Authors: Carol Ann Martin
A WEAVING MYSTERY
CAROL ANN MARTIN
I pushed the bedroom door open and had just stepped in when I was overcome by a sickly sweet metallic odor. My eyes darted around the dim room and came to rest on a bundle on the floor. Gradually my vision adjusted and—I screamed. There, in the middle of the empty room, was a man lying in a pool of blood.
Feeling faint, I crouched down, my hands reaching out to the solid floor for support.
David bounded over and brushed past me. He gasped and stood frozen while I tried to regain my breath. He took a few hesitant steps into the room and bent over the body. “Shit,” he said, followed by a long list of other expletives. He crouched and picked up a limp hand, feeling for a pulse. A wave of nausea hit me.
“Is he dead?” I whispered hoarsely.
“Dead as a doorknob,” he said, dropping the hand.
The room seemed to tilt, and I forced myself to breathe slowly, regularly. I dared another glance. There was something familiar, something—I squelched another rush of nausea and looked again. “Do you know who— Oh, my God!” I exclaimed, getting a look at the dead man’s face. “Is this who I think it is?”
“It’s Jeremy Fox,” he muttered, and when he looked up at me, his face was as pale as the dead man’s. He took a shaky breath and said, “I think he’s been murdered.”
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First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,
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First Printing, June 2013
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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I would like to thank the following people for their help and their contributions to this novel: my husband, who took over much of the cooking while I took weaving lessons; all the wonderful people at Obsidian who patiently answered my questions; my wonderful editor, Jesse Feldman, without whose help this novel would never have been; and most importantly, Brenda Nicolson, for teaching this newbie the basics of weaving and for correcting my many mistakes. Any remaining mistakes about weaving in this novel are mine and mine alone.
I thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.
metimes in the middle of the night, I worried that this might all have been a huge mistake—
being the leap I’d recently made. At the age of thirty-five, a time in life when—as my mother liked to point out—most sane women were either married with children or just hitting their professional stride, I had left a perfectly good career as a business analyst to become a weaver. That’s right. A
But whatever she thought, I hadn’t arrive at this decision easily. A year ago, something happened that shook me to my core. I was accused of embezzling from my company, and if I had not been able to prove to the authorities that my boss was the guilty party, right now I would be the one serving a ten-year jail term instead of him. Just as sure as my name is Della Wright.
It had been time for a change.
So, crazy or not, here I was in my new studio, waiting for somebody—anybody—to show up. I glanced at my watch again—six forty-five, and still not a soul in sight.
I looked down at Winston, the French bulldog I’d inherited with the house where I was living and setting up shop. He wasn’t exactly the kind of dog I might have chosen for myself. My taste in pooches ran more toward the tiny poodle variety. In fact, I used to have a tiny poodle, and she was a lot prettier than the dog at my feet. Winston was thirty pounds of solid muscle on a squat frame, and he had a flat face frozen in a perpetual grimace. Good God, the dog was ugly. Admittedly, though, for all his vicious appearance, he would have been about as effective as a lamb when it came to protecting me. Winston, or Winnie, as I had nicknamed him, was more likely to lick an intruder to death than to chase him away. He was so sweet that I was beginning to actually like him.
I bent down to scratch his ear.
“You are my buddy, aren’t you?”
He glanced up at me with big, mournful eyes and yawned.
“Don’t worry, Winnie. People will show up—you’ll see.” He stared at me, looking less than convinced. Oh, God, people
to show up. I couldn’t have done all this only to fall flat on my face.
I’d moved here just over two months ago, and so far I’d hardly earned enough to keep me in java, my personal addiction. All the while I’d been spending, spending, spending: three new looms picked up on craigslist (I needed those. Honestly! How was I supposed to give classes unless I had a few looms?); yarn—dozens upon dozens of gorgeous yarns I hadn’t been able to resist (what can I say—fate led me to that yarn shop two days before it closed). And then there was the cost of fixing up my new abode.
Last Christmas I’d admitted to my friend Matthew Baker just how miserable I felt. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. I was a zombie at work. Being branded a stool pigeon and a whistle-blower by one’s coworkers will do that to a person. That’s the damn thing about the investment industry; those in it would more easily forgive a person for stealing than for reporting criminal activity by a superior. So rather than applaud me for giving the evidence to the SEC, my coworkers turned on me. It was a nightmare, living in a place where no one trusted me enough even to share
Anyhow, after I confided in Matthew, he very generously offered to lend me his house.
