Something's Cooking Online - Joanne Pence

1

Wine Eggs Mornay. Poached Eggs on Canapés with Cheese Fondue Sauce. Soufflé Aux Blancs D’Oeufs.

Angelina Amalfi tossed the recipes aside. They’d never do. They were simply too common.

She sat cross-legged on the floor of the den in her Russian Hill penthouse apartment. Stacks of recipes sent to her by readers of her food column—as well as those she’d clipped over the years from other newspapers, magazines, and fund-raiser cookbooks—lay scattered around her. It was Sunday. She had barely one hour left to fax Monday’s column to the newspaper, but even so, she was being choosy. She needed a recipe that was eye-catching and appealing, perhaps with some particularly interesting ingredient.

She ran her fingers through her hair in frustration, then let herself slump, her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.

How could a sweet, little old man like Sam have failed her this way? He frequently contributed to her column. Her readers loved his unique recipes, as did her editor. And Sam enjoyed seeing his words in print, even if they were only recipes. When he had called that morning and said he had a recipe for her next column, she had offered to meet him at a nearby park to pick it up. Nice though Sam was, she felt uneasy about inviting him to her home. Besides, he dyed his hair black, and something about a man in his late sixties with hair the color of Count Dracula’s was just plain weird.

They should have met two hours ago, but he hadn’t shown up. She had waited for him for over an hour, enjoying the warm October sun, and then hurried back to her apartment to meet her deadline.

She frowned as she glanced at the unrelenting clock.

Chocolate Meringue. Almond Mocha Torte. Italian Rum Cake. Yes, these recipes were much more her style than the ones for breakfast foods Sam usually gave her.

There was a knock on the door to her apartment. Now what? she wondered. She didn’t have time for interruptions.

The knocking grew louder.

Irritated, she stood up and stuffed her silk blouse back into her slacks as she hurried through the elegant, antique-laden living room. She reached the front door and swung it open.

No one was there.

Puzzled, she stepped onto the plush carpeting of the hallway. The well-polished doors of the elevator were closed, as was the door to the stairwell.

All was quiet.

As she turned back, she saw a small, brown package, about the size of a pound of butter, propped up against the doorframe. She looked around again, puzzled, and then picked it up and walked back inside, kicking the door shut as she searched for the sender’s name and address. There was none.

Who would hand-deliver a package to Occupant?

Occupant! She’d been interrupted, her deadline upon her, for nothing but a lousy sales pitch? These advertising companies were getting pushier every day.

She stomped into the kitchen to toss the package into the trashbag under the sink, then hesitated. Today was Sunday. Would a sales delivery be made on a Sunday?

The package was heavy for its size. Quite heavy. She gave it a little shake.

Nothing seemed to move inside. She raised it to her ear and shook it again. A soft tick-tick-tick filled the cold silence of the kitchen.

She shuddered. This was silly. She reached for the string binding the package, but her hand shook. She clenched her hand a moment, then relaxed and tried to touch the string again. She pulled her hand back as if burned.

This was nothing short of foolish, she told herself. Still, it might be even more foolish to take chances.

The police. She’d ask them what to do. She laid the package on the counter above the dishwasher and tiptoed backward out of the kitchen. Once in the living room, she looked up the special phone number her father had given her from his friend, the police commissioner. She avoided relying on her father’s money or influence under normal circumstances, but a mysteriously ticking package was definitely not normal.

“Police,” a youthful sounding voice answered.

“My name is Angelina Amalfi. Commissioner Barcelli told me to use this number if I ever needed special assistance.”

“Yes, ma’am. This is Officer Crossen. What can I do for you?”

“I’ve got a strange package here.”

“Yes?”

“It’s wrapped in brown paper and it ticks.”

“Someone sent the package to you?”

“It was left at my door. It’s marked Occupant.”

“Occupant? Are you sure it’s not some advertising campaign? A sample from Timex or something?”

That gave her pause. “Are you suggesting I open it and find out?”

“No,