“YOU’LL BE GLAD I GOT YOU OUT OF THERE, PINK,” Adele said as we stopped outside the classroom. I didn’t look back, but I was sure Jeen’s face probably still had the look of horror. Adele’s actions must have broken every rule of Jeen’s code of proper behavior. My fellow Hooker had snatched the needles out of my hand and thrown them down on the table with such force, they bounced. Then she grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the room as if she was rescuing me from being kidnapped.
Dinah came out of her classroom, holding the pen she’d been concerned about. “What’s going on?”
Adele answered before I could open my mouth and launched into a tirade about Jeen’s efforts to turn me into a knitter.
“She almost had Pink, too. First it was just casting on, then why not try a few rows, and the next thing you know, you’re making a baby blanket.” Adele adjusted her white turban that had gotten knocked off-kilter during my rescue.
“You really should thank-” Adele said, but I put up my hand to stop her as I gave her my rendition of CeeCee Collins’s cease-and-desist look. Nobody could carry it off with the same power as our crochet group leader, but whatever I managed was sufficient to make Adele close her mouth without saying anything more.
“Not that I have to explain, but nobody was getting me to do anything. I went along with learning how to knit to keep Jeen talking about Izabelle. It turns out they have a history.”
“Oh,” Adele said as her frenzied expression relaxed. “Why did you want her to talk about Izabelle?”
Dinah and I looked at each other, and Dinah gave me a why-not-go-for-it half shrug of one shoulder, so I told Adele I didn’t believe Izabelle had eaten the s’more on her own.
“You think somebody killed her?” Adele appeared stricken. “But you’re not telling anyone, right?” She grabbed my arm. “Look, Nancy Poirot Fletcher Drew, nobody else thinks it was murder, and you’ve got to leave it that way.” She made some loud dramatic sighs. “Pink, if the cops start looking for a murderer, you know their first stop is going to be me.” It wasn’t enough for Adele to just say it, she had to point to herself with both hands as well.
“You know I didn’t do it, right? I was just so upset when I saw she was wearing my work and calling it her own, I lost it for a minute. That’s all.” Adele tried to get me to promise to stop investigating, but I said nothing. I wasn’t going to lie to her, but telling her I planned to continue would only lead to more hysterics.
I had hoped to change into a more in-charge sort of outfit before breakfast, but when I saw people were already gathering outside the dining hall, waiting for it to open, the sweats were going to have to do it for now. By the time the three of us reached the building, the bell had rung, marking the start of breakfast, and people were already filing in.
The warm air inside carried the pungent aroma of coffee and bacon mixed with the slightly sweet smell of pancakes. As I watched people from our group head to the area we’d come to call our own, I noticed their animated faces and the friendly sound of their conversations. If there hadn’t been the fog emergency and Izabelle’s murder-no matter what anyone said, I was calling it that-this would have been an easy weekend. Asilomar took care of the lodging and food and provided a rustic backdrop. Commander Blaine was on top of activities. And the presenters were doing a good job tending to their groups. After registration, all I would have had to worry about was picking up sunglasses people left in the meeting rooms and replacing lost name tags.
As soon as we cleared the door, Dinah was surrounded by some of her memoir writers. It was great to see how enthusiastic they were, and I knew Dinah was loving it. Adele started to gather up her people and marched them to one of the tables. She got a glimpse of Sheila coming in and snapped a sharp wave at her-clearly a command to join them.
Jeen and Jym took seats and moments later were surrounded by their people. Commander Blaine drew his group to him like he was a magnet and they were iron filings.
Mason was probably already on his way to Santa Cruz for his aunt’s eightieth birthday brunch. I felt a twinge when I thought of his invitation to join him. Just when it seemed I had worked everything out, he’d confused things.
I went to the food line and passed on the plate-sized pancakes. It was definitely hearty food, but too heavy for my taste. I just took some fruit and a bowl of oatmeal which I flavored with a pat of butter, a light sprinkle of brown sugar, and a few raisins. Not that I expected to get to eat it. Why should this meal be any different from the others?
When I reentered the dining area, Sheila got my attention and pointed to the empty seat next to her. I noticed it wasn’t at Adele’s table.
As I took the offered chair, I saw that Sheila’s whole body seemed rigid.
“The tai chi was great,” she said as she put a napkin across her lap. “It was really relaxing.” She glanced toward Adele’s table. “But I think I already need another session.” Sheila looked at the pancakes in front of her and gave the plate a little push away. “It’s nothing against the food,” she said apologetically.
