With two yarn retreats in the bag, Casey is looking forward to running her third one at Cadbury by the Sea’s Vista Del Mar hotel on the Monterey Peninsula. This time, each knitter will get a Mystery Bag of knitting materials to turn into a personal project.
But Casey gets tangled up in another retreat at the same hotel, when the organizer and his wife have a very public spat. As Casey is delivering her baked goods later that night, she finds the woman dead in the bushes with a magician’s silk scarf nearby—just like the scarf Casey’s ex-boyfriend, Sammy, used during his magic act at the retreat. As Sammy takes center stage as the prime suspect, Casey and her friends will have to stitch together the clues before the real killer pulls a disappearing act...
Includes knitting patterns and a recipe
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“This time it’s going to be different. This time I’m prepared. I know what the retreat is about. No more depending on one person to lead the workshops. And I have help with the other stuff, too.” I looked to my audience to see his reaction. Julius, my sleek black cat, blinked his yellow eyes and jumped down from the bathroom cabinet. Did that mean he didn’t believe me?
I put away the toothbrush and gave myself a last look in the mirror. Did I believe myself? What I said was true. I was definitely better prepared than I’d been for the first two retreats. Wasn’t I going to a meeting with my two workshop leaders this very morning to go over the final details?
But me putting on yarn retreats? It’s not what I—or anyone who knew me, especially my mother—would have expected, given my rather spotty career history. A semester of law school was enough for me to know that being a lawyer wasn’t for me. I’d tried being a teacher, actually a substitute teacher at a private school. I did it for a couple of years and then I’d had enough. I baked desserts at a bistro for six months. I would have stayed longer but the place went out of business. Then there was the temp work. At least it wasn’t boring. I gave out samples of new products on street corners in downtown Chicago and spritzed perfume on shoppers in several department stores. The best of the bunch was my time at the detective agency, where I was either an assistant detective or detective’s assistant, depending on who you were talking to. If you were talking to me, the title would definitely be assistant detective. Mostly what I did was phone interviews, but I loved it. Everything might have been different if my boss, Frank, had been able to keep me on.
But you can’t change the past. So in an effort to make a fresh start—that means when the temp work dried up, I’d had to move back to my parents’ apartment in the Hancock Building and I needed to get out of there—l had relocated to my aunt Joan’s guest house almost two thousand miles away on the edge of California’s Monterey Peninsula. In no time, my aunt had helped me line up a gig baking desserts for a local restaurant called the Blue Door and making muffins for the assorted coffee spots in town. With the chilly temperatures and almost constant cloudy skies, coffee spots were big in Cadbury by the Sea.
So how did I end up putting on yarn retreats? Yarn2Go was my aunt’s business, but just months after I’d moved into her guest house, she was killed in a hitand-run accident. She left everything to me, including her business.
The next question is usually, what is a yarn retreat? The yarn part refers to a yarn craft, which so far has been knitting. I can practically see my mother’s eyes flying upward at the thought. She’s a cardiologist and it’s pretty clear she thinks this apple has fallen very far from the tree. Her favorite line seems to be “When I was your age , I was a doctor, a wife and a mother, and you’re what?” It helps her case that until I inherited the business, I didn’t know which end of a knitting needle was up.
Now after two retreats, I definitely know about knitting needles. Mostly that I don’t really like the ones that are long and come in pairs. It’s circular needles all the way for me. And although I can’t knit as well as the retreaters, I’m holding my own and have samples of my work to prove it. And every time I finish something, I email a picture to my mother. Yes, I might have an issue with proving that I can stick with something and finish it.
And it might be obvious I have a few issues with my mother. On the other hand, there is my father. He’s a pediatrician and much easier to get along with. Of course, that could be because his patients are still in their formative years and he looks at me in the same way.
That covers the yarn part of the business. Now for the retreat part. It’s really a vacation with a purpose. My group gets to learn something new, and has lots of time to hang out with other yarn lovers while they all work on their craft. They also get to enjoy the other activities put on by Vista Del Mar, the hotel and conference center where the retreats are held, conveniently located across the street from where I live.
But back to the present. Julius looked up at me from the floor. The cat kept surprising me, but then he was the first pet I had ever had. It had been all his decision. I had seen him around the neighborhood, but one day he showed up at my door and invited himself in. Did that make me his pet?
My impression of cats pre-Julius was that they were aloof and didn’t really have a lot of interaction with their humans. Julius had made his presence felt from day one, and as the weeks had turned into months, he’d become my shadow when I was home.
