“Olivia!” Mrs. Prescott clutched her daughter’s body, tears dripping onto her velvet dress. “Get up. Get up!”

Blood smeared across the tablecloth and Mrs. Prescott’s bodice, the color as dark as my churning emotions. Miss Prescott was dead. I could neither process it nor will my heart to harden and be of use. How could this be?

Captain Norwood was suddenly out of his seat and yelling commands I could not decipher through the relentless ringing in my head. Movement around the table finally forced my gaze away from the knives and blood; diners were being escorted out, though the merriment in the room hadn’t quelled. Except for a few at nearby tables, no one looked especially alarmed. I stared down at the horror, uncertain how anyone might mistake it for an illusion. There was so much blood.

“Wadsworth?” Thomas touched my elbow, his brow crinkled. I stared at him without truly seeing anything. A lively young woman lay dead next to me; the world no longer made sense. “Ghastly though it sounds, pretend it is an equation now.”

Thomas bent until I met his gaze, his expression as strained as I imagined my own. This wasn’t easy for him, either. And if he could turn that cool exterior on, then I could, too. Shaking myself from my own horror, I rushed to Mrs. Prescott’s side, and gently took her hands in mine. It was both to comfort her and preserve the crime scene. Through my storm of emotions I clutched at one fact: a murderer was on board this ship and we needed to isolate clues quickly. As gruesome as it was, we couldn’t disturb the body. At least not yet.

“Come,” I said as tenderly as I could.

“Olivia!” Mrs. Prescott wailed. “Sit up!”

“Look at me, Ruth. Only at me,” Mr. Prescott interrupted his wife’s screams. There was an edge in his voice that carved through her growing hysteria. She straightened, though her lips trembled. “Go to our chambers and instruct Farley to give you a warm brandy. I’ll send Dr. Arden at once.”

I made to go with her when a warm hand came down on my shoulder. Thomas squeezed it in comfort, his golden-brown eyes serious as he inspected me. “I’ll escort Mrs. Prescott and Mrs. Harvey to their chambers, then fetch your uncle.”

He didn’t ask if I’d be all right staying with the body; he trusted I would be. I stared at him a moment more, his confidence proving a balm to my raw nerves, soothing my fears. I nodded once, took another deep breath, then faced the table. Captain Norwood stared at a playing card stuck to Miss Prescott’s back I hadn’t noticed. It was directly in the center of her spine. My blood chilled. Whoever had thrown the knife had impaled the card through the blade first. A potential warning and a clue.

“I’ll need this area to be left precisely as it is, Captain,” I said, falling back on months of forensic training while Thomas guided the two women out. Uncle would be proud; I’d collected my emotions like anatomical specimens and stored them away to dissect later. “You’ll also need to question everyone in this room.”

“The lights were out, Miss Wadsworth.” Norwood swallowed hard, his focus sliding back to the knives in Miss Prescott’s spine and the torn card. “I doubt they witnessed anything useful.”

I longed to smack him upside the head with that obvious remark. The lights had only been out briefly—someone might have noticed suspicious behavior prior to that.

“Humor me then, sir,” I said, using my best authoritative tone. The captain clamped his jaw. It was one thing to hear commands from a man, but from a seventeen-year-old girl it was quite another. For the sake of the murdered woman before us, I let my annoyance go. “My uncle is an expert with reading a crime scene,” I added, sensing the captain’s wavering decision. “It’s what he’d advise.”

He ran a hand down his face. A death on the first night of the Moonlight Carnival didn’t bode well for his future plans. “Very well. I’ll send crew to everyone’s rooms tonight.”

At a signal from the captain, attendants swept into the saloon like a well-dressed army, ushering members of first class out as calmly as they could. A few guests threw nervous glances our way, but most were excitedly chattering on about how lifelike the performance was. How real the blood appeared. And how on earth had the ringmaster managed to make the knives in the back look so authentic? Captain Norwood said nothing to confirm or deny these theories. He stood, face grim, and bid the passengers good evening.

As the room emptied, an uncomfortable feeling tingled down my own spine. I turned, surprised to find Mephistopheles staring from the stage, expression impossible to read behind his mask. Unlike the others, however, his attention wasn’t on the murdered girl. He was watching me. His gaze was heavy, almost tangible, and I wondered what he’d seen or might know. I took a step in his direction, intent on asking him these questions and more, but he faded into the shadows and disappeared for good.

The chamber we’d been offered for Miss Prescott’s postmortem reminded me of a dank cave.

