No case is too small—or too strange—for the Lunghi family detective agency
For the Lunghis of Bath, England, detecting is best discussed around the family dinner table; everyone gets a say. The various members of the Lunghi family are old and cantankerous, young and bolshie, responsible, clever, and even artistic. But relentless curiosity is the one quality they all possess.
The Lunghi Detective Agency’s latest client, pretty, thirty-something Eileen Shayler, suspects that her husband, Jack Shayler, is in terrible trouble. Jack failed to return the bottle of dishwashing liquid to its proper place under the sink. Thus, he could be having an affair. Or he has a gambling problem and owes money to his bookie. When the case suddenly collides with several others, the Lunghis will find themselves knee-deep in an unsolved murder, a mysterious stakeout, and some damning personal secrets.
About the Author
Since 1971, Lewin has lived in England, currently in Bath, where his city center flat overlooks the nearby hills. It also overlooks the front doors of the Lunghi family detective agency, a newer series of novels and stories set in the historic city. Visit him online at www.MichaelZLewin.com for more information.
Read an Excerpt
A Lunghi Family Mystery
By Michael Z. Lewin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Michael Z. Lewin
All rights reserved.
It was rare for Angelo to approach a family meal with trepidation, especially a breakfast. But his fears were confirmed when Rosetta appeared in the doorway. Angelo could see the trouble in her eyes.
It was a normal breakfast until then. Or was it? How often did David and Marie stay at table instead of scrambling for schoolbags, books and completed homework? And how often did Mama and the Old Man come down to join the rest of the brood for breakfast? Not often.
Coincidence today? Or did everyone want to witness whatever was to take place between brother and sister?
'I think I can hear Rosetta in the bathroom,' Gina said, warning her husband of approaching trials, as good wives did.
'I'm leaving,' Angelo said.
The adults of both generations understood this to be a feeble joke. David and Marie were less certain until they saw their father reach for another piece of toast.
Gina passed the honey.
'Thanks,' Angelo said.
'Cheer up, Dad,' David said. 'Worse things happen at aquariums.'
The Old Man frowned. 'What's at aquariums?' he asked. When nobody answered he turned to his grandson. 'What's at aquariums, David?'
David, who had merely been playing with words, was saved by his Aunt Rosetta's arrival.
Rosetta with the eyes. Focused solely on her brother. 'Well?' the eyes said. 'Well?' Rosetta said.
'Sit, Rose. Eat,' Mama told her daughter.
Obediently the twenty-nine-year-old Rosetta sat in her chair. But she was not deflected from her purpose. She said, 'I'm not hungry, Mama. I want to hear what Angelo has to say, now he's had his night to sleep on it.'
Angelo felt the family turn to him, as he'd known inevitably they would. He picked up a knife and rearranged the honey on his toast. He cleared his throat. He said, 'Well, Rose, I think — no, I'm sure I understand everything you say. Last night I went through it all again.'
'But you're still against it,' Rosetta said.
'Yes.' There. He'd said it. Angelo put his hands up in front of his face, as if defending himself. No one laughed. Rosetta's eyes screamed at her brother across the breakfast dishes.
'I'm sorry!' Angelo said. He continued, tapping the table with each syllable. 'It feels a wrong set of changes to make. It feels wrong.'
'No changes, he says?' the Old Man said. 'Is this the same boy who couldn't wait to reletter the office door when I retired? Who couldn't wait!'
'That was different, Papa,' Angelo said.
'Of course, different. God protect us from I should say something sensible. Huh!'
'How are you this morning, Grandad?' Marie asked. 'Is your cold better?'
The furrows above the Old Man's eyes became rainbows as he turned to his granddaughter. 'Better the cold, yes,' he said. 'But now I'm not sleeping so well, and at my time of life ...'
'Eat your cereal,' Mama said. 'You don't want to be hungry at the solicitor. They don't serve food at a solicitor.'
'I'm eating, I'm eating,' the Old Man said. He picked up his spoon.
