Ever since Alberta Scaglione inherited her spinster aunt’s Cape Cod cottage, she’s been enjoying the good life in Tranquility, New Jersey, with her black cat, Lola. But since things are mostly quiet in this town, she finds other things to do—like joining Jinx for morning jogs in Tranquility Park. She has to do something to stay healthy, as long as it doesn’t involve Jinx’s healthful tofu sausages and gluten-free pasta. But when they stumble across a treehouse hidden in the trees, and a dead body underneath it, they take a detour into solving a murder. Now the Ferrara ladies will have to exercise extreme caution to avoid a permanent decline in their health . . .
Includes Italian recipes from Alberta’s kitchen!
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Dove c'è la vita, c'è la morte
There's no place like home.
Alberta repeated those words to herself several times, and while she knew they were true she couldn't believe all of this was hers and that this was her home. How could it be possible? The Cape Cod cottage was traditional, ordinary even with its gray shiplap walls, faded black shutters, and the front door painted a cheerful yellow. But it was the view from her kitchen window that never failed to take her breath away. And it should because it was magnificent.
Parting the yellow and white gingham curtains to get an unrestricted look at the immense body of water that was essentially her backyard, Alberta marveled at the crystal blue water of Memory Lake just as she did most mornings. Undisturbed, the lake looked like a sheet of ice, strong and solemn, its liquidity only apparent when a stray bird flew by and dipped its beak into the water in search of food or when ripples gurgled on the surface, the result of some unknown activity underneath.
The lake was almost entirely surrounded by an array of trees and bushes in various sizes and multiple shades of green although a few houses, almost identical to Alberta's, popped up here and there along the circumference. None were close enough to disrupt Alberta's solitude, and the houses on the opposite side of the lake were hardly visible due to the distance that separated them and the lush foliage that kept them tucked away from easy sight.
Alberta watched as the morning sun crept up slowly from the horizon to introduce bright yellows and oranges to the cloudless dark blue sky. The view was majestic and it was hers, and yet she still couldn't believe her good fortune. None of this makes any sense, she thought, this has got to be some crazy mistake.
"Alberta Marie Teresa Ferrara Scaglione," she muttered out loud. "What in the world are you doing here?"
It had been almost six months since she moved into the house on Memory Lake, and Alberta still felt like an intruder. It was as if she was living inside a dream, but not one of her own making, someone else's. Alberta was not someone prone to indulge in fanciful possibilities, of what could happen if all her fantasies came true or if she hit the lottery, so she never imagined she would own a quaint little cottage in a quaint little town overlooking a quaint, but not-so-little, lake. She had assumed she'd be spending her golden years living by herself in a modest-sized condo or among a bunch of other old ladies in a senior citizens building, and she had been fine with those scenarios. Life, however, had other plans for Alberta's future.
Thanks to the very generous inheritance she received from her late Aunt Carmela, instead of looking forward to Bingo games on Tuesday nights, Alberta looked forward to the view from her kitchen window every morning. A part of her kept thinking that she didn't belong here, and the other part kept reminding her that this was exactly where she was supposed to be.
Alberta bent down to scoop up her cat, Lola, whose black fur was the same color as her own hair, although the cat's fur was natural and the shade of Alberta's hair was the product of chemistry, and held her close to her chest so they could both enjoy the scenery.
"My life was supposed to be coming to an end," she whispered into Lola's ear. "It wasn't supposed to be starting over."
But that's exactly what had happened. At the ripe old age of sixty-four, Alberta was surprised to learn that her favorite aunt was a secret multimillionaire and Alberta, for some still unknown reason, her only heir. Just when she thought she was going to have to start watching her pennies and invent new ways to stretch her late husband Sammy's social security and pension checks, she was given a new lease on life thanks to the millions she received from Carmela, not to mention the keys to the cottage at 22 Memory Lake Road in the lakeside enclave of Tranquility, New Jersey.
Alberta had spent joyful summer vacations here with her family as a child, but she never thought she'd return as a homeowner to embark on a whole new chapter of her life. As a widow, she also assumed that she'd have to learn to live life by herself, but ever since she moved to Tranquility the reverse was true. She seemed to be surrounded by more family and friends than ever before.
