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NO FOG OR MISTY SKY THIS TIME AS I STEPPED outside Lodge and headed for Merrill Hall. The sky was a brilliant orange and the trees had turned into silhouettes. I had done some quick work with a hairbrush, put on fresh makeup, and changed into the black jean outfit I had worn for my dinner with Mason. Now that the mystery of the fusion craft and just who Spenser and Marni were was settled, all the loose ends had been taken care of. I suddenly felt bittersweet that the upcoming party was the last official event of the weekend.

Merrill Hall was a meeting hall-auditorium and one of the original structures from the YWCA camp days. The building had the Arts and Crafts signature of dark wood and liberal use of local stones. But this time all the dark wood didnt seem moody or brooding. It was amazing what the warm color of the sunset could do. Maybe the warmth of the people helped, too.

Our group was too small for the main area, so we were using the open space at the back of the building. As I walked inside, I let out an automatic Wow! Commander and his group had outdone themselves. I suppose if there was a theme to their work, it was what we did over the weekend.

Commander was hovering over the long table set up under the windows. He and his group were setting out the last of the decorations on the burgundy tablecloth. Napkins folded into swan shapes were lined up at the back of the table. Palm trees fashioned out of crookneck squash with fronds made from cucumber peels were scattered around the eggplant penguins and sheep made out of cauliflower, with black olive heads and grape stem legs. Was there supposed to be a theme to the decorations? The only thing they had in common was that they didnt belong together. But they were fun anyway. Small paper plates and plastic silverware had been artfully arranged to the side. Commander had taken a watermelon and cut the rind so it looked like a basket. The red interior had been scooped out and mixed with other fruit to make a colorful salad. There were trays of little cream puffs. Some trays were marked Savory and some were marked Sweet. They smelled buttery and freshly made, and my stomach gurgled, reminding me Id missed another meal, this time thanks to my sting on the beach.

A large punch bowl surrounded by handled cups sat at the end of the table. I hadnt seen punch with frozen strawberries and scoops of orange sherbet floating in ginger ale since Id been a kid. A woman placed an index card attached to a piece of driftwood next to each food item, listing the ingredients. I guess after the whole peanut thing, they were being extra careful.

Taste the cream puffs, Commander said, noticing me looking them over. He sounded a little nervous, but mostly excited. This get-together was the climax of his workshops. Theyre so simple to make and such a crowd-pleaser. He waited while I tasted one from the Savory side. It was so delicious, I sighed. The filling was sour cream with a garnish of black caviar. He gestured toward the Sweet side, and I took one of those. The flavorful puff was filled with pieces of strawberry topped with whipped cream. Commander beamed with pride when I told him I wanted his recipe.

He left to join the rest of his team. They were all wearing green Asilomar tee shirts and were arranging chairs, putting on music, adjusting the lighting and setting up areas so each of the groups could sit together.

Over the weekend, the groups had bonded, and already Id heard e-mail lists had been circulated so they could get together again.

People were filtering in, and a number of them stopped to tell me how much they had enjoyed the workshops. The woman with the turquoise earrings waited until it was just the two of us. My husband and I really enjoyed this weekend. She was in Dinahs group, and she indicated her husband, who was wearing one of the green tee shirts and working alongside Commander as they arranged chairs. She leaned close to me. I should have guessed who did it. Of course, youd hire an actor to play that part. She looked around. Where is he? Id like to compliment him on his performance.

I realized it was useless to tell her it wasnt an act. I wished it all had been an act, and that Izabelle and Bennett would come in now and take a bow, but that wasnt going to happen.

Jeen Wolf came in, followed by her knitters. She stopped and complimented me on how well I had dealt with catastrophes. Neither the fog nor a murder had ruined the weekend for the retreaters. The knitters, with their tote bags on their arms, marched toward some chairs. Jeen shook her head with frustration as she watched Jym working on something as he walked in. I almost choked when I saw what he was holding. He was in deep concentration as he moved his gold-toned hook through a strand of forest green yarn.

