Very Veggie Murder: Book 3 in Papa Pacelli's Pizzeria Series, page 1
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VERY VEGGIE MURDER
Copyright 2016 Summer Prescott Books
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Book Three in Papa Pacelli’s Pizzeria Series
“Hold on, Bunny. I want to zip up,” Eleanora Pacelli said to her little papillon. The dog paused at the end of the leash and looked back at her, puzzled as to why the exhilarating hunt for leaves had paused.
Ellie slipped the loop at the end of the leash around her wrist and fiddled with the zipper on her jacket, taking a couple of tries to get it all the way up without snagging. Once it was zipped, she felt warmer immediately. The steady breeze coming from the ocean was becoming icy, a sure sign that the weather was changing—as if the colorful leaves on the trees weren’t enough of a hint. In just a few short weeks, Kittiport, Maine, would see its first snowfall of the season. She wasn’t looking forward to it. The hot, sunny days of late summer already seemed like a distant memory.
She began walking again, the little black-and-white dog ranging out ahead of her as far as the leash would allow. Leaves blew across the road in front of them, and Bunny growled playfully at those who dared come too close. Ellie smiled, enjoying the sight of her beloved friend enjoying herself so much. The dog always brightened up her day, just by being her happy, exuberant, furry self.
After a few more minutes, Ellie decided it was time to head back. It was getting close to the time that she would have to head into work, and she wanted to make sure that she would be able to take Marlowe out of her cage first. The macaw was not happy with her at the moment. Her cage, which had been moved next to the stairs in the foyer after Ellie’s grandfather passed away, was back in the study for now, and the bird was definitely not a fan of being cut off from all of the activity.
I wish I could just explain it to her, Ellie thought, idly kicking at a stone on the pavement as she followed the bouncing dog back toward her grandmother’s house. She doesn’t understand that Uncle Toby, Aunt Kathy, and Darlene are only going to be here for another week and a half, then things will go back to normal. When her family members had first arrived, the bird had greeted them by screaming loudly, unhappy with the intruders in her home. When she had continued the earsplitting squawks whenever one of the guests walked through the front door, Ellie had made the decision to move her, figuring it would be better for everyone involved. Marlowe had been giving her the stinkeye ever since.
“At least you like them,” she said to her dog. The papillon was simply thrilled with the houseguests. With Ellie’s aunt, uncle, and cousin around, the pooch never ran out of people to feed her treats.
A strong gust of wind made her shiver and pull her hood up. Something cracked in the woods, making her jump. A man had been killed in those woods, part of a state park, just a few weeks ago, and even though the killer had been caught, Ellie still regarded the dark spaces between the trees with suspicion. It would be a while, she knew, before the memories from the previous weeks faded. At least the full house didn’t afford her much time to dwell on the past.
It took her longer than normal to get all of her stuff together and leave the house that afternoon. The second guest bedroom upstairs had been taken over by Darlene, Ellie’s cousin, who seemed to have taken to heart Ellie’s pro forma invitation to make herself at home. She had unpacked everything she had brought, and was terrible at putting things back in their place when she was done using them. The bathroom was a disaster, but even worse, their laundry had somehow managed to get mixed together. By the time Ellie found the shirt that she was looking for on her cousin’s bed, she was late to work and could only be grateful that her relatives had gone out on the Eleanora for the day; otherwise, who knew how long it would have taken her to get out of the house?
“It’s not that I don’t enjoy visiting with them,” Ellie said to a bored-looking Clara a few hours later. “We’re having a big family dinner tomorrow night, and I’m looking forward to it.” The young woman was leaning against the counter propped on one elbow, flipping half-heartedly through an old magazine with her other hand. It was a slow day at the pizzeria, and both women had already finished all of the chores that they normally had to do. With Jacob out on a delivery, the two women were alone in the empty restaurant.
“It’s just that Nonna and I have a certain way we do things. We both enjoy the peace and quiet, and we clean up after ourselves as we go. Darlene and her parents talk so loudly all the time, even when other people in the house are still sleeping. And they leave the dishes in the sink and only clean them in the evening. It drives me crazy. I like having a clean sink, but I don’t want to spend all of my time doing their dishes.”
“Uh-huh,” her employee said, slowly flipping another page.
“I mean, they’re nice enough people,” Ellie continued. “I actually really enjoy spending time with Darlene, and hope we stay in touch after this. We seem to have a lot in common. She’s about my age and married, but still very independent.”
“How are they related to you, again?” the young woman asked, her eyes still on the magazine.
