Martha Rose is alarmed by the discovery of Dolleen Doyle’s dead body, especially when evidence suggests a fellow quilter committed the crime. Set on clearing her pal, Martha searches for answers—but with ties to a convicted fraudster’s stolen millions and a secret office room, the victim’s past raises even more questions. As Martha inches towards the culprit, she learns that wrapping the case up—and living to baste another square—will be trickier than she ever imagined . . .
Praise for Mary Marks and her Quilting Mysteries
“Characters are brilliantly written in entertaining situations . . . Gone are the stereotypes of mature women expected to stay at home and knit quietly by the fire.” —RT Book Reviews on Gone but Knot Forgotten
“A pleasurable and satisfying addition to any quilting mystery fan’s reading list. Recommend to those who cannot get enough of Terri Thayer, Elizabeth Craig, or Earlene Fowler.” —Library Journal on Knot in My Backyard
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I hefted the red tote bag stuffed with sewing supplies out of the trunk of my Civic, locked my car, and made my way across my best friend Lucy's newly landscaped front yard. Today was Tuesday, the day we always got together, no matter what.
Peeking through a thick layer of redwood mulch were clumps of blues: pungent rosemary, English lavender, and cobalt salvia. Rows of giant white African Lilies on long stalks flanked the wide, brick walkway. Dots of yellow kangaroo paws and red flax added more color, while pepper trees provided lacy shade. Because of the critical water shortage in California, homeowners in Los Angeles County were being encouraged to replace their thirsty lawns with drought-tolerant plants. Lucy opted for Mediterranean rather than Mojave Desert as a theme for her new garden.
My name is Martha Rose, and in the last seventeen years I'd never missed a week with my quilting friends. I pushed my way through the front door into the colorful interior of Lucy's living room.
"Hey, Martha." My orange-haired friend Lucy waved me over to an easy chair. She wore pink linen trousers, a white cotton blouse, and blue espadrilles with three-inch wedge heels, boosting her height to over six feet. Even though she was in her sixties, Lucy carried herself like a runway model. This morning she held a pencil and notepad instead of a needle and thread. "It's time to plan Birdie's wedding."
Our seventy-seven-year-old friend Birdie Watson wore her signature denim overalls, white T-shirt, and Birkenstock sandals — a style acquired during her hippie days living in a commune. She looked up from her appliqué project and blushed. "At least I won't have to change my last name."
Birdie's long-time husband, Russell, was killed during a bank robbery last year. After his death, she reunited with Russell's younger brother, Denver, the man she always secretly loved. Lately, the couple divided their time between Birdie's house in Encino and the Watson ancestral homestead in McMinnville, Oregon. Very soon she would become Mrs. Watson for the second time.
"Have the two of you picked a date yet?" I asked as I unloaded scraps of fabric from my red tote bag onto a coffee table made of burled tree roots. The blue, overstuffed easy chairs and cowhide rug screamed Wyoming, where Lucy and her husband, Ray, grew up.
Birdie twisted the end of her long, white braid. "Denny and I don't want a big fuss, Martha dear. We prefer a simple ceremony with all our family and friends. The sooner, the better."
The front door opened, and the newest member of our regular Tuesday-morning quilting group breezed into the room. "Bonjour," Jazz Fletcher sang in an exaggerated French accent. The six-foot-tall men's fashion designer crossed the room and claimed an empty space on the brown leather sofa beside Birdie, carefully placing his tote bag on the floor next to his feet.
As usual, his chestnut brown hair was perfectly coiffed. My gray curls, on the other hand, were always a little chaotic. Even though we shared the same age, fifty-seven, I'd never detected a single silver strand on his head. Apparently, Jazz enjoyed a close relationship with L'Oreal or Clairol.
He wore a yellow silk shirt with a banded collar. Small diamond studs sparkled in his ears and on a gold wedding band encrusted with baguettes. The ring came from his longtime lover, Russell Watson, Birdie's dead husband.
