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CHAPTER 21

I WAS DETERMINED TO JUGGLE HANDLING THE RETREAT and checking out my list of suspects. After all the fuss to get her more of Izabelles supplies for the workshops, Adele had complained there was too much clutter and insisted I take back one carton. I opened the door to Izabelles room and took it inside. A copy of A Subtle Touch of Crochet fell out of the box. When I picked it up, I thumbed through it and stopped when I got to the doll picture. I saw what those women meant-the face didnt look like any doll Id ever seen. Before I could really study the picture, I heard some fumbling at the door. I had every right to be in there since Zak Landers had given me the okay, but still instinct kicked in and I slipped into the closet, leaving the door open a crack.

It took a few more moments of fumbling and then I heard the door open, followed by nervous whispers.

We have to hurry. My boss will have a fit if we get caught. I recognized Spensers female companion as she slipped in. He held up some kind of device and said something about being surprised that it really worked.

If all else fails, I might have a future as a burglar, he said with a grin. She glared at him in response.

Its in there, he said, pointing at the closet. I just had time to move behind the clothes before the closet door swung open. Spenser leaned in and began moving things along the clothes rod. I flattened myself against the back wall as he took a hanger containing a jacket.

Hold it up, she ordered, and he complied. The dark space was filled with flashes of light. Between seeing spots from the brightness, I caught a glimpse of her single-lens reflex camera. If I hadnt been hiding, I would have hit my forehead with my hand. So that was the kind of shooting they had in mind for Adele!

Got it, she said, and headed for the door as he rehung the jacket.

Its a lot easier exiting by the door than by the window, Spenser said, following her out.

I waited a few moments and then stepped out into the room. All was quiet. The jacket was in the middle of the clothes rod, and I took it into the light to see what the fuss was about. The body was cream-colored denim and the sleeves were crocheted in coral yarn. Another strip of coral crochet ran down the front and around the neckline. I checked the inside for a label and found one of the kind Id seen advertised in craft magazines. It said An Izabelle Landers Original Design. The style reminded me of a baseball jacket.

After Spensers comment, I opened the window and stuck my head out. In the daylight his means of escape the other night was obvious. The balcony almost touched the back stairs.

When we met after the morning sessions ended, Dinah got a good laugh about the real meaning of shoot and was curious about the jacket.

I could go undercover again and see what I could find out about it, Dinah offered, but I told her to put it on hold for now. I also told her how glad I was I hadnt decided to call Sergeant French about the threat against Adele. Talk about embarrassing! We had stopped by the entrance to the dining hall. Dinah seemed supercharged with energy.

I know this weekend has been tough for you, but my students are a teachers dream. How am I ever going to go back to my restless freshmen at Beasley Community College? She went on some more about not having to waste time arguing about what was or wasnt acceptable to wear in class and being respectful of others. I didnt mean to, but I kind of tuned out as she went back to raving about her group, and I didnt come back into focus until she said shed been thinking about what Id said about Izabelle being a twin.

Remember that first e-mail we saw from Tom? He was reacting to something she had said she was going to do. It probably had something to do with her twin. I was thinking, Dinah said, glancing into the interior of the large dining hall, what if her twin was here, and whatever she planned to do, she planned to do this weekend?

I told her Id been thinking along the same lines, and we began surveying the people coming out of the food line, picking out those from our group and checking them for resemblance to Izabelle. But after a moment I rocked my head in a hopeless gesture. How can we tell? Its pretty obvious that after all that work Izabelle had done, theyre no longer identical.

Look for height and build, Dinah said, studying Jeen. She fit the bill, but so did a lot of others-Miss Lavender Pants, the woman in the safari jacket, even the one who kept thinking it was a mystery weekend. I was about to give up when I noticed a head of long, prematurely gray hair come into view.

I have an idea, I said, but when I turned to Dinah, her students were beckoning her to their table. Her whole demeanor brightened as she went to join them. I was on my own.

Excuse me, I said to the gray-haired woman. She looked up from her plate of macaroni and cheese and smiled. I asked her how she was enjoying the crochet workshop to break the ice, and then worked back to where I wanted to go.

You mentioned something about the doll model in Izabelle Landers book. She brightened with recognition almost immediately.