I laid my hand on her arm in a reassuring manner. “I know. You need a retreat from the retreat.”
We both turned our attention to the reigning crochet goddess, who was parading around her subjects, letting them admire the white flowers she’d attached to the white cowl top.
Sheila nodded in agreement and took something out of her pocket. Her hands started moving in her lap, and when I glanced over, I saw she had a magenta metal hook and a ball of cream-colored cotton yarn. She’d already made a slipknot, and as the hook moved through the yarn, a longer and longer length of chain stitches dangled from the hook. She took a few deep breaths and began moving the hook back over the stitches. Her fingers started to move fast, and as the new stitches pulled tight, she mouthed “loose,” drawing it out into a long exhale. The mantra succeeded, and her single crochets became loopy. The tightness literally left her shoulders as she worked down the row. When she reached the end, she turned it and did another, then slipped the whole thing back in the patch pocket of her jacket.
She knew I’d been watching her and turned toward me, her eyes now with a little sparkle. “I decided to call it tranquilizer crochet. When I feel my shoulders hunching, I just do a few rows. Since I’m not making anything, there’s no pressure to count stitches or worry if they’re uneven. It seems to be working pretty well.”
Sheila had tried so many methods of dealing with her runaway nerves, I was glad this one seemed to work. And it had no side effects like medicinal tranquilizers.
Some latecomers arrived in the dining hall, and I noticed a dark blue uniform among them. Sergeant French separated himself from the clump of guests and surveyed the room. As soon as he saw me, he nodded in acknowledgment and walked over.
“Ms. Pink, sorry to interrupt your breakfast,” he said, stopping next to my chair. He mentioned trying to reach my cell phone and getting voice mail. While he explained he wanted to go over a few things for his report, I checked my phone. I’d forgotten to plug it into the charger, and it was dead. How many other calls had I missed?
There’s something about a cop’s uniform that makes it a magnet for attention. It seemed like most of the room was staring in my direction. I heard Sheila suck in her breath.
“I just wanted to go over the sequence of events when you found Ms. Lander,” Sergeant French said, taking out his pad and pen. I hadn’t noticed before how big his head was compared to the rest of him. I repeated how Dinah, Commander, and I had gone to the beach to look for driftwood in the fog. We’d found the remnants of the fire first, and then Izabelle. The fog had made it hard to see, and we’d almost tripped over her.
“And then what happened?” he asked, scribbling something down.
“We thought she was still alive, but none of us had a phone with us. Commander Blaine said he’d go back to Asilomar and call 911. My friend and I stayed with Izabelle until the paramedics came.”
“So Commander Blaine never came back to the beach?” Sergeant French asked.
“He came with the paramedics. After he called, he waited for the ambulance at the back entrance to Asilomar, so he could help them find us.” I watched as he wrote something else down.
“Did anybody mention to you that they were on the beach with Ms. Landers?” He said it like an afterthought, but I thought it was an effort to catch me off guard in case I’d been withholding any information.
I shook my head in response and tried to see what he’d written down, but he did a good job of covering up his scribbles. “Are you going over your report because you changed your mind and think there was foul play involved?” I asked in a low voice.
Ever the community-minded police officer, he was careful about his tone and word choice. There was nothing condescending in the way he told me what they had determined from the information they had. “No, Ms. Pink, no foul play. The medical examiner has ruled it accidental. We think that small purse was so lightweight, Ms. Landers didn’t notice she’d dropped it. She was carrying the shopping bag with the s’more ingredients and maybe even some wood she’d found for the fire. Commander Blaine confirmed that each bag had enough to make two s’mores. He also said the bags were marked, but admitted there could have been a mistake. We think there was a certain frenzy on her part to eat the sweets, and she might not have noticed the peanut butter. It is, after all, the same color as graham crackers, and according to Commander Blaine the blocks of chocolate stuck to it and probably covered it up. We checked, and the standard ingredients for s’mores are graham cracker squares, blocks of milk chocolate, and roasted marshmallows. There was a whole s’more on the beach, and we assume she ate the other one. At some point she must have detected the peanut butter and realized she didn’t have the bag with the EpiPen. It only takes a short time for anaphylactic shock to set in, and she was on the beach alone in all that fog. It appears that it was just the perfect storm of an accident.”
“Or the perfect crime,” I said before I could stop myself.
