Six Feet Deep Dish by Mindy Quigley: Featured Excerpt

Fresh mozzarella, tangy tomato sauce, and murder: the perfect recipe for a delicious first entry in Mindy Quigley's Six Feet Deep Dish, a new series. Read an excerpt below!

Chapter 1

The problem with perfection is that it doesn’t exist. Somewhere, deep down, I knew this. But in the high-end hotel kitchens and Michelin-starred restaurants where I honed my cooking skills, the name of the game was churning out perfection on a plate. Dish after dish, night after night. No mistakes. Ever.

I opened the doors of my new top-of-the-line Everest three-door commercial fridge and allowed the chilly blast of air to wash over me.

“It’s all there, Delilah. Nobody’s touched anything since the last time you checked an hour ago.”

I jumped at the sound of my sous chef’s voice. “Oh, hi, Sonya,” I began. “I just needed to get—”

“What? A life?” Sonya Dokter nudged past me with her hip.

She pointed to different sections of the refrigerator as she spoke. “Fresh organic spinach. Check. Locally grown red and white onions. Check. Metric tons of the finest quality Italian sausage from pigs whose lives were more pampered than a Kardashian’s. Check. Parmesan, pepperoni, provolone, peppers, prosciutto, pepperoncini, and pineapple. All present and accounted for. Cheese so fresh it’ll slap your backside and call you ‘Sweetie.’ Check-er-oo.” Sonya put her arm around my shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze as she pulled me away from the fridge. She gently pried my hand from the handle and shut the door. “Relax. We’re ready.”

Part of me knew she was right. I’d tested the new appliances dozens of times. I’d spent the previous day polishing the stainless steel worktops until they sparkled and scrubbing the floors until I could practically hear them begging for mercy. But a bigger part of me wanted to make one last practice pizza before the guests arrived for my new restaurant’s soft opening.

I reached for one of the huge bowls where that night’s already-risen pizza dough was resting. Sonya slapped my hand away. “No more dough for you. Tonight is for you and Sam to enjoy. No pressure. Let the rest of us worry about the execution. A soft opening should be a celebration. I, for one, am ready to get this pizza party poppin’.”

Sonya shimmied her hips and twirled in her vintage rockabilly polka-dot dress. Her hair—chopped into a midnight black bob with high-cut bangs—swished as she spun.

Pizza making is a floury, saucy business, and Sonya and I usually sported matching chef’s whites and hairnets while we worked. For tonight, though, I’d wrestled my wilderness of coppery chestnut hair into a sleek up-do. I had opted for a low-cut wrap dress, which I hoped accentuated some of my curves and camouflaged others, while Sonya rocked her plus-sized pin-up model look.

“You’re a walking party,” I said, smiling at her. “Just add champagne.”

“Or better yet, bourbon,” she replied, striking her best Bettie Page pose and blowing me a red-lipped smooch.

I walked through the kitchen again, ticking off items from my mental checklist for tonight’s party and tomorrow’s grand opening, while Sonya threw on an apron and began mustering little battalions of red and green peppers to chop. Bins of semolina and flour, industrial-sized cans of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and jars of oil-cured Spanish olives lined the shelves. Garlic-infused tomato sauce gently burbled on the stove. I dipped a tasting spoon into the sauce and brought it to my lips—balanced, comforting, rich. The same adjectives could probably be used to describe my fiancé and business partner, Sam Van Meter. I tasted it again.

Something was keeping it from being one hundred percent right, but I couldn’t quite identify the flaw. Alas, the same thing could probably be said about my relationship with Sam.

Moving to Geneva Bay, Wisconsin, and opening a restaurant was more my dream than Sam’s. The resort town was only about an hour and a half north of Chicago, but it felt worlds away. I’d spent most childhood summers next to the lake’s inviting blue depths, sunbathing and gobbling down titanic-sized pistachio sundaes during our annual family vacations. Whenever I was overwhelmed by the constant din, clanging pots, and expletive-laced tirades of the Chicago restaurant kitchens where I’d worked, my mind traveled to Geneva Bay. Living here full time was a wish come true.

