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BABE, WE WOULD HAVE WORKED SOMETHING out, Barry said. Hed called to make sure I arrived okay and to let me know he had gone over to take care of the dogs. I had just finished giving him the rundown on my accommodations, which would have been our accommodations, had Mrs. Shedd not dropped the weekend in my lap.

Youre saying that because youre not here looking at this room. I let my eyes sweep it again. Did I mention no TV or telephone, though since everybody has a cell these days, thats neither here nor there.

Barry laughed. I had planned to do much better things in the room than watch TV.

Okay, but the twin beds are the narrowest twin beds Ive ever seen. One is under the windows on the side wall and the other is on the back wall.

Im good at moving furniture, Barry said.

Not in this room. Its way too small. And its kind of cold in here. I looked around for a heat source, which there wasnt.

I would have kept you warm, Barry said in a low voice. I can still come up there.

I hesitated, but only for a second. No, lets leave it as it is. I can tell this is going to be a no-fun weekend. He accepted what I said but didnt sound happy as he signed off.

I unpacked and did a little damage control to my appearance. I had just put down my hairbrush when I heard the dinner bell ring. Dinah heard it too and we met in the hall. I looked upon dinner as the official beginning of the retreat. The air was heavy with moisture and seemed to be getting more opaque and colder as Dinah and I headed to the dining hall. It was hard to believe it was hot and clear in Tarzana. I had forsaken my usual khaki slacks and shirt for the jeans, black turtleneck, and black corduroy blazer Dinah had suggested as the perfect casual, yet with a touch of authority, look. I was glad Id added the long, red wool scarf. It was one of my earliest crochet creations, and wearing it wound around my neck added a nice touch of warmth.

The cavernous dining room was almost empty, and there was no problem snagging a couple of the large round tables for our group. Across the room a group of birders from Arizona were having their farewell dinner, and a sprinkling of guests not connected with any group were scattered around some tables in another corner.

I clutched the rhinestone clipboard for courage and straightened the pile of packets Id brought to give out. Bennett Franklyn was the first to arrive-alone.

Wheres Nora? Dinah asked.

She brought some food to our room, he said with a friendly smile. Its been a tough day for her. I hope it isnt a problem, but we changed our accommodations. Were in Long View now. He vaguely pointed off in the distance.

Thanks to Adele and Commanders tour, I knew Long View was on the edge of Asilomar, and though the long building had a weathered look similar to Lodge, it was actually much newer. The rooms were a little larger and the wide windows had a view of the ocean. If it kept the peace, it was fine with me.

As our group began to filter in, I handed out packets and pointed out the cafeteria line in the back. Commander and Bennett headed for the line together. Dinah offered to get food for both of us, and Izabelle said shed already eaten. She sat down and helped herself to the pitcher of iced tea in the center of the table.

I glanced at the rhinestone clipboard. I had placed check marks next to Bennett Franklyn for the acting workshop, Commander Blaine for entertaining, Dinah for memoirs and Izabelle Landers for crochet and fusion. I was still looking for Jeen Wolf and her husband. She was doing the knitting workshop, and I guessed he was along for the ride. Mrs. Shedd hadnt given me the name of the tai chi replacement teacher; shed just crossed out Master Riki and written in TBA.

Bennett and Commander were talking about parties when they returned carrying plates of steaming food. Personally, I find all those black-tie events boring, but my wife likes them, Bennett said, setting his plate on the table before pulling out a chair. Apparently dinner consisted of meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and succotash. There was a thick layer of gravy over everything.

Commander was listening, but his eyes were on Dinah as she set down two plates of food and pulled out a chair. He nodded toward the spot next to her.

Is this seat taken? he asked in a hopeful voice. I knew Dinah well enough to read her expression. She wanted to say it was, but she also didnt want to make problems. She pulled out the chair and invited him to sit. I had forgotten to ask her about her earlier reaction to him. It certainly mystified me.

Dinah announced she was going back for rolls. Commander urged her to sit, and took off to get them. She rolled her eyes. Somebody needed to tell him not to try so hard.

Izabelle moved until she was next to Bennett. Commander came back with the rolls, and Izabelle glanced up at him. Commanders reaction surprised me. I thought he would smile at her in acknowledgment, but instead his eyes narrowed. In turn she gave a little toss of her head, which I took to indicate that she knew him but dismissed him as unimportant.

I bet you could give me some pointers, she said to Bennett, explaining her upcoming tour and TV appearances.

Sure, he said in a friendly voice. I let out a sigh of relief. So far, so good. Or maybe not.

Adele sailed into the dining hall with Sheila trailing behind her. Adele had changed out of her forest ranger look and was in full crochet embellishment mode down to the cloche hat with the two-tone flower. She flipped her mohair shawl over her shoulder as she put dibs on the chair on the other side of Izabelle. Sheila stopped next to me, looking pale and tense. With her nerves, it was no wonder. Sharing a tiny room with Adele couldnt be fun. I handed her a name tag. Technically Adele and Sheila werent workshop leaders, but I looked upon them as support staff. Adele picked up her name tag and the two of them went off to get food.

