Protectors 2: Heroes

The good folks who run Bouchercon have announced the 2016 Anthony Award nominees, and I’m thrilled beyond belief that Protectors 2: Heroes is not only nominated for an Anthony Award for best anthology, but that Holly West’s story “Don’t Fear the Ripper” from it has also been nominated for best short story. It has also been chosen to appear in a Ripper anthology from Mysterious Press; thank you so much, Holly, for writing the story and letting me publish it in the anthology.

Protectors 2: Heroes benefits The National Association to Protect Children, specifically the HERO Corps, which trains wounded veterans to assist federal and local law enforcement to hunt sexual predators online. Some of the contributors include: Joyce Carol Oates, David Morrell, Hilary Davidson, Laird Barron, Joelle Charbonneau, Reed Farrel Coleman, Angel Luis Colon, Charles de Lint, SJ Rozan, Harlan Ellison®, Wayne Dundee, Alison Arngrim (you may know her as “Nellie Olsen” from Little House on the Prairie), Bracken MacLeod, former ThugLit editor Allison Glasgow, Josh Stallings, Chad Eagleton, Martyn Waites, Gary Philips, Scott Adlerberg, Linda Rodriguez, Rios de la Luz, Joe Lansdale, Graham Wynd, Alex Segura, Albert Tucher, Clare Toohey, Laura K. Curtis, Andrew Vachss, and Anthony nominee Chris Irvin. It’s a monster of a book to fight monsters in our midst.

Holly is the author of two historical mysteries, Mistress of Fortune and Mistress of Lies, which were gripping and gritty enough to make me care about whether an English king lived or died—which is tough for the grandson of Irish immigrants. They’re great noir yarns. Holly was gracious enough to let me share an excerpt from “Don’t Fear the Ripper,” which you can find below.

One of the other anthology contenders is ThugLit Presents Cruel Yule: A Holiday Anthology, in which my story “Letters to Santa” appears. Johnny Shaw’s Chingon tale “Feliz Navidead” is in there, and also nominated for best short story. Also nominated is Erin Mitchell’s “Old Hands,” from Dark City Lights: New York Stories (ed. by Lawrence Block), in which my story “The Big Snip” appears. Snip wasn’t chosen for an Anthony, but it was picked for The Year’s Best Crime & Mystery Stories 2016, edited by Kristine K. Rusch, so I’m pretty thrilled about that, too.

The Anthonys are a fan award and they mean a lot. It’s an honor to be nominated along with so many champions of the genre and also good friends, like Josh Stallings’s Young Americans—my favorite heist novel of recent vintage—Joelle Charbonneau’s Need, Rob Hart’s New Yorked, Hank Phillippi Ryan’s What You See, Chris Holm’s The Killing Kind, Adrian McKinty’s Gun Street Girl, and Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone.

As they say, it’s an honor to be nominated. But if you enjoyed Protectors 2: Heroes and are going to the convention, your vote will help sell the book and generate more revenue for Protect: The National Association to Protect Children. The book’s sales have generated over $4500 in donations so far. Let’s keep it going for the HERO Corps!

“Don't Fear the Ripper” (Excerpt)

by Holly West

August 1888

It was nearing four in the morning when Caroline Farmer made her way home along Buck’s Row, content with the knowledge that she’d delivered another life into the world. She couldn’t know the child’s destiny, but his parents appeared to love him and she hoped he’d thrive in spite of his simple origins in London’s East End.

On the far side of the street, a school dominated the landscape and just in front of it, a crowd had gathered. Recognizing several of her neighbors standing on their tiptoes as they tried to see what happened, she hurried over and caught the attention of her friends, Emily Holland and Mary Kelly. Emily was crying.

“What is it?” Caroline said, grabbing Emily’s hand.

“Polly’s been murdered!” Mary said.

Caroline caught her breath. “Are you certain it’s Polly?”

Emily nodded. “I saw her for myself. Oh Lord, forgive me, I should’ve never let her go out alone last night!”

Caroline squeezed through the bystanders to where Polly’s body lay. In the darkness, she could surmise little about the condition of her remains, but noticed her skirts were raised up around her waist, leaving her bottom half exposed.

“You must let me see to this woman,” she said to the bobby standing guard. She knew most of the men who patrolled the area but had never seen this one before. The name “Stubbs” was displayed on his uniform jacket.

“Go on and join the others, missus,” he growled. “This ain’t no penny show.”

“I’m a midwife, Constable Stubbs. I know her. She’s—she’s my patient.”

There was some truth to this, though she’d never delivered Polly of a child. Mary, Emily and Polly were prostitutes, and frequently visited Caroline for ailments suffered as a consequence of their profession.

“Like I said, move along. We’re waiting on the real doctor.”

Frustrated, Caroline returned to her friends. “You must tell me what you know,” she said.

