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"Well, this is a bust." Diane Camacho rested her chin on her hands and looked glumly at the rain coming down in torrents outside the wide barn door. "I thought it was supposed to be nice today."
Ariadne Evans, sitting at the next table, didn't look up from her knitting needles. She was wearing a heavy parka, with a scarf made of fuzzy yarn tied around her neck. "April's rotten."
Diane looked over at her. "Not 'the cruelest month'?"
"Nope. Just rotten." Ariadne smiled briefly and then returned her attention to her knitting. This project wasn't the best choice, she admitted to herself. A shell of thin, silklike ribbon yarn would be perfect for the summer to come, but it wasn't suited to today, especially not with aluminum needles. She needed warmth, wool, something substantial and weighty. An afghan, she thought, tossed over her knees as she made it. Why couldn't she have chosen to work on an afghan?
"No one's going to come out in this weather," Diane continued. "Anyway, I don't think we'd've had many customers. Not too many people are interested in wool festivals anymore."
"Well, not around here. The one in Rhinebeck draws in a lot of folks," she said, referring to the big festival held each fall in New York State.
"Well, we're not big."
"No." Ari glanced up and looked around the barn again. The Freeport Wool and Yarn Festival was an annual fixture in this area of coastal Massachusetts. Held on the Bristol-Rochester County fairgrounds, it attracted exhibitors from as far away as New York. What it didn't attract was customers. There were too many good yarn shops now, selling all manner of products, from pricy imports to homespuns. Ari had to admit that she was part of that trend; she was proud of the stock at her shop, Ariadne's Web. It didn't help that the area was becoming increasingly developed and urbanized. Interest in the old country crafts wasn't as high anymore.
Still, there were a good number of exhibitors, mostly women, and there were some interesting demonstrations going on, including knitting for beginners and the Sheep to Shawl competition. The festival was held in three of the fairgrounds' barns, unimaginatively named by letters. Barn A, the first one, was the most popular. Not only did it have a snack bar, it was the only one that was heated. Some lucky vendors had managed to rent space there. Barn D, at the far end of the row, had sheep pens, while Barn C, designed for smaller animals, wasn't used for this festival. The rain and mud meant that not many people had trooped to see sheep being displayed or sheared. Across a narrow lane from the barns was a large field. Originally sheep dog trials had been planned for the following day, but for now the field was simply a muddy parking lot.
Barn B, the largest of the barns, was the focus of the festival because it housed the majority of the vendors, including Ari and Diane. While it had ample display space, it was also cavernous and dark. There were few electrical outlets, which meant there were no space heaters to add an illusion of warmth. The dimness, combined with the pounding of rain on the steel roof, made it very dismal indeed. Today's rain, remnants of a storm that had swept up from the south, hadn't been expected.
"Good thing we live close enough to get warmer clothes," Ari commented.
"Yeah. Not like the woman from Buffalo."
"Buffalo? Who came that far?"
Diane had taken up her spinning again and was concentrating on making fine yarn. "Some designer. She's way down there." Diane pointed to her right.
"Didn't you read the pamphlet?"
Ari leaned over her table, but the woman was tucked too far back in the corner for her to see. She did see a friend from the local area, Rosalia Sylvia, leaning over the woman's table. "I'll look at her things later. Maybe I'll buy myself a fleece from one of the bins while I'm at it."
"Are you taking up spinning?" Diane asked in surprise.
"No. I want to wrap it around myself to keep warm."
"Ha-ha. There's some good stuff over there, mostly Romney." She glanced over at the bins filled with unprocessed fleeces lining the wall opposite them. "I'm going to pick up some."
"Good idea. I can't keep up with the demand for your yarn."
"Yeah, having it used for a murder made it popular."
Ari shot her friend a quick glance, but Diane's face was impassive. Last fall, Diane's yarn had been used to strangle a local woman, something that had stunned both of them. "Well, I wish I had some right now, instead of this."
