Authors: Viola Carr
â¢ EPIGRAPH â¢
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.
MOTHER GOOSE NURSERY RHYME
A SHUDDER IN THE BLOOD
N LONDON, WE'VE GOT MURDERERS BY THE DOZEN
. Rampsmen, garroters, wife beaters and baby farmers, poisoners and pie makers and folk who'll crack you over the noddle with a ha'penny cosh for the sake of your flashy watch chain and leave your meat for the rats. Never mind what you read in them penny dreadfuls: there ain't no romance in murder.
But every now and again, we gets us an artist.
See here, now. A woman lies dead, in a bleak slum alley just yards from the glittering theaters and smoking purple arc-lights of Haymarket. He's bunched her petticoats around her thighs, a black mess of blood. And above the knee, smart as a slice o' bacon, he's hacked her legs clean off.
Her face is twisted, shock and terror and
Takes his precious time, this cove. What a charmer.
A ragged crowd has gatheredânaught more invigorating than someone else who's dead when you ain'tâand the coppers have put up a screen of bedsheets to keep 'em back. But no one can see me, not where I'm hiding, and I get meself a
real good look. It's mid-morningâI've spent a fitful night in here, let me tell you, trapped in my bleak nightmare of chainsâand the watery sun's already blotted out by the city's pall of filth. Here in the slums, where the
lurks, the gutters run with shit and the air chokes me, thick with cholera and black lung and the forbidden stink of spellwork. Rats the size of tomcats snigger glint-eyed in the shadows, coveting that tasty corpse. The rotting alley walls lurch inwards, threatening to crush us all.
And here's Eliza, examining the dead meat for evidence. Sweet Eliza, so desperately middle class in those drab dove-gray skirts, with her police doctor's satchel over her shoulder. She's a picture, ain't she? Gaffing around with her gadgets and colored alchemy phials, those wire-rimmed spectacles pinched on her nose. Her shiny brass goggles, with their electro-spectrical this and telescopic that and ion-charged the other, perch on the brim of her tiny hat. Her little clockwork pet scuttles beside her, four spindly brass legs splashed with muck.
Here's Eliza. And here's me, the canker in her rose. The restless shadow in her heart.
“As I thought!” exclaims Eliza, poking at the dead woman's severed thighs with a pair of iron tweezers. “A bayonet, Inspector. Or some other blade shaped thus. And a saw for the bones. Our killer came prepared.”
“Wonderful. Another lunatic. Must be something in the water.” The plain-clothes copper with the mustachesâyes, he, the pompous pratâstrides over. Detective Inspector Hoity-Toity, in his tall hat and fine black morning coat.
What's the color of a tuppence piece? Copper, copper .Â .Â .
Blue-uniformed constablesâcoppers, crushers, bobbies, peelers,
whatever, they're corrupt scumbags all, and I'd give 'em a sprightly chase, so I wouldâthe crushers mill around, parroting their fool questions, chasing away nosy broadsheet scribblers, and kicking at dirty urchins with rat's tails or cloven feet who try to sneak in.
“Any sign of the missing limbs?” says Eliza.
“None.” The detective strokes his mustaches. “But I don't imagine they walked away by themselves.”
“Amazing. Your deductive powers are truly uncanny.”
He grins. “One does one's best.”
I itch to spit in his face. Detectives are London's new golden demigods, with eyes and ears everywhere, guardians of the shady line between
. What with coppers plus government spies and the god-rotting witch-burners of the Royal Society, it seems these days everyone's a snout, and we weird-city folk don't take kindly to being lorded over.
Still, to be fair, they're dab hands at catching bad men, this copper and my Elizaâmore than one bloke gone kicking to the hangman who'd testify to that, not to mention the ones moldering in Bedlam or starving their skinny arses off in electrified dungeons at Coldbath Fieldsâand I for one won't shed no tears if the charming cove who sliced up this poor dolly swings on a chilly morning to sate the bloodthirsty Newgate mob.
My blood boils, alive with all the rage Eliza don't dare to feel. I want to throttle the bastard who did this. I want to grab that copper by his immaculate throat and squeeze until the lights in his eyes wink out.
