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SEE, THE MAN WHO LIKES YOU ISNT A MURDERER, I said to Dinah as we headed away from the beach. Adele was just behind and wrapped in the afterglow of her pouch bag swirling.

Wow, that was really something, Adele said. Did you see how I detained the perp with my bag? She caught up and put an arm around each of us. Hey, you guys, were like the Three Musketeers.

The purple pouch bag was hung across her chest and bounced as we walked. I was amazed to see how well it had come through its new purpose. One of the petals on the chartreuse yarn flower appeared a little smashed, but other than that it looked no worse for wear.

Sheila walked toward us as we stepped onto the boardwalk. Dinah put an arm around her and she joined us.

Okay, maybe were the Four Musketeers, Adele said in a surprisingly generous gesture. As we continued on through the dunes to the Asilomar grounds, Adele was already planning our Musketeer future. The pouch bags can be our insignia, she said in a happy voice. As we stepped into the peaceful grounds of the conference center, Adele stopped abruptly and threw her arms around me in a hug. Pink, thanks for letting me be part of the action.

When shed released me, she grabbed Sheilas hand. Cmon, lets get ready for the party. We can do each others hair.

Just before they walked away, Adele mentioned that now that her car was not functional, she and Sheila needed another way to get themselves home, along with all the things theyd carted up there for the retreat.

Do the problems ever end? Dinah said, giving me a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. Ive got to find my writers and make sure theyre ready for their big moment at the gathering. Figuring they might still be at dinner, she took off for the dining hall.

I stopped into the administration building to pick up the rhinestone clipboard and took the moment alone to call Barry. I was disappointed to get his voice mail. What I had to say didnt work for a message, so I told him all was well and Id try him again later. As I stepped out onto the deck, a cab pulled up below and CeeCee and Eduardo got out. With everything that had gone on, Id forgotten she and the cover model crocheter had promised to come when their respective commitments were done. For a moment CeeCee glanced around, and it was hard to tell if she was taking in the untamed beauty of the tall pine trees and the wild growth underneath or if she was looking for paparazzi. Knowing the actress-reality host-Tarzana Hooker leader, it was most likely the photographers.

They both looked up as I started down the stairs. We exchanged greetings, and before Id reached the last step, CeeCee had begun talking.

I hope I packed the right things. Of course, its only overnight, but I was expecting something different. This doesnt look like a heels sort of place. She glanced down at the small suitcase Eduardo was holding along with his. As soon as the charity event was over, I met up with Eduardo and we came up here, CeeCee said. She apologized again for having to cancel out at the last minute, but assured me her presence at the fund-raiser had made a big difference. She looked like she had gone directly from the event to the airport. Her soft brown hair was freshly done, and she was dressed in a red pantsuit with gold trim and wearing heels. Eduardo looked extra tan, as if hed been sprayed with something to make him appear to have been kissed by the sun for his photo shoot. It was a good bet the color extended under the soft green tee shirt he wore with the tan suede jacket. Id seen some of the covers hed done, and he was all rippling muscles and six-pack abs.

Im sure Bennett did fine in my place, she said.

I think he did a lot more than you planned, I said, getting right to the point. I was too tired from all that had happened to ease into the story. Bennetts under arrest and on his way to the police station right now. Hes going to be charged with vandalizing Adeles car, trying to kill me, and killing Izabelle Landers.

CeeCees mouth fell open. Oh dear! What happened? I tried to stick with the main points and began with the fog delaying everything and the fact Bennetts wife and Izabelle were twins. Izabelle recognized Nora, but due to all the changes in Izabelles appearance, Nora hadnt recognized her. I recapped how Izabelle didnt want to be a twin and had taken out her anger on her sister from the time they were kids. Once Izabelle found out who was taking your place, she probably started planning what she thought was going to be the ultimate hurt to her sister-taking away her husband.

Oh dear, CeeCee repeated when I got to the part about the peanut butter-laced smore. I suppose it figures some of the plot ideas would rub off on him after being on Raf Gibraltar for so many seasons. I did a couple of guest spots playing a sitcom actress. I was in show number thirty-two, and Raf passed the antidote pills to his love interest Valerie through a kiss. And my character showed up again in show number forty-nine when Buzz helped his younger brother Raf get rid of Bradley Rogers by arranging for him to sit near the kitchen of the Tidewater Inn. Bradley was allergic to shellfish, and the smell of the boiling lobsters got into his system and sent him into whatever that shock is called, CeeCee said. That was one of Bennetts bigger roles, and I think he was the one who picked Bradleys pocket before the meal and lifted one of those tubes that has some kind of emergency treatment in it.

You mean an EpiPen? I said. I told her about the crocheted pouch bag and the glow-in-the-dark yarn before I moved on to Adeles car and my wild ride. At the end, she sighed with despair.

