Get entangled in this USA Today bestselling series! In the newest mystery from the national bestselling author of Murder in Merino, the sleuthing skills of Izzy Chambers Perry and the Seaside Knitters are tested as death mars the beginning of the school year...
Seaside Knitter Birdie Favazza is thrilled that her granddaughter Gabby will be visiting for the fall and attending the Sea Harbor Community Day School. Gabby loves the school, with its newly-adopted progressive curriculum, and she loves that the Seaside Knitters are teaching knitting as part of the enrichment program. It’s a huge success, and on crisp autumn days, girls camp out on the terraces, knitting up hats for charity.
But not everyone is happy with the direction the school is taking. Outspoken board member Blythe Westerland has sparked tempers with her determination to unravel the current administration. Then, on the evening of an elegant school event, Blythe’s body is found near the school boathouse.
With a killer on the loose, Birdie is determined to keep Gabby safe. Working together, the Seaside Knitters carefully unravel the layers of Blythe’s complicated life, bringing faculty members and town residents under scrutiny. Before the cast-off rows are made on the students’ projects, the knitters will need to stitch together the evidence to see if a murderer has been walking beside them all along.
About the Author
Sally Goldenbaum is a sometime philosophy teacher, a knitter, and an editor, and the USA Today bestselling author of more than thirty novels. Sally became more serious about knitting with the birth of her first grandchild and the creation of the Seaside Knitters Mysteries, which includes the recent titles Murder at Lambswool Farm, Trimmed with Murder, and Murder in Merino. Her fictional knitting friends are teaching her the intricacies of women’s friendship, the mysteries of small-town living, and the very best way to pick up dropped stitches on a lacy knit shawl.
Read an Excerpt
Monday, early autumn
The glass in the headmistress’s door rattled, but it was the chilling echo of footsteps on the polished floors that rattled Dr. Elizabeth Hartley’s soul. She stood still at the office door and stared through the reception area and into the round entry hall.
Captain Elijah Westerland, the subject of the school hall’s gigantic painting, looked in at her, his bushy eyebrows pulled together, his eyes black and small and piercing. Judging eyes.
What had she done now? This woman who held his beloved home in her hands?
But that was foolish. It was a painting, after all, and the captain had been dead for nearly a hundred years. Moreover, his home was no longer a home, but a wonderful school.
She took a deep breath and tried to shake off the unease. Elizabeth hadn’t anticipated the volcanic anger or the teacher’s abrupt departure. Maybe the captain hadn’t, either. But neither of them should have been surprised. Of course he’d be upset. People didn’t like it when you messed with their livelihoods—and Josh Babson was soon to be out of a teaching job in a town with few openings.
But the decision had been taken out of her hands. Josh’s recent absences were known to the board, his faint excuses not very credible. And although he had a charming manner, he could be prickly.
Elizabeth had attributed it to his artistry. Weren’t artists supposed to be temperamental? The few paintings she had seen of his were lovely, and his students liked him. If only he had toed the line a little more precisely.
She’d tried to reason with him as best she could, hoping to help him see that missing work and confronting board members didn’t go over well at Sea Harbor Community Day School. She needed the art teacher to be there when the bell rang, when eager students filed into his classroom. And he was getting better, paying closer attention to the artist’s clock that sometimes kept him painting at home after the magnificent girls’ school on the hill opened its doors, preparing for a new day.
Josh was getting better . . . but once a few of her board members got involved, it was too late. It wasn’t within the purview of her position to rehabilitate the teachers or staff, one had pointed out to her.
Controlling his exit, however, was her job.
And that had gone badly.
On the other side of the administrative suite, the door to a smaller office opened and the assistant headmistress stepped into the reception area. Mandy White stood tall and composed. She glanced at Teresa Pisano, who was shuffling papers behind the reception counter, trying to look busy. “What’s going on?”
The school secretary lifted her bleached-blond head and shrugged one shoulder. It was an off-putting mannerism, one Teresa had recently developed.
Mandy looked back at the headmistress, still standing in the doorway. “Do you need help, Elizabeth?” she asked.
Elizabeth met Mandy’s look and offered a half smile and a slight shake of her head.
I’m fine, the gesture said. Everything was under control.
Before Mandy could pursue the issue, Elizabeth closed her office door and moved back into the safe shadows of the room.
The elegant office seemed tarnished by the anger and harsh words that had filled it moments before. In spite of the faded drapes and worn Oriental carpet, the room seemed to demand quiet and respect, intelligent conversation. Not the hand waving that had scattered the paperwork she had carefully put together to document her decision.
Elizabeth looked down at her computer and checked the next appointment. Ten minutes to collect herself.
