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  • Writer's pictureSusan Russo Anderson

In the Place du Palais Royal

Serafina Florio’s fourth mystery, Murder on the Rue Cassette takes place in Paris in the early 1870s. Serafina is commissioned by a distraught father to find his daughter’s killer—her mangled body had been recently found on the Rue Cassette, a street in the sixth arrondissement of Paris. The pay was generous, and Serafina needed the money to support her family. So Serafina goes to Paris, along with Rosa, erstwhile madam and Serafina's lifelong friend. She also takes four members of her family. One of her entourage is Teo, orphaned and taken in by Serafina.

In this scene, we get to know Teo. He’s a young orphan living as a member of Serafina’s family. He’s looking out his hotel window onto the Place de la Concorde, marveling at a strange and beautiful world.

Teo pictured Maria’s hands on the keyboard. He thought of their beauty and suppleness. Of her concentration. He wondered how one person could be born with so much talent and beauty.

One day she would be his friend again and the life between them would be better. After all, she did walk to school with him that one time, so there was hope. He swallowed, remembering the last morning they’d walked together and how she’d talked to him about Brahms and how most people in Oltramari misunderstood his music. “Most people in Oltramari never heard of Brahms,” he’d said. But she hadn’t been listening because a group of her friends had overtaken them. They pointed their fingers at him, calling him moon face and sniggering. After that, Maria refused to walk with him. He forced the memory from his mind.

When he wasn’t working with Carmela, Teo tried to think of the perfect gift he could bring Maria from Paris. If he attended a concert, he could tell her about it. But how would he do that? He’d seen a notice in the Galignani Guide of an organ recital at St. Sulpice and found the church on the map. He’d missed the concert, but perhaps he could find a program lying about in the square. He stared out the window, his hand on the sash about to close it, mesmerized by all the horse-drawn vehicles in front of their hotel, the laughter of the people, the streets lit by hundreds of gas lamps.

In the Place du Palais Royal below, he saw a new machine, one he’d never seen at home. Carmela called it a bicycle. Now several young men about his age stood on the edge of the square, holding the wheeled contraption between them. They jostled for a turn to work the pedals. They snorted, full of life, happy, hopeful, like most of the people in this city.

Teo felt a stone lodge in his throat. What chance would he have against all the gentlemen Maria would meet when she began playing in Paris or Berlin or New York? He was an orphan with a moon face from a rusted-out part of the world. He had nothing to his name except a set of knucklebones carved long ago by his father.

Photo: Cover, Murder on the Rue Cassette. Design, Avalon Graphics

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