On those childhood trips, my family always stayed at my great-aunt Biz’s quaint waterfront cottage. Small houses like hers were increasingly rare, many of them razed to make way for the lake houses of the nouveau riche or dwarfed by the legions of imposing, turn-of-the-century estates that ringed the lake. Those older mansions had been built as summer getaways for the biggest names in Chicago business: Wrigley, Schwinn, Vicks. In Geneva Bay, the names were attached to fabulous homes instead of well-known products. As a kid, I’d fantasized about living in one of the breathtaking mansions, and now that dream, too, was coming true. Sam and I were midway through remodeling a hulking Queen Anne mansion built during Prohibition by one of the many Chicago tough guys who’d minted a fortune running illegal booze from the Canadian border to the Windy City via Wisconsin.

Sam knew how much Geneva Bay meant to me, and he’d been the one to offer to bankroll our move and invest in my restaurant. As a sophomore in college, Sam had created an app to allow users to access baseball stats in real time, which apparently is (1) a thing some people feel the need to do, and (2) very lucrative. He sold the majority stake in his company, Third Base Analytics, for a small fortune when he was twenty-six, allowing him to devote the last decade to spending some of the money he’d amassed.

After sprinkling a smidgen more crushed red pepper into the tomato sauce, I tasted it again. A smidgen closer to that ever-elusive goal . . . perfection. My fingers brushed the smooth stacks of three-inch-deep round steel pans that would hold our new restaurant’s signature menu item: Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. My twist was to draw on my years in top restaurants to create innovative recipes using top-notch ingredients, rather than the typical sausage, peppers, and cheese pies churned out by Chicago’s old guard deep-dish establishments.

I checked the sauce again. Good. Very good. But . . .

“Stop with the sauce already. We’re not going to have any left for the pizzas if you keep taste-testing it,” Sonya said, giving me a not-too-gentle shove toward the door that led out to the dining room. “Why don’t you check the setup out front?”

With one last wistful look at the pizza dough, I walked into the thirty-seat dining space. The windows facing the lake seemed almost like gigantic landscape paintings, revealing a dazzling palette of watery blues and arboreal greens. Every time I saw this view, I had to pause for a moment to let my eyes take a deep, long drink of it.

No one would guess that a few short months ago, this building had been derelict, in danger of demolition. It had fallen into disrepair years before, after the Feds raided the previous tenant’s business—a pizza-place-cum-mob front called Rocco’s. The eponymous Rocco, Rocco Guanciale, was now serving time instead of pizza, twenty-five to life at a federal prison upstate for crimes that included running an illegal gambling ring, extortion, and fencing stolen goods, with the odd bit of pimping and drug dealing thrown in just for kicks. He ran his criminal operation from the small apartment over the restaurant, an apartment Sam, Butterball—our oversized butterscotch tabby cat—and I were temporarily living in while our new house was being remodeled.

The restaurant was slightly removed from downtown Geneva Bay, fronting a narrow inlet and a modest pier—convenient for criminals, but also perfect for diners seeking serenity. While other potential buyers had been deterred by the building’s unsavory connections, I’d thought of it as a selling point. Growing up on the rough-and-tumble South Side of Chicago, my sister Shea and I had been raised on our father’s stories of wise guys and beat cops. Chicago had its fair share of big-city problems and unsavory history, but no one had more affection for the grit, ingenuity, and openheartedness of the place than our father did. When he’d passed away the previous year, I’d decided that opening a restaurant with a Chicago theme and a unique spin on the city’s signature dish would be my way of honoring him.

As I made my final inspection of the dining room, Daniel, my old friend and newly hired bartender, glided into view outside the windows, rowing his kayak toward shore. Even from a distance, I recognized his athletic frame and neon green boat. Like many Geneva Bay dwellers, during the warmer months, Daniel commuted around the large lake by watercraft. Unlike the well-heeled residents who tootled back and forth in deluxe powerboats, though, our ultra-fit bartender paddled in a sleek kayak, which he stored at the small dock just on the other side of the tree-lined parking lot from the restaurant.

