Authors: Diane Vallere
Suede to Rest
“Toile, taffeta, and trouble! There's a new material girl in town! Poly may have an eye for fashion but she's also a resourceful and gutsy sleuth. Diane Vallere skillfully blends two mysteries in this smart and engaging tale that will keep you guessing to the very end.”
New York Times
bestselling author of the Domestic Diva Mysteries
Suede to Rest
, Diane Vallere has fashioned a terrific mystery, rich with detail and texture. Polyester Monroe is a sassy protagonist who will win your hearts with her seamless style and breezy wit. The first in the series promises readers hours of deftly-woven whodunit enjoyment.”
âDaryl Wood Gerber, Agatha Awardâwinning author of the nationally bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries
“Diane Vallere has stitched up an engaging new series with an intelligent, resourceful heroine in Polyester Monroe, plus a great supporting cast and a clever plot. Vallere's knowledge of the fashion business adds an extra layer of authenticity.
Suede to Rest
is a strong addition to the cozy mystery genre.”
New York Times
bestselling author of the Magical Cats Mysteries
“In the Material Witness Mystery Series, Diane Vallere weaves a tapestry of finely knit characters, luxurious fabrics, andÂ .Â .Â . murder.”
âJanet Bolin, national bestselling author of the Threadville Mysteries
PRAISE FOR THE MYSTERY NOVELS OF DIANE VALLERE
“A diverting mystery that offers laughs and chills.”
“Fashion is always at the forefront, but never at the cost of excellent writing, humorous dialogue, or a compelling story.”
Kings River Life Magazine
“A clever and enjoyable read.”
“I find this series addictiveÂ .Â .Â . Such a talented author.”
Night Owl Reviews
“A humorous yet adventurous read of mystery, very much worth considering.”
Midwest Book Review
“Diane Vallere takes the reader through this cozy mystery with her signature wit and humor.”
New York Journal of Books
“Instead of clashing, humor and danger meld perfectly.”
RT Book Reviews
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SUEDE TO REST
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2014 by Diane Vallere.
by Diane Vallere copyright Â© 2014 by Diane Vallere.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-13608-3
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / November 2014
Cover illustration by Matthieu Forichon.
Cover design by Sarah Oberrender.
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.
To my family
Thank you to: my parents for loaning out family names for characters and for not telling me I need a “real job.” Extra thanks to my mom, Mary Vallere, the true fabric expert in the family, for being my consultant.
Krista Davis and Daryl Wood Gerber, who helped set the whole thing in motion; Peg Cochran, Janet Bolin, Sophie Kelly, Leslie Budewitz, and Gigi Pandian, for your cheering along the way. Jessica Faust, for support, guidance, and suggestions to make the proposal even better; Katherine Pelz, for seeing the series potential; and Janet Robbins, for knowing what to do with sticky things like hyphens and commas.
Brittany Pollard, for sharing experiences from your own life and inspiring Poly's backstory; The Sew and Sew in Glendora, California, for answering my questions about the running of a fabric store; Randy and Ben at Mood Fabrics, Los Angeles; and Grace Topping, Richard Goodman, and Dru Ann Love for your highly valued and appreciated input and feedback.
And lastly, my inner circle: Kendel Flaum, for being a friend like no other; and Josh Hickman, without whom life would be one big graymare.
A breeze rippled
through the trees to the left and the right of the storefront. I stood across the street, taking in the blacked-out windows and the once-magnificent sign now covered in bird poop, decades of grime, and spray-painted curse words.
Land of a Thousand Fabrics
, it said. I wondered briefly if that had ever been true, if my great-aunt, Millie, and great-uncle, Marius, had ever actually counted the bolts of fabric in their inventory or amassed that number in order to avoid false advertising. And now that it had been left to me, I wondered if that would become my concern.
“Do you want to go inside or are you going to stand here all day?” asked Ken Watts. He looked very official in his navy-blue double-breasted blazer with
Watts Realtor Agency
embroidered over the left breast pocket in gold threads. More official than I remembered him looking the last time I saw him: at our high school graduation ten years ago, when he wore his football uniform under his cap and gown.
“Nobody's been in there for years, right?”
Ken flipped through the pages on his brown clipboard. “Right. Since Mildred Monroe was murdâ” He stopped talking midsentence. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought that up.”
“Don't be sorry. Nobody in my family ever wants to talk about Aunt Millie, but I don't mind.” I took a deep breath and lowered my head, preparing myself to march across the street, into the store. Times like these I wished I had a cascade of hair to hide my face, but my short reddish-brown hair, so overdue for a maintenance cut that it was starting to look like a shag, did little more than tickle my forehead when the wind blew.
“Poly, you don't have to do this if you don't want to. I can arrange for you to sell the store without ever having to go inside.” He stared at me. “You probably didn't even have to make the trip. I could have faxed the paperwork to your office in Los Angeles. You could have signed it, faxed it back, and it would all be over and done with.”