And it was just the beginning of the week. If she had had her way, she would have waited until Friday to talk to Josh. Then he would have had the weekend to come to grips with being fired, and he could have come back on Monday to finish up the remaining week in the quarter. Then depart from his students gracefully. She had suggested he tell the students he was moving on to other opportunities. He was talented, she said to him. He shouldn’t forget that. There was a life beyond teaching. And she would help him in any way she could.
Sea Harbor was a small town; she owed him some support.
But her plan to wait until Friday was thwarted by the planned Tuesday board meeting, and Elizabeth was asked to tie up this loose end so she could report on it at the monthly meeting the next evening.
Tie up this loose end . . .
Was that what she had done?
Or had she created another loose end, a life left frayed and dangling?
Elizabeth set her glasses on the desk, rubbed her temples, and walked over to the lead glass windows fronting the school. The view beyond the windows was a tonic. She would have given up the ornate desk and elegant bookshelves in a heartbeat. But the view? That she would never give up.
From the day she had arrived in Sea Harbor, the magnificent seaside had soothed her, helped her acclimate to the new headmistress position, helped her through rough days of budget negotiations, decisions to reduce staff and adjust protocols, and dealing with student problems and board disagreements.
She pushed away the sliver of fear that had come with the slamming of the door. The parents and board didn’t think of her as fearful. Audacious. Brave. Intrepid. Those were the words some of them used—although she sometimes had to stop herself from saying, “No—that’s not me. Not really.” Fear wasn’t a stranger to Dr. Elizabeth Hartley, and it often surrounded the tough decisions she had to make. She was good at this job. Very good.
Her heartbeat slowed as she pushed the heavy windows open and welcomed in the salty breeze. It lifted strands of brown hair from her forehead, cooling her flushed skin.
Just a short distance below the windows, tiers of stone terraces gradually gave way to a wide lawn that rolled down to the sea, its expanse broken only by the granite boulders that seemed to have been tossed haphazardly about the property by some giant prehistoric claw. Beyond the lawn was a narrow road, nearly empty at this time of day save for a jogger or two and an old man walking his dog. And across from it was the old boathouse wedged in among the giant boulders, once filled with the Westerlands’ oceangoing sailing vessels, canoes, and motorboats. Another thing on her to-do list. Tear it down? Fix it up? Turn it into a little theater or art studio as students and teachers had suggested?
The thought pushed Josh Babson back into her head. Although the run-down boathouse was used mostly to store odds and ends, there were reports that some—Josh Babson and others—had sometimes used it as a personal hideout to rendezvous with a beer or a woman or a joint.
Or so the rumors went.
But even the boathouse was a part of the view she loved, its history and gray weathered sides merging into the color of the sea.
The view continued on forever, across the boulders, over whitecapped waves—until finally it touched the sky and melted into one single masterpiece.
Peace. She had found it here.
And she would protect it with her life.
* * *
Just a floor below, mixing in with the familiar odors of a science lab and cleaning supplies, the lilting voice of a recently enrolled student filled the wide hallway.
“Angelo, my Angelo—”
The singsong words hung in the dusty air like a hummingbird, fluttering lightly.
Angelo Garozzo looked up from his desk as the long-legged girl with the infectious voice filled the doorframe of his office.
“What was your mom thinking to give you that name?” Gabrielle Marietti asked, a frown teasing the man behind the desk. “Angel? I mean, seriously?”
“Humph.” Angelo sneezed. His rimless glasses slipped down to the ball that formed the end of his nose.
Gabby leaned her head to one side, an uncontrolled mass of thick hair falling across her cheek. “But maybe it fits. You’re sort of an angel to me. My nonna thinks so, anyway. Even though you’re wicked cranky sometimes. I probably should have been more discriminating when I put in my order for a guardian angel.”
Angelo laughed at that, his head pressing back into his high-backed chair. Then he leaned forward and glared at his visitor. “Don’t you know New Yorkers don’t get to use the word wicked? You trying to fit in here or somethin’?”
Gabby loved Angelo’s accent, the absence of r’s. Sometimes she tried to think of questions for Angelo that would require only r word answers. “I went to a Sox game with Sam and Ben last weekend,” she said, walking into the small room. A slice of sunshine fell from the high casement windows onto her blue-black hair. “So that counts for something, right?”
She brushed a layer of dust from a folding chair and sat down. The small room was crowded with manuals and tools, shoved onto shelves that lined one wall. A single filing cabinet stood beside Angelo’s metal desk, a small table holding a coffeepot and lunch box against another wall. The only other furniture were Angelo’s high-backed office chair, a heavy table with a printer on it, and a few folding chairs.
