Read Spin a Wicked Web Online

Authors: Cricket McRae

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Murder, #Investigation, #Murder - Investigation, #Women Artisans, #Spinning

Spin a Wicked Web (8 page)

BOOK: Spin a Wicked Web
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"You think it's a bad idea, don't you."
"

11 It's not up to me."

"Yeah, but..."

She hesitated, then, "Is that the kind of thing you want to base
your relationship on?"

After a few moments, I met her eyes and shook my head. "No.
You're right. It's not. I'd hate it if he did something like that to me,
and if I went ahead with it, I could never take it back."

She smiled her approval.

Ruth shrugged and changed the subject. "I brought a spinning
wheel for you to practice on."

"The one from the co-op?" I was surprised she'd been allowed
to remove it from the crime scene.

"No-I had an extra at the house."

"So you have three spinning wheels? Wow."

She ducked her head. "Four actually."

"That seems like a lot. Do you use all of them?"

"Well, not this one, at least not very often. That's why you should
keep it as long as you want, until you decide what kind you want to
get."

 

I grinned. "How do you know I'm going to want my own wheel?"

"Because you, my dear, are thoroughly hooked"

Meghan snorted. "I'll say."

Erin wrinkled her nose. "You're spinning yarn? Like in the
olden days?"

"Well, yes. I guess so. Only, like so many things we do now, it's
more for fun than out of necessity. The people who used to spin in
order to cloth themselves never had that luxury."

She nodded. "Yeah, I get it. I guess there are a lot of things like
that."

Ruth gestured over her shoulder toward the pen where our four
pullets were quietly clucking and making the low moaning sounds
that count as conversation among chickens. "Like keeping laying
hens."

Meghan and I both smiled as Erin jumped in. "But the girls are
necessary. How else would we get fresh eggs for breakfast right from
our own backyard? Plus they give us fertilizer for the garden, and
then turn around and eat all the weeds from it."

"Girls?" Ruth asked, looking amused.

"Well, they are girls, aren't they? Girl chickens," Erin said.

We all liked raising the chickens and keeping them in the backyard, but she was the most enthusiastic. She cared for them exclusively, so the burden on Meghan and I came down to occasionally
buying chicken feed, grit and oyster shell. Since "the girls" would
likely produce more eggs than we could possibly use in the summer,
we'd told Erin she could sell the extras and keep the money for all
her hard work.

 

"Well," I said, spearing a few leaves of chickweed from my salad
and holding them up. "At least we get to eat some of our own weeds,
too."

Conversation continued, and I concentrated on my dinner. As
I chewed, I stubbornly pushed aside the disturbing events of the
day and focused on my environment: warm friends, the beauty of
the vegetable beds, the bat house mounted on a fence post, the
chickens getting ready to roost for the night.

When Ruth touched my arm, I jumped. "Let's take some of
these plates in," she said.

We gathered up plates and utensils, waving Meghan and Erin
back when they tried to help. Erin slipped into the hen pen, as she
called it, and began murmuring to her girls in a low voice. Meghan
watched, smiling.

In the kitchen, I quickly set to washing the plates. I love the dishwasher, don't get me wrong, but when we grilled in the summer
there were rarely enough dishes to justify starting it up. Besides, the
house still held heat from the day, and it didn't seem prudent to add
to it.

Ruth said, "The spinning wheel is in the living room."

"Thanks again for that. It's sweet of you to let me borrow it."
"

I want you to do something, though."
"

I paused in rinsing a plate. "Oh?"

I want you to go over and talk to Chris Popper."

Oh.

Slowly, I dried my hands and sat down at the kitchen table. I'd
been so caught up in my own drama that I'd nearly forgotten what
Barr had said about Chris killing Ariel. Now I remembered my
insistence that she call me if she wanted to talk, and felt torn. She'd lost her husband twice, it seemed: once to another woman and
then, finally, to an accident. But would she really have killed Ariel
over it? Especially after Scott was already dead?

 

"Barr and that woman detective think she killed Ariel," Ruth said.

There was a note of distaste in her voice when she mentioned
Robin Lane. The fledgling detective had tried to bully information
out of Ruth a few months previously. Ruth had been flat on her
back in a hospital bed at the time and in a lot of pain. Barr was
right. His partner had all the people skills of a grumpy badger.

Cautious, I inclined my head a fraction.

"Barr already told you?" Ruth said. "Well, of course he did. Will
you talk to Chris before jumping to any conclusions, and make up
your own mind? That's all I ask. Because you know how hard it is
to lose a husband. Can you imagine how hard it would have been
if, in addition to losing your husband, you'd been accused of murdering his lover on the day of his funeral?"

I blanched. Turned out I couldn't imagine it.

Barr had asked me to foster gossip amongst the CRAC crowd,
and I had already offered a listening ear should Chris be interested.
Complying with Ruth's request was a no brainer.

"Of course I'll talk to her," I said. "Though I'm not sure what
good it will do."

She shrugged and reached for a dishtowel. "To be honest, I
don't know, either. But do it anyway."

Kind of pushy, I thought. "Or you'll take away the spinning
wheel?" I joked.

