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Forget Me Knot
By Mary Marks
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Mary Marks
All rights reserved.
For years, Tuesday mornings were sacred. No matter what, my friend Lucy, her neighbor Birdie, and I spent the day together working on our quilts. This particular Tuesday was supposed to be just another quilty morning, but that was before we found the body.
We headed toward another quilter's house, a potential fourth member of our little group. Lucy drove down Ventura Boulevard carefully, the way women over the age of sixty often did. If I were driving, we would have been there by now. At fifty-five I was the youngest and hadn't yet reached the age of hugging the right shoulder of the freeway at forty-five miles per hour. So I leaned back in the rear seat of Lucy Mondello's vintage 1960 Cadillac, sank into the luxurious creamy leather, and enjoyed the ride.
As we drove, I stared at the back of her head. It resembled the Santa Monica Mountains during a brush fire. Bright orange tufts of hair sprang up like burning chaparral from her scalp. "You've done something different to your hair, Lucy."
"Well, I decided to try a new color late last night. When I finally got to bed, Ray woke up and turned on the lamp. Then real quick he turned it off and rolled with his back to me. The bed started to shake, and I got scared. I said, 'Ray! We're having an earthquake.' Then he snorted and laughed out loud."
"He didn't." Birdie turned to look at Lucy.
"Oh yes he did. He told me, 'All you need are floppy shoes and a big red nose.'"
We all laughed. I could picture him stifling his laughter in the pillow to avoid hurting Lucy's feelings.
Lucy sighed. "He's lucky I love him so much or he'd be in bow-coo trouble today." Then she glanced at me in the rearview mirror. "Is it really so bad?"
What could I say to my best friend? Ray was right—you do look like Bozo? I just smiled and shrugged.
"I guess I'll have to cut this mess off."
Birdie clutched the grab bar above the passenger door with one hand while she nervously twirled the end of her long white braid with the other. Birdie Watson had been uneasy around cars ever since her driver's license was confiscated. While attempting to park her car a couple of years ago, she hit the accelerator instead of the brake and ran her car through the wall of our favorite quilt store. Because she was over seventy, the DMV made her go through a driving test, which she failed when she rammed a police car while attempting to parallel park.
"You could wear your hair like Jamie Lee Curtis or Dame Judi Dench. You'd look really good in short hair." Leave it to Birdie to try to smooth things over. She was the earth mother type, a magnet for the lonely and wounded. Clearly Birdie's kindness was the main reason Claire was drawn to our group. None of us really knew much about the woman we were visiting, so we all agreed—today would be a sort of trial. If we liked Claire Terry, she was in. If not, well, we hadn't thought that far yet.
We drove west on Ventura Boulevard, approaching Woodland Hills. The Google printout directed us to drive south on Canoga Avenue. "Claire's street should be about a mile up."
Lucy got into the left turn lane. "You know, I'm having second thoughts about this. As a matter of fact, I've had one of my funny feelings all morning."
I did a mental eye roll. Lucy often claimed she had a sixth sense about things, but I attributed her insights to natural intuition sharpened by raising five sons. "What are you channeling now?"
"Claire Terry is only in her early forties. Why would she want to hang out with a bunch of 'old broads' like us?" Lucy waggled her fingers in one of those air quotes she was so fond of.
"Speak for yourself. I'm not old yet. I'm still having hot flashes."
"Seriously, how much do we know about her anyway?"
Birdie looked at Lucy. "She's the best quilter in the guild. Always wins first prize in the shows. I always make a point to talk to her at the guild meetings, and when I suggested we get together, she seemed truly pleased. I think she's just shy."
Lucy smiled. "You're always befriending somebody. Let's hope she doesn't turn out to be a psycho like that other woman—what was her name? The one who voted for Bush and stole your antique scissors?"
I pointed my finger to the left. "Here she is." We were in an upscale neighborhood with Beamers and Mercedeses parked in the driveways. Lucy steered the huge old Caddy awkwardly onto Claire's circular drive, black fenders thrusting up in back like shark fins.
Claire's large Mediterranean-style house had a red tile roof and stucco the color of ripe cantaloupe. The front door was painted cobalt blue.
Birdie spoke first. "Will you look at this! I had no idea Claire lived in such a beautiful home."
Lucy turned off the motor. "Wow. What does her husband do for a living?"
I remembered hearing some stories at the board meetings about Claire Terry's divorce several years ago. I couldn't stand people who gossiped and I never repeated a confidence. However, telling stuff to my best friends wasn't gossiping, it was data sharing. "Messy divorce. Her money."
"I don't think so."
Lucy was way taller than me and all elbows and angles. She seemed to unfold as she got out of the car like a large manila envelope refusing to stay closed. In addition to always wearing perfect makeup, Lucy was known for dressing with a theme. Once I'd seen no fewer than four Christmas sweaters hanging in her closet. Today's theme was gold. Her size ten slacks were honey colored and her blouse was a leopard print. She wore a hunk of amber the size of a hard-boiled egg on a gold chain around her neck.
