Knit and Nibble’s numbers are growing! In addition to a litter of adorable kittens, the knitting club just welcomed their newest member, Caralee Lorimer, who’s learning to knit for her upcoming role in A Tale of Two Cities. According to the amateur actress, the behind-the-scenes drama at the theater is getting downright catty, and Caralee wants a reckoning for Arborville’s pretentious suburbanites. Her claws are out, and just like her character in the play, Caralee is ready to name names. But before she can finish her snitchy stitches, Caralee is killed in a suspicious theater accident. Someone thinks they’ve staged a perfect murder, but Pamela and her Knit and Nibblers are ready to pounce on the real killer . . . before it’s curtains for anyone else!
Knitting tips and delicious recipe included!
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Pamela Paterson tried to keep her voice neutral, even pleasant. "Will Caralee be here tonight?" she asked her neighbor and best friend, Bettina Fraser.
Bettina turned from her cupboard and placed two pottery mugs on the pine table that dominated her pleasant kitchen. "I know she didn't make a very good impression last time," she said. "Margo warned me that her niece could be prickly. But Margo is a good friend and it's not like Caralee wants to become a permanent member. She just needs a little help with her knitting project. It's for a good cause, after all. The Arborville Players contribute a lot to the cultural life of our little town."
"That they do," Pamela said. "I'm looking forward to seeing their version of A Tale of Two Cities." She reached for the mugs and lined them up next to the others already arranged in a neat row. "One more," she said, "for Caralee."
"Two," Bettina said, reaching into the cupboard again. "Wilfred spent all afternoon working on that pie. I'm sure he'll want a piece."
An apple pie reposed on a colorful mat in the center of the table. Flaky golden-brown pastry formed an intricate lattice top, and syrupy apple slices dusted with cinnamon peeked out between the interlocking strips.
"I didn't really mind Caralee," Pamela said. "I thought she made some good points about small-minded people in small-minded towns. But I wish somebody had tipped her off that Roland is a lawyer before she got started on the legal profession."
"It was touching that Nell defended him," Bettina said. "Considering they almost never see eye to eye about anything."
"Knit and Nibble has been going for a long time now," Pamela said. "We're like a family — and people in families love each other even if they don't always get along." Knit and Nibble was the nickname of the Arborville knitting club, and Pamela was its founder and mainstay. She surveyed the table. "I think we're all set here. Eight mugs for the coffee or tea, eight dessert plates, eight spoons and eight forks, eight napkins."
"I bought some of that new coffee they've been getting at the Co-Op," Bettina said. "From Guatemala. We tried it this morning and it's very good. And I've got tea bags for Nell and Karen — not very elegant but I don't think they'll mind." She added a sugar bowl and a cream pitcher to the arrangement, smooth sage-green pottery like the mugs and plates.
They were interrupted by the cheerful ding-dong of Bettina's doorbell. Woofus the shelter dog — timorous despite his imposing size — tore in from the living room and took refuge under the table, nearly knocking Bettina over. She reached the front door with Pamela close behind and pulled it open to reveal Karen Dowling and Holly Perkins standing on the porch.
"Are we early?" Karen said nervously. She was a slight blonde woman, still in her twenties, and as shy as her friend Holly was outgoing.
"Of course not!" Bettina opened her arms in a welcoming gesture that turned into a hug. "Come in!"
Bettina's living room was as welcoming as Bettina herself. A comfy sofa stretched along the windows that looked out on the street and two equally comfy armchairs faced it across the long coffee table. Cushions covered in bright hand-woven fabrics provided extra seating on the hearth and enlivened the sage-green and tan color scheme.
The door was still open and Karen and Holly barely settled on the sofa when a cheery voice called, "Hello! Shall I come in?" Nell Bascomb entered the living room, her step lively despite her advanced years and the fact that she'd walked half a mile from her house, which was partway up Arborville's steepest hill. "Roland is just parking," she said. "Is Caralee coming?"
