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WHATS SHE DOING WITH HIM? COMMANDER Blaine said with a grunt of disgust. He wasnt really talking to me, more to himself, as he followed me down the stairs of Lodge. His comment was directed at Dinah, who was sitting in one of the easy chairs by the fireplace, talking to Spenser Futterman. My take was a little different. Good for Dinah! She was already working on her mission, and from here it looked like she was doing a good job with the phony flirting. She was doing a lot of blinking, and her amethyst drop earrings did a jiggly dance as if she was oh-so-amused at whatever he was saying.

The workshops had broken up for the day and everyone was wandering around, still caught in the afterglow of the creative afternoon, and had changed into loose-fitting clothes. Next up was tai chi on the beach.

Commander Blaine caught up with me on the landing, and grumbled again about Dinah talking to Spenser. This time he seemed to be talking to me.

Do you know him from Tarzana? I asked innocently. I already knew Spenser was one of Commanders customers. I keep seeing him around, but he doesnt seem to be with our group.

Yes, I know him, Commander said, not taking his eyes off the couple below us. He was silent after that, and it appeared that was all he was going to say. But I wanted to know more. I had a feeling what I was about to say was going to start trouble, but it would get him to talk.

I was just wondering about him, you know, kind of doing girlfriend duty to check up on Dinahs guy.

Her guy? Commander sputtered. When did that happen? He took my arm and led me back up the stairs to the empty hallway. Hes not right for her. If youre really her friend, youll tell her hes all wrong for her.

And then tell her youre perfect for her, right? Actually, the more Id seen of Commander, the more we were on the same page about that. If Dinah could get past a few details, I knew shed appreciate his good traits.

How, exactly, do you know him?

You know I have a mail center in Tarzana, right? He has a mailbox at my place, and he does his copying there. Even with the copying ability of everyones printer, when they need a lot done, they still come to me. He seemed to want to dismiss Spenser and get back to talking about himself. Maybe if you understand- He seemed thoughtful for a moment before he spoke. I really like your friend. Shes the first person whos sparked any interest in me since His voice trailed off and he looked down. When he put his head back up, his eyes were watery. My wife died three years ago. Wed been married for a very long time, and I fell into kind of a black hole without her. When I finally started to get myself together again, I found I was terribly lonely. And you know how they say if you think about somebody elses loneliness, it helps with your own? I got to know some of the people who have mailboxes at my place. Most of them work out of their houses and are pretty isolated. When you have a home office, theres no socializing in the coffee room. Sometimes I thought I was the only person they talked to all day. So, I started to organize get-togethers, and since they were all strangers, I made sure there were activities that would get them talking. And it went from there. He was facing me. I want you to understand that Im not some playboy type whos after every woman. Dinah is special to me.

I had to admit that what he said touched me, though when he got to the playboy part, I had a hard time not laughing. If there was any label I wouldnt stick on him, that was it. I knew from my own experience of losing Charlie how hard it is to start over again. Commander certainly had come up with a unique and positive way of handling his own problem. And probably helped a lot of his customers, too.

Did Spenser come to your parties? I asked, not giving up on getting information.

No, he was never interested-or very friendly, for that matter. When I first saw him up here, he just nodded a greeting, not even a friendly hello. I think he has some kind of accounting business, but theres something else he does. I never got a look at what he was copying, but he seemed very excited about it.

What about Izabelle Landers? I asked, suddenly remembering all the handouts shed brought.

What about her? Commander sounded wary.

Did she come into your shop?

Sure. She had a mailbox there, too. She came in to make the copies for her workshops.

So you knew she was coming up here, I said.

I saw her name on the schedule.

What about Spenser Futterman? Did Izabelle know him?

Commander was getting impatient. It was obvious all he wanted to do was bury Spenser and talk himself up, and I wasnt cooperating by asking all my questions.

I dont know, maybe. I think I saw them talking once. He was showing her something. I asked if he had heard what they said, and his face grew stern.

I respect my customers privacy and I dont snoop. He had gone back to the stairs and was looking over the banister. I could tell by his expression that Dinah and Spenser were still in conversation. Put in a good word with your friend for me, will you? With that he went down the stairs and through the communal living room without stopping.

When I finally got outside, I was surprised to see sunshine and blue sky. How nice, just in time for tai chi. Dinah had been deeply entrenched in her conversation with Spenser. Im sure she saw me when I went past, though she certainly didnt show it. If she was getting some good information, I certainly didnt want to disturb her. I wondered if she had noticed Commander go by.

