Pamela is hosting the next Knit and Nibble meeting and can’t wait to liven up her otherwise empty home with colorful yarn, baking, and a little harmless gossip. She even recruits Amy Morgan, an old friend who recently moved to town, as the group’s newest member. But on the night of the gathering, Amy doesn’t show. Not until Pamela finds the woman dead outside—a knitting needle stabbed through the front of her handmade sweater . . .
Someone committed murder before taking off with Amy’s knitting bag, and Pamela realizes that only she can spot the deadly details hidden in mysterious skeins. But when another murder occurs, naming the culprit—and living to spin the tale—will be more difficult than Pamela ever imagined . . .
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Catrina was nowhere to be seen. Pamela Paterson was not a superstitious person, unless you counted picking up the occasional stray coin on her walks around town. She didn't really think that doing so would bring good luck, though it might, but there was no point in leaving a quarter just lying on the ground.
But for the past few weeks her mornings had begun with a visit from a small black cat. It shied away and bared its tiny teeth if she tried to stroke it, but it readily accepted the dishes of food she'd begun offering after the first few visits. And inevitably it darted across her path as she headed out for her morning walk.
With such regularity had come the need to bestow a name, and the name she had settled on was Catrina. Now she scanned the yard wondering whether Catrina had found a new benefactor or was just a bit late in showing up. But her gaze wandered toward her neighbor's house, and the sunny mood in which she had started the day dimmed. She'd noticed the previous evening that his garbage can had been tipped over and raided, probably by the neighborhood's raccoons. The raccoons were energetic, but her neighbors were usually equally energetic in cleaning up after them. This neighbor's mess still lay exactly as it had lain many hours ago: a black plastic garbage bag with a jagged hole ripped in it, and shreds of paper, orange peelings, empty food containers, and mystery items spread along the side of his house all the way into the front lawn. She wondered whether she should talk to him, but he was new, and she didn't want to start off on the wrong foot.
She'd been good friends with the previous owners, the Bonhams, and had been sorry to see them go, especially when she learned that their replacement would be a divorced man who wanted, for some unfathomable reason, to settle in a house in the suburbs. She had wondered whether a man living alone would keep the house and yard up as tidily as the Bonhams had. And she had been almost positive that Miranda Bonham's flower beds wouldn't receive the loving care they deserved.
She proceeded down her front walk, scanning the yard and bushes for a glimpse of Catrina. Life had been very good lately, despite the daily visits from an omen of misfortune. So if a black cat actually brought good luck, what would it mean if the cat disappeared? That a run of bad luck would follow? Nonsense, she told herself. Don't be silly.
As associate editor of the magazine Fiber Craft, Pamela had the luxury of working from home most days, and Arborville, New Jersey, was small enough that most errands could be done on foot. Pamela's destination this morning was the Co-Op Grocery on the town's main street, Arborville Avenue. She was the founder and a mainstay of the Arborville knitting club, nicknamed Knit and Nibble. The group was meeting at her house the following night, and it would be her responsibility to provide the nibbles. In keeping with the season — fall — she was thinking of homemade apple cake. The Co-Op had offered a grand selection of local apples on her most recent visit, and she was hoping a good assortment would still be available.
As she headed up the street, she enjoyed the way the red and yellow leaves on the trees in the yards she passed gave the morning sun a mellow golden glow. November had always been a favorite month of hers, and this year it was particularly special, because she'd be welcoming her daughter home from her first year of college for Thanksgiving.
At the upper corner of her street, Pamela crossed to detour through the parking lot of the stately brick apartment building that faced Arborville Avenue. She was by no means a hoarder, but having cherished her hundred- year-old wood-frame house for two decades, she had an eye for cast-off treasures. Along the back of the building, the trash cans were discreetly tucked behind a length of wooden fencing, and Pamela had carried home various chairs, tables, lamps, and even a large potted plant. Today, however, there was nothing worth pausing over.
Arborville's commercial district was a pleasant jumble of narrow storefronts — some with awnings, some without — shops, Hyler's Luncheonette, a hair salon, three banks, a liquor store, a Chinese takeout, and When in Rome Pizza. It was anchored at one end by the Co-Op Grocery, whose wooden floors and crowded aisles evoked an earlier era. Part of the Co-Op's facade was dedicated to a bulletin board, which announced town council doings, scouting activities, and programs at the Arborville Library. It also welcomed flyers from anyone who had an event to publicize. And in fact, as Pamela drew near, someone was doing just that.
A slender, dark-haired woman in an unusual sweater was tacking up a colorful sheet of paper. Over her shoulder Pamela read the heading, "Wendelstaff College Winter Lecture Series." Then the woman turned, and Pamela recognized her with a pang. It had been five years since that sad, sad time, and seeing Amy Morgan's beautiful face, puckered in sympathy even now, awakened memories Pamela would have preferred remain asleep.