But the bright posters lining one gray wall made the office wonderful in Gabby’s mind. Broadway shows performed at the local high school, Sea Harbor Community Day School productions, shows performed in a small theater over in Gloucester. Angelo himself had sung a tune or two in his day, he confessed to Gabby one time.
But no matter, he loved them all, and donated generously to keep their doors open.
And Gabby loved that he loved them.
“Whattaya doin’ down here, anyway?” Angelo growled. “Shouldn’t you be in class somewhere, learning how to behave like a lady?” He waved one fist in the air as he talked, his bushy eyebrows tugging together until they almost touched—a white caterpillar shadowing piercing eyes.
Gabby grinned and flapped a folder in the air. “I’m Miss Patterson’s errand girl. I was about to fall asleep in her history class and she took pity on me.”
Angelo tsked and shook his head. “You watchit, Marietti. Your nonna holds me responsible for you, God knows why. You get yourself booted out of here and it’s all on poor Angelo.”
His words were soft, his gruff expression fading into a lopsided smile. He picked up an envelope from the corner of his desk, half rose, and shoved it toward her. ”Might as well give you an excuse for coming down here. This gets put directly into Dr. Hartley’s hands. And don’t lose it, you hear me talkin’ to you?”
Gabrielle shoved it under her arm. “Do you doubt me for a second? Of course I’ll do your bidding, fair Angelo. Your wish is my command.” She stood and bowed elaborately, her arms stretching out and knocking a stack of papers off his desk.
“Outta here, pest.” Angelo shooed her off with a wave of his hand.
Truth be told, he loved Gabby Marietti’s detours to his office. He loved her sass and her smile. She’d come late to Sea Harbor Community Day School, missing the first few weeks of the quarter after moving up from New York. But no one would have known she was a newbie. In the brief time she’d been there, Gabby had made a place for herself, brought sunshine into the cavernous mansion that housed the old school. Or at least into the office of the chief maintenance engineer, as the black-and-white sign on his door so presumptuously declared. Sunshine was good.
Gabby scooped up the papers and set them back on his desk. She wrinkled her nose at him, the freckles dancing on her fine-boned face. And then as quickly as she’d come, she spun around, arms and legs flying, and disappeared from Angelo’s view as she raced down the hall toward the staircase.
The urgent sound of boots on the hardwood stopped Gabby in her tracks just before she reached the bottom step.
“No running in the halls,” she imagined the person saying to her. “Decorum, my dear.”
But the sound on the steps was loud in the quiet hall, ominous, certainly not an administrator checking lockers or taking someone on a tour—and Gabby instinctively stepped back into the shadow near a utility closet.
The familiar figure that came barreling down the steps was mumbling fiercely, the sound pushing Gabby deeper into the shadows. She wanted to be invisible.
Mostly she didn’t want to embarrass Mr. Babson, the slender teacher who was teaching her to paint en plein air and never once considered her ramshackle watercolor of the old boathouse something that belonged in MOBA. Surely it would embarrass him to know a student was privy to the string of obscenities that filled the dusty basement air. Some of the words were ones Gabby had never heard before, even when she hung out at the fishermen’s dock, helping Cass and Pete Halloran repair lobster traps. These were unfamiliar, and seemed out of place coming from the mouth of the teacher.
Gabby backed up until she could feel the ridge of the firebox between her shoulder blades, dust motes filling the air in front of her. A sneeze was threatening to break her silence. She pressed one hand over her mouth, the other clutching the papers she was supposed to be delivering. One second before the tickle became utterly painful, Mr. Babson disappeared into the downstairs teachers’ lounge, his strangely animated voice trailing after him. Words like hussy and revenge were mixed in with the curses, until the door finally banged shut behind him, filling the hall with silence.
Gabby released a sigh of relief, pitying the final hour’s art class, who would have to face the angry teacher. It wouldn’t be pretty.
With a sudden desire to return as quickly as possible to the safety of her class and the trials of colonization, she raced up the steps to drop off the envelopes, pausing more briefly than she usually did in the lobby.
She always skidded to a stop here—even if she only had a minute—planting her feet on the striped hardwood surface and tilting her head back. The portrait demanded it. There was something about the austere expression on the man’s face that froze Gabby in her tracks. He’d had something like nine sons, her nonna had said. And they all lived in this house. She gave him her brightest smile. She’d crack that facade. Someday he’d smile back, she told herself.
Sure he would.
And then she rushed into the office suite, startling the secretary to attention.
“Gabrielle, where is the fire?” Teresa leaned over the tall counter and peered at the student, her long face somber.
“Delivering papers to Dr. Hartley.”
“I’ll take them,” Teresa said, reaching out her hand.
