WARNING: Contains a morgue scene
Lot and Bran pay Atticus another visit after the murderer strikes again.
London – 1844
‘We really need to get better at this investigating,’ I said and crunched through my apple.
‘That’s disgusting,’ Atticus replied, holding a people bacon sandwich in one hand.
Bran frowned as if he was wondering how his life had got so strange, an impressive speculation for a seven hundred year old vampire.
‘It’s a bit disappointing someone sucked the energy out of him and threw him in the river. He was on my list,’ I said.
‘You know who it is?’ Bran asked.
‘Sir Galahad Thorp. Can’t help but think his parents were having a laugh.’ I took another bite of apple. ‘Imagine having to cry Galahad in the heat of passion.’
Atticus choked on his sandwich; I’d once been told the undead couldn’t gag, I begged to differ.
‘What’s he doing do here with you?’ I asked. ‘No offence but the rest of your clientele seem more practical than prat.’
He cleared his throat. ‘I’m in the business of nameless naked corpses. He’s interesting though.’ He took Galahad’s arms out from under the sheet and rested them on the corpse’s chest. There were handprints burned into his forearms near his elbows ‘All the other victims who’ve come through here had the mark on their chests. These are defence wounds.’
‘Overpowered, perhaps?’ Bran suggested.
I put my half-eaten apple beside Galahad’s head and took his arm for a closer look then turned to Bran and crossed my arms in front of me. ‘Grab my arms like you’re the murderer.’
Bran touched my arms near the elbow. ‘He was casting and the murderer sucked the magic right out of him.’
‘What?’ I asked, it looked like someone raising their arms protectively to me.
Bran let go of my arms. ‘I’ve seen Fae cross their arms like that when they cast defensive spells.’
I considered my arms. ‘Like some kind of shield.’
‘I think so,’ he said. ‘There was never an opportunity to ask.’
‘Freyja was right that throwing magic at our murderer is a bad idea.’ I lowered my arms. ‘But he wasn’t a Fae, I might not be an experience vampire but I can tell when someone’s not human.’
Bran glanced at me and decided not to point out changelings, who were human/Fae hybrids, were indistinguishable from humans unless they were actively using magic. That I was a changeling was need-to-know information and Atticus didn’t need to know. It was safer until my footing in the vampire world was established if we kept it quiet.
Atticus eyed Galahad’s bloated, grey face. ‘For science.’ He licked him and pulled away, shuddering. ‘Definitely not Fae, infected with syphilis, and dead about a week.’
‘A Fae can’t get syphilis, a human caster without Fae blood can’t use Fae magic,’ Bran murmured.
‘Could be a human spell that looks like a Fae one.’ Atticus took another bite out of his sandwich. ‘Between the water and the fish nibbling there’s no chance of finding traces of chalk on his hands. Without his clothes there’s not chance to find wards.’
From the books I’d been reading a lot of spells needed symbols; human casters used things like chalk to draw them or carried items with the symbols on them. Fae tattooed the symbols onto themselves, somehow making them invisible and stopping their bodies from healing them away. I’d seen Freyja’s but it hadn’t be the best time for a magic lesson, I’d was dying at the time.
‘While we mull over that one are you ever going to come to tea?’ I asked.
Atticus covered Galahad’s face with a sheet. ‘I’m not the family sort.’
‘Nor was I,’ I replied.
‘You wouldn’t want to let children near a ghoul,’ he said.
‘Ghoul’s eat dead people,’ I shot back. ‘We’re vampires and our victims are very much alive. To begin with.’
‘There’s the permanent smell of corpses.’
I spread my arms. ‘We are corpses.’
‘Do you have an answer for everything?’
I grinned. ‘I try.’
‘If Atticus doesn’t want to come you can’t make him,’ Bran said, quietly.
‘Atticus does want to come.’ I bumped against Bran’s side. ‘Atticus is worried we don’t want him there and I’m only being polite. Politeness is not in my nature.’
Atticus threw my half-eaten apple across the room into a bucket. ‘And why would you want me to take tea with you?’
‘Because you’re Bran’s friend,’ I said.
‘You know, they say there’s three requirements for a coven master,’ Atticus leaned against the table. ‘Wealth. Power. Connections.’ He looked at me. ‘I like you, Mrs O’Connor, but I don’t trust you.’
Bran opened his mouth to object.
‘Probably wise,’ I said. ‘But I have no interest in covens.’
‘So you say, so you say.’ Atticus took another bite from his sandwich. ‘I’m young for an immortal but seems to me there’s only one end for ambition like yours.’
‘I have not ambition but to be my own person and protect my own,’ I replied.
‘And you can’t see where that will take you?’ Atticus observed.
Bran clasped my hand.
‘To the death if need be,’ I replied. ‘So, coming for tea?’
Atticus shrugged. ‘Alright.’
I waited until we were a street away from Atticus’ domain and well out of his hearing before I said, ‘Suspicious me says Galahad was a changeling. He’s dead about a week and a few days ago I think someone’s watching me. The murderer attacked me once. They might have some inkling of what I am, certainly that I have more power than other people.’
‘What if they were all changelings?’ Bran asked. ‘Syphilis is common, changelings aren’t, but we keep meeting them on this case.’
‘They managed to find enough changelings to murder who’d all contracted syphilis? I was never ill in my life, not even an infected wound.’
Bran chewed the thumb of his free hand. ‘They might be after you.’
I squeezed his hand. ‘If they’re after power, Brandon, it’s not me that’s in danger if they figure out about you and Josef. Of course, that assumes it was them watching me, I’ve been vexing a lot of people lately.’ I sighed. ‘The question is: What do they want power for?’
‘Some people want power for power’s sake,’ Bran said, still nibbling his thumb joint and so absorbed in his worry he didn’t notice people shaking their heads at his ungentlemanly behaviour.
‘True, but he was a mate of the Widow Merryborn, as was Goodington. Sarah Toby had syphilis and she was Goodington’s maid… That’s a pattern.’
‘But our unnamed prostitute doesn’t fit,’ he said.
‘Either we’re missing pieces or her connection is a connection to the murderer,’ I said.
‘At which point we’re still missing pieces.’
‘If there’s an odd card in the deck, find the matching pack and you find the cheat.’ I stepped in front of him, he bumped into me and I took his hand away from his mouth. ‘Poor thumb.’ I kissed it.
‘Kissing things better doesn’t tend to work on adults.’
‘Oh really…’ My gaze flicked down.
He blushed and looked up at the clouds, barely suppressing a smile, but there was still tension in his hands.
‘Bran, I’ve got you and Josef watching my back.’ I caressed his hands with my thumbs. ‘Safest place to be.’
He tilted his head to the side. ‘I’m not so sure about that.’
‘Well, I am.’ I rose up on my toes and tugged him down for a kiss, spectators be damned.
He smiled and nuzzled my nose.
‘We could always hide in the wine cellar again and I could kiss you better,’ I whispered.
He chuckled. ‘I love you.’
‘Oh, you definitely will.’
This is the first part of today’s double bill. Read the second part here.
Read more episodes of Nine Shillings, or read Lot’s first adventure, Victorian Mistress, here.
Nine Shillings and Victorian Mistress are also available on Wattpad.