An Excerpt from Murder On The Rue Cassette:
Paris, April 1874
In a few minutes, the door opened and a young man approached in striped pants and frock coat. He had a distinctive gait, used an ebony cane with a silver handle. In his other hand he carried a top hat and gloves. His hair was a reddish brown, curly, not unlike Serafina’s. Although shorter than hers, it was long for a man’s hair style, below his collar in the back. He wore a kippah. About Carlo’s height and age, Serafina thought, perhaps a year or two younger. His face was earnest and filled with freckles.
“I’m Ricco de Masson, Sophie’s youngest son,” he said in an Italian Serafina had trouble understanding. “Mother told me you were here. Not often that we travel to Palermo. I was five on our last visit, but I wanted to welcome you to Paris in your native tongue and to extend my wishes for your stay in our city.”
Earnest enough. Not often Serafina saw a red-head with gray eyes. “How lovely of you to stop in. Your Italian is interesting, but I think if you spoke French we’d be able to understand you just as well—not Parisian French, mind, but a pure French.”
“Better,” Rosa said and winked at him, introducing herself. He was nimble, as yet had not stopped smiling, and bowed to the madam.
“How long will you be in Paris?”
“We’re here on a sad business, I’m afraid.”
“I think I know. Elena’s death, isn’t it?”
“Most people who talk about her don’t say nice things. But I liked her. We went to Longchamp together a few weeks ago. It was a memorable afternoon. Elena seemed happier than I’ve seen her in recent months. Have you been?”
“Sadly, no. And I don’t think we’ll have the chance.”
“But you must. Is this your first visit?”
“I studied here many years ago. At La Maternité at Port Royal. I’m a midwife.”
“But you have to go to Longchamp. I own part of a horse and he’s racing there next week.”
“Part of a horse?”
He grinned. “I’m one of the owners. They run on grass, you know. If you stand close to the rail, you can hear the thunder of their hooves. Such a sound—like the beating of God’s heart. Listen to it once, and you’ll yearn for it over and over again, I promise. And if you need a guide, I know a Paris you won’t see by studying Galignani’s travel books. I’d love to take you around. Do you travel here alone?”
“Our daughters and some other family members are with us.”
He handed Serafina his card and she stuck it in her notebook to look at later. “I must be going.” He looked at Serafina’s bare head. “I sell hats, you know, if you need one.” With that he bowed and took his leave.
Photo: Vue de toits, effet de neige. Oil on linen, 1878, Gustave Caillebotte. Public Domain.