It was quite something, wasnt it? she said. Personally, I find those dolls a little too wax museum for my taste, but to each their own.

So you think the doll was made to resemble a real person? I said, and she nodded.

Just a guess, but since it was in her book, probably the author as a child. Personally, Ill take a Madame Alexander doll any day over one of those.

I thanked her and said I hoped she enjoyed her lunch. While I mentally went over what she had just said, I had a sudden desire to get another look at that doll. I slipped out of the dining hall, greeting people as they came in.

Outside, the sky was white. Even though it was midday, the light looked the same as it had in the early morning. I walked up the main path toward the meeting room that housed the crochet group. Since they were gathering again in the afternoon, Adele would have left everything as is. And the door was unlocked as well.

The table was littered with yarn and hooks. Izabelles sample flowers and lacy trims were in the center of the table along with several copies of the book. I felt a surge of excitement as I fluttered through the pages, looking for the doll model.

I looked at it through new eyes now. Was this how Izabelle had looked as a child?

Im glad to catch up with you, Bennett said, coming through the open door. The actors need a few props, and I wondered if you could snag them. When he described what they needed, they sounded like the kinds of things Commander Blaine had brought, and I suggested asking him. It was the first time Id really had a chance to talk to Bennett alone. I apologized for the bumps that had started off the retreat.

It was too bad about the Landers woman, but hardly your fault, any more than the fog. He smiled and I got a dose of his charisma. Like Dinah, he was enthusiastic about his group. Even in this short time, its been fun watching them come out of their shells. I guess theres a ham hiding in all of us, he said. He thanked me, and with a wave said his group was saving him a seat in the dining hall.

I glanced at the book in my hands and hoped my idea would work.

Adele was in full crochet diva mode when I came back to the dining hall. She held up a purple pouch purse shed just completed and was showing off the chartreuse flowers she was going to add. The women and one man around her all oohed and aahed. Adele didnt seem happy when I interrupted.

Adele, I have to use your car, I said softly. She instantly made a negative face and shook her head. Its important, I persisted. She still didnt budge. Okay, how about this-it might permanently get Sergeant French off your back.

That got through to Adele. At first shed seemed to like the attention she got from being a person of interest or, as she called it, an important witness, but after the third time Sergeant French had tried to get her to admit that shed been on the beach with Izabelle, she had complained to me and wanted to know if I was the one who told him shed been bragging about what a great campfire maker she was.

Ill have to see your license, she said finally. And what kind of driving record do you have? Any accidents? Even though I assured her Id had no bad accidents and yes, I would show her my license, she kept on, telling me I needed to be aware of her cars little idiosyncrasies. There was something about how you had to turn the key to lock the door, and not slamming on the brakes or revving the engine. It was too much to absorb, but I was sure Id do fine. What did she think, that I was some kind of teenage hot-rodder?

Where are you going? she demanded. And how long will you be gone? I mentioned the Del Monte Mall, and she threw me an exasperated groan. Shopping, Pink?

Not shopping, I protested. I have to take care of something that has to do with Izabelle Landers. Are you going to let me use your car or not?

Adele finally handed me the keys. But Im in charge while youre gone, right?

Whatever, I said, handing her the rhinestone clipboard.

A few minutes later, she stood watching as I got into her old silver Honda. She had actually made me show her my license. Sometimes she was just too over-the-top. What the fuss was, was beyond me. The car was well worn and not exactly what Id call orderly. Shed re-covered the front bucket seats with what I hoped was fake black-and-white cow skin. The backseat was littered with skeins of yarn that were tangled together and a bag from a craft store with more supplies. I chuckled at the box of bubble gum packets. Who knew Adele chewed that stuff that came in shreds and was supposed to look like chewing tobacco? She never ceased to surprise me. I laid my tote bag with Izabelles crochet book on the passenger seat.

I started to roll down the window, but Adele yelled for me to halt and pulled open the door.

Pink, did you pay any attention to what I said? My car is fragile. If you open the window, it wont shut. She touched the roof of the car protectively. Maybe I should drive.

I reminded her she had the rhinestone clipboard for now, shut the door and turned on the motor. I know she was watching as I finally drove away.

I felt strange driving out of the Asilomar gate, as if I was suddenly reentering the real hustle-and-bustle world. Well, maybe not exactly hustle-and-bustle, but suddenly there were stoplights and traffic, houses and stores and an abrupt end to the feeling of being off somewhere.

