The Tarzana Hookers’ Yarn University has been a big success, and the classes have drawn in a slew of new crochet devotees. A less welcome arrival is the boxy monstrosity in the yard behind Molly’s house. She hasn’t met her new neighbors, but when she sees a couple struggling on the balcony and later spies what looks like someone lying on the ground, Molly wastes no time calling in her ex, homicide detective Barry Greenberg.
To Molly’s shock, Barry reports that nothing is amiss with her neighbors and asks her to lay off with the amateur detecting. Molly knows she wasn’t just seeing things, but with no body to prove her case she’ll have to unravel the evidence on her own—because someone in Tarzana is tangled up in murder...
DELICIOUS RECIPES & CROCHET PATTERNS INCLUDED!
About the Author
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"That yarn is going to choke me," Elise Belmont said, trying to pull the pink fibers off her tongue. More of them floated on the air, tickling the noses and sticking to the clothes of everyone in the vicinity of Adele Abrams.
"I don't know what you're fussing about," Adele said, holding up the piece on her long crochet hook. The move made more of the mohairlike fibers come loose, and they floated my way. Before I could swipe them from the air, they'd landed on my black sweater.
"I hope you're not using that yarn to teach the class," Mrs. Shedd told Adele. As an afterthought, she added, "You didn't buy it here, did you?" She looked at the rows of cubbies holding yarn in the back part of the bookstore.
Adele was befuddled by everyone attacking her yarn. "No, I'm not using it for the class, and no, I didn't get it here. It's just the perfect color for my honeymoon shrug," she said. She held it out to display the color, and the whole group of Tarzana Hookers tried to shield their faces from the onslaught of loose fibers. Adele looked at the label on the skein of yarn. "It's just a mixture of mohair and some other stuff. I might have bought it at Bargain Circus," she said offhandedly.
We were at one of what our crochet group, the Tarzana Hookers, called our happy hour get-togethers. Some people have a cocktail to release the tensions of the day-our group used crochet.
The conversation and friendship probably helped, too. The Tarzana part of our name referred to the San Fernando Valley community, where Shedd & Royal Books and More was located. The bookstore where we met had a lot of space and had recently added a yarn department, which I was in charge of, along with my other duties as event coordinator and assistant manager.
Adele Abrams worked at the bookstore as well. She was in charge of the children's department. It hadn't been her choice. Really, Adele had wanted the position I'd gotten when I was first hired: event coordinator. She'd been given the children's department as a consolation prize.
Adele made an immediate segue from the honeymoon shrug to her upcoming wedding.
"Have I shown you the photos of the venue?" she asked. The group nodded while trying to hide that they were rolling their eyes. Adele produced the pictures on her phone anyway and showed them around.
"That's the lake, where you can have your ceremony on a barge." She waited until everyone acknowledged that they'd seen it. She flipped through the rest of them and showed off the rose garden with a gazebo for a ceremony, a small chapel, and several small outside areas. "That's the one Cutchykins and I are using," she said when she got to the last one. It featured an outdoor seating area on a slope that looked over the lake. I only hoped there wasn't going to be a barge wedding happening at the same time. Adele was busy pointing out the gazebo, which would be decorated with the bride's colors of choice. The reception was to be in a small cottage that was completely devoted to Adele's event.
I nudged my friend Dinah Lyons. "Why don't you reserve one of those spots? The barge might be nice." She knew I was joking and made a face at the ridiculousness of it.
"That kind of place isn't for Commander and me. I'm too old for that kind of showy stuff," she said. Dinah was somewhere in her fifties. She kept the exact number quiet, even from me. Commander was in the same age range-she was divorced and he was widowed. She'd been okay with keeping their relationship uncommitted, but he'd wanted it all to be proper and legitimate, so she'd finally agreed to become Mrs. Blaine.
"Hmm, two upcoming weddings," Rhoda Klein said, looking up from the doll she was making. "You do know they always say things go in threes."