When Russell died, Birdie felt free to finally reveal her husband's deepest secret. He'd always been gay, and for the past twenty-five years led a double life. He posed as a straight banker, with Birdie as his wife, while also living with his much younger lover, Jazz Fletcher. When the distraught Jazz turned up after the murder, tenderhearted Birdie befriended him and invited him to join our group.
"Sorry we're late." He reached inside the yellow canvas bag and removed his little, white Maltese dog, Zsa Zsa Galore. She wore a pinafore sewn with the same yellow silk as his shirt and a rhinestone clip in her topknot. "I tried to make a delivery this morning, but it turns out my client wasn't home." Zsa Zsa jumped off his lap and made the rounds, greeting each of us with an enthusiastic tail.
"You left a message about bringing a surprise?" prompted Lucy.
Jazz bent down and extracted a sketchpad from a pocket in the dog carrier and grinned at Birdie. "I've designed the perfect wedding dress for you. Et voila!" He flourished a drawing of a white-lace shift with flared, bell-shaped sleeves and a skirt ending mid-thigh. "I remembered seeing an old photo of you in a dress like this in the 1960s." He passed the image to Birdie. "Your legs looked fabulous, so I thought why not show them off again? It's very Mary Quant meets Laura Ashley." A satisfied smile split his face. "What do you think?"
Birdie's mouth fell open, and she seemed to struggle to find the right words. "You've, um, done a beautiful job, Jazz." Long pause. "But it's a little too, ah, youthful for me. My legs don't look like that anymore. I have terrible arthritis in my knees. I'm sorry, dear, but there's just no way I'd ever wear a minidress again. I prefer to cover my legs now."
The more she spoke, the more Jazz's face fell. He slumped his broad shoulders and shrank back into the cushion of the caramel leather sofa, arms crossed and knees pressed together.
Birdie hastily added, "But you're such a talented designer, I'm sure this dress would be perfect for a younger person."
We worked on our individual quilts, enjoying thick slices of zucchini bread with walnuts and cinnamon, courtesy of Birdie's excellent baking. Today, I sorted through the pile of random cotton prints I intended to cut into rectangles for my newest quilt. I chose a design called Prairie Braid, which consisted of pieces sewn together in a herringbone pattern. This would become a true "charm quilt."
Charm quilts are a special kind of scrap quilt — where no fabric is repeated. They soared to popularity during the nineteenth century, when printed cotton fabrics became affordable and abundant. According to quilting lore, unmarried girls traded scraps of material in order to collect 999 different pieces. The thousandth scrap was supposed to come from the shirt of the young woman's future husband.
"Who are you making that for?" I pointed to the green-and-white quilt cascading over Jazz's long legs. "Isn't it a little big for a dog's bed?" Shortly after he joined our group, the fashion designer opened a second business selling custom-made clothing and quilted bedding for dogs. Now his expert fingers busily sewed the finishing touches on an Irish Chain quilt that seemed much larger than usual.
Jazz ended off his thread and cut a new length from a spool of green. "One of my customers owns an Irish Wolfhound. When the dog stands on his hind legs, he's nearly as tall as me."
"So, business must be good," Birdie said.
Jazz threw his hands in the air and arched his eyebrows. "It's improving. I just finished an order for my manscaper, Dolleen Doyle."
"Man what?" Birdie's eyes widened.
Jazz cleared his throat. "A manscaper is someone who specializes in male waxing."
Birdie seemed mesmerized. "You get waxed?"
Jazz's cheeks colored. "After Rusty died, I sort of let myself go. But I started working out again and regularly visited Dolly's salon. Two weeks ago, I went in for a Brazilian."
Dear God, please remove that image from my head.
"While I was there, she ordered an extensive wardrobe for her Chihuahua, Patti, and commissioned three coordinating dog carriers. Dolly's just like me. She takes her dog everywhere. Even to work."
I looked up from my cutting. "What, no quilts?"