Shortly beyond the business area, the road became curvy as it went over a ridge and through a forest of Monterey pines before I saw the signs for the Del Monte Mall. It had taken a bunch of phone calls to listings in the yellow pages before I found someone at a photo center who said he could do what I wanted.

I found a parking spot on the perimeter of the large mall and checked the directory for the store I wanted. A tall, skinny college-age clerk looked up when I walked in.

When I explained I was the one whod called, he said, You understand we dont have the actual software that does age progression, like they use for the milk carton photos. Thats strictly for FBI and law enforcement. I nodded and he asked to see the photo.

I opened Izabelles book and showed him the picture. You want me to age-progress a doll? he said, giving me a weird look. Not a big surprise; it was an odd request. I thought of explaining why I wanted the altered photo, but I couldnt come up with an easy explanation that didnt make me seem even weirder.

I think I can do it with Photo Shop. How about next week?

I was thinking of something more along the lines of in an hour or so.

He swallowed hard. Okay. Im always up for a challenge. He took the book and said something about scanning the photo, followed by a lot of computer mumbo jumbo. With that settled, I rushed back to Adeles car.

I returned to Asilomar just as lunch was ending. The driveway was clogged with people from our retreat on their way to the afternoon sessions as I parked the car in one of the few spots near the administration building. Adele had made me promise to drop off the keys the moment I got back. She was already in the crochet workshop room. When she saw me, she put down the purple pouch bag she was finishing and got up, insisting on inspecting her car.

She walked all the way around it, checking for damage. I rolled my eyes in disbelief as she opened the back door and rearranged the yarn, bag of craft supplies and box of bubble gum packets in the backseat and complained that everything had gotten jostled around, no doubt because of my harsh driving.

She held out her hand for the keys. Ah, theres one more thing, I said, giving them to her.

What now, Pink? My people are waiting. She began walking, and I followed.

I broke the news that I had to go back. Youd think Id just asked Adele for a seat on a rocket to the moon.

What, exactly, is all this about? she asked, putting her hand on her cloud-colored encased hip. She wasnt going to give back the keys without the whole story. She stopped in the middle of the path and waited while I told her about the doll in Izabelles book and how I thought if I got it age-progressed, Id know what she looked like as an adult.

But we know what she looked like, Pink. I think youre losing your detective touch.

I reminded Adele how shed brought up that Izabelles perfect looks werent natural.

Right, she said. My eagle eye did pick out the fake cheekbones and redone nose. And the puffy lips, ha! I threw in the eye and hair color. Then I dropped the bombshell and told her Izabelle had an identical twin and that she might be among us.

Adele took a moment to process the information and then got it. And I bet if someone was on the beach with Izabelle, it was her, Adele said, handing back the keys. Okay, you didnt wreck my car the first time, so you wont this time, right?

In all our negotiations, I hadnt noticed that there were people around us until Jym called out a greeting. Jeens acknowledgment came out like a combination groan and sigh as her eyes locked on Adele. I looked past Bennett, who appeared deep in thought, to a dark blue uniform that immediately grabbed my attention.

There you are, Sergeant French said in a studied friendly voice. He stopped next to Adele. Ms. Abrams, I just want to talk to you again about the afternoon Ms. Landers died.

Adele grabbed the fabric of my corduroy blazer. Here, Pink has some information for you. I really have nothing more to add. Like I said all those times before, I didnt talk to Izabelle after the incident in the crochet workshop. I didnt follow her to the beach. I didnt have any of the smores. I went to my room alone, where I could concentrate, and tried to re-create the stitch she had stolen from me.

The police officer shifted his weight and sighed. He obviously hadnt given up on Adele being the person with Izabelle on the beach.

Ms. Abrams, you know youll feel better if you tell me the real story.

That is the real story, she protested. Talk to Pink. Shes got it all figured out. Ive got a workshop to run.

She marched off, and Sergeant French turned his attention to me. More amateur sleuthing, Ms. Pink? he said with another sigh.

Im going to have something this afternoon thats going to rock your investigation.

Right, he said without looking at me, probably because he was rolling his eyes. Commander came by, carrying a grocery bag. He stopped to remind me that his group was making a special appetizer for the evening get-together. Sergeant French nodded at him.