Banished from the kitchen, I continued to busy myself with restraightening and recleaning the dining area for a few minutes until Daniel strode in, unzipping the top of his wetsuit to reveal his bronzed pectoral muscles. He removed his Ray-Bans and blinked the late afternoon sunshine out of his eyes. As his eyes adjusted, he stopped and stared at the canvases that hung from the ceiling.

“Cool, huh?” I said, gesturing at the artwork. “They went up this morning.”

He raised an eyebrow and ran his hands through his close-cropped black faux-hawk haircut. “It’s a statement. I’ll give you that.”

The interior space had finally been finished earlier that day. Shiny gunmetal gray wallpaper and gleaming honey beige wood floors formed a subdued backdrop for the funky, mismatched bubble-gum pinks and maraschino reds of the dining chairs. A warm, beech wood bar paralleled the back wall, while seductively lit bottles of alcohol perched on the shelves behind it. Huge, vivid portraits suspended from the high ceiling added a sense of drama.

I’d commissioned the new artwork for the dining room from an up-and-coming student painter at Chicago’s Art Institute. I’d asked for something that would “put Chicago’s past and present in perspective,” instructions the artist took quite literally. The canvases depicted famous Chicagoans, with a twist. One featured Oprah Winfrey and Harry Caray in vivid colors, pushing a miniature sepia-tone Al Capone in a baby carriage. Another had Michael Jordan and Jane Addams holding hands with a tiny, pigtailed Bugs Moran. The city’s old-time gangsters were made into children—smaller than life—while its more reputable citizens were rendered as towering adults.

“You don’t like it?” I asked.

“You got Capone up there with a pacifier and Pampers. Maybe you’re playing with fire a little.” Daniel wobbled his hand back and forth. “People can be touchy.”

“It’s art,” I huffed. “I moved here to escape the grind of the city, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still love Chicago. Besides, who’s going to defend the reputations of a bunch of crooks from a hundred years ago?”

Just then, Melody, our hostess, ducked through the vestibule and slipped past Daniel.

“Ready for the big day, chef?” Melody chirped in her cheery Upper Midwest accent. “I’m having, like, an excitement heart attack right now.” Sometimes Melody’s nonstop optimism grated on me, but I had to admit that my heart was feeling a little fluttery, too. She looked up at the newly installed artwork. “Cripes! Baby Face Nelson as an actual baby. Too funny,” she squealed.

I raised my eyebrows at Daniel in a silent “I told you so.”

“It’s pretty edgy, ’n so?” Melody continued, using the Wisconsinese contraction for “isn’t it so?” “People are still sensitive about that stuff.” She removed her sunhat, sending her blond curls sproinging out in every direction. “My grandpa lives in Manitowish Waters—where the big Dillinger shoot-out was? Dillinger’s gang went on the lam up there, took an innkeeper and his wife hostage, and shot six people. The whole town’s still traumatized. Even a tiny, baby Dillinger would be . . .” Melody looked at me and dragged her index finger horizontally across her throat. She shrugged. “I’m sure it’ll be fine, though.”

Now it was Daniel’s turn to give me an “I told you so” look.

An apron-clad Sonya burst through the kitchen door, carrying a steaming spoon in one hand and cupping her other hand under it. “I knew you’d need to taste it again, and change something, even though you tasted it literally five minutes ago.”

“You make it sound like I’m some kind of crazed control freak.” I looked to Melody and Daniel for support. Melody suddenly found urgent bits of napkin folding and centerpiece arranging to do.

“I need to get changed now,” Daniel said, quickly slipping away toward the restrooms.

I grabbed the spoon from Sonya. Melody edged closer, still not making eye contact, waiting for my verdict. I took a slow sip of the sauce. I paused, letting the blend of garlic, oregano, basil, spices, and tomatoes meld in my mouth. “Perfect,” I declared.