Gabby stared at her arm. It was thin, with knobs at her wrist. The kids talked about the secretary sometimes, but Gabby worried about her. She was so skinny, and had recently done something terrible to her light brown hair. It was a dull blond color and seemed to move in odd directions. Maybe it was just a wig, Gabby thought, somehow relieved at the idea.
“It’s okay, I told Angelo I’d deliver them—”
“And so you have. To me. You’re two seconds too late to see Dr. Hartley. An important board member beat you to it.” Teresa reached across the counter and took the papers from Gabby’s hand. “Now, off with you, back to class, missy,” she said, and motioned toward the door.
Gabby turned back just once. Just long enough to see the back of a woman with platinum hair, standing perfectly still on the other side of the headmistress’s glass door.
Teresa had turned and was looking at her, too, in an admiring way as if she wished her bleached blond hair didn’t frizzle around her face, but floated back smooth and perfect, every hair in place.
For a second Gabby thought the woman beyond the door was a mannequin, but just then Teresa Pisano turned back in her direction, and her glare prevented Gabby from finding out. She hurried down the hallway to learn more about the founding fathers.
* * *
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
The voice came from behind her, scattering Elizabeth Hartley’s thoughts. She hadn’t heard the door open. For a brief moment her heart skipped a beat.
How long had she been standing there, watching her from the back, reading her thoughts?
Blythe Westerland never made a sound when she entered a room—and she rarely knocked. “It’s a finishing school walk,” Birdie Favazza said after a recent board meeting. “One can imagine her with a book on her head, gliding effortlessly and silently on those long, well-exercised legs.”
Elizabeth turned toward the familiar voice. It matched Blythe’s hair and body perfectly—liquid and smooth. The board member was beautiful in that perfect way magazines managed to accomplish with Photoshop techniques, but in her case, it was real, at least mostly. A few years older than Elizabeth, Blythe always managed to dredge up the same insecurities she had spent her teenage years running from—those years when she watched from the sidelines as others were caught up in social whirlwinds and laughter and fun. The years when she was praised by her teachers for being bright and articulate, when she’d won one academic award after another—but spent most weekends alone in her room with her books and her dog.
But it was different now, she reminded herself. She’d accomplished much since those painful teenage years; even allowing the memory back embarrassed her. It had no place in this office.
She took a deep breath and met Blythe’s eyes. “Have I forgotten a meeting with you?”
Beneath the open windows a riding mower started up, pushing the sounds of the sea into the background.
Blythe didn’t answer. Instead she walked over and stood next to Elizabeth, resting her long fingers on the sill. Her chest rose as she breathed in the air. “It’s truly an incredible view. I never tire of it.”
Elizabeth nodded, waiting.
“We used to have our May Day dance right over there, in the middle of that lawn,” Blythe said.
Elizabeth watched the memories play across Blythe’s face as she looked through the window. The board member was being transported back to a sunny day when the Sea Harbor school was truly a country day school, catering to old New England families. Days when the school’s greenhouse was a stable with horses bridled and ready, when limousines climbed the long, hilly drive at the end of a school day to pick up their charges.
May Day. Elizabeth had seen the photographs, some of them framed in the library and in the glass cases outside the auditorium. The Maypole strung with colorful silken ribbons, the girls in white dresses, each one clutching the end of a streamer as she whirled and twirled around on the pole. The beautiful young women surrounding the queen. And surely Blythe would have been one of those queens.
Over the years the May Day practice had become frayed around the edges, just like the school. Other private New England schools had eclipsed Sea Harbor in desirability for the wealthy, and May Day seemed to have diminished in stature, too. It seemed less appropriate, less an event, until Elizabeth had stopped it completely her first year as headmistress. The move didn’t settle easily with some of the parents and board members. But in light of declining enrollment and the expense of the ritual, it seemed out of place, elitist, even in its pared-down state. Elizabeth knew the money would be better spent on scholarships and to repair the roof and choir risers. It no longer fit into her vision of Sea Harbor Community Day School.
Today, along with the nation’s flag, colorful flaps of sailcloth hung from the top of the metal pole—one a school banner that an art student had designed; another, a Boston Strong flag the students themselves had made in memory of that April marathon day they would never forget.
“Who is that?” Blythe said, pointing to a figure moving across the bucolic scene.
Elizabeth looked down at the flagstone path. It circled the mansion and then serpentined down the lawn toward the flagpole.
The question was rhetorical. Blythe was aware of who it was—and why the man was moving resolutely across the grass, his head held high, tousled hair flying every which way and a lumpy backpack strapped between his shoulders. And she probably knew how angry he was, too. Her voice had been the strongest in determining the teacher’s fate. Her determination to have him fired was unusually intense.
