- Escaping from Houdini
Thomas stood abruptly, dropping his notebook as he lifted the victim’s arm. He leaned close, then set it back down, face grim. “It appears as though she’s been administered a shot. Or has had some bloodletting done. Look there. A small syringe might have made that mark.”
My heart rate jumped. “We know of at least one doctor aboard this ship.”
“One who had a connection to our first victim,” Thomas added. “And he was none too keen on having us anywhere near his next patient.”
“Dr. Arden admitted to giving Chief Magistrate Prescott an elixir.” I had a growing feeling of dread. “And both Prescotts were absent from the dining saloon.” I’d imagined they’d chosen to remain in their rooms, mourning their daughter. But what if they were unable to leave? “I know he’d said he wouldn’t be attending, but did either of you notice Dr. Arden during the show tonight?”
Uncle shook his head. “I didn’t see him. And Chief Magistrate Prescott didn’t answer the door when I called on him again before supper. In fact, the room sounded empty. No one so much as shifted. Odd if they were both in the room as they’d claimed they’d be.”
“Well, then”—Thomas grabbed our cloaks—“let’s check on them at once. We’ll fetch the captain on the way.”
“No need.” Captain Norwood leaned against the doorframe, his face more tired looking than it had been the last time I’d seen him. “I’ve come to give you the news myself.”
I covered the body with the shroud, hoping to give her as much respect as I could. The captain wrenched his attention away from the corpse, appearing a bit green around the collar. “My crew went to each first-class cabin, hoping to find a witness. But—”
“We believe we’ve discovered who’s responsible, sir,” I said, not wanting to waste time. We needed to check on the Prescotts; hopefully we weren’t already too late. “You need to locate and apprehend Dr. Arden at once. He was last—”
“Pardon me, Miss Wadsworth,” he interrupted, “but I’m afraid you all may be wrong.” He glanced at the covered body again, swallowing hard. “You see… we spoke with everyone… and Miss Arden, the doctor’s daughter, is missing.” He removed a photograph from his coat pocket and held it out for us to see. I drew back, stomach sinking. “This is the young woman on your examination table, is it not?”
I stared mutely at the photograph, mind slowly catching up with the new information and what it meant to our case. If Dr. Arden’s daughter was our victim, and if there was no conflict between them, then that eliminated him from suspicion. We needed to begin again—and the task seemed daunting.
“But this isn’t all you found out, is it?” Uncle nodded to another sheet of paper the captain had poking out from his coat pocket.
“I wish it was.” Norwood sighed and withdrew the note. “Another family is demanding we investigate the disappearance of their daughter. I ask that you all come with me straightaway.”
My knees felt weak. Already… the potential for another body. Thomas caught my eye. He needn’t utter a word—two bodies and a possible third in only two days. What we had now was another career murderer. One who had only just begun his dark acts.
Crimson fabric spilled like fresh blood over the floor of Miss Crenshaw’s first-class cabin, an unsightly gash in an otherwise well-appointed chamber. I stood over the mess, hands on my hips, studying the silks the way I imagined Thomas was doing beside me, trying to discern order from chaos. It was a monumental task, especially since I was all too aware of the need for discretion as her parents’ gazes seared into my back. I didn’t need to possess Thomas’s uncanny skills with deductions to know they wouldn’t be pleased by my conclusion.
Honestly, though, hers was a much-better fate than the one I’d originally feared. I stared at the crumpled gown until nearly going cross-eyed, hoping to find some clue as to where its owner disappeared to. One that would not cause a fainting spell or scandal. Lord Crenshaw was a popular figure, and I knew the reputation of his family and their good name was of the utmost importance.
I refocused on the dress. The fabric was beautiful—some of the finest threads in all of Europe from what I could see. The only conclusion I had was that it was an awful shame to discard it on the floor in such a careless manner.
Miss Crenshaw might be reckless in personality, but that didn’t mean she’d been murdered. If foul play wasn’t the issue, then that meant she’d run off… and young, unmarried women typically didn’t do so alone. A glance at her parents had me questioning which they’d prefer to be true. A scandal of this nature was a death in itself.
Two champagne flutes sat on a nightstand along with a half-eaten chocolate cake, furthering my suspicion that she hadn’t been alone.
I flicked my attention to my uncle, but he was preoccupied with watching crew members scour the bedroom chamber, ensuring they didn’t disturb any potential forensic clues. After the unveiling of Dr. Arden’s daughter earlier, everyone was balanced on a scalpel’s edge.