I gathered my rather large fabric tote bag and dragged it across the seat. Inside was my latest quilt, made of blue and white fabrics in a pattern called Corn and Beans. Also inside was a wooden quilting hoop and a little plastic box full of quilting notions—special coated thread designed to slide easily through the fabric without tangling, small scissors to cut the thread, needles for quilting called "betweens," a metal thimble to push the needle through the fabric, a round circle of rubber to grab a needle stuck in the fabric, and an emergency package of M&M's.
I scooted out Birdie's side of the car and tugged the hem of my white T-shirt down over my size sixteen Liz Claiborne stretch denim jeans. When you had a figure like mine, you used every trick in the book to camouflage the excess weight. Shirts stopping at midhip were the most flattering, but they did tend to ride up.
I opened Birdie's door to help her out of the car. When I bent over, my hair flopped in my face. Having curly hair is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you don't have to blow-dry your hair, because it could become frizzy. On the other hand, your choice of hair styles is limited. My curly mop hasn't changed since I marched in antiwar demonstrations in the seventies. Well, almost. Now it's gray.
Birdie winced as she grabbed my hand and slowly got out of the car, putting her weight on her arthritic knees. Once she was vertical, she adjusted her signature denim overalls.
I suspected Birdie was a hippie back in the day. A while back she showed us a blue chambray work shirt she embroidered with brightly colored rainbows and peace signs in the 1960s for her husband, Russell. Somehow, I just couldn't picture prissy old Russell Watson wearing mutton chops and love beads.
I walked slowly with Birdie, who limped in her brown suede Birkenstocks. Lucy loped ahead of us with her long-legged, no nonsense stride. Anyone watching us would have seen three ordinary women of a certain age carrying large tote bags full of quilting stuff. Nobody would have taken a second look at us. Older women became invisible, especially in the culture of LA.
Lucy reached out and rang the doorbell. No one answered. After a minute, she rang the bell again. Still no answer.
"We're on time, aren't we?" Birdie whispered.
Lucy raised her eyebrows and gave us a meaningful look. "My bad feeling is getting worse."
I walked over to a front window, shoved my glasses back on my nose, and peered inside. The walls were painted a golden yellow. Wide hardwood planks covered the floors. A quilted masterpiece featuring appliquéd flowers and birds hung prominently on the wall behind a comfy-looking sofa.
There was something on the hallway floor. I squeezed closer to the window and put my hands around my face to cut out the glare.
A pair of red shoes ...
Feet inside the shoes, and legs ...
I couldn't see more because the wall was in the way.
"I think there's someone lying on the floor."CHAPTER 2
"See if you can open the door." I stared at the body on the floor.
Lucy turned the knob, but the door was locked. She rushed over to the window. "Let me see."
Birdie came over, too, mashing her nose against the glass. "Good heavens. Is that Claire?"
I was about to pull my cell phone out of my bag to call 9-1-1 when a slender blonde in a red halter top and white shorts came out of the house next-door. She was carrying gardening shears. I hurried over to her yard and asked, "Do you know the woman who lives here? Claire Terry?"
"Of course. Why?"
"I think something has happened to her."
"Nobody answered the doorbell, so I peeked in the window. Someone is lying on the floor."
"Oh my God. I know where she keeps a spare key." She threw down the gardening shears and ran over to the corner of Claire's house, reached through a locked wrought iron gate, and took a key from somewhere on the side of the house. Then she sprinted like an athlete to the front door and opened the lock while I power walked right behind her.
She stuck her head inside the door. "Claire?" No answer.
"Over there." Birdie pointed to the red shoes.
We rushed forward and stopped suddenly at the sight of Claire Terry, lying on her back with a ring of dried yellow vomit around her mouth.
The blonde gasped. The whites of her eyes showed, and the skin of her face turned green. Her voice, small and high pitched, squeaked, "Is she dead?"
Claire lay on her back with one arm at her side and the other resting on her stomach. She wore a red cotton sundress and those red shoes. Faint freckles dotted her pale pretty face, turned slightly to the right, and her eyes stared vacantly at the wall. Her long dark hair spread out behind her head in a tangled fan. Under her right cheek her hair was crusted with vomit. She looked like a delicate porcelain doll discarded by a careless child.
I got on my knees and put my fingertips on her neck. Her flesh felt cold and wooden, and she smelled sour. I shuddered and felt light-headed. Tiny polka dots danced before my eyes and I thought I might faint. I blinked rapidly, took a deep breath, and quickly pulled my hand away. "No pulse."
Birdie clutched Lucy's arm. "Oh dear. What about CPR?"
The blonde looked at the vomit on Claire's face. "You don't mean mouth to mouth...."
Lucy pointed. "Look at her eyes. People don't sleep with their eyes wide open unless they're dead."