Elizabeth watched him casually at first, wondering if someone was taking over his class. Then she looked more closely. Something wasn’t normal about the way he was walking. She pressed her palms down on the window frame and leaned forward, shading her eyes. The man’s left arm was picking up speed, moving wildly, rotating like a Gloucester wind turbine. At first Elizabeth thought he was waving to someone she couldn’t see, perhaps the old man on the lawn mower.
And then the surface of the lawn around him began to change, like a black-and-white film gradually taking on a wash of bright color.
Slowly, deliberately, the well-tended grass became a painting in progress as angry swaths of reckless, canary yellow circles appeared across the grass.
The color of crime scene tape—ugly and intrusive and announcing something evil.
Elizabeth’s breath balled up in her chest as she watched the drama unfolding on the lawn. It wasn’t so terrible, what he was doing. He was angry, that was all.
What was terrible was having Blythe Westerland standing next to her, watching it.
Then suddenly, as if the music had stopped, the man turned slowly and looked up at the two women, as if he knew they were standing at the windows watching him.
Elizabeth watched carefully, feeling no anger or fear; all she felt was sadness at disrupting a life. She forced a neutral look to her face and started to raise her hand. To do what? To wave at him? To invite him back?
The tall man continued to look, to stare at them, his body perfectly still. She moved slightly, the shadow of the blinds partially blocking her. She watched him with a strange sense of unrest, as if she were listening in on a private conversation. She looked away, concentrating on a spray of paint soaking into the grass.
And then she stared at it again, the random wash of color suddenly transforming into something else. There, in the middle of one of the fuzzy yellow circles, was a stick drawing of a woman, a triangle skirt giving nod to her sex. Slashing through the figure was a straight line—a street sign: NO LEFT TURN. NO TRUCKS ALLOWED. No women . . . No woman . . .
Elizabeth looked at Blythe. Her profile was calm, and little emotion marred her perfect skin. The same half smile, lips just slightly parted, was set in place.
Finally the artist waved, as if happily leaving a festive event. In the next minute he turned and walked resolutely across the lawn toward the old boathouse.
“That’s unfortunate,” Blythe said quietly.
Elizabeth turned away and walked back to her desk. “Dismissing staff is always unfortunate.”
“The dismissal was necessary. I meant his reaction to it.”
Elizabeth knew what she meant. She meant the dismissal must have been handled poorly to generate such a reaction. It meant Elizabeth had failed.
“It’s unfortunate he was hired in the first place, Elizabeth.”
That was the rationale Blythe had brought to the board. He was clearly unsuitable. One had to be careful when hiring artists.
And having a beer down by the dock while he helped Ira Staab paint the school’s old boathouse didn’t help his case. It didn’t matter that it was after the students had gone home. He was on the payroll, Blythe said.
He’d left work early several times, she’d noted. And had spent way too much time at the Artist’s Palate Bar over near Canary Cove, no matter that it was on his own time, his own dollar.
Elizabeth knew those things. She had talked with the teacher about mannerisms, school rules, the importance of schedules. She’d been making progress, she thought.
Until she wasn’t, because the board had decided differently.
“And also unfortunate that the way he was fired somehow stripped him of his dignity. That’s a shame.”
Elizabeth chose not to answer. Instead she glanced at the grandfather clock and sat down behind her desk. “I don’t mean to rush you, Blythe, but I have an appointment shortly. Is there something you wanted?”
“You’re meeting with Chelsey Mansfield.”
It wasn’t a question.
Elizabeth frowned, wondering when her calendar had become public knowledge. She glanced through the door at Teresa Pisano. Recently the school secretary had become friendly with Blythe Westerland. It was an odd kind of friendship, more an admiration on Teresa’s part. Someone had brought it to Elizabeth’s attention that Teresa had recently bleached her brown hair and begun straightening it into what vaguely resembled Blythe’s perfect bob.
Blythe seemed to like the admiration, even bringing the secretary flowers one day.
Elizabeth pushed away the thoughts that began to crowd her judgment. She put her glasses back on and picked up the Mansfield file. It was a simple progress report on the student, Anna Mansfield, a ten-year-old whom Elizabeth had known for a long time. It was a good report. Diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, Anna was sometimes challenged by school and the social world that came with it. But Elizabeth knew that in the right environment and with teachers to help, the student would thrive. And that’s exactly what was happening, as slowly but surely Anna was meeting all the goals her teachers had set for her. She was also proving what Elizabeth suspected to be true, that Anna was probably more intellectually gifted than many of her peers. She just needed a little extra help sorting through the stimuli that made up life. And the other students in the school would only benefit from learning that they weren’t all cut from the same mold.
