I apologize for the lateness of this post, but my reasons are good: I was caught up untangling some plot messes yesterday, forgot to write up this post, and ta-da! It’s suddenly Tuesday and whoops.
So, this week, I bring you another excerpt from Dust and Silver. In this scene, Lady Drummond arrives at a meeting with several others, to discuss a recent string of murders that has occurred in London…
“Another one?” I pose the question to whichever of them decides to provide me with an answer. Mr. Albert Goring, the man at the table, is the first to reply.
“That makes three now. A prostitute, a kitchen maid, and now the wife of a banker.”
I scan through a few more lines, my eyes narrowing as I attempt to make out the notes, apparently written in some haste. “Hmm, seems to be moving up steadily along the rungs of society. And there is nothing in common other than the manner of their deaths?”
Mitchell sniffs and lets the window blind fall back into place. When he turns towards us, his dark eyebrows are pinched together, the creases between them the only lines on an otherwise smooth, ageless face. “The head nearly chewed off. Hell, this one was barely held to the body by more than a scrap of sinew.” He comes up behind Goring, reaching over him to shuffle through a few of the papers until he finds what he wants: A photograph, one that he takes the trouble to walk around the length of table in order to bring to my side.
“No,” I say, as my gaze falls on the image. “Not a clean wound at all.”
I try not to imagine how much worse the scene must have appeared to the naked eye. Rendered in black and white, a majority of the blood is reduced to mere mottled shadow, or stains that could be explained away as something – anything – else. But the position of the woman’s head cannot be interpreted as a play of light and shadow or a simple photography trick. There it lies, against her shoulder, the thick, wet ropes of her dark hair spread out around her, in a grotesque simulation of a crown or the rays of the sun.
There is no elegance to the injury. A knife or even the swift slice of an axe would have left some line of the woman’s throat intact. But this is a nothing short of a mess. Flesh that appears to have been gnawed on, torn apart, the skin hanging ragged around the still-gleaming white and visible vertebrae of her spine. The rest of her remains untouched, and I wonder at how so much violence could be inflicted on a single part of her body, and nowhere else.
“What was her name?”
“Mrs. Lillian Butler,” Goring tells me. “Married less than a year. The police, of course, have their eye on the husband. But he wasn’t even in the country when the last murder occured. They were on their wedding journey, in Paris at the time.”
I push the photograph away from me, face-down on the tabletop. “So we have three deaths over the span of a year—”
I glance at Mitchell, who has resumed his place by the window.
“Fourteen months,” I amend. “Three women, vastly different backgrounds, and there’s nothing connecting the location of their deaths?”
Goring clears his throat. “Mrs. Butler was murdered in her home. In Leadenhall Street.”
“And the ladies’ maid, Miss Docking, was in St. James’ Street. Though she wasn’t killed there.” Instead, her body had been found in the mews behind the townhouse in which she lived and worked, the straw of an empty horse’s stall soaked in her blood. “And Miss Patton—”
“The whore,” Mitchell interrupts. I refuse to even flick my eyes in his general direction.
“—was discovered in an alley off Chancery Lane. And there is nothing else? Place of birth? Even where their parents, their grandparents hailed from?”
Goring shakes his head. “Nothing but the, uh…” He waves a hand in front of his collar, the vicious wounds shared by three separate victims recreated with a waggle of wrinkled fingers.
I lean back in my chair, drum my fingers on the edge of the table. “So we are precisely where we were before, when Miss Docking was killed.”