Read To Catch a Cook: An Angie Amalfi Mystery Online

Authors: Joanne Pence

Tags: #Contemporary Women, #General, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction

To Catch a Cook: An Angie Amalfi Mystery

To Catch a Cook

An Angie Amalfi Mystery

Joanne Pence

San Francisco Homicide Inspector Paavo Smith wrenched himself awake in the dark bedroom. He didn’t move, but listened, searching for sounds that existed only in his head. When all remained quiet, he slowly collected himself, calmed his racing pulse, and reassembled himself into the now of his existence. He was a cop; he’d seen firsthand the living nightmares men foisted upon one another. There was no reason his imagination should bother him this way. For it to do so was unacceptable.

Abruptly he sat up in bed and ran a hand over his eyes, against his nose. A small ripple of cartilage marked where it had been broken. Most people assumed the break had come as a result of police work, but the first time he had broken it, he’d been wrestling with his older sister. She had raised her head just as he lowered his own, and the world exploded. For a couple of months his nose looked like it was heading leftward, while his eyes and mouth aimed straight ahead.

That Jessica came to mind now made sense. She’d been in his nightmare. It was an old dream, but recently he’d begun having it again—three
times in the past few weeks, each time more vivid than the last.

He stood up, his body slick with sweat. At the foot of the quilt-covered bed his yellow tabby, Hercules, lifted his head, twitched an ear, and yowled with annoyance at having his sleep disturbed. Paavo left the lights off and paced the room, rubbing his forehead, as if through physical force he could shove the alarming memories away.

The dream wouldn’t bother him half so much if he could figure out what it meant. The nightmare placed him in a shoot-out. He had been in a few since joining the force, but had never experienced the stark terror that filled him in the dream. He was low on ammunition, trapped, with no way out, and the worst part was that Jessica was with him.

Yet when she died, he’d been only fourteen years old.

Most likely she’d been on his mind because of the brooch that had belonged to their mother, a cameo of a woman’s profile in a gold setting. Jessica had never liked it and refused to wear it. She was into grunge before there was such a style. Brooches weren’t “her thing.”

At Christmas Paavo thought of the brooch while trying to come up with a meaningful gift for his girlfriend, Angie, who had enough money to buy herself anything she wanted twice over. Although it was only costume jewelry, the design was beautiful and delicate and elegant. Just like Angie. Its sentimental value, he knew, was something she would also appreciate.

Seeing it, holding it, must have stirred up recollections of his family, what little family he had. They then could have jumbled together in his head with current thoughts and blended his life as a police officer with memories of his sister. That was the
only explanation he could think of. Guns had never entered his life as a child, he didn’t think. And yet…

He wished whatever the hell was causing this nightmare to surface would stop. Now, with Angie in his life, he was happier than he had ever been. He didn’t want to remember the past, the days of his childhood; he didn’t even want to talk about them, and didn’t.

Still, from the dream, an awful dread hovered over him, as if an omen of what was to come.

 

Angie Amalfi thrust a handful of money at the Yellow Cab driver. “Keep the change.” In a waft of Quelques Fleurs and a mint-green Donna Karan silk suit, she dashed from the taxi to a small jewelry shop on California Street. Gold lettering over the shop proclaimed
ROSE JEWELRY
,
LTD
., and an
OPEN
sign dangled on the front door.

Inside, recessed lights shone onto walnut-framed glass counters set in a U shape along the back and side walls. Gold- and platinum-set stones and diamonds were tastefully displayed on black velvet. Atop each long counter was a rectangular mirror on a lacquered stand, while more mirrors discreetly hung from the paneled walls.

A white-haired man sat at a wooden desk behind the farthest counter. “Thank God you’re here,” Angie cried, hurrying toward him on dyed-to-match Giacomo Ferre stilettos.

He raised his head. Slowly pushing himself to his feet, he unhooked the jeweler’s magnifier from his eyeglasses and placed it on the table. He was quite old, his back curved so badly that even standing upright, he seemed to be searching for something at his feet. He peered at her through bushy gray eyebrows, frowned, and shuffled closer.

“I hope you can help me.” Anxiety made her voice shrill. “Mr. Warner at Tiffany’s told me you were the only one he knew who did this kind of work.”