Jazz wagged a forefinger. "Au contraire. Not only did she order quilts, she wanted four whole bedding ensembles including fitted sheets for her doggie's bed! I agreed to deliver everything last night, but that didn't work out." He closed his eyes halfway and sniffed. "Actually, I'm a little annoyed. I drove all the way to the Valley from my boutique in West Hollywood to deliver everything at the time we agreed. But when I got there, she didn't answer the door, and the house was dark. I heard Patti barking inside, which frankly surprised me. I've never known Dolly to be flaky, let alone leave her dog behind. Anyway, I ended up taking the entire delivery back home with me."
"Why didn't you just leave the package on her doorstep?" asked Lucy.
"Oh no!" Jazz gasped. "You can't leave stuff on the porch anymore. Package pirates come by and steal everything. Don't you watch the news? Anyway, I thought I'd try again this morning because she lives in Tarzana, not far from here. But when I got there, she still didn't answer the door. I hung around for several minutes and tried calling and texting, but I got no response. That's why I was late."
The hairs on the back of my neck tingled. "You said she never goes anywhere without her dog?" Jazz nodded.
"Yet she left the Chihuahua alone in the house last night? Even though she knew you were on your way over? And then again this morning?"
Jazz nodded again, this time more slowly.
I immediately thought of the time Lucy, Birdie, and I discovered the body of another quilter in her house and — more than a year ago — how the body of yet another friend lay undiscovered in her bedroom closet for ten months. I didn't want to alarm him, but an unmistakable dread gathered in the pit of my stomach. "Jazz, maybe you should try calling her again. Just to make sure she's not sick or something." My anxiety grew at the possibility of the woman lying helpless on the floor after a stroke, or worse.
His face turned pale and he stared at me. "Now you're beginning to scare me."
Lucy's head snapped up sharply and said just one word. "Martha!" But the tone of her voice spoke volumes.
I clearly heard the caution and the Oh no, not again.
Birdie spoke quietly and tugged at her braid. "Well, you have to admit, it does sound suspicious."
Jazz punched his cell phone and waited. After a minute, he ended the call and looked at me. "Nothing."
I couldn't shake the nagging feeling of dread. "Since she's close by, maybe we should go over to her house and peek in the windows or something. If she's incapacitated, she'll need help."
Lucy scowled. "Or maybe we ought to call the police instead and have them check on her. After all, it's their job."
I understood what she left unsaid. If we happened to stumble on yet another suspicious death, her husband, Ray, would plotz. The way he saw it, I'd put Lucy's life in jeopardy before, and I doubted he'd have any room left to forgive me if it happened again.
Jazz put down the quilt and jumped off the sofa. "You're right. I'm going over there right now! I'll break down the door if I have to."
At the sound of his outburst, Zsa Zsa trotted over to him and barked once. Jazz picked her up.
Birdie gathered her sewing things and tucked them in a zippered denim tote bag Jazz sewed for her. "I think we should all go. We'd never forgive ourselves if we suspected this woman needed help and did nothing."
Lucy sighed and slowly pushed up from her chair. "Okay, okay. But only to investigate from outside the house. If we discover something bad, we're calling the police. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Birdie and I responded together.
Jazz merely pursed his lips.
The four of us piled into Lucy's vintage black Cadillac with the shark fins in back. Jazz leaned forward in the backseat and tapped Lucy's shoulder. "Take Ventura to Reseda and turn south."
We wound our way through an upscale neighborhood on the flat land at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains. The original homes, built in the single-story California ranch style, featured rose-colored stucco, English ivy, and palm trees. The neighborhood was changing, however. Some of the nearby homes had been lavishly remodeled or replaced by Mediterranean-style McMansions, so popular among wealthy young families.
"This is it!" Jazz unbuckled his seatbelt even before Lucy parked in the driveway of Dolleen Doyle's home, still preserved in its original mid-century state. We followed him as he marched rapidly to the woman's front porch, hugging Zsa Zsa to his chest. He pounded on the door and rang the bell. All we heard were the frantic yelps of one very small, very agitated dog. He turned to us with deep concern etched between his eyebrows.
