Murder's on the menu in this savory debut.Gwen (nee Katz) Silver heard the brisket at her uncle's Jewish deli Murray the Pastrami Swami-the only one of its kind in Nashville Tennessee-was "to die for." But she didn't realize that meant literally...When Gwen learns she's inherited Murray's the native New Yorker leaves her chaotic career and messy divorce behind to start over in Nashville. But the venture seems doomed from the start. Murray's taken his recipes and secret list of food suppliers to the grave with him and ruthless real estate developer Royce Sinclair will stop at nothing to try and sandwich Murray's into his already overstuffed portfolio. Then on Kosher Karaoke Night longtime customer Buster Sergeant bites into his brisket...and bites the dust. The coroner says food poisoning but Gwen's not convinced. Now with the help of hunky police detective Beau McClintock "Nashville Katz"-as Gwen is quickly nicknamed-will find herself adding "private investigator" to her resume-and a new love to her life.
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Kensington Publishing Corporation
September 30, 2010
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Excerpt from A Brisket, A Casket by Delia Rosen
"Hey, watch it. Ya'll almost knocked over my babka!" "Did not."
"What you mean, Jimmy? I saw you bump the babka. Makes you the second person tonight." "There you go again. A bump's a whole 'nother thing from knockin' it over. Besides, how come you're only on my case if somebody else did it too?"
"'Cause you're the one's here right now. And the one who ought to know better."
"Since when's ignorance an excuse, Newt?"
"Never mind. Bump my babka before the dough rises, you might as well knock it to the floor. Ain't nobody wants a flat babka."
"Saying that's true, for argument's sake. If it already got bumped twice on that there counter, maybe you should think about makin' some kinda change."
"Like puttin' put your babkas someplace else."
"Like anyplace except where they block the way to my machine . . ."
Turning from my office stairs--they were in the kitchen near its swing doors--I stared at the roast pig that should have been a pastrami and tried to ignore my bickering staffers. Newton Trout was the restaurant's head cook and baker. Jimmy DuHane was my dishwasher. Their nonstop arguments could be annoying at the best of moments, and I was a certified wreck.
I'm Gwen Silver n?e Katz, owner of the only Jewish deli in Nashville. It's named Murray's, after my dear, late uncle, Murray Katz, the illustrious Swami of Salami, who'd bought the place for a song thirty years ago and made it a Tennessee two stepping success. When he left the business to me after his recent death, I'd been living in my native New York and was sure I wouldn't want any part of it. But sometimes things happen to make "sure" go out the window with . . . well, whatever else you toss. In my case, it was a twenty-four-karat gold Tiffany wedding band that I'd contentedly worn for half a decade.
Long story, details to come. Right now, I was too horrified by the stuffed pig on the counter in front of me to grit my teeth about my ex-husband Phil, who I suppose could be considered the pig I left behind.
Not that my present company wasn't a quality hog. Cooked to a deep golden brown, glazed to perfection, it lay on a platter of romaine lettuce with a bright red apple in its mouth, redder cherries for eyes, and seedless watermelon wedges tucked under its outstretched forelegs like fruity sofa cushions. Though larger and plumper than my new cat Southpaw, it had little piggy ears that curled exactly the way hers did when she was getting set to torment Mr. Wiggles, the elder of my two feline hell-raisers.
The difference being that the tips of the pig's ears were crisp.
Thankfully, I'd never seen Southpaw's ears with crispy tips. In fact, the image was almost upsetting enough to trigger a cigarette craving in me. Not that it took much.
"Hey, Nash . . . the kid fetch the pastrami yet?" I tore my eyes from South--um, the roast hog. "Nash" was short for Nashville Katz, a nickname I'd kind of acquired with the restaurant. More on that later too. Promise.
As I turned toward the kitchen's swing doors, I saw that Thomasina "Stonewall" Jackson had poked her head in from the dining room amid a blast of karaoke music, her sprayed, soaring bubble of hair almost colliding with the upper door frame. Thom's hair is a metallic bluish gray color that matches the restaurant's old-fashioned tin ceiling. I mention this because it's wise to remember that she describes it as snow-white, and says the poofing effect makes it look like a "yummy vanilla parfait."
Anyone who differs might want to think twice about going public.
"Luke hates when you call him a kid," I said.
"Well, I hate when people cuss, and you do more of that than a cowhand with saddle itch."
"Who's cursing? Did you hear me curse?"
"Night's still young. And besides, the kid ain't here."