“Really?” Sonya asked. She tipped her head down and shot up a black-penciled eyebrow. “Nothing you’d change?”

“Nope, it’s perfect.” I bit my lower lip.

“Nothing?” She waved the spoon back and forth like an orchestra conductor’s baton.

I shook my head, pressing my lips tightly together.

“Ok-a-ay,” she sang, still looking doubtful. She turned back toward the kitchen, walking in slow-motion strides. With every step, she cast an expectant glance over her shoulder.

Just as she reached the kitchen door, I broke. “Maybe just a pinch more oregano,” I blurted. “And by ‘pinch’ I mean three-quarters of a teaspoon.”

“I knew it!” she said triumphantly. By now, Daniel had rejoined us, looking causally spiffed up for the evening’s festivities in black trousers and a tight black T-shirt. He and Melody each handed Sonya five-dollar bills.

“I am not that predictable,” I protested.

“I could set my watch by you,” Sonya said with a wink.

It was hard to deny. Sonya and I had roomed together when we were students at the Chicago Culinary Institute almost twenty years before, and we’d overlapped in restaurant and hotel kitchens for years afterward as we climbed through the ranks. She probably knew me better than my actual sister did. When I decided to open my own place, Sonya was my first hire.

Sonya turned to head back to the kitchen, but stopped to say, “Hey, I noticed the new sign still hasn’t gone up outside. Is it going to be ready in time?”

“I hope so,” Melody added. “It’s confusing for people that the Rocco’s sign is still out there. I’ve already had a couple of sketchy guys drop by looking to put money on next Sunday’s Cubs-Brewers game. I told them we just do pizzas now, not, you know, all that other stuff.”

“Sam’s taking care of the sign,” I replied. “And for your information I haven’t micromanaged him at all.”

What I didn’t say is that Sam and I had had a pretty epic blowup about me micromanaging every single other aspect of the restaurant, and that he’d gone as far as packing a bag and heading out the door a few weeks prior. In the past, when we argued, one of us—usually him—would quickly back down and apologize. While our personality clashes were nothing new—I was Type A and Sam was Type Zzzz—our arguments lately had taken on a sharper edge. Honestly, I was scared. Sam’s unshakable calm had buoyed me through many a rough patch over the past three years. To prove that I trusted him and to prevent a breakup, I’d agreed to hand all the marketing over to him with the added concession that I would stay completely out of it.

Through the windows that overlooked the parking lot, we watched a large yellow truck emblazoned with the words Lundqvist & Son rumble to a stop. “Speak of the devil. I think that’s the sign people now. Melody, can you run upstairs and let Sam know?” I held up my hands, palms out. “This is me, macromanaging from a healthy distance.”

Though I was dying to take charge of the sign installation, I busied myself helping Daniel work out some kinks in the bar’s electronic point-of-sale system while we waited for Sam. Sonya went back to the kitchen to get the first of the night’s pizzas baking. Even in our blast furnace of an oven, the heavily layered pies would take at least thirty minutes to cook, so if we were going to be ready when guests arrived, the cooking needed to get underway. A few moments later, Melody came back, followed by Sam.

“Smells great in here. And looks great, too,” my fiancé said, eyeing me up and down. “That’s quite the dress.”

He twinkled his toothpaste-commercial grin and let his gaze skim the low neckline of my dress. As he leaned in to give me an unhurried kiss on the lips, a week’s worth of stubble grazed my cheek. His long, brown hair was gathered into a loose man bun on top of his head. The hairstyle had become an off-limits topic between us—he was strongly pro man bun, while I felt that it made him look like an out-of-work samurai.

Despite his less-than-fastidious grooming, it was hard to deny that Sam was a mouthful of man candy. We sometimes got looks from women on the street, radiating wonder at the fact that I—a freckly, queen-sized working-class gal with exaggerated facial features—had landed this stylishly disheveled hunk. And that was before they learned that Sam was a gazillionaire. Truth was, I didn’t totally understand it myself. Closest I could come to an explanation was that mellow, passive Sam craved both my cooking and the whip-cracking structure I brought to his life. Our yin-yang dynamic, plus good, old-fashioned romantic chemistry, had gotten us through a lot.