He followed me into the room my aunt had used as an office. It had taken me a while, but I had moved into the main house. Main house sounds a lot grander than it is. For that matter, guest house does, too. The guest house was actually a converted garage, and the main house had just two bedrooms, one of which was this office.
My aunt’s creations were all over the little room. My favorite was the crocheted lion that guarded the desk. Julius jumped up on the small love seat and curled up against another of my aunt’s creations, a granny square afghan. How lucky that the bright colors were in the middle of the motifs with rows of black yarn around the edges. All that black yarn camouflaged the cat hairs Julius so generously deposited. He watched as I picked up the red tote bag with Yarn2Go Retreats emblazoned on the front. This bag and its contents were a sample for the upcoming retreat. I emptied the contents to look them over once again. There were several large skeins of yarn and then a number of smaller balls of yarn. All of them were in different colors and textures. A small plastic bag came out as well. It contained an assortment of beads and charms.
“We’re calling this retreat Mystery Bags,” I said in case Julius was interested. The plan was that each bag would have a different selection of yarn and embellishments. I put everything back into the red tote thinking about the upcoming meeting with my helpers to go over the plan for the projects. A large manila envelope fell off the desk as I picked up the tote bag.
I stared at it on the floor for a moment before retrieving it. I was about to put it back where it had been, but then I stopped and emptied the contents on the dark wood desk.
How many times had I emptied this envelope, looked at the contents and wondered what to do? The photo of the infant with a teddy bear was old and the colors faded, but I was certain the baby was a girl by the bow in her wisps of hair. A small white envelope had Edmund’s Hair written across the front. Inside there was a clump of shiny dark hair with the roots still attached. Another much older envelope that had been sealed and opened had Our Baby written in faded ink. At the bottom Mother’s DNA was written in fresh ink, no doubt referring to traces left when the envelope was licked to seal. And last was the ledger sheet from the long-closed Cadbury Bank. It was marked as a sign-in sheet to access safety-deposit boxes. What made it noteworthy was the fact that Edmund Delacorte had signed in for Box 273, and then a few lines down Mary Jones had signed in to access the same number.
“It was a money drop,” I said. “It was a way for Edmund Delacorte to pay off his baby mama.” I chuckled at the term that was so contemporary and would have sounded so odd on July 25, 1962, when this list was created. “Or at least I think it was.”
Why did this matter all these years later? First you had to understand that the Delacorte family was like the royal family of Cadbury by the Sea. They had owned fishing boats, a cannery and a lot of land. Edmund Delacorte had been the sole owner of Vista Del Mar. He was married with a son when he died a couple of years after the date on the ledger sheet. His will had been very specific that Vista Del Mar was to go to his children. Barely a year after he died, his wife and son were killed in an accident. The hotel and conference center went back into the family pot. But if Edmund had fathered another child, she might be able to claim Vista Del Mar was hers as well as a portion of the family fortune.
I had no birth date, but it seemed likely that the baby in the photograph was now in her mid-fifties. I thought that I could track down the mother. I checked the Cadbury census records, which were definitely old school, and found several women named Mary Jones. The problem was that their ages didn’t fit with the age of the mother of the heir. I had even discreetly tried to find an employee from the long-closed bank who might have a memory of the woman. I already knew Edmund made his deposits just before the regular staff went to lunch, no doubt realizing there would be a rotating group who filled in during the lunch break, when his mistress came to pick up her money.
It was more than fifty years ago and the one former bank employee I had been able to locate had a foggy memory of someone coming in during lunchtime, but the woman always wore a big hat and sunglasses.
Julius gave me a look of reproach. Was he wondering what I was doing with the envelope anyway? The appearance of an heir would stir everything up. Did the Delacorte sisters want to find out they had to share their fortune with their brother’s love child and relinquish the ownership of Vista Del Mar? The answer to that was easy, no. What about the rest of the town? They seemed to resist change, so I imagine they would probably prefer to leave things as they were. Maybe it was because I was new to the town and wasn’t so concerned with keeping the status quo, but I thought Edmund’s secret baby deserved the chance to get what her father rightfully left her. Even if I had hit a dead end.
“You are the only one who knows about this.” I sat down on the small leather couch and stroked his neck. He leaned into my touch and began to purr. This living with a cat was an unfolding mystery. His displays of affection still surprised and touched me. “Well, at least I know you won’t go blabbing to anyone.”