His eyebrows lifted with interest at the name. Ralph Warner was the senior jeweler at the prestigious store. Shaking, gnarled hands rested on the glass countertop. “What kind of work is it?” His voice was deep and he spoke with an accent, mixing his
v
’s and
w
’s.

“I’ll show you.” She set down her tiny green Prada handbag and, from a black leather Coach tote, removed a small padded jewelry box. The hinged top opened like a clamshell. “My boyfriend gave me the brooch for Christmas. I was polishing it—the cameo had gotten some dust and dirt in it over the years—and the stone fell out of its setting. You’ve got to fix it for me!”

His gaze fixed on the brooch. “Oh, my,” he murmured.

“It was his mother’s,” she continued, trying to keep the dejection and panic from her voice. “I can’t tell him I broke it. This is so upsetting! I could just die!”

She waited for a word, a reaction, but he gave none. She stopped talking and watched his fascination with the piece. The cameo was oval, an elegant woman’s profile carved on rose-hued agate against a black background.

He stared at the broken brooch a long time, then picked up the stone and laid it in the palm of his hand. Touching the stone, his hands had become sure and steady. Moving slowly, he carried the cameo to his desk, carefully placed it on a square of black velvet, and sat. He reattached his magnifying glass and studied the carving under a strong lamp. “Oh, my,” he repeated.

“What’s wrong?” Angie was practically stretched out across the top of the counter trying to see what he was doing. “Do you think you can fix it?”

Her words seemed to jar him out of his reverie. “Do you know where your friend got this?”

She didn’t like the tone of that question. “It was in his family a great many years. That’s all I know.”

He shuffled back to the counter and used an eyepiece to study the cameo’s setting. Surrounding the empty spot where the cameo had been was a gold border made of two rows of what Angie assumed were zircons with a frame of primrose yellow between them. At the top was a flower spray, also set with zircons in gold.

“I can see why your usual jeweler did not want to touch this brooch. It is not mere jewelry, but a work of art.”

She was stunned. “It’s just a cameo. I didn’t think they were all that valuable.”

“The perfection of the stone and the quality of the cut make all the difference. Although the diamonds are small, they are perfect, as is the guilloche between them.”

Diamonds?
Angie knew diamonds. She had beautiful earrings and a pendant necklace. The brooch had so many stones that she couldn’t imagine they were anything but fake.

“Do not worry,” he continued, studying her reaction. “I can fix the brooch for you. I am one of the few people in the country who can do it.”

“Thank goodness!” She found her voice. “You don’t know what a relief that is to me.”

“Tell me, would you consider selling this piece?” he asked. “I am sure I could find some collectors of fine Russian jewelry who would be willing to pay quite handsomely for it. Work like this is almost impossible to find outside of museums these days.”

“Russian? The piece is Russian?”

“Of course. The profile is most certainly that of the Tsarina Alexandra. It is…er…similar to jewelry exhibited at the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.”

“Really?” She was bewildered. How could Paavo’s mother have come to own such a piece? Angie had always assumed his mother was an American. Was she wrong? Had the woman been Russian? “Well, no matter. I would never sell it—and since it belonged to his mother, I’m sure my boyfriend wouldn’t want to sell it either.”

“You might ask him. What is his family name, by the way?”

“Smith. Why?”

“I thought he might be Russian…that he might even be someone I know.”

“No. I doubt he’s Russian. His first name is Paavo, but he’s probably not Finnish, either.”

He glanced at her quickly, then turned back to the stone. “Finnish…I see.”

“Excuse me?” Angie asked.

“Be sure to ask him if he’s interested in selling. And if not…” He shrugged. “I’ll give you a receipt for the brooch.” He handed her a sales pad. “Please write down your name, address, and telephone number in case I need to reach you.”

Angie jotted down the information.

He wrote “cameo brooch repair,” signed with a scrawl, and gave her a copy. She looked at the identification printed at the top—
Rose Jewelry, Ltd., Gregor Rosinsky, Prop
. “I’ll call you in a week, maybe more,” he said.

“A week?” How was she going to explain to Paavo why she wasn’t wearing the present he’d given her? She had worn it almost every time they’d been together over the past month since receiving it.
“Please call me if it’s ready any sooner,” she pleaded.

