Once at the workshop, I dropped Thomas’s arm and banged on Mephistopheles’s door, the pounding more frantic than my heart. I waited a breath, then knocked again, this time louder. The vibration reverberated up my arm and I felt it deep within my bones, but I couldn’t stop myself from banging again and again. We had to find Mrs. Harvey. I couldn’t imagine—

Thomas carefully wrapped his hand over mine, stilling me. “He’s not here, Audrey Rose. It’s all right.”

I stared at the closed door, jaw clenched against the tears that were threatening. Mrs. Harvey needed to be all right. I sucked in a deep breath, composing myself once again. The cool air helped soothe the rising panic.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s head down to the carnival cargo area, Mephistopheles—”

“Dr. Wadsworth!” We all jerked our attention toward the sound of the ringmaster’s voice. I wasn’t comforted by the expression on his face—it was more wild and frenzied than I’d ever before seen, even half hidden by a mask. “Please, come quickly.”

Mephistopheles skidded to a halt, then swung back in the direction he’d come from, not waiting to see if we followed. Thomas looked half mad with worry, but kept whatever he was thinking to himself, guiding me into the stairwell after Mephistopheles as quickly as my bulky skirts allowed. Instead of descending into the belly of the ship, we climbed the stairs up and up, the sounds of our shoes clomping over the metal and ringing both above and below.

Uncle and Liza brought up the rear, while Thomas and I practically clutched at Mephistopheles’s scarlet coattails. I’d ceased to be surprised when we reemerged on the first-class promenade and headed straight toward the music room. Mephistopheles had addressed my uncle rather than me, which wasn’t promising.

Without preamble, he threw the door open, thankfully revealing a sobbing Mrs. Harvey in the corner, hanging tightly to a very pale Andreas. Jian loomed behind them, his expression as stormy as the churning sea. If he were a god, he’d be wrath incarnate.

“Mrs. Harvey.” Thomas rushed to her side, dropping down to his knees, examining her for any wounds or trauma. Liza let go of our uncle and assisted Thomas.

My own emotions calmed at seeing Mrs. Harvey alive, though terribly shaken, her whole body vibrating with tremors and her lips moving silently in either prayer or comfort.

I immediately switched into scientist mode, attention falling over every object in the room while Thomas tended to his chaperone. The tarot cards Mephistopheles had painted, the Cirque d’Eclipse, were scattered across the floor. The magic looking glass lay propped against the wall where I’d seen it last, appearing no worse for the wear.

“There.” Mephistopheles told my uncle and me. “In the trunk.”

Uncle pushed his spectacles up his nose, his expression harder than the polished wooden planks we stood upon. I steeled myself as well; coming upon a body any place other than in a sterile laboratory was always a challenge. We were scientists, not monsters. I crept over to where the trunk sat alone behind a tower of tasseled pillows, fine silks and scarves spilling from its sides as if it’d been disemboweled. Andreas shut his eyes tightly, looking as though he wished he could conjure up another fate.

Uncle reached the trunk first, halting ever so slightly before bending in for a closer look. My pulse quickened with each step I took; I knew there was a body, but the discovery of who was a wretched thing. Finally, I stood over the trunk and peered down, stomach churning.

“Mrs. Prescott.” I clapped a hand over my mouth, shaking my head. The mother who had seemed so devastated and lost after her daughter had been killed at our table, always staring out at the endless sea. Part of me longed to sink to my knees, trying to search for a pulse that I knew had long since ceased. I could not fathom telling the chief magistrate that not only had this cruise ship taken his daughter but now his wife. The invitation he’d received swam through the forefront of my mind. The murderer clearly wanted the Prescott women aboard this ship in order to kill them. Though why he’d kill Mrs. Prescott quietly and leave her in a trunk seemed to differ from his normal theatrics. Perhaps he was desperate to lay the blame on someone else. Maybe planting her body here would lead us to investigate Andreas—he was, after all, well versed in tarot meanings.

Instead of falling apart, I inhaled deeply. “We need to notify her husband at once.” I barely recognized my voice—it was cool and unwavering. So unlike my churning emotions. Mephistopheles stared at me a moment before nodding. I faced my uncle. “Let’s get her decent for his identification. You take her arms; I’ll get her legs. We’ll place her on that settee in the corner.”

Ten phunny phools





7 JANUARY 1889

“Come. Let’s get you settled with some brandy.” Captain Norwood extended an arm toward the chief magistrate. “If there’s anything else you need…”

Chief Magistrate Prescott stared, unblinking, at his wife. I could not fathom his thoughts.

“With all due respect, Captain,” Uncle said, “I have a few questions for Cheif Magistrate Prescott first.”

