"Delia Rosen provides an entertaining deli whodunit." -- Mystery Gazette on One Foot in the Gravy Deli owner Gwen "Nashville" Katz has certainly had some very un-Kosher experiences since her move from New York--dead customers, dead street musicians, dead deliverymen. Sometimes the country music capital of the world feels more like a cemetery. But Gwen is finally knocked flat on her tuchas when a van comes plunging through her roof, causing an explosion and barricading her inside with her employees and Nashville mayoral candidate Tootsie Pearl. Was this an attack on the mayoral hopeful, or a war against Gwen herself? With her deli in shambles, Katz is hot to grill the putz responsible for turning deli into a culinary nightmare. "A really humorous cozy. . . Readers will thoroughly enjoy this deli tale." -- Once Upon a Romance on One Foot in the Gravy "Full of intrigue and suspicious characters. . .great addition to a fun series." -- RT Book Reviews on To Kill a Matzoh Ball
Release date: January 6, 2015
Print pages: 288
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Fry Me a Liver
Before I become freakishly poetic and you think the real Gwen Katz has been body-snatched—the hard-nosed, men are really starting to annoy me, give-me-liver-or-give-me-death Gwen Katz—what I have to say is: there are several kinds of family.
First, of course, there’s the family you’re born with. The tantes and siblings, your cousins and your bubbes and, of course, your parents. I’ve talked about some of those before. The father who abandoned my mother and me; the uncle who left me his deli in Nashville; the elders who came from impoverished shtetls in the Old World and were filled with muddy, gray-sky wisdom. Or as my father’s mother used to pronounce it, “visdom.” It’s funny; I still hear the word that way in my head every time it’s spoken. We’ll get back to most of those people from time to time.
Second, there are the friends you make. The neighborhood kids, the schoolmates, the fellow athletes or Chess Club companions, the people you meet on the train or at the bus stop or at the gym, or friends of friends who become your friends and sometimes stay your friends when the original friends disappear.
Finally, there are your coworkers. These men and women are often the closest type of family, since you spend most of your waking hours with them. In my case, I’d toss in a few of our customers at Murray’s Deli as well, regulars like mail carrier Nicolette Hopkins, bus driver Jackie and her auto mechanic girlfriend Leigh, banker Edgar Ward, and advertising executive Ron Plummer. In many ways, they’re the closest type of family because you become involved in their lives. Not in the same sticky way as you do with family and friends who assume they can rely on you or intrude on you or—vay iz mir, worst of all, borrow money from you. No, these are people who affect you and move you and become part of your life because you rely on one another all day, every day, and become bound up in their problems and joys and hopes and disappointments—big, medium, and small.
The lovely part of it is they also take an interest in you. Some of it is sweet and superficial, like when mail carrier Nicolette suggested that we print “forever menus” with no prices or when personal banker Edgar recommended that we offer “frequent farfel” cards for fans of our pasta or dear advertising man Ron who said he thinks we should sponsor a contest offering free food for anyone who catches a gefilte fish in Percy Priest Lake. Even the negative input has value since it unites us, like when we give what-for to Luciano Doody, the personal trainer who comes in and orders tea at least three times a week, scopes out people who eat more than they should, then openly solicits them to train with him and, if they turn him down, loudly denounces their body fat ratio. Or when the staff ribs me each time Jackie and Leigh make suggestions that, while flattering, are not personally interesting—though, talk to me in a month or two or three if the drought of intelligent men continues. Which brings me to nauseating Robert Barron, the treasure hunter who lives on a boat and continues to ask me to come “rock the deck” or check out his main mast. And the newspaper publisher with questionable ethics, Robert Reid, who will do anything for a story, including pretending to be straight to date me. And more troublesome of all, Stephen Hatfield, the local slumlord, who is rotten to his nonexistent soul but charismatic as the devil. I didn’t want to date him but I did want him. Fortunately, I had alert and God-fearing staff to talk me out of that.
And lest I forget, there are the delivery people we like or don’t like or don’t see because they come too early in the morning, or the oddities who give my staff agita which they transmit to me with knowing looks, like the witch who has teeth tattooed on the outside of her mouth, the fussy ladies of the Repeat Returner Club who only order bargain plates, and the ever-changing rainbow of music industry types, local politicos, loud cell-phone-talking students from Tennessee State University, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. We smile politely when they arrive and sincerely when they go. We chat for a minute when we can’t avoid it and pretty much everyone goes away happy. In their wake, my staff and I bond in the way that bomber crews and astronauts do when they’re on a mission.
As you must have gathered by now, for me the only real family I have is the one I’m with twelve hours a day, six days a week. It isn’t just that I have no real friends down here, since I haven’t the time or energy to socialize; it isn’t only the lack of blood relatives in New York and elsewhere around the globe; the fact is, I really like these people. They’re my people, my crazy shmendricks.
