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Love in Bloom's
By Judith Arnold
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt wasn't Ron Joffe's kind of story. But he was a professional, and Gotham Magazine paid him a generous salary - a significant portion of which he'd spent in Bloom's over the years. So what the hell. He'd poke around and see if he could stir something up. Maybe he'd buy a few snacks and include them in his expense account as research costs.
Bloom's - the ultimate delicatessen, a hallowed New York institution, a tourist mecca, practically a landmark - in trouble? Yeah, there could be a story here. A New York story, just the sort of scoop Gotham's readers would devour as greedily as they devoured their Bloom's bagels smeared with Bloom's cream cheese and crowned with Bloom's smoked salmon.
Standing outside the store, which occupied half an Upper Broadway block, he shielded his eyes against the glare of April sunshine and scrutinized the clutter in the showcase windows: an abundance, a glut, a veritable cornucopia of kosher-style cuisine. Bloom's marketed not just food but memories, nostalgia, the myth of Eastern European Jewish immigrants back in the olden days, preparing similar food for their loved ones.
Of course, most of those immigrants couldn't have afforded the kind of food sold at Bloom's. But the people shopping in Bloom's today believed they were buying what their grandmothers might have served their families fresh off the boat. And those people shopped and shopped and shopped. In the five minutes he'd been staring at the window, at least a dozen people had gone into the store, well-dressed, well-heeled Manhattanites with money to burn.
Three more customers entered in the time it took him to turn his back on the window and saunter down the sidewalk and around the corner to the entry of the Bloom Building, a large apartment tower built above the store. On its third floor were Bloom's business offices.
His appointment was with Deirdre Morrissey, but he hoped to talk to some of the third-floor offices' other occupants: Jay Bloom, Myron Finkel, and of course Julia Bloom, who was allegedly responsible for the store's current state, whatever that might be. The person he'd really like to talk to was Ida Bloom, the Queen Mother of the company. Rumor had it that Ida Bloom was terrifying.
Ron loved scary people, especially scary women. They got his blood pumping and his brain firing. His own grandmother used to petrify him. She'd been short - under five feet tall - and she'd had a voice like a crow's, dark and nasal, and fingers like claws." Ronnie, get over here this minute!" she'd caw, and he'd want to crawl under her bed in her stuffy, tiny apartment in the Bronx. But he'd always come when she called him, and listen as she screeched about his transgressions: "You left these dirt smudges all over my clean towels. What's a matter with you? Are you an idiot? You're supposed to wash your hands thoroughly. You know what that means, Ronnie? Thoroughly. Now I'm going to have to do another load of laundry."
For years, the word thoroughly had caused a chill to ripple down his spine. He was older now, though. He could handle the word thoroughly - and he could handle terrifying women. He was ready for Ida Bloom.
He didn't think he'd get a crack at her. His research informed him she'd recently kissed her eighty-eighth birthday goodbye. If her relatives were smart, they probably kept her as far from the business as possible.
He entered the building, pressed the button for the elevator and got in. For some reason, he had hoped it would smell the way Bloom's smelled: crusty, oniony, like some fantasy grand-mother's kitchen. It smelled of lemon air freshener. He tried not to wrinkle his nose.
Out at the third floor. He found himself in a wide hallway with a few chairs and couches, lamps, Marc Chagall prints in cheap frames on the walls - a reception area, except it was a little too long and narrow. He patted his jacket to make sure his notepad and pen were tucked into the inner pocket, patted another pocket to make sure he had his tape recorder, then strode down the hall in search of Deirdre Morrissey's office. According to his research, Deirdre had been Ben Bloom's assistant when he was alive and running the place. Assistants like her often knew more than anyone else about what was going on.
He located her office door and rapped on it. The door swung inward, and he found himself standing eye-to-eye with a red-haired amazon. She was nearly six feet tall and had a bony face, her freckled skin stretched taut over acute cheekbones. Her teeth reminded him of Bugs Bunny's.
"Hi, I'm Ron Joffe from Gotham Magazine," he introduced himself, producing a business card and handing it to her.
"Oh ..." She glanced at her watch. He glanced at his. He was three minutes early. "Let me just run some papers next door, and then we'll talk," she promised him.
He stepped out of her way, and she left her office. He realized she wasn't quite an amazon after all; her feet were crammed into shoes with three-inch heels. She seemed too old to be wearing such uncomfortable-looking shoes. Not that she was old - he'd place her in her mid-forties at most. But women that age, at least the sensible, competent ones, tended to be smart enough to recognize the relationship between pain-free shoes and a mellow temperament.
He watched her half swagger, half stagger toward the door at the end of the hallway. She opened it and said, "Julia, you're going to need these forms."
Peeking past Deirdre, Ron caught a glimpse of a woman seated at a large desk in the center of the office. A pale complexion, straight black hair that fell an inch or two past her shoulders, coral-tinged lips and large, dark eyes. Soulful eyes. Eyes glinting with resentment and impatience and maybe a bit of fear. Eyes that could wreak havoc with a man's psyche - to say nothing of his libido.
Ron Joffe prided himself on being intelligent, deliberative, not the sort of guy who got sidetracked by a pair of beautiful eyes. But suddenly he found he didn't want to talk to Deirdre Morrissey.
He didn't want to talk to anyone but Julia Bloom.
For the chance to eat brunch at Grandma Ida's home, Julia would put up with just about anything - including Grandma Ida.
She stepped out of the elevator on the top floor of the Bloom Building. The family owned the Upper West Side building and earned a tidy fortune off the rentals, but Grandma Ida had a schizophrenic way of dealing with her success. She loved money, loved power, loved being whatever the Jewish female equivalent of capo di tutti capi was, but when asked she would say, with tremulous humility, that she simply "lived above the store. "Which she did - twenty-five stories above the store. Julia's mother and Aunt Martha both resided in the Bloom Building, too, but on the twenty-fourth floor. Julia's mother considered it proof of her independence that she wasn't on the same floor as Grandma Ida, but Grandma Ida seldom passed up the opportunity to remind her: "Don't forget, Sondra - you're living under my roof."
Excerpted from Love in Bloom's by Judith Arnold Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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