THE WHOLE GROUP WAS ALREADY AT BREAKFAST when I came into the dining hall. Outside, the sky was an overcast white with haze in the air, but when I stopped at the registration desk, the clerk assured me it was completely normal and not the beginning of another fog emergency. The redheaded clerk had finally gone home, and this morning two women were manning the desk. They gave me a pile of phone messages. They were all from people who were on their way and wanted to make sure I knew they were coming. Now that the operations of Asilomar were back to normal, there were pots of coffee on the table and the smell of pancakes and maple syrup in the air.
Only Commander Blaine seemed disappointed that breakfast apparently was going along without his help. I heard him comment to Dinah, who was sitting across the table, that if it had been up to him, he’d have set up the breakfast buffet style, with lots of choices for pancake toppings besides the mundane, overly sweet syrup that was the only option.
The knitting couple, Jym and Jeen Wolf, were at the same table, wearing matching tee shirts with the saying Born to Knit. They greeted me with enthusiastic smiles and asked about the status of the retreaters. I held up the handful of messages in answer. Miss Lavender Pants and her brother and sister-in-law were next to the Wolfs. Miss Lavender Pants seemed happy that the real workshops were going to begin, and hoped there would be no more incidents like Adele’s big scene.
Mason waved me over to the next table and pulled out a chair in anticipation. Apparently, he’d brought a wardrobe of loose-fitting pants and kimono jackets. Today’s outfit was navy blue with an olive green tee shirt underneath. Only his smile was the same.
“Hey, Sunshine,” he said in a reassuring tone. “If you need any help, just give me a nudge.” He and Dinah were the only ones who knew Izabelle was dead. After what I’d found in Izabelle’s room, I’d gone to talk to Mason. I had tried to get Dinah to come with me-maybe more as a chaperone than anything else-but she was more interested in going to bed. After what I’d been through, I was too wired to sleep anyway.
I had felt a little odd knocking at Mason’s door both because it was late and because the rooms didn’t have any space for socializing. But I wanted to run our experiences in Izabelle’s room past him. Since he was a criminal attorney, I wanted to hear his take on things.
When Mason answered the door, it was obvious he’d been sleeping. I don’t know why I was surprised. There wasn’t much else to do in the small, televison-free rooms. His eyes were glazed and his hair was all tousled. The unfocused look on his face changed to a slightly surprised smile when he saw it was me.
“What’s up, Sunshine?” I was relieved he didn’t make some smarmy remark. I knew he might be thinking it, but at least he didn’t say anything. He was clearly waiting to see what move I was going to make. He’d made it clear he was ready, willing and more than able to step into the boyfriend slot, but had left it up to me to give the okay.
“I need some advice,” I said. Was there just a little disappointment in his eyes as his smile went down a notch?
“C’mon in.” He stepped aside and shut the door behind me. I swallowed when I saw his room was smaller than mine and had only one single bed. “Sorry there’s no chair,” he said, pulling the covers up over the small bed. We both sat down.
I usually felt very comfortable with Mason. There was something about the way he handled things, like coming by helicopter when I got detained on Catalina. And he was always such a good sport, like coming on this weekend and teaching tai chi. And I liked the way he’d said that there was always fun where I was. He hadn’t even minded the fog.
Only this time what I felt had nothing to do with comfort. I tried not to look at his pajamas or what he wore as pajamas-a tee shirt and soft knit pants. I realized I’d never seen his bare feet before. Or realized how big his feet were. I tore my eyes away and glanced around the room, trying to ignore the faint smell of his cologne.
I didn’t know where to look when I talked to him. Definitely not the same as talking to Mason in a suit. I told him about finding Izabelle and what they thought was the cause of death. I moved on to Dinah’s and my walk to the beach. When I got to the part about going in Izabelle’s room and someone being in there, and then mentioned what we had found, he sat forward a little.
This was what I loved about Mason. He didn’t discount what I said or tell me to leave it alone or that I had murder on the brain.
“So, I gather you aren’t so sure it was an accident?”