Her sister, Helen, who recently left the convent where she had been a nun for forty-one years, was now living as a civilian nearby; her sister-in-law, Joyce, who retired from years of working on Wall Street, lived on the other side of the lake; her childhood friend, Vinny D'Angelo, was the chief of police; Lola, who liked to appear aloof and disinterested, was never far from her side; and then there was the mela dell'occhio, the apple of Alberta's eye, her granddaughter, Jinx.
After years of being separated, Alberta and Jinx — whose real name was Gina, but thanks to the comical and complicated circumstances surrounding her birth in an Atlantic City casino on Friday the 13th would forever be known by her nickname — had been reunited and their relationship was growing stronger every day. Even when there were a thousand miles between them while Jinx was growing up in Eufala, Florida, of all places, their love for each other never faded, but now that they lived a few minutes from each other, it was in full bloom like the fragrant hydrangeas and honeysuckle flowers that dotted Alberta's property. What was better, and perhaps even more unexpected, was that their respect and curiosity for each other had also blossomed.
At twenty-five, Jinx was at an age when most women wouldn't want to spend the time and energy to get to know an estranged grandparent. Maybe an occasional Sunday afternoon dinner or a mandatory holiday visit to alleviate feelings of guilt and to convince herself that she was being a dutiful granddaughter, but Jinx was different. She, like Alberta, understood the importance of family. The wonderful revelation, however, was that they were both finding out that family members could be linked together not only by blood, but by friendship, too.
Alberta and Jinx liked each other. Alberta admired Jinx's determination to have a career and her willingness to work hard to become the best journalist she could be. She marveled at her fearlessness and the fact that she faced the unknown armed with courage instead of walking down a safer, more familiar path.
Jinx was impressed with Alberta's emotional strength and her devotion to her family and those she loved. She respected the fact that her grandmother embraced the curves life had thrown her and hadn't allowed the past to defeat her, but only became more capable to overcome the next hurdle. And they both adored each other's spunk and senses of humor.
Despite the forty-year age gap and the countless differences in their upbringings, they had so many common interests and beliefs it was as if they had filled out personality questionnaires and a computer chose them to be best friends. On those certain occasions when they didn't see eye-to-eye on a particular topic, they almost always considered it an opportunity to learn something new. Except, of course, when it came to cooking. No matter how many times Jinx had tried to get Alberta to substitute tofu for sausage or incorporate vegan ingredients into her traditional Italian recipes, she'd failed. As Alberta once told her, "Jinx, I love you, but don't make me choose between you and lasagna."
Despite many obvious obstacles, Alberta and Jinx became friends, confidants, and recently with Helen and Joyce as willing sidekicks, partners in solving crime. Much to their joy and surprise as well as the slight embarrassment of Vinny and his police force, Alberta and Jinx, as the leaders and cofounders of the unofficial Ferrara Family Detective Agency, discovered who killed Lucy Agostino, Alberta's childhood nemesis. With that mystery resolved and peace restored to Tranquility, the women had found yet another unlikely, but equally dangerous way to bond — as jogging partners.
With her sixty-fifth birthday looming only a few weeks away, Alberta realized if time wasn't going to stand still she probably shouldn't either. But when Jinx suggested Alberta join her for her morning runs to lose some weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle, Alberta initially balked.
"There is no way that my fat ass is going to keep up with your skinny legs," Alberta claimed.
"And just how do you think I prevent my skinny legs from being attached to a fat ass?" Jinx replied.
"O dio mio! Because you're bellissima and young and you can eat whatever you want and not gain a pound," Alberta groused. "I'm an old lady who looks at a bowl of pasta and breaks the scale!"
"If you would eat my no-carb, gluten-free pasta, instead of the unhealthy stuff you insist on making ..." Jinx began.
"I'd rather run ten miles every day!" Alberta shouted without thinking.
"It's a deal!" Jinx shouted triumphantly.
After some tense negotiations, Alberta agreed to accompany Jinx three mornings a week and jog — not run — a mile and a half from her house, through Tranquility Park and back, as a way to reclaim her health and get back in shape. As an added incentive she had bought herself a new dress in a size smaller than she usually wore, hoping to squeeze into it in time to wear it for the holidays. Even though she now had enough money to waste on buying clothes she would never wear, her frugal nature refused to allow her to buy a dress she would never be able to fit into. Some habits would never change. Old ladies, however, could still learn new tricks.
