THE FIRST BOOK IN THE ALL-NEW “MATERIAL WITNESS” MYSTERY SERIES
With her career as a dress designer in shreds, Polyester Monroe is looking forward to a fresh start. But as it all unfolds, the pattern to a new beginning looks a lot like murder.
When Poly Monroe was little, she loved playing in her family’s textile store. But after a fatal family tragedy, Land of A Thousand Fabrics was boarded up and Poly never expected to see the inside again. Now, as inheritor of the long-shuttered shop, she’s ready to restore the family business. However her two new kittens, Pins and Needles, aren’t the ones causing a snag in her plans…
Not everyone wants Poly back in San Ladrón, especially a powerful local developer pressuring her to sell—and leave town fast. But even when the threats turn deadly, she’s not ready to bolt. Because Poly is beginning to suspect that the murder behind the shop is tied to a mystery in her family’s unsettled past that she’s determined to solve…before her own life is left hanging by a thread.
INCLUDES A CRAFT PROJECT
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A breeze rippled through the trees to the left and the right of the storefront. I stood across the street, taking in the blacked-out windows and the once-magnificent sign now covered in bird poop, decades of grime, and spray-painted curse words. Land of a Thousand Fabrics, it said. I wondered briefly if that had ever been true, if my great-aunt, Millie, and great-uncle, Marius, had ever actually counted the bolts of fabric in their inventory or amassed that number in order to avoid false advertising. And now that it had been left to me, I wondered if that would become my concern.
“Do you want to go inside or are you going to stand here all day?” asked Ken Watts. He looked very official in his navy-blue double-breasted blazer with Watts Realtor Agency embroidered over the left breast pocket in gold threads. More official than I remembered him looking the last time I saw him: at our high school graduation ten years ago, when he wore his football uniform under his cap and gown.
“Nobody’s been in there for years, right?”
Ken flipped through the pages on his brown clipboard. “Right. Since Mildred Monroe was murd—” He stopped talking midsentence. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought that up.”
“Don’t be sorry. Nobody in my family ever wants to talk about Aunt Millie, but I don’t mind.” I took a deep breath and lowered my head, preparing myself to march across the street, into the store. Times like these I wished I had a cascade of hair to hide my face, but my short reddish-brown hair, so overdue for a maintenance cut that it was starting to look like a shag, did little more than tickle my forehead when the wind blew.
“Poly, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I can arrange for you to sell the store without ever having to go inside.” He stared at me. “You probably didn’t even have to make the trip. I could have faxed the paperwork to your office in Los Angeles. You could have signed it, faxed it back, and it would all be over and done with.”
“I wanted to come back. I would have come back ten years ago for Aunt Millie’s funeral or memorial service, only there wasn’t one. And now that Uncle Marius is gone, the store is the only thing left of them.”
“A lot of people were mad at your uncle because he didn’t have a service for her.”
“My parents said he couldn’t admit she was gone. That’s why he never sold the store.”
“He wasted a lot of money paying down the mortgage on this place when there was no income. Turned down a lot of solid offers on it, too.”
“If it protects your memories and keeps your heart from breaking, can it really be considered a waste of money?” I asked, looking again at the once-glamorous sign.
“That’s one way of looking at it.”
“He’s my great-uncle, and that’s my way of looking at it.”
A truck loaded down with ladders, orange cones, and men in yellow construction hats drove past us, obstructing my view of the storefront. A thin old man with a cane approached from the left. He stopped in front of the store, studied me for a few seconds, then nodded at Ken and continued past us.
“Who was that?”
“Mr. Pickers. He’s head of the Senior Patrol. They’re a group of retirees who keep an eye on things around San Ladrón.”
I watched the man continue down the street. It was just after four, between the lunch and the dinner crowds I expected would fill up the restaurants on the street, and, now that the head of the Senior Patrol had moved on to other pressing matters, it was just Ken and me.
“Can I have the keys?”
“You know she was murdered in the store, and you still want to go in? I have the paperwork right here. You don’t have to see a thing if you don’t want to.”
“Isn’t that my name on the will?”
He looked down at his clipboard again and tapped the form. “‘New owner: Polyester Monroe.’ Your uncle Marius either really loved you or really hated you.” He looked back at the dingy gray storefront. “Right now I can’t tell which.” Ken juggled his clipboard and pen with a set of keys until he found the one he wanted. “I wouldn’t expect much,” he added.
We crossed the road in the middle, blatantly jaywalking. I might have walked to the light and waited for the signal to change if I were alone, but figured there was safety in numbers if any traffic cops decided to make an example out of us. Ken fed the key into the gate, a collapsible metal fence that had been pulled shut over the front door of the store and left locked. The key turned but the gate refused to open. Rust at the intersecting joints left it as stiff as the tin woodsman and here we were, armed with keys, legal papers, and a flashlight, but no oilcan.
“Is there a back door?”
As we hiked down the block then around to the back, I noticed a shiny black Mercedes sedan with dark-tinted windows sitting alone in a parking lot at the corner. The sounds of talk radio blurred as we passed the car, the only indication that someone was inside the vehicle. The front license plate read MCM. Distracted from the path, I tripped over an uneven seam in the sidewalk and landed facedown in the gravel.
I pushed myself back up and slapped the dirt from my black turtleneck and black velvet jeans. I wore black a lot these days. It hid most of the grime I picked up from sketching, repairing sewing machines, and using a glue gun, but it wasn’t so good for hiding evidence of my klutziness.
Ken didn’t notice I was missing from his side until he reached the back door and turned around to look at me.
“I’m okay,” I said, then jogged a few steps to catch up with him.
“Still as uncoordinated as you were in high school. Remember how you tripped over the hem of your prom dress during the ‘Electric Slide’?” He laughed.
“Just unlock the door, please.”
Ken and I had attended the same high school in the neighboring town of Glendora. Upon graduation, he had moved to San Ladrón and gone to work in his father’s real estate agency, while I moved to Los Angeles and attended FIDM. I started working at To The Nines when I graduated and hadn’t been back since.
He turned the key and pushed the door inside. A stench of stale air, mildew, and something I immediately associated with wet metal hit me. Ken, who had been in front of me, stepped back and let me pass through. “I’ll wait here,” he said, waving his hand in front of his face.