"As far as I know," Bettina said. "She told me they're not rehearsing her scenes tonight and she needs to make lots of progress on the knitting in time for the dress rehearsal." Bettina motioned toward one of the comfy armchairs. "Please," she said. "Have a seat. And leave the door open for Roland."
But instead of Roland, the next person to step through the door was a woman. Her height and slenderness would have made her striking enough, without the perfectly straight jet-black hair that skimmed her bony shoulders and bisected her high forehead with precision-cut bangs. She wore an austere long-sleeved black sweater despite the warm mid-September evening.
"Am I late?" she asked, looking around. Her voice was deep and musical.
"Not at all." Bettina was the only person smiling.
Pamela rallied to her friend's side. "Not at all," she echoed, commanding her lips to form a welcoming smile. Pamela herself was tall. She found looking up to meet another woman's gaze an odd experience, but that was the case now.
Caralee Lorimer stood uncertainly at the edge of the carpet. "Where do you want me to sit?" she asked.
"Anywhere. Of course." Bettina waved a hand toward the unoccupied armchair, then toward the hearth. "Pamela, you sit down too. Please."
"There's room here." Holly spoke up from the sofa. "Room for two more even." She moved closer to Karen, who had already taken yarn and needles from her knitting bag. Thus it was that Pamela found herself sitting next to Caralee Lorimer, who pulled her knitting from her bag and started in without another word.
"And here's Roland!" Bettina clasped her hands and gave a welcoming nod as Roland stepped through the door. He scanned the room, then turned and closed the door carefully behind him.
"I see I'm the last to arrive," he said. Carrying the briefcase that he used instead of a knitting bag, he threaded his way past the coffee table toward the hearth. "No, no," he said, waving off Bettina's attempt to point him to the remaining armchair, "I'll be fine on a cushion. You take the chair."
Pamela reached into her knitting bag and pulled out a partial skein of yarn in a dramatic shade of ruby red and a pair of needles with the beginnings of a sleeve. She'd started the project the previous June, a departure from the conservative designs she'd favored in the past. It was to be a sleek high-necked tunic with cutouts that revealed bare shoulders. The woman at the yarn store had suggested it would be perfect for après-ski, a fashion need Pamela could not foresee having, but she had allowed herself to be talked into the extravagant project.
Next to her Caralee unfurled her project. The yarn was a nondescript shade of gray, and bulky, befitting the project's destiny. Caralee's role in A Tale of Two Cities was that of Madame Defarge, married to one of the revolutionaries — a wine-shop proprietor — and characterized by her constant knitting. The gray rectangle hanging from her needles was to be her prop.
"I like that color," Caralee said with a hesitant smile, nodding toward the skein of ruby-red yarn resting between her and Pamela on the sofa. "I didn't get a chance to say anything last time. You were sitting way across the room."
"Thank you," Pamela said. "It looks like you're making progress." Caralee's project had indeed grown longer since the previous week, but left to her own devices she seemed to have forgotten the principles Pamela and Bettina had tried to impart when she first requested their help in preparing for her role. The swath of knitting that dangled from her needles was lumpy and puckered, as if stitches had been dropped and not picked up, and knitting and purling had been interchanged at will. But Pamela supposed Caralee didn't really care, since the point was just to create something that looked realistic from a distance and gain enough skill to handle needles and yarn convincingly.
Caralee was silent then, and Pamela focused on her own work, occasionally glancing around the room but soothed by the quiet hum of conversation. Nell's busy hands were shaping the beginnings of a toy elephant. At present it was merely a fuzzy lavender oval, but during the time she'd been a member of Knit and Nibble Nell had turned out whole herds of elephants in a rainbow of colors. The elephants, destined for the children at the women's shelter in nearby Haversack, were only one of Nell's many do-good projects.
In the armchair flanking Nell's, Bettina was making an elephant of her own, a gift intended for her new granddaughter. As Pamela watched, Bettina leaned toward Nell and pointed to the oval taking form on her needles. Nell studied it for a moment and then nodded, eliciting a smile from Bettina.