“Right,” I said. “But I really don’t want it to be homicide. I mean, what a perfect crime, but I don’t want it to be a crime. I wanted this weekend to be crime-free. Mrs. Shedd can’t blame me for the fog, but it still looks bad that the one weekend she puts me in charge of is the one when there’s a fog emergency. She can’t count what happened to Izabelle as my fault, either, but someone getting sick and dying doesn’t look as bad as someone getting killed.”
“I think I have an answer,” Mason said. “Here’s a problem for a murder scenario. S’mores aren’t like cyanide. You can’t mix them with something. You know the one about you can get a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink? Well, somebody could have handed the s’more to Izabelle, but they couldn’t have made her eat it. She must have picked up the wrong bag, or maybe it was mismarked. Feel better?”
“Yes,” I said, sighing in relief.
“As for the person in the room, I don’t have enough information to give you an answer. But it’s probably something stupid like someone who couldn’t wait for her book to come out and wanted to see it. So, there you are, no murder this weekend.”
I turned toward him, ready to give him a thank-you hug, but I stopped short. Along with his other attributes, Mason had a high cuddle quotient. And it would have been all too easy to let the hug morph into curling up next to him.
“Got to go,” I said, my voice cracking, as I jumped off the bed and made it to the doorway in two steps. I heard Mason chuckling behind me, and I bet he’d had the same smile then as he was wearing here now at breakfast.
Mason reached for the coffee pot and poured me a cup as I glanced around the table. Sheila was sitting next to Adele. I think their sharing a room was really getting to Sheila. Her shoulders were hunched and she was crocheting in her lap. It was therapeutic crochet. I doubted she even knew what she was making or cared if her stitches were all over the place. This was about the meditative quality. Besides, she knew she could rip it out later.
When Adele turned to hang her jacket on the back of her chair, I saw something that made me jump. “Where did you get that?” I said, pointing as she held a pouch purse with the strap hanging down.
Adele reacted with a funny look, and I realized I might have sounded a little frantic. She set it in the middle of the table with a gesture that implied it was there for me to admire. Hers was red and the flowers were white, but the style was identical to the bag I’d found in the plants. “What do you think? I made it, Pink.” Dinah looked over from the other table, and when she saw the purse, her eyes widened. “If you want, I can help you make one,” Adele said. “The directions are in Izabelle’s book. She used some glow-in-the-dark stuff for the flowers, but I just went for the sport-weight yarn I’d used for the bag.” At the mention of Izabelle’s name, Jym asked how she was doing.
I took a deep breath. I wasn’t looking forward to what I had to do. Everyone turned toward me, waiting for an answer, which confirmed that no one knew yet. I was still composing my thoughts when Bennett and Nora came in and went to the neighboring table, and momentarily the attention turned to them. Even if nobody exactly recognized him, he had a kind of magnetism that drew your eyes to him. His manner was gentlemanly as he pulled out a chair for his wife and gestured for her to sit. I was glad she’d decided to give the dining hall food a try after all. Bennett made a little nod of greeting to the group, and then everyone turned back to me.
“Well, Pink,” Adele said finally, “is Izabelle going to make it back from the hospital in time to do her workshop?”
“Not exactly.” Did I really say that? How lame. Once I actually said she was dead, everyone would realize what a bad comment it was. Better just to be direct. I was about to say it when Sergeant French came into the dining room and glanced around until he saw our group. As he walked toward our table, he put on a somber expression. I might as well leave the job of telling the group to him. He certainly had far more experience. And, maybe, it was the coward’s way out.
“Ms. Pink.” He acknowledged me with a nod when he stopped next to me; then he greeted the rest of our group. He turned back to me with a question in his eyes: “They don’t know, do they?” I guess it was pretty obvious. All the smiling and cheerful conversations didn’t go with having just heard someone had died.
Sergeant French checked out the group some more. I suppose he was sizing them up, trying to figure if anybody was going to faint or anything. His head stopped moving when his gaze reached Bennett. It was obvious, from the perplexed squint of his eyes, that he was trying to place Bennett, as if maybe he had seen him on the Ten Most Wanted list.
