IT LOOKED LIKE ALL OF ASILOMAR WAS ASLEEP when we drove back through the entrance.
When we’d finally left the restaurant, after Mason talked me into having the super deluxe flaming bananas over ice cream, Nora and Bennett were having after-dinner drinks at their table. I think she must have been trying to delay going back as long as possible. No doubt this was the kind of place Nora thought they were coming to. All I could do was hope that neither Nora nor Bennett would mention where they’d seen me.
Mason thought I was overreacting, but I had been promoting the rustic accommodations and the hearty camp food, saying it was all part of the workshop atmosphere. How would it look if the retreaters knew I’d run off for flaming bananas over ice cream?
Mason walked me to my room and stopped. He reminded me that he was going to his aunt’s birthday brunch in Santa Cruz the next day.
“You’re welcome to join me,” he said in a soft voice. He didn’t argue when I said I couldn’t leave. His point wasn’t whether I went or didn’t go, but that he’d invited me. It was his way of telling me his definition of casual had changed. That had been the stumbling block when it looked like Mason and I were on the road to becoming a couple. When he’d made it clear that his idea of a casual relationship meant keeping his girlfriends separate from his family, I’d seen red. First, it sounded like he had a parade of women going through his life, and second, not being included in his family made any relationship seem kind of cheesy.
“Think about it,” he said before brushing my cheek with a soft kiss. Mason was persistent, but he didn’t push. Oh dear, just when I thought I had found a place in my life for both men, Mason had to go and confuse things.
No sooner had I closed my door than I heard a knock.
I knew it was Dinah before I opened the door. She must have been just sitting in her room, listening for footsteps.
“How was everything while I was gone?” I asked even before she stepped into the room.
“Fine. The charades were a big hit. Commander’s group made hot spiced cider and popcorn. He had one of those things you stick in the fire to make the popcorn.”
“What happened with your Ping-Pong game with Spenser? What did you find out?”
Dinah laughed. “Mostly that he is a much better Ping-Pong player than I am. Whenever I tried to ask him anything, he said he couldn’t play and talk. When we finally finished, he went back to trying to ask me questions. He was curious about the knitting couple for a moment or so, and then he lost interest. I brought up Izabelle again, and this time he admitted that maybe he did know her a little. Something about he’d seen her at the place where he has his mailbox.”
“Seen her, hah! He’s done more than that, according to Commander Blaine. He mentioned them talking. Commander isn’t sure what he does for a living,” I said.
Dinah looked disappointed. “I thought I was supposed to be getting the information.” When I told her I’d ended up talking to Commander because he was upset when he saw her with Spenser, she rolled her eyes. “Don’t you think he’s a little possessive, considering there’s really nothing between us?”
When I mentioned the whole thing about his late wife, Dinah started to soften, then seemed to reconsider. “I’m not saying the story about his wife is fake, but the whole thing about me being the first woman he’s been interested in-it’s flattering and all, but also sounds like a line.” Then she reconsidered again. “And maybe it isn’t a line. Maybe I’m a little uncomfortable with how open he is about being interested. But enough about that,” she said. “I have something to show you.” I hadn’t noticed the composition book in Dinah’s hand until she held it up.
“I was trying to get my workshop things in order and I came across this notebook from the session we had during the fogout. Remember I had everyone write about orange soda? After Izabelle presented her piece, she must have left the notebook on the table. I read it over, and I bet her ex-husband is never going to find her sister.” Dinah opened the book and handed it to me.
I vaguely remembered the piece. I’d been more concerned with the fog and keeping Miss Lavender Pants and her crew without a reason to make trouble. This time I paid attention as I read how Izabelle had taken the last glass of orange soda, which she didn’t really want, just to spite her sister.
“Izabelle was certainly mean-spirited,” I said. “Judging by the fact that her ex doesn’t even know the sister’s name, I’m guessing they’ve had no relationship for a while. They probably had no relationship when they got older.” I glanced at the notebook again. “What should we do with this?” Dinah decided to keep it for the time being. She wanted to know about my evening out, and I thought her eyes would fall out when I told her about seeing Nora and Bennett at the resort.
“It figures she’d be happy at a posh resort, since that’s where she thinks they really belong. How did CeeCee ever get him to stand in for her this weekend?” Dinah asked.
“I’m still trying to figure that out. I heard him make a comment about getting some kind of payoff for doing it. We’ll have to ask CeeCee when she comes up here.”
There was a lull in our conversation after that, and it took Dinah all of about two seconds to figure out there’d been more to my time with Mason than I had mentioned. Of course she got me to tell her about his invitation and what it meant.
“Nothing is going to change,” I said. “Mason had his chance before, and now it’s too late.”