"Yes, and the needles are aluminum." She frowned at the shell she was making for summer. Instead of working from the bottom up, she was knitting the shell from the side. It added an interesting texture to the cool, slippery yarn, but the shaping, formed by increasing and decreasing, demanded concentration. "I'll probably go home later and get something else, though I think that if this works out it'll get noticed."
"If summer ever comes."
"Mm." Ari laid down her needles and stretched. In the last few minutes no one had approached her table to look at her designs. At this rate she wouldn't make back the money she'd spent renting the space. "I think I'll walk around for a little and then get some coffee."
"Get me one, too? Regular."
Ari nodded. "Cream, one sugar. I remember. I'll be back in a while. Watch my table for me," she said, and walked away.
Pulling her parka tight around her, Ari stopped at a small enclosure formed by a short, portable fence in the center of the barn to watch the Sheep to Shawl competition. Each year two teams of people competed to complete shawls made from wool sheared from sheep early that morning. The team that finished first would win. Each person in a team had her own duties. Some had sheared the sheep, white for one team, black for the other. Others processed the fleece, separating and carding it, and removing any dirt and debris. From there the spinners, several to a team, took over, spinning the yarn into light, fine wool. Finally the weavers, each sitting at a huge loom, worked their shuttles and treadles quickly and industriously. It was too early in the competition to guess who would win, though the black shawl seemed to have a slight edge. Ari knew most of the women in the competition, and she wanted all of them to win.
After watching the competition for a while, Ari drifted away to explore other booths and other wares. The range and number of items offered were impressive. One woman sold yarn from her own flock of llamas, her pamphlet extolling its softness and warmth. Another displayed skeins of mohair yarns across her table, the price making Ari think twice about buying any. In the center of the floor across from the shawl competition, a man offered spinning wheels, both new and old, while a Peg-Board across from him displayed naturally dyed yarn, the colors subtle yet glowing. There was even knitting-themed jewelry. Charms depicting balls of yarn, spiderwebs to symbolize spinning, and snowflakes for Scandinavian sweaters hung from earring wires or heavy silver chains. Since the jewelry was made from real gold and silver the prices were a little high, but Ari couldn't resist. A few minutes later she continued wandering, a charm bracelet dangling from her wrist.
Eventually she found herself in the far corner of the barn, curious to find out why someone from Buffalo had traveled so far to attend a small festival. The sign on her table read simply Designs by Annie. The woman was working on what looked like a baby sweater, which she lowered as Ari looked over the various items spread out on the table. They were diverse, ranging from an Aran-inspired tunic to colorful socks. All were meticulously made, with distinctive touches such as cables crossed in unusual ways on the tunic or lace inserts in the socks.
There was something familiar about the woman, though Ari couldn't pin it down. She was young, with fine, light hair and hazel eyes. Probably she was imagining it. "These are nice," Ari said.
Annie looked up, though she continued knitting. "Thank you. I'm selling the designs as well as the sweaters."
"'Designs by Annie,'" she said, with just a light tone of mockery in her voice.
"Well, you do nice work. Hope you do all right today." Ari smiled and was about to move on when Annie's voice stopped her.
"I remember you," Annie said.
Ari turned. "You do?"
"Yes. You came to a Knitting Guild meeting in New York once."
"Goodness, that was a long time ago! I used to belong to the Guild, but I haven't lived in New York for years."
"You'd just had that pattern published in Vogue Knitting."
Ari frowned for a minute. "I don't remember yes, I do! You were sitting in a corner." No wonder she'd looked familiar, though Ari wondered how old she could have been. She didn't look much older than her midtwenties now, while Ari was pushing thirty. Thirty, she thought glumly, distracted for a moment. "Aren't you from upstate New York?"
"I was living in Connecticut at the time, but I had friends in the city."
"You had to be in your teens then."
Annie shook her head. "Thank you, but I'm older than I look. I'd just started knitting then. You inspired me to try my hand at designing."