“Kathy is my aunt. My father’s sister,” she explained.
“Ah.” Clara turned another page. “Cool.
Ellie’s lips twitched. “Sorry. I know I’m probably boring you.”
“Nah, it’s fine. I know what it’s like to have family drive you crazy. I had to live with mine for eighteen years, and I’ve got four brothers. At least you’ve only got another, what, two weeks?”
“Ten days,” the older woman said. “And I am glad I’m getting to spend some time with them, despite my complaints. I suppose I’m just not used to living with people. It’s one thing to live with Nonna, but three other people? It’s tough.”
Maybe it’s a good thing I ended up not getting married. Kenneth would probably have driven me insane, she thought, suddenly depressed. Am I fated to spend my life as a spinster?
By the time the sun set the next night, Ann Pacelli’s house was full of people and the promising smell of dinner. Ellie cracked open the oven and eyed the two pizzas inside, which she and Darlene had spent the last forty minutes making.
“Not long now,” she said. “How’s the salad coming, Aunt Kathy?”
“Just about ready. Do you want me to mix the croutons in, or leave them on the side?”
“They might get soggy if they’re mixed in. I’d leave them out,” Ellie suggested. “Thanks for showing me how to make croutons at home, by the way. I never knew how easy it was. I doubt I’ll ever buy them from the store again.”
“For someone who runs a restaurant, you don’t seem to have a lot of experience in the kitchen.” Her aunt blushed and quickly added, “No offense. Ma told me your pizzas are to die for, and that’s what counts when you’re running a pizzeria, right?”
Ellie just laughed. “Honestly, I hardly cooked at all before I moved back here. I was always too busy. I’m really just getting the hang of pizzas—if they’re good, the credit should go to Papa. I just follow his recipes.”
“Yeah, Dad always had a way in the kitchen,” Kathy said, smiling. “I think Ma was a bit jealous. They were pretty traditional while we were growing up, and she thought that she should be the one cooking our meals. She’s a good cook, don’t get me wrong, but Dad really was something special. He had a passion for it.”
I wish I had gotten a chance to get to know him better, Ellie thought as she grabbed a pair of oven mitts. He sounds like a wonderful man, but I hardly have any memories of him. He was always so busy back when I lived here during high school, and besides, that was decades ago. Maybe I’ll be able to get Nonna to tell me more about him later. If I’m taking over his restaurant, I really should know something about the man other than that he loved to cook and he owned a boat. I also need to remember to ask her for a picture of him that I can blow up and put on the wall. She’s mentioned it before, and I really need to remind her.
Resolved, she pulled the pizzas out of the oven and placed the pans on a pair of cooling racks on the counter. As if by magic, Darlene appeared at the kitchen doorway.
“Are they done?” her cousin asked.
“Sure are. I think they turned out wonderfully.” She stepped back from the pizza pans. “Take a look.”
“Ooh, delicious. Thanks for letting me help, Ellie. It’s been a long time since I’ve made homemade pizza.”
“Of course. It was fun to do it together.” She smiled at her cousin. They hadn’t seen each other in years, but it was easy to recognize the teenage girl she had known in the grown woman in front of her. There was the same spark of mischief in her eyes.
The doorbell rang, and Darlene’s head whipped around. “That must be Danny. I’ll go get it,” she said over her shoulder as she hurried out of the kitchen. “You go ahead and put the pizzas on the table. I’ll tell Dad and Nonna that dinner’s ready.”
Ellie smiled to herself as she picked up the familiar curved blade and began cutting the pizzas with confident rocking motions. Danny was an old friend of Darlene’s, and her cousin had been beside herself with excitement when she managed to get into contact with him and invite him to dinner with the family. The pizzeria manager was eager to meet this man that she had heard so much about. Darlene had practically talked her ear off while they were making the pizzas, regaling her with stories about summer camp and lazy summers spent fishing with the cute neighbor boy. If Danny turned out to be half as interesting as her cousin said he was, Ellie would be impressed.
“I just wanted to thank everyone for welcoming me,” Danny said once they were all seated. “It was wonderful to get that call from Darlene. It’s been a few years, hasn’t it?”
“It has,” Aunt Kathy said. “But you’re always welcome at our table.”
“Thanks,” he replied with a smile. “That means a lot.”
“I’m glad you could come,” Darlene said. “I want to hear all about your new store, but first, let’s dig in. These pizzas look too good to wait.”