“Are you so sure?” Dinah asked as she headed to the door. I was sure, wasn’t I? When she’d gone, I tried to call Barry to smooth things over, but I got his voice mail. I hated to admit it, but I was relieved. There was no way I could explain the dinner with Mason that wouldn’t upset him. I was too keyed-up to sleep. I had gotten the pattern for the pouch purse and some yarn. I did the foundation row for one side and then began to do rows until my eyes got heavy. When I finally went to bed, instead of counting sheep, I counted suspects.
The next morning I caught sight of the sky as I looked out my window. It was white, and I got worried about another fogout, but as soon as I realized I could see the administration building at the bottom of the hill, I relaxed.
No time to loll under the covers. I threw them back and dashed across the cold floor to the bathroom. I showered quickly and pulled on sweats and was out the door. Dinah stepped into the hall, similarly dressed, at the same time. Mason was already on his way down the stairs.
He had pulled a heavy gray hooded sweatshirt over his tai chi outfit and carried his boom box. He waited at the bottom of the stairs for us, and we headed for the beach together.
Even with the chill and early time, a nice-sized group showed up. No Nora and Bennett this time, but Jeen and Jym Wolf, the knitting couple, came.
Mason began by telling the new people to follow along and not to worry if they didn’t get it exactly. Jym interrupted and asked if there was a handout detailing the particular moves.
“I looked into it. They have wonderful names like Wave Hands Like Clouds and Grasp the Bird’s Tail,” Jym said, speaking to the gathered group. He turned back to Mason and said the proper way to teach was with verbal instructions. I knew Mason was annoyed by the comments, but he hid it well and thanked Jym for his input, then turned the music on and began.
The Wolfs stayed, but they had matching exasperated expressions that only got more pronounced, as they couldn’t keep up with Mason’s movements. Jeen stopped altogether and tapped her husband’s arm, making it clear she was going. With a last look of disapproval, the two headed off down the sand. Sheila arrived, nodding in apology to Mason. I saw her check out the group, and when she realized there was no Adele, her shoulders relaxed. Sheila joined right in and already seemed to be picking it up.
I loved Dinah’s take on the tai chi. She was into the music, and even with its ethereal feel she was moving in time to it and throwing in a dash of attitude.
Everyone scattered after Mason’s final move of making a door out of his hands, opening them and stepping forward, which marked the end of the routine. Dinah and I headed back, leaving Mason surrounded by enthusiastic retreaters. I was glad he was getting some positive attention for his efforts after Jym’s remarks.
“I want to check my workshop room for my pen,” Dinah said when we were back in the Asilomar grounds. As we headed up the path, we passed Commander Blaine’s meeting room. The lights were on, and when we stopped by the open door, I saw that he was busy setting up cooking supplies. His silver hair was perfectly smoothed back, and like his other pants, today’s khakis had sharp creases. He waved at us, but the warm smile was all for Dinah. I wondered if she realized the smile she gave back. No matter how much she objected, the quality of her smile said he had a chance.
When we reached the knitters’ room, Jeen was arranging some yarn on the long table. I stopped in to find out about her abrupt tai chi departure.
Before I could speak, she began. “I’m speaking for my husband and myself when I say this. If you’re going to teach something, you have to map it out. You have to provide a handout with details of what you’re going to teach. Then do a demonstration while explaining what you’re doing verbally. You can’t just stand there and do it and tell people to follow along. Imagine if I did that with knitting.”
She showed me the handouts explaining casting on, and more with instructions how to knit and purl. “Here, let me show you,” she said, handing me a pair of green metallic needles and a ball of moss green yarn. She pointed to the handout with directions and then began to demonstrate how to do her favorite method of getting the yarn on the needle.
“I want to thank you and Jym for doing so well this weekend. What with the fog emergency and then Izabelle’s death, well, things haven’t exactly been going as originally scheduled.”
After casting on only a few stitches, Jeen laid down the yarn and needle she’d been demonstrating with. “It hasn’t been the weekend we expected by any means, but Jym and I are good at going with the flow.” I almost choked at her comment. Going with the flow? Was she nuts? I hid my reaction by appearing to admire her Needle Mania tee shirt. I sputtered out a compliment, and she beamed a stiff smile and thanked me. As before, the tee shirt was tucked into the jeans that hung loosely on her angular frame.
“It’s so sad about Izabelle. How, exactly, did you know her?”
Jeen regarded me with an inscrutable expression and seemed to take her time gathering what she was going to say. It made me wonder-was she taking time because she had something to hide, or because she was such a precise person she wanted to get the facts exact?
“We worked together a while back at The Yarn Source.” Jeen picked up the needle and yarn and once again began demonstrating casting on. She barely looked at her work as she talked. I was familiar with the Tarzana yarn store. It had been the original home of the Tarzana Hookers until it closed down. That was when Mrs. Shedd invited the crochet group to meet at the bookstore. Dinah and I hadn’t joined until after the move.
