Amaretto Amber (Franki Amato Mysteries Book 3)

BOOK: Amaretto Amber (Franki Amato Mysteries Book 3)
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AMARETTO AMBER

 

by

 

TRACI ANDRIGHETTI

 

 

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Copyright © 2016 by Traci Andrighetti

Cover design by Janet Holmes

Gemma Halliday Publishing

http://www.gemmahallidaypublishing.com

 

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

 

To the memory of my Uncle Joe Fraser for teaching me to appreciate Jaspers and Jasperettes.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

Every time I write a book, I look at the finished manuscript and wonder where it came from. The only thing I can say for sure is that
Amaretto Amber
and the books I wrote before it would not have happened if it weren't for Gemma Halliday. I never thought that I was a writer until she convinced me otherwise, and for that I'm forever grateful.

In terms of the plot, I would like to thank Daniel Joseph Gomez for patiently answering a slew of questions related to the entertainment industry, and to K'Tee Bee, a fan and great friend, for suggesting that I have Franki's meddling nonna visit the French Quarter. That idea formed the basis for this entire story, and I shudder to think of what the book would've been without it.

Speaking of fans, I'd also like to say how much I appreciate the support of the Sardis Library Book Club Ladies and the NBPLRomance Readers. Thank you for all that you've done for me—your emails, book clubs, Facebook posts, pictures, and tweets—and for authors and readers everywhere. I have always loved libraries and the people who run them!

As for the technical stuff, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Detective Ruben Vasquez and pathology expert Dr. Judy Melinek for their professional expertise. I would also like to thank Dana Brown for helping me with the dental references in
Amaretto Amber
and Dr. Michael Lessner, my absolute favorite dentist of all time (go see him—without fear!).

If you couldn't tell from my books, I'm fascinated by foreign language and by names. So, when Suzie Gaspard Quebedeaux joined my street team, The
Giallo
Squad, I told her that I was going to use her awesome Cajun last name in a book. Suzie, I finally did it, so thank you! I also borrowed the entire name of one of my favorite ex-Italian students, Carlos Del Rio, because it just belongs in a book. And Cherie Havard, don't get mad at me for how I used your first name—it was such a perfect fit that I had no choice!

Last but not least, a big
grazie mille
goes to my family for their love, support, and patient proofreading.

Amaretto Cranberry Kiss

 

Franki loves amaretto, especially when it's mixed with vodka. She's particularly fond of a good kiss, too, but she prefers that it come from Bradley—or Hershey's.

 

1 cup cranberry cocktail juice

½ cup vodka

¼ cup amaretto

1 ½ tablespoons orange juice

 

Mix all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, and strain into a martini glass. Add an orange slice for garnish.

 

Italian Sunset

 

This sunny cocktail reminds Franki of her college-study trip to Italy—and of a certain Carlo she met there. Every time she drinks it, she dreams of going back to Rome one day. Maybe a mystery will take her there?

 

2 ounces amaretto

3 ounces pulp-free orange juice

3 ounces club soda

dash of grenadine

 

In a highball glass with crushed ice, add the amaretto. Layer the remaining ingredients in the order listed above. Finish with the dash of grenadine. Don't stir, or the sunset will disappear.

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CHAPTER ONE

 

"It could be the angel of death," I whispered to my Cairn terrier, Napoleon, as I peered from the peephole at the black feather-winged figure on my front porch. "I mean, today
is
my thirtieth birthday."

The dark form shifted, and a bony wrist and hand came into view. The palm was extended upward, and the skin was shriveled and ghostly white.

As my eyes traveled the length of the long, curled fingers, the hand lowered slightly, and I saw a sickening sight.

A Mae West-style cigarette holder.

I sighed and rested my head against the door. "No such luck, buddy," I breathed. "It's Glenda."

"Open up, Miss Franki," Glenda O'Brien, my sixty-something landlady, called in her sultry, Southern voice. "The birthday fairy is here, and she's got a surprise for you."

At only nine-thirty a.m. on the Saturday I'd turned thirty I was in no mood for surprises. And judging from the way Napoleon was rubbing his eye with his paw, he wasn't up for any of Glenda's shenanigans either.

"Like it or not, sugar, you're no spring chicken anymore," she bellowed for the whole neighborhood to hear. "So let Miss Glenda in. She'll make it all better."

I was quite sure that she wouldn't, but I opened the door anyway. Along with the cigarette holder and the set of black wings, Glenda was clad in a studded black leather micro triangle top, a tiny tutu, and thigh-high boots. I couldn't decide whether she looked like a winged Hell's Angel or a geriatric Victoria's Secret model whose wings had been clipped. "Um, is that supposed to be your fairy costume?"

"I just made that crap up so you'd open the damn door," she said as she shoved a Bloody Mary into my hand.

I eyed the drink suspiciously. "What's this for?"

She batted her inch-long crimson eyelashes. "Aren't you hung over?"

"No, but I might as well be."

She put her hand on her tutued hip. "The night before I turned thirty, I drowned my sorrows in champagne, and I soaked in it too. A bubbly bath does wonders for a lady's soul and her skin, you know."