He climbed into my lap and left a dusting of his short black hairs on my dark-wash jeans. “Mary Jones,” I said with a disbelieving shake of my head. “Obviously it’s a fake name.” Julius looked up at me as if to concur.
“This is where my experience working at the detective agency comes in handy.” Was the cat rolling his eyes now? Could cats even roll their eyes? “Okay so maybe I only did phone interviews and occasionally stood in for surveillance, but my boss, Frank, said more than once that when people used fake names, the initials were usually real. So all I have to do is find the right woman with the initials M.J. and hope she’ll lead me to her daughter. That really narrows it down, doesn’t it?” I punctuated my comment with a hopeless shrug.
Julius decided he’d had enough affection. He abruptly stood up and stretched, pressing his paws into my thigh before he jumped down. He looked back over his shoulder at me and blinked. Was that the cat way of saying a sarcastic “Good luck”?
Who knew if this M.J. was even still alive? She’d be in her seventies by now, and maybe she didn’t want the world to know about her indiscretion. Without her, there was no way to know what the baby’s name was, and all the DNA meant nothing. Why was I even bothering with it? Maybe everybody was right. Maybe it should be left under the rug.
“I’m talking to a cat,” I said out loud in disbelief, throwing up my hands. Not that Julius noticed. With his tail held high, he walked out the office door and into the hall. I didn’t have to be a cat specialist to know where he was headed—the kitchen with hopes of a breakfast of stink fish.
The phone was ringing when I shut the door a little while later. I knew it was my mother and deliberately left without picking it up. Thankfully, she never called me on my cell phone, too afraid I’d be driving when I answered. Poor Julius looked a little forlorn as he sat in the window. Instead of his favorite smelly fish, he’d had to settle for tastes from my container of yogurt. You’d think he’d appreciate that I was broadening his food horizons.
My yellow Mini Cooper was parked in the driveway next to the converted garage that had once been my home. I had stayed living there for months after my aunt died, feeling strange about moving into her house. But finally I had accepted that she would want me to have the place and I had moved in. I was glad for all the space and now I just used the guest house to store the supplies for the retreat. As expected, the sky was white. By now I had come up with various descriptions of the exact level of cloudiness. This morning’s was the standard issue. Flat opaque whiteness, no shadows, and light that would look the same all day.
My house was on the edge of the small town, but even so, I was in downtown Cadbury in about five minutes. The fact there was never much traffic helped.
I had put on two retreats so far and learned a lot in the process. I now knew I couldn’t run the retreats on my own; I needed to be very familiar with the program and to be prepared for any disaster that might happen. In the past that had included murder. The meeting I was on my way to was part of my plan to be hyperprepared this time. No longer would I depend on only one person to handle the workshops. Now I was going to have two people, Crystal Smith and Wanda Krug, and I was going to make sure I understood the process as well.
I usually met Crystal Smith at Cadbury Yarn, the store she ran with her mother, Gwen Selwyn. But today since Wanda was going to be there, too, we’d decided to avoid all the activity at the store and meet at Crystal’s house. Well, not exactly her house. It was really her mother’s house, just like the yarn store was really her mother’s business.
I found a parking spot on Grand Street, which was the main drag in town, and walked down a side street that sloped toward the water. Cadbury by the Sea was located on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, and the ocean was visible from just about everywhere. In this part of town the houses were more like small cottages and were on top of each other with barely any yard. It made me grateful for the space around my place. The only open space was a small park with a beautiful old Monterey cypress tree. The foliage was a dark water retaining shade of green, and like all of them, the wind had shaped its branches into a graceful horizontal pose.
I had never been to Crystal’s house before and had to check the house numbers as I walked down the street. The houses were a mixture of styles, pastel painted small Victorians, Craftsman bungalows with long front porches and Spanish cottages with large arched windows and red tiled roofs. There was no strip of grass between the sidewalk and street, making the houses seem very close to the narrow roadway.
Crystal’s address matched up with a sweet-looking dusty blue Victorian on a corner. It wasn’t like the large grand old Victorians on appropriately named Grand Street. They took up whole corners and had elaborate gardens and also happened to now mostly have been turned into bed-and-breakfast inns. Crystal’s place was a single story and much smaller but still had some of the touches like fish scale siding and a bay window. A white picket fence surrounded the small yard. Even with all the cloudy skies and fog here, there wasn’t much rain, and water was at a shortage. Most people either left their small yards to go to native plants, which was a nice way of saying weeds, or like this one, had no lawn, but plantings placed around the yard filled in with wood chips. A pot of flowers brightened the bottom step leading to the small porch that ran up the side of the house to the door.