When I looked up, the whole table was staring at me. "No way," I said. "I'm fine with things the way they are, and so is Mason." There was so much baggage that came with middle-aged dating. His kids, my kids. My late husband, his ex-wife. It was enough that we had decided to belong to each other, though I'm not even sure either of us knew what exactly that meant. I thought it was an adult version of going steady.
I brought up the schedule, glad to be able to change the subject. "Adele, it's time for your class."
Adele pursed her lips at me, no doubt annoyed that I'd spoken first. "Okay, put away your projects and make room for our new students." Adele began patrolling the table to make sure everyone did as she'd ordered.
We had tried putting on what we called Yarn University at the bookstore and it had been a tremendous success. Mrs. Shedd was always looking for new revenue streams, so had urged me to keep offering classes. Part of my duties as event coordinator slash head of the yarn department slash assistant manager was to run the classes. It made sense, since they were events at the bookstore.
The plan was to offer a new group of classes each month. The class about to begin was in Tunisian crochet. The technique produced stitches that had a different texture than regular crochet and almost resembled knitting. Adele began to lay out a selection of long hooks and hooks with cables attached as people began to come in.
My job was to be the greeter, so I stood at the entrance of the yarn department and checked people off as they arrived. There were going to be five of the Hookers and five outside students. CeeCee Collins came sailing across the bookstore first.
"Sorry I missed happy hour, dear," she said, giving me a hug. CeeCee was our resident celebrity. Her career had spanned decades and, until recently, she'd always been referred to as a veteran actress, which really meant old and on the back burner. But then CeeCee had gotten a supporting lead in Caught by a Kiss, a movie about a vampire who crocheted, and her new position was cemented when she was nominated for an Academy Award. CeeCee was self-absorbed, but at the same time she had an incredibly generous spirit.
She took an empty seat and folded her hands on the table like a polite student.
Our next arrival seemed a little prickly. When I asked her name, she leaned over and pointed to it on my clipboard with several rapid taps. "Susan Dryer," she said. She glanced over at the table with obvious disdain before asking where the instructor would be. When Adele waved her hand, Susan took the seat adjacent.
"Lauren Plimpton," the next arrival said. "My sister was going to come, too, but she flaked." I glanced up at her. She was dressed in comfortable jeans and a fuzzy gray hoodie. My immediate impression of her was that she was quiet and would be no trouble, which was good, since I'd already given the trouble spot to Susan. When Lauren was asked to tell us about herself, she hesitated before saying she was divorced with two kids and she'd learned how to crochet when she had to do a lot of waiting around, but gave no more details.
Susan didn't need an invitation to give us her bio. She assured us that she was a very experienced crocheter who could have taught herself Tunisian crochet, but she decided it would be interesting learning from a qualified instructor. "You are qualified?" Susan said, peering over her glasses at Adele.
Adele took the comment as a reproach, and I hastily stepped in. "I can assure you that Adele is an excellent instructor whose love of crochet is legendary." Susan made a noise like she wasn't completely satisfied with my answer.
"Well, then, let's get started," Susan said in a sharp voice. "And what's with all this pink fuzz?" She tried to brush some fibers off the sleeve of her dark green jacket.
"We're still waiting for a couple more students," I said. "Sorry about the fibers." I tried to brush them off the table, but they floated up into the air.
I sighed. On top of dealing with the annoying fibers and surly students, today was my birthday, and nobody had remembered other than my best friend. I had been trying to hide my disappointment, but Dinah picked up on the slight pout my mouth had slipped into. "We'll celebrate after class," she assured me. "Le Grande Fromage, my treat."
"I can't believe everybody forgot," I said, glancing over the group. It wasn't like it was just any birthday. It was the big five-oh. "Well, Mason sent me flowers and a sweet note apologizing again for having to be out of town. And my parents called from Santa Fe."
Adele gave me a sharp look and spoke under her breath. "What's your problem, Pink? You seem out of sorts. We don't want you bringing everybody down."
Having her call me by my last name used to bother me-she'd started doing it to annoy me because I'd gotten the event coordinator position over her so long ago. But by now I was sure it was just habit and she didn't even remember why she did it. "You want to know why I seem upset?" I started, all set to tell the truth. I was shocked when Dinah just about physically pushed me out of the way and spoke for me.
