Excerpt from “Li Morti,” Death of a Serpent:
Friday, November 2, 1866
Who could he be, this killer? He was mad, of course, but clever at hiding his wild torment, someone whom all three victims knew and trusted. Eugenia? At this stage, she couldn’t rule her out, but believed, along with Loffredo, that the killer was male, his soul caught in a spell. Like the mourner at Gemma’s wake, or Falco, a customer who had helped himself to all three women. Was Rosa keeping information from her, more than what she, Serafina, hadn’t already wrenched from the madam’s mouth? Probably. Her customers tended to be wealthy with impeccable stature. Stature? Reputation? But she knew a public persona was often a chimera.
She shivered. That mysterious monk-like figure who picked up Gemma was their best lead. He’d be the most likely to have knowledge of the brazen serpent. Was he the same monk she saw? Scarpo saw? Arcangelo? Falco dressed as a monk? Someone else she knew? And what if the killer had an inside accomplice, one of Rosa’s precious girls. Scarpo? Was there enough time to catch him before he struck again? Three or four more days, that’s all she had, and if he discovered she knew about him, what then? Murder them all in their sleep? Her family too?
She’d heard about Allan Pinkerton and his agency, heard, too, about London’s Scotland Yard, their brilliant successes, their failures, quick-witted men who uncovered master villains in a flash. They lived for detection, foiled assassination attempts, spotted a pickpocket by the way he walks. She was so new at this. Did she have the skills necessary to solve these murders? What would happen if she failed? She stumbled on a stone. Even the cobbles seemed to be testing her. It was as if the air itself held the answers she could not fathom.
And there was that other voice, the one telling her she should be at home, taking care of her children. Was she being fair to them? And what if she was killed? How would her children fend without her?
‘Very well,’ her mother’s voice interrupted, ‘Do nothing. Be a coward. Add to the chaos around you. Or open the window, let justice fill the room, and make mocking thoughts fly away.’