Eleanor knows Gregg would never have lethally bashed his own brother in the head with a pizza-rolling pin. Sure, Wade was greedily claiming far more than his fair share of their family inheritance. And Gregg did catch his ex-girlfriend Katy smooching on the couch with Wade. It's no wonder that Timber Ridge's police chief--and Eleanor's ex-sweetheart--has his sights set on finding and arresting poor Gregg.
But as Eleanor and her saucy sister Maddy dig a little deeper into the mystery, they find Wade's enemies begin to outnumber the slices on a large pie. This is one mystery that's made to order, and if Eleanor and Maddy don't find out who killed Wade, Gregg's delivery days are over. But while finding the killer is one thing, escaping alive to dish the goods to the police is quite another.
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PEPPERONI PIZZA CAN BE MURDER
By Chris Cavender
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Chris Cavender
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy name is Eleanor Swift, and for once, nobody was trying to pin a murder on me, even though it happened in my pizzeria, A Slice of Delight. A dead body in the kitchen-with a large thin-crust pepperoni pizza and a bloody rolling pin on either side of it-could have easily put me in the crosshairs of the police investigation.
But I wasn't completely off the hook, even though I had a perfect alibi.
My delivery man was being accused of the homicide, so I could hardly stay out of it, could I?
At least that's what I kept trying to tell Kevin Hurley, the chief of police for Timber Ridge, North Carolina. And he might have believed me-or even listened to my argument-if I hadn't dumped him back in high school nearly twenty years ago. It was a long time for someone to hold a grudge, but he clutched it like a starving man grabbed for the last donut in the box.
Two days before the murder, my sister, Maddy, came into the pizzeria fifteen minutes late from her allotted hour afternoon break. It was a little after three, and things were generally slow then, but I wasn't about to start any precedents with my one fulltime employee, even if she was my only family left. Maddy had been divorced several times, but that never stopped her from looking for her next future ex-husband. When my husband, Joe, had died, she'd come to work for me after her last divorce. I should say latest divorce, because with Maddy, it was hard to say what might happen down the road.
"You're late," I said as I handed her my order pad.
"Sorry," she answered, smiling brightly at me as her body language clearly denied the sincerity of her apology. My sister and I were studies in contrast, and not just because of her record number of weddings and my widowhood after being married to the same man for more than ten years. Maddy was tall and thin, and her hair had been blond so long, I doubted her roots even remembered what color they should be. I was shorter and quite a bit curvier, while my hair was the original chestnut brown it had always been.
"Why don't I believe you?" I asked as I started back to the kitchen. Sometimes I worked the front, but the back was where I was most comfortable, the place that I belonged.
"I just ran into David Quinton," she said with a wicked smile.
That merited a bump on my adrenaline scale, though I wasn't about to admit it to anyone else, not even Maddy. David had been pursuing me for some time, and I'd finally decided to let him catch me. Well, sort of. We had a standing dinner date once a week for the past several months, alternating restaurants and who picked up the tab. It was nearly May, and I couldn't believe the weekly meal had so quickly become a habit for me, something I looked forward to when times were slow at the pizzeria.
"I saw that smile," Maddy added. "Don't bother denying it." When I shook my head, she added in a more serious tone, "Eleanor, you're not being disloyal to Joe if you admit that you like spending time with David."
"Please. I get that same line from him every week, don't you start on me." I bit my lip, and then against my better judgment, I asked, "What did he have to say?"
"He wanted to know how I was doing," Maddy said with that smug expression of hers.
"That's it?" Maybe my part-time beau was getting tired of our chaste dinners and had decided to go after my sister, instead.
She grinned. "No, he asked about you, too. Why don't you call him?"
I shook my head. "We're having dinner in three days. I can wait that long to get together, if he can."
Maddy shook her head. "You're more stubborn than I am, and there aren't many people I can say that about."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"You can take it however you'd like, but we both know that's not what I meant." We were back by the soda fountain, and for the first time, Maddy looked around the dining room. It was nearly deserted, but I knew what-or, more appropriately, who-was missing.
She frowned. "Where's Greg? He didn't take off on you, did he?"
Greg Hatcher was my main deliveryman, and since we'd just recently started taking telephone orders again after a really unpleasant time, I needed him at the pizzeria more than ever. Maddy knew how much pressure his absences placed on me, and while my sister might take more than her fair number of shots at me, she was always the first one to defend me if she thought I needed it.
"Don't worry so much. I let him go."
