“Are you certain you want to come along?” Briar asked Rena as they stood just outside of the morgue.
Rena nodded, determination clear in her chocolate eyes. “Tomorrow is the funeral, this is our last chance to find any clues regarding the real murderer.”
Rolling her shoulders back, Briar put her hand on the door handle, the metal chilling her to the bone before she even stepped inside the icy room. Dr. Anderson looked up from the freshly cut open corps, smiling as he noticed them.
“Miss Blakewell and Miss Prescott,” he greeted them, placed his scalpel down before wiping his hands on a blood-stained cloth. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
Briar smiled at Dr. Anderson, having come down here often enough to not be as bothered by the corpses anymore. Reveling in what was seen as scandalous when caught, Rena and Jane gladly tagged along with Briar whenever they could. With Briar’s father being the Chief of Police many people turned a blind eye to whatever trouble they got themselves into.
“We’re here to see Jane,” Briar said.
Dr. Anderson looked down as he nodded, his eyes saddening. “Of course.” Walking over to the rectangular, metal doors that were lined against the wall, he pulled one open. Rolling out the tray, he shook his head with a sorrowful expression as he stared at the sheet that covered Jane’s body. “Such a lovely girl. I still remember the first day you three walked into my morgue, shaking but eager to get a glimpse of the dead. I would always look forward to your visits, but I’d never imagined it would be like this one day.”
Both Briar and Rena stayed quiet as they approached their friend’s body. Before taking off the sheet to do their own examination, Rena asked, “What can you tell us about her murder?”
“Nothing much beside the obvious,” Dr. Anderson said with a sigh. “She’d been drained from most of her blood, leaving too little for her to survive.”
Briar frowned. “Why did they not drink all?”
“Perhaps they were caught in the act, leaving in a hurry.” Dr. Anderson rubbed his chin. “From what I heard, Dante was found beside Miss Morris’s body unconscious, which in my opinion is odd. If he was unconscious he would have at least drunk all of it to get back to his strength before passing out. Besides that, why would he be unconscious if he had a full stomach?”
“We believe Dante to be innocent as well,” Rena said, stepping forward.
“Glad to hear we’re all on the same page, then.” Briar jumped, turning to the voice that decided to join their conversation. Her heart skipped a beat as Dante grinned from underneath the brim of his top hat before removing it, smoothing out the stray hairs with a gloved hand. “Navigating the streets was tedious before I was a wanted criminal, now it is unbearable.”
Rena shifted closer to Briar, taking hold of her sleeve. Narrowing her eyes, Briar lifted her chin at him. “I thought you were uninterested in the case.”
“I still couldn’t care less about this whole thing,” he said, waving his head in their direction. “I’m here to cash in on a favor from Dr. Anderson.”
Turning to Dr. Anderson, Briar noticed him already reaching for what Dante needed from him; a jar filled with blood. Dante grinned as he took the jar from the older man, inspecting it in his hands. Dr. Anderson whispered something to Dante that neither of them could hear, to which Dante responded with a nod and a hand a pat on his shoulder.
“What do you need the blood for?” Briar asked as she took a step closer to the pair. “You only drink animal blood.”
Setting down the jar, Dante removed one of his gloves. “Correct once again,” he said, dipping his fingers in the cavity of the cut open corpse, “but I can no longer walk these streets looking like a ghost.”
Retrieving his now blood-covered fingers, Dante started to lick them clean one by one. Briar’s stomach churned, her stomach’s content reminding her of its existence.
“How fast does it work?” Rena interrupted, no longer hiding behind Briar.
Dante jutted his head at her. “Who is this?”
“Rena Prescott.” Rena made a slight bow, taking another step closer as she straightened herself, her eyes wide with curious anticipation. “Can you drink more right now?”
Biting his thumb, Dante lifted his lips into a grin wide enough to show his fangs. “Is that an invitation?”
Scoffing, Briar decided she had enough. Walking over, she took hold of Dante’s ear, pulling him away from Rena before he would suggest something stupid that Rena was likely to agree to. Dante yelped out of surprise, tripping over his own feet and falling quite ungracefully to the floor.
“Do as she asks.”
