Zhang Heng reassured the frightened girl. “I guess you haven’t had dinner? Let’s look for a place to get something to eat.”
The girl only hesitated for less than half a second before she decided to go with Zhang Heng. Like what she had said earlier, she knew the risks of following a stranger. That said, she was willing to risk her life to put some food into her very empty stomach. Such was probably the fate of people like her.
Zhang Heng saw many other prostitutes while he was heading to the restaurant. They posed and slithered seductively, doing everything they could to attract potential customers in the pubs and alleys. That included some older women that were in their 50s and 60s. Logically, they should have laid low after Jack the Ripper went on a rampage, and the streets would only be safe after the authorities arrested the serial killer. To Zhang Heng’s surprise, none of them stopped work.
The one thing more terrifying than Jack the Ripper was life itself.
“Once you get yourself into this line of work, it’s tough to get out. Think of it as being trapped in the mud. Since you can’t get out, you can only watch yourself sink slowly.”
This was what an experienced colleague told her when she first entered this line of work. The latter died of typhoid fever three months ago, all alone in her home when her life fizzed out. No one knew she was dead until the rent collector knocked on her door two days after her death. The girl did not want to end up like her when she became old.
However, reality had always proven to be the harshest of teachers. She was not good at talking like the others, and in her younger days, she didn’t get to earn much. Once she became older, lesser and lesser customers would want her for business.
Her mood became even worse when she thought of this. Suddenly, Zhang Heng spoke up.
“How should I address you?”