"I did?" Ari said, startled. She'd never thought to have any influence over people.
"Yes, and this is the result." Annie gestured at her work. "It took me a while to get anywhere near as good as I'd like, and I'm still not there yet."
"I like this." Ari fingered the Aran tunic, a complicated design of cables and knots in creamy white wool. "I have a friend who makes Aran sweaters for my shop."
"I'd like to see your shop. I've seen your designs online."
"How long will you be here?"
"I'm leaving tomorrow, after the sheep dog trials, if they're held after all this rain. I love dogs."
"Oh, too bad. The shop's open today, but then I don't open again until Tuesday."
"Oh. Maybe I'll make it back up sometime."
"Maybe." Ari smiled, and after exchanging business cards with Annie, she walked back to her own table.
Diane was spinning some bright, multicolored wool, similar to what Annie had used in her socks. "Where's my coffee?" she demanded.
"Darn it, I forgot." She looked through the door at the torrent of rain. "Don't make me go out there."
"I was nuts. When did you get that?" she asked, indicating the wool in Diane's lap.
"When I stopped at the snack bar before I came in. There are a few people selling rovings," she said, referring to wool that had already been processed and dyed. "Want to carry the yarn in the shop if I make it?"
Ari looked with disfavor at the wool. The roving combined bright, almost neon-toned colors in ways she didn't like. Red turned abruptly to bright yellow, which was followed by neon blue, all on the same strand. "Not with that."
"Aw, c'mon. You need to jazz things up a bit. Get some more color in there, besides beige."
"I don't have all beige," Ari protested, for if there was one thing she liked about her shop, it was the rainbow of colors in her yarn displays.
"No?" Diane looked pointedly at Ari's clothes. Her pants were of a heathered tan wool, paired with a cream-colored sweater. Over that she wore a parka in pale olive. The shades looked good on her and brought out the highlights in her pale golden brown hair, but they were undeniably drab. "I rest my case."
Ari made a face at her. "So speaks someone who wears mostly blue."
"I just think it's a good idea. Oh well, maybe I'll make some socks with it."
"For Joe? He should love those."
"Nah. They're for me, to wear with my clogs. Which will have felted uppers, of course, like everyone else's. I might as well fit in."
Ari shuddered. "Don't get too crunchy granola on me."
"Moi? Of course not. Did you see anything interesting?" Diane asked, changing the subject.
"Yes, there's some good stuff. Oh, I talked with the girl from Buffalo." Ari fished out the business card. "Annie Walker. Do you know we actually met once, when I lived in New York?"
"Small world, eh?" Diane glanced suddenly toward the entrance to the barn. "Jeez."
"What?" Ari asked, following her gaze.
"Look what just walked in."
"Wow." Ari stared at the woman who stood just inside the open barn door, eyeing the booths around her with a small frown. "Felicia Barr? What the heck is she doing here?" Ari asked.
"I didn't think she ever left Manhattan." Diane and Ari watched as Felicia began to make her way around the barn, her nose wrinkling as if she smelled something distasteful. She wasn't a tall woman, but she held herself so erect that she gave the impression of height. Unlike most of the others, she wore a fine-gauge turtleneck under a matching coat. From this distance, both appeared to be cashmere. Her tailored slacks looked equally expensive, and so did her high-heeled leather boots. Everything was black, as suited someone from Manhattan, except for the paisley shawl tossed gracefully about her shoulders.
"Are those designer boots?" Diane asked, sounding awed.
"You're asking me?"
"You're the former New Yorker."
"Yes, but I'm no fashionista. And I hate black. Wow, look at her," she added.
Felicia's presence had an impact all around the barn. Vendors had come to attention, with some scrambling to display their stock more attractively. It would probably be in vain, Ari thought. Felicia owned and edited a small knitting magazine, Knit It Up! which, like Felicia herself, had more influence than seemed warranted. If she liked someone's work, she said so, but if she didn't, the consequences could be disastrous. Her word carried a lot of weight.