"You fired him? Eleanor, we need someone to deliver the pizza, and he needs the paycheck so he can stay in college. How could you do that?"
"Take it easy. I didn't get rid of him. He had an errand to run."
Maddy wasn't mollified. "That's not like Greg to leave you here by yourself. What was so important that it couldn't wait until I got back?" She shook her head, and then added, "He didn't duck out on you to see Katy Johnson, did he?"
Katy went to college nearby with Greg, and they'd been dating off and on since he'd first come to work for me two years ago.
"No. As a matter of fact, they broke up."
"Again? If they're so unhappy with each other, why do they keep getting back together?"
I looked at her and fought the laughter I was feeling. "You're giving relationship advice? Seriously?"
"Hey, several of my ex-husbands would gladly write me references," she said. "Just because we split up doesn't mean we aren't all still friends. Well, mostly," she added uncertainly, no doubt ticking names off her internal matrimonial roster and putting them in columns likely labeled FOR and AGAINST.
"Fine, you're the relationship guru," I said, "but Greg didn't run off on me. I gave him my blessing to take off. He had a meeting with Bob Lemon."
Bob was a local attorney who, despite appearing to be quite sane in most respects, was lobbying to be Maddy's next ex-husband. To his chagrin, he was failing at it miserably, too.
"What's Bob got to do with him? Greg's not being sued, is he?"
"No," I said as I donned my kitchen apron. We'd slowly migrated to the back where my pizza oven and supplies were kept, but Maddy kept the door that separated the two spaces open with the edge of her left shoe. "It's about his inheritance."
"It's finally happening? I thought Wade was still holding everything up. Don't tell me he finally broke down and signed the blasted agreement."
"Not yet, but Bob and Greg have high hopes." Greg's older brother, Wade, was keeping their grandparents' estate open long past any semblance of sanity. Greg had told us his brother's request was simple, and nonnegotiable. He wanted three-quarters of everything, despite how the will read, what their own parents said, or what the letter from their grandparents themselves outlined. Greg's grandparents had died the year before when a gas leak and subsequent explosion in their home had taken them both. They'd ignored their grown children in their joint wills, instead leaving an estate approaching two hundred thousand dollars to their two grandchildren, to be divided equally between them.
Apparently, it was the last part that Wade had trouble with.
"I honestly didn't think he'd ever budge," Maddy said. "I've heard of people who never back down."
"It happens." When our parents had died, there had been just enough money to pay their bills, a perfect arrangement in my mind. They'd enjoyed themselves up to the very end, and while I'd hated to see them go, they'd left this world as close to breaking even as I would have thought possible. In a way, they left us the greatest gift of all, precious memories instead of stocks and bonds. I wouldn't have traded a million dollars for the memories I had of them, and I knew my sister wouldn't, either.
"Trust me, I'm not naïve enough to think it doesn't," she said, "but more than that, it's not uncommon for the eldest son to expect more than his siblings. Some folks believe it's the right way to handle things. They're like royalty. Once there's a successor to the throne, the rest of the boys are just spares. It's got to be tough on Greg dealing with that, on top of losing his grandparents."
"He's handling it better than either one of us would," I said.
To her credit, my sister didn't protest the assertion.
She stood there a second, and then asked, "I wonder what made Wade change his mind?"
I smiled. "Greg thinks he knows. His brother's been counting on getting his hands on some of that money, and from the sound of it, he's taken out some loans that weren't issued by any bank, if you know what I mean. Evidently the collecting agents are getting antsy and applying a whole new kind of pressure to Wade."
"How stupid is he?" Maddy asked. "That's just begging for trouble."
"Hey, it's probably the only thing that's motivating him to come to the bargaining table. Apparently, Wade doesn't make that much working as a bookkeeper for Roger Henderson. Bob's brokering the deal, so we should know something when Greg comes back." I gave my sister a stern look as I added, "Don't interrogate him about it, though. It's his life, and if he wants to tell us, he will. Otherwise, it's none of our business."
Maddy just laughed. "You don't think there's a chance on earth I'm going to agree to that, do you?"
"No, but I can hope, can't I?"
"Whatever gets you through the afternoon," Maddy said.
Greg walked into the pizzeria kitchen two minutes later, a thunderstorm dancing in his eyes.
"Do I even need to ask how it went?" I asked as I handed him his apron.
"What do you think? It's the same old Wade. No matter how much my parents protest the fact that their darling little Wade has finally changed, they just don't realize that the only way he's changed is that he's gotten better at lying to them." As Greg threw his apron on over his head, he added, "He's not fooling me, though."