“I wanted to come back. I would have come back ten years ago for Aunt Millie's funeral or memorial service, only there wasn't one. And now that Uncle Marius is gone, the store is the only thing left of them.”
“A lot of people were mad at your uncle because he didn't have a service for her.”
“My parents said he couldn't admit she was gone. That's why he never sold the store.”
“He wasted a lot of money paying down the mortgage on this place when there was no income. Turned down a lot of solid offers on it, too.”
“If it protects your memories and keeps your heart from breaking, can it really be considered a waste of money?” I asked, looking again at the once-glamorous sign.
“That's one way of looking at it.”
“He's my great-uncle, and that's
way of looking at it.”
A truck loaded down with ladders, orange cones, and men in yellow construction hats drove past us, obstructing my view of the storefront. A thin old man with a cane approached from the left. He stopped in front of the store, studied me for a few seconds, then nodded at Ken and continued past us.
“Who was that?”
“Mr. Pickers. He's head of the Senior Patrol. They're a group of retirees who keep an eye on things around San LadrÃ³n.”
I watched the man continue down the street. It was just after four, between the lunch and the dinner crowds I expected would fill up the restaurants on the street, and, now that the head of the Senior Patrol had moved on to other pressing matters, it was just Ken and me.
“Can I have the keys?”
“You know she was murdered in the store, and you still want to go in? I have the paperwork right here. You don't have to see a thing if you don't want to.”
“Isn't that my name on the will?”
He looked down at his clipboard again and tapped the form. “âNew owner: Polyester Monroe.' Your uncle Marius either really loved you or really hated you.” He looked back at the dingy gray storefront. “Right now I can't tell which.” Ken juggled his clipboard and pen with a set of keys until he found the one he wanted. “I wouldn't expect much,” he added.
We crossed the road in the middle, blatantly jaywalking. I might have walked to the light and waited for the signal to change if I were alone, but figured there was safety in numbers if any traffic cops decided to make an example out of us. Ken fed the key into the gate, a collapsible metal fence that had been pulled shut over the front door of the store and left locked. The key turned but the gate refused to open. Rust at the intersecting joints left it as stiff as the tin woodsman and here we were, armed with keys, legal papers, and a flashlight, but no oilcan.
“Is there a back door?”
As we hiked down the block then around to the back, I noticed a shiny black Mercedes sedan with dark-tinted windows sitting alone in a parking lot at the corner. The sounds of talk radio blurred as we passed the car, the only indication that someone was inside the vehicle. The front license plate read
. Distracted from the path, I tripped over an uneven seam in the sidewalk and landed facedown in the gravel.
I pushed myself back up and slapped the dirt from my black turtleneck and black velvet jeans. I wore black a lot these days. It hid most of the grime I picked up from sketching, repairing sewing machines, and using a glue gun, but it wasn't so good for hiding evidence of my klutziness.
Ken didn't notice I was missing from his side until he reached the back door and turned around to look at me.
“I'm okay,” I said, then jogged a few steps to catch up with him.
“Still as uncoordinated as you were in high school. Remember how you tripped over the hem of your prom dress during the âElectric Slide'?” He laughed.
“Just unlock the door, please.”
Ken and I had attended the same high school in the neighboring town of Glendora. Upon graduation, he had moved to San LadrÃ³n and gone to work in his father's real estate agency, while I moved to Los Angeles and attended FIDM. I started working at To The Nines when I graduated and hadn't been back since.
He turned the key and pushed the door inside. A stench of stale air, mildew, and something I immediately associated with wet metal hit me. Ken, who had been in front of me, stepped back and let me pass through. “I'll wait here,” he said, waving his hand in front of his face.
“Fine.” I pulled the collar of my turtleneck over my nose and mouth to filter out some of the smell, clicked on the flashlight, and entered.
Tiny dust particles floated through the beam of the flashlight. As I moved farther inside, my eyes adjusted enough to make out large square tables piled high with bolts of fabric. The walls were fitted with shelves about four and a half feet deep, housing stacks upon stacks of round rolls of fabric, too. I only knew the depth of the shelf because I knew a bolt of fabric was generally forty-eight to fifty-six inches long. At least, the fabrics I bought for To The Nines, the downtown Los Angeles dress company where I worked, were that length. The job wasn't what I dreamed of when I graduated from the Fashion Institute, but it was solid work in the garment district, and as my boyfriend, Carson, liked to tell me, a steady paycheck is worth more than a treasure chest of dreams.
As a little girl, I used to play in the store, and “playing” included climbing the fixtures and hiding between the bolts of fabric. And before I outgrew the fun of playing hide-and-seek in the store, I outgrew the fixtures. By sixth grade I was five feet tall; by graduation I was only a few inches shy of six.