"Brace yourself," Ari said. "She'll find something about your yarn to pick on."
Diane looked at Ari curiously. "You knew her, didn't you?"
"I never heard you talk about her. Actually I've never heard you say much at all about New York."
"Oh, come on. I sent you emails all the time."
"Full of all the things you were doing there and sounding happy." Diane studied her. "I don't think you were."
Ari shrugged. Immersed as she was in her life here in Freeport, she rarely talked about the brief time she'd lived in the city after graduating from college. She'd been ambitious then, certain she'd make a huge splash in the design world. "I missed Freeport. I decided I could sell my designs just as easily from here. And of course I met Ted." That wasn't the whole story, but it would do for now.
"Oh yeah, Ted. He was a real catch." Diane's voice was sardonic, but her face, as she continued to study Ari, was thoughtful.
"Yes, Ted," Ari said firmly, hoping to close the subject. "It was a long time ago."
After a moment, Diane shrugged and returned to her spinning. "Did she ever criticize you?"
"Who, Felicia? Yes." Ari looked down at her project, wondering for a second what Felicia would say. It didn't matter, she told herself. She was as successful as she wanted to be; Ariadne's Web had turned a profit earlier than she had expected, and her designs, which she marketed herself, were popular. She had nothing to fear from Felicia. At least, she didn't think so.
"Who's that woman following her?" Diane asked.
"I think it's Debbie Patrino, her assistant. I've seen her picture in the magazine."
"The one who does all the work?"
"So people say. If she does, she's smart enough not to brag about it. Not like Beth Marley."
"Felicia's last assistant," Ari said. "It got her fired." Debbie trailed in Felicia's wake, and while her gaze was sharp, there was a half smile on her face. Like her employer she wore black, but there all resemblance ended. Debbie was tall, with flame-colored hair that spilled over her shoulders. She was also much younger. "I've heard Debbie doesn't take much from anyone."
"I wonder how Felicia handles that."
"Who knows? She seems to be spreading her usual joy," Ari added. Felicia was continuing her progress around the barn, leaving in her wake many angry and disgruntled vendors. "I wonder whose reputation she's going to slay this time."
"You think she will?" Diane asked. "This is a small festival."
"I don't think it will matter. Brace yourself."
Felicia was nearing Diane's table. Reaching down, she pulled out a skein of yarn Diane had spun, a rich teal blue, and frowned. "Chemical dyes," she said, as if that mattered.
"Yup," Diane answered cheerfully, like a typical New Englander. She never had been one to let people push her around. Besides, she had nothing to lose, Ari thought. Her yarn sold well in the area, and Felicia couldn't change that. "I find the natural ones too much work." Diane's gaze went to Felicia's expertly highlighted hair, styled in a French twist. "Chemicals can work miracles."
Ari let out a sound that was something between a snort and a laugh. It drew Felicia's attention to her. "What sort of work do you do?" she demanded.
Ari only smiled. In spite of her experiences in New York, she had never been intimidated by Felicia. "Hello, Felicia," she said.
Felicia looked at her more closely, and then recognition came into her eyes. "Ariadne Jorgensen, isn't it? I'd heard you live in the sticks now."
"Ayuh," Ari said, going Diane one better with her New England colloquialism. "I like it here."
"New York scared you," Felicia said flatly. "You ran away."
"Oh, give it a rest, Felicia," Ari said. In the past months she'd regained the confidence she'd lost during her divorce from Ted. Solving a murder tended to have that effect, she thought. "How have you been doing?"
Felicia looked vaguely surprised by this greeting. "Well enough. And you?"
"Happy. I like being my own boss. You should come by the shop. I think even you'd like it."
"I've seen some of your designs. They're not bad," she said grudgingly.
"High praise, Felicia," Ari said.
"Humph." In spite of her apparent annoyance, a smile lurked in Felicia's eyes. "It's more than can be said of most of the stuff here."