Eliza's fist crushes tight .Â .Â . but then she blinks, and shivers, and shoves me away. And like a mad wife locked in the attic, I'm helpless.
God's poisoned innards. I scream and fight, clawing for her eyes, but she ignores me. Me, Lizzie Hyde. Her own blood. Her own SOUL.
I hate this. I want to get out. To roam where I choose, feel skin under my fingers, harsh winter wind on my face. To put a match to this ugly world and dance while it burns.
But I can't escape. Not without her help.
If I could, d'you think I'd be pissfarting around here, flapping my gums with the likes of you?
“Eh?” Eliza blinked, dizzy, and the world shimmered back into focus.
Beside her gaped the dark hole of the theater's stage door. Bills plastered on the walls advertised G
! alongside painted slogans that announced T
. Her little clockwork assistant, Hippocrates, twittered self-importantly at her skirt hem, his square brass body gleaming on long hinged legs.
At the alley's end, on Pall Mall, electric carriages rattled by, their glowing blue coils spitting sparks. Prostitutes prowled, a riot of feathers and colored gowns. Clockwork servants in frock coats clicked and whirred, striding to and fro on brass legs as they ran their errands, their painted plaster faces impassive. The ground rumbled as the Electric Underground hurtled by, and from an iron vent in the street, black smoke and sparks billowed in the stink of hot copper wire.
And the corpse, at Eliza's feet. Another murdered girl, in a city haunted by murdered girls. Another killer, to be brought to justice with careful detective work and the miracles of science.
But faintness rinsed her thin, a fevered warning. A dark specter shifted inside, a restless shadow yearning to be free .Â .Â .
Unwilled, an image hovered: the elixir in its black glass flask, locked up safe in Eliza's secret cabinet. Crouching in the dark, a sniggering demon. Whispering to her. Waiting .Â .Â .
Her mouth watered. Rage, ecstasy, sweet oblivion. The dark pleasure of doing whatever she pleased, saying what she felt. Not the impotent mutterings of lawyers and judges, but the keen slice of a blade .Â .Â .
“Are you quite all right?” Harley Griffin steadied Eliza's elbow. The dark-haired inspector wore plain clothesâsmart black coat, tall hat, neatly knotted necktie. Even the dirt of this greasy theater-side alley didn't seem to rub off on him.
“Perfectly well, thank you. Shall we proceed?” Briskly, Eliza smoothed her skirts and adjusted the heavy brass optical atop her head. Thick metal rims, with a set of glass lenses of differing colors and properties. The latest scientific equipment. She'd designed it herself. Not strictly orthodox, but what useful gadget was?
Griffin flipped the pages of his notebook. “Victim's name is Irina Pavlovaâ”
“The ballerina?” Eliza's fists clenched. Not a poor woman of the street, then, savaged by some evil predator, all too replaceable in the eyes of polite society. The Imperial Russian Ballet's veteran principal dancer, famed for her beauty and
grace. No less an outrage. No more a tragedy. Truly, no woman, celebrated or forgotten, was safe.
“The very same. It was to be her swan-song tour, I'm informed.” Griffin looked mildly pained. “It certainly is now.”
“A ballerina with no legs,” mused Eliza. “Can that be random? Seems .Â .Â . lurid, wouldn't you say, for a typical recreational murderer?”
“No legs,” muttered Hippocrates, his little electric voice sullen. “Recreation. Does not compute. Re-examine reasoning.”
Griffin shrugged. “Hardly a fit target for radicals, either. Still, these Muscovites are known to be rash and hot-headed. Perhaps a family feud, an act of vengeance. Teaching the enemy a lesson.”
“Evil Russian slayers? You do enjoy your wild-flung theories, Harley. Have you considered a crazed rival ballerina wielding a hatchet?”
Griffin grinned, and made a note in his book. “Rival ballerina, hatchet. You mentioned it first. And my wild-flung theories have paid dividends before, as you well know.”
That warm, secret murmur tickled her spine.
Razor Jack and his glittering steel princess. You can't forget Jack, Eliza, his fingers in your hair, warm metal whispering against your cheek. Do you even want to?