“Of course,” he said. He turned his back on her as he again walked to his desk, then slowly, painfully, sat down. “Good-bye.”

 

Gregor Rosinsky waited until the woman had gone. He read the name and address she had written, then picked up the telephone.

The top of Russian Hill was the highest spot in the northern sector of San Francisco. From there, cable cars made a long descent to the Bay, Alcatraz in the distance. There, tourists massed and drove their cars down the “crookedest street in the world.” And there, Angelina Amalfi lived in an elegant apartment on the top floor of a twelve-story building owned by her father.

Paavo had always thought of Angie’s home as a quiet haven in a world of brutal madness. That was why he’d been so shaken by the call he’d received from her earlier that day—four hours earlier, in fact. Four guilt-laden hours.

He stepped off the elevator and hurried down the hall. Only two apartments were on each floor, one on each side of the hallway. Angie’s door was wide-open. Paavo entered to find crime scene investigators combing the apartment. Closet doors and drawers were open, their contents strewn on the floor.

“Hey, Paavo!” Ben Chan greeted him while he hovered over a dusting of fingerprint powder. “We’re just getting started.”

“Good. I appreciate you coming by,” Paavo said as he scanned the area for Angie, without success.

“Your girlfriend’s right next door. She’s fine.”

“Thanks, Ben.” Paavo crossed the hall and pounded on Stanfield Bonnette’s door. Angie’s neighbor was the last person he wanted to see just then. On the way to becoming a young bank executive solely through family influence, the guy was a choice piece of work. Paavo found him obnoxious and lazy. Angie seemed to like him.

Instead of Bonnette, Angie pulled open the door.

She was just a little woman, almost a foot shorter than his own six feet two inches. He often forgot how small she was since she loomed so large in his life. Her skin was creamy, with the slight olive cast of the Mediterranean. Her hair would have been chocolate brown, but she had added some red streaks to it—highlights, she called them. She said red hair was “in” these days. He liked her natural color better, but that was the sort of opinion he knew enough to keep to himself. Her eyes were big and brown, the skin beneath them and on her brow pinched and drawn with worry.

As she looked at him, her eyes calmed, and she smiled. “Thank God,” she whispered.

Relief filled him and he opened his arms to her. “I’m sorry it took me so long. Are you all right?”

She took the comfort he offered. “It was a shock, that’s all.” Cupping the back of her head, he held her close. With all the grim experience of a homicide inspector, he knew what might have happened had she been home instead of out when the break-in occurred. The harsh world of the streets reminded him of how fragile she was, how easily and unexpectedly disaster could strike, and how tenuous happiness could be.

Whoever broke into the building had to know
how to get past the doorman, or how to sneak in through the garage, one of the service entrances, or an emergency exit without setting off alarms. Finally, they had to get past Angie’s dead bolt lock. Professional tools would be needed to enter, not kid’s stuff, although, for a pro, the security measures represented more of a minor inconvenience than a major obstacle.

Angie took a deep breath, then stepped back. Holding Paavo’s hand, she led him into Bonnette’s apartment and shut the door. “What did they steal?” he asked.

“Nothing as far as I could tell. Either something scared them, or they just didn’t like my taste.” She forced a smile, but her face was pale and her eyes appeared even larger than usual. “When I arrived home, I noticed the dead bolt wasn’t on. I thought I might have forgotten to set it, but as soon as I saw the mess inside, I turned around and ran over here to Stan’s.”

Stan was lounging on a gray and blue plaid sofa, one arm dangling over the back. He wore a turquoise short-sleeved polo shirt, his light brown Hugh Grant hair flopping casually onto his brow. “I was sick today,” he said by way of explanation for not being at work. The thirty-year-old had a problem with his job—he never went to it. “It was a lucky thing, too,” he added, with a flick of his head that made his hair fly back off his face. “This way at least
someone
was with Angie in her hour of need.”

Paavo frowned and slipped his arm around Angie’s waist. As much as he’d wanted to come to her as soon as he learned that her apartment had been burglarized, he was in court waiting to testify in a murder case. He couldn’t walk out.

The best he’d been able to do was to talk Ben
Chan and the crime scene technicians into checking out Angie’s apartment.