I squinted toward the porthole, recalling the constant ebb and flow of people who worked the docks prior to us leaving port yesterday. It would be an ideal place to get lost in a crowd.
“You claim that your daughter has been missing since yesterday? Before the ship left?” They nodded. “Have you questioned her lady’s maid?” I toed the dress with my own embroidered silk shoes. “Someone had to have helped her out of this garment. The bodice is quite intricate. Look at the stays on the back—there’s no possible way she’d have undone that alone.”
Thomas lifted his dark brows in appraisal, but didn’t comment. I studied him out of the corner of my eye, noticing the smile he was fighting and wondered what I’d missed that had amused him.
“Surely this is not an indication of foul play,” said Lord Crenshaw. I noted that he didn’t answer my question. I pried my attention away from his distractingly white mustache. “Our daughter might be visiting another guest. Or perhaps she changed her mind and returned to London prior to sailing.”
Ready to jump at any lifeline and save his ship’s reputation, Captain Norwood readily agreed. “I can say with authority it wouldn’t be the first time a passenger has decided to disembark from the ship. Ocean travel can be quite daunting to some.”
“Yes,” Lord Crenshaw said, looking hopeful. “That’s probably it. Elizabeth is deathly afraid of the water. Perhaps she didn’t want to make a fuss and went home. She’d mentioned how nervous she was just yesterday morning. Which was the last time we saw her.”
“Would she have taken anyone with her? A chaperone?” I asked, seeing the hesitation on Lady Crenshaw’s face. It was a nice story, but most fairy tales had a dark side to them, especially when it came to a princess’s fate. “A footman or maid?”
“I—I don’t believe anyone else is missing,” Lady Crenshaw said. “But Elizabeth wouldn’t… she’s such a good girl. She probably didn’t wish to ruin our trip. It’s not as if she’s a lower-class trollop.”
I chomped down on my immediate response, face burning. If she were a he, I doubted they’d call her such names. And her station had nothing to do with the matter whatsoever. Plenty of less fortunate families had more class than Lady Crenshaw had just showed.
“Have you noticed anything of value missing?” I asked. “Jewelry, trinkets…”
Lady Crenshaw shook her head. “Only an emerald ring. But Elizabeth never took it off.”
“You’re quite sure that’s it?” I pressed.
“I haven’t had anyone go through her things.” Lady Crenshaw flipped open the jewelry box, rifled through it a bit, then drew her brows together. “A strand of pearls is also missing. I-I’m really not sure that that has anything to do with her disappearance, though.”
Thomas bit his lower lip, an indication he was battling some inner war with himself. “Was she alone? I see two champagne flutes, one of which has lipstick and the other does not,” he said. “Another obvious deduction may be that she was undressed by her lover after they indulged in some spirits.”
Everyone in the room sucked in a sharp breath. I rolled my eyes skyward, wondering what I’d done to irk any higher power that might exist. It was the one thing we were all supposed to think but not speak aloud. Even Uncle stiffened.
“That would explain the hasty pile of clothes,” Thomas added, undeterred by the sudden silence, “the crinkled bedding, and the subsequent absence of Miss Crenshaw. Perhaps she’s run off with someone and didn’t wish to tell her parents. If I had to guess, I’d say it was someone below her station. Which is all the more plausible after noticing that ink stain on her pillowcase. Appears as if someone who worked with their hands rested them there. It’s also on the crystal.”
“How dare you!” Lord Crenshaw said, face reddening by the second. I wondered what had aggravated him more—the thought of Miss Crenshaw running away, or potentially going off with someone of a lower class. “Our daughter would do no such thing… to even suggest that sort of reprehensible behavior is—”
“Don’t lose your temper, dear.” Lady Crenshaw laid a hand on his arm. “Let’s leave them to this and retire for bed. Elizabeth is home in London. We’ll write to her when we’re in New York in a week’s time. This was all a silly misunderstanding.”
Lord Crenshaw nodded stiffly to the captain and gave Thomas a severe glare before leaving the room. Once they were gone, I set my attention back on the cabin. There weren’t any signs of a struggle, and no blood splatter. Judging from the dress left on the floor, I doubted a murderer would have spent time washing the walls of blood only to leave the bed and gown crumpled. Especially given the theatrical nature of the last body we’d found. Though the second champagne flute was a troubling detail. One that didn’t sit right.