Read Cook's Night Out Online

Authors: Joanne Pence

Cook's Night Out

Cook's Night Out

An Angie Amalfi Mystery

Joanne Pence


To Lewis and Loretta, with love

Not even muggers went
to San Francisco's Ocean Beach late at night. A ribbon of dark, grainy sand edged by a cement wall, it boasted a frigid wind and a treacherous undertow known to snatch those who wandered too near the water's edge, suck them out to sea, and keep them churning beneath the surface until they could hold their breath no longer.

It was definitely not your basic fun-in-the-sun type of California beach.

That was why Homicide Inspector Luis Calderon, an eighteen-year veteran of the force, had been surprised to be awakened in the middle of the night and told that a body had been found out there. Calderon and his partner, Bo Benson, were the on-call inspectors that week.

On the beach, two patrol officers huddled together, their flashlights jerking in time with the stamping of their feet against the cold. A short distance away the victim's body lay sprawled on the sand, face turned up to the moonless night.

As Calderon slogged toward them, one of the policemen moved forward to meet him. “Officer Kellogg, sir. Richmond station.”

“Calderon, Homicide. You touch anything?”

“No, sir.”

Calderon walked past him without another word. He stopped about six feet from the victim and took a quick inventory. White male, early sixties, balding, overweight. Gunshot wound to the chest.

“Did you walk around here much?” Calderon asked, searching the sand for signs of a fight or scuffle.

“We did not, sir,” the other patrolman answered. “I'm Officer Rosenberg. We were careful to disturb as little as possible, sir.”

Calderon looked up in surprise at the second “sir.” The young patrolman stood with his chin up, shoulders square, hat and uniform starched and spotless as the day he got out of the police academy. His partner was the same. Must be a new breed of cop, Calderon thought. He couldn't keep up with the changes anymore. Casual, formal; liberal, conservative; melting pot, diversity. Up was down and down was up. Hell, he was too old for all that. He turned back to the body.

Inspector Bo Benson, Calderon's younger partner, had checked out the area quickly before joining them. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.

“Out here, who can tell?” Calderon muttered. “I hate the beach. Hate all this sand. Looks like cat litter.”

He glanced at Kellogg. “So who called in the report to the station?”

“No one, sir. We heard there was a gang of kids causing trouble out here, so we came by to investigate. When we arrived, they were gone. That's when we discovered the body.”

Calderon grunted, his most common form of communication.

“Did you look for identification?” Benson asked.

“We touched him just enough to know that he was cold.”

Calderon put on his latex gloves, then grimaced as he stooped to go through the jacket pockets. The outside ones were empty, but the inside breast pocket held three sheets of paper. “I'll be damned,” he said, then handed the papers to Benson, who had also put on gloves. “I haven't seen any of these in years.”

Benson studied the columns of numbers. “Tally sheets. Who bet what, and when, and the numbers bet on. Luis, my man, I'd say we got us a dead numbers runner.” He put the sheets in a small plastic bag.

Calderon had to strain to lift the dead man's hip high enough to work his hand under it and reach the back pocket. When his hand appeared again, he held a wallet. He slowly stood up, his knees protesting loudly.

The wallet was thick with cash, over six hundred dollars, but there was no driver license, no credit cards, no ID. “So much for robbery as a motive,” Calderon said, as much to himself as anyone else, since the truth of his statement was obvious.

“Luis.” Benson's voice had a strange edge to it. Calderon looked up sharply.

“Look at his mouth. What's that?”

When Calderon had jostled the body to pull out the wallet, the victim's head flopped to one side and his lips parted. There was something yellow in his mouth. “Go ahead,” Calderon said, giving the okay to the younger man to bend over and push down the victim's lower lip.

Kellogg and Rosenberg also moved in closer.

“It's paper,” Benson said. “Yellow notepaper with green lines.” Using two fingers, he reached into the mouth, took hold of one end of a folded-up strip of paper, and pulled it out. It was soggy with saliva and postmortem fluids that had bubbled up.

Benson carefully unwadded it. One side was blank. He turned it over. “Looks like a telephone number,” he said. Then he brought his flashlight in closer. “Damn, but it looks familiar for some reason.”

Calderon took the paper, peered at it, then stepped away from the two patrolmen. Benson followed. Calderon stared out at the waves lightly lapping the shore, listening to the faint whistle of the wind. “It's familiar, all right,” he said quietly.

Benson waited.

“Can't you place it yet?” Calderon asked. “We've called it enough times over the years.”

A slight tightening of Benson's lips betrayed his tension. “Someone in Homicide?”

Calderon carefully bagged the evidence, keeping his expression completely neutral. “It's Paavo Smith's home phone number.”

