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Authors: Joanne Pence

Courting Disaster

BOOK: Courting Disaster
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Courting Disaster

An Angie Amalfi Mystery

Joanne Pence


To three special friends—
Peggy Staggs, Cheryl Maude, and Jane Jordan

A fat, salty tear trickled down Stanfield Bonnette's narrow cheek. He pulled a Kleenex from its cellophane packet. The tissue tore apart and he ended up with half in his hand, the other half still stuck in the packaging. A metaphor for his life.

Real men don't cry.
He'd heard that often enough from his father, and believed it, even as he fought to stop his tears while walking down the steep hills away from his top-of-Russian-Hill San Francisco apartment.

Real men especially didn't cry out of self-pity over losing girlfriends they never had who were engaged to men they didn't like. Men who were more macho, more sexy, and definitely more exciting.

They didn't even cry when they had a job they despised, a father who scorned them, and they received no respect from anyone, ever.

Another tear formed in the corner of his eye and he wiped it away, even more disgusted with himself.

Outwardly, he had everything—a well-paying
job at a bank, good looks, a nice apartment, and access to his father's money whenever he needed it. He was in his early thirties, single, slim, with silky brown hair, brown eyes, and boyishly handsome looks. Back in the days when Hugh Grant was young and wildly popular, people said Stan reminded them of the English actor. Now both seemed a bit dated.

As he crossed Union Street he faced San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz—old, solitary, and squalid, much the way he felt.

At the foot of Russian Hill, where the ground became level and flat, past the old red brick Cannery that had been converted into tourist shops and eateries, he reached Jefferson Street, the heart of Fisherman's Wharf. To his right were famous restaurants and tourist attractions, but where he stood the buildings were wooden, single-story, and windowless, with company names painted over doorways or garages, all a part of the real world of fishing boats, warehouses, and fisheries.

Many of the area's restaurants featured Italian food, yet another reminder of the woman he was mooning over, Angelina Amalfi. Okay, maybe it was true that they'd never seriously dated, and she'd never indicated that she felt anything for him other than friendship. But as she talked about her upcoming engagement party, he suddenly realized how much she meant to him. He had no doubt her engagement party—being planned by her mother—was going to be the biggest and most lavish ever held in the city of San Francisco.

If his mother were to plan an engagement party for him, it would probably consist of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hostess cupcakes. To say his mother wasn't thrilled with him or the way he was living was an understatement. And her disappointment was exceeded only by his father's.

At times like this, he couldn't help but think his parents were right. After all, he'd lost Angie, and now he would never have a chance to convince her that their relationship might become more than friendship.

No, that wasn't exactly true, either. He'd tried. More than once. She'd never noticed. What did that tell him?

He sighed woefully. She would have been perfect for him, too. Beautiful, smart, ambitious…rich…and a great cook. He loved food. Loved to eat. Day. Night. Midday. Middle of the night.

Angie's kitchen was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. He could knock on the door to her apartment right across the hall from his, she'd invite him in, and he'd head for her refrigerator. It was like a magic box, filled with the most delectable leftovers the world has ever known.

And soon, once she was married, this wonderful, scrumptious, mouthwatering phase of his life would be over.

Tears threatened again.

Not that he cared about her only for her culinary skills. She understood him. She never nagged or pressured him, but just accepted him for what he was. Or wasn't. In fact, he had a longer relationship with her than he'd had with any other woman.

Maybe something was to be said for
dating women he liked.

With a heavy sigh he wondered what delicious feast Angie's mother would serve at the engagement party. At least he had that to look forward to.

For some unknown reason, still thinking about Angie, Stan turned down one of the small roadways off Jefferson Street that led back to the rough wharves where fishing boats were docked. It was an area where tourists never ventured and homeless people sought shelter—smelly and dingy, with gulls swooping overhead and salt water, oil spills, and worse at his feet.