“Fine.” I pulled the collar of my turtleneck over my nose and mouth to filter out some of the smell, clicked on the flashlight, and entered.
Tiny dust particles floated through the beam of the flashlight. As I moved farther inside, my eyes adjusted enough to make out large square tables piled high with bolts of fabric. The walls were fitted with shelves about four and a half feet deep, housing stacks upon stacks of round rolls of fabric, too. I only knew the depth of the shelf because I knew a bolt of fabric was generally forty-eight to fifty-six inches long. At least, the fabrics I bought for To The Nines, the downtown Los Angeles dress company where I worked, were that length. The job wasn’t what I dreamed of when I graduated from the Fashion Institute, but it was solid work in the garment district, and as my boyfriend, Carson, liked to tell me, a steady paycheck is worth more than a treasure chest of dreams.
As a little girl, I used to play in the store, and “playing” included climbing the fixtures and hiding between the bolts of fabric. And before I outgrew the fun of playing hide-and-seek in the store, I outgrew the fixtures. By sixth grade I was five feet tall; by graduation I was only a few inches shy of six.
The interior of the store appeared smaller than I remembered, and not just because my memories were from childhood. I noticed a dividing wall that hadn’t been there on my last visit over ten years ago. An unpainted wooden door was in the middle of the makeshift partition. I crossed the room and tried the doorknob. It was locked. I looked behind me for Ken with his janitor-like key ring, but he was still MIA.
“Ken? Can you come here with your keys?” I called out the back door. “I want to see what’s behind this door.” There was no answer.
Above the door was a small square window. I pulled a three-rung folding metal ladder under it, climbed up, and tried to look through, but the glass was too filthy. “You break it, you bought it,” I said under my breath. “Good thing I’m the owner.” I swung the flashlight against the glass. It shattered on impact and fell to the floor on the other side of the wall, creating tinkling harmonies in the process. I looked through the hole but made out nothing of interest, nothing that would have been the reason for closing off a third of the store. There must be something back there, I reasoned. Before I decided whether or not I was keeping the store, I wanted to know what it was.
I jumped down and found a pair of scissors under the dust-coated register. After cutting a long strip of faux zebra fur and throwing it over my shoulder, I sliced off two more strips and wrapped them around each fist. I climbed back on the footstool, punched the bigger pieces of remaining glass to the floor, and threw the larger piece of fur over the bottom of the sill. I fed my head, arms, and shoulders through the opening and fumbled with the flashlight with my fur-wrapped hands. It dropped to the floor and landed on the pile of glass. The light flickered a few times, and then went out.
I leveraged myself against the opposite side of the window with my zebra paws, but the opening of the window was doing direct battle with the size of my hips. My feet lost touch with the footstool as I wriggled, trying to fit through.
“Just what the heck do you think you’re doing up there?” said a muffled voice behind me.
There was little I could do in my Pooh Bear–like pose, other than kick my legs in an effort to reconnect with the footstool.
“Ken? Is that you? Can you help me?” I called. “I’m stuck.”
Positioned as I was, halfway through a broken window four feet above the ground, I didn’t really see that I had much choice and considered saying as much, but I bit my tongue. I only hoped Ken was a quick thinker, because the pressure of the windowsill against my midsection was creating an impending need for a bathroom.
The locked door swung open. I heard a click of a switch, and seconds later the secret room was flooded with light. I shut my eyes immediately, too late. I was temporarily blinded and still stuck in the window. Things were not improving.
As my vision cleared I realized the man who stepped into the room in front of me was a stranger. His light brown hair was cut short and parted on the side. He wore a white turtleneck and a navy-blue cotton peacoat over khaki trousers and white sneakers, and looked as if he’d just returned from an afternoon on his yacht. It was bad enough to be caught dangling through a window, even if it was my window, but worse because it seemed I was on the verge of making a very bad first impression.
“Do you think you can fit through the window if I pull you?”
“‘Maybe’ might not be good enough. You could get stuck more than you already are.”
“I can push her from behind,” said Ken’s muffled voice from, well, behind.
“Nobody’s pushing anything!” I said. “You, pull. I’m almost through.”
The stranger stepped in front of me and paused for a second before grabbing my zebra-wrapped hands. My center of gravity had shifted, more of me through the window than not, and I knew there was no going back. As the stranger pulled, my hips popped through the opening and I fell on top of him, knocking him to the floor next to the chalk outline of a body.
Suddenly, I knew why Uncle Marius had divided off this portion of the store.
I didn’t know if Thank you or I’m sorry was the more appropriate response to knocking someone into the scene of a ten-year-old homicide, so I said nothing. For the second time that day I stood up and dusted myself off, then unwrapped the fur from my right hand and offered it to the stranger to help him stand. He ignored the offer and stood up on his own.
“You’re on private property,” he said.
“Actually, you’re on private property, if we’re going to get into specifics, but considering you just rescued me from a tight spot I’m willing to look the other way,” I said. I didn’t know if he’d seen the outline of the body or not, but at the moment I wanted out of that room.
He took a step closer and looked down at me. I wasn’t used to men looking down at me, since I was five foot nine, but he did. “Do you want to tell me what you’re doing on my father’s property?”
I stepped backward. “Who’s your father?” I asked.
At that moment Ken burst through the door. His blazer flapped open, the crest on his breast pocket partially hidden under the lapel. “You should have called to tell me you were coming here,” he said to the stranger.
“Which one of you is going to tell me what is going on?” I demanded.
The stranger looked between Ken and me. “Who are you again?” he asked.
“Poly Monroe,” I answered and held out my hand for the second time. This time he shook it.
“Vaughn McMichael.” The intensity that I’d seen in his features moments ago melted into an expression that was just shy of a smile. His eyes, a mixture of green flecked with gold, held my own for a second longer than felt comfortable, but I fought the urge to look away. His handshake was firm enough to mean business, but the softness of his hand cocooned my own. I returned the pressure of the handshake equally. I didn’t know why, but I sensed that Vaughn McMichael wasn’t sure what to make of my presence. As we shook hands, a roll of pink-and-white gingham fell from the table behind him and landed on the floor. It rolled halfway across the room and came to a stop by Ken’s foot.