"New project, Roland?" Bettina asked, leaning in the other direction, toward where Roland was perched on the hearth, casting on from a skein of pink angora yarn. Roland frowned, waved a silencing hand, and began to count out loud, "Twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty —"
"I'm sorry," Bettina whispered. "I didn't mean to throw you off."
Roland nodded and continued counting, more quietly. Watching him, Pamela reflected that it would be hard to conjure up a more incongruous sight. In his well-cut suit, aggressively starched shirt, and expensive but understated tie, Roland DeCamp was every inch the corporate lawyer, his lean face as intent on his knitting as if he was studying a particularly opaque legal brief. "There," he said, looking up. "Now what were you saying?"
"Are you starting a new project?" Bettina repeated.
"Well, duh," Holly piped up from her end of the sofa. "He is casting on." But she smiled one of her dimply smiles and followed it with a laugh. Bettina was always ready to join in any sort of merriment and she laughed too.
"It's going to be a sweater for Melanie," Roland said. "She liked the one I made for Ramona so much I decided to make her one too. I'm getting a head start so I can give it to her for Christmas." Melanie was Roland's chic wife, and Ramona was the DeCamps' dachshund. Pamela had her doubts about whether Melanie would find a way to integrate a pink angora sweater into her wardrobe, but Roland's doctor had recommended knitting to calm him down and lower his blood pressure, and she knew Melanie had noticed an improvement.
"Christmas will be here before we know it," Nell observed with a sigh. "Time certainly flies."
Next to Pamela on the sofa Caralee twitched. "Original thought," she murmured under her breath.
"Not too soon, I hope," Holly said, addressing Nell. "I love this time of year — the leaves starting to change, and Halloween —"
"And children making a mess all over town with Silly String and eggs and toilet paper" — Roland shifted his intense gaze from his knitting to the assembled group — "and whose tax dollars go to pay for the cleanup?"
"I do enjoy the parade," Nell said. "The children have so much fun dressing up."
"Extra police on duty." Roland scowled. "And I forgot to mention pumpkins rotting on people's porches for weeks afterward."
"It is a shame that people insist on carving them," Nell said. "So much nourishment going to waste. Harold and I leave our pumpkin whole and then eat it when Halloween is over."
"You do?" Holly leaned forward. Pamela couldn't see her face, but her voice combined admiration and amazement. "Do you just bake it? Or ...?"
"Pies usually," Nell said. "Not too sweet though. A little sugar goes a long way. And I dry the seeds to put out for the birds and squirrels."
"I'd love to learn to make pumpkin pie," Holly said. "Will you teach me? I'll keep my pumpkin whole this year."
"It's a deal," Nell said. "I usually steam the pumpkin flesh and mash it, and I freeze it till Thanksgiving. Bring yours over and I'll steam it too. Then at Thanksgiving we'll work on pies."
"That would just be wonderful!" Holly wiggled with glee and the sofa trembled. She turned to Karen and said, "You save yours too and we'll all make pies together."
"Okay," Karen said in her small voice. Karen and Holly began to talk about a new home-improvement project Holly and her husband had embarked upon. Like the Dowlings, they were young marrieds engaged in restoring a fixer-upper house.
"Bourgeois topics," Caralee murmured, in a voice so low Pamela suspected she alone had heard the comment.
Holly was scarcely the image of a suburban matron however. She and her husband owned a hair salon and tonight she sported green streaks in her luxuriant dark hair, with matching green nail polish on fingers and toes.
In the armchairs that faced the sofa, Nell and Bettina worked industriously on their elephants, chatting quietly. The occasional word that reached Pamela's ears suggested they were discussing the exhibit of work by local artists that had recently gone up at the town library. Bettina had written an article on it for Arborville's weekly paper, the Advocate.