Ruth smiled gently.

I stared at her placid face. "You're blackmailing me?"

"Don't be ridiculous," she said. "I'm bribing you."

 
EIGHT

AFTER RUTH LEFT, I took a long shower, dressed in a soft, oversized T-shirt and crawled into bed with one of Gladys Taber's
Stillmeadow books. Her descriptions of bucolic life in the lateseventeenth-century farmhouse she and her friend Jill had rehabbed in 1920s and '30s Connecticut seemed the perfect continuation of my determined affection for the home life I had with
Meghan and Erin.

Meghan came and stood in my bedroom doorway. I put my
book down.

"Think tomorrow will be as exciting as today?" she asked with
a rueful look.

"I hope not."

"What did Ruth want?"

I pasted innocence on my face.

"Come on. I know she came over specifically to talk to you, and
it wasn't just about twisting fiber into yarn."

"She wants me to talk to Chris."

 

"Oh. Well, that makes sense, since you're a, you know... widow."

"Yeah, that and the police think Chris had something to do
with Ariel's death."

"What!"

"Ariel and Scott were having an affair. Barr wants me to talk to
Chris, too. Well," I amended, "not just Chris. He wants me to talk to
other people at CRAC, too. More like get them talking." I'd sort of
left that out when I'd recounted my conversation with him earlier.

She stared at me. "He wants you to?"

I nodded.

"Well. I, um... " Meghan rarely looked as flummoxed as she did
at that news. "I guess nothing I say is going to make any difference."

"I'm not investigating. I promise. I'm not asking a bunch of
questions or putting myself in danger. I'm just acting as some
extra eyes and ears because Robin Lane may be gorgeous, but she
has the tact of a sledgehammer when it comes to questioning people about murder."

Understanding settled onto Meghan's face. "Ah. Promise you'll
be careful?"

"Cross my heart."

She started to leave, then turned back. "You do lead an exciting
life, don't you?"

I snorted. I couldn't help it. "Yeah. Maybe a little too exciting."

She grinned. "Goodnight."

"'Night," I said, and reached for the lamp. It was only ninethirty, but I was ready for some shut-eye. I heard Meghan dialing
New Jersey as I drifted off.

 

Fitful dreams punctuated my nighttime and early morning hours,
and sunlight began to creep through my window at four-thirty.
Days were long on both sides in the summer.

At six I gave up trying to sleep, showered again, and donned a
lightweight skirt and T-shirt in response to the weather forecast;
the temperature was supposed to advance into the nineties, which
was hot for this early in the summer. Humidity curled in the air
like a languid animal after a big meal.

Meghan, mom of the world, had breakfast waiting for me when
I came downstairs a bit before seven. Fresh strawberries from the
farmer's market piled in a bright blue bowl and splashed with
cream looked like a Fourth of July decoration as much as something to scarf down to start the day. Chicken and apple sausage,
also from the farmer's market, was joined within minutes by eggs
scrambled with fresh chives and oregano. The eggs had probably
still been warm from the chickens when she'd cracked them into
the bowl. A steaming cup of coffee topped the whole meal off.
How could I even think about leaving this?

"Where's Erin?" I asked, between bites of sausage.

Meghan joined me at the table with her own plate. She nodded
toward the backyard.

"Already?"

"Not the chickens this time," she said. "I told her if she'd weed bed
three I'd take her to the river this afternoon after camp to swim."

"Nice" We only had four small vegetable beds, but they seemed
to require constant attention. "I'll weed one today, too."

"Do you have time?" Meghan asked.

"Oddly enough, I'm pretty much caught up, except for the
usual order filling. Cyan is coming by tomorrow, so I can have her do some of that." I bit into a juicy strawberry and let out a low
moan. "God, these are good."

 

"Aren't they? Of course, by the time the season is over we'll be
sick to death of them."

It was hard to imagine, but she was right. "That's what freezers
are for. Do you have any clients today?"

"Two" Her massage business had begun to slow for the summer, too. "At noon and at one."

I have an errand to run. I'll be home later," I said.

"Sounds good."

I refrained from mentioning the errand involved spending
time alone with a possible murderer.

The ranch-style house was located on ten acres of land on the east
side of Cadyville, set back from the county road that wound north
from Highway 2. A large black dog and a smaller brown one
greeted my arrival with joyous barks and wagging tails. Laughing
at their enthusiasm, I pushed their cold noses away from my bare
legs. A metallic clang sounded from behind the house as I reached
for the doorbell.

Chris didn't answer. Another loud reverberation carried through
the air, followed by another and then another. A low droning underscored the mesmerizing rhythm. The dogs gamboled around me
as I walked around the house to the backyard.

The drone became the roar of an enclosed fire as I neared the
source: Chris' blacksmith shop. No walls enclosed the thirty-bythirty space, but eight thick corner posts supported the octagonal roof. The floor was bare dirt, swept smooth. Her arm, pale in the
relative darkness, rose and fell, the clank of the hammer on redhot metal sparking with each blow. The pounding stopped, and,
with a pair of tongs, she transferred a flat, tapering rod from the
anvil to the forge.

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