Sam clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Are you ready for the big sign reveal?” He moved his hands to my shoulders and squeezed, like a coach trying to pep up a player for the big game. His voice boomed out, “Sam and Delilah’s Deep-Dish Pizza.”

I’d initially been opposed to Sam’s idea of having our names on the restaurant, thinking the play on the biblical Samson and Delilah was too kitschy. But everyone we’d run the idea past loved it, so in the end I’d relented.

“Looks like Butterball liked your outfit as much as I do,” Sam smirked, pausing to pick at a thick cloud of creamy-yellowish fluff that clung to the dark material of my wrap dress.

Daniel, who was standing nearby, chimed in, “With the amount of fur that cat sheds, you’d think he’d be lighter.”

I glared at Daniel. My staff knew that Butterball’s weight was a point of contention between my fiancé and me. Sam, who’d brought the tubby rescue cat with him into our relationship, was forever trying to restrict Butterball’s calories to get him to shed some of his excess tonnage. Even when Butterball bleated pathetically for nom-noms at four a.m. or stalked his food bowl like a prisoner of war, Sam’s resolve held firm. I, on the other hand, had trouble controlling my natural chef’s instinct to see that everyone is happily fed, and snuck treats to our famished fur-baby when Sam wasn’t looking. I had to admit, though, that even I was beginning to find Butterball’s increasing porkiness troubling. Recently, Sonya had mistaken the snoozing feline for a fur-covered footrest.

The push-pull of Sam constantly trying to rein in Butterball’s diet and me constantly indulging him meant that our cat had a very obvious favorite parent; Butterball made his preference for me known by rubbing fur onto every piece of clothing I owned. Sam claimed that I’d stolen his cat’s heart with an endless buffet of tasty bribes, the truth of which stung, especially since I often wondered if I’d won Sam the same way. After all, food is love, but too much food is heartburn and diabetes.

Sam and I walked outside to find an ancient, rake-thin man edging slowly out of the passenger’s side of the sign truck. Watching him climb down was like watching the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz try to move without being oiled. Seconds stacked into minutes as we waited for the old man to fully dismount. The sun dipped lower toward the horizon. At last, he creaked over to where we stood underneath the old Rocco’s sign.

He stuck out a cadaverous, liver-spotted hand for Sam. “Tommy Lundqvist.”

Sam returned the handshake. “I’m Sam Van Meter. We spoke on the phone. This is my fiancée, Delilah O’Leary.”

“That was my old man you spoke to. Tommy Senior.”

I tried to catch Sam’s eye. This relic was the “& Son” half of Lundqvist & Son? Sam, for his part, didn’t appear to register anything weird. That was his style. Sam could be watching our restaurant burn to ashes and he’d comment on how cheerful and toasty fires are. When we’d met three years earlier at a fundraising event I’d catered, his gentle, easygoing nature had seemed like the perfect foil to my more . . . structured personality. The months leading up to the restaurant launch had definitely been a test of the theory that opposites attract.

Tommy Lundqvist Jr. circled to the back of the truck, where he was met by a man who, by the looks of him, could probably have given a first-hand account of Moses parting the Red Sea. With all the swiftness of sediment forming into rock, the two of them lowered the truck’s lift gate and rolled open the rear door. I had to grip Sam’s hand to keep myself from jumping up into the truck and knocking them out of the way. I was dying to see the finished sign, while Sam, as usual, seemed content to let events unfold naturally. I will not micromanage, I repeated in my head like a mantra.

By now, Daniel, Sonya, and Melody had joined us outside. Finally, Lundqvist the Elder and Lundqvist the Even Elder hefted the cloth-wrapped sign onto the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

“I’ll get the ladder, Pops,” Lundqvist Jr. said.

“Eh?” his father replied.

“I said, I’ll get the ladder!” the son shouted as he walked back toward the truck.

