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Chapter One

"Molly, please try to get through the weekend without any dead bodies," Mrs. Shedd said, pushing the rhinestone -encrusted clipboard across her desk to me. "And take good care of this. It's the first time I've turned it over to anyone." I could see wh she made the dead body comment. After forty-seven years of not one dead body showing up in my life, there had been a plethora of them in the past couple of years.

"Don't worry," I said. "No murder or mayhem, I promise." I completely meant it when I said it. Too bad it turned out not to be true.

I stared at the fancy clipboard for a moment as what it meant sank in. Every September the bookstore where I worked, Shedd & Royal Books and More, put on th Get Out of the Heat and Light Your Creative Fire retreat on the Monterey Peninsula. The getting out of the heat referred to the September weather in Tarzana, California, which was always hot and dry. In contrast, the Monterey area was cool and damp year round. I'd never been on one of the retreats, but I knew Mrs. Shedd chose four or five creative pursuits, such as writing or candle making, and lined up local people to put on the workshops. The retreaters committed to topic and went to a number of sessions over the long weekend. At the end there was a gathering and everyone to show off what they'd done.

"This retreat is your baby. Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked, expecting some kind of explanation.

Mrs. Shedd shook her head, making her perfect blond pageboy swing. "I'm more than sure. It's your baby now, Molly. Something's come up and I can't go," she said cryptically.

Pamela Shedd was the co-owner of Shedd & Royal Books and More, which made her my boss. I was surprised she didn't give me any more details of why she suddenly couldn't go on the retreat, but it wasn't my place to ask. Since I was the community relations-event coordinator for the bookstore, it made sense that she was putting me in charge. But no way was it going to sit well with my coworker Adele Abrams.

My boss picked up a box from the floor next to her and handed it to me, saying it held the folders for the presenters along with the schedule for the weekend. Later I could pick up the larger boxes with the folders for the retreaters and the other supplies. She seemed relieved to have passed everything off to me. "Oh, and be sure to have fun."

I put the clipboard on to the box and took it with me as I headed across the bookstore to the event area, where my crochet group, the Tarzana Hookers, was already assembled. Morning sunlight streamed in the window that faced Ventura Boulevard. The long table was strewn with balls of yarn, coffee cups and some completed projects the members had brought in to show off to the group. The crochet group met regularly at Shedd & Royal. Adele Abrams, who along wih being my coworker, was coleader of the group and a crochet fanatic, was waving around her hook, which had something white and fuzzy hanging from it. As I got closer, she began to pass around what she was working on.

"Pink, you missed it," Adele said, her voice full of excitement. I hd gotten past being upset about her insistence on calling me by my last name. "I just created a stitch." She point toward what looked like a row of fuzzy white yarn bumps in Eduardo's hand. Eduardo Linnares was out only male member. I doubt most people would pick im out as a crocheter. In his other life he was a cover model, and he definitely looked the part. He was tall with long, shiny black hair, handsome, even features and a muscular body that must have required long hours at the gym. But he fit into the group nicely thanks to his pleasant disposition and his skill with a hook. His grandmother had taught him well.

"Creating stitches is something we crochet divas do," Adele said, crowing with pride. "I'm thinking of calling it the marshmallow stitch.

At the word "marshmallow," CeeCee Collins looked up. She was the host of the reality show Making Amends and had a legendary sweet tooth; hence her interest at the mention of a sweet. When she realized what Adele was talking about, she seemed momentarilty disappointed before taking the piece of yarn from Eduardo and examining it.

CeeCee's acting career had recently had a resurgence and she'd gone from occasional cameos to being in the limelight. The best thing about her was that she could be a celebrity and a regular person at the same time. Well, sort of a regular person. She was the only one of us who had to be concerned about being caught by the paparazzi with soup dripping down her chin.

"I can't say it looks good enough to eat, but you're right - the way it puffs up with the halo of white, bulky yarn does make it look like a marshmallow, dear. What are you going to do with it?"

"I used that baby yarn we made the cuddle blankets with," Adele said, referring to a group project in which we made soft blankets for traumatized children. She took the strip and held it on her wrist. "I could make a bracelet." Then she held I across her chest. "Or keeping going and make a vest." Adele was amply built and had an eye for the outrageous when it came to clothes. Knowing her, she's probably go for the vest.

Sheila Altman put down her hook and looked at Adele's creation. She was dressed in a black suit, which was her uniform for her job as receptionist for the local women's gym. For once she seemed relatively anxiety free. Just hearing about all she had on her plate made me nervous. Along with juggling several jobs, she was going to school to become a costume designer, and lived in a rented room partially paid for by babysitting the homeowner's kids. "I think you should use it for trim," Sheila said, taking the strip and holding it at the bottom of the blue scarf she was working on.

Then Sheila handed the piece to me. As Adele's gaze turned my way, she saw the box with the clipboard on top that I had set on the table. I prepared myself for the onslaught. "What are you doing with the rhinestone clipboard?" Adele demanded. Was there a little quiver in her lip? When I didn't answer immediately, she stood up. "Well, Pink, what's the story?"

Even after several years, Adele had still not gotten over the fact I'd been hired as the event coordinator at Shedd & Royal Books and More. It didn't matter that I had a background in public relations thanks to my late husband Charlie's business; Adele still thought she should have gotten the position. To soothe her feelings, she had gotten the children's story time. And over time, Adele had managed to work her way into handling some events with me.

"Mrs Shedd told me she isn't going to the Get Out of the Heat and Light Your Creative Fire weekend. She put me in charge and turned over the rhinestone clipboard," I said finally.

"That's ridiculous! You're not qualified. How many of the retreats have you gone on?" Adele said. Without waiting for an answer, she continued. "I've been on every one since I started working here, which was years before you started."

Adele was right on that point - I had never been on one of the retreats. I had been left in charge of the bookstore while Mrs. Shedd and Adele went. But I had already arranged to go this year as a participant and to help Mrs. Shedd. Why should it matter that I hadn't gone before, anyway? I had put on countless author events. Yes, there had been a few problems, like the smoke alarm going off during a cookbook demo and the fire department showing up. Another time the men's bathroom flooded when it turned out a fixit book author didn't know quite how to fix it. But the sense of not knowing what was going to happen had turned out to be a benefit, and was attracting more and more people to the bookstore's events.

It occurred to me that that sort of unpredictability might not transfer well to the retreat. But certainly I could get through four days without anything terrible happening. I was in my late forties, mature and able to handle things, right? Okay, I'd gotten involved in a few murders, but I'd managed to solve them, hadn't I? Besides, there weren't going to be nay murders during the weekend. I simply wouldn't allow it to happen.

A Stitch in Crime
by Betty Hechtman

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