Alberta noticed the white hairs above Lola's left eye wiggle, a sure sign Jinx was about to arrive. "My coach is right on time per usual," she announced.
Lola squirmed in Alberta's arms when she saw Jinx pass by the kitchen window at precisely six a.m. Punctuality was definitely a trait Jinx inherited from her grandmother.
"Morning, Gram," Jinx announced, entering the kitchen. "Ready to start the week off right?"
Her cheerful nature, however, was not something that had been passed on from grandmother to granddaughter. Alberta's personality fell somewhere in between pessimistic and cautiously optimistic. She wasn't dour or cranky, like her sister, Helen, could be, but she wasn't the cockeyed optimist Jinx was either. She was a realist and this led her to have a more grounded view of the world around her. Being around Jinx meant that her guarded skepticism was starting to soften, but a sense of world-weariness still clung to her, which prohibited her from enjoying events to the fullest. Still, she never failed to smile when Jinx burst into the room. And Lola never failed to leap from Alberta's arms to greet Jinx with a deep purr.
"You want to come running with us, Lola?" Jinx asked, while sitting on the kitchen floor and rubbing the cat's belly.
"Are you pazzo?" Alberta asked. "That one's lazier than me."
"You're far from lazy, Gram," Jinx protested. "In no time at all you'll be outpacing me and I'll be struggling to keep up with you."
"Mamma mia! You are pazzo if you believe that," Alberta said.
While Jinx continued to rub Lola's stomach and under her neck causing the cat to lie flat on her back and purr in sheer ecstasy, she spread her legs into an almost full-on Russian split position and with her free hand grabbed the tip of her left sneaker. Alberta rolled her eyes at her granddaughter's easy display of flexibility and began her own series of pre-jogging stretches.
Raising her arms over her head, Alberta twisted to the right a few times and then to the left, and felt the muscles in her sides and her shoulders reluctantly start to come alive. Clasping her hands in front of her chest, she continued to twist vigorously from side to side and was astonished, yet again, by the miracle that was the sports bra. It really did what the salesgirl had promised it would, her boobs didn't jiggle or bounce despite the quick movements, but stayed firmly in place. She was so glad she let Jinx talk her into buying it, and after a lifetime of wearing bras with painful underwire and straps that cut into her flesh, she couldn't believe how comfortable the thing was either. This new exercise regimen was worth it if only to introduce her to a whole new world of undergarments.
But Alberta forgot how impressed she was with herself when she saw Jinx bend her head forward to rub noses with Lola so her torso lay flat against the floor. It was an ungodly position that Alberta didn't think she was ever able to get into even when she was Jinx's age. She thought about it and couldn't recall anyone trying to contort their bodies into such a position when she was young. Alberta shook her head, a lot had changed since she was Jinx's age, from appropriate physical fitness to appropriate subject matter between a grandmother and granddaughter.
"So how was your date with Mr. McLelland last night?" Jinx asked. "Have you two made out yet?"
"Jinx!" Alberta gasped. "What kind of a question is that?"
"The kind I want an answer to."
"Fuhgettabout it!" Alberta replied, sounding like a New York cab driver. "I am not comfortable talking about such things with you."
Alberta wasn't entirely sure she was comfortable in her relationship with Sloan McLelland, a librarian at the Tranquility Public Library and the unofficial town historian, who had taken her to dinner several times. He was a true gentleman and she enjoyed his company, but it was odd dating a man after forty years of marriage. Even if those forty years of marriage weren't always blissful and idyllic. Alberta felt even less comfortable when she bent over and attempted to touch her toes, but enduring physical pain was better than enduring the conversation Jinx was trying to have. She let her head hang upside down and desperately tried to elongate her fingers so they could reach the edges of her sneakers, but only succeeded in grabbing hold of her shins. Meanwhile, Jinx continued her questioning in an even more inappropriate manner.
"Does that mean that the two of you have done it already?!"