Briar crossed her arms as she waited for Dante to get up, preparing herself for the outburst she was likely to get. However, instead of him standing immediately and scolding her for her disrespect, Dante grumbled a silent word of agreement and got up in his own time. He continued to mumble under his breath like a child would do when punished unfairly as he walked back to the jar.
“Spectacular idea as always, fool,” she heard him say a bit louder as he fiddled with the lid.
Raising a brow, Briar relaxed her shoulders a bit but kept her arms crossed. She shared a glance with Rena, who looked equally confused. Taking a measuring glass, Dante filled it with the blood. He raised the glass, saying, “Cheers.”
In one gulp, he downed half of the content, the other half going down in a second one. Rena took an eager step closer when Dante set down the glass, wiping his upper lip clean with a content sigh.
“How are you feeling?” Rena asked, her fingers fiddling with her skirt. Briar smiled, knowing how badly she wanted to scribble down every last detail that she could take in.
“Satisfied,” Dante answered, continuing to lick his fingers.
Placing his hand over his chest, Dante stayed quiet for a second. Rena held her breath, and Briar was quite certain hers caught as well at some point.
“It’s starting to pick up speed,” Dante said. “My heart, that is. Not as fast as it once had but close enough to mimic it.”
“Can I—” Rena was already reaching out when Briar caught her wrist.
“Later.” Briar nodded back at Jane’s body. Her eyes softened slightly as she met Rena’s gaze. “I want to get this over with.”
Rena nodded, her composure returning. Briar knew Rena was dreading this as much as she did. It was why she didn’t hesitate to ask Dante to drink the blood. To stall. To distract. Both herself and Briar.
Together, they turned back to their friend’s body. Dr. Anderson patiently waited on the other side of the tray, having been watching them from a distance. Nodding at both of them, he cleared his throat.
“There was another abnormality that I thought was worth pointing out,” he continued, taking the white cloth and peeling it back, revealing Jane’s face and neck. Rena took in a sharp breath while Briar had to close her eyes for a brief second as she recalled the horrid scene on the train. “This further confirms that Dante couldn’t be our murderer.”
At this, Dante stepped closer. “How so?”
“The mark.” Gently taking hold of Jane’s chin and forehead, he turned her head sideways, revealing the gnarly bite mark. With his pinky finger, Dr. Anderson pointed at a missing hole. “Our vampire has only one fang.”
Briar’s brows furrowed as she leaned closer. The skin around the hole was bruised on one side, showing the pattern of the killer's teeth and the spot where a second fang should have pierced through the skin. From how deep the bruise was colored, Briar guessed that he had been biting down hard while he drank, desperate to tear more skin and gain more blood.
“Why would a vampire have only one fang?” Rena asked, leaning in closer beside Briar.
“It’s an old practice,” Dante said, catching all their attention. “They remove one fang from vampires with extreme thirst to slow them down while drinking.”
“Then why did our killer not drink all of her?”
Dante came to stand beside Dr. Anderson, pointing at the bruises. “If he had more time he would have broken through the skin as well, meaning he was indeed interrupted.”
Briar met Dante’s gaze, her eyes widening. “That means we have a witness.”
The corner of his mouth lifted. “We do.”
Again, Briar’s heart skipped a beat, but for an entirely different reason. His irises, which had previously been as pale as his skin, started to fill with light blue pigment. Even in such a situation did her cheeks have the audacity to heat up, which was all too clear in the cold morgue.
“We got to find them, then,” she said, quickly turning away before Dante could notice, but she feared he already had as his half-grin turned into a full one. “I’ll ask my father for a list of the passengers.”
Dante’s footsteps sounded behind her. “I suppose you could ask me if you need any help.” With a shrug, he brushed passed her to pick up the jar. “Can’t say I have much else to do.”
Without another word, Dante left. Briar turned back to Jane’s body, wanting the heat in her face to disappear. “Where is Jane’s necklace?” she asked to distract herself.
“It wasn’t on her when she was found.”
Briar shared a look with Rena. “The killer must have sold it by now.”
“Then let's look for that while we wait for the list,” Rena suggested. “The shopkeeper would have seen the killer clearly as well, we might get a good description from them at the very least.”
“And if we’re lucky a name.”