Authors: Cricket McRae
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Murder, #Investigation, #Murder - Investigation, #Women Artisans, #Spinning
Chris turned and saw me watching. I raised a hand in greeting.
"Oh. It's you," she said, swiping at the sheen of sweat on her
forehead with the back of her wrist. She beckoned me in. "Be careful. Forge's hot."
The air close to the blaze warped and shimmered with heat. The
tang of hot iron mingled with the earthy scent of Chris' perspiration. It smelled like hard work.
"Do you want some iced tea?" she asked.
"Oh. Well, there's some in the big thermos over there. Should
be some cups by it."
I found the cups and opened the thermos. "Do you want some?"
I asked. "You must be roasting in here."
"I'm fine." She sighed. "I'm sorry. I know I'm not being very
Her hair hung lank, as if she hadn't washed it for days, and it
was held back off her face on each side by blue plastic barrettes
more suited to a ten-year-old girl. She wore a white tank top that
needed an appointment with a washing machine, and faded jeans,
frayed at the edges. I wondered whether it wouldn't be safer to
wear long sleeves when working with hot metal.
"Don't worry about it," I said. I could hardly recall the period
right after Mike died. Mostly I remembered having to put on a
good show for all the people who were trying to be nice to me. At the time it had felt almost like an imposition, but now I realized it
had been one of the things that had kept me from falling apart
Chris, on the other hand didn't seem to be concerned with putting on a game face. She dipped a sopping bandanna out of a bucket
of water near her feet, used it to swab the back of her neck, and then
rubbed her forehead furiously, leaving behind a bright pink patch
"Is there anyone who can stay with you?" I asked, and took a
sip of tea. The stuff was strong enough to strip paint, and so cold
it made my teeth hurt. I rolled the sweating cup across my cheek.
"I don't want anyone to. I just want to get through this mess."
She sat on a bench and waved to the space beside her. I joined her.
She grew still, looking at me. Really looking at me for the first time
since I'd interrupted her work. "Does Barr know you're here?"
I shook my head. Well, he didn't, did he?
"Do you know about the murder investigation?"
I paused, and her gaze became suspicious. No way to lie here,
and probably no reason to, either. Thank God. I was a horrible
"Oh, I know about it," I said. "For one thing, I found Ariel. And,
yes, Barr mentioned something about you being a suspect."
For a split second she looked triumphant, before it quickly
faded to sadness underscored with a heavy dose of anger.
"So did Ruth," I added.
Chris looked at me curiously. "Is that why you're here?"
"Did you kill Ariel?"
"Okay then. I told you after the funeral that I'd lost my husband. I know how rough it is. But ... can I be frank?"
"Please. I'm sick and tired of people tiptoeing around me."
"My husband died of cancer, not in a sudden accident. He
wasn't having an affair. And I wasn't accused of killing his lover. So
in my book, this has got to be even harder on you than it was on
me. I thought you might want someone to talk to. Or cry on. Or
She stared at me, and for a moment I thought I'd gone too far.
Then a smile tugged at her lips.
"I'm available. That's all," I said.
"Noted," she said. "I think I'll have some tea after all."
I poured frigid brown liquid out of her thermos into a plastic
cup and handed it to her.
"Why do they think you did it?" I asked.
Barr hadn't told me much, and I was curious. He was no dummy,
after all. Maybe she really had killed the girl. I eyed her bulging
She sighed. "You already know that Scott and Ariel were having
"How did the police find out?"
"I told them."
"You knew about it before the accident?"
"Oh, yes. I knew. He knew I knew. She knew I knew. Everyone
concerned knew. Hell, the cops he worked with probably already
knew before I told them."
I don't think so," I said. "Barr seemed pretty surprised."
She stood and grabbed the tongs, used them to remove the flat
bar of metal from the forge. It glowed a high, bright yellow that was almost white at the tip. She lifted the hammer. Slam! I jumped
at the burst of sound.
"But he didn't want to stop seeing her. He was going to leave
me." Fury rode her tone. She shifted the angle of the bar on the
anvil. Bang! I jumped again, even though I'd seen it coming.
A trail of perspiration trickled down my side under my T-shirt,
and I leaned back, away from the heat. No wonder Barr and Robin
thought she had a good motive if she'd acted like this when they'd
talked to her. Naked anger rolled off her in waves.
"I told them all of that," she said. "I wanted them to know what
kind of man they worked with. I wanted them to know he wasn't
as perfect as they seemed to think he was."
She clenched her fists around hammer and tongs so hard they
turned white and began shaking. For the first time I felt a trill of
fear, and I shivered in spite of the heat.
Then her eyes filled with tears. "I didn't even realize why they
were here. I thought it was a condolence call. I handed myself to
them on a platter." She was choking out the words now.
She put the tools down with studied care, and I jumped up and
led her back to the bench. The sobs that followed sounded like they
were being ripped out of her chest against her will. I took a chance
and left her, running to the back door and into her kitchen. I rifled
quickly through her cupboards. There. I grabbed the bottle of Hornitos and ran back out to the smithy. I tossed her iced tea on the
grass, replaced it with a shot of tequila and set it on the seat beside
her. Then I patted her on the back, and waited.
It took a while for her to run down, but when she did, she
slammed the shot in one swallow with a grateful glance my way,
shuddered once, and was quiet.
"Wow," she said. "That's the first time I really cried about it."
I wondered whether "it" referred to Scott's death, or his affair
with Ariel-or both.