"Does he honestly want more than half?" Maddy asked.
I would have chided her about the intrusion, but I kept my mouth shut. I wanted to know the answer to that one myself.
"Oh, yes," Greg said. "Only he's not going to get it. I could use the money, but I'm not as desperate as he is. I stormed out of the meeting. You should have heard the garbage I had to listen to from him. I told him I'd rather see the money go to the lawyers than give in to him. He might not have believed me before, but I've got a hunch he finally got the message. You know what? I meant every word of it. If he's going to be this stubborn about it, I'll finish school, pay off my loans when I can, and just let him hang in the wind. We've got three more years before the courts intervene."
"He could sue you, couldn't he?"
"Bob says that Wade would have to agree to a contingency fee if he did that, so at least my brother knows that he'll make even less if he takes me to court. He might be a greedy jerk, but he's generally not that stupid." Greg looked at us both for a moment, then said, "I don't get it."
"Get what?" I asked.
"How do you two get along so well? You're two sisters who work together. If I'm in the same room with my brother for more than three minutes, a fight breaks out."
"We fight," Maddy said.
"Trust me, we do," I added.
"But you genuinely care for each other," Greg said, shaking his head sadly. "I wish I had that, more than I could ever tell you." After a moment of silence, he said softly, "I had a sister. Did I ever tell you that?"
I'd known Greg and his family practically all of his life, but I hadn't known that. "What happened to her?"
"She died three days after she was born," Greg said. "She would have been the oldest, and Wade would have been put in his place. My parents were so happy when my brother survived, they gave him a double dose of love, and I got stuck with the scraps."
Greg wasn't being the least bit melodramatic. Though Wade had been in and out of trouble all of his life, Greg had been the faithful, true, obedient son, for all the good it did him in his parents' eyes. Wade was the favorite, Greg was the spare. No wonder Wade felt so entitled, considering the way he'd been raised. It didn't make it right, but it did make sense, in his skewed family dynamic.
I couldn't take the weight of Greg's sadness. "You know, Maddy and I think of you as family," I said.
My sister didn't say a word. She just reached out and patted his shoulder.
Greg nodded briefly, then wiped at his eyes with the back of his arm. "These allergies are killing me. I'd better get to work."
Greg hurried out into the dining room, but Maddy stayed behind. "That boy got a rotten deal in life, didn't he?"
I nodded. "He hasn't let it spoil him, though. He's tough."
"He's not that tough," Maddy said.
"Then he's coping. Greg's a survivor. He'll deal with his brother, and if he needs us, all we can do is be here for him."
"We can, and we will," Maddy said. She peeked out the door, and then added, "We've got some customers, so I'd better get out there and give him a hand."
"Maddy, don't say anything else to him about what happened at Bob's office this afternoon, okay?"
"I wouldn't dream of it," she said. She started to leave, hesitated, then turned around and wrapped me in her arms. "I love you, Sis."
"I love you, too," I said, startled by her declaration. Maddy wasn't the kind of woman ordinarily to show affection, unless it was toward her latest marriage target.
After she was gone, I got out the broom and started to make another circuit of the kitchen floor before I began cooking. The place could never be too clean for me, and the health inspector had given us a string of nearly perfect scores since we'd opened the pizzeria.
Maddy came rushing into the back as I was finishing up, and she startled me so much that I dropped my broom.
I hoped and prayed nothing had gone wrong. "What is it? Did something happen?"
She leaned down to pick up my broom, then handed it to me as she said, "Relax, Eleanor. A big group just came in, and I wanted to give you a heads-up so you could get started on crusts."
"How many people are we talking about?" I asked.
Maddy smiled. "I was going to call you after you got things started, but I can't wait that long. Look out the door."
I wasn't sure what to expect, and I thought I was ready for just about anything, but I was still surprised to find twenty-five Elvis Presley impersonators milling about the restaurant when I peeked out through the door. The Elvis imitators were white, black, Asian, Hispanic, men, women, and one kid who couldn't even be in his teens yet. "What on earth is going on?"
"They're headed to Graceland in Memphis," Maddy said.
"And they're driving through Timber Ridge?" I asked as I openly stared at them.
"They started in D.C. and they're headed down to I-40 West," she explained. "It's a pilgrimage. Can you believe it?"
"On days like today, I can believe just about anything."
