Authors: Peg Cochran
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Amateur Sleuths, #Women Sleuths, #Jersey girl, #wedding, #Mystery, #New Jersey, #female sleuth, #Cozy, #Amateur Sleuth, #church, #Italian
Sambucco snickered at his own joke and looked at Lucille.
Lucille glared back at him. “I gotta go see to my daughter now.” And she stepped around Sambucco with as much dignity as she could manage.
The band, a couple of guys Frankie knew from the Knights of Columbus, was packing up their instruments now. The accordion gave a last wheeze as Sal, who worked during the week selling windows, stuffed it into its case.
Bernadette was still at the table, her feet propped up, her cell phone in hand.
“I guess we’d better get going.” Lucille looked around the room one last time in case Taylor had materialized in the past five minutes.
“It’s about time,” Bernadette grumbled as she struggled to her feet. She made a face and grabbed her stomach. “Ouch,” she wailed. “That hurts.”
“What? What hurts?” Lucille put a hand to her chest. Here she’d had hardly nothing to eat, and still she was getting heartburn. Or maybe it really was her heart? Maybe Maria DeLucca wasn’t going to be the only one exiting the church hall on a stretcher.
“I got a pain, right here.” Bernadette scowled and pointed to a spot on her stomach.
“Like a cramp? Is it like a cramp?”
“Yeah. And it hurts.” Bernadette’s voice rose to a wail.
Lucille sent up a prayer to St. Leonard, who had prevented the premature birth of the child of Queen Wisigarde. This baby couldn’t arrive until they’d hunted down Taylor Grabowski and he and Bernadette were hitched.
Lucille made Bernadette sit down again and had her pant until the cramp passed. She didn’t want to call it a contraction, not even in her own head. Finally, Bernadette took her hands from her stomach.
“Good. Let’s get you home then. You put your feet up and everything is going to be all right.”
“Fine by me.” Bernadette poked around for her sandals, which she’d discarded under the table.
“Listen,” Lucille said as they walked toward the door, the images from her visit to the Peacock still in her mind. “Did you and Taylor ever . . . you know . . . I mean, have you . . . with Taylor, that is . . . ?”
Bernadette stopped and looked at Lucille, her eyes round and a look of horror on her face. “Ewww, gross!” she cried before stomping off toward the car.
Lucille woke up the next morning more tired than when she’d gone to bed. But Sunday was Sunday, and everyone was coming for dinner as usual. She’d hoped to get to early Mass but must have shut her alarm clock off without realizing it. Being at the church half the day Saturday would have to count instead. But to be on the safe side, she sent up a prayer to St. Monica, patron saint of lapsed Catholics, asking for her to intercede for forgiveness on Lucille’s behalf.
Lucille stretched out an arm and a leg but encountered nothing but cool sheets. Frankie must be up already. She frowned. It wasn’t like him to be up before her. And here she was hoping for a bit of a snuggle. She really didn’t understand what had gotten into Frankie. The thought gave her a burning sensation in the pit of her stomach.
Bernadette was sitting at the kitchen table when Lucille got downstairs.
“Are Millie and Louis up?” Lucille asked as she poured herself a cup of coffee. It was left over from yesterday, but she could heat it up in the microwave. She set the timer, opened the fridge and began to rummage around. She knew she had a package of bacon in there somewhere. Seeing as how yesterday was her fast day on her new diet, she figured she might as well have a good breakfast today.
“Dad took Cousin Louis and Cousin Millie to the Old Glory for breakfast.”
“Oh?” Lucille paused, half in and half out of the refrigerator.
Bernadette didn’t raise her eyes from her cell phone. “Yeah. He said he wanted to give you a break. So you wouldn’t have to make breakfast since everyone is coming for Sunday dinner later.”
A break? Lucille thought. Frankie had never done that before, and Louis and Millie had been living with them for a couple of months now. Was he avoiding her? That was it. He had to be avoiding her.
Another thought struck Lucille and she slammed the refrigerator door so hard the bottles on the shelves rattled. What if he was after that Betty again? She was still waitressing at the Old Glory as far as Lucille knew. Even though Frank swore last year there was nothing between them, maybe now . . .
Lucille didn’t want to think about that.
“Hey,” she said and turned to Bernadette. “You get any more of them cramps?”
Bernadette rubbed her stomach and shook her head.
