Boffo is a bartender in No More Brothers, Serafina Florio’s second standalone mystery, a novella set in Sicily in the 1860s.
In this scene, she questions him about the victim.
Boffo was a short man with a friendly smile and no teeth. He owned a café on the piazza. Afternoons, he served sweets and coffee to a mixed clientele—a few tourists, but mostly townspeople out shopping. Evenings, Boffo’s catered to a rougher crowd.
As Serafina entered, late morning sun swam on the walls and menus. Too early for customers, but Boffo sat, running his finger down the front page of Giornale di Sicilia, shaking his head, and enjoying what Serafina figured was his only quiet time of the day.
She got straight down to business. “I’m so sorry to disturb you.”
“Not a bit of it. Always a pleasure, Donna Fina.”
“I need to talk something over with you. Only for your ears. It concerns the murder of Ugo Pandolfina. You know about it?”
“Of course I know about it. The whole town knows about Ugo. Poor, old Ugo. I heard you caught the varmint what did him in and single-handed, too. Hit him where he lived, so to speak. We’re lucky we have you around.”
“I have a few questions about his death. Not a word to anyone, you must promise me.”
“You can rely on me. How did he take it, might I ask?”
“I mean, how did Ugo die? They say his entrails was hanging out. Bloody mess.”
“The autopsy’s not been performed and it wouldn’t do for me to speak out of turn. I can tell you that it wasn’t pleasant.”
His eyes widened.
“But his killer said he was in here with Ugo the night before he murdered him.”
“Ugo? In here?”
“Was he a customer?”
“One of my regulars. Most nights, Ugo was here. Known him for years. NI need more like him. Pays his bills, I tell you. Hardly keeps a tab. Generous type. He buys for the house when he’s feeling flush.” He stopped for a second before continuing. “I’ve known him since forever, him and the brother, although, come to hear it told, the two aren’t on good terms.”
Boffo sucked on his gums. “Good bloke, I don’t care what they say about him.”
“What do they say about him?”
He puffed on his cheeks. “I don’t like to speak ill of the dead—I’ll have the specters flying wild at me. But … some said he’d wind up no good.” He leaned closer to her and his voice took on a heavy rasp. “He didn’t wet the don’s beak. Not surprising that he left this world, quick-like.” He tapped a finger on the side of his nose. “Like I say, Ugo was a good customer. If I had more like him, I wouldn’t be in trouble with the bank. This bar’s been in my family for generations. Now I’m hanging by my nails, you might say. Now I don’t know how much longer I can hold on. Father kept it good. His father before him. Now I’m the one what’s losing it.”
Serafina sympathized with his troubles. “When was the last time you saw Ugo in here?”
Boffo stopped. Considered. “I can’t recall the date. Mind getting fuzzy. Late last week, might have been. Don’t know for sure. It gets crowded at night and one day runs into the other, you might say. He’s always here Saturdays.”
“We found his body Monday morning. Did you see him Sunday evening?”
He shook his head. “Not Sunday, that I know for sure.”
“We’re closed on Sundays.”