Authors: Cricket McRae
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Murder, #Investigation, #Murder - Investigation, #Women Artisans, #Spinning
His head swung back and forth. "No, no. Don't do that. You
said you wouldn't make it into anything if I told you what I was
I shrugged. "Okay. You're the detective, and he was your friend."
He reached over and tousled my hair. I ducked away from his
hand, nearly twisting my ankle in my brand-new three-inch heels,
and he grinned. I still wasn't quite used to my short bob, after having hair down to my waist for most of my adult life.
I need to get going," he said.
"You're not going to the reception?"
Crap. In the last two days I'd asked him twice what he'd wanted
to talk to me about, but he'd sidestepped me each time, telling me
it could wait. Maybe it could, but I couldn't.
"Robin's holding down the fort back at the cop shop with a lone
cadet," he said. "She offered, since she hasn't been in the department
all that long, and she knew everyone would want to go to Scott's funeral. But she shouldn't have to handle everything herself for too
Detective Robin Lane: Barr's new partner. She was also, I might
add, drop-dead gorgeous, a fact he pretended not to notice. It was
even more irritating because she didn't seem to realize it, either.
"I want to make an appearance at the reception and have a quick
word with Chris," I said. "And Meghan's booked with massages all
afternoon, so I need to pass on her sympathies as well." Meghan Bly
was my housemate and my best friend.
We said goodbye, and Barr walked away down the sidewalk. I
watched him go, noting the lanky, confident stride. I was pretty
sure he was The One, but even though he kept pushing me to
move in with him, I'd resisted so far. Lately, I'd been thinking
about it more seriously, about actually sharing his address on the
edge of town.
The thought sent a bolt of perfectly balanced thrill and terror
through my solar plexus.
I WENT BACK INSIDE and down the worn, carpeted stairs to the
church basement where the reception was already underway. A
long table against the far wall sagged under an abundance of food
and more food, the traditional buttress against grief. It was almost
lunchtime, so I sidled up to take a look. Fried chicken, sandwich
makings, and crusty rolls started off the procession of platters, followed by a steaming casserole of macaroni and cheese with ham
and a crock pot of bacon-laced baked beans. Then came the pasta
salad, the German potato salad, the Parmesan-laden Caesar, and
an enormous fruit plate. Strawberry rhubarb pie, chocolate cake
,and raisin oatmeal cookies topped off the menu. I inhaled, slow
and deep; it all smelled heavenly.
About thirty people milled about, several in dress uniform,
most with loaded plates already in hand. I picked Chris out across
the room, talking to Irene Nelson, and wove my way through the
knots of murmured conversation toward her. Irene broke off mid sentence when she saw me approaching, and both women turned
"Chris. How are you?" I asked.
She smiled, though it didn't quite reach her eyes. "I'm doing all
right. Thanks for coming." Her pupils were dilated-no doubt
Jake's tranquilizers at work.
"Of course," I said. "Meghan couldn't come, but she wanted me
to tell you that her thoughts are with you."
"Tell her thank you for me."
"I will." All this felt very stilted. I took a deep breath. "I lost my
own husband a while back. I know how hard it can be. If you need
to talk, if you need anything, I hope you'll call me."
Chris blinked, and her smile faded. Her head bobbed once.
Jake Beagle came up to us then, so I gave Chris a quick hug and
left them talking. I passed Zak Nelson, who stood chatting with his
boss, Dusty, from the Fix-It shop. Zak's hair was pulled back into a
ponytail, and he wore a decent sports jacket. It looked like he'd
even burnished his various piercings, but no matter how shiny and
scrubbed he was, he still couldn't get the black grease entirely out
from under his fingernails.
After I piled a few bites of everything on offer on a flimsy paper
plate, I teetered over to a metal folding chair in my heels and managed to adopt a sitting position without spilling anything. Carefully holding the cardboard disk that was the only thing between
my lunch and my lap, I took a hesitant bite of baked beans.
Oh, Lord. They had onion and green pepper and little bits of
sausage mixed in with the bacon, as well as a healthy dose of molasses and spices. I took another tiny bite, trying to make it last.
Ruth Black plopped into the chair next to me.
I swallowed. "Hi, Ruth. Do you know who brought these beans?
She looked pleased. "I did, actually."
"Oh, gosh. Could I get the recipe from you?"
"Of course, dear. It was my mother's, and always seems popular at gatherings." She looked at Chris, still talking with Jake, and
"I know," I said. "It seems wrong to have what amounts to a
party right after the funeral."
"Oh, no. It's good to do this. It gives people a chance to talk
about Scott." She lowered her voice. "Of course, if Scott had been a
real Irish Catholic, we'd be whooping it up big time for days. I just
love an Irish wake." Her eyes twinkled.
"I've never been to one," I said.
"Well, if you ever get a chance, you should take it."
I almost laughed. "I'll make a note."
She smiled and changed the subject. "I haven't been out to Ca-
ladia Acres lately. How is Tootie doing these days?"
"Oh, you're not going to believe this," I said. "Tootie's on a
cruise. The Caribbean."
"Really? With her arthritis? I wouldn't have thought her health
would allow it."
"Ninety-five or not, Tootie has taken a turn for the better. In a
big way. And his name is Felix."
Ruth's eyebrows climbed her forehead. "You don't mean..."
