Home > Capturing the Devil (Stalking Jack the Ripper #4)(13)

Capturing the Devil (Stalking Jack the Ripper #4)(13)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Uncle came around the corner, apron in hand. “They’re bringing a body ’round the back. I’ve set up the carriage house for the autopsy. Gather your tools and meet me there at once.”

My cheeks flushed as Thomas canted his head in our direction. So much for stealth.

“Are you—can it not wait?” I motioned to the room Thomas finally disappeared into. Uncle knew precisely what was happening and how important it was. “Thomas is—”

“Wasting time with matters of the heart when we’ve got a more important duty to uphold.” His eyes flashed in warning. “Do not remind me of his wayward priorities. Unless you’d like to both be taken from this case or any future cases, I suggest you realign your focus. The two of you are acting like lovestruck young adults instead of serious students of forensic medicine. Settle your personal affairs on your own time.”

With that he stormed past me and slammed the front door. I bit my lip, stealing one more look at the parlor. I longed to rush to Thomas and find out exactly what my father decided, but Uncle was right. This case was the most important of my life. If Jack the Ripper lived, I needed to set that straight before any more talk of weddings or love took place.

I called for my medical bag to be brought outside and made my way to the carriage house and the new body waiting to tell us its secrets.

“Focus! The left kidney weighs how much?” Uncle asked, practically snarling.

Another young woman lay on our makeshift examination table, silent, unlike the muffled street noise working its way into the carriage house. Wooden wheels clattering over cobblestones and another ravaged body weren’t the only causes of my distraction, however. My leg ached terribly. I’d removed my overcoat and gloves in favor of working efficiently, and it was unforgivably cold. My breath puffed in little white clouds as I weighed the organ, teeth chattering.

“O-one hundred a-and sixteen g-grams, sir.”

Uncle’s attention snapped from the opened corpse to me, swiftly noting the shivers I was no longer able to hide. My heavy velvet charcoal gown with scarlet trim was warm enough for sitting indoors with a hot cup of tea and a good book, but it was January in New York and the weather was as wicked as the person leaving bodies like fallen bits of snow around the slums.

“Grieves!” Uncle shouted for the poor stable boy he’d snagged for this most gruesome task. The young man appeared in the doorway, stealing glances at the slain woman, his complexion almost tinged green. “Tend to the fire. But mind it doesn’t get too warm. We don’t want to accelerate the decomposition of the body, do we?” The boy shook his head, no longer appearing just green; he now looked quite ready to vomit at the thought of a rotten corpse in his mistress’s carriage house. Whether it was from fear of my grandmother or the corpse, it was hard to discern. He’d already paled to an unhealthy hue when Uncle had demanded he remove all three of Grandmama’s carriages and replace them with an examination table. Perhaps he worried he’d end up like the cadaver we were carving once Grandmama found out. “Off you go, then!”

Horses quietly nickered and neighed from the next building, stamping their feet in either appreciation or annoyance as the boy added coal to the elaborate iron stove in the corner. Grandmama’s property was quite luxurious for city dwellings—having both a carriage house and stables. The fireplace warmed the space marginally where we worked, though the ground still seemed to delight in sending blasts of icy air up my skirts. I worked the numbness from my fingers, knowing I’d be of no use if they remained as stiff as rigor mortis.

“Ready?” Uncle asked, pursing his mouth.

“Yes, sir.” My leg throbbed, though I gritted my teeth and kept quiet about it, lest Uncle remove me from my task. “The right kidney is a bit larger—it’s one hundred and twenty grams.”

He held out a specimen tray and I deposited the slippery organ, heart racing as it nearly tumbled off the surface of the slick metal. “Easy, now.”

Uncle set it next to a specimen jar. I eyed the formalin waiting to be used and wiped my blade down with carbolic acid before choosing another tool from the bounty laid out on a small tray table. It was time to remove the stomach and sift through its contents to see what secrets it held.

A few slices in the correct areas had the stomach out and on the table, ready to be explored further. I hesitated, meeting my uncle’s hungry gaze across the body. For the first time I recognized his expression for what it truly was—curiosity. It was an inherited trait, after all. He nodded toward the organ, doing a poor job of keeping that insatiable thirst for knowledge in check. I cut carefully down the center of the stomach, doing my best to avoid having the blade sink too deep and destroy any evidence that might be present.

Uncle handed toothed forceps over, pointing to the two flaps I’d made. “Good. Now pull them back—excellent. Well done.” He pushed his spectacles up his nose. “Note any scent lingering.”

Though it was hardly the most appealing part of our job, I leaned close, drawing in a large breath. “Honestly, it smells a bit of ale. Is that… possible?”

