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Viv, my mother's first cousin—my first cousin once removed—used to be in the music business, sort of. She purchased records, vinyl records, real records, for a major chain and used to bring me 45 rpm singles when I was a little girl. Artists like Prince, Gloria Estefan, and Madonna.
"This one is twenty-two with a bullet or seventeen without a bullet," she used to say.
I loved that phrase. It sounded so strong, better than anything I could think of, like "twenty-two on an elevator" or "seventeen with a kite tail."
It was a dramatic expression, though much less so when there was a twist to it. In my case, that twist was a matzo ball.
But I get ahead of myself.
It had been fourteen months and three weeks since I'd left my evaporating clientele on Wall Street to take over Murray's Deli, the establishment founded by my uncle in Nashville. My estranged father lived with him in a typically irresponsible effort to find himself. He never did that, but without my mother and me, he was free to discover daily diversions. With both my parents gone, there was no one to inherit but me.
Leaving New York for Tennessee was like the migration of my forebears to Palestine at the turn of the last century. When the Next Year in Jerusalem crowd got there and found swamps, malaria, heat, angry Bedouins, and sand, they puzzled over what had seemed like a sterling idea just a few months before. When you leave Manhattan Island you leave a city where you can see a black man ask directions from an Orthodox Jew (and get them), where a mosque and a church can exist on the same block, where clan means your family. And where the first cop you meet doesn't ask you on a date and become one of your first exes.
I have an ex-husband in New York, but after we split I didn't see him, except at shindigs of mutual friends. If you run a restaurant in a much smaller city, if you help solve crimes—more on which in a minute—you see people you want to see, don't want to see, don't know, don't want to know, or don't have the time or energy to know. You have a staff, which fulfills whatever need you have to socialize and wallow in secondhand drama. Nearing the twilight of my thirties, I prefer to experience that kind of stimulation passively, on my TV or in a paperback novel ... not in my face.
Then there's crime.
Maybe I carried the New York City rhythm down south with me, distilled and compacted and served up in a trio of murders that eerily found their way into my life. One of them literally dropped in on me, through the ceiling of a party I was catering. Another drove up to my back door when a bread delivery man was murdered in his truck. A third happened down the street, where a customer was killed after eating poisoned herring.
Coincidences? Maybe. When you're in a service industry where you meet a lot of people, chances are some of them are going to die. Suddenly. Violently. Three in less than a year might seem like lottery—sized odds, but then there are people who win those things. Maybe I'm just unlucky in love, lucky in death. I am not religious, and I'm spiritual only to the extent that if the receipts are bad for a few days I say a quiet, informal prayer or yell at the Almighty—depending on my mood. I don't believe in karma or that my past misdeeds make me a magnet for crazy people.
But it is just a little weird how many corpses I've been introduced to since moving into my uncle's modest home outside Nashville with my two cats. Remarkably, my loyal little staff did not seem unduly surprised or shaken by the events of the last year—plus. Thomasina, my manager, who was also devoted to my uncle, is my rock. She's religious, so I guess I get secondhand grace. My kitchen help—Newt cooks, and Luke busses and occasionally cooks—are young in every sense of the word. Luke, an aspiring rock—androller, is dating the pierced and tatted young Dani, who is part of my diligent waitstaff. She is my only personal hire, having walked in at the right time on the right day. She is a good if not exceptional waitperson, but she is terrific at managing our Facebook page, something that is way beyond my area of experience or interest. Her coworkers are the older Raylene and A.J., veterans of Uncle Murray. A.J.'s collegiate daughter, A.J. Two, also works for me as a floating waitperson when she is home from college. I could use another me. But even if I could find someone who had my peculiar mix of dedication and masochism—how else would you describe a non—people—person working long hours in a people—oriented business?—I probably couldn't afford her or him. As my uncle used to say when I came down for one of my rare visits, the store does a comfortable business. That's Jewish for "a little above break—even."