“Good. That’s good. We don’t want this baby to come early.”
Bernadette shifted in her seat. “It can’t come soon enough if you ask me.”
Lucille put the strips of bacon in the frying pan. “Any news from Taylor?”
“No,” Bernadette said without looking up from her phone.
“I just can’t imagine what got into him. He seemed like a nice young man. Not like someone who would leave his intended at the altar. You’d think Donna would have done a better job than that of raising him.”
Lucille turned around, her hands on her hips. “What do you know about your future in-laws anyway? They get along okay—Alex and Donna? Anything strange about them?”
“If you want to know if they were into kinky sex, I can’t tell you.” Bernadette kept her head bent over her phone.
Lucille felt herself blushing. “That’s not what I’m talking about, Miss Smarty Pants. I’m just trying to figure out why anyone would want to kill someone like Donna Grabowski—an ordinary housewife and mother. Sure, she’s got a massive diamond ring, fancy-schmancy earrings and drives an expensive car, but bottom line, she’s a housewife and mother like me or your Aunt Angela. And then the husband disappearing when he’s supposed to be at his only son’s wedding. I don’t know what to make of it.” She turned the burner off under the bacon, opened a cupboard door and pulled out a plate. She whirled around to face Bernadette. “Don’t you want to know what kind of family you’re marrying into?”
Bernadette looked up from her phone, her two thumbs still poised over the keyboard. “I’m not marrying Taylor.”
“What? Don’t start with that again.” Lucille slammed the plate down on the counter. “As soon as we find that little so-and-so I’m getting Father Brennan to perform the ceremony.”
“I’m not marrying Taylor, okay?” Bernadette jumped up from her chair. “Tony is coming home”—she waved her phone in front of Lucille’s face—“and we’re getting back together.”
Lucille felt a rush of gratitude and quickly sent up a prayer of thanks. “You and Tony are getting married!” she called after Bernadette, who was already out of the room.
Bernadette spun around. “Of course not. We’ve decided we don’t believe in marriage. It’s an artificial rite created by man.”
“Artificial? What do you mean artificial? People have been getting married for thousands of years,” Lucille yelled after her.
Then she sent up a prayer to St. Dymphna, patron saint of those contemplating suicide, because right now she really felt like killing herself.
• • •
Even before Lucille began to boil the water for the pasta, Louis and Millie had taken their places at the table, hands folded patiently on the pristine white cloth. Frankie had put the extra leaf in and had then disappeared down to what was left of the rec room. Lucille could hear the noise of some sporting event on the television drifting up the stairs.
Lucille had marinara sauce simmering on the stove. Mrs. Esposito next door had had real luck with her tomatoes this year and had given Lucille a basketful. She’d been planning to do stuffed shells, and Frankie kept asking when she was going to make manicotti again, but Lucille was too tired. Besides, everyone was getting a free meal, weren’t they?
It’s not like any of them were such a big help. Angela was always the first to jump up and start clearing the table. She probably thought Lucille hadn’t noticed that she never went beyond stacking the dirty plates on the counter. As soon as it was time to wash the pots and pans and serving dishes, she would make some excuse for leaving. You couldn’t expect Grandma Theresa to help at her age, or Father Brennan of course—it wouldn’t be right, a man of the cloth doing the dishes. There was no reason Frankie couldn’t do a little something, but by the time dinner was over he was usually asleep in the armchair in front of the television. And Bernadette? Lucille figured she would fall over dead the day Bernadette offered to help.
Flo usually stuck around, putting one of Lucille’s aprons over whatever dress she had worn to church and at least helping to dry.
Lucille was stirring the sauce when the bell rang, the front door opening simultaneously.
“Yoo-hoo,” Angela called from the foyer.
“In here,” Lucille tossed over her shoulder. As if Angela didn’t know where to find her.
Angela bustled into the kitchen as her husband and son went down the stairs to join Frank in whatever game he was watching. They had brought Grandma Theresa with them, and she immediately went to sit down at the table with Louis and Millie.
“I didn’t see you in church,” Angela said. She peered into the pan of sauce on the stove.
Angela frowned. “Really, Lucille.”
Lucille spun around, the wooden spoon in her hand. “I don’t need no grief from you today, okay, Angela?”
“There’s no need to get huffy about it.”