At that the family began helping themselves to slices of pizza and salad. Ellie took one slice from each of the pizzas, and helped herself to a serving of greens and homemade croutons, her gaze flicking back to the man sitting across from her all the while. He was handsome and well-groomed, with straw-colored hair and just the hint of some stubble on his cheeks. He seemed quick to laugh, and so far, had been nothing but courteous to her and her family. He seemed to know Aunt Kathy and Uncle Toby quite well, and she couldn’t help but wonder how. Had she ever met him during her childhood? If so, it had been so long ago that all memory of their meeting was gone.
“Nice pizzas, you two,” Uncle Toby said. “The vegetarian one is your doing, Darlene? It’s not half bad.”
“They’re both delicious,” Nonna agreed, dabbing at her mouth with her napkin. “Ellie, you’ve really got some of your grandfather’s skill when it comes to making pizza.”
“Thanks, Nonna,” she told her grandmother with a smile. “I do my best.”
“Though,” the elderly woman added with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, “he usually made proper pizzas at home for dinner. None of this thick-crust stuff.”
Ellie rolled her eyes. Her lips twitched up in a smile; their different tastes in crust thickness had become a running joke between the two of them. The pizzeria manager was of the firm opinion that thicker crust was better, with the best, of course, being Chicago deep dish from the Windy City itself. Nonna, on the other hand, shared the misguided taste of the majority of New Englanders and preferred thin-crust pizzas.
“Variety is the spice of life,” she told her grandmother. “Darlene’s vegetarian pizza is thin crust, so you can just eat that.”
“A woman shouldn’t have to choose between having meat on her pizza and having a proper crust,” Nonna grumbled good-naturedly. “What do you think, Danny? Which pizza do you like better?”
“Oh, both are great. I’m not a picky guy,” he said, chuckling. “I’m just happy to have good food and good company.”
“Ellie runs Papa Pacelli’s now,” Darlene told him. “You should stop in the next time you’re in town. She’s done a lot with the place.”
“Oh, really?” He turned his gaze to Ellie, impressed. “I didn’t know that. I’ll be sure to check it out. How long have you been there?”
“Not very long. About two months, maybe,” she told him. “Have you ever been there?”
“Oh, a couple of times,” he said. “I live in Benton Harbor, and don’t have the time to come up to Kittiport much anymore.”
Benton Harbor was the next town down the coast, about a half-hour’s drive from the center of Kittiport. Ellie was sure that she had been there at some point in her childhood—it was on the way to Portland, after all—but she couldn’t remember much about the town.
“What do you do there?” she asked. “Darlene said something about you having a new store?”
“Danny opened a shoe store there earlier this year,” her cousin said. “He sent me an invitation to his grand opening, but I couldn’t make it. I’ve been dying to hear all about it though.”
Both woman looked expectantly toward Danny, who laughed. “It really isn’t that interes
Ellie raised her eyebrows. Coming from Chicago, she was used to having any sort of store she wanted just minutes away. How could there not be a single shoe store in a whole town?
“Everyone just went down to Portland or came to Kittiport for shoes,” he said. “And of course there are a few stores in town that sell work boots, secondhand shoes, and winter boots, but none of them have very big selections. I decided to open a dedicated shoe store.” He shrugged. “It’s been pretty successful. I’m never going to get rich from selling shoes in Benton Harbor, but it’s a fun adventure, and much better than driving down to Portland every day to work in an office.”
“I think that’s really neat,” Darlene said. “Isn’t it, Ellie? Maybe you two should team up and do some sort of… pizza and shoes promotion.”
“Pizza and shoes?” the pizzeria manager said, chuckling. “I’m not sure those two things go together very well.” She turned to Danny. “But feel free to stop by the pizzeria any time and hang up an advertisement for your shoe store and leave business cards if you want. I’m always happy to support other local businesses.”
“You do the same,” he said, smiling at her. “We small business owners have got to stick together.”
The rest of the meal was pleasant, though once talk shifted away from business, Ellie didn’t have much to say. She listened instead, and discovered that Danny used to live near Darlene when they were younger. Ellie’s cousin had been homeschooled, but the two had gone to summer camp together, and Uncle Toby had even gotten Danny his first job at the paper mill that his father-in-law had run. Even Nonna knew him; she had met him a few times at mill events that she had attended years ago with her husband.
Other author's books:
- Dying to CookDeathly Ever AfterPork, Pizza and MurderJalapeno Pizza MurderSweet Chili MurderA Crunchy Crust of MurderA Saucy Taste of MurderDating Is Murder
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