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Two Cooks A-Killing
An Angie Amalfi Mystery
California State Highway 29 cuts through the heart of the Napa Valley, linking wineries and towns. On weekends, traffic stops almost completely as people jam cars, vans, and tour buses to "wine taste" from one establishment to the next. At the center is St. Helena, home to a number of the most famous wineries in the state -- Beringer Brothers, Charles Krug, St. Clement, Sutter Home, and Louis Martini.
Just past the town, Angie Amalfi turned off the highway and drove for another twenty minutes along narrow, winding roads. She was a small woman with wavy brown hair with red highlights, big brown eyes, and long silk-wrapped fingernails in her current favorite shade, coconut cream. The color complemented and drew attention to her hard-won, long-incoming engagement ring. She drove with one eye on the road, the other on the diamond, as she neared the Waterfield estate.
Winery ownership was the sideline of choice for California's nouveau riche such as Dr. Sterling Waterfield, plastic surgeon to the stars, with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Angie's opinion, Waterfield wines were worse than mediocre, with a bouquet of rancid oil that caused the tongue to shrivel and the mouth to pucker.
The estate had once been known for its grandeur and beauty, but all that was overshadowed when Waterfield allowed the producers of the most popular evening soap opera of all time, Eagle Crest, to use it as the estate of the Roxbury family of wine magnates. Their overwrought lives, loves, and wheeling-and-dealing provided weekly proof that money and power couldn't elevate the disreputable to anything other than glitzy sleaze. Viewers loved them.
As a young teen, Angie had watched the show devotedly, not only every episode, but also reruns during the summer months. The early years, which she had been too young to follow when they were first aired, were shown repeatedly on cable networks. She had faithfully watched them several times over. She loved the program and knew several of the episodes by heart. Eagle Crest had ended ten years earlier after a run of eight years when its two main stars, Bart Farrell and Rhonda Manning, who played Cliff Roxbury and his wife, Natalie, quit out of fear of being typecast. Unfortunately for them, they hadn't quit soon enough. Never again did either have a part quite so dominating or so challenging (or so much to type, according to Hollywood gossip) as that of a member of the Roxbury dynasty.
Rhonda "Natalie" Manning retired from public life, while Bart "Cliff" Farrell made infrequent and ill-tempered appearances to talk to Eagle Crest fans about his starring role. The fans remembered every iota of information ever put on the screen throwaway lines, jokes, even story angles that didn't work and were dropped. Farrell's inability to remember, let alone explain, such minutiae usually triggered those outbursts of grumpiness.
Now the cast was being reassembled for a ten-year reunion show, a Christmas reunion, and she, Angelina Rosaria Maria Amalfi, had been asked to be a part of it.
A major part, if she said so herself. She was so anxious to get to Eagle Crest, it was all she could do to stick to the speed limit.
Her father had phoned the day before. He'd gotten a call from his old friend Dr. Waterfield: the woman who was to prepare the important centerpiece meal of the show had broken her leg. Dr. Waterfield wanted to know if Angie could handle it.
Could she ever!
She made sure her fiancé, San Francisco Homicide Inspector Paavo Smith, had no problem with her going away for a few days. Dr. Waterfield was a widower who lived with his two sons, Junior and Silver. Junior had once dated Angie's sister, Frannie, but things hadn't worked out between them.
Paavo had encouraged her to take the job if she wanted it. If? Was he joking? She'd crawl through ground-up Christmas ornaments for this job.
Actually, she couldn't help but suspect he was glad to have her think about something other than their wedding plans. Not to mention engagement parties, bridal showers, and everything that went with them, from dresses to music to napkin rings. They were already making her a little crazy.
Her thoughts sprang back to the Christmas reunion show. The thought that she would be the first true-blue fan to find out what the next step would be in the lives of the cast gave her goosebumps.
The story had begun with Cliff Roxbury. Married and living in Australia, one day he was struck by lightning. He ended up with amnesia, in California. There, he met Ice Follies queen Natalie Parker, who was engaged to winery owner Adrian Roxbury.
Cliff fell wildly in lust with Natalie and her ice skates, stole her from Adrian, and married her. He then swindled Adrian out of half the winery. Adrian was about to shoot Cliff, when -- lo and behold! -- the two discovered they had the same last name because they had the same father.
From Australia, Cliff's older first wife sent her daughter, Leona, to find her missing husband. Because of his amnesia, Cliff didn't recognize her.
Seeing a chance for wealth, Leona married the still rich but emotionally wrecked Adrian.
Into the mix came Natalie's niece, the wild and man-hungry Julia Parker.
The catfights between Julia and Leona had garnered some of the highest TV ratings on record and set the standards for primetime soap fights. Angie recalled one such remarkable fight which included several tons of grapes, broken vats of aging wine, and evening gowns that left little to the imagination when soaked in wine.
Angie sighed ...Two Cooks A-Killing
An Angie Amalfi Mystery. Copyright © by Joanne Pence. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.