Authors: Susan Russo Anderson
Loffredo ought to know. His father nearly disowned him when he’d learned that his son wanted to pursue a degree in medicine. “A profession is not for nobles,” he’d said. “Closes doors on access to our kind.”
Waving Ugo’s book in one hand and a silver chalice in the other, Serafina entered the living room. “Look what I found!”
Still no reply. She saw the two of them leaning over the table, staring into a metal box.
The inspector stuck his fat fingers deep inside and picked up a few coins. He tested one with his teeth, grinned at the ca-chink when he dropped them back into the chest, pushed them about. “
,” he whispered. “Over a million I’d say, right inside this little box. Try to lift it, eh, Carlo?”
“Colonna, Carlo, listen to me, I found—”
“In a minute, Fina.” Colonna flapped a hand in her direction.
But the inspector and her son and the room soon became lost to her vision as she sat on the sofa and read Ugo’s ledger.
They walked back to the Municipal Building, Serafina and Colonna leading the way. In front of his office she said, “This is the brutal murder of a military hero, Pirricù. The people will want answers soon and we must be ready with facts.”
n the way home, Carlo said, “So it’s ‘Fina’ and ‘Pirricù,’ now, is it?”
She ignored his remark. “Tomorrow we’re off at first light. I’ll ask Renata to pack us something for the journey. Make sure Largo is fed and watered—we’ll use the cart. Bring a good length of rope and blanket. Do you still have that small leather club Papa gave you? Bring it. We’ve got work to do. Might be dangerous. Shhh, not a word to anyone.”
“Dangerous? Are you kidding? Why don’t you get Colonna and one or two of his men to carry out your scheme?”
“When I told Colonna we were going to search for the scene of the crime, he seemed content to stay in his office and count Ugo’s coins.”
“You mean, you want all the glory of the capture.”
She opened her mouth.
“No, don’t answer; I don’t want to hear another fantasy. But I’ll tell you one thing: tonight I’m going to Gloria’s and I don’t care what you have planned for this evening or any other evening, for that matter. Count me out. I’ll meet you tomorrow with the cart and the rope and the club.” He kicked a stone and it skipped on the cobbles, echoed off the high walls of buildings. “And what’s more, I don’t want to hear any of your remarks.”
They crossed the piazza without speaking, passing old soldiers snoring on benches or sitting straight, some with the vagueness of wounded souls, others arguing with one another. The crone she had seen earlier had vanished. Serafina’s skirts crackled in the wind. Her palms were moist.
“So where are we going?” he asked.
“I recognized the flora stuck to Ugo’s shirt. We’re going to a copse of beech near the foot of Monte San Calogero. Your father and I used to picnic there before we were married, and I’d come home full of those same burrs and leaves.”
He turned his face to hers. “And what are we looking for?”
“Ugo’s missing boot and…” Her voice trailed off.
“…and a killer who may return to the scene of the crime.”
“How do you know Ugo’s murder is not the work of Don Tigro?”
“I don’t, not for sure. But I know this much. First, by the looks of the goods in his house, Ugo had a thriving business. He’d been at it a long time, built up customers, kept a ledger. Ugo wouldn’t have lasted as long as he did unless he paid up regularly. Men like Don Tigro get rid of their enemies quickly.”
Carlo shrugged. “Is there a ‘second’?” he asked.
She nodded. “Don Tigro’s thugs would have picked Ugo’s house clean of the gold and silver.”
Carlo thought a moment and nodded, more to himself than to her. “And how do you know the killer will return to the scene of the crime, assuming we find it?”
“A hunch. He’ll want to make sure there’s nothing left behind that could implicate him. If my guess is right, he’s disturbed about something.”
“Of course! Disturbed enough to kill.”
“No, I mean, distraught, wild, disturbed enough to stab Ugo, what, seventy-five, a hundred times.”
“We’ve been through this.”
“And how do the wild behave? Theirs is a small world. They go back to what they know and love, regardless of the danger.”
Carlo was about to say more, but Serafina continued. “Or he might just want to go back for whatever it is that madmen dream of.”
“And what you don’t know, you make up as you go along.”