"Pamela Paterson," Amy Morgan exclaimed, reaching out to offer a hug despite the sheaf of flyers in one hand and the box of tacks in the other. She gazed at Pamela intently. "It really is you, isn't it?" Pamela nodded. Amy went on. "I had an odd experience this morning — I thought I recognized someone else from the past, but when I spoke with her, she acted like I was hallucinating and practically ran away."
"Well, I'm really me," Pamela said, "and it's great to see you." Amy had seemed too young for the demands of her job back then, and she scarcely looked older now, though her face seemed shadowed by some care that even the smile she offered didn't banish.
"You stayed in Arborville."
Pamela shrugged. "The house is too big, but I love it."
"And Penny? How is she doing?"
"Fine — in college now, up in Massachusetts."
Five years earlier Pamela's architect husband had been killed in an accident on a construction site. Amy Morgan had been one of his colleagues, a fellow partner in the architecture and design firm of Paterson, Morgan, Stout, and Crenshaw. Amy had taken time from her demanding schedule to help Pamela with everything from funeral arrangements to legal issues after Michael Paterson's death, as well as offering a shoulder to cry on day or night. Pamela had kept the Arborville house she and her husband had lovingly restored, enjoying the soothing rhythms of the tiny town and wanting her daughter to feel that in most respects her life was still the same, even though her father was gone.
"And you?" Pamela asked. "What are you doing in Arborville?"
"I live here now," Amy said. "I've left the hustle and bustle of the business world for a job at Wendelstaff College." She displayed the sheaf of flyers in her hand and continued, "I'm teaching interior design and I'm the head of the School of Professional Arts." She fingered her sweater. "Trying to become less driven though. I've taken up knitting."
"I thought that sweater looked handmade," Pamela said. "I'm a longtime knitter too."
"I remember that from ... before." Amy hesitated as if reluctant to bring up memories of the accident.
Sensing her discomfort, Pamela smiled. "It's okay," she said. "I still think about him, of course, but life goes on. And on a more cheerful note, how would you like to get together every week with a congenial group of fellow knitters here in town? We call ourselves Knit and Nibble and we meet every Tuesday night at seven. We take turns hosting. Tomorrow night we'll be at my house."
"I'd love to get acquainted with some people in town," Amy said. "I'll be there, knitting bag in hand. I live right up your street, in that big apartment building."
"We can catch up on things," Pamela said. "And I know Penny will want to see you when she's here for Thanksgiving. She remembers how kind you were to us — and she's thinking about going into your field."
A slight frown lodged between Amy's smooth brows. "I wouldn't mind being a college student again," she said. "As time goes on, you have to do more and more things you don't want to do. I thought leaving the business world for academia would make me less stressed, but the opposite has turned out to be true."
Pamela bid her goodbye, and Amy headed down the sidewalk, flyers in hand. In the Co-Op, Pamela filled a plastic bag with apples for her apple cake.
* * *
"Why the extra cup?" Bettina Fraser asked, surveying the arrangement on Pamela's kitchen table. Atop a pink cloth with a cheery print of deep red cherries and bright green leaves, Pamela had arranged her homemade apple cake on a cake stand from the thrift store. Seven cups and saucers from her wedding china flanked it in two neat rows. Bettina lived right across the street from Pamela and was always the first to show up for Knit and Nibble.
"We have a new member," Pamela said, and described her encounter with Amy at the Co-Op. "She's moved to Arborville now because she's taken a job at Wendelstaff. She was putting up a flyer for a lecture series they're doing."
"I'll get the information and put it in the Advocate," Bettina said. "Remind me to ask her about it if I forget." The Arborville Advocate, jokingly described by its readers as covering "all the news that fits," was the town's weekly newspaper.
Pamela busied herself at the counter grinding coffee beans and measuring tea leaves into her best teapot, pausing when the doorbell rang. Hurrying through the entry, she opened the door to admit Nell Bascomb and Jean Worthington. "Chilly out there," Nell said, her white hair floating around her face. "Fall is definitely in the air." She unwrapped her obviously handknit scarf from her neck and shrugged her way out of her ostentatiously unstylish gray wool coat, which she threw on a chair in the entry. "The kids at the shelter loved the elephants," she said. "But there weren't enough to go around, so I've got to get busy." She turned to Jean. "Would you like to knit some elephants? They're the perfect way to use leftover yarn. Knitting can be very wasteful otherwise."
Jean touched Nell's shoulder. "You're a dear to be so involved, but I'm a terribly slow knitter. Could I donate some money?" Jean was the owner, with her husband Douglas Worthington, of the second-grandest house in Arborville, and she looked the part. Neither her subtle makeup nor her smooth blond hair called attention to itself, but the overall effect was so harmonious as to suggest great calculation, as well as expense. Jean slipped out of her coat, pale blue and made of the softest, smoothest wool, and carefully laid it atop Nell's coat.
The doorbell rang again, and Bettina came bustling from the kitchen to help greet people as Pamela headed for the door.
Roland DeCamp stepped in, frowning. "There's a cat on your porch," he said.
Karen Dowling followed, chiming in. "And the poor little thing looks hungry and cold. Is it yours?" Her pretty face twisted in sympathy.