“Ms. Pink,” he said, straining to keep his friendly expression from fading, “I hate to pull rank on you, but I’m a professional, and other professionals like the medical examiner and the ER doctor all agree that Izabelle Landers died because of an allergic reaction from something ingested by her own hand.” He started to go, then turned back. “Think about it, Ms. Pink, what kind of person would try to kill somebody with a s’more? And how would you get someone to eat it against their will?”
Okay, maybe I didn’t have the answer to either of those questions, but I could have provided Sergeant French with a list of suspects if he wasn’t so sure the case was closed. I wouldn’t have included Adele-even with all her shortcomings I didn’t believe she would kill anybody. Commander Blaine knew all about the contents of the s’mores, and he had admitted to being slighted by Izabelle. I really didn’t want to believe it was him because even though Dinah was still fighting it, I thought there were definite possibilities for them. Spenser Futterman belonged on the list, too. No matter what Sergeant French had said about the shadow Dinah and I had seen being a crow, I was just about a hundred percent sure it was Spenser. After all, the maid had identified him as the one who left the manuscript pages.
Would there have been any point to telling Sergeant French what the maid said? Probably not. And what about Jeen? She seemed to take Izabelle’s success so well, but maybe it was all an act. Then there was Jym. Could there have been something between him and Izabelle? Maybe Jeen was trying to cover up something when she made a point that she was sure that neither she nor her husband had been on the beach with Izabelle. It was certainly odd that they had lied to Sergeant French and said they didn’t know Izabelle before the weekend.
The conversation in the dining hall had dropped off during Sergeant French’s visit, and as he left, I noticed the volume came back up. I helped myself to a cup of coffee from the vacuum pot on the lazy Susan, but it was lukewarm and not the kind of industrial-strength caffeine hit I needed. A red-eye from the coffee wagon sounded a lot better. Dinah had left her charges, and stopped between me and Sheila.
“What was that about?” she asked, nodding her head toward Sergeant French as he went out the dining hall door. I mentioned him asking about the sequence of events for his report and that he was still trying to find out if someone was on the beach with Izabelle. I noticed Sheila’s eyes getting rounder as she listened.
“He must be questioning everyone,” she said.
“And requestioning, too,” I added. “It’s obvious nobody has admitted to being on the beach with her, and he’s trying to get tricky now and see if someone admitted it to someone else.”
I noticed Jym and Jeen had gotten up from their table. They had rounded up their knitters and were heading for the exit. At the next table Commander Blaine collected some tools he’d used to demonstrate carving an eggplant to look like a penguin. Something struck me about the way he put the tools in the canvas tote bag hanging on the back of his chair. It was the same canvas tote he’d used to collect the driftwood. I stared so long Dinah turned to see what I was looking at. And then suddenly I got it.
“French was right. She wasn’t alone,” I said. It all came back to me now, and I reminded Dinah how we’d found the remnants of the fire first. “Commander was all upset because someone had left two of his wire forks on the beach. He used one of them to pull the partially burned s’mores bag out of the hot ashes.” I watched as Commander clutched the bag and got up. “And then he put them in that canvas bag.” We were all staring at Commander now. “I guess finding Izabelle made me forget about the forks. Do you remember him picking them up?” I stopped to think about the implications.
“Yes, now that you mention it, I do recall him fussing about the two forks and I remember the bag,” Dinah said, growing more excited.
“The question is, was he really concerned about collecting his tools and cleaning up litter, or was he trying to get rid of evidence?”
“Great! It figures the guy who likes me turns out to be a murderer.” Dinah groaned.
“Maybe I should call Sergeant French and tell him,” I said, but both Dinah and Sheila shook their heads. “Right, he already thinks I have murder on the brain. Besides, the marshmallow forks have probably been thoroughly cleaned and mixed in with all the others. So, what’s the point?”
Dinah looked back toward her people. They were still in their seats, obviously waiting for something. “I have to go,” she said with a guilty furrow of her brow. “I promised to take them on an outdoor writing exercise. It’s just a little something extra I thought I’d do. They are so enthusiastic. Did I tell you how much I’m loving this workshop?”
I laughed. “You might have mentioned it a few times. Go, go, I don’t want to stand in the way of anything that’s going well.” I took a sip of the now cold coffee and made a face. A red-eye was definitely a priority. The dining room was clearing out. Adele and her crocheters separated. They headed outside and she cruised by our table. Sheila’s shoulders sprang into a hunch as Adele stopped next to her.
