Jazz Fest is in full swing in The Big Easy, but PI Franki Amato is singing the blues. The owner of an historic Italian grocery and deli is murdered in a manner eerily reminiscent of the Axeman of New Orleans, a notorious serial killer who hasn't struck in over a century, and someone Franki knows has been arrested for the crime. Adding to her distress, Franki, her mom, and her meddling Sicilian nonna finally meet her fiancé's family, but the tone of their encounter is decidedly downbeat. And just as her personal life strikes a sour note, the killer jazzes up his techniques. The pressure is on Franki to decipher an odd assortment of clues—an old gramophone record, a stolen trumpet, and a bottle of marsala wine. If she doesn't, she could be the next one to get the ax.
Marsala Maroon is book 6 in the Franki Amato Mysteries, but it can be read as a standalone. If you like zany characters and laugh-out-loud humor with a splash of suspense, then you'll drink up this fun series by USA Today Bestselling Author Traci Andrighetti. Cheers!
FRANKI AMATO MYSTERIES:
Limoncello Yellow (book 1)
Prugnolino Purple (spring short story 1.5)
Prosecco Pink (book 2)
Rosolio Red (holiday short story 2.5)
Amaretto Amber (book 3)
Fragolino Fuchsia (Rome short story 3.5)
Campari Crimson (book 4)
Cannellino Caramel (holiday short story 4.5)
Galliano Gold (book 5)
Cremoncello Cream (Sicily short story 5.5)
Marsala Maroon (book 6)
Mirto Magenta (Sardinia short story 6.5)
Valpolicella Violet (book 7, coming in the fall of 2021!)
"Andrighetti's dialogue is genuine yet uproarious, and her glowing characters animatedly leap off the page. Her sparkling wit keeps the hijinks brimming with merriment."
~ Long Island Book Reviews
“Traci Andrighetti's Franki Amato Mysteries have me tickled pink! Her smart, sassy heroine, wacky cast of characters, and vividly original settings had me glued to the page. I can't wait to read more from this author!”
~ Gemma Halliday, New York Times bestselling author
“Traci's writing is sharp and funny; the world she paints leaps off the page and makes the reader laugh out loud.... A thoroughly enjoyable voice in fiction!”
~ Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author
Release date: November 17, 2020
Publisher: Limoncello Press
Print pages: 330
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Marsala Maroon: A Private Investigator Comedy Mystery
“Is it me, or is the lemon tradition haunting us?”
My fiancé’s question came through my cell phone like a splash of cold water, and I gripped the granite rim of the Jackson Square fountain where I was sitting. The St. Joseph’s Day lemon tradition had played a key role in our engagement. Was he souring on the decision to ask me to marry him?
I rose and paced the French Quarter park’s gravel walkway. “‘Haunting’ is an interesting choice of words, Bradley. Mind expanding on that?”
“I said it was haunting us, Franki, not me. And you have to admit that after the pressure to get engaged within the tradition’s one-year time limit, things haven’t calmed down. Your mom and nonna are pushing us to fast-track the wedding, and weird things have been happening, like my new car breaking down the last three times we’ve had plans. It’s like it’s, well, a lemon.”
While I understood the pressure part, the car thing was ludicrous. Then again, so was the Sicilian-American custom of stealing a lemon from a church altar for the poor to land oneself a husband. “Surely you don’t believe that my taking a piece of citrus fruit is the cause of your car problems?”
“Of course not.” He sighed. “I’m sorry. I just want us to be able to enjoy our engagement, which is why I proposed on Mardi Gras. But that party ended as abruptly as the parades.”
I sank back onto the fountain. Bradley was frustrated, and I could relate. My mom and nonna had been laying on the wedding pressure as thick as ricotta cheese. I had to do something to bolster his spirits. I glanced behind me at the equestrian statue of General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans to summon my combat instincts. “Mom and Nonna are excited, that’s all. Give them another couple of weeks, they’ll settle down.”
The honest answer was, ‘Not a chance in Dante’s inferno.’ Those women would squeeze us like a garlic press until we produced a bambino, but I couldn’t say that to Bradley. He might’ve gotten cold feet for real and hotfooted it from my life.