“The lodging house deputy turned her away when she couldn’t pay the four pence for her bed last night,” Emily said. “You know Polly. I saw her at about half past two this morning and she told me she’d earned her doss money three times over but spent it all on drink. I begged her to come home with me but she’d have none of it. Said it wouldn’t be long ’till she was back.”

“Did anyone see her after that?”

“Not that I know. To think, I might’ve been the last one to see her alive!”

“Except for the killer,” Mary said.

“Oh Mary,” Emily said. “Don’t say such things!”

The doctor arrived with a second police constable, PC Neil, who’d patrolled the beat for several years. The crowd clamored around the body, hoping for a glimpse of something titillating while Caroline pushed her way forward, wanting to hear what the doctor had to say.

“Get these people out of here,” the doctor hissed. As the PCs proceeded to disperse the group, he knelt down and felt one of Polly’s legs. “Still warm,” he said, to no one in particular. “Couldn’t be dead for more than half an hour.”

PC Stubbs grabbed Caroline’s arm, pulling her back. “You again? Thought I told you to leave.”

“And I told you that Polly Nichols was my friend. I want to know what happened to her.”

“You’ll find out when you read the newspapers, same as everyone else. If you don’t vacate the area we’ll take you in to the station.”

She made a final appeal to PC Neil, who knew her reputation in the neighborhood.

“Sorry, Mrs. Farmer,” he said. “You’d better do as PC Stubbs says.”

Just as Caroline decided it was in her best interest to go home, an inspector had come to take a description of Polly’s corpse. As she stepped away from the scene, she heard him say, “My God, doctor. This woman’s been disemboweled.”

#

AfterPolly’s killing, there was much speculation about who’d committed the Whitechapel Murders.

Emily and Mary were adamant that Leather Apron, an obscure character who’d long extorted money from area prostitutes and other vulnerable citizens, was the killer. The name alone was enough to inspire fear throughout the East End, yet nobody seemed to know exactly who he was, or if he even existed. Nevertheless, the gangs that claimed to work for this bogeyman had only to utter his name in order to get results.

Caroline was skeptical. “Why would Leather Apron suddenly come out of the shadows and start killing after all these years?”

“Maybe Martha and Polly owed him money and they couldn’t pay?” Mary replied.

“Wouldn’t he just send one of this thugs to break their fingers, same as usual?”

Then, in the wee hours of 8 September, Annie Chapman’s body was found on Hanbury Street, her throat and abdomen carved open and her intestines pulled out. The killer had removed her womb, taking it with him as a macabre souvenir.

A freshly laundered leather apron was found near her corpse.

The newspapers’ disclosure of the leather apron served only to stir the already simmering pot of anti-immigrant sentiment in Whitechapel, heating it to a full boil in the days after her murder. Obviously, the culprit was a Jew—no Englishman could be responsible for such barbaric crimes. Or so thought the British populace.

Caroline, who’d brought many Jewish and immigrant babies into the world, couldn’t bring herself to believe that a person’s nationality had any bearing on whether they were capable of such savagery. Until someone came up with real evidence pointing to a Jew as the killer, she would look elsewhere for the culprit.

There were other theories, of course. The suspicion that the killer was a member of the medical profession, or at least had knowledge of anatomy, troubled Caroline the most. She hadn’t known Annie Chapman, but upon reading the details of her slaying in the evening newspaper, her eyes welled up. How could someone who’d sworn their oath to take care of others betray it in such a horrifying way?

A fierce protective instinct rose within her. These women might’ve been sinners, but none of them deserved such a brutal punishment. Poverty turned souls desperate and the East End had more than its share of both. Too many of its inhabitants starved in the streets, reduced to selling their flesh in order to secure shelter for the night. Martha, Polly, and Annie were but a few.

In her work, she saw the penalties wrought by prostitution daily: unwanted pregnancy, venereal disease, and assault. Now, murder. She vowed to do something.

***

 

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Thomas Pluck is the author of Bad Boy Boogie, a Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller coming from Down & Out Books in 2017, and the editor of the Protectors anthologies to benefit PROTECT. He has slung hash, worked on the docks, and even swept the Guggenheim (not as part of a clever heist). Hailing from Nutley, New Jersey, home of criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, Thomas has so far evaded arrest. He shares his hideout with his sassy Louisiana wife and their two felines. You can find him at www.thomaspluck.com and on Twitter as @thomaspluck.

Holly West is the Anthony Award-nominated author of the Mistress of Fortune historical mystery series, set in 17th century London and featuring Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. Her debut, MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, was nominated for the Left Coast Crime Rosebud Award for Best First Novel. Holly’s short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, including the forthcoming BIG BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER (Vintage Books), edited by Otto Penzler. Find out more at hollywest.com.

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