Authors: J.F. Penn
LONDON. When the body of a young heiress is found within the Royal College of Surgeons, Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke is assigned to the case. An antique ivory figurine found beside the body is the only lead and she enlists Blake Daniel, a reluctant clairvoyant, to help her discover the message it holds.
When personal tragedy strikes, Jamie finds her own life entwining with the morbid fascinations of the anatomists, and she must race against time to stop them claiming another victim.
As Jamie and Blake delve into a macabre world of grave robbery, body modification, and the genetic engineering of monsters, they must fight to keep their sanity, and their lives.
© J.F. Penn (2013). All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is fictionalized or coincidental.
“One of the most original mystery/thrillers that I've read in a long while. Its topic of life and death, soul and body is harrowing and poignant, shocking and profound.”
David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of Murder as a Fine Art and author of over 40 novels
"A riveting exploration of the dark side of the human heart"
New York Times Bestselling Author CJ Lyons
"In a book which takes the reader on a journey to hell and back, J.F. Penn demonstrates her huge talent for conveying the depths of human depravity."
Amazon #1 Bestseller, Rachel Abbott
“The violation of the body would be the revelation of its truth”
Andreas Vesalius, 16
century physician, founder of modern human anatomy
The body of the young woman lies on her back, blonde hair neatly arrayed in a sunburst around her head. She looks like an angel and I bend to adjust a lock of her hair, carefully disguising the deep wound in her skull. At least I can leave her face looking as beautiful as it did in life. Her lips are still painted with wine red lipstick, slightly smudged from where she drank with me. But that mouth whispered words of disturbing truth not so long ago, and I couldn’t let her unleash that reality into the world. There is too much at stake and even she was not enough to make me give that up.
I pull on a pair of sterile gloves and breathe a sigh of relief as I slip into my second skin. They make me feel safe, a barrier against the world and yet somehow heightening the sensation in my hands. I always carry a pair, and tonight they serve a noble purpose. I brush her lips with gentle fingertips, some part of me wanting to feel a last breath. But I know she is dead, for I feel the lack of her. What made her alive is now gone and I wonder if she is already on another plane of reality, wondering how she got there, questioning why this life flew by so fast. This is but a body, just another corpse, and I know how to deal with corpses.
In a medical institution, it isn’t hard to find a scalpel and I pull open the drawers in the training lab until I find an appropriate one. Returning to the body I use the 22 blade to cut a line through the crimson satin dress that clings to the curves near her hips. The material bunches slightly so I have to hold it down for the scalpel to slice through, but I manage to cut away a square of material, like operating drapes revealing the area for treatment. The blade is so sharp that I can sense the layer of material separate from the firmness of her skin and I feel a rush of pleasure at the sensation.
Beginning the incision, I slice across the soft lower belly. Her flesh is still warm, skin smooth and untainted, and I envy the beauty she carried so unconsciously. The scalpel slices down, a precision instrument in my hand and a line of blood rises to the surface. Even though her heart has stopped, it is as if this body still clings to life.
I feel something, a breath of air on my cheek and I freeze, scalpel in place on her skin. I know it must be nothing, but a shiver passes over me regardless. Perhaps it is the soul of the newly deceased taking one last look around this cabinet of curiosities, trying to understand her place amongst the many dead. For her body lies surrounded by tall glass display cases, packed full of the anatomical preparations for which the Hunterian Museum is famous. Body parts line up here in a macabre apothecary’s shop, strange and bizarre with colors of pus, bone and decay. It is hard to tell what lies inside the conical jars of varying sizes until you lean closer to look inside or read the brief text that refers to each specimen. Stoppered and sealed with black tape, beads of condensation have formed on the lids as if what is inside still breathes. I can almost hear the dead cry out, drowned again each night in liquid preservation, and it makes me want to emulate the master anatomist in my own work. I stop for a moment to gaze at my inspiration.
