Inside a Dream
No More Brothers is Serafina’s second standalone mystery set in nineteenth-century Sicily.
Here’s a scene from the novella. It takes place in the foul-smelling jail in the fictitious town of Oltramari, Sicily. Serafina visits the man arrested for the victim’s death.
A film of water covered the skins of things down here, Serafina thought. It beaded on her upper lip and in her armpits as she followed a guard down the circular staircase of Oltramari’s jail. Moisture dampened the flame on her torch so that she could see no more than a few centimeters ahead. It was like being wrapped in a foul-smelling dream. She saw a dark form scurry past, perhaps Ugo’s shade, here to exact its revenge.
When Serafina entered the room, the guards said in unison, “Rise, please.” A shackled Abatti stood with difficulty, eyed Serafina, said nothing. She breathed in audibly. The pity she felt for him was unexpected and strong. His face was haggard. His shirt was torn, yet he looked like a man unafraid of death.
She handed her torch to a guard and sat down, motioning for Abatti to take his seat. Her eyes studied his face, looking for an involuntary grimace, a tremble in his hands, a sidelong glance. She found no signs of fear.
“You confessed to the murder of Ugo Pandolfina.”
“Proud of it. I’d murder Ugo a hundred times over, that bastard.”
“You had help.”
He shook his head.
“Was there another who wanted his death?”
He didn’t answer. She waited.
“To my comrades who survived the Battle of Milazzo, I’m a hero.”
She knew it was hopeless, yet something perverse made her persist. “What was his name, the one who poisoned Ugo’s wine?”
A long moment passed. They seemed like hours. The torch sputtered and the guards grew impatient, but she let silence bore into the layers of his courage before asking again, “Who poisoned him?”
“While we drank that evening.”
“Evening I killed him. Sunday.”
“Killed him in a grove in the foot of the Madonie Mountains.”
“You know what I mean. Where did you poison him?”
“Café down the street, Boffo’s.”
“Boffo’s is closed on Sundays.”
He said nothing.
“Who helped you, Abatti? Who gave you the Marsala Medal?”
“It’s mine!” He glared at her. “I earned it.”
“I didn’t find your name on the list of recipients.”
She saw beads of sweat run down his face and lose themselves in the folds of his neck. The guards moved from side to side.
“Where is your Marsala Medal now?”
“Guards have it.”
“And you think they’ll bury it with you? Don’t be naive.”
She watched a new shadow cross his face.
“I want his name, Ugo’s poisoner.”
“Abatti is his name, Ezzo Abatti.”
She waited a few moments in silence. Convinced, finally, that Abatti would never talk, she gathered up her reticule and said, “If you change your mind, have the guards send for me.”
Walking home, she was glad for the drying sun on her face and the smells of early spring.