Vaughn dropped my hand and looked at Ken. “Sorry if I jumped the gun. Take your time. I’ll be in touch.” He turned around and left through the wooden door that had kept us from being inside the hidden room.
I followed him out of the store, keeping a few steps behind and watching to see where he headed. He approached the black sedan that had been idling in the adjacent parking lot, tapped twice on the back window, and the door opened up. Before he got inside he turned around and looked directly at me. I went back into the store as the car pulled away.
“What was that all about?” I asked Ken.
“That, my friend, was the son of the man who owns half of San Ladrón.”
“How did he get in? And why was he here? And why did he say that I was on private property, and that his father owned the store?”
Ken ignored my questions. “Come with me.” We walked to the front of the store and Ken unlocked the door from the inside. Again the metal fence kept us prisoners inside the store. In the distance, I heard the rapid-fire rhythm of a jackhammer against asphalt.
Ken cursed. He led me out the back door, around the block, and back in front of Land of a Thousand Fabrics. “See that?” he pointed to the vacant building on the left of the store. “Mr. McMichael owns that.”
“See that?” He pointed to the building on the right of the store. “Mr. McMichael owns that, too.”
“Okay, I get it.”
“See that?” Ken continued, ignoring me. “And that? And that?” he said, pointing to various buildings around the fabric store. “He owns them all. In fact, there’s only one building on this street he doesn’t own. Care to guess which one?”
“Okay, so he’s interested in buying the fabric store. Why did his son act like he already owns it?”
Ken pulled a folder out from the bottom of the clipboard and balanced it on the back of a metro bench next to us. He flipped through a few sheets of paper until he reached a piece of thick stationery with a monogram on the top. MCM, it said, just like the license plate.
“When Mr. McMichael heard you’d inherited the store, he made an offer. A generous offer. I know you’re only here through the weekend, so I took the liberty of drawing up the paperwork.”
Ken was either the most efficient real estate agent I’d ever met, or I was being rushed into making a decision. Not one to be bullied, I crossed my arms and dug in for answers.
“What does Mr. McMichael plan to do with the store? Is he connected to the fashion industry? Does he even like fabric? Can he tell the difference between wool challis and gabardine? Did he know Uncle Marius and Aunt Millie? Or my parents? Does he know my parents? Has he talked to them about this?”
Ken signed. “Are you going to stop for a breath? Poly, this is business. He’s not asking for your hand in marriage. Mr. McMichael is a developer, and this property is worth a lot to him. He can’t do anything with the rest of the block unless he has this one location.”
“How does he know I own it?”
“It’s public knowledge. Besides, this isn’t the first offer Mr. McMichael has made on the property.”
“So Uncle Marius wouldn’t sell to him?”
I looked across the street at the bird-poop-stained façade. “Then maybe I shouldn’t sell, either.”
“Don’t be stupid. What are you going to do—give up your job in Los Angeles and move to San Ladrón?” He stepped back and scanned my outfit, from boots to turtleneck. “No offense, but you don’t seem like the small-town type.”
“I probably don’t seem like the type to make a rash decision, either. Give me the night to think it over.”
Ken folded the letter into thirds along already-established creases and handed it to me. “Mr. McMichael has brought a lot of jobs to the city by the properties he’s developed. This would be no different. Consider that along with his offer. It’s not all about you, but it’s partially about you. That money might give you a chance to quit producing pageant dresses and do something real with your life.”
I had a choice. Defend my crappy job with the steady paycheck or admit that I wanted to do something more with my life. I did neither. Instead, I folded the paper in half again, and tucked it into the back pocket of my dusty jeans.
“The keys?” I asked.
Ken removed three keys from his full key ring and dropped them into my open palm. “I’ll call you tomorrow. Noon?”
“Sure,” I answered.
“Poly, just because your uncle got caught up in what the store meant to him doesn’t mean you have to get caught up in it, too. Do the sensible thing.” Ken turned away and unlocked his shiny black Lexus by remote. He drove away seconds after getting into it and left me standing on the sidewalk, staring after him.
I watched him drive away. Maybe Ken was right. Maybe the sensible thing was to sign away the store and go home. It had been ten years since I’d last been in San Ladrón, and it had changed a lot in that time. I looked up at the façade of Land of a Thousand Fabrics. To the right of it was an antiques store that specialized in Polynesian collectibles. To the left was another antiques store divided into cubicles of stuff left over from a hundred different garage sales. I didn’t remember either of those stores being there the last time I was here. I looked up and down the street, at a hardware store, a salon, and a gas station. The only thing I remembered from this vantage point was the traffic light at the intersection of San Ladrón and Bonita Avenue.
I walked down the block to the meter where I’d parked my own car, a semiautomatic yellow VW Bug from the early eighties. I’d bought it with the first thousand dollars I’d made at To The Nines. Even though Los Angeles was filled with people driving perfectly maintained luxury cars, I liked everything about the one I owned: the ecru leather interior, the chrome handles, the small round gearshift.
But at the moment, there was something new about my car, something I definitely didn’t like. The cluster of colored wires dangling from the steering column.
I stuck the key into the ignition and turned it, even though I had a pretty good idea what would happen. A whole lot of nothing. And a whole lot of nothing was exactly what I got. I pulled my AAA card from my wallet and called the number. As I waited for the phone to connect, I noticed a faded sign farther down the street, Charlie’s Automotive.
I disconnected and hopped from the car, pulling a man’s black oversized suit jacket from the backseat and shrugging into it before slamming the door shut. The door required slamming. After a minor encounter with a particularly narrow parking space, I’d dented it by the hinges and never bothered having it fixed. And now the dent in the door was certainly not my priority.
I looked up and down the street for signs of vandals. Should I call the cops to report the crime? That’s what Carson had done when his car had been vandalized last year, but it hadn’t done any good. Vandalized cars fell pretty low on the scale of crime, and as far as I could tell, nothing was missing. I looked back at the automotive shop. Getting the car fixed seemed to be the higher priority.
