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Curtains of Blood
By Robert J. Randisi
Copyright © 2002
Robert J. Randisi
All right reserved.
September 1, 1888
From the back of the Lyceum Theatre Bram Stoker watched his
friend, his idol, his employer, his Master, Henry Irving,
transform brilliantly from the civilized Dr. Jekyll into the
monstrous Mr. Hyde. As they had been doing every night since
the play had began its run, the audience gasped in amazement.
Stoker, too, reacted the same way. Irving's performances
continued to take his breath away as much as they had twelve
years earlier, when he was the theater critic of the Evening
Mail in Dublin. Now, at forty-one, he was no less taken with
the man's genius.
However, since managing the Lyceum Theater was part of his
duties, he could not afford to spend the time it would take to
watch the entire performance. Once Irving made the first
transformation Stoker turned and left.
Strolling through the halls, he could smell the dinner which
would be served immediately following the performance. Only
honored guests and cast members were invited to the suite
which once was the meeting place of the famed Beefsteakers
Club. First formed in 1735, members of the Sublime Society of
Beefsteaks boasted actors, playwrights, poets, and other
honored guests. It was Stoker who restored the Beefsteak Room
to its former glory, he who chose the evening's diners and set
out the place cards-which was the task he was on his way to do
As he entered the suite he admired the oak paneled walls and
high-beamed ceilings. It was while Irving was on a
Mediterranean cruise that Stoker had the room redone, in order
to surprise the actor upon his return. Irving had
wholeheartedly approved of everything, but insisted upon
decorating the room. He did so with portraits of men he
admired-David Garrick, William Charles Macready among them-and
also Whistler's full-length portrait of Irving himself as
Philip II, and his favorite leading lady, Ellen Terry, as Lady
Macbeth. It was this painting that dominated the room.
The dining room was situated behind the stage, and invited
guests gained access by way of a dusty old stairway that made
it seem as if they were entering another age. The fact that
the room was lined in old suits of armor lent credence to the
Stoker walked through the room and entered the kitchen, which
he'd had furnished with the most modern of equipment. The beef
sizzled and spit on the new range. In the old days the
white-coated cooks were in plain view of the diners, but now
they worked in privacy.
"How are we coming?" Stoker asked Henry Boardman, the head
"How do we ever come, Guv?" the man asked. "Everything will be
Stoker knew that the beef would be accompanied by giant baked
potatoes, onions and other vegetables. Since Henry Boardman
had been put in charge of the meals they had always been
Stoker looked at the broad-shouldered man who appeared more
like a dockworker than a chef. He touched his red beard and
said, "Of course. Silly of me to ask."
Boardman chuckled good-naturedly. "But you ask every time ...
"So I do, Henry," Stoker said, "so I do. I will be in my
office until dinner."
* * *
Stoker's office was a small affair, but he'd had it furnished
to his liking, all in dark wood and smooth surfaces. He was
seated behind his desk, awaiting the end of the play, when
there came a knock at the door.
The door opened and Joseph Harker entered. The young man,
along with William Telbin and Hawes Craven, was one of the
Lyceum's three scene painters. Harker was talented, but the
thirty-three-year-old had been hired by Irving not because of
his artistic ability, but rather in repayment of a favor.
Harker's father had hired an eighteen-year-old Irving when
they were both at the Edinburgh Royal Theater.
"Not watching the performance, Joseph?" Stoker asked.
"I was called away," Harker said.
"Someone came into the theatre looking for you, Bram." It was
soon after Harker was hired that Stoker convinced him not to
call him "Mr. Stoker." "When they couldn't find you one of the
ushers informed me of our visitors."
"Who?" "Some policemen."
Stoker sat back in the chair and regarded Harker curiously.
"What would the police want with me?"
"Shall I show them in so you can ask them yourself?"
"By all means." He still had half an hour before the
performance would end and guests began filing into the
Harker withdrew and returned with two men in tow. One was his
age, while the other one was younger, closer to Harker's age,
perhaps even a few years younger. The older man's mode of
dress and his demeanor-not to mention his age-pointed him out
as the one in authority.
