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The Da Vinci CookAn Angie Amalfi Mystery
By Joanne Pence
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Joanne Pence
All right reserved.
Four marble gargoyles glared down from the roof of the stately home in San Francisco's Sea Cliff district. A For Sale sign had been stabbed into the small patch of lawn beside the driveway.
No one was home. She'd just called, using her cell phone.
A crisp ocean breeze whipped against her thin summer suit, causing her usually perfectly coiffed pale blond hair to fly askew as she opened the lockbox hanging from the doorknob with a Supra key, a computerized entry device. It would leave a record that she'd been there, but at this point that hardly mattered.
Inside the box was the house key, and she used it to enter.
She knew the house well, with its overabundance of electronics gear, its lack of flowers and houseplants, and its need for colorful luxurious towels and a few candles to soften the bathrooms—all easy-to-remedy problems. The large living room looked untouched. Expensive gold and marble objets were exactly where she'd last seen them.
In the bedroom, the safe was located behind a Warhol print. Not very original, but easy to get at. Any good burglar could find a wall safe no matter where it was hidden, anyway. She swung the picture aside and punched in the combination.
The distinctive flatblack leather box was gone.
Her heart sank. How could she prove—
An ear-splitting crack, like a gunshot, echoed through the house.
She started, holding her breath.
It was a car backfiring, nothing more.
But even as she thought that, she was struck with an eerie feeling about the house and felt an overwhelming need to get out of there.
On rubbery legs, she headed toward the entry, when she heard a door slam. The sound came from the far side of the house, from the kitchen.
She forced herself to stop, to be rational. The earlier sound couldn't have been a gunshot, not in this neighborhood. Her imagination had run away with her, that's all. The home owner must have just returned. Now, she could confront him, force him to explain everything.
She hurried to the kitchen.
Sprawled out on the floor before her lay the body of a man, facedown. A gaping, bloody hole covered the base of his head, blood oozing all around him.
No one could survive that, she thought. She turned cold, deathly cold, as she crept closer. Is it . . . ?
Relief coursed through her. She couldn't see his face, but his black hair was streaked with gray. He was older than the man she'd feared he might be.
Still, the world began to spin at the sight, and she immediately looked away, stumbling backward and gripping a countertop.
Through the kitchen window, she saw the shadowy figure of a man dash from the house. Behind this home and its neighbors was an alleyway for garbage trucks, service deliveries, and the like. There, the man got into an older, black Volvo. She only saw him from behind, and he wore a flat gray cap with a small visor—very European looking.
In his hand was a black box. The color and shape were like that of the container she'd expected to find in the safe.
The one she'd been looking for . . .
He was taking it . . . getting away!
And at her feet lay a dead man.
Then, completely unlike the normally composed, contained, self-controlled businesswoman that she was, Caterina Amalfi Swenson let out a string of curses.
Angelina Amalfi hung up the phone and cha-cha-cha'ed her way around the living room of her Russian Hill penthouse apartment. Life was good. She was engaged; she'd lost the six pounds she'd gained vacationing in Arizona—well, half; and now . . . now! . . . she could scarcely breathe she was so excited.
Internationally known chef Jacques Poulon-Leliellul was going to be in San Francisco next Monday, and he wanted to meet with her, Angie Amalfi, to talk about assisting him in the writing of his next cookbook. Recipes from his restaurant in the city, which apparently wasn't doing very well, would be featured, and he wanted a local food writer to be involved. He'd heard about her from a friend of a friend, and had his secretary phone to make an appointment if she was interested.
Was she ever! "Mr. Poulon-Leliellul is a creator of food, not sentences," his secretary explained.
"I understand completely," Angie said, bursting with enthusiasm for the project. "I can't wait to meet him."
"You'd be his ghostwriter," the secretary added.
Angie thought a moment—ghostwriters were called "ghosts" because they were unseen; their names weren't given. Could she get around that? She was sure she'd do such a fantastic job that not only could she convince the chef to include her name on the cover, he'd positively demand it. "I understand."
"Just one more thing," the secretary warned. "Be sure you pronounce his name correctly. Americans tend to do really horrible things to French names."
"Of course—Monsieur Leliellul." Angie spoke clearly and distinctly.
The secretary sounded relieved. "You have a lovely accent, but keep in mind that he prefers Poulon-Leliellul."
"I'll remember," Angie promised.
The conversation ended with another word of caution. "Noon on Monday. Be prompt. Chef Poulon-Leliellul demands punctuality."
"No problem," Angie said, before lavishing thanks and a good-bye. As it was only Tuesday, she had an entire week to study his recipes, his culinary philosophy, and anything else she could learn about the man. That was plenty of time since the only other thing she had to do was to finalize her wedding plans. She still had a few decisions to make: what kind of wedding, where to have it, and when. Matter of fact, the only thing she'd nailed down was who.
She was just about to phone that "who"—her tall, handsome, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed fiancé, San Francisco Homicide inspector Paavo Smith—with the exciting news when the phone rang again.
Excerpted from The Da Vinci Cook by Joanne Pence Copyright © 2007 by Joanne Pence. Excerpted by permission.
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