I stared at the St. Louis Cathedral overlooking the park and got a divine inspiration. “We have to have faith, that’s all.”
His two-syllable “try” wasn’t convincing, and I couldn’t blame him for being skeptical. Because I knew that it would take more than God and a general-turned-president to slow my mom and nonna’s march to our wedding altar. “Why don’t you go deal with your car, and I’ll meet them for lunch? It’ll give me a chance to tell them to back off.”
“All right, but we’ve got another problem coming—on Thursday, to be exact—because my mother and grandmother are flying in to talk to me about the wedding.”
That statement was foreboding. After two years of dating, I still hadn’t met the Hartmann family, so I would have expected him to say that they were arriving from Boston to meet me, their future daughter-in-law. “Is this about the rehearsal dinner?”
“The entire wedding, I’m afraid.”
The St. Louis Cathedral bell tolled, and I didn’t appreciate its timing. The bell announced the Sunday noon mass, but it could have been a sign that his family was against our marriage.
I licked my lips. “I hope you told them that my parents are super traditional and insist on paying.”
“I did, but my mother and grandmother are…particular.”
“You mean, about the wedding theme?”
“Among other things.”
Do those ‘other things’ extend to his choice of bride? I gripped the phone a tad tighter. “Well, if they’d like a say in the decorations, I’d be happy to oblige.”
“You’d do that?”
The relief in his tone brought a smile to my face because it indicated that the so-called problem coming on Thursday had been solved. “I’d do anything for you and your family. After all, I’m going to be a Hartmann soon.”
“I’m so lucky that you agreed to marry me.”
The cold-water splash of before turned cozy-warm snuggle. “True. And after I tell my mom and nonna to stand down, I’ll send them home to Houston so I can show you just how lucky you are.”
“I’d like that.” His tone had gone sexy. “Very much.”
The creak of the park’s iron gate broke the seductive spell. A male in dark jeans, a gray hoodie, and sunglasses entered and headed straight for me. Despite the unusual attire, I recognized the long, lanky figure of my college-student coworker from Private Chicks, Inc.
“Bradley, I’ve got to run. David Savoie’s here to talk to me about a case.”
“That’s fine.” The sexy had turned serious. “Good luck with your mom and nonna.”
I stopped myself from saying that I’d need something a lot stronger than luck, like voodoo, and limited my reply to “Love you.”
As I closed the call, a flash from the fountain’s concrete basin caught my eye. Sunlight had reflected off one of the pennies scattered along the bottom.
Why not? I could use the insurance.
I stood, fished a penny from my hobo bag, and made a wish—more of a plea, really—that my family would give Bradley and me some space during our engagement. I tossed the coin into the fountain and watched it drift down…
And slip through a hole in the drain grate!
I blinked, incredulous.
Then the water stopped flowing.
A tidal wave of shock rolled over me as I realized what had happened.
My penny had clogged the Jackson Square fountain.
What does that mean for my wish? And of all the pennies in the basin, why did mine get sucked up?
Anger swelled in me like the pent-up water in the fountain pump. I tied my long brown hair into a knot, knelt on the rim, and plunged both hands into the water.
“Yo, uh, what’s goin’ on?”
I recognized David’s college-speak but didn’t look behind me. I was too busy running my hand over the grate, feeling for a knob. “I’ll tell you what’s going on—this freaking fountain is trying to ruin my wedding.”
Balancing on both hands, I glanced over my shoulder to ask for his help, but he was opening and closing his mouth like a fish out of water. “What is it, David? Spit it out.” I glowered at the fountain. “That goes for you too.”
“Um, yeah. So…I don’t think you’re supposed to take money from a fountain.”
I worked my finger into the grate hole and pulled. “After taking a lemon from the poor in a church, this doesn’t seem so bad, especially since it was my money to begin with.”
“Riiight. Although, I think it’s illegal?”