Angelina Amalfi flung open
the window over the kitchen sink. After two days of cooking with chocolate, the mouthwatering, luscious, inviting smell of it made her sick.

That was the price one must pay, she supposed, to become a famous chocolatier.

She found an old fan in the closet, put it on the kitchen table, and turned the dial to high. The comforting aroma of home cooking wafting out from a kitchen was one thing, but the smell of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory was quite another.

She'd been trying out intricate, elegant recipes for chocolate candies, searching for the perfect confection on which to build a business to call her own. Her kitchen was filled with truffles, nut bouchées, exotic fudges, and butter creams.

So far, she'd divulged her business plans only to Paavo, the man for whom she had plans of a very different nature. She was going to have to let someone else
know soon, though, or she wouldn't have any room left in the kitchen to cook. She didn't want to start eating the calorie-oozing, waistline-expanding chocolates out of sheer enjoyment—her taste tests were another thing altogether and totally justifiable, she reasoned—and throwing the chocolates away had to be sinful.

She'd think of something to do with them soon.

Right now, though, she had to air out the apartment. She didn't want Paavo distracted by the heavy, cloyingly sweet odor.

Leaving the gale-force breeze whipping through the kitchen, she went off to shower and dress for his visit. He was working late at the Homicide Bureau but had promised he'd stop by.

After a liberal splash of Fleur, she wriggled into a slinky purple silk jumpsuit.
Ah, Inspector
, she thought, taking a look in the mirror,
tonight we do some serious soul-searching

Along with whatever else they might decide to search.

She combed and fluffed her hair, then put on long, dangling amethyst earrings. Recently, she'd spent nearly two weeks living at Paavo's house trying to get over a truly frightening experience. Since coming back to her own apartment, she often thought of that time with him and how wonderful having him come home to her each night had been. The possibility of a permanent arrangement along those lines was exciting. It was getting-down-to-business time about their relationship and their future.

Paavo's loud rap sounded at the door.

She smoothed the jumpsuit over her hips. No time like the present.

With a big smile, she swung open the door. One look at him, though, and her smile vanished.

Usually, Paavo was a man adept at not showing his
emotions. He was tall—at six-two almost a foot taller than she was in her bare feet. Of course, she was rarely barefoot, since she loved shoes, especially those with high heels and platform soles. He was broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, and high-cheekboned, and he had the lightest, most beautiful blue eyes she'd ever seen on a man. To her amazement, most people looked at him and saw a tough cop. She suspected that perception had more to do with their guilty consciences than with his looks.

At the moment, though, the cop was frowning fiercely. Even as he stepped into the apartment, shut the door, and kissed her, she knew all was not well. “What's wrong, Paavo?”

“Nothing worth talking about.” His gaze might have been admiring her jumpsuit and all it covered, but his mind was clearly elsewhere. “It's been a long, ugly day.”

“Come and sit.” She led him to the sofa. “Have you eaten?”

“I'm not hungry. Just some coffee would be fine.”

She knew him better than that. He was the type to become so engrossed in his work he would forget to eat. If she were that way, she wouldn't have to be perpetually watching her diet. Her philosophy was that food helped make big troubles into little ones—and she did all she could to avoid big troubles.

She prepared a sandwich for him of ham, turkey, Sonoma jack, and avocado overflowing on thickly sliced sourdough French bread, with a glass of Dos Equis amber beer. When they first met, she never bought beer. But then she learned that sipping a glass of chardonnay or pink zinfandel wasn't exactly his cup of tea. Now she always kept a six-pack in the refrigerator.

She poured herself some coffee and sat in the
antique yellow Hepplewhite chair beside the sofa. After he took a couple of bites, she could almost see him realize how hungry he was. Maybe all he needed to put aside thoughts of the bad day he'd had was a little food in his stomach. She was anxious, after all, to begin talking about their living arrangements…and then some.

“Better?” she asked, eying the almost demolished sandwich.

He finished the last bite, then nodded. “Much better.”

“That's good.” She smiled. “You looked so upset when you first arrived, I thought something really troubling had happened at work.”

He took a long swallow of the beer. “It did.”

That was
good news. “It did?”

“I can hardly believe it.” He leaned back against the sofa. “You might remember a few weeks ago I arrested a guy, Peewee Clayton, for the murder of his girlfriend. Nice guy…if you like the type who gambles, does drugs, and kills women with beer bottles.”

“That horrible little man! Of course I remember him.” She shuddered at the memory of lurid newspaper articles about the murder. “You tracked him down fast. It was an open-and-shut case, as I recall.”

“Everything but an eyewitness,” Paavo said. “We had good evidence. Great evidence, in fact. Until today. Today was the preliminary hearing. All I had to do was swear to the fact that the blouse the victim was wearing—the one stained with both her blood and Peewee's—plus the beer bottle that he'd used to kill her were found and tagged by me at the crime scene.”