Nora apparently was used to people staring at her husband that way and volunteered that he was on Raf Gibraltar.
Sergeant French studied Bennett’s face and then brightened. “That’s right. He plays the older brother. What’s his name?”
“Buzz Gibraltar,” Nora said. “If you watch the show, you probably realize the story always turns on his assessment of the situation. Nobody understands, but he’s really the star.”
Nora always seemed to be playing the manager, talking up her client. Did she have any life of her own? Did she want any life of her own? Or was she content to be an extension of Bennett?
By now everybody was staring at the craggy-faced policeman in the dark uniform-and not in a good way. I had to do something. How would it look that I hadn’t told them?
“Look, everybody, I need to tell you about Izabelle,” I said quickly. “You all know she got sick on the beach last night. There isn’t any soft way to put it. She isn’t coming back. She died right after she got to the hospital.”
The group gave a collective gasp, and a few people made comments that got lost in the din.
Bennett’s voice was heard over the noise. “What happened? The last time I saw her, she looked fine.”
“And when was that, Mr. Franklyn?” Sergeant French asked, taking out his notebook.
“I don’t remember the exact time, but everyone was checking out the s’mores bags Commander Blaine set out. I think she was picking out one.”
“And then?” Sergeant French said. Bennett just shrugged and said he’d walked away after that. “Got to keep trim for my show, so I passed on the snacks.” Nora gave Bennett a little shake of her head, as if she was upset that he’d said anything.
Before Sergeant French could ask any more questions, Jeen asked for details about what had happened. She pursed her lips and gave me a disparaging look. “I don’t think saying she died is enough. We want to know how she died.”
I started to explain that Dinah, Commander, and I had found her on the beach and that we’d called the paramedics, but Jym interrupted me.
“I think what my wife was asking was what happened to her. Was it foul play?”
Sergeant French took over the floor and put up his hand in a reassuring gesture. “From what the ER doctor said, it looks like Ms. Landers had a severe allergic reaction to something in the s’mores, so there’s no reason for you people to worry about being in danger.”
Commander Blaine popped out of his chair. “There was nothing wrong with the s’mores,” he protested.
Sergeant French kept an even tone. “I’m not saying there was. We’re investigating her death as being from natural causes. Did any of you happen to go to the beach with Ms. Landers?”
There was a hum of conversation and a lot of head shakes.
Miss Lavender Pants raised her hand and jumped up. “If I were you, I wouldn’t rush and be so sure it was natural causes.” Her tightly curled brown hair bobbled as she swiveled and pointed directly at Adele. “She threatened the vic.” When Miss Lavender Pants got weird looks for her word choice, she put her hand on her hip. “All right, I watch CSI NYC, and they always call them vics.” She rolled her eyes and continued, “Like I said, she threatened Izabelle, and the next thing we hear is the woman is dead. It sounds a little too coincidental to me. If I were you, I wouldn’t be so quick to be sure it isn’t murder.”
Now all heads turned toward Adele, whose eyes bugged out as she stood up. “Are you crazy? I didn’t kill Izabelle. I didn’t even threaten her. What I said was something like it wasn’t over, and maybe I said something about her not getting away with it. But that didn’t mean I intended to kill her. I meant I wasn’t going to give in just because she denied stealing my work,” Adele said. Her demeanor changed slightly. Obviously she didn’t like being accused of killing someone, but she liked having everyone’s attention. She began to address the group. “You can understand why I’d be angry. She used my work to figure out the stitch I created, and then added on to it and had the nerve to wear it.”
It was obvious Adele wasn’t going to let up, so Sheila and I got on either side of her and acted as a human hook to get her away from the table. “Why are you dragging me out? She’s the one who started it.” Adele pointed an accusing finger at Miss Lavender Pants, who gasped.
“You heard her. Now she’s threatening me.”
I noticed Sergeant French was following us out. “Ms. Abrams, I’d like to talk to you.”