How could she explain to her son about the knowledge of the heart, the flash of a wizard’s understanding? He was oblivious to such things, unlike his twin, Carmela. Not at all like her side of the family, many of whom had been gifted with apparitions. Not at all like Giorgio either, who, while he lived, combined a love of dogged learning with the immediate grasp of genius. She shook her head.
“You’re in another world again.” Carlo held the door open while Serafina smiled up at the stone angel above the lintel.
s the front door opened, Serafina heard Maria’s scales coming from the parlor.
“What’s for dinner?” She followed the sounds of banging pots. “Where’s Renata?”
carriage came for her while you were out.” Carmela, her infant son slung on one hip, stirred the sauce while the domestic shuffled back and forth setting places at the table.
Ignoring the queer way her stomach felt, Serafina gathered up her grandson and kissed his hair. “Oh, my precious, you and I don’t like the
, do we? Unspeakable rudeness! Just because he trained in Paris, he thinks he can order your Aunt Renata about like some kind of kitchen wench.” As usual, the baby settled in Serafina’s arms. He cooed. She nuzzled her nose against the silkiness of his ear.
“We talked about this,” Carmela said. “You knew Renata was leaving.” She dampened the flames, emptied the drained pasta into a bowl, smothered some sauce and cheese on top. “She’ll be back in two months, as soon as prince what’s his name tires of her pastries or runs out of coins. In the meantime, the domestic and I will take care of the kitchen. All yours, Assunta. Careful, it’s hot.” Carmela blew a lock of hair out of her eyes while the domestic carried the main dish to the table.
Giulia came into the room carrying her school books and sewing basket. She kissed Serafina’s cheek.
“Are the beads finished for the baroness?”
“Yes, I ran them over this morning before school.”
She felt a tug on her skirt, looked down. Totò held his sore finger in the air. She kissed it. “Much better today, my sweetness. Carlo, look at his finger, won’t you?” Serafina clasped her youngest son closer before releasing him.
“Over here. Let me look.” Carlo bent to Totò. “That little cut? It’s nothing!”
“Is too. Sore!” Totò stuck out his lower lip.
“It didn’t bother you until Mama came into the room. Grow up!”
“Not so rude to your brother! Wash his wound and dress it with fresh cloth.”
“Wound? It’s a scratch! And
dress it—you’re the mother!”
Carmela stomped over to face her twin. “Your mother works two jobs and we eat scraps so you can go to medical school and you talk like a, like a bandit—”
“A lot you care, storming off and disappearing for four years and bulging with your bastard when you re—”
“Enough! We’re a family and still in mourning.” Serafina blinked hard. While she knelt to kiss Totò’s finger, her mind played tricks. They were gathered around the table, Giorgio pouring the wine, his laughter tumbling over them, the house rich with the smell of roasted pork. Carmela and Carlo must have been what, five or six? Vicenzu and Renata were toddlers; Giulia, Maria and Totò, not yet born. Those were the days of plenty when Serafina’s mother lived on the third floor and, with the help of two servants, kept the kitchen whenever they were between cooks. Whatever they wanted, they bought at market, traveling by coach to La Vucciria each week. They bought only the finest cuts of meat, fish so fresh their tails stood on end. Main courses were accompanied by two or three succulent side dishes, each course served with the proper wine. Today they had a watery sauce, overcooked pasta, a heel of stale bread.
Maria’s music was lumbering, punctuated by the ticking of the grandfather clock.
Carlo tasted the sauce and made a face. “No bread?”
A knot formed in Serafina’s stomach. “Carmela’s too busy with Rosa’s gardens for perfection in the kitchen. We’ll hire a cook.”
“No funds for cooks!” Vicenzu, the middle son, yelled from his desk in the corner of the kitchen. His abacus whirred. A carriage accident three years ago left him with a limp and a love of numbers. It was a calamity at the time, especially for the life and career of a young man, but in the end it had become a boon for Serafina’s family. Ever since Giorgio’s death, Vicenzu ran the apothecary shop and kept a tight rein on their coins.
