Snippet Monday (belated): Dust and Silver

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…female_angel_praca_dos_restauradores_2

***

“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—”

“Fourteen months.”

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.”

***

An Update and a Short Story

I’ve had sick kids in the house for the last two weeks (one of those situations where, instead of them getting it all at once, they drag it out by only getting it one at a time) so I’m a bit brain dead at the moment. Lack of sleep, never-ending fetching of cups of juice, endless viewings of Moana and Horrible Histories…

But since I’m home with sick kids, I’ve been writing and editing and baking (so much baking…) The Bride Price is getting ready for its August 1st release (*bites nails*) and is now available for pre-order! I’m still finishing up revisions on An Unpracticed Heart as well, which is slated for a late-fall release (I’m looking at end of November-ish, to be honest.) And I’ve written another short story/scene set in the same world as my previous stories Dust and Silver, Sleet and Shadow, Pale for Weariness, and Music in its Roar. I’m posting it below for you, just to prove I’ve not been sitting around, resting on my proverbial laurels. *wiggles butt* These laurel things are prickly!

***

Upon the Brink Upon the Brink

I cannot see a thing. The rain ceased some hours before, but still a heavy mist clings to everything, clutching stubbornly to the rooftops, mingling with the smoke that belches out of every chimney and streams from every factory this near to the water.

“Stop here,” I say, and knock my fist against the ceiling of the carriage for good measure. The carriage meanders to a halt, and I drop the window and poke my face through the narrow opening. Despite the lights that should belong to the buildings I know are there, the orbs of illumination that should mark the position of each boat and ship currently trawling along the surface of the river, we are encased in a thick, stinking cloud that seems to glow from within, and all without providing any light by which George, my driver, can direct the horses.

The murk is even more impenetrable outside of the carriage. I stand still for a moment, the fingers of my right hand touching the door until I find my bearings. For there are no landmarks on which my eyes can fix, and before I can restrain it, a panic wells up inside of me, tightening around my chest like a steel band.

The sound of a ship’s horn is my saving grace. My mind latches onto it like the needle of a compass, and I move forward, picking carefully over the uneven ground as I approach the river.

Behind me, George clambers down from the carriage, and I hear his soothing words to the horses before he is swallowed up by the fog behind me. My eyes have adjusted to the point that I can make out a few larger impediments on either side of me. Warehouses, no doubt. And as I pass between them, the sounds of water slapping against the bank, of metal and wooden things knocking against each other grows louder. A gentle, downward slope of the ground, and I know I’ve nearly reached the water’s edge.

The light of the lamp catches my eye before I’ve taken three more steps. Two flashes, and then it is gone. Two more flashes…

My pace quickens, and what seems like it will be a great distance to travel is proven to be another trick of the mist when I almost stumble into the bearer of the light, one arm reaching out to steady me as the shuttered lantern swings from his other hand.

“My lady?”

My gaze sketches out the edge of narrow shoulders placed somewhere beneath a head and the brim of a cap. I search for the more identifying features of a face, but the gloom is too thick and so I must make do with the familiarity of the voice instead.

“Mr. Robson.” There is no gesture I can make that he will see, and so I move closer, my eyes fixing on the thin line of light peeking out from behind the cover of his lantern. “Where is he?”

My guide says nothing, but his fingers tighten on my arm and he draws me onward, our steps kicking out stones behind us as we rush towards the river and the treasure most recently dredged out of it.

Continue reading “An Update and a Short Story”