The afternoon sun was behind the auto shop, casting the building in a shadow. I hurried to the lot in front but saw no cars. If it weren’t for the pair of legs sticking out from under a car in the garage and the Van Halen blaring from the small CD player, I would have considered it closed and walked away.
“Excuse me,” I said. “My car’s about half a block up the street and it looks like somebody got creative with my wiring.”
The round toes of the heavy black work boots moved slightly, as did the blue pant legs above them. I leaned down, closer to the bumper. “Hello? Can you hear me?”
I would have walked away if it weren’t something of an emergency. Instead, I crossed the concrete floor and unplugged the CD player. When I turned around, the person under the car was halfway out. Seconds later I was staring down at a woman in a dirty blue zip-front jumpsuit.
“Oil changes for twenty-five dollars. Barely pays the rent on this place.” She wiped the back of her arm across her forehead and left a grease stain on her pale skin. “You got a problem with your car or are you looking for directions?”
“My car. It’s parked across the street. Looks like someone tampered with the electrical while I was otherwise engaged.”
“Where were you?”
“In the fabric store.”
She made no secret of the once-over she gave me, looking at my riding boots, my dirty velvet jeans, my turtleneck, and my oversized man’s blazer. I ran my fingers through my auburn hair, tucking a few tendrils behind my ears while she stared at me. I’d long since chewed off my trademark cranberry lipstick, but at least I knew my eyeliner and mascara had been applied as generously as hers.
“How’d you get into the fabric store?”
“The back door.”
“I mean, how’d you get permission? I don’t think anybody’s been in there for ages.”
“I inherited it.”
“Who are you again?” she asked. She sat upright.
“As in Pollyanna?” she asked.
“As in Polyester.”
“I’m Charlie.” She held out a hand and I pulled her up. Her thick, wild black hair was held in a messy ponytail on the top of her head. Her features were angular but sexy, full red lips and dark eyes. Her eyeliner was heavy on the upper lids, drawn into a point at the edge of each eye, Cleopatra-like. She wiped her hands on an already filthy rag and extended her hand a second time, which I shook.
“Polyester Monroe.” She tipped her head slightly as she considered this. “Related to Marius and Millie Monroe?” she asked.
“You say your car was vandalized?”
“Looks that way.”
She craned her neck and looked outside. “Yellow VW Bug?”
“That’s the one.”
She slammed the hood on the car she was working on, unzipped her jumpsuit, and stepped out of it. She wore a faded chambray shirt and jeans underneath. She hung the jumpsuit on a hook by a calendar of half-naked firemen. “It’s time for me to close up. Watch the joint while I take a powder?”
“What about my car?”
“I’ll fix it in the morning.” She pulled down the hinged metal doors in the front of her shop and threw the locking mechanism. Before I could answer, she disappeared behind a small door on the back corner of the garage. I stood in the front, not sure exactly what it was I was supposed to be doing. I heard a knock on the front door and turned around to find two men in the doorway. The one in front wore a dirty white T-shirt and faded jeans and steel-toed boots. The second one was dressed the same except his T-shirt was black. They both held yellow hard hats.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Where’s Charlie?”
“She’s closing up. If you want to talk to her about a job, come back in the morning.”
“Sure, yeah, that’s why we’re here. About a job.” They laughed.
The air felt crisp with tension. The two men stayed at the door, but I sensed if I weren’t there they would have come inside. I crossed the shiny garage floor and stepped directly in a trail of oil that led to the drain. The guy in the white T-shirt stood in the doorway.
“Like I said, she’s closed for business.” I put one hand on the door and the other on the frame. I was the same height as the guy in front of me and I looked him straight in the eyes. I kept my voice steady. I pointed over his shoulder to a gas station where a black-and-white police cruiser was parked. “Looks like there’s an on-call mechanic across the street. If it’s an emergency, they can probably accommodate you.”
White T-shirt stepped back. He looked at his friend. “It can wait.”
We stood face-to-face. The guy in the front stepped backward and the two of them started down the street. I waited out the better part of a minute before I stepped back and locked the door. It was then that I realized how hard my heart was pounding in my chest.
“I asked you to watch the place, not lock the doors,” Charlie said behind me. She unlocked the door and poked her head out. I suspected the two guys were within her sight, but didn’t know for sure. She stood upright, then shut and relocked the door.
“They came here?”
“They said they had a job. I said you were closed and recommended the mechanic across the street.”
She looked out the front door at the police cruiser parked in the gas station lot. “You told them to go there? That’s rich.”
“Why? Who were they?”
“Our very own local bad boys, or at least that’s what they’d like you to think. They tend to fly under the radar with small stuff that nobody reports.”
“Like tearing the wires out of my car?”
“Could be. That’s their idea of fun.”
“What did they want from you?”
“I’ve got flies buzzing around me all the time. The more you swat ’em away, the more they keep coming back. Comes with the territory,” she said, tipping her head toward the interior of the auto shop.
“If your flyswatter doesn’t work, you can always get one of those electric bug zappers. Might leave more of an impression.”
She studied me. “Polyester Monroe, you just got a whole lot more interesting. Follow me. Happy hour’s on. You have someplace to be? Need the number for a rental car company?”
I looked across the street at Land of a Thousand Fabrics. When I left Los Angeles, I’d led my boyfriend Carson to believe I was coming to San Ladrón to sign paperwork to inherit the store, and then sign paperwork to give Ken power of attorney to sell it. But I hadn’t counted on how it felt to be inside the store after all these years. It might be nice to stick around, spend the night in the apartment over the store, and pretend my great-aunt and uncle were still alive.
“You said you can fix it tomorrow?”
“I won’t know for sure until I look at it, but nothing’s going to happen tonight.”
“That’s fine. I think I’m going to spend the night in San Ladrón.”
“Great. Since you’re not going anywhere, you want to join me for a drink?”
What the heck, I thought. It wasn’t like I had any other plans, And if a couple of local bad boys wanted to scare me into leaving, they were pretty dumb to tamper with my car.