"Molly is just bummed out about the huge house going up behind hers. The yard isn't even finished, but somebody has already moved in," Dinah said. I didn't know why she'd stopped me from mentioning my birthday, but I let it go, because just then two more students arrived.
They came in together, and I understood their situation right away. They were actually touching arms as they got to the table. It didn't matter that they introduced themselves separately as Terri and Melody-they were like one unit. Naturally, they chose seats next to each other.
The last arrival was a lone woman with a small dog in one of those dog strollers. Her name was Fanny and the dog's name was Oscar. Susan looked at both of them. "Oh, puleeze," she said with an annoyed roll of her eyes. "Can we get started now?" Susan asked in an even sharper voice. Adele nodded and began her spiel.
The first class was really just an introduction and a chance for everyone to learn the basic afghan stitch and get their supplies. I spent most of it helping everyone get their specialized hooks and yarn. When the class broke up, we had all made several swatches and were comfortable with the new technique.
"Who would have expected Adele to be such a good teacher?" Dinah said as we went down the street to the French bistro. It was a beautiful day out-the April weather in Southern California could be all over the place, but usually most of the rain was over for the year and the temperatures were milder.
"As long as she's only dealing with crochet," I countered. The Tarzana Hookers all thought crochet was the superior yarn craft, but Adele took it to an extreme. That's why I ended up in charge of the yarn department and Yarn University. Mrs. Shedd insisted that we include knitting supplies and classes, and Adele simply couldn't handle that.
I appreciated Dinah's attempt at celebrating my birthday, and I suppose I should have been grateful the counter guy didn't stick a candle in my croissant and sing "Happy Birthday," but it was still pretty depressing. The place was about to close, and we were the only customers.
Dinah offered to come home with me, but I said I'd be fine. I was already planning to make a bowl of caramel corn and watch a double feature from my collection of favorite comedies.
I knew there was something wrong as soon as I went through my back gate. The dogs were loose in the yard and Cosmo, Felix and Blondie all ran up to me. I turned on the floodlights that illuminated the yard, from the garage. When I got close to the back door, I saw it was ajar. It was dark inside, but my house wasn't supposed to be dark-I had timers set to turn on the lights.
I pulled out my phone, considering calling 911, but what was I going to say? Still, I hesitated about going inside. Finally, I stepped close to the open door and listened, but heard nothing. I decided to call my son Samuel's cell phone and tell him the situation.
"Sorry, Mom," he said, "I must have forgotten to lock the door and the dogs must have opened it." Samuel was in his twenties and lived with me. I was going to say something about responsibility and bring up the lights being off, but before I could he had hung up.
I let out a sigh and went inside. I was feeling the wall for the kitchen light when something touched my hand. I automatically recoiled and made a move toward the back door, but the lights came on and there was a burst of noise.
"Surprise!" a chorus of voices said. I was sprinkled with confetti and streamers and saw that a bunch of Mylar balloons that said "Happy Birthday" were stuck to the ceiling.
Samuel came out of the crowd with a grin. "Fooled you, didn't we?" Mason Fields was just behind him. He gave me a big hug and handed me a glass of champagne.
I was mumbling something about his flowers and his being out of town. I was more than a little stunned. Dinah came in through the back door.
"Now you understand why I shushed you when you were going to grumble about your birthday," she said.
"Thank you for keeping me from making a fool of myself," I said, seeing that Adele and her fianc were part of the crowd.
My mother pushed through. She started to wish me a happy fiftieth, but stopped herself. "If you're that old, what will people think I am?"
The Hookers were there, along with Mrs. Shedd and her partner, Mr. Royal. My older son, Peter, was in the group, too, giving his usual look of disapproval.
Mason and Samuel high-fived each other as they told me they'd planned the whole thing, then led me into the dining room. The table was laden with deli platters, and there was a triple berry cake from my favorite bakery. It was all a bit of a blur as I greeted everybody and accepted their good wishes.
Boy, did I ever feel guilty for all my bad thoughts that everyone had forgotten my birthday.