"Oh, come on. That's not true."
"There's not an original design in the bunch."
"Then why did you come?" Diane asked.
Felicia looked Diane up and down, frostiness in her manner again. "Do I know you?"
"No," Diane said, still cheerful.
That seemed to put Felicia off-balance, if only temporarily. After giving Diane another look, she turned back to Ari. "I understand you live near here?"
"Yes," Ari said.
"We're staying at a dreadful motel. Not at all homey."
"Maybe you should find a bed-and-breakfast," Diane said.
"I can help you find one if you want," Ari said.
"Thank you." Felicia looked anything but grateful. "I suppose I must inspect the rest of the place."
"Are you doing an article on the festival?"
"Maybe," Felicia said vaguely, and with a brief wave, she walked away.
"Whew!" Diane said. "What a bitch. Do you think she was trying to get you to invite her to stay at your house?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe." Ari looked after Felicia, now stopped at the table covered with yarn from llamas.
"She's really not that bad, you know."
"Could have fooled me."
"No, really. You have to stand up to her. When you do, she backs off. You saw that. Most people let her boss them around."
"How to lose friends and influence enemies," Diane muttered.
"Maybe oh my God."
"At the door." She indicated the woman who had just entered the barn. "It's Beth Marley."
"Felicia's former assistant?"
"Yes. This should be interesting."
"You've got to be kidding me. She worked for Felicia?"
"I know." Ari studied Beth, who could not have been more of a contrast to the elegant Felicia. Small and plump, she had evidently tried to emulate her former boss, but without much success. Her driving coat was well cut, but even from here the cloth didn't look as fine as Felicia's, and the length was not flattering to her figure. She also wore boots, but under jeans rather than expensive slacks. The entire effect was undercut by the pink crocheted beret pulled down on her head instead of at a jaunty angle. "Hard to believe, isn't it?"
"I can see why Felicia fired her," Diane said dryly.
"Mm. I'm sure her appearance didn't help matters." Ari sat back. "Beth's never been able to get a job with a decent magazine since."
Diane looked at Ari. "Where's she working?"
"For Knit Knacks. In New Jersey, no less."
"I'll bet that's where she got the pattern for the hat."
"Probably," Ari said. Knit Knacks was not known for original, or particularly stylish, designs.
"She must hate Felicia's guts."
"Probably. Uh-oh." She leaned forward, riveted by the scene unfolding in front of her. Across the length of the barn, Felicia and Beth had spotted each other.
Diane followed her gaze. "Trouble?"
"I think so."
"Jeez," Diane said as the two women slowly, warily approached each other. "High noon."
"Or a duel. Needles at ten paces."
"Well." Felicia's voice, as high and commanding as ever, echoed through the barn. If people hadn't noticed the coming confrontation before, they had now. "Look what the cat dragged in."
"Not particularly original, Felicia." Beth stood her ground, not appearing the least cowed, and her voice was unexpectedly deep for someone her size. "I suppose that's to be expected," she said, stopping a few feet away from Felicia.
"You should talk." Felicia looked Beth up and down. "Where did you get that appalling hat? Oh, let me guess. You made it."
"I did." Beth seemed to stand a little taller. Whatever else she was, she wasn't a coward.
"And proud of it? Dear, dear." There was a slight smile on Felicia's face. "How the mighty have fallen."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Your day will come, Felicia. When you fall you'll have a long way to go." Her smile was almost evil. "I can't wait."
"Oh my God," Ari, watching in fascination, gasped.
"Was that a threat?" Diane whispered.
"I don't know."
"Wow. I never thought a wool festival could be so exciting."
"Talk about falling," Felicia was saying. "Contributing editor. Your reputation precedes you."
"I do a lot for that magazine," Beth said defensively, because her current position was lower than her previous one.
Again Felicia looked at her hat. "It shows."
"At least we don't steal people's designs," Beth shot back.