Crystal must have been waiting for me because she had the door open before I’d reached the top stair. “Wanda’s already here.” The words were benign, but her tone made it sound like Wanda was already ruffling feathers. She stepped aside to let me in. “C’mon inside and please don’t mind the mess or the fact that it’s a little crowded.”
Even though I was relatively new to the town, I knew a lot of the backstories of the inhabitants. For example I knew that Crystal had run off with Rixx, a rock musician, when she was a teen. Eventually they got married and she had two kids. She’d stuck it out through his career ups and downs, along with his personal issues (i.e., drug problems) before Rixx (how pretentious can you get) traded Crystal in for a younger model. Crystal and her kids had moved back to town and in with her mother.
As we walked inside, I saw what she meant. The house was charming, but small and very full. I’d never met her kids and somehow pictured the girl and boy as being small, but when I saw the size of the boy’s sneakers sticking out from under the couch in the living room, I realized they were teens. I instantly wondered how her kids felt about the way Crystal dressed. She had a whimsical way of mixing and matching—never wearing pairs of anything, even if it was earrings or socks. Her black hair naturally fell into tiny curls, which bounced when she walked. And her makeup—she could pull off the heavy dark eye makeup. I’d tried it and ended up looking like a raccoon.
She let out a sigh as I walked behind her. I wasn’t used to seeing her like this. At the store she always seemed like a free spirit, but looking around the house, for the first time I realized the weight of her responsibilities. “We were hoping to do something like your aunt did and turn our garage into living space. Maybe someday.”
I followed her into the dining room. The mystery bags had been Crystal’s idea. She’d explained they had a family tradition of using odds and ends of yarn and leftover beads to make one-of-a-kind items. Eventually they had started making up grab bags of stray skeins of yarn and small amounts of beads, buttons and charms and selling them at the store. Sometimes they’d even had displays of the different things their customers had created with the mystery assortment.
A round oak table sat in the center of the room. Wanda Krug had been sitting, but stood up and took a step toward me in an eager manner when we came into the room.
“Good, you’re here. We really need to talk about the plans for the retreat.” Wanda struck what seemed to be her natural pose. She had one hand on her hip and held the other one out. I couldn’t help it—between her short stout stature and the pose, all I could think of was the Teapot song with her arms being the handle and the spout. She glanced at Crystal, who was shaking her head at the comment.
“Wanda, we’ve already agreed on the program for the retreat,” Crystal said. She viewed Wanda’s job as just a helper during the retreat.
“And you’re headed for disaster,” Wanda added, looking at me. Both women were native Cadburians and only a few years different in age. It was hard to believe Wanda was actually the younger of the two. Between her manner and her wardrobe choices, like today’s pale yellow polo shirt over loose-fitting navy blue slacks, she looked years older than Crystal.
It was a little unsettling that both of them were also about my age. I could practically hear my mother’s voice with her oft-said words: “When I was your age, I was a wife, a doctor and a mother, and you’re what?”
Crystal stepped up to the table and showed off the three recycled plastic tote bags that matched the one I’d brought. “This will give you an idea of how the contents of each bag are unique. My grandmother made the bags up with real leftovers, but since we were making so many, we actually ordered the yarn and supplies for them,” Crystal said, emptying the contents of each bag and laying it on the table. Each one had three skeins of worsted weight yarn in different but complementary colors along with an assortment of small balls of yarn, some of which were novelty yarns, along with a plastic bag with assorted beads, and other embellishments.
“I have some samples of the kinds of things people can make,” Crystal said, pointing out an arrangement on the sideboard. I was amazed at the selection of scarves with different colors and textures of yarn with random beads added in. A small purse had fun fur mixed in with the other yarn and a whole row of beads, which made it look flamboyant. There was also a lovely shawl. She’d put out some toys as well. A bear and a cat were made out of a mixture of yarns and dressed in little coats of many colors, but it was the doll on the end that really caught my eye.
“We will have patterns for all of these available,” Crystal said. She saw me admiring the doll. “My grandmother made the bear for me, but she’s all my idea.” Crystal picked up the soft doll with her colorful dress and wild hair. A face had been created with bits of felt and the expression looked so concerned it made me laugh. “It’s a worry doll,” she said. When both Wanda and I seemed confused, she added an explanation. “It’s my version of those dolls that come from Guatemala. The idea is that you tell her your worries at night and by morning they’re all gone.”
