Excerpt from “Bella’s Body,” the opening chapter, Death of a Serpent
On the ride home Serafina considered Rosa’s request. Giorgio’s death had been a sudden slap, what, less than six months ago. Her children needed her now more than ever. Bad enough leaving them when she was called in the middle of the night to a birthing, but she must continue with midwifery: it was her specialness. Besides, she had a commitment to the town, received a stipend, and they needed the coins. If she were engaged in finding the killer of Rosa’s women, she’d be away from the little ones too much of the time; when home, her mind would be forever wrestling with the mystery.
She looked over at Rosa who was wrapped in grief, frowning out the window. Well, then, Serafina would tell her later: she could not, must not, take up sleuthing.
The carriage slowed.
“What’s that? A pounding, I hear,” Rosa said.
“Nothing. The wind.”
She heard voices, laughter, the crack of a whip, an animal roar. Serafina squinted through clouds of dust to a long line of wagons.
The madam stuck her head out the window. “Turi,” she called, “why have we stopped?”
“Barco’s circus blocks the road.”
“Off the highway!” someone yelled. “Let us pass!”
Serafina asked, “Can’t the guards do something?”
“Thick, the guards,” Rosa said. “A show for bandits.”
“Stay here.” Serafina opened the door and climbed out.
Barco was a ball of a man, short and round, clothed in the only garb she’d ever seen him wear: overalls, a tattered shirt stained with sweat, red tails, a balding top hat. He rolled over to Serafina.
“Eh, Donna Fina, haven’t seen you since you was a tike. Heard you married the apothecary. And you, a midwife, same as your mama, popping out babies like a hocus-pocus lady.”
They hugged. She told him about Giorgio’s death and the killings at Villa Rosa.
“Heard about the trouble at Rosa’s. Word is, the red fox, he’s in the coop.” He leaned over, spat.
“Another woman killed today. We come from Palermo where we broke the news to her poor parents.”
He chewed the butt of his cigar. “Might as well camp here as anywheres,” he said, pointing to the open field.
Barco motioned to his foreman. In minutes, mules towed the wagons onto the side. Performers and animals flooded the field. A group of knife throwers crowded around a tree where they had set up a target. Acrobats tumbled. The cook began building a fire.
As Serafina waved goodbye, a clown in whiteface with a tuft of ginger hair stared at her from the side of the road, the butt of a knife sticking out of his belt. Running splayed fingers through her curls, she looked away, heard her mother ask again, ‘Remember the boy with hair like ours?’