Bell, Cook, and Candle: An Angie Amalfi Mystery

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There's nothing funny, however, about her homicide detective boyfriend Paavo Smith's latest case. Paavo's investigating a series of baffling murders that may be rooted in satanic ritual. And when Angie is called upon to deliver a humorous confection to the mysterious owner of a decadent after-hours goth club, the inquisitive gourmet baker suddenly finds herself up to her neck in the demonic business.

And if Angie can't help Paavo track down a maniacal serial killer with an obsessively unhealthy interest in her, she might end up as devil's food of a different kind. A deranged seer, a family of operatic Italian Americans and a group of Satan worshipers are only a few of the screwball players in Pence's To Catch a Cook, etc. While launching her new business, Comical Cakes, culinary adventuress Angie Amalfi stumbles upon an alien world when a prospective client turns out to be the nocturnal proprietor of an after-hours goth club.

Though perturbed by her meeting, Angie thinks little of it even after her long-suffering boyfriend, homicide detective Paavo Smith, informs her that a young woman was found raped and murdered in a ritualistic manner. A short while later, another body turns up, setting San Franciscans on edge. Blood began to well up. You were supposed to give me support, be a kind of chorus for me and my business.

Like, say, the Supremes for Diana Ross. Wait, they split up. Well, you know what I mean. Not wanting to get blood on her pearl-gray leather seats or royal-blue Versace suit, she took a moment to fish a Kleenex from her purse and press it against her finger. Too irritated to reply, Angie got into the car and shoved the tissue into her jacket pocket. It slipped out, caught by a breeze.

Part of her speechlessness, unfortunately, stemmed from the fact that what Connie said was true. Since the grandmother had loved chocolate to excess, the granddaughter wanted a chocolate cake. At first, Angie thought her friend was joking. Angie not only complied, but also added a few calla lilies to one corner to offset the Rest in Peace, Pearl curlicued across the center. It had to be the most hideous cake ever created.

If she could have dropped it off at the reception and snuck home, she would have. Much to her amazement, some members of the funeral party were deeply moved. Others commented favorably on her wry humor. A coworker was retiring, and the staff wanted a cake that looked like a nursing home with the words Not Long Now, Buddy written in black.

Angie quoted an outrageous price. To her amazement, the woman accepted. That led to a cake for a baby shower. Two cakes later, Angie decided to regard her cakes not as mere confections, but as whimsical works of art, similar to ice sculptures at gala events. She drew up some business cards, and Comical Cakes was born. Now, careful not to cut herself again, she slid the key into the ignition and turned it. She stopped and took a deep breath.

This place is pretty creepy, Connie said, wriggling to make herself more comfortable. I feel like someone is watching me. Angie tried the key again. Usually streets have lots of lights and houses, with children playing and dogs barking.

Bell, Cook and Candle (Angie Amalfi, book 9) by Joanne Pence

Connie pulled her python-print coat closer and strapped on the seat belt. This one has a decaying church taking up an entire city block. What is wrong with this car? Angie glowered at the unlit dashboard in frustration. I have a Comical Cake to design! My old car works perfectly. I should be home with it instead of here being unappreciated this way. Angie gritted her teeth. I appreciate you coming with me, she said after a while as she rummaged through the glove compartment for the car manual.

Angie tossed it back, slammed the glove box shut, and tried again. Will you stop that already! Miraculously, this time—thank you, Lord! Nothing at all. Connie faced forward, sitting stiffly in the car seat. Just get moving. With the engine purring, Angie took a moment to check her finger again under the map lamp. The finger was fine. As she shut off the lamp, she noticed that no streetlights illuminated the area near the old church. The lacerated corpse of the rat dangled by its tail from his fingertips. Thirst and hunger satisfied for the moment, he tossed it into the gutter and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth as he slunk closer to the street.