Charlie led the way past Antonio’s Ristorante, past two hair salons named after someone named Angie and someone named Susie, a dentist’s office, and a hardware store. The fabric store was across the street and I slowed my pace and stared at the front of it. It was flanked by antiques stores, both of which sported bright white trim and welcoming exteriors. Land of a Thousand Fabrics looked like the equivalent of the creepy house of the neighborhood that spawns stories to be told around a campfire.
Charlie noticed that I wasn’t keeping pace. She retraced her steps until she was next to me and followed my stare. “I bet the inside is something else,” she said.
“C’mon, you can tell me all about it.” She nudged me forward with her elbow and I dropped back in step.
We crossed a side street and entered an unmarked building through a back door. The interior was dimly lit. Two men shot darts next to a vacant pool table. A mirror behind the bar was painted with the words The Broadside Tavern in gold paint. Charlie took a seat at the bar and gestured for me to sit next to her. When the bartender appeared, she ordered.
“Irish Car Bomb. You want one, too?” she asked me.
I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, so I shook my head. “I’ll have a beer,” I said, even though I’d never developed a taste for it.
The drinks arrived. A shot glass and a tall mug of dark brown beer for her, and a pale ale for me. Charlie dropped her shot glass into her beer and drank half of the resulting mixture.
“So, what was it like?” she asked.
“What was what like?”
“The store. You said you were inside. I’ve always wondered about that place.”
“I’ve been staring at the gate since I opened my auto shop.”
Staring at a closed gate was a pretty lackluster excuse for what seemed to be more than passing interest in the store, but if I weren’t sitting in the bar talking to Charlie, I wasn’t sure where I’d be. The possibility existed that I’d be sitting in the bar by myself, and that wasn’t something I was used to doing.
“It’s still filled with fabric, though there’s a good chance most of it’s damaged. I’ll have to go through the inventory pretty carefully to see if any of it can be salvaged, but that’s a big job.”
“You actually care about the fabric?” she asked, taking another pull of her drink. Her eyes flickered to my barely touched beer and I gulped as much as I could, satisfying my thirst before the bitter taste kicked in.
“I work for a dress company in Los Angeles. There’s a big market for stuff like that, even if it’s damaged. Depends on how bad it is. The inventory has been in there for a while, so I don’t really know what I’m going to find when I start digging through it.”
“So you plan to stick around long enough to dig through the inventory?”
“As opposed to what?”
“Selling and going back home.”
It was like she and Ken had compared notes and agreed to push the same buttons. “That store has been in my family for a long time. I’m not selling until I know what I’m selling.”
I bristled. “I don’t think it’s all that interesting. I think most people would do what I’m doing.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Polyester. Most people would take the money and run.” She took another drink. “It’s an old store that’s been closed for a decade. Hard to believe there’s something in there that might be of value.”
“Even harder to believe at one time the metal gate actually opened.”
“Nothing a little motor oil and determination can’t fix. I bet you have bigger problems than the gate.”
“You’ll find out soon enough if you stick around. And if you don’t want to stick around, I’m sure you can find a buyer.”
“I’ve already had an offer,” I said, my lips loosened by the beer. “But I don’t want to make a rash decision. I feel like it’s my heritage, my family. My great-uncle left it to me, and I don’t want to rush into any kind of deal that takes it away from me.”
“That’s smart. You should take your time, do your thing. Check out the inventory and decide what you want to do with it. Maybe you should keep it and move here. This town needs another Monroe. With your uncle Marius gone, it’s up to you.”
“You knew my uncle?”
“I knew of your uncle. Smart man.” She finished off her dark brown drink and motioned to the bartender for two more before I had finished half of my first.
“What do you mean by that?”
“He was willing to take on old man McMichael. It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. A word of warning, though. Be careful.”
“Of things that go bump in the night,” she said mysteriously.
I knew she wanted me to ask what she meant, but I wasn’t going to take the bait. Inheriting the store felt personal to me, and talking about it like this, over beer and Irish Car Bombs, devalued the importance of it.
To make a good showing with my new tough friend, I drank more of my beer. I wasn’t accustomed to drinking quickly and I already felt it in my system, the alcohol making my arms sluggish and my head woozy. I hadn’t eaten much since arriving in San Ladrón. Drinking my dinner didn’t seem like a very good idea.
The bartender carried two red plastic baskets past us, each filled with a burger and fries. He set them down by the men playing darts. The greasy scent called out to me like a bouquet of roses. I took another sip before realizing I’d already decided not to do so.
“Look, I can already tell you’re a lightweight and I know you’re not driving back to Los Angeles tonight considering your car’s out of commission. You got a place to stay?”
I hadn’t really thought of that. When I drove up from Los Angeles, I figured it would take a couple of hours tops to check out the store and sign Ken’s paperwork. I’d brought my messenger bag, filled with my wallet, dark red lipstick, emergency sewing kit, notebook, and pen. There might have been a couple of stale ginger candies in the bottom. Not exactly enough for a spontaneous getaway. I pushed my hands into the pockets of my black blazer and my fingers closed around the keys Ken handed off earlier. “I think I have a place.”
Charlie pulled a business card out of the breast pocket of her chambray shirt. “Got a pen?”
I handed her the rhinestone-encrusted pen I carried around with me, hand-bejeweled one day at To The Nines when I was testing a cheap batch of glue my boss told us to use on the dresses we produced. She stared at it a few seconds before taking it and rolling it between her palms. Three rhinestones fell off. She brushed them from her lap onto the floor, then scribbled something on the back of the card.
“Call me if you can’t work it out on your own. I have a sofa you can crash on.”
I took the card and thanked her but already knew I wouldn’t take her up on the offer. I wanted to be alone to process everything.
She tossed a ten-dollar bill on the counter and left. I ordered a burger and fries to go and paid the balance of our tab. The sun had dropped by the time I walked out of the small bar. The historic downtown area, mostly antiques stores, hair salons, and the occasional office space, was eerily lit by streetlamps that cast a faint orange glow over the fake western storefronts. I approached my car and checked to be sure the doors were locked and then looked across the street. The metal gate to Land of a Thousand Fabrics was dark and foreboding in the evening light.
