Excerpt from Murder On The Rue Cassette:
As they pulled into the Gare de Lyon, the train belched steam and the iron wheels ground to a halt. Serafina rose and Rosa stretched. They descended, making their way on unsteady legs down the length of the platform. Serafina felt the damp evening chill and walked with increasing speed out of the station and into the Paris dark, the end of a long journey and the beginning of another.
She gazed up, trying to see the stars but the night was cloudy and the air misted. Haloes formed around the many lamps lighting their way. People bustled around Serafina speaking in that guttural way of the French. She peered across the boulevard to the notorious Prison Mazas and felt a stony creature breathing fire deep within her. Buttoning the collar of her cape, she glanced back at Teo and Arcangelo who walked behind her, talking and pointing at everything they saw. She looked over at Rosa embracing Tessa and gesturing toward the huge square buildings surrounding them while carriages whirred by in the wide tree-lined streets.
Having commandeered a stevedore with a cart, Carmela caught up with them. She took Serafina’s arm and marched her to the curb where three of Busacca’s agents met them. They helped the travelers into the hotel’s omnibus, the driver in top hat, a blanket around his legs. The horses snorted.
Serafina thanked the men and asked that they arrange a conference for her with the prefect of police and with Madame de Masson, Busacca’s sister, as soon as possible, telling them she was ready to begin her investigation right away.
“An impossibility,” they said. But Madame de Masson expected them at ten tomorrow morning and a carriage would be waiting for them at the hotel’s entrance. They’d spoken with the prefect’s assistant who scheduled a meeting for tomorrow afternoon.
While a porter stowed their luggage, a liveried footman helped them up the few steps into the vehicle. Serafina took one last look around. She thought she saw a figure, dark and foreboding, in an alcove across the square. While she stared at him, the cloaked man receded into the shadows.
Arcangelo and Teo wanted to ride on top so they all climbed the stairs and sat holding onto the rails in the open air, Serafina hugging her cape and rubbing her arms for warmth. She felt the resistance of the wheels as the horses strained and they began to move.
She sat next to Carmela and gave her a peck on the cheek and an encouraging hug. She felt her daughter’s embarrassment. Poor Carmela, an unwed mother, by necessity she’d stayed at home most of the time with her baby, forgotten by the world, but helping at home with the younger children.
Serafina looked down at the people in the streets, the French women with such flare they exuded an unmatched style and sophistication. She felt rather than saw them staring back at her. Fingering the thin fabric of her dress worn through in spots at the hem, she pulled at a loose thread and tried to smooth the pucker.
Photo: Boulevard des Capucines, Claude Monet, 1873. Public Domain.