I’d like to be able to tell you I wake up and roll out of bed, but if that’s how I started my day, I’d have no more days to start, considering I spend my non-waking hours in a sleeping loft. I’m Eve Angelotta, the head chef at our family-owned Italian Restaurant in Quaker Hills Pennsylvania, just forty minutes north of Philly. I work six days a week, ten hours a day, with my Nonna (Italian for grandmother) and my cousins, who are pretty excitable Italians even when murder isn’t on the menu.
So for the few remaining hours in my typical day, I opt for simple, which is why I own a Tumbleweed Tiny Home that sports 130 square feet of living space. This choice of habitation is probably the single smartest thing I’ve done in the three years I’ve been working for Nonna – it’s too small for hysterical relatives to get any idea about bunking in with me. And if they just go ahead and wring their garlic-scented hands at me anyway, I can make a quick getaway – my tin-roofed, cedar-sided house sits on a utility trailer. I check the tires regularly.
My cooking cousin, Landon, who’s my sous chef, says I’m kidding myself, and he may be right. Nonna thrust the job at me when my Broadway dance career came to a tumbling halt one night. Working at the three-generation, five-star Miracolo Italian Restaurant is like a hereditary obligation. If I’m not dancing, Nonna argued, I should be rolling gnocchi in Quaker Hills, like the rest of them. It suits me, I have to admit. Aside from the elegant Landon, who specializes in Italian desserts, we’ve got my bald and monumental cousin Choo Choo Bacigalupo, who serves as maitre d’.
And then there’s Nonna herself. At 76, she’s still beautiful, what with her tangle of dark hair and smile as wide as Piazza San Marco. She dresses retro without knowing it’s retro. She weeps nightly when our amateur musicians launch into her signature song, “Three Coins in a Fountain.” She is fiercely proud our family is Genovese, and she will tolerate no dishes from (here she waves her hand dismissively) “the South.” We’re not talking grits. We’re talking the south of Italy. She is passionate about her grandchildren, her restaurant, and the osso buco recipe she keeps locked in a bank vault. And when the two of us walk arm in arm down the street, on our way to open up the restaurant for the day, it’s hard to say which one of us turns more heads. I’d like to think it’s me, but Choo Choo tells me I’m kidding myself.
Sometimes Nonna’s love life manages to find its troubling way into the daily operations of Miracolo. Which accounts for why I find a corpse in the kitchen one morning that turns out to be her boyfriend, and he’s been bashed in the bean with the black marble mortar I use for grinding spices. Although Landon helpfully adds a shrieking sound track to this discovery, I get some assistance from Joe Beck, a Quaker Hills newcomer with a law practice. He’s got some attractions, no denying, what with his short blond hair, blue eyes, and dimples my friend Dana Cahill says a girl could fall into like a sinkhole – which, of course, he overhears.
I might even find this Beck person rather appealing if it weren’t for the fact that I met him in a very weird way coming off his three-day fling with my flaky, farming cousin Kayla Angelotta, who supplies the restaurant with its organic produce. And Joe with more. So I’m happy to concentrate on a sexy day trader in town and leave Joe Beck to things like criminal defense. . .of Nonna, as it turns out, who’s arrested for the murder.
There’s much for us to work out in You Cannoli Die Once, what with trying to solve the murder (personally, I’m hoping Kayla did it; I can always get our produce at Kroger’s), and figure out what the entire wait staff is up to behind my back. And then there’s the matter of the old 78 recording of Enrico Caruso singing in English – a rarity! – that the corpse is lying on, snatched from my collection of opera memorabilia that I keep displayed on the walls. Why that? Why then? Does it have something to do with the string of thefts in Quaker Hills? I’m convinced the thefts, the murder, the Caruso, the skulking wait staff, all have something to do with Angelotta’s Law of Italodynamics: namely, intrigue increases in proportion to the number of Italians on hand.
But in our family we get past the theatrics, the tempers, the panna cottas that – like dreams – don’t always set, the veal alla Milanese that, no matter how many times I make it, sometimes reveals some new flavor I can’t account for. As surprising as love. These are the days when, late at night, I let myself back into my tiny home, seeing my way to the ladder by the slanting moonlight, and climb up to my sleeping loft with a smile on my face. These are the days when I don’t even check the air in the tires.
Shelley is giving away one (1) copy of YOU CANNOLI DIE ONCE. Leave a comment to be included in the giveaway. Contest ends June 1; US entries only.
Meet the author
Shelley Costa is an Edgar® Award-nominated, internationally published author of short fiction; her stories have appeared in anthologies and journals including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, Blood on Their Hands, and Crimewave from the U.K. She holds a PhD in English and is the author of The Everything Guide to Edgar Allan Poe. Her first novel, You Cannoli Die Once, kicks off her “Miracolo Italian Restaurant” mystery series.
You can visit Shelly at www.shelleycosta.com
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