'So, you're seeing the lawyer today,' Angelo said, eager to peer through any window that might open on to an alternative conversational landscape.
'Unless he comes to his senses,' Mama said.
'It's my will,' the Old Man said. 'She wants my money on paper.'
'If you believe that ...' Mama said.
Rosetta slapped the table. 'Don't change the subject.' The sharpness of her voice was uncommon at a Lunghi meal. The slap was unprecedented. Angelo felt it personally, as if she had slapped his cheek. Rosetta drew all eyes. Her own eyes aimed at her older brother. She said, 'The real reason is because it was my idea. If it was your idea it would be all right. I don't think Papa's wrong. I think Papa's right.'
'Suddenly I'm right about something,' the Old Man said. 'I can die in peace.'
'It's not that, Rose,' Angelo said.
'What then?' Rosetta asked.
Angelo's palms opened to the sky as he sought words for his feelings. 'This ... What we have ...' He looked from face to face, from generation to generation around the table. 'It's a family business, like a corner shop. Friendly. Papa started it that way, and that's how it's always been. It's a personal service we give. They come to the office, we make tea, we talk weather. We only talk business when they're ready. Then they tell us the problem, and we give satisfaction if we can. We work, they pay. It's the kind of business that everybody understands.'
Angelo paused, but only Rosetta's unrelenting face spoke in silent response. Angelo said, 'I said yes to the fax machine, right? I said yes to the photocopier. A computer in your office for the accounts? Of course! Makes sense, no problem. But to have computers everywhere, big computer eyes, blinking all over ... Even in the office in front of the clients ... To me that's a whole change in our style, a change in how we do business. And to me it feels wrong, Rosetta. It just feels wrong.'
'My old computer is slow,' Rosetta said. 'It's inefficient and a waste of time, my time.'
'Get yourself a new computer, no problem,' Angelo said. 'One super-quick.'
'It makes no sense to go half-way,' Rosetta insisted carefully. 'Why should I have to walk all the way to the office to get handwritten case records? Why should you have to walk to my room to give me messages or ask for an invoice? We need to be more efficient. We need to have linked terminals. We need a complete, modern computer system.'
'And where does it end?' Angelo asked. 'Terminals in the kitchen, in the bathroom? A terminal on the sideboard in the dining-room so when we talk business over dinner you can "access" the records from your chair?'
'Don't be stupid,' Rosetta said.
'I don't think I am,' Angelo said.
Rosetta glared at her brother. Angelo began to eat his toast.
Two people at the table were the family's peacemakers, its lubricators. When it was clear that Angelo and Rosetta had exhausted their own capacities for compromise, one peacemaker, Mama, appealed to the other. She said, 'Gina, you meet clients too. What do you think?'
Gina was silent for a moment, running a finger over her lips as Angelo and Rosetta turned to her. Then Gina said, 'I think if Rosetta says we need this equipment, then we need it.'
Rosetta was surprised to hear such unequivocal support from her brother's wife. She said, 'Thank you for that vote of confidence, Gina.'
Mama said, 'All right. Good.' She turned to her son.
Thus unexpectedly confronted by mother and wife, Angelo shrugged. It was acquiescence.
The matter was settled.
Marie felt freed to say, 'Well, I think computers are yukky.' She got up to look for her school-bag.
The Old Man, preoccupied, turned to Mama and said, 'What time again for the solicitor?'
David, Marie's younger brother, had not contributed to the substantive discussion. But his silence did not reflect disinterest. For David home access to a modern multi-terminal computer network with its mice, modems and megabytes represented nothing less than heaven on earth.
David had followed the tides of the negotiation with acute attention. He had despaired when his father declared himself against Aunt Rosetta's promised land. But when his mother made her unexpected intervention David's faith in the power of agnostic prayer was renewed. With the matter now settled David could express his feelings. He punched the air with a fist and he said, 'Yes!'
At nine Angelo and Gina went through to the office as usual. It was their first private moment since breakfast. Gina spoke first. She said, 'Don't sulk.'
