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  • Writer's pictureSusan Russo Anderson

A Mind Gone Feral

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

In this scene from Death of a Serpent, Serafina discusses the madness of the killer.

Muttering something about being late for dinner, Rosa retrieved a large leather-bound book from the shelf behind her desk, its ecru pages smelling of broom and albumen. Serafina walked around to get a better look.

Rosa leafed through the volume, each spread containing a month—seven columns across, with four or five rows down—the madam’s scrawl filling many of the squares. Light from the sea swam over Rosa’s face as she turned the pages. She stopped at August. “The beginning.” The square for August 7th contained one word, ‘Gemma.’

“The day you found Gemma?”

Rosa nodded.

Serafina turned the page.

Rosa gestured to September 7th, and Serafina saw the word, ‘Nelli.’

“I opened the door, and there was our darling Nelli. The sight of her name dries my throat.”

Without looking up, Rosa refilled their glasses and said, “October,” gulping her water and caressing with a finger Bella’s name written in the square for the seventh.

Serafina stared into space.

“Your mind’s taking a walk.” Rosa put on her spectacles and began flipping the pages back and forth. “Peasants are starving, and you bite off a chunk of words and don’t finish them. At least spit them out before you stare into space.”

Serafina looked out to the sea, silent for a bit. “I was going to say that if you found each body on the seventh day of the month, it means the killer attacked on the sixth, or early on the seventh every time. Don’t you see? It means if he kills again—and I believe he’ll try, mark my words, he’ll try—most likely he’ll strike on the same date of the month.”

Rosa’s face blanched.

Serafina continued. “There’s a systematic ghoulishness about these murders, a wildness about this killer that we will never understand. He lusts not after flesh, but has the cunning of the feral, intent on one thing only—eliminating you and all your women and the business you think I know so little about. For lucre? I doubt it.”

The madam’s eyes were flaking embers.

“Why the mark carved into their foreheads?” she continued. “Why did each death occur between the sixth and the seventh of the month? We must discover how the victims’ lives touched their killer’s path. Why did these women need him? Agree to meet him? What did the three have in common, other than their profession and their address? How did they know him? Is he a customer who helped himself to all three? To others? Who is the one woman most likely to be his next victim?”

Photo: cover, Death of a Serpent. Design, Derek Murphy

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