Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(8)

Not much separated him from a butcher in appearance. I supposed even deceased humans were nothing more than animals being flayed open in the name of science instead of nourishment.

Everything looked the same when you removed its top layers.

I nearly laughed out loud at my absurd thoughts. Twice a year Aunt Amelia and cousin Liza stayed with us. Part of their visit included socializing me with girls my age by hosting lavish tea parties. Aunt Amelia hoped I’d continue attending them on my own, but I’d put an end to that. The girls at tea didn’t understand my mind, which was precisely why I’d declined their invitations over the last several months. I hated the pity in their eyes and couldn’t imagine explaining my afternoons to them.

Some of them found it obscene to dip their butter knives into lemon curd. What horror they’d feel at seeing my scalpel disappearing into bloody tissue!

Something cool and wet seeped into the bottom of my shoes. I hadn’t noticed the pool of blood I’d been standing in. I quickly fetched a bag of sawdust and sprinkled it across the floor like a fine layer of tan-colored snow. I’d have to get rid of my slippers before I went home later, no need to frighten my newest lady’s maid any more than I normally did when I came home splattered in the day’s work.

Uncle snapped his fingers, returning me to the task at hand.

Once I’d disinfected the bone saw Uncle used to open the cranium and laid it back on the shelf, the autopsy was complete. Uncle Jonathan stitched the body together like a skilled tailor whose medium was flesh instead of fine fabric. I watched as the Y incision he’d made earlier turned from darkened crimson to black thread.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Thomas furiously sketching the body in its last state. His pencil slowing, then speeding across the paper. I grudgingly had to admit his drawing was really quite good. The details he captured would aid us with the investigation once the body was taken back to the morgue.

“Do you recognize the deceased, Audrey Rose?”

My attention snapped to Uncle. He was removing his apron, his gaze locked onto mine. I bit my lip, studying the woman’s mangled face. There was that gnawing sense of familiarity, but I still couldn’t place her. I slowly shook my head, feeling defeated.

“She worked in your household. Briefly.” Guilt sunk its claws into me—I still didn’t recognize the poor woman. What a wretched thing; taking no notice of someone in my very own home. Miss Nichols deserved better from me. And the world. I felt utterly terrible. Uncle turned to the sink. “You would’ve been ill at the time.”

Thomas jerked his attention up, reading my body for any signs of lingering disease. As if he even cared. He was probably worried this news might pose some sort of potential hazard for himself. My face burned, and I busied myself with the specimens.

“What have either of you learned from our little exercise today?” Uncle Jonathan interrupted my thoughts, scrubbing his hands and forearms with a block of carbolic soap. “Any interesting theories?”

I jumped at the opportunity to speak my mind now that we weren’t surrounded by students. A small part of me was also excited for a chance to show off my theories in front of Thomas. I wanted him to see he wasn’t the only one with an interesting mind.

“Whoever is responsible for the murder must have some sort of training in the medical field,” I said. “He might even be a mortuary student. Or someone who’s taken surgical classes at the very least.”

Uncle nodded. “Good. Tell me more.”

Feeling bolstered by Uncle’s approval, I circled the body. “She might’ve been grabbed by her face, then received a blow rendering her unconscious.” I thought of the incisions and areas of the body that were injured. “Also, she might have been brought elsewhere. Our murderer needed time to perform his surgery without interruption.”

An image of our former servant being beaten, then dragged to some forgotten cellar or other damp, shadowy place set my skin crawling around my body like worms in a graveyard. Though I didn’t remember her, the mere thought of her living and breathing and working in my house made me feel responsible for her in a way. I wanted to help her now in death, though I’d failed her miserably in life. Maybe she’d still be alive and reputably employed if I’d been brave enough to speak out against Father’s chronic need to change staff every few weeks.

My hands fisted at my sides. I refused, absolutely refused to let this cruel treatment of a woman stand. I’d do everything in my power to solve this case for Miss Nichols. And for any other voiceless girl or woman society ignored.

Mother would’ve done the same.

All other thoughts left my mind in place of the horrific reality we were dealing with. “He must have slit her throat in a location where a large amount of blood wouldn’t draw attention. Possibly he took her to the slaughterhouse and did it there.”

Thomas snorted from his station near the body. I whipped around to properly glare at him, removing the ties from my apron with as much venom as I could inject into the action, and tossing it into a laundry bin. I knew my face must be flushed again, but hoped he’d misinterpret the cause.

“Why is that funny, Mr.…?”

He composed himself and stood.

“Mr. Thomas Cresswell at your service, Miss Wadsworth.” Bending slightly at the waist in a mock bow, he came to his full, impressive height and smiled. “I find it amusing because it’s an extraordinary amount of work for our murderer. Hauling her off to the slaughterhouse after he went through the trouble of knocking her unconscious.” He tsked. “Seems rather unnecessary.”

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