I turned my head and gave him a hard stare. “I’m a private investigator, David, and before that I was a rookie cop, so I’m well aware of the law. But after everything Bradley and I have been through, I’m not going to let a fickle fountain cheat us.” I returned my attention to the grate and yanked. “It’s going to give me my damn penny and my wish for a peaceful engagement.”
“Gotcha. But, could you maybe wait and get arrested after our meeting?”
His request hit me with the same cold-water splash as Bradley’s lemon tradition question. I’d been arrested once before—on my thirtieth birthday, no less—thanks to a run-in with a woman who’d claimed to be a three-hundred-year-old witch, and I had no desire to return to a Big Easy jail.
I cast a side-eye at the fountain, and then I stood and wiped my hands on my jeans. “While we’re on the subject of criminals, why are you dressed like a gang member?”
“I didn’t want anyone from the office to see me. I’ve been thinking about your case offer, but, like, I don’t feel right about taking it.”
I put my hands on my hips to keep from shaking a finger at him—or shaking him. “You owe me after you investigated why I was still an old maid, or zitella, for my nonna. Do you know how humiliating it was to have you running around town looking into why I was an old maid?”
He lowered his head, and the hood obscured his sunglasses.
“Besides, you’re a professional PI, so your feelings are irrelevant.” I pulled a check from my purse and stuck it under his nose. “But this should make you feel better.”
His head popped up, and so did his eyebrows. “This is, like, a month’s salary.”
“For a job that’ll take half that at most.”
“I don’t get it. Veronica’s an awesome boss and your best friend. Why would you want me to investigate who she’s interviewing for the PI position?”
“David, you sweet innocent boy.” I rested a hand on his shoulder. “Have you forgotten the consultants she hired to help me with my homicide cases? An ex-stripper, a drag queen, and my eighty-year-old grandmother?”
He took the check and crammed it into his pants pocket.
I patted his cheek. “Glad you see things my way, despite those black shades.”
My phone rang. Amato’s Deli appeared on the display. “It’s my father. Not a word about your new case to Veronica, you hear?”
“Chill, okay? I don’t want to get fired.” David tugged his hood low and slunk away.
I tapped Answer. “Hey, Dad. What’s up?”
“Your mother isn’t answering her cell phone,” he boomed in his gruff, I-need-an-antacid voice. “I don’t know why she has the blasted thing if she’s not going to turn it on. Is she with you?”
It was one of the few times I’d been able to shake her since my engagement two months earlier. “Actually, she and Nonna are at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church for mass, but I’m meeting them at Central Grocery for lunch in an hour.”
“I’d imagine they’re closed.”
“On a Sunday afternoon? That’s prime muffuletta-sandwich-selling time.”
“There’s been a tragedy in the New Orleans grocer community. That’s why I’m calling.”
I frowned and pressed the phone closer to my ear.
“A customer just came in and told me that our biggest competitor, back when I was still at Central Grocery, has been killed. His funeral is today, and there’s no way I can make it from Houston in time, so I’d like for your mother and nonna to pay my respects.”
My Sicilian grandma attended funerals like an it-girl attended parties, so that wouldn’t have been a problem. Plus, she’d been wearing a mourning dress since my nonnu had died twenty-two years before, which meant that she was already dressed for the occasion. “I’ll let them know. Did I ever meet this man?”
“No, his name was Angelo LaRocca, of LaRocca’s Market on North Rampart Street. He inherited the business from his father back in ’85 when he was in his mid-twenties, and like Central Grocery, it’s one of the last Italian grocery stores from the old days.”
“What did he die of?”
“He was murdered, and I was hoping you could look into it for me.”
The St. Louis Cathedral bell tolled, giving me a jolt. I didn’t remember it ringing on the quarter-hour.
“I’m not asking you to do any investigating, just keep your ears open. The police aren’t releasing any details, but there’s a rumor going around that the crime scene was bad—gruesome, in fact.”
The bell tolled again, and I glared at the cathedral. I didn’t know what was going on, but if the bell pulled that stunt again, I would personally climb the central tower and clock the thing.
“What do you say, Franki? Can you do it?”
“Sure, Dad. I’ll get right on it.”
“Thanks, honey. I’ll let you go. I’ve got customers at the counter.