Im so sorry, Molly. If only Id done the workshop, none of this would have happened. Well, I couldnt have stopped the fog, but if Bennett hadnt stepped in

Out of curiosity, I asked her how shed gotten him to agree to take her place for the weekend.

The story was still sinking in for CeeCee, and she had to think a moment to remember. Bennett runs a small theater. Hes the producer, director-the works and its his real love. Its one of those Equity waiver places-under fifty seats, so nobody has to be paid scale, or anything, for that matter. I said I would do the lead in an upcoming production. It meant something, because my name would draw attention to the play-get reviewers to show up and a lot of press coverage. She stopped and swallowed. I guess thats all in the past for him now.

So, what happened to the schedule? Did you cancel all the workshops? Eduardo said.

Izabelle died before most of the retreat people got here, I explained. And it was too late to cancel anything. Up until Bennetts arrest, the workshops had been going along as planned. I dont think most of the attendees even understand what happened. Then the realization kicked in that the actors had lost their leader just before their big performances, and I muttered, Oh no.

What is it, dear? CeeCee asked. Is there something I can do? Please, let me help. Eduardo offered his services as well. I told CeeCee about the actors and she said as soon as she checked in, shed find the group. I told Eduardo about the crocheters needing help with blocks for the blanket Mrs. Shedd had agreed to donate. He dittoed about checking in, and said hed get out his hook and link up with the crocheters.

Finally, I headed back to my room to change for the party. Mason passed me on the stairs. Hed already transformed from tai chi master to the person I was used to by changing into well-fitting jeans and a black cashmere turtleneck.

Are you all right? he said with concern. Youve had a difficult afternoon, to put it mildly. He didnt say it, but I knew I probably looked pale and horrible. I hadnt seen a mirror since morning and had been in an out-of-control car, taken a bumpy ride on the beach, had an embarrassing confrontation with Nora and another one that was at least successful with Bennett. And that didnt even count being concerned with the retreaters and their good time. I supposed if I didnt look horrible, something would have been wrong.

How did you happen to come to the beach? I asked.

Mason chuckled. I think your investigating business is rubbing off. I saw Nora headed toward the beach, and I decided to follow her and see what she was up to. And if youre wondering why I didnt agree to represent Bennett, first of all, Im off duty this weekend, but even if I was in my attorney mode, there was too much conflict of interest. He tilted his head and gazed at me in a serious mode. Any way you look at it, youre involved in this, and to defend him I might have to try to discredit you as a witness. His eyes caught mine. Sunshine, there was no way that was going to happen. He touched my arm in a supportive manner. You can relax now. The murder is solved and the retreat almost over.

Almost is the key word there, I said. I told Izabelles ex Id help him with her belongings tomorrow. And since I wrecked Adeles car, I have to figure out a way to get Sheila and Adele and all the stuff they hauled up here back to Tarzana, and I have no budget.

Im sure dealing with Izabelles ex wont be a problem, and as for the other- He was all upbeat now. I can solve that in a few sentences. You and I have plane tickets. We transfer them to your Hookers, and then I drive you and all the stuff back in my rental SUV. I was surprised by the offer, and after asking him several times if he was sure he wanted to do it, and he kept insisting he did, I accepted.

I said something about getting a red-eye to recharge myself, and Mason offered an alternative. He led me to the patio area behind the Scripps building. Once he made sure it was deserted, he stood facing me.

Im going to teach you a few tai chi movements. Well begin with Awaken the Chi, he said, holding his palms facing up. He inhaled and raised his hands almost to eye level, turned them over and let them float down as he exhaled. He repeated it a number of times and watched as I followed him. Next he bent his arm at the wrist and had me do the same, then placed his arm against mine and began to move his arm in a circle, taking mine with him. This is called Push Hands, he said as the move became slow and meditative. Almost like magic, all that had happened to me in the day poured out and I felt refilled with calm energy-and maybe some heat from his closeness. I glanced at Masons face. His eyes were half closed and he appeared to be in some peaceful place. Gradually he slowed his arm to a stop and stepped away. Together we did a few more Awaken the Chi moves and finally let our arms flow down to our sides.

Better? he said when wed finished. I nodded and thanked him. That should get you through the party tonight. He gave my arm a friendly squeeze before I took off toward my room to change for the party.

When I finally saw myself in the mirror, I understood why Mason had been concerned. My hair had that stuck-your-finger-in-a-light-socket look, and I can only imagine how stressed my eyes must have looked before the tai chi, because they seemed frozen in a stunned mode. I was about to start repairing the damage when there was an insistent knock at my door.

Now what?

Adele grabbed my hand when I opened the door. Youve got to come, Pink. Theres something strange going on. Sheila was standing behind her. Adele barely gave me a chance to grab my key and shut the door before leading me toward the stairs. With Sheila in tow, I followed Adele outside and down the path. As we passed the administration building, CeeCee, Eduardo, and some other retreaters joined the parade.