Uncle jerked his head once in affirmation. “Indeed. In instances where a victim’s ingested too much to drink prior to death, it’s not unheard of to smell the alcohol in their blood.”

Without meaning to, my lip curled. Some scientific facts, no matter how intriguing, were horridly gruesome. “Why didn’t we notice that in Miss Brown’s room, then?”

“It might have been too faint with the ale that had spilled. Or we might have thought it was simply the upturned pail.” Uncle adjusted his apron, retying its strings. “It’s imperative to always take into account the scene. Little details which might seem unrelated often are pieces we’ve yet to fit into the puzzle.”

Thomas marched into the carriage room, his face an unreadable mask. I stood there, apron splattered with innards, trying to dissect any hint as to how his meeting with my father had gone. It was like the months of learning his quirks vanished at once. Apparently, he’d granted me those insights and had now withdrawn that luxury.

I tried catching his attention, but he stubbornly pretended not to notice. I couldn’t help but feel a slight sting. Thomas Cresswell could still be that same cold person in the laboratory and society; I just hadn’t expected him to be that way with me anymore. Especially not on the day he asked my father for my hand. His attention finally flicked to me, before landing on the cadaver. Clearly it was business as usual.

“Who’s this?” he asked, tone neutral, curious. “Is it another…”

He needn’t inquire aloud what we all feared. I wiped my own expression as clean as my blade, then lifted a shoulder. “At first glance? No. However”—I moved from the stomach to her head, pointing out the marks on her person—“she’s been strangled. Petechial hemorrhaging is present. As are slight abrasions around her neck. See?”

Thomas drew closer, attention fixed on the injuries. “Where was she found?”

“Not far from where Miss Brown’s body was discovered,” Uncle said. “Though she was dumped in an alleyway near Mulberry Street.”

“The Italian slums?” he asked. “Do we know her identity?”

Uncle shook his head. “Police haven’t been able to locate anyone who knew her. Might be a new arrival.”

“I see.” Thomas’s face betrayed the slightest hint of emotion. “They won’t do much searching, will they?”

I turned my attention back on her, brow crinkled. “Why wouldn’t they? She’s got every right to the same sort of investigation as anyone else.”

Uncle offered me a sad look. “They aren’t always keen on wasting time on immigrants.”

“‘Wasting’?” Something red-hot and boiling bubbled inside me. I was shaking so hard my hand slipped and I almost cut myself with the scalpel. “She’s a person who deserves to have her story told. What does it matter where she was born? She’s a human, same as the rest of us. Doesn’t that grant her a proper investigation?”

“Would that the world lived by that notion, we might all find peace.” Uncle motioned to a journal. “Now, then. Be sure to write down every detail, Thomas. Let’s give the police more than enough reason to keep searching for her family or loved ones.” Uncle turned his gaze back on me, narrowing his eyes as I slowly returned my focus to the stomach. “You ought to stand by the fire awhile, else your leg will be in a miserable state later.”

I was already in a right miserable state; I didn’t see any reason why my leg shouldn’t join the celebration as well. I lifted my chin. “I’ll live.”

“Not as long as you’d like to, should you keep that attitude up,” Uncle replied coolly. “Now, then. If we’re all feeling less ornery, let’s continue with the internal examination.”

Annoyed with my uncle, Thomas, and the ways of the world, I picked up my blade and sought justice the best way I knew how.

Skull and Rose Tattoo

ELEVEN

SKULL AND ROSE

AUDREY ROSE’S ROOMS

FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK CITY

22 JANUARY 1889

I was too stubborn to admit it, but Uncle was correct again—tonight my bones ached worse than they usually did. Standing for extended periods was difficult enough without wintry weather sinking its claws in, wreaking more havoc on me.

After we’d sewn up the last cadaver, I made my excuses to my family and had the kitchen send a dinner tray to my room, hoping my warm quarters and thick blankets might help. Once I finished eating, I sat in front of the fireplace, scalding tea in hand, and accomplished only burnt fingers. The aching chills refused to leave. Knowing I’d hurt worse in the morning, I limped to the bathing chamber and turned the copper faucet, filling the bath for a good, hot soak.

I stepped out of my robe and gingerly maneuvered into the water, wincing a bit until I acclimated to the heat. I leaned my head against the lip of the porcelain tub, my hair piled in a messy knot, and inhaled the pleasing herbal scent. Liza had taken to concocting more than tea blends—she’d made the loveliest aromatic salts for me, claiming medicinal properties would help different ailments. This particular blend would assist with drawing out toxins and calming my nerves, amongst other things, she told me.

   
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