He hung up, and I checked the time. My mom and nonna wouldn’t get out of church for forty-five minutes, so I had time to kill.
I felt sad for Angelo LaRocca and for the community, but also concerned. Because my gut told me that I’d need to do more for my dad and the late grocer than keep my ears open.
A peal of laughter shook me from my apprehension. I glanced across the park at a group of women enjoying the spring day while window-shopping at one of the two block-long Pontalba Buildings that formed either side of Jackson Square.
And I saw my mom and nonna enter the Creole Delicacies Gourmet Shop.
An alarm bell tolled, and it wasn’t the one at the top of the St. Louis Cathedral. The odds of my nonna swapping prayer for pralines were about the same as those of the Catholic Church replacing communion wafers with cookies. If she was missing mass, then something big was going down—like meddling.
I rose to go investigate, pausing to scowl at the fiendish fountain. Between my mom and nonna’s antics and my dad’s somber request, it was obvious that I needed a break in the luck department. Without it, my hopes of a stress-free engagement were in danger of going down the drain like my penny.
* * *
The vanilla-and-toasted-pecan odor inside the Creole Delicacies Gourmet Shop filled my nostrils and seduced my sweet tooth. I put my mom-and-nonna investigation on hold and helped myself to some praline samples. A sugar high could only help when confronting Machiavellian meddlers.
As I munched, I spotted my nonna talking to a saleswoman at the rear of the shop, and my mother was at a sale table in the center. Her back was to me, but it wasn’t hard to recognize her. Even though she lived in Houston, her dyed-brown salon do had grown to Dallas proportions.
I snuck up behind her. “Uh, Mom?”
She started and went as stiff as her lacquered hair. Then she turned and lowered her readers. “What are you doing here, Francesca?” she asked in her shrill voice. “Aren’t you supposed to be at a work meeting?”
Deflection was one of her standard tactics. “It ended early. Why aren’t you and Nonna in church?”
“We felt terrible about missing mass, dear, but we had an urgent errand to run.”
My brow rose, along with my suspicions. “In a candy and kitchen shop?”
“Well, yes.” Her eyes widened to justification-of-a-lie size. “Your nonna and I have some cooking to do for a church function, and you desperately need a new…” She grabbed a gadget from the table. “…garlic press.”
I recoiled. I knew she couldn’t really squeeze Bradley and me with the thing, but her timing was disturbing nonetheless.
She reached for another item. “While we’re here, dear, what do you think of this spaghetti fork?”
I wrested the pronged utensil from her hand and returned it to the shelf. It was well known within the family that my nonna thought spaghetti forks were instruments of the devil. “If Nonna sees you with that,” I whisper-hissed, “she’ll have Father John call in an exorcist.”
“This isn’t about Carmela, dear, it’s about you and what you like.”
My eyelids lowered. There was only one reason I’d need new kitchen accessories. “Are you two picking items for my wedding registry?”
“Now, Francesca, you know we’d never pick your kitchenware. That’s a personal decision.”
Not only would they pick my kitchenware, they’d organize it in my drawers and cabinets and use it to serve Bradley and me a “suitable meal.”
“Oh.” My mother pressed her hands to her cheeks. “Look how adorable this is.” She raised a plump lavender sachet topped with the head of a veiled bride.
“It looks like a severed head on a silk cushion.”
“Well, I think they’d make darling bomboniere.”
The Italian term for wedding favors exploded in my head like the word’s first four letters, and I began to sweat like a pressed garlic clove. As Italian-American traditions went, the bomboniere made the St. Joseph’s Day lemons look like harmless citrus fruit. The bride had to choose the bomboniere, and all aspects of the newlyweds’ life hinged on that choice—their health, wealth, happiness, fertility, and longevity. That was an awful lot to put on a gal, not to mention on a tchotchke with some Jordan almonds.
“Mom, I know you and Nonna are excited about the wedding, but it’s way too early to talk bomboniere—or wedding. I told you that Bradley and I are waiting to set a date until we know when Veronica and Dirk are getting married.”