She was right. This pretty young woman was gone. Pity squeezed my heart.
Birdie's voice hovered on the edge of hysteria. "Well, put a mirror under her nose. Does anyone have a mirror in their purse?"
I looked at Birdie and shook my head. "We're too late, Birdie. She's gone."
Lucy put her arm around Birdie's shoulders. "Come on, hon'. Let's go outside and wait while Martha calls nine-one-one."
I reached over and pushed her eyelids closed. Then I got on all fours, grunted, and stood up butt first; there was no other graceful way to do it. Being overweight was such a bummer.
I pulled my cell phone out of my tote bag and dialed 9-1-1. One recent TV muckraker reported the emergency lines in Los Angeles were often so busy a person could wait several minutes to get through. This must have been one of those times. How long would Claire have lain there if we hadn't come along? Who would have been the first to discover her? How awful to end your life alone.
I thought about how I wanted to die: in my own bed, surrounded by sobbing family and friends. My ex-husband, Aaron, would grab my hand and tell me tearfully, "I was so wrong to leave you. I was a total jerk. You were the best thing that ever happened to me. Can you ever forgive me?"
Tears stung my eyes as the poignant scene played out in my head. I'd look at him and whisper with my dying breath, "It's too late, moron."
Then a voice came on the line. "Nine-one-one Emergency."
"I want to report a death."
"What's the address?"
I turned to Claire's neighbor for the information. The dispatcher instructed us to go outside and wait for the police.
The blonde stood transfixed, staring at Claire's body. The way she ran, I thought she was much younger. I was envious of her slender thighs and the way her shorts didn't ride up at the crotch, like mine would if I owned a pair—which I didn't. I couldn't wear shorts because of my ample thighs. The skin of her cheeks was unnaturally tight and tugged a teensy bit at the corners of her mouth. I estimated she was closer to my age than Claire's.
I would bet my new microwave her perky boobs were one hundred percent saline. If I put my large breasts inside a halter top, they'd fall to my waist.
Los Angeles was full of women like Claire's neighbor—hovering around menopause and desperate to hang on to their lost youth. Women who still wanted to be seen.
"My name's Martha. Martha Rose." I touched her arm, attempting to snap her out of her trance.
She looked at me with tears rolling down her cheeks. "I'm Ingrid. Claire and I weren't just neighbors, we were friends. I can't believe she's dead."
"Come on." I took her arm and gently led her away. "Let's go outside with the others and wait for the police."
Ingrid sniffed and came with me.
Lucy patted Birdie's hand as they sat on a painted wooden bench outside the front door. Birdie dabbed her eyes with a tissue and kept muttering, "Poor, poor Claire."
I introduced Ingrid to my friends and she smiled politely. The muscles in her face barely moved.
"We have to wait for the police."
We sat on the porch steps. Ingrid put her forehead in her hands and cried softly. "What do you think happened?"
"Well, she could have had a seizure or a stroke or even a heart attack," I said.
Ingrid looked ready to puke.
I edged away a little. "Are you okay?"
She stood up. "I'm feeling woozy. I've gotta go home." She staggered back through her yard and disappeared inside her house.
Lucy sighed. "If I were a drinker, I'd be going for a stiff one right about now."
Birdie nodded. "I wouldn't blame you. I could use a nice stiff cup of tea myself."
A couple minutes later the sirens announced the arrival of the EMTs with an ambulance; right behind them were the police and a fire truck. Uniformed officers secured the house and told us to stay put.
Twenty minutes later a silver Camry arrived and parked on the street. A tall man got out, put on a gray suit jacket, and ducked under the yellow tape stretched across the driveway. A shorter man got out of the passenger side and followed behind him.
The tall one was about my age, only in much better shape. He had a shock of gray hair and a white mustache.
Be still my beating heart. There were two things in a man I was a sucker for: foreign accents and neat facial hair.
He stopped briefly and nodded at us. "Ladies." Then he disappeared inside the house with his much younger partner.
Ten minutes later they came back outside. "I'm Detective Arlo Beavers with the LAPD." The tall one handed each of us a business card. "I'd like to ask you some questions."
His dark eyes looked at me and I morphed into a silly, simpering bowl of vanilla pudding. Heck. I hated when that happened. I didn't feel out of control very often; I was a natural leader. Treasurer of our quilt guild. Retired UCLA administrator. Now my self-assurance slowly slipped away.
How did we know Claire? When did we arrive? How did we get in the house? Where did we go once we were in the house? Did we touch the body? Did we see anyone else? Where is the neighbor now? During the interview, he sent his partner to question Ingrid. I spilled my guts. By the end of the interview, Detective Beavers knew every single detail we knew about Claire. I even dished the dirt on the rumors surrounding her divorce. Rumors I had kept from my best friends. I had no shame.
Excerpted from Forget Me Knot by Mary Marks. Copyright © 2014 Mary Marks. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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