A couple hesitated at the entrance to the dining hall. Even if they hadnt been together, I would have known they were a couple. They were both tall and lanky, and had the same very straight posture. Both had neatly trimmed hair, though the colors were very different. Hers was such a dark brown, it was almost black, and was perfectly straight except for slightly turning under as it grazed the bottoms of her ears. She had thick, straight-across bangs. His hair and close-cropped beard were wheat colored.

They were dressed alike, too. Both wore classic waist-high jeans that hung loosely over their slender frames, and topped them with heavy, gray cable-knit cardigans. I could just make out the writing on their tucked-in tee shirts: Knitters Make the Best Lovers. I thought the shirts were kind of funny since they both looked so prim.

Adele was already on the way back with her dinner. In hopes of avoiding a war between the knitters and her, I steered them toward the empty table and introduced myself.

Jeen Wolf, the woman said, holding out her hand.

And Im Jym, the man said, standing next to her. Or as we like to call ourselves-

A couple of knitters, they said in unison with a flourish. Adele was within earshot, and I thought she was going to choke.

So youre both knitters. My list only had Jeen, I said, holding out one packet.

I like to think Im the bonus, Jym said with a wink, and added that one packet would be fine for both of them. They glanced at the other presenters. Jeens expression changed when her gaze reached Izabelle. Izabelle Pilsen? Jeen said. Izabelle seemed startled as she turned toward the voice.

Its Izabelle Landers now, she said once shed seen whod spoken.

I barely recognized you, Jeen said. You must have lost, what, twenty pounds?

Was it my imagination, or was there an edge in Jeens voice?

Give or take a few pounds, Izabelle said, trying to shrug off the comment. Its been a long time. I was just showing off my crochet book, Isabelle said, picking up the copy and handing it to Jeen. What about you? What have you been up to? I was just guessing, but I thought Izabelle already knew the answer to her question, and whatever Jeen had been doing, it didnt measure up to Izabelles achievements. Jeen muttered something about having to catch up later. After taking the book from his wife, Jym nodded a greeting to Izabelle and handed the book back to her. She gave him a knowing smile, and he looked away quickly. I hoped that didnt mean there was going to be some kind of drama involving the three of them.

The awkward moment was made even more awkward as Adele stepped in the couples faces. I just want you to know that for this weekend, crocheters rule. None of that knitting and crochet. Any references will be to crochet and knitting. Okay?

The Wolfs seemed taken aback by Adeles pronouncement and watched her flounce back to her seat. Shes a little intense, Jeen said.

I tried to smooth things over by introducing the new arrivals to the rest of the group. Jym knew who Bennett was right away. He was a fan of the show and started reeling off all the clever devices that had been on the show lately. I didnt have to introduce Commander Blaine.

You have the copy shop, right? Jym said, extending his hand.

Commanders cheerful expression wavered and recovered. Its a complete office and mailing center. But my workshop is all about entertaining.

The rest of the introductions went without incident, and the Wolfs got their food and joined the others. A short time later one of the kitchen employees came from the other side of the room with a cart of vacuum pots of coffee and slabs of candy-bar-topped cheesecake.

My plate of food was still untouched, and I left it on a tray stand. The woman made the rounds with her cart, leaving everyone but Izabelle with a piece of the cheesecake.

She probably heard how many calories and almost fainted, Dinah said when she accepted a piece. She took one for me as well and set it on the table, even though I hadnt eaten my dinner. I glanced over the rhinestone clipboard. All the presenters were accounted for except the tai chi person.

When everyone had finished dessert and coffee, I stood up and gave my little welcoming speech. I said the retreaters would be arriving throughout the next morning, and the workshops would begin after lunch. Commander Blaine raised his hand, and when I gestured for him to speak, he stood.

I just wanted to add that in addition to my workshops on entertaining, Ill be putting on little events during the weekend. The first is the campfire and smores reception.

As he continued, describing how most people just thought of the regular ingredients of milk chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers, he took the concept to a new gourmet level. I tuned out, as I imagined everyone else did, as he ran through the different variations on the common camping treat. When he finished, I took the floor again. Id been dreading dropping the bomb, but there was no choice. I broke the news that Mrs. Shedd had promised a local shelter that the retreat would donate handmade afghans. Izabelle and the Wolfs responded as Id expected. They already had plans for their workshops, and there wasnt enough time over the weekend.

Adele stepped in-or, more correctly-overstepped her boundaries. Im sure the crocheters will figure out a way to come up with something. Izabelle and the Wolfs glared at her. I quickly asked if anyone else had any announcements, and when there were none, the group broke up. Dinah and I hung behind to finish our coffee and cake. At least, she ate cake. I just had coffee.

You did great, she said in a true best-friend encouraging voice. No disasters, no dead bodies.

Just a few bumps in the road, thanks to Adele, I replied. The kitchen crew was clearing the tables, and I was about to suggest that Dinah and I leave when someone else came into the dining hall. My mouth fell open when I realized who Mrs. Shedd had gotten to teach tai chi.

CHAPTER 3 | A Stitch In Crime | CHAPTER 5