I made a face. Thomasina had been my uncle's powerhouse manager forever. To know her was to love her. Well, okay, I'm full of it. She might've come within a half mile of tolerable on the best of days. Like when the sky was full of sunshine, my hair was relatively tame, and I weighed in at 135 before breakfast. And when I won at least fifty bucks on the scratch Lotto. And the guy who cashed my ticket was an ultimate blue-collar hunk.
"Luke phoned from the airport a few minutes ago." I wobbled my cell phone in the air. "He had a problem at the baggage claim."
"What's the pastrami doin' in baggage claim? I thought it came on a super-duper air cargo flight?"
"Then why ain't it at the cargo terminal?"
"Good question," I said. "All I know is there was a mix-up somewhere. And that the pastrami wound up on the carousel."
"At a passenger terminal."
"With people's suitcases?"
"You guess? Did the pastrami land or not?" I shrugged. "Luke spotted it on the conveyor belt and pushed his way through the crowd. But it got carried back around behind the wall before he could grab it."
"And then what?"
"That was the last I heard from him."
"So you don't know that it got here."
"I told you, Luke saw it. They packed it in a special cooler."
Thomasina looked skeptical. "They" meant the Star Deli in Burbank, California, and she mistrusted anyone or anything beyond the Tennessee border. Never mind that I'd only phoned in a long distance pastrami 911 because our local meat distributor messed up my order, which I'd in turn only placed after our online corporate catering orders had mysteriously gotten zapped into cyber limbo. The same-day air delivery had cost ten times more than I would take in for the next three days, but the next best option had been FedEx overnight, and that would've gotten the pastrami to me too late.
"The kid ain't back soon, we go with the hog," Thomasina said.
"We can't," I said, shaking my head. "There's no hog in Jewish cooking."
"Ain't no servin' dairy with meat either. But we got Ruben sandwiches and cheese blintzes on the menu."
I sighed. Suddenly Thomasina, who ran her Baptist congregation's annual bake and craft fair, and led the local chapter of the Women's Inter-Church Curling League, had also become a certified expert on kosher dietary law. Of course, it was an open secret that Thom had been carrying on with my uncle for over two decades when she wasn't singing gospel hymns. After spending half her life around the deli as his manager and play pal, she probably knew much more than I did about the technical distinction between strictly kosher cooking and our kosher-style dishes--an expertise I hadn't needed while ordering at Upper East Side sushi bars or poking through designer apparel collections at Saks Fifth Avenue. Back when I could afford to splurge on such luxuries.
Still, only her anxious expression convinced me she wasn't covertly testing my deli acumen. So what if I owned the place? I'd felt on probation with Thom since the day I first set foot in Nashville. "Nope, uh-uh, forget it," I said. "Hog is out. The idea of serving it here would give poor Uncle Murray a heart attack . . . if one hadn't already killed him."
She stared at me a second. Then her features softened.
"Your uncle never tired of complainin' about these catered affairs bein' more trouble than they were worth," she said. "But he knew when push was on its way to shove, hon. Better a stuffed pig on the table than a bunch of starved Southern men around it."
Hon? What had brought that on? I felt like a fly buzzing around sugary bait. But never mind, she'd gotten me there. Kosher Karaoke night was a tradition at the delicatessen, and we couldn't blow the first since our grand reopening. Especially with Yakima Motors, the latest Japanese automotive company to move its headquarters to Nashville, having booked a catered dinner to celebrate their new partnership with the area's leading dealership chain, Sergeant's Cars and Trucks.
Somehow, though, I had to make some wiggle room.
"We've got, what, six tables of five for the Yakima affair?"
"And how's it break down far as orders?" I asked "Twenty-one pastrami sandwiches. Twelve corned beef. Plus seven sliced briskets in gravy. Well, make it eight briskets. But one's yours."
I did some quick first-grade math. Minus my dinner plate, that totaled up to the full party of thirty.
"How long can you stall? Serving the main courses, that is."
"I don't know." Thomasina scrunched her forehead. "The briskets are being served."
"The rest of the dinners then."
She expelled a breath. "We wait much longer'n ten minutes, stomachs are gonna rumble--"
"Stretch it to twenty minutes. Roll out some extra chopped herring and lox platters. With plenty of bagels. And the Fiddler's Fried chicken wings.
More trays of Smoky Mountain potato knishes too . . . everybody loves those knishes." I paused.
"The airport's only a fifteen-minute drive from here. Maybe Luke hasn't called back because he's on his way. Our partiers can nosh on appetizers to their hearts' content till he--"
My binking cell phone interrupted me. I dreaded when it binked rather than sounded a musical ringtone. A bink meant I had an incoming text message, most of which included shortcuts I couldn't understand.