As she fled to the kitchen, I undid the buttons of my coat, glancing up the stairs toward my bedroom where the little dog was hidden from the world along with the bloodstained coat. My fingers felt stiff, my limbs like wood. I entered the dining room like a ghost, and I must have looked the same, but the professor was so occupied by the broken clock that he didn’t glance at me as I sank into one of the straight-backed chairs.
I wanted to rest my head in my hands. I wanted to tell him everything.
“Blast these tiny parts,” he muttered, holding up a spring no larger than his fingernail. “They were made for nimbler fingers.”
The wooden clock sat upright on the table, its insides laid out as the professor performed his mechanical autopsy. He hadn’t practiced surgery in over a decade, but his skill was apparent in the way he cataloged the clock’s parts, testing each one methodically for faults. I kept my hands clasped under the table, my mind still too numb for words.
Mary brought out a plate of gingerbread cut into star shapes, warning us not to eat too many and ruin our appetites, though that hardly stopped the professor. I couldn’t yet face returning to my room, to the dog who had trod in a dead man’s blood, and the stains on my coat. Besides, watching the professor work calmed me. He was careful and attentive, but he paused for bites of cake and idle chatter. So unlike my father, who had been so serious. So unlike me, too.
I stayed up quite late to avoid the secrets stashed in my bedroom, long after Mary left for the day and the professor retired to bed. Then, by the light of a lantern, I worked on the clock myself, using an old book of mechanics to repair the broken gears that were too small for the professor’s arthritic old fingers. At last I replaced the final screw and closed the clock’s wooden door. When the professor woke in the morning, it would be to the god-awful squawk of that blasted bird he loved so much.
It wasn’t much to repay his kindness, but it was something.
At last I climbed the stairs with weary limbs and closed myself in my bedroom. The fire had long since gone out. When I called Sharkey, he came out from under the bed, blinking, and something broke inside me.
I grabbed him and slid between the covers, my body wracked in shivers, and pulled the little dog against me. We shivered together under the expensive duvets and sheets, neither of us belonging in so fine a house.
There was no sleep for me that night. I tried to picture the alleyway again, to remember exactly what the thief girl’s wounds had looked like, but the match light had been so faint, and my fear had been a distorting lens. Certainly it wasn’t strange that a girl who’d tried to rob me had later ended up dead. She was a criminal, after all, and Shoreditch was a dangerous neighborhood. Maybe she’d tried to pick the wrong pocket, or gotten in a brawl, or someone had found out there wasn’t a man’s body under that clothing.
I let these dangerous thoughts unfurl beneath the sheets, exploring them cautiously, feeling their weight. After some time, when I was certain the professor was fast asleep, I climbed out of my warm bed where the little dog snored softly, and knelt by my pile of crumpled clothes. I could smell the blood on them, along with something more fragrant—pollen.
I dug through until I found the flower. Why had I kept it? I should have thrown it to the street, but for some reason I’d slipped it in my coat pocket instead.
I could still get rid of it. Burn it in the fire. Throw it out the window.
Instead, with trembling fingers, I carefully placed the pressed flower within the pages of my journal. I don’t know what instinct made me keep it, this bloody memento of a murderer. Call it sentimentality. Call it curiosity.
Just don’t call it madness.
IN THE MORNING, THE previous day’s adventures seemed as unreal as nightmares, and yet the flower pressed within my journal was real enough, as was the sleeping dog beside me.
All trace of my bloody coat had burned in the fireplace except for the silver buttons, which I slipped into my pocket. I wasn’t looking forward to telling the professor I’d need a new one. I pulled out the newspaper and reread the article again. The familiar names of the victims stared at me from the page, as did another name—Inspector John Newcastle. Lucy’s ambitious young suitor had been chosen to lead the investigation of the Wolf of Whitechapel, and I wasn’t certain whether this news was welcome or not; as much as I loathed the idea of seeking information from the police, Inspector Newcastle might be able to give me more clues about the murderer and his victims. But how could I possibly explain my interest to the inspector? Well-bred seventeen-year-old girls weren’t fascinated by murder suspects, as a rule. If I said three of the four victims had personally wronged me, I’d become the number one suspect.
My fingers clenched the newsprint. If only Montgomery was here, he’d know what to do. He had always been better than me at these things: investigating, tracking, lying. For the longest time I’d thought him a terrible liar, and yet in the end, he’d fooled me well enough. I could still remember his voice: You shouldn’t have anything to do with me. I’m guilty of so many crimes. He’d warned me plain as day, and yet I’d still fallen in love with him, believed we had a future . . . and now here I was, alone with ink-stained fingers, only a dog for company and an old man who didn’t begin to know the truth about me.
I skipped over Inspector Newcastle’s name and let my gaze linger on the last line of the article, a line that I’d barely glanced at in my hurry yesterday: “The bodies are being kept in King’s College of Medical Research until autopsies can be performed to shed light on the exact nature of the deaths.”