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Chapter One

"I'm telling you, we Hookers have gotten away from our core business. We used to be more concerned with giving service instead of just pleasing ourselves." After years of being an actor, CeeCee Collins naturally projected her voice. The trouble was, she didn't realize how it carried - or notice how the diners at the next table were reacting to what she said.

The three thirty-something women wearing bowling shirts that said "Wilbur Avenue Elementary" on the back were nudging each other and snickering as they stared at the five of us around the small table. They all looked similar with their assorted shades of blonde hair, trendy clothes, and attitudes that said they knew it all. Though obviously they didn't, since it was clear that they were taking what CeeCee said way too literally.

"Isn't it sad to see what she's turned to now that her career is in a downward spiral?" one of the bowling team said.

Totally oblivious to them, CeeCee continued, only making things worse. "I wish our whole posse was here," she said. "I'd like to get everyone to agree to go back to our old ways. Just think of all those people we made happy."

The women started checking out the rest of us at the table. "I wonder who their customers are," one of the women said.

All I had to hear was something about a retirement home and old geezers and I was out of my chair. I should have just let it go, but I have never been good at minding my own business or staying out of trouble. So, before I thought it through, I barged into the three women's conversation. "You can't honestly believe CeeCee is some kind of streetwalker. I mean, really, she's an Academy Award nominated actress, and she'd be playing Ophelia again if there was going to be another one of those 'vampire who crochets' movies. But everyone knows that vampires are pretty much yesterday's news now." I pulled out a red metal crochet hook from my purse and waved it in front of them.

"When CeeCee said Hookers, she meant as in the Tarzana Hookers. I'm sure you understand the Tarzana part." I continued talking, using my other hand to indicate the area of the San Fernando Valley we were in. Surely they knew that Edgar Rice Burroughs had owned the landed in the area at one time and named it after his star character.

"And the hooking we do is all about crochet. We used to use our get-togethers to work on projects to give to charities, but lately everybody seems to have gotten more into working on their own projects. And this woman you were whispering about wants us to get back to making things to help others."

"I'm sorry," one of the women stuttered, trying to distance herself from us. "I'm glad to hear that what we thought isn't true."

"And there's no need for sympathy about my acting career. I'm doing just fine, thank you very much," CeeCee added. "Actually, we're here for the unveiling of a dish named after me." She pointed to an open spot on the wall of photographs. "Next time you come in, there will be a picture of me and the CeeCee Collins Melange."

Restaurants that served only breakfast and lunch had been popping up along Ventura Boulevard, but the Petite Café had been around way before the trend. As its name implied, it was small and the tables were close together. It had an interesting clientele. The photographs covering the walls were a testament to its many entertainment business customers, but you were just as likely to see average Joes who lived or worked in the area.

As if on cue, the owner of the Petite Café brought over a plate of food and set it in front of CeeCee. He had no idea what was going on between the two tables and, after he set the bowl down, stood behind her to pose for a picture. CeeCee did a little hand fluffing of her brown hair. She had smartly stayed with the same simple style throughout the years, which gave her the appearance of never aging. Her makeup seemed a little overdone in person but would be perfect in the photographs. She struck the perfect pose with her merry smile and held her fork above the large bowl.

The "mélange," as CeeCee called it, was basically a salad made with organic baby lettuces, fresh sprigs of dill, sugar plum tomatoes, and shredded carrots, topped with a couple of poached eggs and a drizzle of balsamic dressing. There were several more photos with CeeCee holding her fork over the bowl before the owner and the server taking the photos went back to their duties.

Meanwhile, I continued the conversation with the women. "We meet at Shedd & Royal Books and More." I mentioned that there was a yarn department. "It's part of the 'more,''' I explained. Then held out my had to introduce myself. "I'm Molly Pink, and I'm the assistant manager of the bookstore and in charge of the yarn department."

"You mean that bookstore has a knitting department?" one of the women said.

I heard a shriek from behind me and before I could stop her, Adele Abrams Humphries had popped out of her chair and was standing next to the woman who had made the comment.

"Why would you call it a knitting department?" Adele demanded. She was tall and amply built and had a loud voice as well. The woman who spoke shrank back as Adele stood over her.

"I just thought knitting and crochet were the same thing," the woman said feebly.

"Knitting and crochet, aren't the same thing?" another of them said.

The poor women had no idea that the mere word knitting to Adele was like a red cape to a bull.

"Knitting and crochet are not at all the same. One of them is so much better, and that is crochet, which is what we do." As if to add a visual to the explanation, Adele modeled the tunic she was wearing. It was made of multicolored granny squares. It was attractive and over the top at the same time, but then when it came to crochet and, well, just about everything, Adele was always over the top.

I noticed that the women were all looking a little uncomfortable by now. They paid their check quickly and were already pulling on their coats when the server came back with the change.

Just before they went outside, they all turned back and gave us a last once-over. "They're certainly a rowdy bunch. I thought that people who sat around and," the speaker's eye stopped on Adele - "did whatever with yarn were all sweet old ladies." The woman made eye contact with me. "I suppose you over heard that too."

And then they were gone.

"Sweet old ladies," Adele repeated, starting to get up from the chair. I had to grab her tunic to keep her from going after them.

On the Hook:
A Crochet Mystery
by Betty Hechtman






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