Wanda was still standing and looked over the selection of items. “It’s a terrible idea. The people will spend the whole weekend trying to decide what to make. I say we just give them one scarf pattern and redo the bags so they all have the same supplies.”
“That’s no fun,” Crystal said. I could see the anger flashing in her eyes and I suddenly realized hiring them to work together might have been a mistake. I had been so busy thinking about having two people to help with the workshop I hadn’t considered the difference in their styles.
I knew both of them had been knitting since they were kids and were light-years ahead of me in ability. I had thought they would just get along. But Wanda kept voicing her opinion and Crystal didn’t back down. The situation reminded me of my time as a substitute teacher. When the kids started acting up, I’d found the best way to deal with them was with a distraction.
“I’m sure you both know that there’s another much bigger retreat going on this weekend, at Vista Del Mar, too. It’s called My Favorite Year 1963. I’m not sure what it entails, but Kevin St. John did hire me to bake trays of sweets for the opening reception. He wanted something authentic from that time. Apparently cream cheese brownies were a big thing then.”
“I hope we get some samples,” Crystal said. Wanda agreed and suggested that I make a batch for our group to be sure. I breathed a sigh of relief realizing the old trick had worked.
“I heard Kevin St. John tried to change the dates of our retreat,” Wanda said.
“He did,” I said with an annoyed nod. “The My Favorite Year retreat came up recently. Supposedly the place they’ve been holding it in Cambria had a fire and they had to find a new venue. They needed facilities for a couple hundred people. The dollar signs lit up in Kevin’s eyes. He shifted a bunch of reservations around so he could get their business. But I wouldn’t budge. Just because he got a last-minute gig for some history club was no reason for us to be tossed out on our butts.”
“It’s more than this one retreat. He knows that if the event goes really well, Vista Del Mar could become their regular spot. I heard they have a number of events a year,” Crystal said. “I can see why Kevin would want to please them. He’s been rushing around town checking thrift shops for anything he can find from 1963.”
“He’s not just looking for things,” Wanda said. “He rounded up a local celebrity. I know because I overheard him talking about it at the resort.”
Wanda was more than a great knitter and spinner; her real profession was golf pro at one of the nearby posh Pebble Beach resorts. She didn’t really look the part, but she’d won numerous golf tournaments. Several months ago she’d been demoted to giving golf lessons to kids, but recently had talked her way back into her original position of giving lessons to adults and being available to play a round with the guests.
“Who?” Crystal asked. It amazed me how they’d forgotten their previous fussing.
“His name is Bobbie Listorie,” Wanda said, sounding less than enthusiastic. “He’s a singer. Some song—‘Look into My Eyes’ or ‘In the Eyes,’ or something like that—was a big hit in 1963. The resort where I work for peanuts pays him an absurd amount of money to hang around, schmooze with the guests and be available to make up a foursome on the golf course.” Wanda shook her head with disapproval. “I don’t get it. What’s the big appeal with him? If they are interested in a good game of golf, they’d be better off going with me. But they gather around him like ants to honey.” She shook her head again with dismay. “He usually does a few songs on the weekend in the bar. It’s supposed to be impromptu, but of course, it’s planned. You should see how the women go on about his green eyes.” Wanda rolled her eyes. Clearly she had never been a groupie.
Crystal made a face. “You don’t have to tell me about that. When I used to go on the road with Rixx, women would throw themselves at him when I was standing right there. I can just imagine what happened when I wasn’t there.” After that her expression brightened. “Kevin St. John has some other celebrities from that era coming, too,” Crystal continued. “Someone in the yarn store said he found an old baseball player who played on the San Francisco Giants in 1963. You know the guy, he’s the pitch man for that energy drink Boost Up. And last but not least, he rounded up Dotty Night. If my mother has pointed her out once, it’s been a hundred times. She owns a hotel in Carmel and calls it the Dotty Night Inn. Her claim to fame, according to my mother, was starring in a string of movies during the sixties. She was always a perky good girl who got the guy. The big one from 1963 is Bridget and the Bachelor.” Crystal rolled her eyes. “Not exactly like that reality show The Bachelor.”
Now that they both had cooled down, I brought up our retreat and the solutions I’d come up with while we were talking about Kevin St. John’s efforts for his retreat. It was my call anyway.
“Here’s what I propose,” I said. “We keep Crystal’s bags as they are. We offer a pattern for a scarf.” Wanda nodded, looking triumphant without realizing I wasn’t finished. “And we offer them the pattern for the worry doll.” Wanda’s expression dimmed and Crystal smiled. “And if anybody wants to make something else, we do our best to help them.”