On my private investigator's salary, I couldn't afford a glass of champagne, much less a bathtub full. But Glenda was an ex-stripper who'd invested her money in real estate and antiques, including the fourplex we lived in and the not-so-chic seventies brothel pieces in my furnished apartment, so she could afford to bathe in booze. In fact, she had a six-foot-tall champagne glass in her living room for precisely that purpose. "Actually, I wouldn't know."

"Well, don't you fret about that, sugar," she said, waving a bony finger. "Because this year your birthday's gonna be full of fun surprises."

An alarm siren sounded in my head as she took a drag off her cigarette. "What exactly do you mean by 'full of fun surprises'?"

"I can't tell you that, now can I?" she exclaimed, exhaling smoke into my face as she spoke.

I sucked down half the spicy Bloody Mary to calm my nerves. Despite her age, Glenda was as wild as a sorority girl at a Mardi Gras-themed mixer, so one of her surprises could pack a real punch (and not of the delicious rum variety).

She tucked the cigarette holder behind her ear and stepped toward me. "Hold still, sugar."

I eyeballed the lit cigarette, which was dangerously close to my long, brown hair. "What for?"

"You'll see." She pulled a crisp dollar bill from the waistband of her tutu and removed a pin from the teensy triangle of leather tasked with covering her nipple and areola.

I, in turn, uttered a silent prayer to the wardrobe fairy that there would be no malfunction.

"Now stick out your chest."

"No way." I shielded my breasts from both the pin and the ash that was now dangling from the cigarette. We lived in New Orleans, so for all I knew she was about to perform some kind of stripper voodoo ritual to ward off the evil spirits of sagging and wrinkling. "Not until you tell me what you're going to do."

"Oh, quit your bellyachin'," she scolded as she shoved her hand down the V-neckline of my beige sweater and pinned the dollar above my left boob.

"What's that for?" I asked, feeling flustered and felt up. After all, she was the stripper, not me.

Glenda removed the cigarette holder from behind her ear. "It's a local tradition, Miss Franki. Someone pins a dollar to your shirt on your birthday, and then all day long people add money. Sometimes, fives, tens, even twenties."

I drained the other half of my drink as I pondered this possibility. Free money would definitely qualify as a "fun surprise."

My cell phone began to ring.

"You go on and get that, Miss Franki. I'm late for practice."

"Practice for what?" It was none of my business, but I had to know what kind of organized activity would require such a ghastly getup.

Her eyes lit up like a stripper stage. "In honor of St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Day, my old manager at Madame Moiselle's has invited some of us more seasoned dancers to do a show called 'The Saints, Sinners, and Sluts Revue.'"

Madame Moiselle's was the Bourbon Street strip club where Glenda, dancing as "Lorraine Lamour," had made quite a name for herself in the sixties and seventies. She'd also been courted by a slew of prominent suitors, including a wealthy sheikh who asked her to join his harem after he'd watched her "1001 A-labia-n Nights" routine. Ever since she'd retired she'd been helping out at the club, teaching the new girls the tricks of the trade, but I knew that her real passion lay in performing.

"What are you supposed to be, like, a sinner-saint?" I asked, nodding toward her black wings.

Her face fell. "No, sugar," she replied. "I'm a slut. Isn't it obvious?"

"Of course," I reassured. "I don't know what I was thinking."

"No worries," she said with a flip of her long, platinum hair. The corners of her mouth formed a lewd grin. "You have a stimulating day, now."

Her wings flapped as she turned and strutted toward a waiting taxi.

I closed the door and wondered what she'd meant by "stimulating" as I searched for my now silent phone. I found it on the end table beneath a half-eaten bag of Hampton's Cajun Creole Hot Nuts. When I looked at the display, I breathed a sigh of relief—that is, until the phone started ringing again. I gave a sigh of resignation and stretched out on the chaise lounge before pressing answer. "Hi, Mom."

"Happy birthday, Francesca," she said, her usually shrill voice descending with every syllable until it was so low and lugubrious that it sounded like it wanted to jump off a ledge.

"Thanks," I replied, already trying to figure out a way to get her off the phone. These calls from home were typically a downer, but judging from the way this one had started, we were destined to sink to new depths of despair. "Is Dad there?"

"He's at the deli, dear," she said in a dejected tone. "The city shut off the water this morning with no warning, so he had to run some jugs of water over for the kitchen staff."

My parents, Brenda and Joe Amato, had owned Amato's Deli in Houston's Rice Village since before I was born. And if you were thinking that the water issue was the reason for my mother's depression, you were dead wrong. From the moment I graduated from the University of Texas when I was twenty-two, she'd been upset that I wasn't married. The thing was that both of my parents were first generation Italian-Americans, and they believed in the "old country" values. But they didn't hold a candle to my dad's eighty-three-year-old Sicilian mother, Carmela Montalbano. She declared me a
zitella
, which is Italian for old maid, at the advanced age of sixteen—almost half my life ago.