After several minutes passed, Pamela began to smell coffee. No one else seemed to notice it, or if they did they didn't comment, and Bettina continued knitting, occasionally nodding in response to a comment from Nell. But Roland was becoming restless on his hearth cushion. He set his knitting down and pushed back his flawless shirt cuff to expose his elegant watch. Frowning, he studied its face, then he surveyed the group.
"It's eight o'clock," he announced. "Don't we usually take a break at eight o'clock?"
"Oh, my!" Bettina jumped from her chair. "Time certainly does fly" — a strangled groan reached Pamela's ears from the direction of Caralee — "and here Nell and I were just chattering away."
Pamela looked up to see Wilfred Fraser standing in the arch between the dining room and the living room, a genial smile on his ruddy face and an apron tied over the bib overalls he'd adopted as a uniform after he retired. "I took the liberty of making the coffee, dear lady," he said as Bettina joined him. "And water is aboil for the tea drinkers."
"I'll help," Pamela said, rising from the sofa and hurrying across the room. Her words were echoed by Holly, who hopped to her feet.
"No, no!" Bettina waved her hands at Holly. "Three people is plenty."
"Too many cooks spoil the broth," Wilfred added.
"Wilfred made apple pie," Bettina said, pausing on the edge of the dining room as Pamela and Wilfred proceeded to the kitchen. "And there's ice cream to go on top. Just sit tight."
The kitchen was fragrant with the bitter spiciness of the coffee, which waited in a large carafe on the stove. Wilfred began to cut the pie and ease slices onto Bettina's pottery dessert plates.
"Caralee seems to be on her best behavior tonight," Bettina observed as she stepped into the kitchen.
"She has been quieter at least," Pamela said. She took a carton of cream from the refrigerator and filled the cream pitcher.
"Margo is such good friend of mine, and an old friend," Bettina said. "I'm sure she's got her hands full with Caralee as a permanent house guest now. But family is family." She sighed and handed Pamela a small wooden tray for the cream and sugar. "Too bad about the divorce. I'm sure Caralee felt much more at home in the city."
"How many for ice cream?" Wilfred asked as he laid the knife and server inside the empty pie plate and transferred the pie plate to the counter.
"I'll deliver the cream and sugar," Pamela said, picking up the wooden tray, "and take orders for à la mode."
She was back in a few minutes. Six steaming mugs of coffee were ready to be served and two teas were steeping alongside them. Bettina arranged four mugs on a larger wooden tray, along with forks, spoons, and napkins — the latter a homespun gray-and-green stripe from the craft shop. As Bettina headed for the living room, Pamela relayed the ice cream orders to Wilfred: "Seven with, but Nell and Roland just want a little bit, and Caralee doesn't want any at all and not a huge piece of pie."
"One pie for eight people," Wilfred said. "None of the pieces are huge."
"They're just right," Pamela assured him as he deposited a glistening scoop of vanilla ice cream on the flaky lattice surface of a pie wedge.
Bettina delivered the remaining mugs and Pamela delivered pie. When Wilfred entered carrying the last two slices, Holly followed his every motion as he handed Bettina her plate and then lowered himself next to Roland on the hearth.
"You are just awesome," she said. "And this pie looks amazing."
"Eat up, eat up!" Wilfred said jovially.
A companionable silence descended on the group, punctuated only by occasional moans of enjoyment. When the plates were nearly empty and people had reached the coffee-sipping stage, Nell spoke up. "How are your rehearsals coming, dear?" she asked, directing her kindly gaze at Caralee.
Caralee twitched on the sofa, as if surprised to be spoken to. "They're good," she said. "They're fine." She reached forward to set her empty plate on the coffee table.
"Such a powerful story," Nell said. "I love the movie, the old one, with Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton. And the actress who played Madame Defarge — such a dramatic role. You'll be perfect." Caralee grunted noncommittally and focused on her coffee.
"Oh, I love that movie too." Bettina's fork, laden with a bite of pie, paused halfway to her mouth. "And I remember reading the novel in English class so long ago."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Knit One, Die Two"
Copyright © 2019 Peggy Ehrhart.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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