I've always meant to keep track of how many customers are regulars, how many are tourists, how many try to eat healthy, and how many don't care. I eyeball it and have a rough idea, but never enough to actually formulate businessbuilding programs—loyalty cards for regulars, discounts for first—timers, healthy menus to steal patrons from the rabbit holes that serve carrots and lettuce. You know: an actual business plan like the ones I urged my clients to have when I worked on Wall Street. Like so many good and necessary intentions in my life, in any life, this one stays in the to—do pile under a paperweight called "responsibilities." Keeping things running up front, taking inventory, ordering everything from meat to bread to vegetables to coffee filters, chatting with vendors just long enough not to seem rude, hand—holding staff when they're upset—it's all time—consuming and tiring. I don't wear a shmate on my head because it's stylish: I haven't had time to see my hairstylist Amanda for weeks. A transplanted New Jerseyite, she's the farthest—north person I know down here. Everyone else is either local or from somewhere in the South.
It's a different world than the one in which I grew up.
Incredibly, it's also a louder one.
Monday—morning breakfast is the busiest time of the week for Murray's Deli. People down here tend to stay up late on Sunday, sucking the last bit of recreation or barhopping from the weekend. That means Caffeine Mondays. We don't do deliveries, but we do a lot of takeout so people can eat in their cars, parks, or offices. I import our coffee from a place in Greenwich Village I used to frequent, and, frankly, it's the best in New York, which makes it the best in Nashville. People literally line up for a super-large cuppa every Monday morning or plop themselves at the counter if there's an open space. Eat—in refills are free. That was something I swore I'd change after students started coming in and caffeine—ing up while they worked. Then Newt suggested I just kill the wireless service for two minutes. The freeloaders were gone in a flash.
This particular morning, there was a customer at the counter I didn't recognize. He sat in the far corner, away from the counter where Thomasina controlled the cash register, the seating, the staff, and anything else required of her capable hands. The only time I ever saw her stymied was when we had some witches to deal with ... but that's another story. Literally.
I was busy in my usual job as a "floater." I back up everyone, including Newt on the grill and Luke bussing, even Thomasina, if need be. At the heart of the rush, Thomasina pointed out the guy, who had a bran muffin and coffee and then more coffee and just occupied space after that as he worked on his laptop. In addition to the coffee line, there was a line of people waiting to get in. Weekends were a big tourist time, and we saw a lot of RV types looking to fuel up before they headed home farther south. And laptopman was holding a valuable piece of real estate.
I walked over, intending to do the usual drill. Even though the check was sitting beside his plate, I was going to ask if he needed anything else.
The customer turned toward me when I was still a few steps away. He had a narrow face with a strong chin. The lines of his cheek, framed by collar—length graying hair, all said fiftysomething.
He smiled wryly. It was a gentle smile—not amused, not mocking, just disarming.
"No thanks. I'm good," he said in a voice as smooth as egg cream, then went back to tippy-typing on his laptop with all ten fingers.
"I'm glad," I said. Now, it shouldn't take Kreskin to know why someone in an apron and with her brown hair pulled back and a look of unsympathetic resolve was coming to talk to him. And given that he was well—dressed in a light gray suit and thin red tie, and knew how to type, I guessed he was a professional something. Not stupid. "Thing is, if you're done we really could use the stool."
The man turned his pale blue eyes on me. "I'll buy something else," he said.
I took my pad from where I wore it like a six-shooter. My hip was cocked, and so was my mouth. I was prepared for, "I'll have tea" or "Make me a sandwich to go. I'll sit here till it's ready" and my brain was already replying with, "There's a threebuck minimum for counter service" and "Would you mind waiting at the counter?"
The man turned back to his laptop. "Please bring me whatever you care to serve. Thank you."
I wasn't expecting that. "Care to give me a food group?"
He thought for a moment. "Yang."
"Excuse me, that's dairy or meat," he smiled. "I forget sometimes."
Forget what? That you're among humans? "I assume there's 'yin' food? Greens?"
"Basically, yes," he replied.
"I've got some cottage cheese that's about to expire ..."
"... and milk I was gonna take home to the cats."
"Very fine," he said, almost eagerly.
I pride myself on our menu, but clearly the man wasn't here for the cuisine. I looked at his laptop. There were graphs and—talk about full circle—they were the kind I remembered seeing in a recording studio Viv once took me to, little green bars bouncing up and down showing audio levels.
"They're waves," he said, anticipating my question.
"Astral," he replied. "Mostly from inside, a few from the street."
Oh. One of those. "I'll get your order," I said and turned.
"Great. I'll be interested to see how that impacts the readings."
"Food?" I said. I was no physicist, but I knew that food was pretty inert, unless there was garlic overkill like those schmucks did to everything at The Pesh House down the street. "How do you measure food waves?"