Angelo settled behind his desk. He rubbed his hands together. He sighed. He opened a drawer and took out a pencil and a notebook. He caressed the pencil. He stroked the notebook. Then he looked up to see if Gina was watching. She wasn't. 'I'm not sulking,' he said.
Gina prodded the soil in the plant pots on the sill of the window which overlooked the street. She knew the plants did not need water, but it was a way of passing time while she waited for Angelo to find a way to express his displeasure.
Angelo said, 'I'm surprised, that's all.'
Gina turned to her husband. 'At who?'
The question was unexpected because Angelo thought that was obvious. 'At you, of course.'
'At me?' Gina said.
'You didn't hesitate. Not even "either-or". Just "I think".'
'You ought to be surprised at Rosetta,' Gina said.
Angelo considered this statement but couldn't work out what she was getting at. 'What do you mean?' he asked.
'When was the last time you saw Walter?' Gina said.
Now Angelo was really confused. 'Walter? What's Walter got to do with this?'
Gina brushed specks of dust from the leaves of the scented-leaved pelargonium.
Angelo tried to find the link he was missing. Walter was Rosetta's long-standing, though married, 'boy' friend. But ... 'I thought Walter was away,' Angelo said. He couldn't remember what he had been told. 'Business?'
'It's been more than three weeks.'
'Business can be three weeks.'
'Rosetta is obviously very upset,' Gina said.
'Is she?' Angelo asked. He searched his memory again, but found nothing. 'What, has Walter gone back to that wife or something?'
'I don't know,' Gina said. 'She doesn't talk about it.'
Gina and Angelo looked at one another. Each knew that Rosetta normally talked to Gina about Walter a lot. But Angelo's face wrinkled. 'I still don't see what Walter's got to do with new computers.'
'You tried to compromise with her,' Gina said. 'You said of course she could have a new computer for herself if she needed it.'
'No thanks I got,' Angelo said. But he was beginning to see where this was going. It was not going to be about computers at all. He began to feel better.
'But,' Gina said, 'for some reason getting this equipment is very important for her. I mean, to pound on the table!'
'I don't know,' Gina said. 'But that's why I said she should have it.'
'Because you don't know why she wants it?'
'And even if the new terminal's on your desk, we can still talk to people by the plants like we always do.'
Angelo looked across to the comfortable seating in front of the window which overlooked the street.
'And maybe new computers will save money in the long run, like she says,' Gina said.
Angelo shrugged, assuaged but not convinced.
At that moment they both heard the outside door open at the foot of the office stairs. Gina said, 'Fortune, maybe, knocking at our door?'
They both heard footsteps, climbing. The sounds were not loud. Angelo said, 'A woman. Seven and a half stone. Size four shoes. Left-handed. Recently returned from Copenhagen. What do you think?'
Although normally she would only have smiled, Gina laughed aloud.
Angelo located the pencil and notebook on the surface of his desk. Then he tried to visualize a computer sitting on it, a dominating, winking screen. He shook his head and rose to fill the kettle with water for tea.
The new client was indeed small and a woman. But Sherlock Lunghi had not predicted her prominent brown eyes or that she was in her mid-thirties or that her name was Eileen Shayler.
'Sugar?' Angelo asked.
'No, ta very much, Mr Lunghi,' she said.
Angelo carried three mugs of tea to the low table by the window with the plants. 'Biscuit?' he asked.
'No, ta very much,' Mrs Shayler said. 'Can we get down to business?'
'Of course.' Angelo sat next to Gina on the settee.
'It's my husband,' Mrs Shayler said. 'Jack.' She leaned forward to watch Gina add the name to the details she'd already recorded in her own notebook. 'He's in trouble. I'm sure of it.'
'What makes you think that?' Angelo asked.
'The washing-up liquid,' Mrs Shayler said.
'The washing-up liquid,' Angelo repeated. Gina wrote nothing.
'You see, this morning the bottle was by the sink where I left it.'