"Believe me," I said. "It won't be the last time. But it will get
I still couldn't get over the affair between Scott and Ariel. They
were so mismatched: he, a rough-and-tumble, racecar-driving cop
who was at least twenty years her senior, and she, an airy, unfocused artist. He'd been good-looking enough, but I didn't get what
she'd seen in him beyond that. Maybe she'd had a daddy complex?
"There's something I don't really understand," I said. "Why
would you kill Ariel three days after Scott's accident?" It wasn't the
most tactful thing to say, I know. But geez, how else was I supposed
to put it? Talk about closing the barn door after the horse is long
"They think I was so mad that I didn't care."
"That's nuts," I said.
"They think I'm nuts. Anyone who kills someone else out of
jealousy is nuts. If I'd actually done it, I'd agree with them."
I couldn't help it. I had trouble thinking about Ariel and Scott
without my doppelganger nibbling constantly at the edge of my
attention. Of course it was nuts to kill someone out of jealousy.
But there was a tiny part of me that could understand going nuts
in precisely that way.
"How long had you known?" I asked.
"About three months. I found out shortly after it started." She
looked longingly at the bottle of tequila, sitting on the ground.
I poured out another and handed it to her. "Were you angry at
She gave me a look, then downed the second shot. "No, I thought
it was great that he was seeing a woman who could have been his
daughter, and didn't seem to give a damn whether I knew it or not.
What's to be angry about?"
"Yeah, okay. Sorry. Stupid question. Do you have any kind of
an alibi for when the murder occurred?"
I looked the question at her.
"Detective Lane asked me what I was doing between eight and
ten, night before last. If that's when that little bitch was killed, then
I'm home free."
I readjusted my idea that Ariel had been killed the morning of
Scott's funeral. Apparently her body had been at CRAG for hours
before I found her.
"What were you doing?" I asked.
"Ruth and Irene were over here. Jake was, too, for a while. They
were here from a bit before seven until after ten."
I took in the blue half moons under Chris' red-rimmed eyes,
the tiny tremor in her hand even after knocking back a couple
shots of tequila. Could she handle an arrest, a trial, the scandal
that would result in a town this size?
"So let's hope Robin asking you about that time means that's
when the murder occurred. Then they'll have to look elsewhere," I
said. As long as Robin didn't turn her attention back to me.
Chris' eyes flicked up at me and then away again. "I know that
department. Scott worked there for fifteen years. They know what
they're doing. It's just that right now they're going down the wrong track" She stood and nodded toward the house. "Do you
want something to eat? People have given me so much food, and I
don't have much of an appetite right now. I think I'm done beating up on metal for this afternoon."
"No, thanks. I have to be going. But Chris?"
"The offer to talk still stands. If you want to be left alone right
now, that's fine, but if you change your mind, well..."
"Okay. Thanks. I'll keep it in mind."
"So WHAT ARE WE going to do with her art?" Jake Beagle asked.
"We can't just keep displaying it at the co-op. What if someone
wants to buy it?"
"Fat chance," Irene muttered.
Jake, Irene, Ruth, and I had gathered around a small rickety table
in the corner of the Beans R Us coffee shop to talk about how to
keep the co-op from going under. All of Cadyville knew a woman
had been murdered in the studio, and the yellow crime scene tape
strung over the exterior doors provided a constant reminder in case
anyone forgot. No one was allowed inside, so we couldn't retrieve
any of our belongings or any of the artists' stock or supplies.
Behind the counter, the barista, Luce, fussed with bags of coffee
beans and craned her head so as to best hear our conversation.
"Making money off someone's death isn't right," Jake said, still
talking about Ariel's big splotchy paintings.
"Isn't that something we should worry about later?" I asked.
Irene was right; no one was likely to buy Ariel's art right away. After all, no one had bought any of it yet. "Right now isn't the main problem getting back into the building?"
Irene flicked a quick sidelong look my direction.
"Detective Lane told me we'd be able to get back in tomorrow
afternoon, at least downstairs. The crime scene people may be
done with the upstairs by then, too." Ruth said.
All eyes turned to me, as if I should have already had this information. I looked at the floor. Barr and I had only spoken briefly on
the phone since he'd dropped the triple bombshell of ex-wife, sister and fortune on me the previous afternoon.
"So, it is pertinent, what we do with Ariel's art." Jake again. "If
we're going to re-open.CRAC"
Irene scowled at him, then quickly transferred her gaze out the
window. Ruth sat quietly and watched all of us. Chris had said
she'd rather not join us, and no one blamed her. Ruth had invited
me along, just as she had invited me to join the co-op in the first
place. I'd jumped at the chance to be in on the discussion, but now
I felt like an interloper.
"You may be right," I said. "She must have some family."
"Just a brother, I think," Ruth said. "Up north, around La Conner. I don't know his name." She looked the question at all of us,
and we all shook our heads.
"There can't be that many Skylarks in La Conner," I said.
"I believe he has a different last name. Ariel changed hers to
Skylark," Ruth said.
"Really?" Jake asked, bushy eyebrows climbing up his forehead.
Irene rolled her eyes. "Don't tell me you're surprised."
"What about friends around here?" I asked.
Everyone shook their heads.
"Us," Ruth said. "And she had a roommate"
"I wasn't her friend." Irene's tone was flat. "But I guess Jake
was." She gave him a little wink, which looked downright weird
coming from her.
He looked out the window.
Sheesh. What was wrong with these people?
"Tell you what," I said. "I'll go talk to her roommate, see if I
can find out more about her brother. Maybe we can just ship the
art off to him."