Authors: Miranda Bliss
COOKING UP MURDER
Thanks for a place to brainstorm,
the Goat White,
and the salt and vinegar chips!
Dying al Fresco
What I'd mistaken for a black trash bag was really a black coat. Drago was sprawled on the pavement, one hand clutching at his chest, his face pale and contorted with pain.
"Drago?" I knelt on the pavement, afraid to get too close. With one finger, I gave him a little nudge. He groaned, and I figured it was a good sign.
"Drago, my name is Annie. My friend Eve went for her phone. We're going to get somebody to help you."
His eyes flickered open. His gaze wandered aimlessly, to the Tres Bonne Cuisine building, then to the tree Eve and I had hidden behind to watch him and Beyla argue. Just thinking back to everything we heard and saw made a chill race up my spine. It turned to ice when Drago's gaze fastened on me. He reached for my hand, and when he found it, he hung on like there was no tomorrow. For all I knew, for Drago, there wouldn't be.
"Al . . . bas . . . tru." His voice was no more than a breath, and it was even more heavily accented than Beyla's.
"Alabaster?" I wondered if that was his dog's name.
"Alba . . . stru." Drago gasped from pain. His breaths came quicker, each one a little more shallow than the last. He groped for the breast pocket of his coat, and when he brought his hand out again, he had a piece of paper clutched in his fingers.
"This . . . is important. You will see." He pressed the receipt into my hand, and I glanced at it. It was from a restaurant called Bucharest. Important? It didn't seem likely, not unless Drago had been counting calories . . .
Table of Contents
I WAS IN THE KITCHEN BURNING A POT OF WATER
when Eve leaned on the buzzer down in the lobby of my apartment building.
How did I know?
About Eve? Or about the water?
I knew it was Eve because she's the only one with a sense of humor warped enough to try to play "Love Hurts" on the buzzer. And the water . . . well, I'd been so lost in my own miserable thoughts, I'd forgotten that I put it on the stove. It didn't cross my mind again until I dragged myself into the living room and buzzed Eve in. A minute later, she swept into my apartment, a vision in a tight black skirt and a purple tank top that hugged every inch of her surgically enhanced to perfection chest.
The door closed behind her, and I braced myself for a hug. Eve hugs everybody. Friend or stranger, male or female, it doesn't matter to Eve. A hug is as natural to her as the chirpy "How are you?" that's sure to follow, a greeting she somehow manages to turn into one word with two syllables.
But this time, when what I needed more than anything was both a hug and an inquiry into my well-being, so that I could answer that I was lousy, Eve didn't do either.
She stopped dead in her tracks and wrinkled her nose. "What is that smell?"
You can take the girl out of North Carolina but you can never take the Southern belle out of the girl. At least not a girl like Eve. Even here in Arlington, Virginia (which is, after all, technically the South, even if it has been overrun by Yankees), her accent is as thick as honey and as noticeable as Eve is herself.
Eve is tall. A good four inches taller than me even when she's not wearing some outrageous pair of heels that puts her up in skyscraper country.
Eve is blonde and blue-eyed. Her hair is poker-straight, and she makes a trip to her hairdresser at least once every couple weeks to make sure her do is as chichi as the latest issue of
I've got shoulder-length brown hair that I usually end up piling on top of my head because it's curly and unmanageable. My eyes are plain ol' brown, too. Not a combination that makes me stand out in a crowd.
Eve is gorgeous.
Well, guys always tell me that I'm "cute." I guess it's my heart-shaped face. Or my turned-up nose. Maybe it's because instead of being pencil-thin like Eve is and like the media says all women should be, I'm unfashionably curvy.
I knew the truth.
is a code word guys use because it's kinder than coming right out and saying that though I'm the girl they want to be best friends with, Eve is the type they all fall head over heels for.
Every guy except for Peter.
I couldn't help it--I sighed. Maybe it was the sound that got Eve moving again. She pivoted, looking all around at the same time she sniffed again.
"Something smells weird. Annie, is something burning?"
That's when I remembered the water. And suddenly, the metallic aroma that had been building too slowly for me to notice hit my nose and the back of my throat.
Eve and I took off for the kitchen at the same time. I might not be as graceful or as sylphlike as she, but I was faster. Probably because my bunny slippers provided better traction than her Pradas.
I got to the stove just as the last drop of water boiled away and my not-so-good cookware went from an ugly shade of gray to an uglier and very burned black. I turned off the stove and stepped back, thinking about the best--and safest--way to keep things from getting any worse.