Everything seemed to sparkle and look more cheerful with the addition of the sun. A trickle of people were walking on the boardwalk toward the beach. I joined them, thinking about Izabelle. A day ago at almost the same time she had been going this same way. I pictured her with her pouch purse dangling at her side. What was her mood when she headed toward the beach? Most important, who was she meeting? I walked out through the gate and crossed the street. The entrance to the beach was shaped by the fenced-off planted areas on either side. It was in one of those that wed found the pouch purse. As I walked down the sandy entrance, I tried to figure out how Izabelle could have accidentally dropped her bag on the other side of the fence, as Sergeant French thought. Could she have been so impatient that she decided to cut through the plants? Maybe she was carrying shopping bags with the smore ingredients and some wood for the fire, and with her arms full took the shortcut and the bag fell off her arm and she didnt even notice. Still, the biggest question was how she came to eat the peanut butter-laced smore.

It was giving me a headache to think about it, and I put all thoughts on hold as I walked across the sand toward where Mason was setting up.

This was the first time I was really seeing the beach. Before, it had been either foggy or night. Now I could see the huge waves rolling to the shore and admire their color. The water was actually sea foam green. As I stepped through the sand, I was taken with how white and silky it was. Adele had said the sand on this beach was unusual because it was formed by the waves wearing away granodiorite rocks along the shoreline. As I looked out over the open water, I pictured a map and saw myself standing on the edge of the peninsula between Carmel Bay and Monterey Bay. As Commander had said, it was the edge of the continent. Just a little way down, the Point Pinos lighthouse, with its beacon and foghorn, had been protecting sailors from crashing onto this outcropping of land since the 1850s. The breeze was fresh and constant-invigorating without being cold.

I had briefly wondered about taking part in the tai chi. Would it compromise my authority if people saw me stumbling in the sand? Id never done tai chi, and the pull of the chance to try it won. Besides, I wanted to support Mason.

Mason had chosen a spot where the sand was firm and damp. Beyond, a little rivulet came from somewhere inland and made a channel to the water. Adele arrived and positioned herself right in the front. She made sure to tell the people around her that she was an experienced tai chier and showed off her outfit of bright orange loose pants and a matching kimono-style jacket open over a white tee shirt. As she turned, I caught a glimpse of her pouch purse. Something about it struck me, but before it could compute, Commander arrived and asked where Dinah was. My shrug of ignorance didnt please him, and he took a spot off to the side. Miss Lavender Pants had dragged her crew with her and they took positions next to Adele. Sheila came over by me.

Its good youre trying this. I hear its very relaxing, Sheila said. Molly, I know about tension, and youve got it in spades. Bennett arrived and bumped fists with Mason in greeting. He still had on the backward baseball cap, though hed changed into soft gray sweatpants. And he wasnt alone. I was surprised to see Nora walking next to him. There was some discussion between Bennett and Nora as they took spots next to Adele. I was just about to go up and tell Nora how glad I was that she was joining us, when she marched over to Mason. The next thing I knew, Mason told the group to move down to the beach to drier sand. How foolish of me to think she could take part in anything without ruffling some feathers.

More retreaters trudged across the sand and joined the group. When it appeared all who were going to come had gotten there, Mason began. He explained there were different schools of thought on how to teach tai chi, but he liked the way hed learned the best. He had simply watched his teacher and mimicked his moves. Eventually hed picked them up.

Tai chi is supposed to be meditative, and I think that its best to keep it that way. Mason liked using music, too, and had brought a boom box with him. He turned it on, and what I could describe only as Eastern ethereal music poured forth.

And then he began. At first I was concerned that my arms werent flowing up and down the way Masons were, but then the music and the rhythm of the waves kicked in and I went with the flow. I lost track of the others on the beach as Masons moves and mine became one, or so I hoped. Actually, I knew I was a step behind and not nearly as fluid, but when he finished, the tai chi had done its trick. I felt renewed.

There was a little spattering of applause, barely audible above the waves, and Mason took a humble bow. As I looked over the group to check their reactions, something about Adele made me stop. The wind fluttered her orange jacket open, and I saw the pouch purse and realized shed worn it all during the tai chi session. She didnt have it on her shoulder, but instead wore it with the strap across her chest. That seemed the way it was meant to be positioned. Wearing it like that, you could do just about anything and have it stay put, including walking onto the beach even if you cut through the plants. I was suddenly sure there was no way the pouch purse fell off of Izabelle by accident.