"Mr. Stoker?" he asked, approaching the desk.
"I am Bram Stoker,"
"My name is Chief Inspector Donald Swanson," the man said.
"This is Sergeant Hobbs."
Stoker exchanged nods with Hobbs and shook hands with the
"What can I do for you, sir?" Stoker asked.
"I was actually here to see Mr. Irving," Swanson said, looking
around. His eyes settled on Harker for a moment, then turned
back to Stoker. "However, this gentlemen informed me that he
was on stage at the moment."
"Yes. We're doing Dr. Jekyll and Hyde," Stoker said.
"I see. Then perhaps I could wait for him to finish?"
"He will be on stage for another thirty minutes or so," Stoker
explained. "After that he dines with guests. Perhaps I could
help you? I manage the theatre." He was much more than the
theatre manager, but perhaps it was in this capacity he could
help the policeman.
"You might actually be the one I should speak to, then, sir,"
"Please," Stoker said, "have a seat."
Swanson sat in a chair across from Stoker. Harker remained
standing to one side of the door, and Hobbs on the other.
"I'm afraid I am the bearer of bad news."
"What sort of bad news?"
"Have you heard that another woman was killed?"
"No," Stoker said. "Where?"
"Buck's Row, in Whitechapel."
"How many does that make?"
"And the killer?"
"So he got away again?"
"Leaving not one clue?"
"We are investigating, sir."
Stoker frowned. "And your investigation has brought you to the
Swanson looked unhappy. "I am here on direct orders from my
"To do what?"
"I'm afraid-it's to close you down."
"You can't!" Harker said, aghast. "Close the Lyceum?"
"Well," Swanson said, without turning to acknowledge Harker.
When he spoke it was directly to Stoker. "Not the theatre so
much as the performance."
"You want us to stop doing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?"
"Not me-but that is essentially correct. You see, there are
those who believe that this play might be ... inciting the
killer to do what he has been doing."
"This is just a story, Inspector," Stoker said, "a fiction,
and a brilliant one, at that, but staged strictly for
entertainment. True, it's about one man's battle with another,
darker personality inside him, but ..."
Swanson spread his hands. "This Whitechapel killer may be
having the same problem."
"He's a mad killer," Stoker said. "There can be no
"I've seen the play, Mr. Stoker," Swanson said. "Mr. Hyde is
also a mad killer."
"Dr. Jekyll is not," Stoker said. "And it is he who is real
... within the context of the play, of course."
"Well, perhaps the same is true of this killer," Swanson said,
and then added, "within in the context of real life."
Stoker was becoming agitated.
"But it's ridiculous to blame a man's crimes on ... on a
"Believe me," the Inspector said, "I made the same argument.
It fell on deaf ears. My superiors believe what they want to
"Out of fear," Stoker said, "and ignorance."
The Sergeant shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
Hearing the Inspector agree with Stoker's assessment of both
their superiors tested his loyalty.
"And these are the men who are trying to apprehend this crazed
"As am I," Swanson said. "I am also trying to catch him, but
they my opinion on ... on these kinds of matters have not
"Well, you've delivered your news," Stoker said. "What happens
if we do not comply?"
Swanson looked pained. "In that event I'm afraid the Lyceum
would be shut down indefinitely. I would personally hate to
see that happen, Mr. Stoker. My wife and I have spent many
pleasant evenings here."
"You and your wife enjoy the theatre?"
"Immensely," Swanson admitted. "Particularly Mr. Irving's
Stoker regarded the Inspector quizzically now. If he and his
wife enjoyed Irving's performances that meant the policeman
knew in advance that a performance would be in process and
Irving would be on stage now. Swanson had not had the heart to
give the bad news directly to the actor.
"Inspector," Stoker said, "I would offer you and your wife
free tickets to our next production, but I am unsure when that
"Surely you can stage another play," Swanson said.