Eve stepped right between me and the stove. Like a surgeon awaiting a scalpel, she held out one hand. "Pot holder," she said.
Call it habit--when Eve tells me to do something, I listen. But not because I'm a pushover. Eve and I have been best friends since we were in preschool together, and more than thirty years of thick and thin have taught me to face the truth: I'm the cautious one who evaluates every situation to death. Look before I leap? I look, all right, from every angle. Eve is the mover and shaker.
I was self-aware enough to know I'd never be the take-no-prisoners type like she is, but I also knew that while I was still thinking, considering, weighing, and justifying, she was already doing. And whatever she was doing, she was usually right.
If she wanted a pot holder, damn it, I'd give her a pot holder.
It was only when I'd turned to grab one that I remembered that Peter had taken all the pot holders with him when he left.
Talk about adding insult to injury. The realization hit me like a kick in the stomach. I dropped into the chair by the kitchen table and propped my head in my hands, watching as Eve grabbed a dish towel, folded it in two, and without a moment's hesitation, moved my ruined-beyond-being-cleaned pot from the hot burner.
When she was done, she brushed her hands together and sat in the chair next to mine. She cocked her head, and when she spoke, her look and her voice were compassionate. "You were making a cup of tea. I hope it was that aromatherapy brand I gave you. You know, the one that's supposed to boost your mood and enliven your spirit."
"I was making chicken soup." I pointed to the box on the counter. Eve looked that way and took in the empty container of Cherry Garcia, the crumpled bag of Chips Ahoy, and the half-eaten bowl of pretzels that weren't there when she dropped me off the night before.
Well, like I said, we'd been friends a long time. Never having gone through what I'd been through, she might not understand. But I knew she wouldn't pass judgment, either.
"Oh. Comfort food." Eve patted my hand. Maybe she did understand after all. "You know, you should have used the teakettle to boil the water. It's far safer."
"Except that Peter took the teakettle."
She winced. "Sorry. I keep forgetting--"
"Yeah, me, too," I lied. If I was busy forgetting, I wouldn't have nearly burned down the apartment building because I was so busy obsessing about the fact that as of yesterday, I was a divorce statistic.
I was a terrible liar, and nobody knew it better than Eve. She leaned forward. "It's OK to get it all out," she said. "Why, it's only natural that you'd feel--"
"Like I'd like to wring his neck?"
She slumped back in her chair. "I thought we were past the anger stage and working on acceptance."
So did I.
Until I realized I didn't own a pot holder.
I scrubbed my hands over my face. It was two o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, and even though it was June and outside the Virginia air was hotter than my just-about-combusted saucepan, I was wearing jammies and a flannel robe. Comfort food, comfort clothes. I cinched the belt a little tighter around my waist.
"I've been working on acceptance for just about a year now," I reminded Eve and myself. "Ever since the day Peter told me he never really knew what love was until he met that girl at the dry cleaner's. News flash! If the knot in my stomach means anything, acceptance is not working."
"Well, of course not!" Eve popped out of her chair and rummaged around in the cupboards. She came back to the table with a jar of peanut butter, two spoons, and all that was left (it wasn't much) of the giant Hershey's bar she'd bought me the day before, on the way back from the court-house where Peter and I had signed the papers that said our marriage was officially over.
Eve broke off a piece of chocolate, slopped peanut butter onto it, and handed it to me. "He's a slimeball," she said.
I popped the whole piece of chocolate into my mouth. "Sure he is." I would have sounded more convincing if my words weren't stuck together with peanut butter. "And honestly, she's welcome to him."
"Annie, it's not what you say . . ."
"It's what I feel," I finished for her. I'm not sure it exactly proved my point, but I emphasized my sincerity by grabbing a spoon and a piece of chocolate. I ladled peanut butter on it and this time chomped the piece of candy in half. I licked peanut butter off my fingers. "If he cheated on me, he's going to cheat on her," I told Eve. "Maybe not any time soon, but someday. I'm better off without him."
"I'm happier without him."
"You've got to be."
"I've got a bright future in front of me."
"I'm . . . I'm . . ." I paused, desperately hoping the endorphins from the chocolate would kick in at that moment.
My shoulders drooped. My spine folded like an accordion. I dropped my head on the table. "I'm alone and miserable!" I wailed.
"There, there." Eve patted my back. "You have so much to look forward to."
"No." I sat up, pushing my hair out of my eyes. "
would have something to look forward to if you were divorced. If you were divorced--"