I suddenly realized that my mother had fallen silent, no doubt wallowing in maternal misery. So I said, "That's a bummer about the water, Mom, but I'm sure they'll turn it back on soon." Then I made the fatal mistake of asking, "Everything else okay?"

The silence continued, which was the signal that she was about to segue into the really bad news. "Well, I might as well tell you, Francesca." She gave a somber sigh. "Your nonna's in mourning."

Aaaand let the guilt games begin
, I thought as I rested the back of my arm on my forehead. "Mom, she's been in heavy mourning since nonnu died twenty-one years ago."

"Yes, but she's gone into deeper mourning now that you've turned thirty. She's started wearing a black veil around the house, and she's taken a vow of silence."

A vow of silence?
That was both worrisome and wonderful—worrisome because my nonna lived to meddle, which she couldn't do if she wasn't able to talk, and wonderful because, well, she couldn't meddle or talk. "So, what's she doing, then?"

"Sitting on the couch, holding her rosary, and staring at the portrait of the Virgin Mary," she replied as maudlin as a martyr. "Your father's just sick about it too. It hurts him terribly to see his mother in this state."

"Mom," I began, annoyed that she'd played the sad dad card, "why don't you remind nonna that I have a terrific boyfriend who I've been dating for over a year?" I asked, referring to my banker beau, Bradley Hartmann.

"You know your nonna, dear."

Yes, I did. For her, the mere act of dating was equivalent to living in sin. Single young women were to be betrothed at a suitable age (by early twentieth-century Sicilian standards) and strictly chaperoned until the wedding, which was supposed to take place the minute the marriage banns went into effect. "Well, she can't expect me to have a two-week engagement like she did. That's just prehistoric."

"It's a little hasty, I agree. But you've been with Bradley for a year now, Francesca." She paused. "For your sake, I hope he proposes at dinner tonight."

I bolted upright, causing Napoleon's ears to do the same. "What do you mean 'for your sake'? It's not like being unmarried is an affliction. And besides, you can't put that kind of pressure on me—or on Bradley, for that matter."

"Now don't confuse me with Mother Nature," she said, lapsing into lecture mode. "She's the one putting the pressure on you. After all, your biological clock has been ticking for some time now."

I clenched my teeth, and a sharp pain shot through one of my upper molars. "Ow! Dang it."

"What's the matter, dear?"

I put my hand to my face. "My tooth hurts."

"You have to take better care of yourself, Francesca," she chastised. "You're not a young girl anymore."

"Mom, that's been made painfully clear to me today," I snapped. "Listen, I need to get going. I'm working overtime this weekend."

"Well, try to have a nice day, dear," she said as though it would be next to impossible.

"Right," I said, biting the inside of my cheek to stop myself from saying something I'd only halfway regret. I also managed to spit out a "love you" because I did love my mother, but not especially in that moment.

I hung up the phone and pressed my molar with my thumb. There was something wrong, all right. I wanted to believe that it was my sweet tooth telling me that I should never have given up sweets for Lent, because I could seriously go for a jar of Nutella right now.

Instead, I grabbed the bag of Hot Nuts and tossed a couple into my mouth. No sooner had I bit down than the pain jolted into my sinus cavity. This was no sweet tooth—this was a sign. On top of being husbandless and childless, I was destined to be toothless too.

 

*   *   *

 

"I'm back, Franki," my boss and best friend Veronica Maggio called as she pushed open the door to her PI firm, Private Chicks, Inc., with a package under her arm.

I'd come to the office an hour earlier to escape the bad birthday juju at my apartment. Soon after I'd arrived and told Veronica about Glenda, my mom, and the saga of my nonna's vow of silence, she'd announced that she needed to run a few errands. So I had high hopes that she was going to right the wrongs of this morning's wayward well-wishers. "What have you got there?"

She saw me stretched out on one of the two opposing couches in the middle of the waiting room and stopped short. "Why are you lying down? Aren't you feeling well?"

I started to tell her that my tooth had begun hurting, but then I noticed that the package was a box from the Alois J Binder bakery on Frenchman Street, and I got a better idea. "I think I have low blood sugar," I rasped, going for a sick waif but sounding more like a steady smoker. "I haven't had any sweets since Mardi Gras, and that was over a month ago."

She smirked and placed the box on the reception desk beside the door. "Nice try, but I got you a plain croissant."

"Gah, Veronica," I said, pulling myself onto my elbows. "Sometimes you can be so cruel. Even my parents used to give me a birthday Lent reprieve when I was a teenager, and you know what strict Catholics they are."

"Yes, but you're not a teen anymore," she said as she looked inside the bakery box.

I scowled and lay back down. I should have known that Veronica would rain on my bedraggled birthday parade. When we first met in college, I thought that she was a bubbly blonde party girl, but I soon learned that she was all business and no pleasure. Case in point—she finished college and law school in about the same amount of time it took me to earn a bachelor's degree, and she did it with honors. "You know, you're the third person today to imply that I'm old, and it's only ten thirty."

BOOK: Amaretto Amber (Franki Amato Mysteries Book 3)
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