“What do you say? Are you willing to jump in the fire with me?” Vivian asked, presiding over a paper trail of the victim's last whereabouts.
Camilla took in the scope of what Vivian had accomplished when she should have been recovering in bed. Notes, maps, and grisly Polaroids canvassed the wall adjacent to the fireplace; four boxes stuffed with forensic textbooks stood at the ready in case she decided to overtake another corner of the den.
A laptop sat at the ready for digging deep into criminal research that Vivian wasn’t afraid to pursue. Last winter, she alluded to a future career in investigation, but it seemed her friend's death was the catalyst that brought it roaring to the present.
The den had systematically been transformed into the nerve center of Red Widow and Vesely.
Among a frenzied compilation of autopsy records, the first embers of the agency’s logo had begun to take shape: a sketching of a spider emblazoned with an hourglass.
“That’s an interesting choice of words for the working title,” Camilla said, referring to the “Red Widow” portion. That moniker was the street name Vivian operated by when she specialized in pain and pleasure on the streets. It wasn’t her proudest moment, but it was the fulcrum upon which her life tilted from chaos into stability, weakness into grit, and utmost terror into raw determination.
Vivian nodded, subconsciously resting her hand on the hourglass-shaped birthmark on her midriff.
“Red Widow used to represent a painful chapter in my past. Now I want to reclaim that piece of myself and turn it into something empowering—a reincarnation of sorts.”
“That’s a wonderful way to look at it, turning something that once hurt you into a source of strength,” her friend said, still scanning the new setup. She jumped at the sound of a loud pop, only to find Vivian uncorking a bottle of wine.
Camilla wondered how her friend’s smile could be so disarming and mischievous at the same time as she handed her a full glass.
“I found this 1848 Muscato in the cellar. It seems a few odds and ends survived the manor blaze after all. Anyway, this is so much more than a redemption fantasy or taking a more proactive role outside the morgue. I’m sick of cases going cold thanks to inept police work or efforts to bury a scandal. Investigating isn’t about taking the easy route or covering your ass or someone else’s. How dare they even consider covering up her death because it’s inconvenient. Someone needs to remind these people how it’s done, even if it’s an amateur like me.”
“I haven’t forgotten how you brought down a deranged serial killer and solved the tuberculosis outbreak last year. If there’s one thing I learned over the last two years, you have all the components of an excellent sleuth. But the last time I checked, I was trying to put some distance between myself and the crime wave in Prague. This sounds like I’m stepping back into the mire.”
“But it’s a step nonetheless. You said you felt stuck at the newspaper. You’ve spent too much of your life wearing blinders and obsessing over the Vesely asylums. Maybe now is your chance to find out who you are without righting your family’s wrongs. Maybe you’re more than just a writer of crime.” The infectious spark in her red eyes was all the coaxing Camilla needed. “Why not prevent it for once instead of chronicling the aftermath?”