I walked to the crosswalk, to the end of the block, into the alley, and to the back door. The second of the three keys on my key ring unlocked the lock. I carried my burger and fries to the small metal control panel mounted by the back door and flipped a bunch of switches until the interior was bright with artificial light. Odd, I thought, that the electric worked. I knew Uncle Marius had kept up the mortgage and tax payments but couldn’t imagine why he’d paid the electric bill all these years, too.
Now I could see the store, really see it, and focus on what I had inherited. I felt a connection to the bins of fabric, to the walls lined with rolls of brightly colored taffetas and silks, the tables loaded down with rolls of synthetic fur, suede, leather, and damask.
It wasn’t what I’d learned at the Fabric Institute that had landed me the job at To The Nines, it was what I’d learned while growing up surrounded by material. During my interview with Giovanni, I mentioned that I’d learned to identify fabric from the feel of it when I was ten years old. He gave me an impromptu test, handing me a dozen swatches from a stack behind his desk, and I proved my knowledge. It wasn’t until after I started working for him that I learned the swatches of fine fabrics by his desk were for appearance’s sake, and that most of our inventory was as polyester as my name.
I crossed the concrete floor to the white laminate cutting station, and placed the keys in the drawer below the dusty cash register. A small teal notebook sat in the drawer, the word Resources written across the fabric cover in red marker. I hoisted myself up on the flat surface right by where a metal yardstick had been mounted for measuring cuttings of fabric, unwrapped my burger, and paged through the notebook. Someone, probably my great-aunt, Millie, had logged details of various bolts of fabric in the inventory. Red velvet, Spain, 12 yards. Burgundy georgette, Lyon, 50 yards (slight imperfection at selvage). Assortment of toile, Paris. Bolt of blue silk taffeta, 17 yards, India.
Additional pages were filled with similar entries. I imagined my relatives visiting exotic countries, purchasing fabrics to sell in the store. What it must have been like for them to run this place together in the late forties, when Christian Dior had shown his New Look to Parisian high society, when ready-to-wear started replacing true couture, when the idea of homemade glamour appealed to women everywhere. My great-aunt and great-uncle had made that dream a reality for women by stocking something better than the kind of cheap poly-satin blends we used to make dresses at To The Nines.
If I had access to fabrics like these when developing a concept for Giovanni, it would have been a whole different job. Sure, I established the direction our design team would go each season and outsourced the materials to make it happen, but with inexpensive, flammable cuts of fabric that would show wear after one use. I could look at a roll of poly-satin and know exactly what kind of dress it should become. But these fabrics were different. Being in the same room with them, even in what I could only imagine to be damaged condition, was like being on a magic carpet that would take me to another time, another place, another reality.
I cut a couple of yards from a bolt of royal-blue suede and draped it over the wrap stand like a tablecloth. I leaned over the fabric and ate my burger and most of the fries, then balled up the wax paper, the brown carry-out bag, and tied the blue suede around it like a hobo sack. Fabrics were known to absorb whatever nearby scent lingered in the air, and I didn’t want the place smelling like a fast-food joint. A small plastic bin was nestled under the register, overflowing with fabric scraps and faded pieces of paper. I hopped down from the cutting table, rested the blue bundle on top of the bin, and carried it out back. Outside, it had grown dark. Weird shadows took on distorted forms. I scampered to the Dumpster, lifted the lid, and turned the trash can upside down, shaking out the contents. When I pulled it out and lowered the lid, I saw a strange man watching me from end of the alley.
He started toward me. I turned around and ran to the back door, tripping over my own feet in the process. I face-planted on the gravel like I had earlier. I scrambled for footing, coughed a few times, and grabbed the doorknob. I glanced behind me to see if the man had gotten closer. He hadn’t. He stood at the end of the alley, silhouetted by headlights from a car idling in the lot behind him. I shut and locked the door behind me, flipped the switches on the control panel to off, and backed away slowly, continuing to stare at the doorknob. Something sounded against the door, like nails on a chalkboard. I grabbed the keys from the drawer under the register and ran to the corner of the store, to a circular staircase that led to the apartment above the store. I fumbled with the keys, almost dropping them twice. When I found one that fit, I unlocked the door and locked it behind me. I sank to the floor at the end of the rose-pink floral carpet runner that led down the hall and hugged my knees, scared to be alone.
As I sat with my back against the door, I listened for sounds—any sounds that indicated that I hadn’t imagined that someone was outside, waiting to break in. I heard nothing but silence.
This was silly. Just because my car had been vandalized and a person was standing at the end of the alley behind the store didn’t mean I had anything to worry about. I was safe in the apartment.
I waited a few minutes, and then crept back downstairs. My cell phone sat on the corner of the wrap stand. I picked it up and carried it to the staircase, sitting on the third rung from the bottom. I pulled up my favorites menu and called Carson in Los Angeles. Though it now seemed like I was safe inside the store, I wanted to talk to someone who could comfort me, who would tell me everything would be okay.
“Poly? Hold on, this is a bad connection. Let me get to the kitchen.”
Carson, I figured correctly, was at our apartment. The cell phone reception was variable at best, and we’d learned which rooms better served our conversations. “Can you hear me now?”
“Yes. Listen, my battery’s low and I don’t have my charger,” I said in a hushed voice.
“Why are you whispering?”
“I’m trapped inside the fabric store and I think there might be somebody outside trying to get me.”
“What do you mean, you’re trapped in the store?”
Excerpted from "Suede to Rest"
Copyright © 2014 Diane Vallere.
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.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Suede to Rest:
"Diane Vallere skillfully blends two mysteries in this smart and engaging tale that will keep you guessing to the very end.”—Krista Davis, New York Times bestselling author of the Domestic Diva mysteries
“Diane Vallere has stitched up an engaging new series with an intelligent, resourceful heroine in Polyester Monroe, plus a great supporting cast and a clever plot. Vallere's knowledge of the fashion business adds an extra layer of authenticity. Suede to Rest is a strong addition to the cozy mystery genre.”—Sofie Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of the Magical Cats Mysteries
"In Suede to Rest, Diane Vallere has fashioned a terrific mystery, rich with detail and texture. Polyester Monroe is a sassy protagonist who will win your hearts with her seamless style and breezy wit. The first in the series promises readers hours of deftly-woven whodunit enjoyment."—Avery Aames, Agatha Award-winning author of the Cheese Shop Mysteries
“In the Material Witness Mystery Series, Diane Vallere weaves a tapestry of finely knit characters, luxurious fabrics, and . . . murder.”—Janet Bolin, national bestselling author of the Threadville Mysteries
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fun characters, great mystery and interesting town. Great first in a new series. Cant wait for the next installment. Love that the main character is as much a klutz as I am.