The interior of the store appeared smaller than I remembered, and not just because my memories were from childhood. I noticed a dividing wall that hadn't been there on my last visit over ten years ago. An unpainted wooden door was in the middle of the makeshift partition. I crossed the room and tried the doorknob. It was locked. I looked behind me for Ken with his janitor-like key ring, but he was still MIA.
“Ken? Can you come here with your keys?” I called out the back door. “I want to see what's behind this door.” There was no answer.
Above the door was a small square window. I pulled a three-rung folding metal ladder under it, climbed up, and tried to look through, but the glass was too filthy. “You break it, you bought it,” I said under my breath. “Good thing I'm the owner.” I swung the flashlight against the glass. It shattered on impact and fell to the floor on the other side of the wall, creating tinkling harmonies in the process. I looked through the hole but made out nothing of interest, nothing that would have been the reason for closing off a third of the store. There must be something back there, I reasoned. Before I decided whether or not I was keeping the store, I wanted to know what it was.
I jumped down and found a pair of scissors under the dust-coated register. After cutting a long strip of faux zebra fur and throwing it over my shoulder, I sliced off two more strips and wrapped them around each fist. I climbed back on the footstool, punched the bigger pieces of remaining glass to the floor, and threw the larger piece of fur over the bottom of the sill. I fed my head, arms, and shoulders through the opening and fumbled with the flashlight with my fur-wrapped hands. It dropped to the floor and landed on the pile of glass. The light flickered a few times, and then went out.
I leveraged myself against the opposite side of the window with my zebra paws, but the opening of the window was doing direct battle with the size of my hips. My feet lost touch with the footstool as I wriggled, trying to fit through.
“Just what the heck do you think you're doing up there?” said a muffled voice behind me.
There was little I could do in my Pooh Bearâlike pose, other than kick my legs in an effort to reconnect with the footstool.
“Ken? Is that you? Can you help me?” I called. “I'm stuck.”
Positioned as I was, halfway through a broken window four feet above the ground, I didn't really see that I had much choice and considered saying as much, but I bit my tongue. I only hoped Ken was a quick thinker, because the pressure of the windowsill against my midsection was creating an impending need for a bathroom.
The locked door swung open. I heard a click of a switch, and seconds later the secret room was flooded with light. I shut my eyes immediately, too late. I was temporarily blinded and still stuck in the window. Things were not improving.
As my vision cleared I realized the man who stepped into the room in front of me was a stranger. His light brown hair was cut short and parted on the side. He wore a white turtleneck and a navy-blue cotton peacoat over khaki trousers and white sneakers, and looked as if he'd just returned from an afternoon on his yacht. It was bad enough to be caught dangling through a window, even if it was
window, but worse because it seemed I was on the verge of making a very bad first impression.
“Do you think you can fit through the window if I pull you?”
“âMaybe' might not be good enough. You could get stuck more than you already are.”
“I can push her from behind,” said Ken's muffled voice from, well, behind.
“Nobody's pushing anything!” I said. “You, pull. I'm almost through.”
The stranger stepped in front of me and paused for a second before grabbing my zebra-wrapped hands. My center of gravity had shifted, more of me through the window than not, and I knew there was no going back. As the stranger pulled, my hips popped through the opening and I fell on top of him, knocking him to the floor next to the chalk outline of a body.
Suddenly, I knew why Uncle Marius had divided off this portion of the store.
I didn't know if
was the more appropriate response to knocking someone into the scene of a ten-year-old homicide, so I said nothing. For the second time that day I stood up and dusted myself off, then unwrapped the fur from my right hand and offered it to the stranger to help him stand. He ignored the offer and stood up on his own.
“You're on private property,” he said.
on private property, if we're going to get into specifics, but considering you just rescued me from a tight spot I'm willing to look the other way,” I said. I didn't know if he'd seen the outline of the body or not, but at the moment I wanted out of that room.
He took a step closer and looked down at me. I wasn't used to men looking down at me, since I was five foot nine, but he did. “Do you want to tell me what you're doing on my father's property?”
I stepped backward. “Who's your father?” I asked.
At that moment Ken burst through the door. His blazer flapped open, the crest on his breast pocket partially hidden under the lapel. “You should have called to tell me you were coming here,” he said to the stranger.
“Which one of you is going to tell me what is going on?” I demanded.
The stranger looked between Ken and me. “Who are you again?” he asked.
“Poly Monroe,” I answered and held out my hand for the second time. This time he shook it.
“Vaughn McMichael.” The intensity that I'd seen in his features moments ago melted into an expression that was just shy of a smile. His eyes, a mixture of green flecked with gold, held my own for a second longer than felt comfortable, but I fought the urge to look away. His handshake was firm enough to mean business, but the softness of his hand cocooned my own. I returned the pressure of the handshake equally. I didn't know why, but I sensed that Vaughn McMichael wasn't sure what to make of my presence. As we shook hands, a roll of pink-and-white gingham fell from the table behind him and landed on the floor. It rolled halfway across the room and came to a stop by Ken's foot.