“I didn’t realize you were that close. Then her death must have really been a shock.” Adele and I had our differences, but if something had happened to her, I would have been a lot more emotional than the woman in front of me. And, I reluctantly admitted to myself, I would have missed her.
“It was quite a while ago, and we weren’t close. Izabelle never got close to anybody. I was already an accomplished knitter when I started at the store. On the other hand, Izabelle was a newbie at crochet, not that it stopped her from coming up with a plan. She had decided crochet was her golden ticket. I don’t know how she did it, but by the time she left The Yarn Source, she’d come up with A Subtle Touch of Crochet.”
“And what did you do when you left the yarn store?” I asked. She’d finished demonstrating the single needle version of casting on and urged me to try. Actually, I was curious. After several muffed attempts, I finally got it and kept going until I had ten stitches on the needle.
A hint of annoyance moved over Jeen’s face, and she dropped her voice. “I taught a knitting class at Beasley Community College’s Extension Program.”
Okay, on one hand we had a woman just starting out who had managed to parlay her skill into a successful book, and an accomplished one who ended up teaching an extension class. Seeing how Jeen was so into rules and the proper way of doing things, I had to believe that didn’t sit well with her. I came right out and asked her how she felt about Izabelle’s success.
“I was happy for her,” Jeen said in a careful tone. “But she was never happy with herself. She seemed obsessed with changing her appearance. I gather she still was-those green eyes were brown when I knew her, and she weighed more.” Jeen picked up her needles and began doing a first row on what she’d cast on. She nodded, encouraging me to do the same, as she pushed a sheet of paper toward me that had diagrams and instructions on how to knit. I hesitated, but she nodded again and I picked up the other needle. The pair felt awkward in my hands after using a hook. Well, at least Jeen did what she expected of others. She gave me verbal instructions, the written ones, and then she demonstrated by slowly moving her needles. After a stitch or two, I got it and went on down the rest of the row.
“I really felt sorry for Izabelle. I think she kept going through husbands. And if she had any family, she never talked about them. She was all about making something of herself.” Jeen smiled. “I’m lucky to have a wonderful partner like Jym.” I took the mention of his name as an opening and asked if knitting was his full-time business, too.
“Oh, no,” Jeen said with a laugh, as if I’d just said the most ridiculous thing. “He’s a structural engineer.” She went on about how he’d taken up knitting so they’d have something they could do together. When she got to the part where he’d whittled special sets of knitting needles, I started to zone out, and when she took a breath, I changed the subject back to Izabelle.
“Besides the eye color and weight, what kinds of changes did Izabelle make in herself?”
“I don’t know what she did before I met her, but while we worked at the yarn store, she kept changing the style and color of her hair, and she went to a voice coach. It seemed like she was trying to reinvent herself.” I had reached the end of the row, and Jeen demonstrated by turning her work and beginning another row. She said she wanted to make sure I had the knit stitch down before she moved on to purl.
“The trouble was that no matter what she did to the outside, the inside was the same old Izabelle. I ran into her after dinner the first night. I tried to be friendly and ask about her new fusion craft, but she was barely cordial and in a hurry.”
“Why be in a hurry here?” I said, gesturing toward the tree-filled grounds. “There was nothing going on that night.”
“I think she was meeting someone,” Jeen said. “Or she might have just been trying to get rid of me. Izabelle was not a gracious person.” Jeen sighed. “Oh dear, and I wasn’t going to speak unkindly of the dead.”
“Did you know about her peanut allergy?” I pressed.
Jeen seemed to be getting tired of answering questions, particularly about someone she didn’t care for. She looked at her watch, readjusted some of the things on the table.
“Izabelle always made a big fuss about what she ate. I never thought about it, but it was probably a cover-up of her allergy.”
“Why did you tell Sergeant French you and Jym didn’t know Izabelle from before?” The question had been on my mind ever since Jeen had told me what she’d said to the police officer and asked me not to contradict her.
Jeen’s calm demeanor suddenly got agitated, and her movements were jerky as she wound the yarn around her needle. “It’s nothing, really. I just thought that since I’m sure neither Jym nor I was on the beach with Izabelle, why say we knew her at all? Why should we open ourselves up for a bunch of questions for no reason?” She glanced at me. “What’s with all your questions?”
I thought quickly and said I planned to say a few words in remembrance at the last night party, and since I didn’t know Izabelle, I was trying to get a feeling of who she was from people who did. I was going to use that as a spring-board to asking more questions, but there was suddenly another presence in the room. Someone whose outfit of shimmery white pants with a long white cowl-neck top finished off with a white turban could have been called fog.
Adele stood at the table, staring at my hands. “I can’t believe it, Pink. You’ve gone over to the other side.”