All Her Wounds

The following is an excerpt from All Her Wounds, the third novel in the Vivian Xu series, slated for publication in 2017-2018.

Vivian Xu’s fingers trembled as she braced the scalpel against the pale skin. She brushed a strand of hair out of her face as sweat beaded on her forehead. She took a deep breath and carved the Y-shaped incision into the cadaver’s chest. This was a test she couldn’t afford to fail.

Jezebel, one of the foremost medical examiners in Prague, hovered nearby like an omnipresent gatekeeper to the dead. The deceased were her flock and she wouldn’t allow an initiative to botch their last rites. She judged in silence as Vivian’s hands alternated between the rib cutters and the scalpel.

“You’re quite the protégé. How long have you been moonlighting in the morgue now?” Jezebel asked.

Vivian concentrated on the cut from the mid-chest to the lower point of the sternum.

“I started shadowing you in the spring last year.”

She surprised herself with how easily her hand acquainted with the tools of the morgue. Less than a month passed before she learned to use the enterotome, sternal saw, and formaldehyde. Three months into her internship and she was diagnosing the posthumous causes of trauma. Through her successes and failures, she couldn’t have asked for better mentors than Jezebel Cristea and Gavin Erwood.

Vivian spent the year in their tutelage, becoming well-versed in forensic science and pathology. By 8 p.m. she toiled in the morgue, and by 2 a.m. she ditched the bloody scrubs for clubwear. True to her rebellious spirit, she didn’t look like the typical mortician’s assistant. Scarlet hair framed her porcelain face and her eyes glistened with red contacts. Tattoos spun bedazzling patterns across her arms in a never-ending swirl of ink. Jezebel could let those oddities pass but she was less approving of Vivian’s ear gages and combat boots.

“Well, I’d say the cause of death is pretty obvious,” Vivian said, cringing at the man’s face, where six centimeters of steel emerged from his right eye. “Penetrating orbitocerebral death by nail.”

“A nail gun was taken into evidence from the scene.”

The right orbit was swollen from hemorrhaging.

“So we’re looking at a potential homicide.” Vivian scooped up the voice recorder used to dictate abnormal findings. “Small lacerating wound from the medial aspect of the right eye.”

The autopsy table was the equivalent of an aluminum tray outfitted with faucets and spigots for washing away blood. Those faucets would come in handy soon enough.