He had watched the women in the luxurious car with interest—with very much attention, judging by the effect one in particular had had on his body. It had been a long time since simply looking at a woman could make his blood flow this way. Usually, he had to be doing much more than looking, even more than touching. He sucked the blood slowly from each of his fingertips as the car disappeared in the distance. Whenever he looked at her smiling face framed by shiny brown hair with red highlights, her soulful brown eyes, small nose, and generous mouth, something inside him twisted.

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It was a good twist, he had to admit, but not one conducive to work. In fact, nothing about his current relationship with Angie helped his concentration in any area, and he had to put an end to this situation. He returned the picture to his desk and shut the drawer. The hell with it, Yosh, he said glumly. Are you sure about this, Paav?

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You two have been together quite a while. So it seems. Paavo lifted his head as Homicide Inspector Rebecca Mayfield strode into the large, open room that made up the homicide division of the Bureau of Inspections, her partner, Bill Sutter, dragging in about ten steps behind her. Her navy-blue sport jacket, starched white shirt, and khaki slacks showed off her tall, well-toned figure.

She moved with an unconsciously athletic, no-nonsense gait, as sexy as it was businesslike. Sutter was the forgotten man on the force—nondescript, waiting for retirement, bland, and constantly wearing the expression of a person in need of a double dose of Pepto-Bismol. My lips are sealed, Yosh answered. You might just be bored.

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Rebecca asked. Maybe Yosh was right and his decision regarding Angie was part of the bigger picture, a much broader need for change. As he studied the scene below, a chill struck him, one of those that Angie described as someone walking over your grave. For the first time, he wanted to live life to the fullest. Short, with a round body, round face, and dyed black hair tightly pulled into a stylish bun, she plopped her boxy black purse on the coffee table and proceeded to remove her black scarf, overcoat, and gloves.

Even her dress was black. Not a good sign. Do you have any of your pecan shortbread cookies? Serefina stopped her diatribe to ask, and joined Angie in the kitchen. Angie put on the coffee. You and your cakes! Who wants silly cakes? The wooden chair squeaked as Serefina lowered herself into it. Cakes are to eat, to melt in the mouth, not to look at and laugh!

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Biting her tongue so hard she feared permanent indentations, Angie opened the refrigerator. I did as much as I could. I was there for him, I tried to help him. Angie could have shrieked. Marriage was the last thing on his mind when he was going through all that. Testa dura! Where have I failed as a mother? You should know that already. Serefina threw her head back, arms out, and announced to the ceiling, Madonna mia , such a daughter I have, an embarrassment to Italian women in tutto del mondo! Angie placed a cup of coffee in front of her mother and plunked a bottle of brandy beside it.

Bell, cook and candle : an Angie Amalfi mystery

Serefina enjoyed her coffee royals, as she called them, and Angie was ready to join her. The dark, run-down Victorian looked like a place the Addams family might have called home. Three stories tall, it had a steeply pitched roof and turret on the top floor. Sure enough, cement steps led down to a heavy wooden basement door. How cool was it to knock? She turned the knob, and to her surprise, the latch slid open. A big man with a shiny dome of a head, beer belly, and black Nehru jacket buttoned tight against a bloated neck caught the door and stared at her hard, then slowly lowered pitbull eyes to her short black leather skirt and over-the-knee black leather boots.

Hey, there, my man. She tossed out the words at a fast, urban clip. She put a fist on her hip and let it sway. She rolled her eyes as if contemplating leaving. Where was I supposed to get this invitation? I just want to know your name. Shoulders back, her white-powdered face slack as if world-weary, black-shadowed eyelids half closed, and plum-glossed lips arched in a slight sneer, she took leggy strides deep into the room.

Halfway, she stopped, hips thrust forward, and ran her fingers through raven-black hair, pushing it to the side in a way that made it flop over in greater disarray. Her black blouse was only half buttoned, showing a considerable amount of cleavage, and a black, silver-studded dog collar was fastened around her neck.

She lifted heavy eyes to the young man at her side, slowly dropping her gaze over his black-leather-clad, rail-thin body, then up again. His black hair was spiked, his eyes lined with red pencil, and his lips colorless. Three silver studs paraded along one earlobe. She pouted sullenly. Who wants to know?