For those of you who came in late or have lives and have simply forgotten The Saga of Gwen Katz, my affection for the crew came in quick stages. First, when I opted to move down here after my divorce, I only knew from accountancy and finance—not latkes and herring, except to eat them with applesauce and chopped, respectively. These people not only showed me the ropes because they had to, they did it because they love this place. There’s my African American, evangelical, fifty-two-year-old manager Thomasina Jackson who never met a crisis that a loud, heartfelt “Lawsy!” couldn’t stop dead in its wicked tracks. She believes so strongly that Jesus is by her side that I swear there are times I can see him. Or maybe I just want to see a young Jewish man with grace, I don’t know. There’s my young, tatted-up cook Newt Spengler who opens the place each morning and fancies himself a wit and a stud; I can only attest to the former and he is as witty as most twentysomethings who tweet and blog, which is to say he’s more snarky and rude than clever. Born in a trailer park with forebears who hail from Louisiana, Newt was on his way to ruin when Murray hired him. The teenager had been stealing components from high-end cars when he was caught. He spent six months in prison before he was paroled and my uncle was the only one who would give him a job. Thom doesn’t entirely trust him and keeps one sharp eye on the till, but in all the time I’ve been here there’s never been a discrepancy.
On the scale of sweetness, Newt is far surpassed by young busboy Luke, who has a good, good heart even if his brain is closed to everything but his music and his girlfriend. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; he’s probably the happiest of us all, even though I don’t understand a lot of what he says and fail to see how he’s going to survive in the world if pop star lightning doesn’t strike. He didn’t finish high school but, God bless him, at least he works hard and doesn’t seem to mind it at all.
Rounding out the team is my fortysomething waitstaff Raylene and A.J. They are the older sisters of the group, telling the kids how they should and shouldn’t live with the provocative certainty of a schoolyard bully picking a fight. There’s A.J.’s daughter, A.J. Two, who works here when she’s home from school. And then there’s my only hire, the young, pierced, dyed-buttered-popcorn-yellow Dani who has the afternoon to dinner shift and has just moved in with her boyfriend, Luke. I forgot to mention that Luke has a band, the Gutter Crickets, who play local gigs whenever they have the time and aren’t squabbling among each other. I’ve heard them in person through two layers of wax earplugs and I’ve watched the YouTube videos. Their mixture of punk and folk—which they call “polk”—isn’t my cup of meat, but the audiences who show up seem to enjoy them. Dani is singing with the band now, the Yoko who is causing friction but is tolerated because she knows how to get the attention of the crowd in ways that have nothing to do with her voice.
As you’ve probably gathered, their individual and collective moods are my moods. Their industry inspires my own efforts. We go through daily labors together, relying on one another to get several big jobs done six days a week: setting up in the morning, serving breakfast to an ocean of people in a hurry, followed immediately by brunch, lunch, and early dinner, cleaning in a way that will satisfy the fussy health department, doing inventory, storing deliveries. We go through the joys and hard, hard personal blows together. I worry about them, and they about me, when they’re here, and I think about them when they’re not and know what they’re doing even when our place of business is dark. In the case of the deli, we’ve even shared a number of deaths together, from the freakishly unprecedented to the openly homicidal.
That, hardly in a nutshell, is the core of my life. There are times I feel blessed and there are times I feel stressed, but I never go to bed angry because of anything they’ve said or done. That makes our relationship very, very rare.
I have enjoyed that unprecedented feeling of family for the past twenty-one months. That’s how long it’s been since—in case I’ve failed to mention it, or, if I did, I like mentioning it as often as I can—I divorced my rat of a former husband, Phil Silver, and left my career as a Wall Street broker behind, moved to Nashville, and took over the deli run and founded by my late uncle Murray, whose father was a butcher and who secretly wanted to have a career as a songwriter. They were very large shoes to fill—as a restaurateur, I mean—not just among the loyal customers but among the staff.
Almost two years after my arrival, the entire staff is still here. Given the fact that my husband and father both betrayed me, that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. Though I’m sure, from their perspective, I’m the outsider who’s still here . . . not them. In a way I guess they’re right.
Whichever point of view is true, they are family. The one I inherited. The one I love.
The one that was about to take several hard hits in the kishkes.
Before I get to that, I have to tell you about other developments that have shaken up my world, including one that I sort of helped to coordinate but which fell into the “another rejection” column when it finally came to pass.
Detective Grant Daniels, my rugged, handsome, smart-enough-for-a-while and within certain noncultural parameters, one-time boyfriend—also a somewhat belligerent, controlling former boyfriend, an advocate and protector who smothered with his shielding embrace—got married. He took as his bride a WASPy member of the Metropolitan County Council of Nashville. According to the Nashville National website, the future husband and wife met at a budget meeting where they were on opposite sides of what to do with Homeland Security funding. Councilwoman Suzi East—who had higher political aspirations—wanted to use it to protect Nashville’s landmarks from any potential attack; Grant argued that it was more important to protect infrastructure, especially the power grid. They continued the debate over a late dinner and that was that, according to an article personally reported by publisher and big-time gossip Robert Reid.