I was shocked when they both agreed.
“You look frazzled,” Lucinda Thornkill said when I walked into the Coffee Shop. It was just a short walk from Crystal’s and I had arranged to meet my best friend and boss for a coffee drink after I met with my two helpers. The plain-sounding name for the coffee place was just what the Cadbury town council insisted on. So there was no Ye Olde anything in this town. They wanted everything to be called what it was, rather than any cutesy name. It even extended to my muffins. When I’d first started baking muffins for the various coffee shops, I’d called them things like Merry Berry, The Blues and Simplicity until I saw that the places that sold them had changed the names to the essence of what they were after some council member complained. So they became mixed berry muffins, blueberry muffins and plain vanilla ones. I think the fuss about the muffin names was a bit much, but I had begun to understand their point about not having any “ye olde” anythings. They wanted the town to feel real instead of some place that catered to tourists even though the natural beauty of the area attracted travelers from around the world.
“What was I thinking when I hired Crystal and Wanda to work together?”
“I was going to say something when you first told me, but you seemed so certain about it,” Lucinda said. It was hard for me to think of Lucinda Thornkill as my boss, even though she and her husband, Tag, were the owners of the Blue Door restaurant, where I baked the desserts. She was really my best friend in town. It helped that we were both transplants to Cadbury and it didn’t seem to matter at all that she was much older than me. Or that everything she wore or carried had a fancy designer name on it and the only designer piece I had was an Armani jacket my mother had given me as a gift.
“I think I have it worked out so they are both happy, at least with the retreat plan.” I let out a sigh. When it got down to the wire of putting on the retreat, I got nervous. Maybe because of past problems. Lucinda slipped off her Burberry jacket and hung it on the back of the chair.
“You know you can count on me to act as a host during the meals.” Lucinda had let her hair grow and wore it pulled back in a ponytail. She’d started getting some gray streaks and was counteracting them by coloring her hair. Not that anyone would notice. The stylist had done a masterful job of blending in some golden strands with the dark shade of brown so it appeared very natural. It figured that someone so into designer wear wouldn’t be a do-it-yourself colorist.
“I feel guilty letting you pay for the retreat and then work it as well.”
“I love helping. Isn’t that part of the definition of friendship? And I’m so accustomed to working in a restaurant, I think it would make me more nervous to not work the meals.”
I suddenly felt guilty for not telling Lucinda about my so far unsuccessful search for the Delacorte heir. Maybe it was time to share. I must have been shifting my eyes around as I thought about it because her face registered concern.
“Is there something on your mind?”
“Yes,” I said. First, I tried to explain my reticence by saying, “You’ve lived in Cadbury longer than I have, and I thought you might be concerned about shaking things up.” Then I told her about the contents of the envelope. “It probably doesn’t matter anyway because I’ve reached a dead end—the most I know is that the mother’s real initials are possibly M.J.”
Lucinda shrugged off my concern. “I think this town could use a little stirring up. The Delacorte sisters have oodles of money, so if they had to share it, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.” Lucinda’s eyes began to dance with wicked merriment. “And just imagine how upset Kevin St. John would be if the mystery heir felt differently about owning Vista Del Mar than the Delacorte sisters do and didn’t let him act like the lord of the place anymore?”
“I see your point,” I said with a smile. “I could keep looking for the heir, on the q.t. of course.”
“And I could help,” Lucinda offered. She made a nodding gesture toward Maggie, the proprietor of the Coffee Shop. “Maybe she knows something.”
Maggie finished with a customer and came from behind the counter, stopping at our table. As always, she was wearing something red—today it was a bright red tunic. She’d had more than her share of tragedies—she had lost her daughter and shortly afterward her husband—and I thought she wore the red to put on a bright front to keep up her spirits.
“Cappuccinos coming up,” she said to me with a smile. Hers was the original coffee spot in town and everybody’s favorite. Her coffee was great, but I think they came mostly because of her. She made everybody feel at home and it was kind of the news exchange spot. That was a nice way of saying she heard all the local gossip.
“You better make it a double for her,” Lucinda said and then told her who I’d just been meeting.
Maggie’s blue eyes went skyward as I told both of them about the retreat project problems. “It should be quite a weekend. Kevin St. John has been running around town like a crazy person for that 1963 retreat he arranged. He stopped in here for a coffee the other day and wanted to know if I knew any special coffee drinks that were popular in 1963, so he could put them on the menu in Vista Del Mar’s café. You know, I’ve known him since he was a kid.”