Dollycas’s Thoughts First let me say I am so jealous of Poly Monroe. I have always wanted to own my own fabric store. Sewing is something I loved since my mother and grandmother taught me to sew. I could spend a whole day shopping for fabric, finding just the right pattern and fabrics for clothes or quilts for my family. It is one of the things I miss most since my accident. That is why I love cozies like Suede to Rest . I can escape right into the pages and it brings so many wonderful memories. With a name like Polyester you would almost have to be involved in the textile industry. You also know she comes from a family that had a great sense of humor. In the same way the story evoked memories for me walking back into her family’s fabric store did the same thing for Poly. Her original idea was to clean it up and sell the building. It had been closed for 10 years so she didn’t think there would be much to save but while the outer layer of the bolts were affected by the conditions underneath she finds some treasures. She barely starts to check the inventory before a man is found murdered behind the stores and the mystery begins. When Poly realizes there may be a connection to the death of her Aunt she knows it is up to her to sew all the clues together to get the answers she needs, a bonus would be catching the killer. This is an amazing debut. Diane Vallere has introduced us to some very strong characters and the plot is full of unexpected twists. I was totally drawn into this story and it held on tight. The family history was so rich. The town of San Ladrón has a history too and is facing many changes, thanks to a big developer with a grand plan. Our protagonist could really upset his plans. I cannot wait to read the next book in the series and revisit these characters. I can’t wait to see what Poly gets into next!
Repetitive and slow moving.
I would actually give this a 3 1/2 star. I did enjoy this book but my biggest problem was that it seemed disjointed somehow. Carson is supposed to be Poly's boyfriend but there seemed to be nothing there. Poly would think one thing and do another. She sees Vaughn on the street and wonders if he knows what had happened the night before, meanwhile she had argued with him at the scene. Her parents say they are staying a couple days and that afternoon they are leaving. There were a few other incidences like this and it really began to bother me, but that is my quirk and may not bother most. It just made it a little hard to follow her train of thought and what was going on at times. That being said, I do love Ms. Vallere's characters, they are diversified and enjoyable. The mystery was excellent, I didn't know who to trust. The back story of Poly's aunt was interesting and kept me guessing as to how it tied in with Poly now. I will continue on with this series, it has a good strong base and I hope that the contradictory problems are ironed out in the next.
Diane creates witty, feisty characters. Poly is one of those. She's not afraid to be her own person. I liked the story. There were many questions answered. But there are questions that have not been answered yet. Not cliff-hanger questions, but ones I want to find the answer to in the books to come. Definitely a good start to a series that I want to read more of!
I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. With that being said, I LOVED this book! This is the first book in a series. I am a huge fan of cozy mysteries, but this author is new to me. She apparently has several other series as well, and I can't wait to read the next book in this series, and to check out her other series, too! My only hesitation about this book was the main character's name - Polyester. I thought that it might be to cutesy, and therefore distracting. However, the character's name is explained in the story, and it was enough to ease my qualms and allowed me to thoroughly enjoy the book. The characters are well developed, and there is just enough action to keep the story moving quickly. The book starts off with Poly(ester) going to a town called San Ladrón to receive her inheritance of a fabric store from her aunt and uncle. Her aunt was killed 10 years prior to the story, and her uncle recently passed away, leaving her the store. Her first day in town begins the excitement, and the mysteries build from there. Every time I thought that I might have a good idea who the perpetrator was, another twist made me think again and focus on a different character. I love a book that keeps me guessing, and this one definitely fit the bill. As a mystery reader, I think we all like to try and solve the mystery along with (or even before, if possible) the main characters. There is nothing worse in a mystery than when the reveal gives you a perpetrator who was barely mentioned in the story, or who was just introduced pages before the reveal. This book did not give me any of that frustration or annoyance, and it was fun to read. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a mystery (particularly the cozy kind that doesn't have profanity, graphic violence or explicit sex) with interesting, like-able characters, a great story with many plot twists, and the opportunity to "get to know" the main characters and follow them throughout several different books in a series.
NOTE: I received an ARC from the author to review. The first of a promising new series! I'll admit when I started to read, I wasn't sure but in no time Diane Vallere had me sucked into this story. Poly, short for Polyester Monroe (she comes by the name honestly!) has returned to San Landron where she spent a good deal of her growing-up years. Her Uncle Marius and Aunt Millie owned a fabulous fabric store in the town, drawing celebrities and "regular" people from far and wide to shop the amazing offerings in Land of a Thousand Fabrics. After Millie's death, Marius closed the store and it stood shuttered until his death, leaving the store to Poly. Her plan was to arrange for the sale of the store and return to Los Angeles, her boyfriend and her job. Memories overwhelm her and she starts to wonder if selling is really what she wants to do. Then she finds a body in the alley behind her store. A local bigwig wants the store so he can develop the entire block. When other odd things start to occur, Poly wonders how far Victor McMichael would go to get her out. Vic's son, Vaughn, also takes an interest in Poly but she's not sure of his motivation. Poly decides she needs to find out before she can make a decision. She ends up investigating two murders, ten years apart. It's pretty obvious soon that someone doesn't want her to find out what happened. Ms. Vallere has written an engaging story, with plenty of characters for future interaction with Poly. I look forward to the next book in the series!
Suede to Rest (A Material Witness Mystery) had me hooked from the first few pages. There were a lot of twists and turns throughout the book and it kept me guessing til the very end as to who the murderer was. It was very enjoyable to learn more about the fabric industry while trying to figure out which of the characters were good and which were bad. I especially loved the character of Poly and very much look forward to reading more books in this series!!! I received a copy courtesy of the author for an honest review.