'Could you explain the significance of that for us?' Gina said.
'After I washed the dishes last night I left the bottle of washing-up liquid on the surface to the right of the sink. It's only a small surface, the one on the right. It's between the sink and the cooker.'
'I see,' Angelo said.
'What with the both of Jack and I being right-handed we always use the small surface whenever we make something to eat.' Mrs Shayler paused before adding with emphasis, 'Or something to drink.'
'Right,' Angelo said.
'I went to bed about ten,' Mrs Shayler said. 'That's my normal time, unless there's snooker on the television. If there's snooker then I may stay up until eleven or even later.'
'But last night you went to bed at ten,' Angelo said.
'Jack came to bed at ten forty-five.'
'Is that his usual time?' Gina asked.
'Yes,' Mrs Shayler said. 'He watches the news, you see, but me, I read. Of course when there's the snooker then I don't read, because with Jack already in bed it wouldn't be fair to him. Oh, Jack will take a look at one of his magazines when he's in bed, but only for a few minutes. It's not a proper read. It's not like a book. I read books.' Mrs Shayler leaned forward again. 'Have you got that? Am I going too fast?'
'It's fine,' Gina said.
'But the other thing about Jack,' Mrs Shayler said, 'is that before he comes to bed he always makes himself a hot drink, always.'
'So,' Angelo said, 'if you went to bed at ten last night, there was no snooker on television, right?'
'No, no snooker. Last night was a normal night. But ...' Mrs Shayler said, raising a finger, 'this morning there was something that was definitely not as per normal.'
'What was unusual about this morning?' Gina asked.
'Now, you have to understand,' Mrs Shayler said, 'in the morning I get up before Jack. He wakes up at the same time as me, but he has a few minutes' lie-in. He says it helps him to think through what he's got to do later in the day. So me, I get up first. And I make a pot of tea.'
'And this morning?' Angelo said.
'I went in to make the tea as per normal,' Mrs Shayler said. 'And what do I find, sitting there on the right-hand work surface, just where I left it last night? The bottle of washing-up liquid.' She leaned back in her chair and raised her mug of tea to her lips. But before she sipped, she nodded rhetorically, to underline the significance of her morning discovery.
Angelo and Gina took the opportunity to drink from their mugs too. Angelo even took a biscuit.
'That's a good cup of tea, Mr Lunghi,' Mrs Shayler said. 'Very nice, ta very much.'
'Thank you,' Angelo said.
'I think I will have a biscuit after all.'
'Please do,' Angelo said.
Mrs Shayler took a digestive.CHAPTER 2
That night, Tuesday, was one of three times in the week when a main meal was routinely prepared for the larger Lunghi household. Members of all three generations assembled for these occasions, which also took place Thursday evenings and Sunday lunchtimes. Among the diners this Tuesday was Salvatore, Angelo and Rosetta's older brother.
Salvatore was a painter and the only member of the family who did not live in one of the two connecting properties on Walcot Street. Salvatore was also the only one who did not live primarily on the income generated by the family detective agency. However, when he needed cash or the agency needed him, Salvatore too worked as a private detective.
The three big meals each week were occasions at which guests were welcomed. Salvatore's guests were always female though they rarely ate enfamille more than a few times. Salvatore met a lot of women, but none, to date, had proved durable. This night his guest was an American who asked to be called Muffin.
'Muffin?' the Old Man said. 'What kind of name is a "Muffin"?'
'Why, an American name,' Muffin said sweetly. Her charming smile did its work.
'Nice,' the Old Man said. 'I didn't say it wasn't nice.'
'Don't badger the poor woman, Papa,' Salvatore said.
'Badger?' the Old Man said. 'What am I? Furry with a stripe?' He turned to Mama. 'He calls me an animal, this son of yours.' Salvatore's early decision to heed an artistic rather than an investigative calling left a residue of edginess between father and eldest child.
Excerpted from Family Business by Michael Z. Lewin. Copyright © 1995 Michael Z. Lewin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.
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