A small building, separate from the others, caught his eye. A sign in Greek-style lettering proclaimed
. One story with a flat roof, the once-white paint was now gray and peeling. The windows had scrolled bars over them in a pretty design, but bars nonetheless. In the window, a cardboard sign read

Stan stepped closer to the Athina and sniffed. A blend of lemon, cinnamon, and clove wafted over him. All his thoughts about Angie's kitchen had made him hungry. Perhaps a little nourishment would help allay his sorrows.


Angie Amalfi sat curled up on a petit-point sofa in the living room of her penthouse apartment. She was a petite woman with big brown eyes, and salon-added auburn highlights in short dark brown hair. Behind her, the picture window held a view that stretched from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge. At her side, the Yellow Pages were
open to “Banquet Facilities.” A phone was in her hand.

“Postrio. Can I help you?” The woman's voice sounded pleasant.

“Hello,” Angie said cheerfully. “I'm wondering if you can tell me if you have a large party booked there for the evening of Saturday, May fifth?”

“A party? Let me check the calendar….”

“It would be for somewhere between three and five hundred people, I'd imagine,” Angie added.

“That's quite a group. Let me put you on hold.”

Angie didn't get a chance to protest before the line went dead. How long did it take to look up a date on a calendar?

She didn't have time for this. Her engagement party was only nineteen days away—less than three short weeks—and she still hadn't found out where it would be held. That might sound strange, but it was true. Unfortunately.

When she agreed that her mother could handle the engagement party as long as Serefina would leave the wedding planning completely to Angie, it had seemed like a heaven-sent arrangement. All she had to do was come up with a guest list. She did better, and had an A list, B, and even a C list of invitees—and knew Serefina would add a bunch of her own.

Angie remembered how every one of her four older sisters had torn their hair out over Serefina's meddling in their wedding plans. With this arrangement, that wouldn't happen to her. She loved her mother dearly, but Serefina was an elemental force of nature. Tidal waves, tornadoes, and hurricanes had nothing on her. Unstoppable,
when she set her mind to something you simply battened down the hatches and hoped to survive with minimal damage.

Also, at the time Serefina had made the suggestion, Angie was desperately trying to find the perfect dress for the party and was so frazzled she would have agreed to almost anything. She'd gone to nearly every store and boutique in the greater Bay Area, and was giving serious thought to a trip to Los Angeles or New York, when a beautiful Dior in a rich, deep buttercup yellow arrived at one of her favorite shops. It was floor-length, fitted and slinky, with a plunging V in front and back. It was sexy, slimming, and made her look almost tall. In a word, it was perfect.

She was prepared for an equal struggle to find a new suit for her fiancé, San Francisco Homicide Inspector Paavo Smith. The second one she picked out, however, he liked. She had to agree it was gorgeous, as were the tie, shirt, and shoes she chose to go with it. He was so easy to shop for he took half the fun out of it.

That done, she was ready to take on whatever came next, especially since she was currently between jobs. Actually, the way her career was going, it was more honest to say that when she did work, she was “between unemployments.”

With nothing else of a serious nature to occupy her, every detail of the party suddenly loomed large in her mind with problems she needed, wanted,
to solve. After much careful thought and hours of watching shows about engagement and wedding parties on the Lifetime Channel, she approached her mother with suggestions. She
wanted a romantic setting, ice sculptures and champagne fountains surrounded by yellow orchids to complement her dress. As guests oohed and aahed, she would step onto the dance floor for the first dance of the evening. A small band would play something loving and emotional, like “I Will Always Love You” or “You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings.” Paavo thought both songs were schlocky, sentimental, and overwrought, but she was sure she could convince him they were perfect for this.

She was bursting to tell her mother all her ideas…and that was when life as she knew it fell completely apart.

Serefina refused to tell her anything about her party at all. Instead, she planned to “surprise” Angie with the party arrangements—
the arrangements, including the location. Angie was surprised, all right. Not to mention flabbergasted.

“Hello.” The woman came back on the line. “We do have a big party coming in that day.”