Sonya gave her upper arms—one decorated with an image of a joyfully knife-wielding Julia Child and the other adorned with a rainbow jukebox surrounded by flowers—a brisk rub. “Is somebody going to unveil this thing or what?” she asked. “This lake breeze is going to blow my tattoos off.” Thank goodness someone shared my impatience.

“Delilah, why don’t you do the honors?” Sam ushered me forward.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I pulled back the cloth to reveal our new sign: Sam and Delilah’s Deep Dutch Pizza.

I blinked hard. “Deep Dutch Pizza?” I enunciated each word through clenched teeth.

“Um, Mr. Lundqvist,” Sam said, tracing his fingers over the letters. “I think there may have been a mistake.”

“Eh?” the older man said. His son rejoined the group, holding a ladder and a toolbox.

“This should say deep-dish pizza. Sam and Delilah’s Deep-Dish Pizza,” Sam explained, his voice even.

“I wondered about that,” Lundqvist Jr. said, leaning the ladder against the exterior wall of the restaurant and resting his hand under his chin. “Pops is a little hard of hearing. We thought it was maybe one of them new fusion restaurants.”

“A Dutch pizza place?” I tried to keep my voice calm, but my fingers curled into fists. I forced my lips to constrict into an expression I hoped resembled a smile. “Sam, honey, you said you were taking care of this. You did double-check the proof like we talked about, didn’t you?”

“We’ll get it straightened out. It’ll be fine,” Sam soothed.

I took a few steps to one side and motioned for Sam to follow me.

“It really won’t be fine. We can get through the soft opening, maybe, but we’re going to have to open to the public tomorrow with no sign, the old Rocco’s sign, or”—I punched the air in the direction of the new sign—“that. We’ve got press coming later this week for a photo shoot. Couldn’t you have found a sign maker whose age doesn’t need to be measured in geologic time?” I hissed.

Sam’s brow furrowed. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

“So now that it’s gone belly-up, now it’s okay for me to take charge?” My voice rose to a pitch so high I half expected it to summon a pack of neighborhood strays.

Sonya appeared behind me and took hold of my shoulders, steering me into the restaurant before I could shift into full Hulk Smash mode.

While Sam remained outside talking things over with the sign makers, Daniel and Melody scuttled inside after Sonya and me.

“What on God’s green earth is a Dutch pizza anyway?” I stormed, probably loudly enough to be heard through the plate glass windows. “A pizza topped with . . .” I searched the air with my hands. “I don’t even know! What do Dutch people eat?”

“Tulips?” Melody ventured.

“Gouda?” Daniel offered.

“How am I going to—” My anger train screeched to a temporary halt. “Actually, Son, make a note to try aged Gouda on a pizza. That would be good with caramelized onions and wilted spinach.”

Oui, chef. Already doing it,” she replied, pen and notepad in hand.

The door of the restaurant swung open, and our server, Carson, loped in. He sported a pair of trendy headphones over his mop of blond-tinged curls. “I’ve gotta leave early tonight, okay?” he bellowed over the thump-thump of his music. “My friend’s band is playing the Flat Iron.”

Carson had been late to every training session since he’d been hired and had missed a mandatory health and safety briefing the day before because of a “scheduling conflict” with his intramural Call of Duty gamer league. I’d already tried to fire him twice, but Sonya had convinced me that we’d struggle to replace him this close to opening. Geneva Bay’s high season kicked off the next weekend with the Memorial Day holiday, and finding reliable waitstaff was no mean feat. But tight labor market be damned, I pivoted to face the boy with balled fists, no doubt looking like some pagan Goddess of Anger. Sensing danger, Sonya signaled to Melody, who shuffled the oblivious server out of the dining room.

I heard the engine of the Lundqvists’ truck start and looked up in time to catch Sam ambling toward the side of the building, where an external staircase led up to our apartment. Clearly, he intended to avoid me.

“Oh, hell no,” Sonya mumbled.