Now her neighbor was rubbing salt in the wound. He shouldn’t let Stan get to him, but the guy always did.

“Angie, I’m sorry I couldn’t be here sooner,” he said.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I understand.”

“We were fine, Inspector,” Stan said. “Just fine. When the cops arrived, I was right by Angie’s side as she went through her apartment to see if anything was stolen. I made sure she was safe.”

Paavo tried to ignore Bonnette’s taunts. “Did you see anything odd or hear any noise from Angie’s apartment while she was out?”

“No. As I said, I’d been sick. I was in bed with the TV on.”

Paavo turned to Angie. “How long were you away?”

“Oh…a couple of hours. I went out to breakfast with my sister, Bianca. I came up with an idea for a business, and wanted to run it past her. Finding a great job or starting a new business is my number one New Year’s resolution.” Her eyes caught his and a light blush touched her cheeks. “Well, number two, actually, but who’s counting? Anyway, Bianca didn’t think gourmet dog biscuits were a great concept. So I came home, and found the break-in.”

Paavo didn’t comment on her business idea. He had to agree with Bianca, though—the market for gourmet dog biscuits seemed a bit narrow. “I’d better go talk to the crime scene techs,” he said, hesitating to leave Angie so soon, particularly after Stan’s jab. But she knew it had to be done and sent him on his way.

Now that he had seen for himself that she was safe, he was able to return to her apartment and feel some satisfaction that the technicians were there looking for clues to the break-in. So many home burglaries took place in this city that they rarely got more than the time of day from the police, especially if nothing had been stolen. Still, the victim was Angie. He wanted to catch and jail the lowlife responsible. He should get some benefit from his years as a cop.

“Thanks for helping here, Ben,” he said.

“No problem, Paavo. Angie’s a good woman, and as close to family as you can get without being family.” Ben paused, then continued with weighted deliberation. “Of course, you can change that…if you know what I mean.”

Paavo shot him an icy glance. Another cop playing matchmaker.

Ben chuckled. Everyone loved kidding Paavo about his nervousness at the thought of marriage. It was more than that, though. Much more; more than he wanted to explain.

When he turned, he saw Angie standing in the doorway, her arms folded and her eyes sad as she watched strangers going through her designer clothes and expensive knickknacks and antique furnishings. She loved good clothes, fine food, and beautiful artwork and music. She had the money to support those loves. Even standing there in cream-colored slacks and pink silk blouse with cream piping, to his mind she personified delicate and refined. The strangest thing about her was that for some reason she loved him. Who was it who said a woman was a contradiction wrapped in an enigma? That was Angie.

He tore his gaze from her and surveyed her apartment, room by room. A nervous prickle touched his
spine. It didn’t look like a burglary; it looked like a search.

He returned to the living room. Angie was no longer in the apartment. She must have gone back to Stan’s.

“What do you think, Ben?” Paavo asked.

“I’d worry, Paavo.” Ben Chan had spent years with the S.F.P.D robbery detail. “Between stereo and video equipment, a digital camcorder, a laptop computer, not to mention a Fort Knox worth of jewelry in her bedroom, something should have been taken. But it wasn’t. It seems they were looking for something small, easy to hide. All the disruption was done in drawers and cabinets, and places like the top of her closet where she had boxes of souvenirs and the like.”

Paavo hadn’t wanted to hear a confirmation of his suspicion, but Ben’s words rang true. This break-in wasn’t random; it was personal. If whoever was behind it hadn’t found what he was looking for, he’d be back. What could Angie have that was worth so much trouble? “Any evidence?”

“Nothing jumps out. We’ll keep looking.”

“I owe you, Ben,” Paavo said.

“No problem.”

Following the procedure he’d use if this were a homicide, Paavo canvassed the building, talking to neighbors and the doorman. No one had seen any strangers lurking about, or anything at all suspicious.

Finally he returned to Stan’s apartment. Angie blanched when she saw his expression, and she stood up. He must not have been as good at hiding his emotions around her as he liked to think. “Why don’t you stay at my place a few days?” He tried to sound casual. “Just until we’re sure that whoever came here won’t return.”

What little color she had in her face disappeared completely. “You think they’ll be back? But why? What can they possibly want?”

“Most likely they won’t return, but I’ll feel more comfortable if you aren’t here alone in case they do.”