"With my body. Food, and also certain kinds of minerals."
"I see. They get to the computer program how?"
"I'm my own Wi—Fi," he replied.
Okay. Now, ninety percent of the people who walk through the doors of the deli I inherited are what you would describe as "normal." They're generally pleasant and are pretty courteous. Roughly nine percent are a little wacky. Like the wiccans I mentioned earlier; they had tattoos of body parts on their flesh, and they cast spells. One regular wants the condiments removed from the table, says he doesn't believe he should add anything that isn't in the original recipe. Another regular orders breakfast for lunch, dinner for breakfast, that sort of thing. Swears it keeps her digestive tract on its toes. One of our customers puts the plate on his lap and imagines he's at home watching TV. Says that stimulates his imagination.
They're all harmless. Maybe this guy was too. But it's always best to ask a few more questions to see which way the crazy is blowing.
"Is this something you've trained yourself to do?" I asked.
"It's latent in all of us, one of the nine bodily planes," he answered. "The bars blipped up a little when you came over and we made a connection on the astral plane."
He hit a button and the graphs scanned backward in fast motion. He was right: as the time stamp went backward a minute, the bars dropped.
"You're saying I caused that?" I asked.
"We did," he gently corrected me. "The astral plane is where humans interconnect. Since I'm a trained transmitter, it showed up on the monitor."
He touched a key, and the bars went back to the present readings. "So—and forgive the interruption—"
"Not at all. It's fascinating to watch the bars climb a little the longer you're here."
"What is so important about you being here?"
"The crowd," he said. "I go from group gathering to group gathering in cities around the world, seeing how the graph reacts when I connect with people doing different things." Still intent on his readings, he chuckled, "You should have seen what happened in a gay bar."
"Should I have?"
"Oh yes. The readings were flatline dead," he said. "Because I personally shut down there, so nothing got through."
My radar was working, and I could feel the motion of my staff behind me. Maybe there was something to what the guy was saying: I could also feel their hostility toward me. I needed to get back to work.
"So, cottage cheese and milk. Anything else?"
"The two yang foods are fine," he said. "It'll be interesting."
I didn't ask what that meant. I wrote out a ticket for his order as I hurried to the kitchen to get it myself.
"Is he staying?" Thomasina called after me.
I nodded and didn't wait to hear her huff with annoyance as I scooted down the corridor. The kitchen entrance was to the left, and the lavatory was to the right. My office was just beyond the restroom. I had the cordless phone in my apron pocket in case one of our regulars phoned ahead to have an order waiting. After Monday mornings, closing the door to that office was like a mini—vacation.
I went to the industrial refrigerator. The phone rang while I was there getting the cottage cheese. I didn't recognize the number; the prefix was a cell phone, and the name was May Wong. I took the call anyway, holding the phone between my ear and shoulder while I took out the tub o' cottage cheese.
"This is Murray's, Gwen Katz speaking."
"Hello. Do you cater?"
The voice was gentle, a little clipped, and male. Sure, sure, profiling is frowned on. But he sounded Asian.
"We absolutely cater, with little or no notice," I said enthusiastically, as I put the container on the worktable. "What are you looking for?"
"We are having a belt promotion at my school tomorrow night," the caller said. "There will be about twenty—five people."
"Piece of cake—or latke," I said. "What are you, a leather—working school?"
The only noise for the next second or so was me getting a soup spoon from a drawer. The other end was silent.
"I do not understand," the caller said. "This is the Po Kung Fu Academy. I am Sifu Ken Chan. Our students are testing for their belt promotions."
Talk about missing by a mile. I got the voice all right but missed the heart of the matter.
"Sorry. I'm from New York with relatives in the garment district. When you said 'belt'—"
"I understand. We each connect to our own shadows."
Oh, good. More esoterica. "We can do it," I said, getting back to something I knew—pastrami and cole slaw. "Can you call, or I can call you, after the breakfast rush so we can talk about exactly what you want?"
"I will stop by at ten—thirty, if that is all right. You are on the way to my school. A restaurant that is always busy must be a good one."
"Or cheap," I said.
"You are not so cheap," he replied. "I looked up your menu online."
"Touché, Mr. Chan. See you in a bit."
I finished ladling the cottage cheese into a soup bowl—I might as well give him a big portion for his yang—then poured his milk in a big beer mug. I wondered if his bones would expand right before my eyes.