Howd I do? Mason asked as he caught up with me on the way back.

It was magnificent, I said with a satisfied sigh.

Im glad you liked it. Some people get frustrated because they dont get it right away, but a lot of the benefit is just doing it, whether its perfect or not.

See you later, Mason said with a wink when we got back on the Asilomar grounds. Most of the group was heading toward the dining hall, and Mason was going back toward Lodge to change and get ready for our meeting. There was no way I was going to call it a date.

I didnt catch up with Dinah until I saw her in the dining hall. It was still a little surprising to see how crowded it was now that Asilomar was back in business. Our group had gravitated toward the same area of the dining hall, though now we took up more tables. I heard snippets of conversations as our campers found seats. Everyone sounded charged up about their workshop. I had wondered if it seemed cold to go on with the weekend as if nothing had happened, but Izabelle had died before most of them got there. And only the crocheters were really impacted.

So what did you find out? I said, grabbing Dinah as she came from the food line with a plate of what looked like pot roast with carrots and oven-roasted potatoes. She set her plate down and we went into a corner out of earshot.

Hes very charming, Dinah said with a laugh. I barely had to bat my eyelashes at all before he got into the conversation. I kept trying to get him to talk about himself, but he kept saying he wanted to know about me and the group.

What did he want to know? I asked.

I guess he must have overheard Adele fussing. He wanted to know if it was true someone had stolen her work. He asked about our groups program and what kind of workshops we were having. Oh, and that woman he said was his niece? I guess he forgot who he said she was, because this time he said she was his cousin. My guess is shes his girlfriend, but hes trying to keep his options open.

Really? What about the manuscript? Did you find anything out? Or bring up Izabelle?

No, but Im not giving up. Were meeting later for a walk on the beach. When she saw my concerned look, she stopped me. Im doing it for you. Just to get information. She glanced down at her black jeans and tee shirt. She had a long, cream colored scarf wound around her neck and the amethyst earrings. Do you think I should change?

No, I said firmly, and suddenly regretted asking her to do the information thing. And be careful. Maybe you shouldnt go walking on the beach alone with him.

Dinah swallowed hard. It figures. I meet somebody I like, and he might be dangerous and has a girlfriend. I have to do something about being attracted to jerks. I guess youre right about the walk. Ill change it to a game of Ping-Pong in the administration building.

Theres something else, I said, thinking of what Commander Blaine had said. I just got his name out when Dinah waved me off.

First of all, theres nothing between Commander Blaine and me besides a little conversation. Dont worry, Im turning over a new leaf. No more jerks or possible murderers. All Im interested in with Spenser is getting him to talk. Okay?

I felt a little better. The last thing I wanted to do was end up fixing up my best friend with trouble. We headed back to the table, and when I made no move to get food, she questioned it. I mentioned my dinner with Mason.

Its a meeting, I said before she could give me one of her looks. Dinah knew all about my relationships with Barry and Mason. For now, Barry and I were a couple and Mason was relegated to friend. But it hadnt always been that way. Barrys and my relationship had been anything but smooth, and still had its bumps due to our different styles. I liked some notice. He believed in just showing up, and used the unpredictability of his job as an excuse. He had backed off a little, but he still occasionally brought up the idea of us getting married. No matter what he said to the contrary, I thought it was because he had failed at it before and wanted another chance. I wasnt looking to get married again-at least not now. In the past, wed broken up once over his attempt to run my life, and again when it came out he had omitted some major portions of his past. There was also the issue with my sons. He and Peter basically avoided eye contact, and my younger son, Samuel, was polite but still treated him like an intruder.

On the plus side, Barry could fix anything that got broken. He was hot in all ways, and I admit I had a certain fascination about the world he inhabited. And I cared about him. Okay, maybe it was more like love. And ditto for his son, Jeffrey.

For a time, Mason with his desire for a casual relationship seemed more appealing and without all the bumps in the road, until Id found out Masons definition of casual and mine werent the same.

I poured myself a glass of iced tea from the pitcher on the lazy Susan in the middle of the table and took a slice of lemon. I couldnt vouch for the food, but the Asilomar staff did a great job with iced tea. Some of Dinahs writers had found her and took seats at the table. A man with a goatee held up a journal and said that the class had been so inspiring; he hadnt stopped writing since hed left the workshop.

