And yet, as with many people, the experience intrigued her as much as it repulsed her.

The old man in front of her spat blood before going inside. Sidestepping the foamy mess, Nathalie began to follow him.

“One moment.” The guard held up his hand.

She peered over his shoulder but couldn’t see anything. After a minute that seemed like twenty, the guard waved Nathalie into the public morgue.

A dozen bodies were on display, but only one captivated the crowd. Murder victims always did. The morgue was—officially, anyway—a means to identify bodies found in the public domain. Parisians came here because it was something to see, like the great Notre-Dame Cathedral that stood in front of it.

To go to the morgue was to poke the grim reaper in the ribs, to tell him he was riveting. Because if he was riveting, he wasn’t scary. Death was for other people.

Nathalie still couldn’t see the bodies. People clustered on the left side of the viewing pane, an X on a macabre treasure map. The fetching young morgue worker stood, as he did almost daily, beside a black velvet curtain on the other side of the glass. With an alert, steadfast expression, he watched the crowd. She always watched him in return but looked away whenever it seemed he was about to catch her. Including today.

A few people shuffled away and she stepped up behind the gathering. Despite her considerable height, she was unable to see much other than the poor victim’s matted, sand-colored curls and the bloodstained pink dress hanging behind her. Nathalie’s eyes leapt to the other eleven waxen corpses resting on slabs. One additional man from yesterday, sunburned and nondescript, making it nine men and two women. In the old days a stream of slab-cooling water dripped from overhead, a constant baptism of indignity. Now the corpses were refrigerated for hours, then displayed in a chilled room.

Behind the bodies hung the clothes they were found in, as with the victim and her dress. The only thing clothing them now was fabric over the groin. Most of the dead would be here several days, until the display room couldn’t preserve them any longer. Unless someone claimed them—that is, knew them to be a person with a name instead of a corpse on a slab—they’d be taken away. Buried alongside the forever unknown.

The group shifted as several onlookers left the room. When she saw, truly saw, the air in Nathalie’s lungs went along with them.

Angry gashes screamed from the young woman’s flesh, mocking her state of eternal silence. More girl than woman, she had full lips and plump cheeks. One side of her face was bruised, a ghastly palette of purples, blues, and reds.

The other side of her face was sliced like a slaughtered pig belly. Deep knife wounds ran from the right corner of her mouth down through the center of her neck and traveled to her collarbone.

Nathalie found herself clasping the collar of her dress and let go. She shifted her weight, unable to pull her eyes off the victim. Never had she seen a corpse so viciously slain.

Whoever did this would get sent to the guillotine. Nathalie wanted to see it, just as she wanted to be there for the execution of that horrendous murderer Pranzini. Anyone who slashed two women and a girl—in their beds!—deserved to go, she thought, and so did the monster who killed this girl.

The elderly man beside her let out a raspy sigh. Softly, tenderly, he spoke. “Requiem Aeternam dona ei, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat ei.”

Nathalie recognized this funeral prayer. Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon her. Indeed.

She leaned toward the glass, swallowing away the lump in her throat. The anonymity added to the callousness of it. The girl with the bloodstained dress, the victim; that’s all she was to everyone right now.

She couldn’t have been more than seventeen or eighteen. Her freckled skin was yellowed and even more bloated than the other corpses because she’d been pulled from the Seine. In life she must have been pretty.

What’s your name, you unfortunate soul?

The little girl, quiet since coming inside, now whimpered behind her. “It’s too dark,” she said. “I don’t like it here.”

Nathalie had never been afraid of the dark, even as a child.

If anything, she wanted to know what was in it.

She heard the little girl moan, followed by whispers and a rustle of material. Nathalie peeked back. The toddler buried herself in her mother’s bustle.

Nathalie held the bouquet in her left hand and drew it closer. The flowers, en route to decay since the moment they’d been cut, were still more fragrant with life than death. She brought her head closer to the glass, all but touching it.

“Home, Maman. Home.” The little girl’s faint, muffled voice dissolved into tears.

“MAMAN!” The toddler’s shriek echoed tenfold. Nathalie jumped like a skittish colt, catching herself on the viewing pane.

Instantly she was in another place, as if whisked by train from the morgue and shoved off it at the next stop. She was kneeling inside a room. A study, maybe, or a living room.

Beside her was the morgue victim.

The girl’s dead eyes were open and blood streamed backward, drawn into the cuts. Everything happened in reverse: The wounds healed, from ripped flesh to smooth skin, as a knife plunged in and out of her face and neck, undoing its damage. Her eyelids closed like a pair of shutters. Life rolled across the victim’s face; she struggled from side to side, bawling yet not making a sound. The poor girl was so near Nathalie could touch her.

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