In response to Jinx's question, Alberta raised her head so quickly she got dizzy and had to hold onto the kitchen counter to steady herself. Only when the room stopped spinning was she able to reply.
"That, Signorina Maldonado, is none of your business," Alberta said. "But, of course, the answer is absolutely not. What kind of woman do you take me for?"
"The normal kind."
Standing up, Jinx bent her leg at the knee and grabbed her ankle with her hand, pressing the heel of her foot into her buttock. Alberta tried to mimic the position, but could only manage to bend her leg until it was half a foot away from her own bum. Normally, Jinx would get behind Alberta and coax her into a full stretch, but this morning she was more interested in coaxing her grandmother into spilling the salacious details of her sex life.
Waving her finger at Jinx, Alberta declared, "A normal girl doesn't talk about such personal things, you remember that."
"I don't want all the details," Jinx started, then corrected herself. "That's a lie, actually I do, but I'll take what I can get.
I've been patient long enough, Gram, I want to know all about your boyfriend."
"Sloan McLelland isn't my boyfriend!"
"He is, too!"
"He's taken me out to a few dinners, that's all."
"That is so not all!" Jinx contradicted, "He was also your date for the Tranquility Waterfest Aqua Ball. How can you forget such a special event like that? Which, by the way, was your first date."
"So we've gone out to a few dinners ... and the Aqua Ball."
"Which was back in August and it's now October, which means Sloan McLelland is officially your boyfriend."
Alberta had been around Jinx's company long enough now to know that she wasn't going to win the conversation so while she didn't necessarily agree with her granddaughter that she had a boyfriend, she knew that it was futile to convince her otherwise.
"Fine, you win!" Alberta exclaimed. "Your grandmother's got a boyfriend."
"I knew it!"
Jinx squealed so loudly it made Lola run out of the kitchen. Alberta shook her head, but couldn't suppress a smile as she watched Jinx do a happy dance in the middle of her kitchen. Her display of unbridled joy was almost infectious, and if Alberta didn't need to conserve all her energy to run for over a mile, she might have joined in. But she knew that within a few minutes she was going to be huffing and puffing and silently cursing herself for ever agreeing to such a cockamamie scheme, and that if she didn't take control of the situation and get them both out of the house immediately, she was going to flop on the couch next to Lola and watch the morning news shows. Grabbing the bottle of water she wouldn't dare leave behind, Alberta knew it was time to start their workout.
"C'mon, let's defy every law of nature and trick this body of mine into thinking it can do something more stressful than walk," Alberta announced, leading them both out of the house.
"Try to keep up, Alberta," Jinx said as she began to jog in place. "Or should I say the future Mrs. McLelland."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder in Tranquility Park"
Copyright © 2019 Michael Griffo.
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.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Dove c'è la vita, c'è la morte.,
Chapter 2 - Guarda prima di saltare.,
Chapter 3 - Albero della morte.,
Chapter 4 - Ciò che sale deve scendere.,
Chapter 5 - I morti non rimangono in silenzio.,
Chapter 6 - Sorpresa!,
Chapter 7 - In vino veritas.,
Chapter 8 - Persone invisibile.,
Chapter 9 - Correre dietro alle farfalle.,
Chapter 10 – L'erba è sempre più verde.,
Chapter 11 - Dente avvelenato.,
Chapter 12 - Parlare fuori dai denti.,
Chapter 13 - Dove l'allievo è disposto, apparirà l'insegnante.,
Chapter 14 - Spazzatoio nuovo spazza ben la casa.,
Chapter 15 - Siamo ancora morti?,
Chapter 16 - Odi, veti et tace, se voi vivir in pace.,
Chapter 17 - Chi non ha figliuoli, non sa che cosa sia amore.,
Chapter 18 - Un'immagine vale più di mille parole.,
Chapter 19 - Le mani inattive sono il giocattolo del diavolo.,
Chapter 20 - Una rosa da qualsiasi altro nome.,
Chapter 21 - Il sangue non è acqua.,
Chapter 22 - Per nascondersi a vista.,
Chapter 23 - Bambina vestita come una donna.,
Chapter 24 - Dove c'è la morte, c'è la vita.,
Epilogue - La famiglia e tutto.,