Some of the organs are flower like, petals opening and fronds almost waving in the liquid, like sea creatures of delicate, strange beauty. Ruffles like tissue paper conceal a parcel of flesh that was once part of a living human. In one container sits a gigantic foot, cut off at the ankle, swollen with elephantiasis to four times life-size. Black toenails erupt from the end of grotesque toes, skin swollen to bursting, puckered and discolored. Every time I look into these cabinets I see something new, even though I have been coming here for many years, a pilgrimage to that which gives meaning to my own work. I glimpse the trunk of a baby crocodile, decapitated with its legs and tail brutally sawn off. Next to it, the trunk of a human fetus, barely as big as my hand, limbs and head removed, the tiny chest opened up to reveal the internal organs.
There are lizards, cut open, limbs posed as if they are running away, scuttling across this landscape of trapped souls. The body of a crayfish, tail curled under, protecting thousands of tiny eggs, and next to it, fat grubs and caterpillars, the larvae of hybrid insects. Quintuple fetuses are displayed in one case, tiny bodies with mouths open in horror, like corporeal dolls the color of ghosts. For the early anatomists were allowed to use the bodies of those that died within the mother, considering them specimen before human. Nowadays I have to work in secret, wary of judgment from those who don’t understand the mysteries I can solve with flesh. This body is so precious that I cannot waste the opportunity to take what might further my research.
The sounds of the party filter upwards, laughter made louder by alcohol. Returning to my work, I cut into the young woman’s flesh, digging down through the layers to reveal her inner organs. I use a self-retaining retractor to hold open the flap of skin and tissue to give me better access, blood slipping over my hands as I work faster now.
My gloved fingers probe her gently, making sure that nothing is damaged. The fetus is barely nine weeks old. Dead, like the mother, or soon will be. But its existence won’t be wasted. Indeed, the knowledge it may reveal could be a greater achievement than most people could even dream of. I must get it back to the lab quickly.
Noises come from the hallway at the bottom of the stairs to the museum. I freeze, listening intently as my heart pounds in my chest. I can’t be caught here, not like this. The work is too important and this specimen in particular must be studied. With the final cuts, I remove the uterus, placing it in her handbag that will have to do in place of an organ case
My work completed, I move to the doorway, hidden in the shadows. It sounds as if the people on the stairs are flirting and kissing, the party lubricated by enough alcohol to release the usual inhibitions. The noises grow fainter and I slip down the stairs as the unknown couple head off into a darker corner to fulfill their desires with each other. I pity them, for they can only find what they seek with living flesh. They know not of the darker pleasures of the anatomist.
From outside, the Lavender Hospice looked like a school, with bright murals on the walls, a playground with swings, wood chips to stop the children hurting themselves. But those who entered this building wouldn’t leave again and their voices were silenced too soon. Jamie Brooke pushed open the gate, hearing the usual squeak. She flinched slightly, adding the count to the list in her head, totaling the number of times she had walked through it. When she had first brought Polly here, finally unable to care for her at home, the doctor had said it wouldn’t be long, maybe a matter of weeks. But the gate had squeaked ninety-seven times now, twice a day, so it was day forty-nine. Jamie sent up a prayer, thanking a God she didn’t really believe in but still pleaded with each day.
Let her live another day, please. Take the time from me.
The red wooden elephant by the door was looking a bit disheveled these days and Jamie made a mental note to talk to the Administrator about it. She knew the kids adored the jolly elephant, even though few of them ever made it outside to play on him. Practical help was about all she had left to offer.
Jamie checked her watch. She had moved to a tiny rented flat just down the road from the hospice, to be here for Polly as often as she could. Her job as a Detective Sergeant with the Metropolitan Police made the hours she visited complicated, but the nurses here were patient, understanding that as a single mother with a crazy job, she was trying the best she could.
Feeling tears prickle behind her eyes, Jamie took a deep breath, fixing a smile onto her face as she pushed the door open and entered the hospice.
“Morning,” Rachel O’Halloran, the senior night nurse called cheerfully, as Jamie walked through the hallway.
“Hey Rachel. How’s the night been?”
Rachel’s face was a study in compassion and Jamie knew how much she loved the kids in her care, some here so briefly. There were people on this earth who were here to ease suffering and Rachel was one of the best, Jamie thought, and the kids instinctively loved the nurse in return.