“I have just the place for you,” he’d said, going on to paint an idyllic picture of Briar Hollow, the small town at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains where he lived. He offered to switch places for a little over a week—I would take his house and he’d take my condo in Charlotte. “You’ll enjoy a much-needed vacation, and I’ll save myself two hours of daily commuting at the same time.”
Matthew had recently accepted a position teaching criminology at the University of Charlotte, a job he intended to leave just as soon as he realized his life dream—landing a publishing deal for a book on criminology. What he didn’t say, but I suspected, was that he would also enjoy living closer to his girlfriend, Amanda, whom I referred to as Blondie. He had been dating Blondie for a couple of years, and even though she somehow always rubbed me the wrong way, the truth was she was perfectly nice.
I decided to take his offer. Ten days away from my job was exactly what I needed. Afterward, I would go back to work refreshed and reenergized. Except, that’s not exactly what happened.
The farther I got from Charlotte, the more I wondered, why just ten days? I’d always dreamed of opening my own weaving studio, a notion that my mother insisted was sweet and romantic but hardly practical. (Poor Mom, to this day she could not accept that I was a grown woman who did not need her advice.) I had long ago folded away my dream and stored it in an almost forgotten corner of my mind. Weaving was fine as a hobby, and that was what it had become. Whenever the stress of my work became too much, I would sit and weave, sometimes far into the night.
It’s incredible just how soothing the process can be—the rhythmic throwing of the shuttle from hand to hand and the beat of one’s feet walking the treadles, not to mention the satisfaction of the completed project—ahhh, happiness.
In the past, I would’ve reluctantly packed away the loom and trudged off to my real job in the morning. But when I got to Briar Hollow, I just kept thinking,
I do it? Maybe it was because I had nothing left to lose: I had few friends in Charlotte (lately, anyway) and no job satisfaction—in fact, hardly a stable job at all, given how things were going.
The old-fashioned gingerbread house was just right. It had a living room/dining room combo separated by an arched doorway. I could open a shop in one, and in the sunny corner of the other, I could have a studio with an AVL loom—the one I’d always dreamed of owning. All I would have to do was convince Matthew that we should make our arrangement permanent.
“You want to
there?” Matthew had exclaimed when I told him my new idea. “You mean, full-time?” I could almost hear the gears clicking in his mind. “Well, I suppose we could switch places until you find something permanent. There’d be no rush. I love living in your condo. It’s so close to my work.” And to Blondie, no doubt. “But Winston would have to stay with you,” he’d added. “He’d be miserable by himself in your small condo all day.”
We’d struck a deal. I would take care of Winston, and Matthew would stay in my condo until either one of us changed our mind, which I knew meant I could count on living here for as long as I wanted. I mean, honestly, anyone would be nuts to take a two-hour commute over a ten-minute drive—right?
From then on, Matthew’s dog became my roommate, and I never looked back.
I named my studio Dream Weaver, and to help generate interest I announced weaving classes for all levels of ability. I also decided to organize weaving groups as a good and inexpensive way to promote my shop. Tonight’s group was for a charity project, making baby blankets for the local hospital. Well, it wasn’t really the
hospital. St. Anthony’s was about ten miles out of town, nearer to Belmont than to Briar Hollow, which technically made it the
hospital. I was hoping the charity angle would attract a mix of people, and that those with less weaving proficiency might enroll in my classes. But it was now five minutes to seven and nobody was here. My earlier optimism was fast deflating.
I looked down at Winston. “What do you think, Winnie? People are bound to show up, right?”
“You are such a pessimist.”
For the tenth time, I pulled back the lace curtains and peeked outside. And—
yes, at last
—a car was pulling up. I hurried away from the window, coaxing Winston to follow. He lumbered behind me, a puzzled expression on his mug.
“Sorry, Winnie, but you’ll have to stay in here.” I closed the kitchen door behind him and hurried to the front just as the bell above the door tinkled. A middle-aged woman with Lucille Ball hair and eyes heavy with makeup waddled in, carrying a large knitting bag. She set it down and brushed her hands over her zebra-print capri pants, which made her already large behind look twice its size.
“Hello, hello!” she exclaimed. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
“You’re actually a few minutes early,” I said with a smile. “I’m Della Wright. Welcome to Dream Weaver.”
“Marnie Potter,” the woman said, fanning herself dramatically with a bejeweled hand. “My, but it’s hot in here. Don’t you have air-conditioning?” Beads of moisture had gathered on her forehead. I thought it was humid rather than hot, but I wasn’t about to argue.