We were deep within the bowels of the Etruria, and being so near the boiler system, the temperature was unpleasantly warm and the lights flickered a bit too often, as if the ship itself was nervous about what dark deeds were to come. I was grateful for the refrigeration on board—we wouldn’t keep the body in this chamber for long, lest it swell with rot overnight and attract vermin.

Gooseflesh tickled my skin despite the heat. No matter how hard I fought to think otherwise, I could not escape from memories of another sinister laboratory. One where the whirl-churn sounds still managed to tiptoe through my nightmares some evenings. The bad dreams were less frequent than in weeks past, but they haunted me from time to time, painful reminders of all that I’d lost during the Autumn of Terror.

Ignoring the hiss of steam emanating from an exposed pipe, I focused on Uncle Jonathan as he rolled up his shirtsleeves and proceeded to scrub with carbolic soap. When he finished, I walked around the examination table, sprinkling sawdust to soak up any blood or fluids that might leak onto the floor. Rituals were necessary parts of our work. They helped keep our hearts and minds clear, according to Uncle.

“Before I remove the knives, I want physical details written down.” Uncle’s tone was as cool as the metal scalpels I’d laid out on the makeshift tray. “Height, weight, and so on. Audrey Rose, I’ll need my—”

I handed his apron over, then tied my own about my waist. I hadn’t changed out of my evening attire, and the juxtaposition of my fine silk gown against the plain apron reminded me of how unpredictable life could be. I doubted when Miss Prescott woke this morning she feared she’d be lying facedown on our examination table, stabbed with knives starting from the base of her skull and ending just near her tailbone.

Thomas picked up a notebook and nodded toward me, expression determined. He and I were well versed in our macabre roles, having practiced many times in more than one country. It seemed no matter where we went, death followed, and like greedy misers, we stored data away, profiting, in a sense, from loss. I’d provide the scientific findings and he’d record them—a team in all ways.

I dug around inside Uncle’s leather medical satchel until I found the measuring tape. I held it from crown to toe as I’d been taught, my mind clearing with the familiar task. Now wasn’t the time to reflect on all the things Miss Prescott longed to do in life. Now it was time to read her corpse for clues. I didn’t believe in revenge, but it was hard not to seek justice for her.

“Deceased is a female named Miss Olivia Prescott, approximately one hundred and sixty-five centimeters, and eighteen years of age,” I said, pausing for Thomas to scratch the information down. He looked up, my signal to continue. “I’d put her weight around seven and a half stone.”

“Good.” Uncle lined up the scalpels, bone saws, and scissors I’d need for the internal examination next. “Cause of death.”

I tore my gaze from the cadaver. “I beg your pardon, sir, but there’s nearly a dozen knives protruding from her back. Isn’t her cause of death rather obvious? I’m sure one or more of them either pierced her heart or lungs, or severed her spinal column.”

He turned his sharp, green-eyed focus on mine and I fought the urge to shrink away. Clearly, I’d forgotten an important lesson. “As forensic examiners, we cannot shut off other avenues to search. What have I taught you about trusting only that which you see?”

As far as admonishments went, it wasn’t the worst, but my face still flamed under his scrutiny. “You’re correct… it’s… I suppose it’s possible the knives have been poisoned. Or that Miss Prescott was killed through other means and the knives were a distraction. She did expire rather quickly and quietly.”

“Very good.” Uncle nodded. “It’s imperative we keep our emotions and theories in check while performing a postmortem. Otherwise we run the risk of influencing our findings. Or becoming so distraught we work ourselves into a fit, like your aunt Amelia.”

Uncle closed his eyes and I had the distinct impression he hadn’t wished to speak of her.

“Aunt Amelia?” I drew my brows together. “What’s happened to upset her? Is Father all right?”

An uncomfortably long pause followed my question and Uncle seemed at a loss for words. I gripped the measuring tape in my hands, knowing anything that took this long for him to compose a response to couldn’t be good. He finally shot Thomas a pinched-lipped look—as if he wasn’t certain he wanted his other protégé to hear what he had to say, then sighed.

“It seems Liza has gone missing.”

“Missing? That can’t be right.” The shrill ringing in my head from earlier was back. I took an unsteady step away from the corpse, lest I faint onto it. “I received a letter from her only last week.” I shut my mouth, trying to recount when my cousin’s letter had been dated. I couldn’t recall. But there hadn’t been anything out of the ordinary. She’d been happy, secretly meeting with a young man. There was no harm in innocent flirtations. “Surely Aunt Amelia is overreacting. Liza is probably off with…”