Hell no, indeed. This was textbook Sam. Any time a conflict arose, he fled. Once, he’d sold his apartment and moved rather than simply asking the next-door neighbors to stop storing their bikes in the shared hallway. His conflict phobia made it impossible for the two of us to truly resolve disagreements. I raced out of the restaurant, rounded the corner, and rocketed up the stairs. I took them two by two, catching the door just before Sam closed it.

As I stomped into the entryway, Sam spun to face me with his hands on his hips. “You projected so much negativity toward Mr. Lundqvist and his son. I apologized on your behalf, but you should call them.”

Butterball oozed around my legs, and I stooped to hoist the lovable lardball into my arms.

“You swore you’d take ten cleansing breaths before talking when you’re mad,” Sam continued. “What about those breathing exercises from the Ashtanga yoga retreat I took you on for your birthday? Did you even try the visualizations or cognitive reframing?”

“That’s your takeaway from the situation? That I need to be more Zen? Because my takeaway is that I’ve been working my tail off for months to open my restaurant and you totally botched the one thing I put you in charge of.”

Your restaurant?” Sam said. He remained as composed as ever, but a harsh edge crept into his voice. “Did you forget who’s bankrolling the whole thing?”

I gasped and took a step backward. I felt like I’d been slapped. “You said you wanted to . . .” Tears welled up as I struggled to form words. Sam had always insisted he was giving me the money so I could realize my full potential. I hadn’t wanted to take his money, but he’d been adamant that I had a gift that I should share. I never thought he’d be the kind of person to hold it over me. I bit the inside of my lip. O’Leary women don’t cry. Crying is for weaklings.

Sam took a step toward me. “I’m sorry, Dee.” He reached for my hand, but I drew it back and tucked it close to my body. “That came out wrong. I only meant that you’ve never considered me a full partner in this. Sometimes, I feel like all I’m good for is my money. You’d never let anyone be a real partner.”

The sting of his words seeped into my blood like poison. How dare he? I’d fallen for him before I had any clue about his money. “You know I’d never use you,” I growled.

“You’re not listening to me,” he said, throwing his hands in the air. He walked into our open-plan kitchen/living/dining room and perched on the edge of a bar stool at the kitchen counter.

I took a deep breath and began to count to ten. I got to about four before yelling, “Oh, I heard you, all right. Until you met me, you had zero direction. You kite-surfed and did ten different kinds of yoga and tended your man bun. You have no idea what it’s like to really work for something. You had one good idea in college and you’ve been milking that cash cow ever since. As soon as you had to try running Third Base as an actual business, you sold it. This means nothing to you. If this restaurant fails, you’ll just move on to the next thing. I’m not going to apologize, to you or to the Lundqvists. Getting angry is what normal people do when they care about something.” Startled by the volume of my voice, Butterball leapt from my arms and landed with a graceless thud on the wood floor.

Sam stalked to the bedroom and pulled a suitcase from the closet. “You know what? You’re right. It is your restaurant. Your dream. Clearly you care about it way more than you care about our relationship.”

After an ungainly failed attempt, Butterball successfully launched his ample mass onto the bed. He looked back and forth with a forlorn Why are Mommy and Daddy yelling? expression in his wide, green eyes. Usually, Butterball was better at defusing my anger than the most seasoned hostage negotiator. This time, though, Sam and I both ignored our cat’s baby doll gaze and continued our march down the warpath.

Sam pointed to the cat. “He gets it from you, you know.”

“Gets what?”

“His anger issues.”

“What are you talking about? He’s a love muffin.”

“To us he is.” He pointed to Butterball’s torn ear. “But he took a swipe at your aunt the other day, and he was in another catfight last week. He’s very sensitive, and negative karma affects him.”

“That fight wasn’t his fault,” I said, rushing over to cradle the cat. “That Maine Coon provoked him. You can’t blame Butterball for standing up for himself. And my aunt can be very hostile toward him.”

Sam let out a disdainful exhalation as he began to fill his suitcase with clothes.