That was exactly the kind of environment Elizabeth Hartley was creating. And meeting with the child’s mother was the kind of meeting she’d like to have every day—a good student report handed over to a very interested, loving parent.
But of what interest was the meeting to Blythe?
Before she could ask, Blythe stood and brushed an imaginary fleck of dust from her white skirt.
“Actually I came in today to give you support when you met with Josh Babson. To make sure the firing went smoothly.”
Elizabeth frowned. If she hadn’t changed the time of the appointment at the last minute, moving it up an hour, Blythe would have arrived at her door at the same moment Josh did.
“It seems I was too late,” Blythe continued. She offered a sad smile and added, “That’s a shame, but what’s done is done.”
Elizabeth looked down at her desk, collecting herself and holding back words that she knew she would regret if they escaped. She would be gracious. Blythe was a board member, a school benefactor—and related to the man who had donated the building and grounds. Finally Elizabeth looked up. “While I appreciate your offer to help, the board hired me to run this school. It’s what I am trained to do. And for better or worse, I cherish this job, all of it, even the difficult parts. You and the other board members are wonderfully supportive. But I know you can appreciate that some of the responsibilities are ones I need to handle alone. Especially ones like this. My faculty deserves that kind of respect and privacy.”
Blythe picked up her bag and slipped it over her shoulder. Finally, as if Elizabeth hadn’t spoken, she smiled and looked at her watch.
“I have a meeting with the women’s philanthropic league and a tennis lesson after that. A dinner date in Boston. I need to be on my way.” She glanced down at the Mansfield folder. “But please be aware that the Mansfield child does not belong in my—in this school. Keeping her here is terribly unfair to the other students. Not only that, you are doing the child and her parents a huge disservice.”
Before Elizabeth could respond, Blythe was gone, a cat in the darkening afternoon. She slowed down for a minute at Teresa Pisano’s desk, where she lightly touched the secretary’s shoulder and then disappeared through the main school doors.
“Sea Harbor Community Day School has a fascinating history, my dear,” Birdie Favazza said. “And I have it on good authority that you are making it even more fascinating.”
Birdie and Gabby sat side by side on the dock just outside Gracie’s Lazy Lobster Café, their legs hanging over the edge, shoulders just touching. One body was so filled with youth that it electrified the air around her. The other—her face a deeply lined map of wisdom and grace and kindness—was filled with the vigor of a long life well lived.
Behind the unlikely pair, sitting on the café’s outdoor bench, Nell Endicott could feel the joy that filled her friend Birdie’s voice. The words were drowned out by the sounds of the harbor—fishing boats coming in for the day, pleasure boats making their way to freshly painted slips, shouts of fishermen and tourists.
“Nick Marietti was a wise man,” Ben said. He sat down next to his wife and stretched his legs out in front of him, tilting his head back to catch the day’s fading rays.
Nell agreed. Birdie’s brother-in-law was definitely that—and Ben was a mind reader, knowing exactly what she was thinking as she watched Birdie and Gabby. Nick Marietti was the mastermind behind the plan to bring Gabby to Sea Harbor to attend school while her father was away. A far better arrangement than living with a nanny and servants in Christopher Marietti’s New York penthouse. As Christopher himself admitted to his uncle, “Birdie Favazza will be the teacher. Gabby the winner.”
“What’s up?” Sam Perry strode down the pier pushing a stroller. He came to a stop in front of Ben and pressed one foot against the baby carriage lock.
Izzy walked around him and gave Nell and Ben hugs.
“We’re starving,” Sam said. “Isn’t that the plan here? What’s with the sunbathing?”
Gabby pivoted around at the sound of their voices. In the next instant she was off the dock floor and rushing toward the stroller. She crouched down and began coaxing contagious giggles out of a lively Abigail.
“Gee-Gee,” the baby cooed, and Gabby melted right there on the cement dock. Being one of Abby’s first words was a huge lottery win in Gabby’s eleven-year-old mind.
“They’re clearing us a table in the back,” Nell said.
As if on cue, Gracie Santos appeared at the door flapping menus in the air. “Your table is cleared and a basket of the world’s best calamari is waiting for you. Cass is already in there, so you better hurry if you want any food.”
The café owner helped Birdie to her feet before giving hugs all around. Then she held the door open and ushered them into the narrow restaurant.
“Gabby, I hear you’re going to my alma mater,” she said over her shoulder.
“It’s a great school, Gracie. Did you like it there?”
“No.” Gracie laughed. “It was too stuffy back then. I wanted to be in the public school with my friend Cass, but my uncle wouldn’t hear of it. Santos women went to Sea Harbor Community Day School, he said. So I did.”