Felicia gave her a hard look. "Let's go, Debbie. I don't care for the odor in here," she said, and, to everyone's surprise, stalked out into the rain, Debbie scurrying behind her.
"Wow," Diane said.
Ari nodded. She was watching Beth, who was staring in openmouthed surprise toward the door. "I'm amazed they didn't beat each other up."
"Is what Beth said true?"
"I doubt it," Ari said. "Felicia can be harsh, but I've never heard of her stealing anything. She seems to have some integrity."
"I thought she praised people if they bought advertising, and criticized them if they didn't."
"I don't know. She was complimentary to me, and I never advertised with her. I'm not sure she deserved that." Beth was now strutting around the barn. Ari thought much of her attitude was bravado. "Her articles about advertisers are a little more tactful, though, even if she doesn't like their work."
"Well, that woke everyone up." The atmosphere in the barn was almost back to normal, though the buzz of conversation was louder than it had been. "Speaking of which, I could really go for that coffee now."
"Out in the rain? I don't think so."
"Oh, all right." Ari stretched and rose. "I could stand to get out of here for a little while. What size coffee?"
"As large as possible."
"Okay. See you in a minute." Ari walked across the barn, tugging up the hood of her parka as she went. The rain, windswept and strong, hit her full in the face as she stepped out. She could just make out the shape of Barn A, even though it was only a few yards away, and the parking lot to her left was a blur. Her wool slacks were immediately soaked from the water running down off her parka, and the mud pulled at her feet. Thank goodness she'd had the foresight to wear low boots, although even they were beginning to feel a little damp.
It was a relief to reach Barn A, its blast of warmth welcome indeed. She looked around with interest at the demonstrators and vendors who were crowded into the small space. The wares here tended to be notions such as hand-turned wooden knitting needles or brightly colored rovings. Reluctant to go back out, Ari browsed among the tables, stopping here and there to talk to people. She'd half expected to see Felicia here in the warmth, but there was no sign of her. She probably left, Ari thought, moving over to the snack bar at last. But how had she managed in the mud on her high heels?
Finally, with two coffee cups firmly wedged into a cardboard holder, Ari walked out of the barn and stopped under the eaves in dismay. In the short time she'd been inside the rain had intensified, and it showed no signs of letting up. She waited for a few minutes, but when water started splashing down on her from the gutters, she gave up. She was already soaked. Better to get it over with.
Head down against the weather, Ari moved toward Barn B as quickly as she could, without spilling the coffee. She scolded herself as she hurried. No one else was stupid enough to be outside. At least, she couldn't see anyone, though with her head down against the rain there could be a huge flock of sheep twenty feet in front of her and she wouldn't know. Maybe that was why she stepped into a puddle so deep that the water sloshed over her ankles into her boots, making her curse. That did it. She was going home.
At first, looking down as she was, all she saw were boots approaching. It took her a moment to identify them as expensive Italian boots, a second more to realize that they could belong to only one person. Ari looked up to see that she wasn't alone in the rain after all. Felicia was coming toward her, her gait uneven. The black wool slacks that had been so pristine were now soaked; her boots were mud bespattered. And she wasn't wearing her coat. "Felicia?" Ari said, startled.
"Mud," Felicia gasped, and stumbled. Instinctively Ari put out a hand to steady her, going off-balance herself when Felicia grasped her arm.
The coffee flew everywhere, splashing Ari's parka and hands. "Ouch!" she exclaimed, and let go. Without Ari's support, Felicia lurched forward, and before Ari could move, Felicia collapsed against her.
"Felicia," Ari said, startled. "What in the world?"
"I tried to get the mud "
"Help," Felicia said, and sagged. Ari grabbed at her arms, too late. Felicia slipped away and crumpled to the ground, pulling Ari off-balance again. This time she dropped the coffee, but that wasn't what made her stumble back. There was, Ari realized with horror, a knitting needle sticking out of Felicia's back.
Copyright © 2007 by Mary Kruger