I felt Adele grab my arm with such force I knew she was leaving marks.
“Pink, stay with me. He’s going to haul me off to some interrogation room and shine bright lights in my eyes until I give in and confess to something I didn’t do.”
I tried to tell Adele she was being overly dramatic, but she was too busy being overly dramatic to listen. Typical Adele. One minute she’d be lobbing zingers at me, but as soon as there was some kind of problem, I was suddenly her best friend and savior. Even if the rhinestone clipboard hadn’t put me in the position of being responsible for her, I wouldn’t have abandoned her.
Sergeant French led Adele to a bench and then told Sheila and me that he wanted to speak to her alone, but Adele set up such a ruckus he finally agreed to let us stay.
“Am I a person of interest?” Adele demanded. There was just the tiniest curve to her mouth, and I wanted to roll my eyes. Only Adele would think being a person of interest made her special.
Sergeant French didn’t know Adele, so he took her seriously and said he was just trying to find out what happened to Izabelle.
“Well, I certainly don’t know. I was so upset after the workshop-there she was wearing that choker made with the stitch I came up with. Do you have any idea how upsetting that was? Here I had been putting her on a pedestal as this crochet goddess, and then she turns out to be a stitch thief.”
Adele went on and on after that, giving Sergeant French probably far more information than he wanted about the ins and outs of crochet. When she got to explaining how she needed the choker back because she couldn’t remember how many yarn overs she’d done before pulling the yarn through all the loops, his eyes glazed over.
“I really need to get that piece of my work back. Is it with her things?”
I wanted to throw up my hands. Adele was outdoing herself. Was she actually asking Sergeant French to go through Izabelle’s things?
“I can prove it’s my work,” Adele said. “I spilled a little drop of pink pearl nail polish on the inside. So all you have to do is check it and you’ll know it’s really mine.” Adele turned to me. “You know, Miss Rhinestone Clipboard, you’ve got another problem. The retreaters are arriving this morning, and at least some of them are expecting to have workshops with Izabelle this afternoon.”
I had been so concerned with Izabelle dying, I hadn’t thought about her workshops until that moment. But as usual with Adele, everything she had said was really a setup.
“Of course, I could take her place. No problem with teaching people to crochet. Sheila can assist me,” she said, nodding toward her roommate. “And as for the workshop she called A Subtle Touch of Crochet”-she jiggled her head so that the big, floppy flower on her cloche wobbled-“I know how to make flowers and I’m an expert at trim. As for the last one, her world premiere fusion craft, sorry, no can do.”
Sergeant French listened to the interchange while staring intently at Adele. First, she’d said that Izabelle had stolen her work, and now she was only too glad to take her place. Was she trying to move up from person of interest to suspect? You never knew with Adele.
Sergeant French asked her where she was during the s’more time. “Did you perhaps go to the beach and meet Ms. Landers to discuss that stitch you were talking about?”
“Of course not,” Adele said with a harrumph. “Who’d want to go to the beach in all that fog? I took one of the bags with the classic s’mores and went to the fire pit. I don’t know why Commander Blaine had to go all fancy with-”
“I think that’s all,” Sergeant French said abruptly. Apparently, dealing with Adele had pushed his community-relations skills to the limit. He told Adele and Sheila that they could go, but I was to stay.
“I contacted Zak Landers,” Sergeant French said. “Turns out he’s her ex-husband. He seemed surprised she’d listed him. You should probably call him about her things.”
I glanced in Adele’s direction. “Are you considering her a person of interest?”
He didn’t answer but instead asked me if I knew the whereabouts of my people during the snack break.
“Why do you want to know?”
He appeared disgruntled and ran his hand over his slicked-back strawberry blond hair. “You’re not supposed to answer a question with a question.” He looked down at his notebook and seemed to consider his words. “I don’t think she was on the beach alone. It’s the campfire.”
“I get it. Who would go to the trouble of building a fire to toast a few marshmallows? Right?”
“Yes,” he said finally. “I asked her ex-husband if she would be likely to make a fire on the beach. He kind of choked.”