“I guess you didn’t see me when I waved for you to join us at the other table,” Adele said. There was no sarcastic edge in her voice. I don’t think it occurred to her that Sheila ignored her deliberately. Why wouldn’t Sheila want to sit with the reigning crochet queen?
“Whatever,” Adele said quickly. “Just be sure to get the containers of yarn for the crochet session.” And then, in a whirl of too much white, Adele caught up with her crochet groupies and rushed ahead to get in the front. She waved for them to follow her. It occurred to me that if she’d worn that outfit during the fogout, she would have disappeared.
“You think all this has gone to her head?” I said with a sigh. “C’mon, I’ll help you get the yarn.”
After a brief stop to put my phone in the charger, I led Sheila to Izabelle’s room. “Maybe I should just wait here,” Sheila said, hanging back. I knew she felt apprehensive about going into the dead woman’s room. Who could blame her? There was something eerie about seeing Izabelle’s toothbrush still sitting in a glass on the sink. Or thinking of the clothes in the closet she packed for the weekend and now would never wear.
I promised Sheila it was all right and she finally came in, but it was obvious she didn’t want to stay.
There were two containers marked “Supplies,” and Sheila grabbed one and headed toward the door. As I went to take the other, I saw the laptop sitting on the night table. With everything going on, I had forgotten all about the e-mail Dinah and I had sent to the ITA sponsor. Wondering if he’d sent an answer, I powered it up. I went through the motions of getting to Izabelle’s e-mails, and along with some junk e-mails there was a reply from Tom.
When I opened it, a full page of text appeared. He explained that he had never actually met Izabelle. He was her sponsor and everything between them was supposed to be confidential, and even though she had died, he was still going to honor that. There was only one small piece of information he offered. Maybe small to him, but very large to me. He said that ITA stood for Identical Twins Anonymous. As the information registered, I got it. We knew that Izabelle had a sister, and now I realized it was a twin sister. And suddenly the green contacts, the plastic surgery, and the voice coach made sense.
It had been all about creating her own identity. I always thought that it would be neat to have a twin, that it would be like having another you to be friends with. But apparently not all twins felt that way. I did a quick search on the organization. It had been started to help identical twins with an identity crisis. I went back and reread the original e-mail Tom had sent. It was obvious Izabelle had told him she was going to do something, and he was trying to stop her. Considering the organization, it seemed like a safe assumption it had something to do with her twin. Did that mean the twin was here?
I couldn’t wait to tell Dinah all that I’d found out. And Sheila couldn’t wait to get out of the room.
“I’ll help you get these to your classroom, but I’m stopping for a red-eye first,” I said when we’d gotten outside.
As we headed around the administration building to the side with the deck, I noticed that Spenser and his mysterious female companion were sitting on a corner bench with their backs to us. They were talking about something. I didn’t want to tell Dinah, but her undercover work had been a little weak. I’d hoped she would get information, but it sounded like all she’d done was give it.
“Why don’t you go on ahead to your meeting room?” I said to Sheila, never taking my eyes off the pair. This was my chance to find out what was really going on with those two.
Sheila saw me staring and asked what was up. Then she nodded her head in sudden understanding. “You think they have something to do with Izabelle’s death, right?” I motioned for her to keep her voice down, and she started talking in an excited whisper. “You’re going to eavesdrop, aren’t you?” She took another look at Spenser’s back. “I’m staying. Two sets of ears are better than one.”
The deck was raised off the ground, and the spot where they were seated was bordered by bushes taller than me. Sheila and I checked the area around us, and the footpaths were empty in all directions. Sheila stuck to me like glue as we walked closer to the deck, still carrying the boxes of crochet supplies. When we were even with the bushes, I abruptly made a side move off the footpath and behind a leafy bush. Sheila paused for a beat and did the same move, which sent her crashing into me behind the bush. We put our burdens down and slipped farther behind the brush.
At first I could only make out their voices, but not what they were saying. I took Sheila’s hand and we moved farther along the wall until we were directly beneath Spenser and his lady friend.
“Keep on good terms with Dinah Lyons,” the woman said. “She’s a good source if I need any more information. We took care of almost everything regarding Izabelle Landers. I can’t believe nobody figured out what was going on.”
“What else is there?” Spenser asked.
“I need to take care of the one who’s running the crochet workshop now. All I need is a clear shot, and I can check her off my list.”