We stepped sideways to a large picture window on the front of the house. A petite, buff-colored Chihuahua stood on the back of a red sofa pushed against the glass and yipped at us. Then she raised her head, curled her lips and began to howl. Zsa Zsa tensed, barked in response, and looked at Jazz as if to say, What are you going to do about this?
Jazz at six feet and Lucy even taller, with those wedge heels, commanded the best view of the home's interior.
"Can you see anything?" I asked.
Lucy stepped back from the window and shook her head.
I pointed to the driveway. "Let's keep going."
We hurried around to the side of the house and peered through a dining room window. Nothing. Further down the wall we spied a kitchen window, too high for Birdie and me, but Jazz and Lucy could peek inside if they stood on their toes.
"Oh my God!" said Lucy. "She's on the floor. This is like déjà vu all over again." Lucy referred to the time two years ago when we discovered the body of a quilter friend the same way — by looking through her window when she failed to answer her door.
We ran around the corner to the back of the house, looking for a way into the kitchen. Jazz didn't need to break down the back door: when he tried the handle, it easily swung open. Forgetting about our promise to call the police first, we rushed inside behind him and stopped when we saw the blood.
Jazz rocked back on his heels and grabbed the granite counter for support. Zsa Zsa shook violently and whined so pitifully, he carried her outside, using the walls to steady himself. Birdie turned green and followed him into the fresh air. Lucy and I grasped each other for support. Patti looked at us from ten feet away and howled again.
Dolleen Doyle's arms stretched away from her body, and her legs twisted to the side where she'd fallen. Strands of blond hair lay across her face as if blown there by a hostile breeze. The top of her Hawaiian-print halter top slipped open to reveal abnormally large breasts barely contained in an expensive black-lace bra. I estimated her age to be in her thirties, judging by the fine wrinkles just beginning to show at the corners of her unseeing eyes. Who did she remind me of?
Frantic Chihuahua tracks dotted the floor in all directions, from the puddle under her head into the living room and back again. The blood had turned dark brown where it had dried, indicating she'd been lying there since the day before. Clearly, Dolleen Doyle would never get up again.
Lucy closed her eyes and shook her head. "Dang it. I can't believe we found another dead body. Don't say anything to Ray." My Catholic friend made the sign of the cross and looked at the ceiling. "Please God, make this an accident, a simple slip and fall."
I scanned the room to see if I could determine what she could've fallen against. A thready trail of blood on the floor led away from her body to an aluminum trash can. I followed the trail, careful not to step on it. Even though we didn't yet know how Dolleen died, I knew enough not to contaminate the scene. I used my foot to push against the trash can and slide it away from the wall in an effort to preserve any potential fingerprints.
A two-pound metal hand weight had rolled behind the can from where it had been dropped. Blood and strands of blond hair covered one end. The room spun when I stood, so I grabbed Lucy's arm for support.
"This was no accident, Lucy. I'm afraid we've stumbled upon another murder."
Patti barked at us from the dining area. I moved toward her, careful not to disturb the bloody paw prints on the floor. "Poor little doggie. We can't leave you here." Patti shivered when I picked her up, her little paws stained red.
Lucy blew out a heavy puff of breath. "We have to call Arlo."
I dreaded making the call to Arlo Beavers, a homicide detective with the LAPD and my sometimes ex, because our relationship was currently off again. I reached in the pocket of my size 16, stretch denim jeans, pulled out my cell phone, and called his number.
He answered on the second ring. "Beavers."
"Hi, Arlo. It's Martha."
"I know. I have caller ID. What do you want?"
Well, that was a little snarky. To make things worse, I knew from past experience he wouldn't be happy we'd, once again, stumbled across a murder.
Excerpted from "Knot What You Think"
Copyright © 2017 Mary Marks.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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