“You know she knew she was allergic to peanuts,” I said.
“Her ex told me,” Sergeant French said.
“Did he tell you she carried an EpiPen?”
Sergeant French began to eye me warily.
“As a matter of fact, he did. How did you know? Last night at the hospital, all you knew was her name.”
I took a deep breath and told him about finding the pouch bag in the plants and using the key to open Izabelle’s door.
“I was just trying to confirm that the bag was hers,” I said. “And you should know that someone was in the room when I opened the door.” I mentioned seeing a shadow go out the window and that I was sure the person had taken most of the pages of Izabelle’s manuscript with them.
Sergeant French was starting to give me a funny look. It got more pronounced when I mentioned how Dinah had just happened to turn the computer on and we’d seen the peanut allergy Web site.
“Maybe I better have a look at the room,” he said. He pulled out his cell phone and made a call to Zak Landers to get permission to check out the room.
I took Sergeant French back to Lodge. I retrieved the key and pouch purse from my room and took him down the hall. Once Izabelle’s door was open, we walked in and I pointed to the window, which was now closed, and again explained how I’d seen something dark go out the window. Then I pointed to the floor where the remnants of the manuscript had been. The spot was empty now, and a neat stack of papers was sitting on the bedside table.
“Are these the papers?” Sergeant French said, picking up the top sheet. It was the title page, and I explained that Dinah and I thought it was her book about the fusion craft. Of course, he didn’t know what I was talking about.
“Fusion craft? Enlighten me,” he said. As soon as I started talking about knitting and crochet, I sensed he was losing interest. “Okay, I get it. She was mixing two things. You said most of the pages were missing. He picked up the manuscript and thumbed through it. “Well, it looks like they’re all here now.” He paused a moment and then, in his best community-relations voice, suggested that maybe we’d been mistaken about a person being in the room. “A crow might have come in the open window. They can sure make a mess. Maybe the pages you thought were missing just got knocked under the bed.” He glanced around the room. “Housekeeping probably found them when they did the room.” He gestured toward the open door, signifying it was time to go.
“I can buy you trying the key, and when you saw something flapping around inside, going in, but looking at her computer is kind of a stretch. You should talk to her ex and find out how he wants to handle her things.”
I know I said I didn’t want it to be murder, but I couldn’t ignore a nagging question. Before I walked out into the hall, I posed it to Sergeant French.
“Izabelle Landers was extremely careful about what she ate. I thought she was on a diet, but now I realize it was because of her allergy. Why would she have taken the s’mores that contained peanut butter, and how did the bag with her EpiPen end up in the plants? I’m just saying it seems kind of suspicious. And I think you’re definitely right. I think there was somebody on the beach with her.”
Sergeant French appeared impatient. “Oh no, you aren’t going amateur sleuth on me, are you?” He rolled his eyes. “I appreciate your input, but we professionals have it under control. Are you trying to say you think somebody murdered her with a s’more?” He took a moment to collect himself and go back to his community-relations voice. “There’s an easy explanation. Maybe the s’more bag was mismarked, and she could have dropped the purse with the EpiPen without realizing it.” He draped the crocheted bag over his little finger to demonstrate how lightweight it was.
“But she’d have had to make the s’more, and she’d have realized there was peanut butter right away. Have you seen how those things ooze? And peanut butter has a definite smell. She’d never have made the whole thing and then eaten it without realizing what she was eating.”
Sergeant French threw up his hands. “Okay, so maybe she did know what she was eating. I had an aunt who was allergic to cranberries. She knew it, but every Thanksgiving she’d eat them anyway. She always said this year it was going to be different, that she wasn’t allergic anymore. Plus, I’ve heard that people crave what they’re allergic to. I’m sorry, Ms. Pink, there is just no way I’m going to buy that somebody killed her with a s’more. And here’s one other little problem with your scenario. Let’s just say someone did make the s’more for her. How would they have gotten her to eat it? You admit she’d have to have known about the peanut butter.” He shook his head and looked skyward. “Am I really having this conversation?”