Greg joined us, and I could see him smiling despite his earlier bad mood. "This is so cool." He looked at his order pad, and then asked me, "Can you make fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches?"
"I could, but I'm not going to," I said. "They can order off the menu like everyone else."
"That's what I told them. They said they'd settle for five large specials if you wouldn't do these."
"That I can do," I said as I headed back to the kitchen. As I knuckled my freshly made dough into pans, I started an assembly line putting the pizzas together. I'd have to chop and slice more toppings before the dinner crowd showed up, but I didn't mind. Maybe tonight we'd make up for some of the slow days we had at the Slice every now and then. There was nothing like a stuffed cash register to make me smile. Money wasn't the source of happiness for me, nor was it the root of all evil. It was simply a way to keep A Slice of Delight up and running. Honestly, without the pizzeria, I didn't know what I'd do with myself.
As the pizzas went onto the conveyor heading into the oven, I kept loading the line until each one was waiting its turn. As they cooked, I started restocking our toppings bins for our evening shift.
When Maddy rejoined me, she spotted the first pizza coming out of the oven and grabbed a pair of tongs. "Mind if I give you a hand? The natives are getting restless."
"Be my guest," I said. "Did you leave Greg out there all alone?"
"Are you kidding me? He's having the time of his life. Who knew he was such an Elvis fan?"
"It appears there's a great deal we don't know about him," I said.
Maddy transferred the first pizza to a serving platter and cut it into eight slices. "Keep them coming," she called out to me as she disappeared back into the dining room.
I stopped chopping peppers and took her place at the far end of the conveyor. By the time I delivered the pizzas, I had three new orders for dessert pizzas from the traveling impersonators, so I started on those so they'd be ready in time. It was a different kind of pizza altogether, featuring cookie dough crust with melted chocolate on top and drizzled with icing to finish it off. I also made an apple cinnamon dessert pizza some days, but I was fresh out of ingredients for that one.
Excerpted from PEPPERONI PIZZA CAN BE MURDER by Chris Cavender Copyright © 2010 by Chris Cavender. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoy this authors writing style but I am utterly shocked at the inconsitencies in the story, the constant repeatition adding little to no value to the story. I get mentioning characteristics about a character or have a little flashback memory to explain the past with a person a few times to build the connection with the audience... but this book is over the top repeatative on several things that really arent too difficult for a reader to grasp. Joe died. Joe restored the house. Maddy is thin. Maddy has been married many times. Eleanor does not like to be called Ellie. Kevin hurt Ellie in highschool. ...... I am 2/3's into the book, and I think one or more of the facts is on every page. The reason I stopped reading to write this review is because on around page 140, they totally used the wrong first name for a character. Not a misspelling, a 100% wrong name. Used it twice and three paragraphs down... went back to the correct name. How could an editor not catch this?? Really??? I feel like these books are sub-standard. Again, I do like this author, and enjoy the cozy mystery genre. I just feel that this series was rushed, not allowing for true developmemt of the story to occur. Using the wrong name for a character is so elementary... very dissapointed.
The first book in the series was pretty good but I thought it could have been a little bit better so thought I would give the second book in the series a try. I was disappointed. Not to give too much away about the story line, but they focus on an armed robbery and lack of a safe. A night deposit is stuck on the pizza conveyor for safe keeping over night. Well they are unable to have use of the pizzeria for a while and when they do open again, they continue with business as usual. No mention of the night deposit again. I kept waiting to hear that it was somehow tied to the murder and that the murderer had found it on the conveyor and stole that money. But that was not to be. For such an important factor in the storyline, it just dropped into nothing. Also, whoever proofed the story let things slide in some of the storyline. For instance, they refer to a character that the main character has been steadfastly defending and in a sentence state that they know he is guilty. I believe that was supposed to have said "not" guilty. These things may not bother some readers but lack of details such as these bother me.
***** Quick read, hard to put down
While I like the interaction between Eleanor and her sister Maddy, and I liked the story line, I didn't like the fact that Eleanor is so rude to David when he only called to find out how she was after an incident. This just gave me a bitter taste for her in the rest of the book.
I really enjoyed this book. I love the characters.
I loved the book very much. This is the kind of books i read. It keeps me in suspense and i cant wait to find out who the killer is. I would recommend this book highly. I will read more books from this author. Cant wait for his next book to read.
The pizza mystery series is great so far! I've read the first two books and they're non-stop action! Looking forward to reading the next few books in the series!
I enjoyed it and the other books in the series