Stop it, I told myself. People used to think Jews had horns, too. Some still do. Don't judge.
Still, it was difficult not to look at the man as a bit of an odd duck: he had his hands cupped on either side of the laptop, facing each other, moving very slightly as if he were sizing up one of my tantas for a bra. Just before I got there, he put his left hand in his lap. I set the bowl and mug on that side—where I'd intended to.
Excerpted from To Kill a Matzo Ball by Delia Rosen. Copyright © 2014 Jeff Rovin. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 11, 2014
“Staring Into the Matzo Ball of Revenge”
With Ms. Rosen’s latest work, we’re back in Nashville and, of course, stopping by “Murray’s Deli”, now owned and managed by Murray’s Niece, Gwen “Nash” Katz. As usual, the Deli is abuzz with activity and we are re-acquainted with her likable, quirky staff, headed by Thomasina, who runs the cash register with an iron hand, but really has a heart of gold. In the midst of the breakfast rush, Gwen receives a call and sets up an appt. about a catering job for the Po Kung Fu Academy’s Belt Promotion celebration. Sifu Ken Chan keeps his appt. and is just about to sample a matzo ball when shots ring out—he throws himself to the floor, taking Gwen with him—ultimately saving her life as the gunfire takes his. Who would want the family and tradition-oriented Sifu dead? Could it have been the work of the criminal element known as the “Triads”? Gwen feels guilty but thankful she is alive, but, little does she know that the journey to the truth has barely begun. With previous murders of African-American Police Officer Marcuz Frank and his girlfriend pointing to a group known as the “SSS” ( Shock, Shoot, Slawter), and so raw in the minds of the NPD, no stones will be left unturned until the perpetrators are captured. Were they really trying to shoot the Sifu? Is there a Chinese vendetta? Or, was Gwen the intended victim—ruining her business as well? She waits on a strange-acting customer named Banko Juarez who is an “Etheric Cleanser”, claiming he is studying the “Planes of human existence” and through his computer program invention, can help discover who is behind this dastardly deed. But can he? Or is he a fake? Gwen reluctantly pays her respects at the Academy and meets Matriarch Auntie May Wong, who asks her to return for the wake. Getting odd vibes from Auntie May, Gwen seeks out and employs Juarez to help her discover if the shooter is a deli customer. Should she trust Juarez? After their meeting a series of strange occurrences happen—Gwen is kidnapped, questioned and released, duped by a tall hospital orderly, and, later, shot at in Hadley Park, with Juarez by her side! Gwen is continually asked how the Sifu signed the deli receipt—could there have been a coded message within that small slip of paper? As hokey as Juarez’s etheric cleansing may seem, he recognizes some similarities between two sets of readings. What does this mean? Who can Gwen trust? Certainly, former boyfriend/Detective Grant Daniels comes to mind—but does he trust her since their break-up? Are FBI Agent Lawrence Bowe-Pitt and NPD tech guy Richard Richards on the up and up and to be trusted as well? Frustrated, Gwen seeks the help of hypnotist, Dr. Cagliostro. You quickly realize that little details often mean a lot and that, sometimes,
things (and people) are not always as they seem. Ms. Rosen has concocted a twisted tale of intrigue and murder with a slew of unforgettable characters you won’t soon forget. She has also graciously included Uncle Murray’s recipe for his famous “Potato Knish”. Cozy Readers, you don’t want to miss this one—and you’ll be chomping at the bit (or bagel) for Gwen’s next adventure as well.
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Posted August 6, 2014
The book started off just fine, but then the authors (I assume it's more than one because the voice changes,
until it gets lost) stopped collaborating and just started submitting their pages and paragraphs.
As an example, the Hebrew National Salami sandwich turns into a ham sandwich on a hard roll, which it
remains until it's gone. After the middle of the story, the plot falls apart, the characters start milling around,
the guardians of public safety forget that they're supposed to be guarding our Gwen-of-the-deli and protect the
outside of the building in stead. The use of Yiddish words and phrases becomes very strained and doesn't fit
either the situation or the dialogue. It's sad because, with the setting and lead character, the series could have
been good. Until either the authors or the publisher decide to hire an editor, I suggest that everyone check Larry
Raphael's bibliography of Jewish detective stories, where they'll find a universe of choices.