Lucinda and I traded glances, both thinking about what we’d just said about him. “Did he wear those dark suits when he was a kid?” I said, rolling my eyes at the image.
“No. But I will say he looked old even when he was young.” Maggie gave me a sidelong look. “Is there something else?”
There was, but I couldn’t figure out how to bring it up without saying what we were doing. Lucinda followed my lead and we both shook our heads.
“Okay, then. I’m off to make your drinks.” She went back to the counter and began working at the espresso machine as more customers came in.
She delivered the large frothy drinks a few moments later and made sure we were happy with them before she went back to deal with new customers. They were perfect, of course, and she had made me a double. After a few sips the drink perked me right back up.
“What do we know about the secret heir besides what her mother’s initials might be?” Lucinda asked.
“I think she’s somewhere in her mid-fifties. There was no date on the picture. I’m just going by the date on the ledger sheet and assuming she was born sometime before it, but who knows how much before.” Lucinda listened to me and then made a gesture toward Maggie again.
“I thought Maggie was older than that,” I said. “But then, I don’t know for sure. And we can’t really just ask her. Think about the question. We don’t say, ‘How many years since you were born?’ We say, ‘How old are you?’ I can see why people of a certain age feel it’s a rude question.” I paused for a moment. “Come to think of it, I don’t like people asking me. Maybe it’s only an okay question for young kids who don’t fixate on the word old.”
Lucinda chuckled. “You might be overthinking that question, but I do agree that asking her directly would seem odd.”
“It is such a relief to talk to you about what I have. Up until now, Julius was my only confidant,” I said. “I don’t think he cares that there is someone who is entitled to the ownership of Vista Del Mar and a portion of the Delacorte fortune unless it involves him getting an extra serving of stink fish.”
“Do you think Edmund’s mistress ever tried to come forward?” Lucinda asked.
“I thought about that. She would have had to deal with the Delacorte sisters’ mother. There was no DNA stuff back then, so even if she went to Mrs. Delacorte, she probably would have been brushed off.” Suddenly the impossibility of it all sank in. “Who knows if Edmund’s woman is still alive? And the baby, who we know is likely in her fifties, probably has no idea who she really is. We don’t even know if the heir is still in town. This is worse than looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Maggie cruised by again and asked if we needed refills. No matter how hard I tried to pay her for the drinks we’d had, she refused. She always said it was professional courtesy.
Lucinda was already gathering her things. “I have to get back to work,” she said, draining the last of her coffee drink. “Tag gets crazy if I’m not putting the specials in the menus at least an hour before we open for lunch.” She got up and picked up her bag.
“Have fun,” Maggie said with a wink.
“You mean when I go to Vista Del Mar?” I asked. Maggie laughed and shook her head.
“I’m talking about your date with Dane this evening.”
“Don’t worry. We have it covered,” Lucinda said. “Our cook is making them a special meal with oysters. And we all know they’re aphrodisiacs,” she teased.
“It’s just dinner and then we both have to go to work,” I protested. I could feel the color rising in my face. I was doing my best to make it sound casual. Dane Mangano lived down the street from me. He was a member of the Cadbury Police Department. In other words, he was a cop. Since the streets of Cadbury weren’t exactly mean, he spent a lot of time doing things like getting overzealous tourists out of the fish tanks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
He had taken it upon himself to try to keep the local teens from getting bored and in trouble by offering free karate lessons in his garage. He cooked for them, too. And for me.
I might have been a master at muffins and dessert, but when it came to regular food, I wasn’t very interested in cooking it and was happy to eat a frozen entrée. Dane cooked homemade tomato sauce that made me salivate just thinking about it. We had an exchange going. He left me plates of spaghetti or lasagna, and I left him muffins and cookies.
We’d been sort of circling each other. Even when my mother had visited, she’d noticed a spark between us. Not that she approved. Normally her disapproval might have been enough to make me jump into his arms, but I had been resisting the definite something I felt for him. With my history of leaving people and places, it seemed like the best idea. And he was my neighbor. If we got together and then broke up, it would be very awkward.
Dane didn’t seem to be bothered by any of my objections. Finally, he’d worn me down and I had agreed to dinner in a neutral place. I was trying my best to make it seem like it was no big deal.
“Whatever you say. But we have a table all reserved for you two,” Lucinda said as she went to the door.