She nodded and went to her place to pack. “One bag, Angie,” Paavo called. “We can always come back for more later.” He remembered the time they’d gone on a cruise. She’d brought so much luggage that if the ship had listed and sunk, she could have been held responsible.

Stan folded his arms. “She can always stay with me, Inspector. At least I’d be around to take care of her when she needs me.”

“Bonnette, go f…fly a kite.”

 

It was nearly midnight before Angie finished packing and picking up the mess in her apartment. Although she’d been shocked to arrive home and find it broken in to, that was hardly rare in city life. Nothing was stolen; no one was hurt. Life went on. On the other hand, if Paavo wanted to make a big deal out of it and have her stay with him a few days, she wasn’t about to complain. Look for the silver lining, her mother always said. And moving in with Paavo for a while was pure gold.

She packed enough to make this a nice, long visit.

Paavo drove a tiny, very old Austin Healey. Her car was a white Ferrari with a tan leather interior. Using both, they could barely manage to fit all her luggage. Maybe it was time for a more practical car…perhaps even a family-oriented car. She wondered how she’d like driving an SUV.

Her Ferrari roared to a stop behind his convertible. He was standing on the sidewalk wrestling with a large Fendi suitcase, trying to pull it out of the passenger seat without having to lower the
cloth top. The top was temperamental, and one of these days he’d get it down and not be able to put it back up again. She realized that he, more than she, needed to think about a bigger, more up-to-date vehicle.

She stepped up behind him, holding her laptop computer.

Earlier that evening he had loosened his gray and blue tie, and unbuttoned the collar of his white shirt. Because of the day’s court appearance, he was wearing a charcoal-gray suit instead of his usual sport coat and dress slacks. Angie admired the view as he bent deeply into his car. He was a handsome man—tall, broad-shouldered, with a slim but physically powerful build. His cheekbones were high and pronounced, his hair dark brown, and dark brows and eyelashes surrounded the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. But there was also a world-weariness lining the corners of his eyes and in the set of his mouth that reminded her he was a man who had seen more than his share of suffering and sorrow.

A hard tug sprung the suitcase free from the tight space in which it had been wedged. “You really didn’t have to pack so much stuff,” he grumbled. “We’re only across town from your apartment.”

“I’d hate to discover I’d left something important at home. Besides”—she batted her eyes innocently—“who knows how long I’ll need to stay? Anyway, my suitcases all have wheels.”

Her gaze swiveled, following his, to the stairs that led up to his front door.

“Once I put things away, you’ll hardly notice how much I’ve brought,” she said.

“You’ll have plenty of time tomorrow to figure out where to fit it all. I have to go in early. Yosh is on vacation and Rebecca Mayfield has been helping
with some of his cases. She’s still fairly new and needs a lot of guidance.”

“Hmm, what a little helper bee.” Angie knew all about Rebecca’s crush on Paavo. She especially detested Rebecca’s implications that only another cop could understand and be good for him—and that Rebecca was that cop.

He lugged the two big suitcases up the steps and set them on the stoop while fishing the house key from his pocket.

“Actually, I had assumed you wouldn’t be home much,” she said. This was a good time to show him just how understanding she could be about the demands of his job. “I know how hard you have to work, no matter what’s happening in your personal life.”

He glanced at her quizzically.

“One of those suitcases is filled with books for me to read while you’re out,” she said. “I wasn’t sure which I’d be in the mood for, so I brought a bunch of them.”

“Ah…that explains it.” He pushed open the door and stepped aside to let her enter first. “I wondered why your clothes were so heavy.”

Flicking on the lights, she stepped into the living room and abruptly halted. “Oh, my God.” She backpedaled right into him.

One glance at her face and he hurried past her. Hand on his gun, he stopped in the doorway, then drew his 9 mm automatic and moved inside.

Ignoring his whispered demand to remain by the door, Angie followed close as he crossed from room to room. In the living room, books had been strewn onto the floor, sofa and chair cushions ripped open, and desk drawers overturned.

The bedroom had also been torn apart and the mattress slashed. This was far, far more frightening
than what had happened to her own apartment. There was anger here, perhaps hatred.

“What is going on?” she cried. “Why would anyone destroy your things?”

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