Anything else you want to add to your statement? the police officer asked.

Commander merely shook his head as an answer. So, Sergeant French had talked to him, too.

When Commander was out of earshot, I asked the sergeant if Commander had mentioned that hed picked up marshmallow forks on the beach. I was expecting a big gasp of surprise before he asked me for details, but he gave me his blank cop face.

I dont have to discuss this with you. Were not working together, remember? At first Mr. Blaine didnt mention it, but it came back to him, and he called me. He said hed picked them up along with a partially burned bag. He claimed it was his natural tendency to pick up his things others had left. He didnt remember exactly, but was pretty sure hed thrown the bag away and cleaned up the forks and put them back with the others.

Well, there goes any forensic evidence, I said. I think Sergeant French was back to rolling his eyes as he prepared to leave.

You should talk to Spenser Futterman, I said quickly.

Who? Sergeant French asked. His cop face was all gone as I described Spenser and his female companion and said that Spenser was the crow.

The what? he asked. He was trying to keep a serious look, but his mouth wanted to grin. I reminded him that someone was in Izabelles room when Dinah and I had first used the key. There were papers missing and we saw a shadow go out the window. You said it was a crow, remember? He gave me a condescending nod and I explained how Spenser and his lady friend had come into Izabelles room and Id heard Spenser admit that hed been in there before and had exited through the window. So you see, hes the crow. It was a little tricky explaining why I was in the closet.

I guess thats part of your amateur sleuthing, Sergeant French said. He couldnt hide the grin anymore. He took out his notebook and wrote something down. See, Im making a note of it. You said they didnt take anything other than pictures, right? Ill have my men check this guy out.

Right. I knew when someone was humoring me.

The call that my photo was ready came as the workshops took their break. I walked through the throng of people quickly, not wanting to be stopped by anyone, and made a direct line to Adeles car.

I struggled with the lock, not remembering what special move I was supposed to use, and finally jiggled it enough that it moved and the button popped up. A few moments later, I zipped back out through the gate, elated at the prospect of seeing the altered photo. In a few minutes Id know for sure if Izabelles twin was among us and, more important, who she was. I barely noticed the ride and pulled into the large parking lot of the Del Monte Mall.

Rather than deal with Adeles weird lock, I just left the car open. How long would I be, anyway, and who in their right mind would want to steal her car? The layout of the mall confused me, and I didnt realize until I was walking into it that I had parked at the wrong end. By then it seemed longer to walk back and move the car than to go the extra distance. I felt a surge of excitement as I reached the walkway between the stores and headed toward the photo studio. I was priding myself on my creativity at age- progressing the doll. Amateur sleuth, hah!

When I walked in the store, the kid straightened. I think youre going to be very happy with this, he said as he showed me the sealed, large manila envelope sitting on top of the book behind the counter.

Can I see it? I said, reaching for it, but he handed me the bill instead. When the transaction was complete, he handed me the charge slip, book, and envelope, and walked me to the door. We close early on Sunday.

Since I had waited this long, I decided to do the unveiling in the car, where I could sit and examine the picture. The only problem was, finding Adeles car turned out to be a chore. Id been so focused on getting to the photo place, I hadnt paid any attention to where I had left the car. Silver cars dont exactly stand out the way my greenmobile does. A 1993 Mercedes 190E in teal green is hard to miss. When I finally located it, I slid in, shut the door, and tore open the envelope.

When I looked at the print, I didnt know whether to laugh or cry. I certainly understood why the clerk had been so quick to show me the door and discourage my viewing his work in front of him.

How to describe what I was looking at? Basically, he had taken the dolls head and given it some wrinkles and gray hair. Apparently he had understood that noses and ears keep growing, and had extended the dolls nose until she looked like a witch and her ears hung to her chin line. Discouraged, I threw it on the seat and turned the engine on.

The parking lot opened right onto the highway and I stepped on the gas, very anxious to get back now. I had spent too much time away from my duties, and for nothing. Up ahead the stoplight went to yellow, and I stepped on the brake. The pedal went down, but the car didnt slow. As the car flew through the intersection, I looked ahead at the road and realized I was in big trouble.


CHAPTER 20 | A Stitch In Crime | CHAPTER 22