I drank down the last of my cappuccino and was going to leave myself, but I had a thought about Maggie. Maybe I couldn’t ask her age, but I could ask her about her parents. It was funny that someone who so easily talked about everybody in town was closemouthed when it came to her own life. It took some doing, and in the end I didn’t find out much except that she’d been named after her mother, who was now living in a retirement community in Phoenix. She had never really known her father. He’d been in the army and was killed in Vietnam. So now I knew her mother’s name started with an M. I wondered if the story about her father was just a cover-up. Could Maggie really be a Delacorte?
The skies in Cadbury were almost always cloudy, but there were different versions. Sometimes the clouds were a filmy white, letting some blue show through; other times they were tinged with gold from the sun trying to melt them. But most of the time the sky was spread with an even coating of white, which was how it looked when I pulled my Mini Cooper back into my driveway.
The cappuccino had left me with an energized buzz, and I immediately began work on the cream cheese brownies for Kevin St. John’s retreat. The old recipes I’d found all started with brownie mix. I never used mixes of any kind, so I simply used my brownie recipe and added in the cream cheese part of the recipes I’d found. In no time the wonderful fragrance of chocolate swirled around my kitchen. Julius came in to see what was going on, but brownies did nothing for him and he left a moment later.
Of course, I tasted the finished product before I packed them up. It was the first time I’d made them and I wanted to be sure they were okay. Wow. They were so good, I decided to add them to my dessert repertoire for the Blue Door.
A short time later, with the brownies boxed up, I headed across the street to Vista Del Mar.
As soon as I went past the two stone pillars marking the entrance of the hotel and conference center, I felt as if I’d entered a different world. My house was on the edge of town and there was a rustic wildness to the area, but the grounds of Vista Del Mar took it to another level. There wasn’t a hint of a manicured lawn or border of flowers. Over a hundred acres of gentle slopes were left to grow wild. Tall lanky Monterey pines grew everywhere between the weathered brown-shingled buildings that housed the guest rooms. And trees that had died were left on the ground to decompose naturally. The buildings were over a hundred years old, left from the center’s beginning as a camp. I thought the weather, the wild grounds and dark wood buildings all added up to a moody atmosphere with a slight touch of sinister.
I’d barely cleared the driveway when the hotel van pulled in. I did a double take when I saw that it wasn’t the usual white one with Vista Del Mar painted on the side and a Monterey cypress next to the words. This one was white and there was a temporary sign on it with the hotel name. I was no car expert, but it was clearly a vintage model. And then I got it. Kevin St. John must have rounded it up for the Favorite Year 1963 retreat. Then I noticed some old cars parked in the small parking area nearby. The old Chevys and Buicks looked light-years away from the current style, but oddly enough the van looked almost the same as the contemporary model.
The van stopped outside the building called the Lodge. I’d always thought of the large one-story building as being the heart of Vista Del Mar. It was where guests went to register and to gather. Like all of the buildings, it was designed in the Arts and Crafts style, constructed from local materials and meant to blend in with the landscape.
The doors opened and Bree Meyers bounced out of the van. I thought of the first time she’d come to one of my retreats. She’d been a basket of worry. It was the first time she’d left her young sons and the first time she’d gone anywhere on her own. Now on her third retreat, she had a new aura of confidence.
“I’m ready, willing and able to help any retreaters who are worried about being here alone, or worried about anything,” she said. Her blond frizz of curls seemed to have gotten puffier, but she’d stayed with the comfortable jeans and gray hoodie with her kids’ school name emblazoned on the back.
Scott Lipton climbed out next. He had his knitting tucked under his arm. No more hiding it in a briefcase. “I want you to know the woman next to me on the plane commented on my knitting,” he said. “I will offer knitting lessons to anyone who wants them.” He had loosened up and changed from business-looking attire to more of a preppie look with khaki pants and an oxford cloth shirt.
Olivia Golden got out last. Her almond-shaped face glowed with happiness and it was hard to remember how sad and angry she’d been on the first retreat.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Yarn Retreat Mysteries
“Betty Hechtman does it all so well.”—Cozy Library
“If you haven’t read this series yet, I highly recommend giving it a go. The mystery will delight you, and afterwards you’ll be itching to start a knitting or crochet project of your own!”—Cozy Mystery Book Reviews
“Good characters I hope to see more of…The characters are developing well and the storyline holds tight—and the book ends with a cliffhanger question.”—King’s River Life Magazine
“A cozy mystery that you won’t want to put down. It combines cooking, knitting, and murder in one great book!”—Fresh Fiction