An Excerpt from Death Of A Serpent, A Serafina Florio Mystery
Sunday, October 7, 1866
Serafina Florio saw the soul leave its body, a shadow hovering over the corpse, sliding up the stucco before vanishing. “Poor woman,” she muttered, and swallowed hard. She should have been used to death by now. After all, Sicily smothered in bodies; corpses rotted in the fields of war, swelled cholera pits, lined the streets after an uprising.
Hearing Rosa’s sobs, she wrapped her arms around her friend while afternoon light freighted with the sea slashed the three figures.
The victim lay on the rear stoop facing upward, the coils of her chestnut hair undone, torso turned to the side and clothed in a traveling suit of fine wool detailed in velvet, not at all the costume of a prostitute. Where were her gloves, her hat, her reticule?
In a face so still, the mouth was a rictus of surprise. There was a cut in the center of her forehead and a dark stain seeped through the bodice on the left side. One arm was flung outward, fingers curled, as if in supplication or terror.
After crossing herself, Serafina lifted the poor woman’s skirt just enough to reveal a layer of taffeta over several lace petticoats. The taffeta, she knew, was for effect: a woman wearing a stiff underskirt crinkled when she walked, inviting eyes to turn in her direction. Noticing that the hem was damp and that the dead woman’s boots were caked in sand, she closed her eyes, breathed in deep, and smelled seaweed.
“My sweet girl!” Rosa slid her eyes to the ceiling and wailed.
Serafina handed her a clean linen. “You sent for Inspector Colonna?”
Rosa nodded. “Dr. Loffredo, too. But stay with me.”
Photo: Sunset in Scilla. Credit: Fortu Tato (Flickr), Creative Commons.