“That's normal procedure, right?” Angie asked, propping her chin on her hand.

“Right.” He reached for the Dos Equis and emptied it into his glass, as if stalling would cause his next words to make more sense to him. “The trouble was, when
Hanover Judd, the assistant DA on the case, held up the victim's blouse, it wasn't the right one.”

“What?” The disbelief in Angie's voice echoed his own. And he'd been in court to witness the fiasco.

“The blouse had been switched. Same with the beer bottle.”

“What do you mean, switched?” she asked.

“They weren't the ones at the murder scene, the ones with Peewee's fingerprints and Sarah Ann's hair, skin, and blood all over them.”

“I've never heard of such a thing. I thought trial evidence was locked up tight,” Angie said.

“It is, and every time it moves, a property tag is signed.” He rubbed his brow in frustration.

“So how did it get switched?”

He lifted weary eyes to her. “I spent the afternoon trying to answer that question. No one could figure it out.” He stopped speaking as his mind replayed the ugly accusations that had been hurled back and forth between the DA, the assistant DA, the crime scene investigators, the Property Control Section officers, the laboratory, and Homicide. “Of course, the press showed up.” Disgust and bafflement filled his voice. “It'll be front page news tomorrow. And some prisoners' rights group is demanding that every case that's been tried in the past year in the city be tossed out on the grounds that no one can trust the evidence presented by the DA's office.”

She had rarely seen him so troubled by the internal machinations of his job. He bent forward, elbows on knees, hands clasped, his shoulders hunched and tense.

This wasn't the best time to bring up the possibility of permanent changes in their relationship. Instead, she moved from the chair to sit beside him on the sofa and began massaging his neck and shoulders. “I think I've got the picture,” she said softly, soothingly.

“I don't think anyone will go so far as to throw out any old cases.” He stared at the far wall as if it might offer some solution. “But any hint of evidence tampering is extremely serious. As far as the criminal justice system goes, this is every DA and homicide inspector's worst nightmare.”

“And I can feel every bit of that nightmare in the knots in your neck and shoulders,” Angie said, massaging them more forcefully.

“You know what the worst part was?” Paavo said, looking over his shoulder at her.


“The smirk on Clayton's face.” He faced forward again. “Clayton knew he was going to get off. With no evidence, the judge threw out the case.”

“You think this was an inside job?” She spoke the words almost in a whisper.

“That's what everyone's afraid of,” he said. “That a cop's gone bad.”

She stopped rubbing his shoulders, and he could feel the cold shudder that rippled through her. She understood, he knew, that a cop gone bad put everyone else in danger. Sometimes on purpose.

“Tell me about your day,” he said quickly, to change the subject. Having Angie worry about any of this was the last thing he wanted to do. “How's the candy-making business?”

“Not good.”

“Oh?” He glanced at her. Angie rarely sounded downhearted.

“In order to compete in a very full market, I've got to develop a new confection that's different, yet appealing enough that people will be clamoring for it. I haven't come up with anything like that yet.”

“You'll find something. Give yourself time.”

“When I do, I'll write magazine and newspaper articles
about it, making my candy wonderfully popular.” Her hands slowed and became languorous as she dreamed. “Maybe I'll even convince Oprah that it's the one thing worth breaking a diet for.”

He heard the wistfulness in her voice. He'd heard it before when Angie had come up with other great adventures on the road to fame and fortune. “Great disasters” was more descriptive of the results, unfortunately. But there was no way he'd ever try to discourage her. After all, people had once laughed at Bill Gates and his Windows.

As she continued with the shoulder massage, he realized the tension was draining away from his neck muscles. He also realized that as she took his mind off the ugliness at work, a whole new kind of tension was building up within him.

“There's one thing, though,” she said, “that troubles me very much.”

“Troubles you? We can't have that, Miss Amalfi.” He turned around and faced her. “What is it?”

“I haven't figured out what to call my creation,” she cried.

“Ah, nameless chocolates.” He drew her into his arms. “Most trying.”

“The name needs to make my chocolates sound special, classy, inviting…,” she began.

He eased her closer.

“…and delicious.” She gave up trying, or wanting, to talk about candy and wrapped her arms around his neck.

He kissed her. “I've got it.”

“Oh, my, but you certainly do, Inspector,” she murmured, her fingers raking his hair as she snuggled closer.

“Call your candy the

Other books

Santa Wishes by Amber Kell
A Bee in Her Bonnet by Jennifer Beckstrand
03 - Savage Scars by Andy Hoare - (ebook by Undead)
Chasing Cassidy by D. Kelly
Face to Face by Ellery Queen
Art's Blood by Vicki Lane
The Virgin Cure by Ami Mckay Copyright 2016 - 2024