“It is hot, isn’t it?” I looked around for a solution. “I’ll open a window. That should help. Oh, and I have a fan upstairs.” I hurried to the window, but no amount of struggling would get it to budge.
Marnie frowned. “Where is everyone? I thought I was joining a group. We won’t produce very many baby blankets with just the two—”
At the sound of the bell, we both turned to see a pleasant-looking, sandy-haired woman, wearing a gauzy tie-dyed top over a pair of black yoga pants that were hugging what was one of the tightest bodies I had ever seen. I wasn’t in the habit of ogling other women’s bodies, but this one could have been a walking advertisement for a health club. It wasn’t a look I could ever hope to achieve with my short stature and gargantuan appetite—I was just lucky to weigh one hundred and fifteen and not two hundred and fifteen. I glanced at her tiny waist enviously. On second thought, I wouldn’t give up eating, not even for a tight body like hers. I studied her outfit. It was interesting—sexy, in a New Age or bohemian sort of way.
I became aware of my own Ralph Lauren natural-linen pants and Navajo-inspired beaded shirt, which identified me as exactly what I was—a city girl trying to fit into her new small-town life by dressing in a designer’s version of country duds. I suddenly felt self-conscious.
“Hi. I’m here for the weaving group.” She spotted the looms in the workshop. “And it looks like I’m in the right place.” She offered her hand. “Jenny Davis.” Her smile lit the room.
“Della Wright. I’m the owner.”
“Nice to meet you.” She looked around and nodded a hello to Marnie. “So you’re joining the group too?”
“You two know each other?”
Marnie chuckled. “This is Briar Hollow, sugar pie. Everybody knows each other around here.”
It was difficult for a city girl to conceive of a town being so small that everybody knew everybody. I really wasn’t in Charlotte anymore. That, however, had been the whole point of moving here. I’d wanted to live in a place where one could live life at a slower pace. I’d wanted a home in a town where people said hello to each other on the street, where trust and loyalty existed and where the likelihood of being embroiled in an embezzlement case was nonexistent.
Meanwhile, Jenny had wandered farther into the room. “I’ve been dying to see what you did with the place. Oh, will you look at those.” She made a beeline to the maple hutch I’d salvaged from the garage next to the house. I’d emptied it of car parts and an assortment of tools, and then waxed and polished the old piece until it glowed. Now it was the display case for my fine-linen towels and dishcloths.
Jenny reverently touched one of the towels. “These are gorgeous. Did you make them?”
“I did. That one is a Swedish design called monk’s cloth. It’s also known as huck embroidery.”
Marnie Potter approached. “That is fine work indeed. You’re very good.” Her tone was almost grudging.
“Thank you. I’m glad you think so. Weaving is my passion. I just hope I can make a living at it.” I was about to ask the women about their experience with weaving when the doorbell rang again.
“Hello. I’m here to weave baby blankets,” the young woman said, her gaze sweeping over Marnie and me, and then over the store. I had an immediate impression of a laser-sharp mind.
“Welcome to Dream Weaver. I’m Della. And you are?”
Her dark lashes flickered, and she smiled. “Susan Wood.” She extended her hand, her eyes focused on mine. “Nice to meet you.”
On second glance, I realized that Susan Wood was older than I’d first thought. She looked to be in her mid – to late twenties, with auburn hair in a shoulder-length blunt cut. She wore jeans and an open white shirt with rolled-up sleeves over a T-shirt. That was how I should dress if I wanted to fit in. On second thought, scratch that. With my body, it was easy to look chubby rather than curvaceous. I would stick to Ralph Lauren. My body needed Ralph almost as much as it needed caffeine.
“Susan, why don’t you join the others? I’m sure I don’t have to introduce you. I’ll be right back.” I dashed upstairs and retrieved the fan from my bedroom, making a mental note to buy a couple more before the next meeting. When I returned to the front room, Marnie and Jenny were chatting away like old friends—which, for all I knew, they might well have been.
With excitement I heard the bell jingle again, but my cheer ebbed when a man walked in. He was tall and handsome in a business sort of way, in his late thirties to early forties and wearing a gray suit and tie. Surely he was not here for weaving. Everyone grew silent as they turned to stare.
He closed the door behind him and scowled. “Is this the place for the charity weaving group?”
“Yes, it is.” I set the fan on the floor. “Are you here to join the group?”
“What else would I be doing here?” he grumbled, looking about as pleased as a bear in a trap.
I sensed trouble. Why was it that every group had to have at least one churl?