The captain’s face turned crimson. “Not now, Doctor. Can’t you see he’s a wreck?”

Chief Magistrate Prescott didn’t even respond to his name. He was most decidedly in shock, but Uncle was correct. We needed to press him for information that would be useful immediately. Time had a strange way of distorting facts.

However, Uncle relented. “All right. We’ll call on him later.”

Once the captain had led the stricken man out of the room, I turned back to the body of Mrs. Prescott, doing my best to divorce myself from memories of her in life. We’d laid her across a settee and propped her head up on an embroidered pillow, giving her the appearance of a peaceful rest, albeit an eternal one.

“Close and latch the door,” Uncle said, directing his attention to Thomas, then inspected Mephistopheles as if he were a new brand of mold that we needed to be rid of. “Take your fortune-teller and swordsman and leave us. We’ll speak more later.”

Jian’s eyes flashed. “What else is there to say? Andreas came here to divine Mrs. Harvey’s future with the magic looking glass. That’s when he—” He shook his head. “Forget it. I’ll be in my cabin. Come on, Andreas.”

The fortune-teller glanced toward the looking glass, biting his lip. “No harm will come to—”

“I’ll make sure none of your belongings are ruined,” I said. I knew how valuable the looking glass was, and not simply because of its supposed ability to see into the future.

With that, both he and Jian left, the ringmaster giving us a curt nod before following them out.

“I’ll escort Mrs. Harvey back to her rooms,” Liza offered. “Don’t worry,” she added when Thomas looked ready to protest, “I’ll stay with her until you return.”

I clutched my cousin’s hands once. “Thank you.”

“Of course.”

As Liza guided a still-muttering Mrs. Harvey out the door, the first mate came in with Uncle’s medical bag. Uncle motioned to the foot of the settee. “There is fine. Now, then. Audrey Rose, come inspect the body. Tell me what you notice. Thomas, are you ready?”

My friend removed the journal and pen from his inner jacket pocket, a grim set to his lips. “Yes, Professor.”

“Good. Audrey Rose? Do as we’ve practiced.”

I swallowed the growing lump in my throat, forcing myself to see only this new case. I walked around the body, trying to locate any clue before picking up the measuring tape as Uncle had done earlier. “Victim is one hundred and fifty-seven centimeters. Reddish-brown hair, neatly maintained. Though there are some bits of gray near her temples.” I steeled myself and peeled back her eyelid. “Eye color is brown.” I held in my gasp. “Petechial hemorrhaging is present in the whites of her eyes.”

At this Uncle stepped forward and peered into her unseeing eyes. “Excellent, Niece. We have the likely cause of death—suffocation.”

I nodded, slowly seeing her last moments unfold in my mind. There were no signs of strangulation on her throat, no abrasions or contusions on her flesh; however, her lipstick was smeared, leading me to believe she’d been smothered by something. A glance around the room showed plenty of potential murder weapons. Pillows, silks, and fabrics—any one of them could have been the object that ended her life. I leaned over and lifted her hand, noting the body was warm to the touch. She’d been slain very recently. Andreas had apparently entered the cabin with Mrs. Harvey, but I’d no idea when Jian had arrived. I’d need to investigate his whereabouts more.

I pointed out the pillows and fabrics to Uncle. “If this is the murder scene—which I believe it is, since I cannot imagine someone dragging her body here without witnesses—then I’d wager we’ll find a bit of her lipstick on whatever was used to smother her.”

“Yes. What else?”

I slowly walked from her feet to her head and back again, taking in every outer detail I could. “Part of her skirts were cut… there. See? The fabric was snipped away in a line—too neat to have been torn in a struggle. I believe it happened after she’d been murdered.”

Thomas stood, lifting the edge of her outer skirts to better inspect the missing fabric length. It was a beautiful garment—pale as freshly fallen snow with bits of silver threaded through. The contrast of the purity of color against her sudden death seemed gruesome. She appeared ready for a wedding, not a funeral.

“Whoever committed this particular murder seems to have an obsession with pretty fabrics. Despite how odd that may sound,” he said, straightening up, “I believe that’s at least part of our motive, though not likely the main reason.”

The three of us looked at one another, minds seemingly racing in new directions. There was one person who immediately sprang to mind while thinking of nice fabrics; the same young ringmaster that I kept defending. I glanced back down at the missing length of silk. I could no longer deny that it was becoming harder to clear Mephistopheles from at least some guilt. Though I could also not deny that something about the motive didn’t quite sit right in my center. Uncle had taught us the importance of trusting our instincts, but I no longer could. At least not where the ringmaster was concerned.