Lucille clenched her teeth and ripped the top off a box of ziti. She dumped the pasta into the pot and winced as a drop of boiling water splashed onto her hand.
“You’re cooking the pasta already?” Angela’s frown deepened. “Everyone isn’t even here yet. It’s going to be overcooked.”
“It’s not going to be overcooked,” Lucille said firmly.
“Fine, fine, whatever you say.” Angela rummaged in her handbag, pulled out her compact and dabbed some powder on her nose. “Everyone was talking about the murder in church today.”
“Sheesh, it hasn’t even made the papers yet.”
“You don’t need the papers when you’ve got the Internet. Stuff spreads like that.” Angela snapped her fingers.
“What are they saying?” Lucille asked as she stirred the pasta in the pot.
Angela shrugged. “Oh, the usual. That Alex was having an affair and wanted to get rid of Donna so he could marry his girlfriend.” She was quiet for a moment. “Michelle Mancini had a different idea.” Angela blew out a puff of air, as if she thought the notion to be ridiculous. “She thinks,” Angela lowered her voice, “the mob had something to do with it. It was meant to be like a warning or something to the husband.”
“He ain’t even Italian. What would Alex Grabowski have to do with the mob?” But even as she said it, Lucille remembered the two goons she’d noticed hanging about the church hall during the reception. Maybe the idea wasn’t so far-fetched after all.
She was about to say something but then decided to keep it to herself.
“Lucille!” Angela exclaimed. “The pasta!”
“Holy shit.” Lucille turned to the stove and quickly lowered the gas. The foam on top of the pan of boiling water slowly subsided. She grabbed the wooden spoon, fished out a piece of ziti and blew on it before taking a bite.
It was definitely more than a hair past al dente.
Lucille grabbed her potholders and hefted the pot of boiling water off the stove.
“Is it overcooked? I told you it was going to be overcooked.”
Lucille ignored her sister as she dumped the water and the ziti into a strainer in the sink. The hot steam rose up and bathed her face.
The bell rang as Lucille was transferring the ziti to her pasta bowl. She’d had it so long the design of olives and olive branches intertwined with grapes was beginning to wear off. Somehow she didn’t think the pasta would taste the same in any other bowl and refused to give it up even though Angela had given her a new one for Christmas several years ago.
“Yo, Lucille,” Flo said as she walked into the kitchen. “Sorry I’m late.” She had a white bakery box tied with variegated string in her hand. “Stupid bakery was out of cannolis but I got some biscotti con pignoli and those anise cookies you like.”
“No cannolis? But Frankie likes his cannolis after Sunday dinner.” Lucille ladled sauce onto the ziti and stirred it up.
“Well, I guess Frankie is going to have to lump it then,” Flo said, putting the box on the kitchen table. She put her purse down on one of the chairs. “You worry too much about him, Lucille.” She gestured toward the pasta bowl. “You want me to take that out to the table?”
“What about Father Brennan?” Lucille wiped her face with her apron. “He’s not here yet.”
“Sorry.” Angela rummaged in the refrigerator and pulled out the shaker of parmesan cheese. It was shaped like a chef with holes in its big floppy hat. Angela shook it experimentally. “I think you need to grate some more cheese.” She put the shaker on the counter and went back to the fridge. “Father Brennan isn’t coming. He’s not feeling too good. I guess all that drama yesterday didn’t do his nerves any good. Can’t say I blame him.”
“Sheesh, I hope nothing ain’t going to happen to him.” Lucille couldn’t imagine St. Rocco’s without Father Brennan, even though he scared her witless half the time.
“I’ll take the pasta out to the table.” Flo picked up the bowl and headed through the door to the dining room.
Lucille slid the chicken parmigiana she’d made earlier into the hot oven and threw her oven mitts onto the counter. She smoothed down her T-shirt, grabbed the salt and pepper, which she realized she’d forgotten, and went to join the others at the table.
No sooner had she sat down than the doorbell rang again.
“Now who could that be?”
“Maybe Father Brennan decided to come after all?” Angela said as she helped herself to some ziti.
Lucille pushed back her chair and jumped up. She scurried toward the front door where she could see the outline of someone through the frosted glass panels alongside. It looked to be a man. Maybe Angela was right and Father Brennan had changed his mind.
Lucille yanked open the door ready to say
Good afternoon, Father
, but she sputtered to a halt when she saw who was standing there.