“What are you doing?” I sputtered. I followed Sam as he walked to his dresser and gathered more things.

“I’m leaving. The new house is too much of a construction site for Butterball, so he’ll have to stay here for the time being.” Sam zipped his suitcase shut. He moved toward the door, but stopped to point to a container of bocconcini I must’ve left out on the counter earlier. “Were you feeding him cheese again? It gives him hairballs.”

“Dairy doesn’t cause hairballs. I googled it. Besides, fresh mozzarella balls are his favorite food,” I bristled.

“Everything is his favorite food,” Sam countered, wheeling his suitcase to the door.

“You’re really going to leave now? We have sixty people arriving any minute for the soft opening. How’s that going to look?”

Sam huffed again and rolled his eyes.

“What?” I demanded.

“Typical Delilah. I tell you I’m breaking off our three-year relationship and the only thing you’re worried about is appearing less than perfect to the outside world.”

“Typical Sam,” I countered, “running away every time there’s a problem without even trying to resolve it.”

Sam paused and looked at me, his expression softening. “I wish you luck, Dee, I really do.” His voice cracked, and his eyes brimmed with sadness. I reached out and took hold of his hand as he trailed his fingers along my cheek.

“Sam . . .” I began, pressing the smooth skin of his palm against my face.

He shook his head and pulled away. “I can’t do this anymore. This time I mean it.”

My mind searched for a counterargument, but even after the door had clicked closed behind Sam, I kept circling back to his accusation—that the only thing I cared about was the outward appearance of perfection.

Feeding my misery, I popped a couple of mozzarella balls into my mouth and walked over to where Butterball perched on a leather cushion in the bay window that looked out toward the lake. Together, we scrutinized the breaking waves. If Butterball was watching for Sam to return, I was pretty sure he was in for a long, fruitless wait. After months of low-grade squabbling in the lead up to opening night, Sam’s and my relationship had grown so brittle that a single typo was enough to shatter it.

The cat pawed the container of bocconcini in my hand and meowed loudly, his not-so-subtle snack-time cue. I resisted, thinking about what Sam had said. Maybe it was time to make some changes.

Butterball caterwauled and threw a series of kitty-paw uppercuts at the cheese. The small white mozzarella balls bobbed up and down in their packaging water like shipwreck victims. When I moved the cheese out of reach, he climbed over me, his hungry eyes trained on the container. Then he restarted his campaign of screeching and punching. We played this out three or four times. My resolve defeated, I broke off a nugget of cheese and fed him as he purred contentedly.

“There you go, Bud,” I whispered. I stroked the cat’s wide span of fur and buried my face in the soft folds of his body.

Suddenly Butterball sprang from my arms. His pink tongue poked from his mouth and his abdomen began a rhythmic gyration. He retched and hiccupped for a few seconds until at last a gelatinous mass of congealed hair and spittle splatted onto the leather cushion next to me.

Perfect.

 

Excerpted from SIX FEET DEEP DISH by Mindy Quigley. Copyright © 2022 by Mindy Quigley. All rights reserved.

About Six Feet Deep Dish by Mindy Quigley:

Delilah O’Leary can’t wait to open her new gourmet deep-dish pizzeria in Geneva Bay, Wisconsin—a charming resort town with a long history as a mobsters’ hideaway, millionaires’ playground, and vacation mecca. Engaged to a hunk with a hefty trust fund, Delilah is poised to begin a life that’s just about as delicious as one of her cheesy creations.

Just before opening night, though, Delilah’s plans for pizza perfection hit the skids when her fiancé dumps her and leaves her with a very large memento from their relationship—Butterball, their spoiled, plus-sized tabby cat.

Delilah’s trouble deepens when she discovers a dead body and finds her elderly aunt holding the murder weapon. Handsome local police detective Calvin Capone, great grandson of the legendary gangster, opens an investigation, threatening to sink Delilah’s pie-in-the-sky ambitions before they can even get off the ground. To save her aunt and get her pizza place generating some dough, Delilah must deliver the real killer.

 

 

 

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