While I was trying to make out what he was working on, Adele brushed past him. Would she ever cease to surprise me? Instead of her usual wild fashions, Adele wore a long, shimmery, cream-colored shift with one of Sheilas famous scarves as an accent. The scarf had loose stitches with a mixture of yarn textures in shades of aqua, turquoise, and royal purple that had a gold thread running through it. The only Adele touch was the lavender pouch bag with white flowers. When she caught a glimpse of Jym, Adeles lips turned up in a triumphant smile and she nudged his arm, giving him a thumbs-up.

Howd you get him to try crochet? I said. He seemed to be such a committed knitter.

Adele appeared proud of herself. I have my ways. Sheila had just caught up with her and watched as Jym stumbled over something because he was looking at his crocheting instead of where he was going.

Whats he making, anyway?

Well, Musketeers, Adele said, all I had to do was appeal to his engineers sensibility. I told him he could crochet a hyperbolic plane.

A what? Sheila said. Adele explained it was a geometric figure that expanded exponentially from any point on its surface, always curving away from itself. Sheila and I both looked confused by the definition.

Adele shrugged. Ruffles. Its all about making ruffles, but its math at the same time. We all looked at the long thing hanging off Jyms hook and got it. Ill tell you guys all about it next time the Hookers get together.

Adele took Sheila and the other crocheters to a group of seats next to the knitters, and I was happy to see them all talking to each other. Mason came in and waved as Dinah and the writers arrived. The actors were clustered around CeeCee and seemed to move as one unit as they found some chairs. Everybody looked at Eduardo as he came in. He was used to getting that kind of attention and barely seemed to notice. When youre very tall, with shoulder-length black hair, a face so perfect it looks like it was created by an artist and lots of muscles in all the right places, people tend to look at you. And when you sit with a bunch of yarn people and take out a hook and some crocheting, youre assured of more stares.

I felt my cell phone vibrate. Id finally remembered to turn off the ringer. I knew the call was from Barry, and even though it wasnt the best time, I wanted to talk to him.

As I flipped the phone open, I stepped outside. It was completely dark now and the sky was filled with stars. In the distance I could hear the roar of the surf.

Hi, I said, putting the phone to my ear. Im glad you called. Theres something I really want to tell you.

You do? he said, his voice open and expectant.

I cant thank you enough for the call to Sergeant French. And the things you said about me being right a lot of the time.

Oh, he said, his voice deflating. I was hoping more for something along the lines of how much you miss me and youre counting the hours until you come home.

And that, too, I said with a smile. Im ready for this weekend to be over. At least if I couldnt get through it without a dead body, the whodunit is solved. Barry wanted to know what time my plane arrived. I mentioned the change in plans. Adele had been quite happy about it. Barry didnt take it the same way.

Just you and Mason? he said with annoyance in his voice. I glanced in the window and realized everyone had gotten some of the food and it was time to begin the program.

Ill tell you about everything tomorrow night when I get home. Miss you, I said before clicking off.

I stepped to the front of the room, holding the rhinestone clipboard with my notes on it.

I welcomed everyone to the gathering and smiled. Its been quite a weekend. I paused as a smattering of comments like You can say that again and Thats an understatement, along with a few Hear, hears, filled the room. And true to being a creative event, it defied whatever plans had been made and became something different. I said I wanted to compliment all of them on how they adapted to the obstacles thrown in their way, and I had them give themselves a round of applause.

Before we start, Id like to have a moment of silence for Izabelle Landers. I took some time to explain who she was, since she had died before most of them had gotten there. Shell live on in all the flowers and pouch purses her workshop group made. Everything stopped as everyone put their heads down for a few moments. Then I continued. I hadnt been quite sure how to talk about Bennett, but had to say something. For any of you who dont know, Bennett Franklyn has been arrested and will no doubt be charged with causing Izabelles death. Due to his legal troubles, he wont be attending the party. CeeCee Collins has generously stepped in to help the actors with their performance.

Mason came forward to begin the event. He demonstrated Awakening the Chi and had everyone do it a number of times before letting his arms float down to his sides.

I introduced the knitters next, and they filed up front with Jeen and Jym in the lead. On the count of three they all took out their baby-blankets-in-progress and showed them to the group. Although they were all a simple knit-and-purl combination, their yarns were all different colors. I noticed Jym had stowed his crochet project. Everyone applauded, and the knitters took a bow.