She bit the earpiece of her readers—and bared her teeth. “I don’t see why you have to wait just because she got engaged first.”
My mother did see—but she chose not to. “I want both of our weddings to be special, so I won’t even consider getting married for at least six months after she does.”
“Then you might want to go with this for your bomboniere.” She picked up an hourglass kitchen timer and flipped it over. “It’s for two minutes, which is about all your biological time clock has left.”
I bared my teeth—and growled. “I’m thirty-one, not forty-one, so stick a spaghetti fork in it.”
She sniffed and resumed browsing. “That’s a bad analogy for someone who’s reproductive days are almost done.”
I squeezed my fists and took a breath. The woman was lucky I’d put the fork back on the shelf.
She gasped and held up a yellow tulle bag. “Little lemon-shaped soaps. They’re perfect for your theme.”
Yes, the theme of a woman whose relatives kept shoving lemons at her, making her more and more bitter. “Mom, drop the merchandise and the meddling. Bradley and I are going to enjoy our engagement for the time being. In the meantime, Dad called and he needs us to go to a funeral this afternoon for a grocer named Angelo LaRocca.”
She waved me off with the lemon. “That can wait, Francesca.”
“Uh, how do you figure?”
“Because this is about the rest of your life, and that man’s already dead.”
With logic like that, the only thing to do was go outside. “I’ll wait for you and Nonna out front. You don’t need me to plan my wedding, anyway.”
She huffed like I was the one behaving badly.
I stormed from the store—after grabbing a couple more praline samples—and ran smack into a chubby man wearing a strap-on snare drum.
He leapt backward. “Careful, baby. This instrument is my livelihood.”
“I’m sorry.” I read the band name written on the drum, The Tremé Tribe. “Hey, is Wendell Baptiste still playing with you?”
He ran a hand over his clean-shaven head. “Dat’s what me and the rest o’ the band wanna know. You seen him today?”
“Oh, we don’t hang out. We worked on a steamboat together a couple of months ago.” I neglected to add that Wendell had helped me with a homicide case.
“Well, if you do see him, tell him to give his bandmates a shout. We got a gig playing a jazz funeral, and we cain’t find him nowhere.”
That didn’t sound like Wendell. “Is it like him to miss a gig?”
“No, ma’am, especially not one dis high profile. It’s for a guy who was murdered, so the whole town’ll be watching.”
I had a feeling I knew who he was talking about. “You mean, Angelo LaRocca?”
“Dat’s him. We linin’ up now.” He pointed a drumstick toward Decatur Street where a hundred or so people had formed a line behind a horse hitched to a glass carriage, and he shook his head. “It’s closed casket ’cause dey said his skull was all jacked up.”
I grimaced at the mental image. “‘Jacked up’ how?”
“Someone, probably an ex-wife or girlfriend, attacked him with somethin’ while he was sleeping.” He sucked his teeth. “Anyways, I gotta git. You have a blessed day.” He set off toward the procession, pounding his drum.
On that note, I turned to go get my mom and nonna and noticed an old woman in a frumpy dress and apron watching me from the doorway of the New Orleans Cajun Store.
She opened her mouth, revealing missing teeth. “A cauchemar.”
I thought she’d coughed up some phlegm, but based on the way her black eyes drilled into mine, she expected a response. “I’m sorry. Were you talking to me?”
“A cauchemar killed dat man.”
It wasn’t phlegm she’d coughed up, but rather a French word. “What’s that?”
“A nightmare witch, who attack people in der beds at night.” Her eyes went horror-story. “She saddle dem up and ride ’em like a horse. And if they don’ wake up, dey die.”
That sounded like a local folk legend. “I don’t believe in that sort of thing.”
Her eye twitched, and she rubbed a wart on her chin. “You sleep tight now.”
I stared, dumbfounded, as she returned inside the store, because her tone held a threat.
A trumpet sounded. The jazz funeral was underway on Decatur Street. The horse, owing to the weight of the carriage and casket, took halting steps before settling into a reluctant trot.
The image reinforced exactly how I felt—like I too had been hitched to dead weight that I wasn’t prepared to carry.
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