"Catrina!" Pamela exclaimed. "I feed her when she comes to the door, but she won't let me get near her otherwise. I thought she'd disappeared."
Bettina collected coats and got people settled while Pamela hurried to the kitchen. She took half a can of cat food out of the refrigerator and scraped it into a plastic dish. On the porch she moved gently toward the tiny ball of black fur huddling against the railing. "Here you go," she cooed. "Dinnertime." The cat bared its teeth, which gleamed in the light from the fixture above. A sound like a faint hiss accompanied the threatening expression.
Pamela put the dish down and turned toward the house. But then she changed her mind and tiptoed past the cat to descend the porch steps and venture down the front walk. Perhaps after five years Amy was confused about which house was Pamela's. But there was no sign of anyone heading down the sidewalk, at least as far as could be seen in the light from the streetlamp. Pamela tiptoed up the steps and past the cat again. Once inside, she peeked through the pane of oval glass in the front door to see it daintily sampling a morsel of cat food.
Nell was already at work. The fuzzy green oval that was emerging from her busy needles didn't in any way resemble an elephant at the moment, but over the two years Knit and Nibble had existed Pamela had watched in amazement as Nell turned out toy after toy, lately elephants. Ovals sprouted legs and heads and were sewn together and stuffed. Ears and trunks were knitted and grafted on, and little braids became tails. The beneficiaries were the children of women temporarily residing at the women's shelter in Haversack.
Jean was busy too, her needles clicking in an even rhythm as the expensive cashmere yarn she was working with passed through her carefully manicured fingers.
Roland had settled at one end of the sofa and was paging through a booklet of knitting patterns. His project rested in his lap. He tossed the book aside in frustration and scanned the room, fixing on Karen, who had settled at the other end of the sofa and was casting on a new project. "What happened to the scarf?" he said suddenly, his lean face as intense as if he'd just discovered his wallet was missing.
"What?" Karen looked up, alarmed.
"The scarf. You were making a scarf. You'd only done a few inches. Now you're starting something else."
Jean looked over at Karen. "The other yarn was so pretty," she said. "Is that acrylic?"
Karen blinked in confusion. Her cheeks had become noticeably red. She looked down at the plastic needles in her lap, one of which sported a series of even loops fashioned from the bulky navy blue yarn she had cast on for the new project. She murmured something inaudible and her cheeks became even redder.
"What was that, dear?" Nell asked kindly.
"My husband is allergic to wool," Karen said unhappily. "I should have asked him first, before I spent so much on the other yarn. And those skinny metal needles are impossible to work with. So slippery."
Karen had joined Knit and Nibble only recently and was much younger than everyone else in the group, looking barely out of her teens with her pale, silky hair and wide blue eyes. She and her husband owned an old house in Arborville and were renovating it as finances allowed.
"I'll take the metal needles," Roland said. "I can handle them."
"Are you sure?" Bettina said, looking up from the pink granny square her crochet hook was busily shaping. She wasn't actually a knitter, but, as everyone agreed when she asked to join, yarn is yarn. "You're not doing so great with that cable sweater."
"I can handle metal needles," Roland said. "I assure you."
Karen pulled her knitting bag onto her lap and dipped into it, pulling out several skeins of navy blue yarn and tossing them onto the sofa. "They're in here, I know," Karen said, bringing up more yarn, a scissors, and a giant plastic knitting needle. She continued to dig until the space between her and Roland was piled with enough yarn and knitting supplies to stock a small shop.
At last she raised her empty hands and sighed. "No luck. And I keep everything in this bag. I have no idea where those needles could have gone."
Roland picked up the booklet of knitting patterns he had tossed aside and resumed paging through it.
Pamela was soon engrossed in her own project, an Icelandic-style sweater in natural brown wool with a white snowflake pattern. Snowflakes gradually took shape under her needles, and conversation swirled around her in a pleasant hum.
"I hope you and Penny have plans for Thanksgiving, dear." Nell beamed a kindly smile in Pamela's direction. "If not, please join Harold and me. We've got the whole family coming, but we can easily set two more places."
Pamela looked up from a snowflake. "You're absolutely sweet," she said. "And I'd love to see your family again, but we're invited to eat with old friends in Timberley." The old friends were the Nordlings, who had invited Pamela and Penny for Thanksgiving turkey every year since Pamela became a widow.
Discussions of people's plans for Thanksgiving — which was coming up soon — segued into recommendations for landscapers to handle fall leaf cleanup and observations that Christmas decorations would be up on Arborville Avenue before anyone knew it. The conversation moved on to the town's recent decision to replace all the street signs, leading Roland to snort, "Your tax dollars at work."
"You can afford it," Nell observed mildly. Roland was a high-powered corporate lawyer whose doctor had recommended knitting to lower his blood pressure. He certainly fit the lawyerly mold, with his close-cropped salt-and- pepper hair, his crisp white shirt, and his expensive tie, knotted as firmly for the knitting club as for a court appearance.
Excerpted from "Murder, She Knit"
Copyright © 2018 Peggy Ehrhart.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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