Adele was waving her group up before the knitters were back to their chairs. I noticed that Sheila was holding her own with Adele and helping the group take out their projects. Everyone had completed one of the pouch purses, each with one or more six-petaled flower embellishments. Some had made additional flowers and wore them pinned to their clothes. One renegade was making an afghan. Adele nodded, and Commander flipped off the lights. The flowers took on a ghostly glow and seemed to be floating in space. There was more applause, but the crocheters didnt leave the front when the lights came back on and Adele nudged me over. As usual, I was finding out I wasnt in control of my own show.

Adele waved to Jym and Jeen and their group, then she motioned for Eduardo to come up. Jym and Jeen each carried a brown paper grocery bag. Adele described Mrs. Shedds commitment of crocheted and knitted blankets to be donated to the local shelter.

Our boss isnt a crafter, so she didnt get that a weekend wasnt long enough to make blankets in addition to the workshops, Adele said. My, but she loved the spotlight. She had no problem making eye contact with the crowd. What to do, what to do? She surveyed the crowd, trying to build up suspense. First, I whittled it down from blankets to one blanket, but even that didnt seem possible until I came up with the perfect solution. Adele walked over to Jeen and Jym. I reached out to my knitting sister and brother and offered a solution. A perfect solution, I might add.

Adele gestured for them to empty the paper bags while she continued on with a rising voice. I forged an alliance, and we agreed to pool the blocks each of our groups had made and fashion them into one blanket that honored our yarn solidarity. Adele paused as a cornucopia of knitted and crocheted blocks in all different colors tumbled out and the audience cheered. She threw out her hand and pointed at Eduardo, who held a strip of blocks hed just finished crocheting together. He gave a humble nod of his head and the audience cheered.

Okay, Pink, I got them all worked up. I hope you can keep the momentum going, Adele said as the groups gathered up the blocks and exited the front.

I introduced Dinah and her writers. Theyd all written fifty-word paragraphs about a summer memory and each read theirs. Because they were so limited by the word count, most of the pieces seemed to have a poetic quality. Dinah beamed with pride as they read.

CeeCee brought the actors to the front next, and they assumed their places. She stood off to the side, ready to prompt lines if needed, but in the short time Bennett had prepared them well. They knew their lines, and though they might have been a little too theatrical, the short play went well. Miss Lavender Pants stole the show by deciding to do her part with a Scottish accent.

Commander and his group came up last, and got applause for the evenings events and everything else theyd put on as well. Everyone descended on the food table, and the buzz of conversation got louder.

Did you taste the puffs Commander made? Dinah said, holding a paper plate with a selection of the sweet and savory. When I nodded, she handed me one of the savory ones anyway.

Wow, that man is a prize, I said, checking for her reaction. Dinahs perception of Commander Blaine had changed when she thought he might be a murderer. As soon as she thought she couldnt have him, she seemed to say less about how finicky he was and more about his enthusiasm and ability to make everything into an occasion. I was afraid that now that he was out of the running to be a murderer, Dinahs interest might wane. It seems to be human nature to want something when its unavailable and lose interest once it is. Dinah glanced over toward the table. Commander was putting out more food and encouraging everyone to help themselves. He beamed as compliments came from all directions. Commander is a nickname he gave himself as a kid, and it stuck, Dinah said. He told me about it this afternoon. His real name is Sylvester. Im going to keep calling him Commander, though. Sylvester sounds like some kind of weird synthetic yarn.

I was going to comment that it seemed like they might have a future, but Commander got everyones attention and said the evening was going to end with a sing-along and marshmallow roast at the fire circle.

I held on to the rhinestone clipboard and followed at the edge of the group. Leave it to Commander. He had tambourines, castanets, maracas and bongo drums available. He took out a guitar and began playing camp songs. Some of the people helped themselves to instruments and played along, and others just took wire forks and marshmallows. I noticed Dinah was sitting at Commanders side.

Mason found me and offered me a perfectly roasted marshmallow. Itll be nice driving back. We can make a trip out of it. We can stop for a late lunch at the Madonna Inn and maybe at a winery in Paso Robles. Theres always Solvang and Santa Barbara, too.

I laughed. And we wont get back for a week. Mason grinned. Whats so bad about that?

CHAPTER 25 | A Stitch In Crime | CHAPTER 27