“The real story, Gabby, is that Cass and Gracie were free spirits,” Izzy said. “Not easily controlled.”
Gracie laughed. “Well, yes, maybe. But I survived.”
“The school is changing. Its focus is different now,” Birdie said.
“That’s what I hear. I’m glad. Though many of the girls loved it. I was the odd man out.”
“The world changes,” Birdie said. “Sometimes institutions need to change, too.”
Gracie agreed and led them through the restaurant, manipulating the stroller as they made their way to the back of the narrow restaurant. They were all Lazy Lobster VIPs as far as Gracie was concerned and she insisted on treating them that way. If Nell, Birdie, Izzy, and Cass—and any men they could recruit into helping—hadn’t spent a large part of one summer painting and sanding and transforming the old fish shack into a clean, bright café, it wouldn’t have existed. Plain and simple.
Gracie’s place was small and comfortable, the interior filled with wooden tables and chairs, and softened by the woven fiber art of Willow Adams that hung above the fireplace. The seascape, created from knotted yarn in blues and greens and lavender, was made especially for the Lazy Lobster. It swooped and curved against the brick wall, a splash of ocean right there in the restaurant. But what set the small café apart from the T-shirt and bait shops nearby were the tantalizing odors of seafood, lemon butter, and fresh herbs that spilled out into the ocean air. And on Monday nights, especially, the place hummed with a generous cross section of Sea Harbor residents, young and old, all craving Gracie’s Monday night family special.
Cass Halloran was standing near a table, her cell phone pressed to one ear. She waved at them and mouthed a hello, then took a step away to finish her call.
Just beyond their table, double doors opened to a small deck that hung directly over the water—the spot where Pete Halloran, Merry Jackson, and drummer Andy Risso were warming up for their version of Monday night karaoke.
Ben pulled out chairs for Birdie and Nell and looked over their heads, waving at familiar faces, mouthing hellos. Nearly every table was full tonight, and Ben knew most of the diners. Practically everyone in Sea Harbor had depended on Ben Endicott for something, sometime, somewhere. Wills, estates, business negotiations. Folks teased him that his retirement to the seaside community had been a simple transition from wearing suits to shorts and tees—not much else changed.
He waved and nodded to a friend a few tables over and sat down next to Nell.
“It’s good to see the chief getting out some.”
Nell followed his look and smiled. “Well, now. That’s good to see.”
“You two kids,” Izzy teased. “Matchmakers.”
Nell laughed. “Sometimes the stars align themselves. Serendipity. We were helping Elizabeth move into that little house she bought on the end of our street a few weeks ago and decided to go to the yacht club for the buffet afterward. Jerry was there, so we invited him to sit with us. He’s alone too much—and he and Elizabeth seemed to find a million things in common. Jerry laughed a lot and seemed to enjoy himself enormously. Elizabeth told me later that she never dated much. She was always busy—studying, working on her doctorate, taking on extra jobs to make ends meet. And when she did go out, men didn’t seem terribly interested in her.”
“But Jerry thinks she’s fascinating, and the age difference doesn’t seem relevant at all,” Ben said. “I guess that’s one of those things you can’t explain.”
“They were completely comfortable together, that’s for sure,” Nell said.
“Jerry doesn’t always find himself at ease with women, maybe because he’s been fixed up relentlessly since his wife died. He resists it. This wasn’t like that. They were more like old friends, sharing lives.”
“Good for them, I say,” said Birdie. “Police chiefs need to relax as much as the next person.”
Izzy lifted Abby from her stroller and placed her in Nell’s outstretched arms. “So . . . are they, well, a couple?”
Sam pulled out a chair for his wife. “Does it matter? They’re enjoying each other.”
Gabby craned her neck to see who they were talking about, her gaze settling in on her school’s headmistress. “You’re talking about Dr. Hartley and Chief Thompson.” The thought seemed to excite her. She set her lemonade down and, without waiting for an answer, said with some authority, “It’s an April-December romance.”
“What?” Birdie said.
“That’s what the kids call it, Nonna.”
“Well, those are both fine months.”
“The kids talk about the headmistress dating?” Izzy asked.
Gabby nodded and transferred a tower of calamari from the basket to her plate. She licked her fingers. “It’s okay, though. My friend Daisy says the rule of thumb is to never date anyone under half your age plus seven.”
“Whose thumb is that? I wonder,” Ben said.
“Maybe this is one of those things that doesn’t need rules,” Nell said. “Besides, no one in Sea Harbor would care if the rule was broken. Jerry is a remarkable man.”
Gabby agreed. “And she’s cool.”