"Oh, yes. I certainly do. Tootie Hanover has a new boyfriend,
and they've gone on a cruise together."
"Good for her." Ruth looked at me out of the corner of her eye.
"Now I just need to find me one of those."
"No, silly. A boyfriend."
"I'll keep a lookout," I said.
She laughed again. "Be warned: I'm pretty picky. Now, are you
coming over to the co-op this afternoon for your lesson?"
"I figured we'd skip it today, what with the funeral and all."
"No, let's keep going. You're doing so well, and each day you get
a little better."
When I began spending time at CRAG, I found Ruth was there
more often than not, spinning away on her wheel or giving lessons
to a variety of students. I kept watching, fascinated, and one day
she let me try. From then on, I was hooked. So far I'd been spinning sheep's wool, which was wonderful, but I itched to try some
other, more exotic fibers, as well.
"Well, okay," I said. "I'll be there."
"And I think you should take the wheel home, so you'll have it
to practice on."
"But what will you use?"
"Oh, I have a new one. You can borrow the old one until you get
your own." She said this matter-of-factly, but I could tell she was
pleased as punch about the new wheel. Some women love shoes.
Some love jewelry. Ruth loved fiber and all the tools to work with it.
"That'd be great," I said, a little too loud. A couple of heads
turned toward the enthusiasm in my voice. I hunched my shoulders
and studied my plate.
"I have to drop Uncle Thad home, and then I'll be over," Ruth
"How is Thaddeus?" I craned my neck and saw him, grizzled
and serene, leaning on his cane by the buffet table.
Ruth smiled fondly at him. "He's going to outlast me." She
stood. "I'll see you in a little while." She moved to where Felicia
Beagle stood alone, nibbling on a piece of cantaloupe and watching her husband. Felicia smiled at Ruth's approach, holding out a
be-ringed hand in greeting as if they were old friends. For all I
knew, they were.
I had to dash home and change out of my hot dressy clothes
into something casual, comfy, and cool, so I bolted my food, said
goodbye to Chris and left early. As I drove away from the church I
thought about Ruth's offer to let me borrow her wheel. Maybe I
shouldn't. It might distract me too much at home.
Nah. Surely I could keep my new obsession under control.
I arrived at the co-op before Ruth. She'd be at the reception for a
while longer, I was sure, but I wanted to take another look at a
hand-painted bamboo roving begging for me to spin it into beautiful, luxurious yarn. It was awfully expensive, though, and I wasn't
sure I was ready to work with it yet.
The co-op was housed in the old library at the end of First
Street, which Chris had bought for a song-and several thousand
dollars-after the town had constructed a brand-new, state-ofthe-art facility across from the police station. The ancient building
reflected the important role logging had once played in Cadyville,
built as it was of enormous Douglas fir trunks painstakingly
chinked together. Inside, gleaming wood paneling graced the walls, tongue and groove floor boards creaked underfoot and wide,
rough stairs worn visibly thinner in the center from more than a
hundred years of footsteps curved up to the second level.
The first floor no longer held children's books, but instead
offered various arts and crafts for sale. Upstairs, a collection of
supplies and crafting tools dominated what was once the fiction
section of the library. Toward the rear of the building, the former
nonfiction and periodicals section had been divided into a half
dozen small studio spaces for use by CRAG artists.
Heavy floor cloths painted in earth tones delineated functional
areas, and light spilled in from well-placed windows. Chris had
asked me to develop a signature aromatherapy blend to add to the
atmosphere, and the mild fragrances of sandalwood, lavender, and
orange subtly permeated the air, welcoming all who entered.
Thank goodness Ruth had wanted to continue my lessons despite the funeral. I really did walk away from those spinning sessions more calm and refreshed. With keys in hand, I hurried up
the river rock path that led from the parking lot.
A few feet away, I paused.
The heavy wooden door was already ajar a few inches. I pushed
it open, expecting to find someone manning the retail shop, but
the interior lights were off. Someone must have come in to use the
studio space upstairs and neglected to lock the door behind them.
Cadyville wasn't exactly crime central, but risking robbery like that
was downright irresponsible.
I looked back over my shoulder at the parking lot. Three vehicles besides mine were slotted into the diagonal spaces in the parking lot, but people unassociated with CRAG were always parking
there, especially in the summer. The Red Dog Antique Mall took up most of the block across from the co-op, and customers frequently used our parking lot despite the signage threatening that
they'd be towed. Daydreaming about spinning, I hadn't paid much
attention to the other vehicles. Now I squinted into the sunlight. A
powder-blue Ford Focus peeked out from behind a monster-sized
king cab pickup.
Ariel Skylark's car.
Between her unkind words about Chris the other day, her absence at the funeral, and now leaving the door to the co-op open
so anyone could wander in, it was well past time someone gave
that snotty little prima donna a dressing down.
Pressing my lips together, I went inside and flipped on all the
overhead lights. I strode through the eclectic displays, around tables piled with sculpture, art glass, jewelry, my Winding Road bath
products, and a myriad of other items. Past those horrid blackand-white-and-red-all-over paintings and Jake's photographs
hanging on the walls. Up the stairs, past shelves packed with supplies, barely glancing toward the section devoted to various fiber
arts. The bamboo roving could wait.