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  • Susan Russo Anderson

Caprice in her Soul

Rosa is the sidekick in the Serafina Florio mysteries, a series set in a fictitious town in Sicily in the 1860s.

In the first book, Death of a Serpent, they travel to Palermo to visit the parents of a woman who was killed—a woman who worked for Rosa in her brothel. I wrote the following scene to show some of Rosa’s character, especially her vigor and the love she had for her hometown.

October 1866

Serafina had to walk fast to keep up with Rosa. Renata and Tessa followed behind.

“Oh, the air, how sweet, almost like spring. I can smell the scent of loam,” Serafina said, her eyes sweeping the traffic to find an empty cab.

“Not loam—sand and rocks, our soil,” Rosa said.

“Our house has rich earth. My ancestors brought it with them from the fields to make fertile gardens. The city did the same when they built the station. Giorgio told me.”

“Such fantasy! All I smell is the foulness of the train on me, like a thousand mules passing wind, and I feel the grit of the day.” Rosa buried her nose in one of her sleeves and made a face.

Tessa skipped to keep up, holding Renata’s hand.

“Impossible. You can’t agree with me, can you? You haven’t changed. You were the same as a child. Always seeing the bleak, never the poetic. I remember helping my mother deliver difficult babies, and, afterward, you refused to listen to my joyful words of life and birth. When will you grow up?”

Rosa laughed. “I built my business, didn’t I, but not by thinking deep thoughts, and I must bathe and perfume before our guests arrive. The fine weather and the end of the festa, good for the trade. I feel a full house coming on tonight!” Rosa rubbed her hands together. There was a bounce in her step, caprice in her soul. Was this the same woman who could barely move when they got off the train in Palermo?

“Hurry, too slow, you’re like an old woman.” Rosa churned the air with her gestures. She never stopped long to wonder or to ask why, with her flinty mind and scorn for fantasy. Her haunches strained the seams of her dress as they flexed forward. Yes, Serafina had to admire Rosa. When the war came and Giorgio’s apothecary was closed along with all the other shops around the piazza, Rosa’s brain kept Serafina’s family from starving. Did her house close? Not at all. Clever Rosa prospered with the ebb and flow of history. Except for now—she could be ruined by the murders of her women—and it was Serafina’s turn to help. She’d crush this killer. She must.

Photo: Cover, Death of a Serpent. Cover design, Derek Murphy

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