Rena looked at Briar through the mirror with a furrowed brow and a pouted lip. After yesterday night, Rena wasn’t looking forward to meeting Clyde again today. His carefree behavior around the crime scene had unsettled her. She barely caught any sleep as she thought of the way he grinned at her, how his eyes were fixed on her and her alone despite the blood that was splattered on the wall beside them.
A sane man couldn’t possibly be that calm around a dead body.
Briar sighed as she met Rena’s eyes through the mirror, removing her hands from her hair to lay them on her shoulders instead. Rena placed her own hand over Briar’s.
“Please tell me I don’t have to go,” Rena said, glancing away from the mirror at the window.
“We need as much information as we can get.” Briar squeezed her shoulders. “I’ll be at the morgue and later today at the station if you need me.”
Rena turned in her seat. “You saw him, right? You saw how deranged he looked.”
“I wouldn’t exactly use the word deranged to describe it . . .” Briar bit her lip. “Perhaps he was tired?”
“I’ve never seen madness in one's eyes when they were in need of sleep.” Rena scoffed, standing from her seat to pace the length of her room. “He was grinning, making jokes, tell me, Briar, is that normal behavior?”
Briar stayed quiet for a bit, her hand reaching for her necklace. Rena’s shoulders slumped as she followed the movement with her eyes, understanding what Briar meant before the words were even spoken.
Jane had a similar way of coping after seeing a body. Make light of a sour mood, she used to say.
Perhaps it wasn’t that odd.
Sighing, Rena fell back onto her bed. “I still do not wish to see him.”
“Are you afraid he’ll steal a kiss?” Briar sat down beside her, patting the bodice that covered her stomach. “That would be your first, wouldn’t it?”
“Is a kiss all you can think of when it comes to men?” Removing her arms from her face, Rena waited for Briar’s answer.
Taking note of her serious tone, Briar dropped her attempt at lightening the mood. They should leave that to Jane like they always had done.
“Not always,” she mumbled, her fingers fiddling with her skirt. “Not recently at least.”
Briar hesitated before nodding.
Rena hummed. “I knew it.”
A knock on her bedroom door interrupted their conversation. Mrs. Edwardson’s voice soon followed. “Miss Rena, there is a young man at the front door asking for you.”
Rena shot up from the bed, moving the curtains from her window to see indeed a young man standing outside. A young man dressed quite nicely for a not that special trip to a sweets store. A young man who tipped his hat as he noticed her, his pleased grin and flushed cheeks visible from where Rena was standing.
“Did he knock on the door?” Rena asked as she turned away from the window.
“No, Miss,” Mrs. Edwardson answered. “He seemed cold so I asked what his business was here.”
“Alright, thank you, Mrs. Edwardson.”
Taking a deep breath, she shared an encouraging nod with Briar before she left her room. Descending from the stairs, Mrs. Edwardson was already waiting at the door with her coat in hands. Rena smiled, though they both knew it was forced.
“Something the matter, Dear?” she asked as she helped Rena into her coat. “Has that man been troubling you?”
Rena shook her head. “No, it’s nothing, I’m only a bit nervous.”
An excited smile broke onto the older woman’s face. “Are those butterflies I am sensing?”
“Who knows,” Rena said with a laugh. “But please, whatever they might be, don’t tell mother and father.”
“Of course not, Dear.” Flicking her chin, Mrs. Edwardson unlocked the door for her. “Now go have some fun.”
Rena welcomed the winter breeze eagerly, wanting the swirling in her stomach to stop now that Mrs. Edwardson had mentioned potential butterflies. She was nervous because of the night before, not because of any other reason. Not because of attraction, but because of unease and fear.
Rena held her chin high, repeating the thoughts over and over again.
His grin was unsettling, not charming. His eyes were maddening, not endearing. His—
“My apologies—” was the first thing Clyde said as he revealed three snowdrops from behind his back, offering them to her with a slight bow of his head “—for last night. I realized that my behavior from last night might have scared you, and perhaps I realized it a bit too late. I’d like to make up for it, and I hope that it doesn’t worsen your view of me too much.”