Adele was at the next table, surrounded by crocheters. They seemed to have forgotten completely that Izabelle was supposed to have been in charge. One woman actually approached Adele with a copy of A Subtle Touch of Crochet and handed Adele a pen to sign it. This was Adeles chance at the power position shed always coveted with the Tarzana Hookers. She was over the top as usual, but other than that she seemed to be doing a good job.

I had stopped back at the crochet workshop later in the afternoon. By then Adele had shifted from how to crochet to embellishments and had opened another of the boxes from Izabelles room. This one had supplies, samples, and handouts for a group project. I was surprised to see what Izabelle had planned.

Adele held up two pouch bags, one of which was identical to the one wed found on the beach. Adele explained shed had some other projects in mind for the group to do, but since there was yarn and directions for the bags, they would make them as a crochet-along. Adele showed off her red bag with white flowers. The only difference was she hadnt used the same kind of yarn for the flowers that Izabelles directions listed. As everyone got up and began to pick their yarn, Adele said the good thing was that the project was doable in the time they had.

I stood watching as they began making their foundation chains. I longed to go in and join them-just for a while, to set aside being the boss and lose myself in crochet. Besides, the bag was just what I needed. It was just the size to keep my essentials in.

Adele had seen me standing in the doorway. Cmon in, Pink. You know you want to join us. I waited for a zinger to follow, but this time none came. She was actually sincere, but I still couldnt join them. The tai chi was one thing, but there was no way I could sit in on the crochet-along. I was supposed to be in charge of the retreat. It was the downside of being the holder of the rhinestone clipboard.

I noticed the group had brought their projects to the dining room and were more interested in adding rows to the purses than in checking out the food. They were all looking to Adele as their leader. I nudged Dinah, and she watched Adele as well.

Its like shes holding court over there. Lucky for her Sergeant French seems content that Izabelle died from an accidental allergic reaction. Because if you were looking for somebody who certainly gained from Izabelles death and had threatened her Dinah said, letting me fill in the rest of the thought.

You dont think she could have- I watched as Adele signed the womans book. Nah, I said, answering my own question. The whole thing with the smore took planning. Adele flies by the seat of her pants. If shed done it, shed have strangled Izabelle with the choker, probably by mistake as she was trying to pull it off of her neck.

There was much less action going on at the knitters table. Jym was passing the salad dressing to the person next to him, and Jeen was shaking her head at a woman across the table whod taken out her needles and work-in-progress. I dont know what Jeen said, but the woman quickly put away her work. It was all too orderly for my taste. Adele would have been happy to know that I thought the crochet chaos at her table was far more appealing than what was going on with the knitters.

I was surprised to see that Bennett hadnt come in. I think his group missed him, too. I saw them look up expectantly every time someone came in. Finally, they started to talk among themselves.

The rest of dinner went by without incident. I reminded everyone about the evenings activities and then hung around until all the retreaters had finished. Dinah stopped off at the administration building for her Ping-Pong match with Spenser, and I went on to the communal living room of the Scripps building. Commander was already setting up board games along with a bowl filled with scraps of paper with entries for charades. People started coming in. There was lots of talking and upbeat expressions, as if they were ready to have a good time. Even if I hadnt been able to prevent Izabelles death or solve the mystery yet, at least the retreat seemed to be going ahead successfully. That should count for something.

Some of the arrivals gravitated toward the games area. Jeen and Jym arrived and brought some of the knitters to the chairs arranged by the fireplace. Adele and Sheila had the crochet group with them when they walked in and they made their own little area. A couple more showed up and joined their group. I hung around for an hour or so. I was glad to see both groups of yarn people spent their time working on blocks for the blankets, though living up to Mrs. Shedds commitment still seemed like a long shot.

I hurried back to my room to change out of the sweats Id put on for tai chi. Mason had said the resort where we were having dinner was casual, but still I didnt think the jeans, turtleneck, and corduroy blazer Id been wearing were appropriate and went for the outfit Id brought for the last night party. Id have to wear it twice, I thought, pulling out the black jeans that promised to lift my butt and make my stomach look washboard thin. I added the white shirt and black pullover sweater and left the shirttails hanging out. Tossing on a burnt orange scarf Id crocheted on a big hook in cotton yarn, I headed out to meet Mason.

CHAPTER 14 | A Stitch In Crime | CHAPTER 16