"I'm afraid it's a little more complicated than that, sir,"
Stoker said. "A lot of preparation goes into a production. And
I fear Mr. Irving will to be too upset to think about it for a
"I'm genuinely sorry, Mr. Stoker."
"I believe you, sir." Stoker took a deep breath and let it out
slowly, stroking his beard as he did so. Then he nodded, as if
he had come to some sort of decision. "Why don't you and your
sergeant join us in the Beafsteak Room for dinner tonight?"
"Will you be telling Mr. Irving what's been decided?" the
"Oh, not until we've dined with our guests," Stoker said, "and
perhaps not even until tomorrow. But where are my manners?
Please, you and the good Sergeant be our guests. Perhaps you
might enlighten all of us about your investigation."
"Well," Swanson said, uncomfortably, "if it comes up."
"Sir?" Sergeant Hobbs spoke up.
"Yes, Sergeant?" Swanson did not turn to regard his sergeant.
"We really should be getting back to the station, Guv."
"You'll be off duty soon, won't you, Sergeant?"
"Then by all means return to the station and go on home from
there." He waved a hand blindly at the man and said to Stoker,
"I would be happy to join you for dinner, Mr. Stoker. Being
invited into the Beefsteak Room is an honor."
"Excellent," Stoker said. "Joseph, would you have Henry set
another place at the table? And make it closer to me."
To Swanson Stoker said, "I've actually been particularly
interested in the case of the Whitechapel Killer. I have many
"Mr. Harker will show you the way."
"Won't you be coming?" the policeman asked, getting to his
"Soon," Stoker assured him, "very soon."
* * *
Once the two policemen had left with Joseph Harker, Stoker
rose and walked to the window. He had chosen a room that
overlooked the rear of the theater, on Burleigh Street, for
his office, where he and Irving had a private entrance. He
stood there staring out with hands clasped behind his back.
Of course he was aware of what had been going on in
Whitechapel, some madman killing women, cutting them up, and
he knew exactly how many there had been. In truth, he had been
following the stories of these killings with great interest.
There had been much discussion over breakfast with his wife,
Florence, about the dangers to women walking alone at night he
had not given the matter much thought. In point of fact what
time there was that was not taken up these days by his duties
at the theatre, had been devoted to the book ruminating in his
mind for years lately demanding to be written. The actions of
the Whitechapel killer had also become very much a part of
those ruminations. In fact, Florence had lately exhibited
impatience with him whenever he began to discuss it. She was
in favor of more genteel conversation at the kitchen table.
But while the murders interested him greatly as a writer, now
the deaths had impacted not only his life, but Henry Irving's,
as well. Not to mention theatre-goers all over London. They
had no choice but to accede to the "request" of the police and
discontinue the run of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-which would
leave the remainder of the Lyceum's season in limbo.
Excerpted from Curtains of Blood
by Robert J. Randisi
Copyright © 2002 by Robert J. Randisi.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was so good. i read it in 4 days but I couldn't put it down. But when I had to all I could think about was that book.... I really liked it how he changed views to become Jack the Ripper....
This book was awesome this will not be the last book of his that i will read and guess what............i'm not even 15 yet!!!!!! I started grtting interested in murder stories after i saw 'From Hell'.
If you like any Jack the Ripper story, fiction or non-fiction, you will really enjoy this book. If has all the elements of a good mystery, well written too! This is my first Robert J. Randisi novel but it will not be my last!
Good book.Nice feel and historical setting.
This is Randisi's first attempt at horror, and he hits the bullseye! This Jack the Ripper story is a playground of suspenese, terror and good old fashioned fun! The protaganist is Bram Stoker, with Arthur Conan Doyle and several other stalwarts of the turn-of-the-century literary and theatre scene. Randisi uses tight and crisp prose to tell this enjoyable novel.
Randisi continually refers to Mr. Hyde as 'Henry Hyde'. Stevenson's protagonist was EDWARD HYDE! I think Randisi has him mixed up with the manufacturer of Juicy Fruit candies. Overall an ok pulp tale of unshockingly shallow depth and substance, but entirely enjoyable if one buys it for under $1 in a bargain setting.