Izzy remained quiet. Her advanced knitters class at the shop had brought up the subject of the chief and the headmistress last week. There had been way too much talk, such as, “What is the woman thinking? He could be her father.”
“But rule or no rule, it doesn’t matter,” Gabby continued, “because if there is a rule, it’s not broken. Daisy checked it out. Dr. Hartley is thirty-nine and Chief Thompson is sixty-two. So she’s safe, see? Barely, but it still counts.”
Cass walked back to the table and caught the end of the conversation. She pulled out a chair next to Gabby. “How do you know all that, hotshot? It makes me wonder what else you know.” She motioned for the calamari basket to be passed her way and lightly tugged on a single dark braid falling down between Gabby’s shoulders.
Gabby grinned. “I’ll never tell. But you better watch your back, Cass. Daisy Danvers can find anything on the Internet. Anything.”
Cass slipped off her Halloran Lobster Company cap. “Anything? Okay, consider me warned.”
“Like I bet if she were here right now she’d be able to find out who you were talking to on the phone.” Gabby lifted her eyebrows and grinned.
Izzy and Nell looked up. Gabby’s lack of restraint was refreshing sometimes—and often helpful when they didn’t want to ask the question themselves.
But Cass didn’t bite. She smiled mysteriously at Gabby. “That’s for me to know—and you and cybersleuth Daisy to find out.”
The waitress appeared with a pitcher of beer, a menu, and a warmed bottle for Abigail. Without glancing at the menu, Ben and Sam ordered up enough fish tacos, lobster rolls, and sweet potato fries to feed the whole restaurant.
Nell turned toward Birdie and nodded in the direction of the police chief. “Jerry might look relaxed, but Elizabeth looks like the weight of the world is on her shoulders.”
“It was a crazy day at school,” Gabby said.
Nell had forgotten the acute hearing of preadolescents. Gabby didn’t miss a thing.
Gabby continued, telling them about watching the art teacher from the shadows of the lower hall. “I’m pretty sure he came from Dr. Hartley’s office—and he wasn’t a happy dude.”
Birdie looked concerned but tried to cover it over. “Being a headmistress is a difficult job—”
A wave from across the room caught Gabby’s attention, and the incident was left lingering on the table as she excused herself and scooted off to greet a classmate.
Birdie waited a moment and then continued, bringing Ben into the conversation. “Something else happened at the school today.” She described the painted circles on the lawn that she and Harold, her driver, had spotted when they picked Gabby up that afternoon. “I phoned Angelo to see what he knew about it, but he wasn’t very forthcoming. ‘Just a prank,’ was how he put it. But there was something in his voice that said it was more than that.”
“Angelo is protective of the school. He probably didn’t want news of anything out of the ordinary leaving the school grounds,” Ben said.
“But it will,” Sam said. “News like that travels fast. I was doing a photo shoot down at the boulders and saw the paint, too. My first thought was some art students were painting outside and got carried away, but when I looked through the lens, it looked more like some crazy crop circles.”
“So you immediately went over to take pictures,” Izzy said, knowing how few things escaped her husband’s lens.
Sam laughed. “Okay, sure. I thought about it. But when I got a little closer I saw Elizabeth walking out and motioning to Ira Staab, the old lawn guy. She had her phone out and it looked like she was taking pictures of the paint job. She seemed to focus in on one of the circles. Then she stopped, said a few words to Ira—and in the next few minutes that stretch of lawn was getting a buzz cut like you wouldn’t believe.”
“It’s not wonderful timing, considering the fund-raising gala coming up this weekend,” Nell said. “But I suppose kids will be kids.”
“You think students did it?” Ben asked.
Nell thought about that for a minute. “I guess . . . I assumed . . .”
“Sure it was the kids,” Cass said. “Budding artists showing a little spunk. Sam’s first guess was probably what happened.”
Izzy looked at her sideways. “Don’t even start on Cass Halloran school pranks.”
“Well, whatever happened, no doubt we’ll hear about it at the board meeting tomorrow,” Birdie said.
“Especially if it reflects poorly on Elizabeth,” Nell added. “A few members seem to enjoy bringing things like that up. The meddling and criticism can’t be easy on her.”
“Nell and I are excluded from those who meddle, of course,” Birdie said.
“Of course.” Ben laughed.
“My money says you’re talking about Blythe Westerland,” Izzy said.
Nell nodded. She looked over toward the bar where Blythe stood, tall and elegant, talking with Don and Rachel Wooten.
“Do you know she’s five years older than I am?”
Sam looked at her. “Okay, Cass,” he said carefully. “That clearly requires a response, but I’m not sure what it should be.”
Excerpted from "A Finely Knit Murder"
Copyright © 2016 Sally Goldenbaum.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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