“Great!” The word came out in a high-pitched squeal. This was a fabulous restaurant—one of Wolfgang Puck's. Angie breathed a little easier. How could she have dreamed her mother would let her down? “Your calendar shows that the party is the Amalfi-Smith engagement, right?” she asked.

There was a long pause. “I'm sorry, but we don't give out names. Are you invited to the party?”

“It's my party!” She'd have to remember not to use that line again. It reminded her of a Leslie Gore song that she hated. “I'm Angie Amalfi.”

The woman's voice changed from friendly to sneering. “And you don't know where your own party is being held?”

“Well…uh…my mother is making the arrangements, and—”

“So, it's a surprise, and you want to ruin it!”

“I didn't say that!” Angie answered heatedly.
How had the woman guessed?

“It's pretty sneaky of you to go behind your own mother's back this way, Miss…Amalfi, is it?”

Now Angie was irritated. Who was this person, to lecture her? Especially since she didn't know Serefina. Only those who knew her could understand why Angie needed to make sure all the details were being handled correctly. “Listen, I was just asking—”

listen! If this was the Amalfi party, which it isn't, I'd cancel it right now.”

Mouth agape, Angie stared at the phone. The dial tone sounded.

She crossed that place off her list of possibilities.

She was about to dial the next number when a better idea came to mind.


Inside the Athina Restaurant, the décor was basic “American diner.” Booths hugged two walls, wooden tables and chairs filled the center, and posters extolling beers and wines plus mandatory aerial photos of the Acropolis and Athens were the only wall decorations. A black clock with green fluorescent hands and the words
along the top hung in a hard-to-see corner.

“Here's a menu.” The waiter, a young blond-haired man with a mustache and a sharply angled
face, handed Stan a plastic-covered sheet. “You want something to drink?”

“Chablis,” Stan replied, scarcely looking at him, but studying the menu.

“We have ouzo, Greek wines, American beer. What do you want?”

“A white Greek wine, then. Something like chablis.”

The waiter scrunched his thin mouth and walked away.

“What's good today?” Stan asked when the waiter returned with a glass of Malvazia white. Stan had never heard of it. He took a sip. It was definitely different from California whites, but it would do.

“Fish is our specialty, cooked Greek-style. The owner and the cook are fishermen. You can't find any fresher in this city. Octopus cooked in wine, Greek-style, is popular. So is our sea bass. If you don't like fish,
is a specialty.”

Stan thought about the exotic food. He had no idea what
was. “Do you serve gyros?”

The waiter sneered. “Every Greek restaurant can put together a sandwich on pita bread.”

“I'll have one. With chicken.”

The waiter gave another of his disdainful looks and walked away.

When Stan left the restaurant, his belly full, the sky had turned gray and the wind was strong. The fog, rolling in through the Golden Gate, felt thick and sharp against the skin. Out on the bay a mournful foghorn blared.

He stood wavering on the sidewalk, not yet ready to go home to his lonely apartment. He
wasn't sure when the apartment had become lonely. For years it wasn't. In fact, he'd always thought of it as a neat bachelor pad. Maybe he would again, once he got over this funk about Angie.

Right now, though, he didn't feel like being alone with himself. The gyros had helped a little, but not enough.

With his jacket collar turned up and his hands in his pockets, he continued down the side street. The restaurant was the last building. Just past it the street ended. There, stretching in both directions like the top of a T, ran the wharf—a broad, asphalt-paved area with boat docks all along the water's edge. The restaurant had a side door that opened directly across from one of the berths. Stan remembered the waiter saying something about fresh fish.

The wharf itself had been built to sit some six or seven feet over the water. Railroad ties had been placed to stop cars from rolling off it into the bay, but that was it. There was no railing. Jutting up every so often were metal handrails attached to ladders that dropped straight down to reach any boats that were docked.

Stan headed for the water, enjoying the dark, chilled air that so well matched his mood. A number of boats were moored, all rocking slightly from the tide. His peaceful solitude was broken, however, by the sound of raised but muffled voices.

BOOK: Courting Disaster
2.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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