I always suspected that Grant wanted to get into politics; insert punch line here, seeing as how he did in fact get into a politician. The cynical and possessive part of me wanted to believe the whirlwind wedding wasn’t just two smartish, kind of cold human beings finding one another but Suzi looking to bolster her image among unions and law enforcement for a run at the mayoralty and Grant looking to take a political spouse for a stab at the state legislature and beyond. I also held fast to the notion that he grabbed her on the rebound from me. After all, what man wouldn’t feel lonely, lost, looking for a place to put his key after being cut off from Gwen Katz?
Okay, there were a few. Most recently, Yutu White, an Eskimo I met while breaking and entering Robert Barron’s boat, which is probably why he thinks I’m easy. I haven’t heard a word from White since he headed back to the tundra, but then I didn’t expect to.
Maybe I’m wrong and Grant is in love. Maybe I resented being proven right, my suspicion that he was like Tarzan swinging from vine to vine. He wanted and needed the one he was holding on to but when that was done and he was fully committed to the next lady, I was gone. Sure, he stood by me while white supremacists and Chinese gangsters had threatened my life, but after that I didn’t get so much as a coffee-to-go courtesy visit.
Whatever the case, mazel tov and tsai gezundt, say I. But here’s where I get to the point—about my work family. The Grant–Suzi knot got tied a month before and while I felt relieved not to have him on the periphery of my life, hovering with longing like a puppy, I had to deal with the sidelong glances of my staff wondering if I were really okay—though only Thom had the chutzpah to ask. Even when I told her yes, her brain registered it as no. Especially when I took on a new project: renovating the somewhat dated, 1970s rural, Bonerwood Drive home which my uncle and my father had shared for years with all the run-downedness inherent in two straight men cohabitating. I had a classic, bad-porn-film fling with the new carpet layer, which was momentarily lovely. But most of my free time was spent looking online for everything from shrubs to bathroom fixtures to make the place truly mine. That seemed to reinforce Thom’s theory that I was depressed. Just the opposite, I assured her. It meant that after all this time I had finally decided that I would stay in Nashville.
I’d been woefully back and forth on this since I set foot in Tennessee—the home of Davy Crockett, for God’s sake, not guys like Bernie Madoff, whom I understood. Fighting Wall Street bears I understood. But real ones? With just a knife?
For nearly the entire time I’d been down here I felt as if I were a foreign exchange student. As a rule, things move slower and people are more spontaneously conversational—not like the crazy people who talk at you in Manhattan, or ignore you while they text, but truly sociable.
So what decided me, you may ask. It wasn’t the work family or the breakup with Grant Daniels or the fact that I really had nowhere else to go. Oh no. It was something I didn’t see coming.
The decision took about five seconds and it came during my first visit to a shul since Uncle Murray died. I’m not religious, but I took a drive to Memphis after what I called the Chinese matter—my most recent brush with murderers—to clear my head. I passed a temple and went in. A temple is like a McDonald’s: wherever you are in the world, inside they are pretty much the same. The same services, the same trappings, the same books, the same familiar Hebrew writing and text, the same rabbinical wisdom that springs from the same five millennia of culture and teaching. I realized that “home” is portable, transferable. What I missed in New York City were familiar trappings, what I grew up with; the stuff that mattered, which I should’ve learned from The Wizard of Oz, is inside. When she left, Gwen Katz was in danger of being defined by the hustle of Wall Street, the jazz of the night life, the sanctuary of a tiny apartment crammed with personal tchokes. It was time I defined myself. I couldn’t do that in a metropolis where every street held memories, the ghosts of thirty-plus years of previous incarnations of Gwen. I had to stop being the divorcée who was running from Phil Silver and embarrassed by her life in a corrupted profession. And now, it was also time to start over.
That’s why I stayed. That’s why I redid the house.
That’s why I wanted to explain about work family, about how and why it matters. For now, at least, men can come and go. But not my staff. And certainly not in the way that was about to challenge us all.
The deli was very crowded today. I was expecting that and had come in earlier than usual, surprising Newt, Luke, and the other setter-uppers. Business was generally excellent and growing. Even in the winter, when the temperatures were in the forties, Nashvillians had to eat and we did a bang-up trade in both soup types: chicken and matzo ball. We also had split pea with ham for the unrepentant gentiles. Downtown was constantly alive with tourists and students, natives and transplants, familiar faces and new ones—many of whom are surprised to find a Jewish deli in this so-southern city. It didn’t hurt that just awhile back we had won the Best Midrange Restaurant of the Year.
That recognition, awarded by the aforementioned Mr. Reid of the Nashville National and a local association of business and civic leaders, is what triggered a situation none of us could have envisioned.
Democratic Mayor Louis Benedict Dunn was an occasional customer, coming in an average of once a month with two or three aides, typically for a late working lunch. It wasn’t just that he liked our mushroom and potato knishes, which he did, but it served him well to be seen at local eateries, especially one that had nabbed local kudos. It showed that he respected the judgment of the very influential communications mogul and the other local luminaries who voted for us.
But, today, this being an election year—and it being the heart of the election season—Mr. Dunn’s rival, businesswoman Tootsie Pearl, was going to be at the deli avec media. She had come by three times in the last month, once to eat and twic. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...