This is the first book in the series. I was hooked from the first chapter. Polyester Monroe inherits her great uncle and great aunt's fabric store, that has been closed for ten years. Poly plans on signing ownership papers and putting it up for sale on the same day. Once she's back in San Ladron, California, she feels a connection to the store. After spending the night in the apartment above the fabric shop, Poly finds a body by the dumpster the next morning, and the mystery begins. This was a new to me author. I thought that she did a great job of telling Poly's story. The characters were well developed. The story line moved along at a great pace too. I'm already planning on reading the next book in The Material Witness series.
Over the past couple years I have become a cozy mystery junkie. Throw in the fact that I've been a lover of crafts since I was a toddler and it's no wonder I was drawn to this book. Suede to Rest is an excellent beginning for this new series by Diane Vallere. Those looking for a great cozy to cozy up with this winter are going to love this book. Can't wait for the next one!
Suede To Rest is the first book in the A Material Witness series. I have to admit that I gave a groan when I saw the main characters name is Polyester Monroe. Poly does explain how she got the name and I am happy with it. Poly has inherited he Aunt and Uncles fabric shop that has been closed for some ten years, ever since her aunt was murdered in the shop, in was explained as a robbery gone bad. Poly returns with the idea to sign papers to give Ken Watts the rights to go ahead and arrange the sale of the fabric store. But she soon finds how that there is something very mysterious about the night her aunt was killed and wants to find out what really happened. When unexplainable things begin to happen, she is even more sure that she needs to stick around. Then when Mr. Pickers is killed behind the store she hopes she can find the answers she needs before she might become the next victim. This book has a great cast of characters, that I hope will be back in future books. Poly first meets Charlie, an automobile mechanic, when her car is vandalized. Soon she meets Vaughn McIntyre, whose father is trying to also buy her store. Vaughn seems to want to be helpful, but he seems to be close by when ever anything bad happens to Poly. Maria Lopez, who runs cleaning business, comes to Poly's help when her storefront is vandalized. Maria's husband also owns a bakery, which is always a good friend to have. A very exciting first book and looking forward to seeing where Poly goes with her store.
Debut Promises Even More Fun to Come Polyester Monroe is returning to San Ladron and the fabric shop that her great-uncle and aunt owned, Land of a Thousand Fabrics. She spent many hours in the shop growing up until Aunt Millie was murdered in the shop on the night of Poly’s high school graduation. Now, 10 years later, Poly has inherited the shop, and returned to town to figure out what to do with it. Poly’s initial plan is to sell the shop, but when she sees it again, something inside her can’t quite let it go. Then her car is vandalized and a member of the senior watch is murdered behind her shop. The more that happens, the more Poly begins to question what happened to Aunt Millie 10 years ago. Can Poly learn the truth? How do the recent events tie in to the long ago tragedy? Normally, I would pass on a fabric themed cozy series, but the plot of this one sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a try. I’m very glad I did because it was engaging from start to finish. The plot was fun and took some unexpected twists. The characters are wonderful, and I loved spending time around them. I really did feel like they were fully formed already. I’m looking forward to visiting Poly again soon. If you are looking for a great new series to start, this is the book for you. NOTE: I was sent an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
I was not sure about purchasing this $2.99 cozy, mystery novel. I saw it had some some nice reviews and I was tired of looking for a book, so I bought it. I started reading with a grain of salt, after all, a girl born in a fabric shop and then named Polyester is about as cheesy as it gets. The was not. I honestly did not know whodunit and whydunit until the last chapter. The book was excellant and even though it is the first in a series, it is stand alone. There is no heavy violence, no sex, no profanity, no homosexuals, no religion, politics, espionage or terrorists. No animals get killed. I liked this book so much I preordered the next book, "CRUSHED VELVET," which be released in early August 2015. It was rather pricy as I am a tight wad, but I just have know Charlie's story and what happens between Poly and Vaughn. This book is not sappy or silly at all. Some men might enjoy it. It can be read by everyone and would be entertaining for 15 year olds and up. The craft project did not impress me too much as it would be impractical in a home with children, pets and messy husbands. AD
I'm loving Diane's new Material Witness series. The 1st book is Suede to Rest and introduces us to Poly (as in Polyester) Monroe. Poly has recently learned that she is the sole heir to her great aunt and uncle's estate. The estate consists of a run-down, closed for 10 years textile store, which has been in the family for decades. Now Poly has to decide if she wants to re-open the store or put it om the market. Making the decision even more difficult is the fact that not everyone wants Poly to stay in "their" town. Once things turn deadly, Poly is almost ready to pack her things and leave town. I love Diane's sense of humor, which has me belly laughing or pure giggling. Her Mad for Mod Mysteries were my introduction to Diane's work. If you have some spare time try reading this series, I think you'll enjoy it. FTC Full Disclosure - A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.
First, I have to say that I loved the protagonist of this story – Polyester Monroe, but everyone calls her Poly. What a name – Polyester! When Poly’s uncle dies, she inherits her family’s fabric store, Land of a Thousand Fabrics. The store has been closed and boarded up since her aunt’s murder ten years ago, but her uncle continued to maintain his ownership of the place. Now that he’s gone, it’s put into Poly’s hands. Poly takes a break from her dress designer job in Los Angeles and makes the trip to San Ladron to take care of the store, which means selling it. However, once she gets there, memories of happier times with her aunt and uncle in the store make her question what she should do. Poly becomes suspicious when she is pressured to sell, she is not so sure she’s going to leave town so fast, after all. Someone isn’t happy about her decision to stick around and makes deadly threats against her. Poly begins snooping around and finds there may be some secrets about her family’s past that she didn’t want to know. For that matter, could any of this be connected to her aunt’s murder all those years ago? Poly intends to find out. As soon as I started reading this one, I couldn’t put it down. The author hooks you from the start. Well, she hooked me anyway. Each character comes alive and the storyline is captivating. I found myself engrossed in this book and wanted to know what was going to happen next. Diane Vallere is a new-to-me author, but I know she has other mystery series, which I plan to check out. This one is the first book in her new “A Material Witness Mystery” series and I will be anxiously awaiting the second book. Great kick off to a new cozy series! FTC Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book to review for this blog tour. This did not influence my thoughts and opinions in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.