Seated at the table, Carlo fiddled with his watch chain. Serafina rose and hugged Carmela. She told her daughter how proud she was of her landscaping and her attempts at cooking. She showered her grandson with kisses. The baby gurgled.
“Maria, Giulia, Vicenzu, time for dinner!”
The piano stopped.
A loud knock interrupted them. The domestic shuffled down the hall to answer the door.
Vicenzu and Carlo stood when Serafina’s friend, Rosa, entered. She was followed by an entourage, her cook carrying a large platter of steaming
, two maids laden with
, warm bread, and three bottles of
“My chief gardener is detained by you?”
Last month, Rosa relinquished the running of her high class house after a serial killer murdered three of her women. Taking her cook, maids, driver, stableboy, and several bodyguards with her, she moved into the abandoned villa next door to Serafina after its owners had fled to the Americas or some such place in the middle of the night. Serafina was thrilled: it gave Rosa and her daughter a home next to hers.
She and Rosa had met when they were children, and despite vast differences of class and temperament, they’d remained best friends. What would she do without her, Serafina wondered. Although the former madam’s nature was prickly, Rosa’s eye for the main chance had helped her business prosper when everyone else failed. Frequented by generals, politicians, and—it was rumored—bishops, her house was famous throughout the province. She knew everyone and everything. She’d helped Serafina and her family survive the war. Last year when the police did nothing to solve the murders of Rosa’s women, she called upon Serafina who risked her life to unmask the killer.
Rosa kissed Carmela on both cheeks. “You’ve made a lovely design for my gardens in the back, but you should be planning the conservatory, not cooking for this one.” She jerked a thumb in Serafina’s direction.
“But we’ve got to eat and—”
Rosa scowled at Serafina. “Where’s your mind? We agreed last night: in exchange for Carmela designing my gardens, Formusa will prepare your meals while Renata is away. Here’s your dinner, delicious and steaming. And she’s planning
pasta con le sarde
for your supper.”
Carmela threw up her hands. “Mama schemes and doesn’t bother to tell us.”
“Not quite.” Rosa glared at Serafina. “She connives, then forgets to remind herself.”
But Serafina wasn’t listening. While the others took their places at the table, she grabbed her cape and satchel. Following Rosa and her staff out the door, she said over her shoulder, “Eat. Don’t wait for me.”
he waiting room was empty so she let herself into Loffredo’s office.
“You’ve finished dinner, I take it. Caffè?” He rang the bell.
Looking askance at Serafina, the maid cleared the porcelain from his desk and bustled out.
Loffredo came around to kiss Serafina’s hand. So gentle, his touch and understanding of women. “Nothing for me. I haven’t much time.”
She remembered their university days together—heady times, when class differences did not matter and bedroom walls echoed with daring talk of revolution. He was studying medicine and she, midwifery. They both knew their affair couldn’t last. From the impoverished nobility, Loffredo would need to wed within his class or find a woman from a wealthy family. A few months after Serafina and Giorgio were betrothed, Loffredo married the daughter of a fashionable Palermitan milliner.
“You investigate Ugo’s death?”
“With police help, I hope.” She felt the heat of desire. Unbidden, not unwelcome, but for now she must suppress it, so she forced herself to image Giorgio in his coffin.
“Don’t count on Colonna’s help. He told me most of his men have been sent to Catania to quell a riot.” Loffredo touched her hand. “You’re flushed. A fever?”
Oh, Madonna, help me.
“When is Ugo’s autopsy?”
“Scheduled for—let me see—next week some time. By then the body ought to be ripe.”
“Corpses fill the morgue waiting for me.”
She reached into her bag, pulled out the glasses and linen. “These were on his kitchen table when we searched his house.”
He held the glasses up to the light and looked at the napkin. “Stained. And there’s a residue in the bottom of one of the glasses. “I’ll take a quick look. Can you return in an hour?”
She felt the press of his hand on hers as she headed across the piazza.
oping to catch the shoemaker before he closed his shop for siesta, Serafina ran past the Duomo, stopped to breathe a little in front of the fountain. She barely noticed the soldiers sleeping on stone benches or two thuggish creatures grizzling at one another in the shadows. No sign of the crone.