Adele came to an abrupt stop in front of the low, wood shingle-covered building called Viewpoint. A sandwich board sign sat out front with a notice written in wipe-off ink that read Special Fusion Craft Workshop.

Somebody mustnt have gotten the message about Izabelle, I said, noticing the lights were on and there appeared to be some people inside.

Adele gestured toward me. Youre the one with the rhinestone clipboard. You better do something.

I went up the small staircase with everyone close behind me. After everything Id been through in the last couple of days, could anything surprise me? When I looked inside the open door, my mouth fell open. Yes, something could.

A table was set up with samples of clothing and handouts as if the workshop was a go. A dress form wearing a familiar-looking jacket stood next to the table. Whats going on? I said to the couple in the front of the room.

I didnt know if anyone would come. Welcome, Spenser Futterman said. His female companion pulled out a single-lens reflex and started shooting photographs.

Id like an explanation, I said, blinking from the flash of the camera.

I can imagine you do, Spenser said. First, let me introduce Marni Pottinger, who isnt really either my niece or cousin. He explained that she was a regular contributor to Craft World magazine and that hed sold her editor on having her meet him at Asilomar to do an undercover story.

Sorry for the subterfuge, Marni said, lowering her camera.

So thats why you were talking to me, Adele said. Are you going to use what I told you?

Marni nodded at Adele. I heard you thought a stitch you created was stolen, but since there isnt any proof, Im going to have to leave it out. I will include what you said about crocheters feeling like second-class crafters. I got a nice photo of you wearing some examples of your work. She glanced at all of us. The angle of the article is the dark side of the craft world.

The dark side of crafts, huh? What I told you was nothing. You want to know about the real dark side? Adele said, her voice filling with emotion. How about this-you could write about a stepmother who ridicules you for your craft choice and goes to your father and tells him that knitting is the queen of yarn crafts and isnt it nice how her perfect daughters all know how to knit, while his own daughter insists on sticking with her hook. Fast-forward to his birthday and the father gets a knitted sweater and some argyle socks that he goes on and on about how superior they are to the blanket his own daughter crocheted with her ten-year-old fingers.

We all stood in stunned silence. I dont think Adele realized a tear had rolled down her cheek. I had never seen her cry, and she almost never let down her defenses. Now her crochet craziness made sense. It went along with her Cinderella-without-the-happy-ending life story. CeeCee, Eduardo, Sheila and I all looked at each other and moved around Adele, doing a group hug. She seemed suddenly embarrassed.

You didnt think I was talking about me, did you? She quickly wiped her eyes. Thats just what happened to some little girl who lives down the street from me. She looked at Marni. Forget I even brought it up. She waved at Marni to proceed. After an awkward moment, Marni mentioned the real focus of her story-Izabelle Landers.

Spenser took the floor to explain. Im an accountant by profession, but my passion is crochet and I came up with an idea for a fusion craft. He explained hed made notes and come up with patterns for a book. Hed met Izabelle at Commander Blaines office and mailing center. Spenser knew shed come out with a crochet book and thought she might have some advice on how to get a book on his new craft published. He had given her a rough idea of his book to look over, but shed returned it and said there was nothing she could suggest, and discouraged him from proceeding. When I heard she had a book coming out about a fusion craft, I got it. Shed ripped me off. I came here to confront her, but she kept avoiding me. He glanced at the floor. Im not proud of it, but I snuck in Izabelles room to borrow a copy of her manuscript. I wanted to show it to Marni so she could compare it with what Id written. He said he was going to get an attorney who handled plagiarism issues as soon as he got back to Tarzana. I looked at the jacket in the front of the room and realized why it looked familiar. It resembled the one in Izabelles closet. No wonder Marni had photographed it. It was one more piece of proof that Izabelle had stolen Spensers idea. I noticed that Spenser didnt mention his second trip to Izabelles room. I just let it be.

I stepped closer to examine the jacket, but couldnt find any knitting on it and finally asked him why there was no knitting.

Why would it have knitting? he said, seeming perplexed. I mentioned the title of Izabelles book, The Needle and the Hook. His face relaxed into a smile. The hook is for crochet and the needle is for sewing. I called my book The Hook and Eye, as in eye of the needle. He took the jacket off the dress form and showed how the body of the jacket was fabric, but the sleeves and trim around the neck were crochet.

After that, everyone started talking. Adele wanted to make sure the photo of her was flattering. Eduardo wanted to tell Marni how tough it was being taken seriously as a crocheter. CeeCee wanted to make sure there was no mention of her in the article. She tried to avoid any negative press. And I looked at my watch and shrieked. I still had hair that looked like it had been electrified, and it was almost time for the grand finale of the weekend.

It turned out I wasnt the only one with some final preparations to do for the party, and after inviting Spenser and Marni to join the gathering, everyone quickly dispersed.

CHAPTER 24 | A Stitch In Crime | CHAPTER 26