Death of a Serpent

Death of a Serpent by Susan Russo Anderson Read Free Book Online

Book: Death of a Serpent by Susan Russo Anderson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Susan Russo Anderson
laughed at his humor, smiled at his words of endearment.
    In his last letters, it was apparent that father and daughter had been meeting and that the reason for his change toward her was Bella’s decision to leave an occupation he loathed. Serafina read his letters a second and third time, was struck by the frequency of words like ‘love,’ ‘sweet,’ ‘tender,’ phrases such as ‘your joyous face,’ his hope for the future. He signed all of these, ‘Your loving father, Nittù.’
    The contessa’s were fewer. They alluded to Bella’s plans with phrases like, ‘I go to Paris next month to visit Worth & Bobergh,’ and ‘I trust the monzù will honor his intention to let me visit his great house,’ and ‘My trip proved all that I hoped it would and more. I cannot wait to talk. We have so much to prepare.’ It was clear that the two women were engaged in an economic venture. Bella’s need for capital explained her work at Rosa’s and supported the madam’s contention that the prostitute planned to quit the house.
    Serafina wrote a summary of what she’d learned from the pile of letters—character impressions of Baldassare, Bella, and the contessa, plus a corroboration of what she’d already known. No fresh information. No leads. She fingered her brooch, lost to her surroundings.

The Brazen Serpent
    “G iulia, sweetness, I need you to look at something,” Serafina said, entering the kitchen.
    Her middle daughter, the one born with a needle and thread, took the Godey’s from Serafina and made a face. “Where did you get this?”
    “At Rosa’s. Tell me what the words say.”
    Giulia hunched over the pictures, scanned the type with her fingers. “It’s about a church in the north, their vestments and cups and such. And,” her finger paused over a phrase, “it talks about a bronze serpent. I didn’t know Rosa embroidered.”
    “You’d be surprised what Rosa gets into. And by the way, who’s been using Papa’s English dictionary?”
    Giulia’s smile lit her face.
    “So industrious, my best designer of high fashion. Just remember to put his books back when you’ve finished with them. I noticed some of his shelves were disordered.”
    Giulia nodded.
    Serafina kissed her daughter’s forehead.
    Bronze serpents? ‘Cups and such’? Serafina wanted more information. She decided to visit the Duomo’s priests.
    As she hitched her trap to a post, she saw a group of children on their way to school, some running, others walking backward or skipping. The streets were full of people heading to the straw market or to the more expensive shops facing the piazza. Mules with jingling headgear pulled painted carts. Serafina caught the scent of warm bread and waved to the baker, greeted Arazzudda, a peasant whose thirteenth child she delivered last week.
    She plowed up the rectory’s stoop. Misjudging the depth of the last step, she tripped and snagged the hem of her skirt.
    While she waited for the priest, Serafina ran a palm over her scuffed boots, wiped her hand on the side of her dress. She was sick of wearing black, certain she could grieve for her husband just as well in a fine watered silk of alizarin crimson or jade .
    The door opened.
    “I’m investigating three murders. Perhaps you can help.”
    When he sat, she smelled tobacco and grappa.
    She handed him the Godey’s Lady’s Book , open to a colored plate of the brazen serpent on a cross. “What can you tell me about these drawings?”
    He glanced at the pictures, stabbed a dirty fingernail at one. “Of these I know nothing, except that they’re very beautiful, especially this chalice. We could use it here.” He put a finger to his lips. “But we have a visiting priest, a scholar. He might know.” He rang the bell.
    Soon a tall man entered, tonsured and wearing a hooded cassock. He had a large set of rosary beads hanging from his belt. Serafina wondered what possessed monks to wear sandals. His feet were yellow and blue.

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