Taking the white flowers, Rena said, “Can’t worsen something that is already negative.”
“What have I done to be looked down upon so badly?” Although his tone was teasing, she could detect a slight hint of genuine curiosity.
Rena bit her lip, a thrill surging through her body as she took a step closer and he leaned back. Was this what Briar felt whenever she seduced a man? When she had the upper hand? Rena could suddenly understand very well why her friend acted the way she did.
“You criticized my taste in pastries.” A smile broke out on her lips. “Criticizing a woman’s taste isn’t the smartest thing to do, considering it is often related to their taste in men.”
“Than I stand to be corrected,” Clyde said as he leaned back, holding out his arm. “Terrible taste. Now, shall we?”
As Briar observed the body of the victim of last night, she asked, “What can you tell me, Dr. Anderson?”
Dr. Anderson wiped his hands on a blood-stained cloth before adjusting his glasses with the side of his wrist. “Andrew Smith, thirty-five years of age, a widow with a drinking habit.” Using his pink, he gestured at the wound on his neck. “Though it might not seem like it a vampire was likely the cause of his demise. As you can see in the way his skin was feared away it had to be done by individual sharp objects that were lined up perfectly to clam down. The attacker couldn’t have been an animal unless it was a monkey, considering the mark it left was oval and barely reached from one side to the other.”
Briar studied the wound closely, leaning in with the hopes of finding the same discoveries as Dr. Anderson so easily did. Though, she lacked medical education. “Can you tell if it had one or two fangs?”
Dr. Anderson nodded, retrieving a pair of tweezers from his tray. Carefully, he pulled at a torn piece of skin at the base of the victim’s neck. He put it back where it had been before the gruesome slaughter, revealing a deeper penetration than the rest of the cavity.
“That is one,” he said, moving to where the wound ended below the victim’s chin, showing the same deepening in the flesh, “and that’s two. It seems we got a different killer this time.”
Holding onto her elbow, Briar rubbed her chin with a frown. “I thought as much, our previous one wouldn’t waste this much blood, it’s too precious to them.”
“Our victim did struggle,” Dr. Anderson pointed out, removing half of the sheet that covered his body. “His arms are covered in claw marks, having torn right through his coat, jacket, and blouse.”
Just as Dr. Anderson said, Briar found the scratches on the length of his arms. They were deep enough to bleed, having been made before he was killed. Her best bet was that the vampire got a hold of him and as he pulled away they refused to let go.
The way that his body was left, Briar was certain that this was another vampire at play. Jane and Mrs. Evans’s killer wouldn’t do this. This wasn’t feeding or for the sake of framing another. It wasn’t done out of necessity. This was done for the fun of it, hoping to see the victim squirm, to see the fear in his eyes.
It was done to entertain.
Perhaps even to taunt.
She had to go to Dante soon. If one vampire had entered London it would be a bit of a nuisance, two and they had to start worrying, three or more . . . they might have an entire clan to go up against. If it was the clan that Dante mentioned being part of then he might be able to recognize them and they could put an end to this before it could escalate any further.
Briar tapped her finger against her shoulder. “Anything else worth noting?”
Dr. Anderson thought for a second. “He had no relation in any way to Miss Morris nor Mrs. Evans. He did not possess any possessions of worth as he traded them for alcohol. Though, at the time of his murder, he was not drunk.” Lifting the victim’s hand, Dr. Anderson pointed at his nails. “He made an attempt to claw at his attacker, though I could not find proof that he caught them noticeably deep as there is only skin tissue and no blood.”
“Vampires don’t bleed,” Briar mused out loud, stepping around the table, “and it would take about a day to fully heal.”
“If that is the case than it doesn’t leave us with much.”
Briar nodded. “Thank you, Dr. Anderson. I’ll be taking my leave now.”
“It was my pleasure as always.” Dr. Anderson gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Good luck and be careful, I do not wish to see you this often under any circumstance.”
“I’m always careful, Dr. Anderson.”
He scoffed, shaking his head as he turned back to the victim’s body. “You could learn a thing or two from the dead, at least they cannot lie.”