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Chapter One

When I stopped by Ellen Sheridan's to drop off the crochet hooks she'd left at the bookstore, I expected to be in and out with maybe a thank you and a few brownie points. I certainly didn't expect to end up in handcuffs.

Finding her front door open, I assumed she was taking in groceries. I did a courtesy knock and a few hellos and went on in. I called out her name as I continued down the hall to the living room. It looked out on the backyard and I was so intent on seeing how the landscaping had changed since I'd been there last, I didn't look down - at first anyway. Not until I screamed at the shock of stepping on something other than floor. I screamed again, even louder, when I realized I had stepped on Ellen's leg and she might not be alive. She was sprawled across the champagne-colored carpet with a fireplace poker next to her head.

My feet suddenly seemed unable to move and my mind unable to focus. The only thought that kept going through my head was to check her pulse on the chance that her condition wasn't as final as it looked.

Heart pounding, dry mouthed and light headed, I kneeled next to her. Just as my fingers landed on her neck, I heard a rustle.

"Freeze." The voice was male and full of authority. I followed his command, only turning my head ever so slightly to look over my shoulder and see who the voice belonged to. An LAPD officer with a crew cut and a grim expression had both his hands on his gun and it was pointed at me.

"Hands on your head," he ordered. Without hesitation, I complied, though as I did, the tote bag on my wrist slid down my arm.

Only later did I find out how this moment of supreme bad timing happened. The Neighborhood Watch captain had been concerned about the open door all afternoon. He thought it looked suspicious when I went in and called to report it. The cop had been down the street, staking out a stop sign that was notorious for being ignored. He'd answered the call and been approaching the famous open door as I started to scream.

Not taking his eyes off me, the officer stepped toward Ellen, crouched down and, releasing one hand from the gun, put two fingers on her neck. He was close enough for me to see that the name on his badge was Steven James.

"That's what I was going to do." I hoped that would make it clear that I was trying to help Ellen. After a moment he stood up and shook his head with an even grimmer expression.

"This isn't the way it looks, Officer James. I just got here. I was dropping this off." I moved my elbow to show off the red tote bag. I had taken his command to freeze seriously and was still on my knees.

"Drop it," he commanded, then realized the impossibility of the order with my hands on my head and told me I could move my arm to let it go.

As soon as it hit the floor, he pulled it away with his foot and I put my hand back on my head. He stepped behind me and the next thing I knew he'd used his free hand to slap on a pair of handcuffs.

"What are you doing?" I squealed.

"Ma'am, I need to secure the scene and I can't do it if I have to worry about what you're doing."

I promised I'd stay put if he took off the cuffs, but he didn't budge.

With me restrained, he holstered his gun and got busy on his radio. The truth of what had happened really hit me when I heard him say "homicide." Someone had killed Ellen. My knees felt weak and I was glad to be kneeling on them. Otherwise I might have collapsed. My stomach began to do flip flops and I pulled against the handcuffs.

When he'd finished, he slid on a pair of rubber gloves, opened the bag, and dumped out the contents. A pile of red, green and blue metal rods hit the carpet with a jingly noise. He eyed them suspiciously. "Ma'am, you want to tell me what these are?"

"Crochet hooks," I said. "They're for making scarves, and blankets and those cute little cloche hats. Not that I know how to crochet. I work in a bookstore, so the only yarns I deal with are tall tales." The kneeling had become uncomfortable and I asked if I could stand up. He agreed and even helped me up. I was glad to see my legs had recovered.

"Hmm, so then that's what that is." He gestured toward Ellen's hand. A wooden crochet hook lay across her palm with a small ball of beige yarn next to it.

I nodded. "I think that's one of the fancy kind. Her name is Ellen Sheridan. She leads . . . ," I faltered, "make that led the crochet group that meets at Shedd & Royal Books and More. That's the bookstore where I work. I'm the event coordinator/community relations person. I handle author events and book signings. And usually arrange for groups to meet at the bookstore, but Mrs. Shedd is the one who invited the crochet group." I took a breath. "I know I'm rambling. It's what I do when I get nervous and I'm really nervous for obvious reasons. And I'm afraid if I stop talking I might throw up."

Hooked on Murder:
A Crochet Mystery
by Betty Hechtman

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