Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Crafty Kind of Murder (Continued)

"A Crafty Kind of Murder" Part V: Observations in the Murder of Carolina Pettijohn, submitted by Kendra Ballantyne, pet-sitter and attorney.

Previously in "A Crafty Kind of Murder":

Seven online friends—Kiki Lowenstein, Gerry Porter, Betsy Devonshire, Kendra Ballantyne, Rocky Winchester, April Buchert and Molly Pink—are all visiting the Craft and Hobby Extravaganza in St. Louis when the event organizer Jane Kuhn asks them to solve the murder of her celebrity guest, Carolina Pettijohn. Since all of the crafters/hobbyists are also amateur sleuths, they hope to put their heads together and solve the crime quickly or the Craft and Hobby Extravaganza will be shut down! Kiki Lowenstein explains that Carolina Pettijohn's creative assistant Rosie Jackson was taking money from vendors wanting Carolina to spotlight their products. So Kiki thinks Rosie might have been the killer. Gerry Porter has another suspect in mind. She saw an angry fan named Sondra Echols approach and threaten Carolina. Betsy Devonshire explains the situation is even more complicated than the seven crafters thought. With a little prodding from Betsy, Jane Kuhn reluctantly admits that she might lose an important contract with the Embroiderer's Guild of America if her financial problems with Carolina didn’t get resolved. Now Kendra Ballantyne is ready to share her opinion, and since Kendra is an attorney, she has a different perspective on the crime.

By Linda O. Johnston

So here I was, Kendra Ballantyne, pet-sitter and attorney, both extraordinaire, at a crafts festival in St. Louis—the first ever Craft and Hobby Extravaganza, to be exact.

Me, who avoids making anything with my hands that’s any more creative than a legal brief or pooper scooper.

But I love crafts that others do. People have said that my hobby is pets, but I consider them family instead.

In any event, Dante DeFrancisco, the guy in my life, had come to St. Louis to visit a few managers of HotPets stores, the company he owns. Dante is probably wealthier than the U.S. Treasury these days, so I had joined him on his private jet. That meant that my beloved tricolor Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lexie, had come along, as had Dante’s German shepherd, Wagner.

Dante’s personal assistant Alfonse had also joined us. Right now, Wagner and Alfonse were conducting an undercover operation for Dante, dropping into HotPets stores unannounced and unidentified to see how they were treated.

Lexie and I could have done that, too. But today, I’d promised to meet up with several friends who were crafts aficionados. We'd met online through our pal Molly Pink, and I was eager to see these women in the flesh, so to speak. And, yes, I wanted to see what Lexie thought of my friends, too. She's very good at sniffing out peoples' personalities.

Sure, we were inside a big convention center, but Lexie was small and portable and perfectly behaved. Besides, she was wearing a bright blue vest that had been crocheted by Molly—who was also showing up at the festival. It was kind of quirky that we would have the chance to catch up with each other here, when we both lived in the L.A. area, but life is like that sometimes.

To top it all off, HotPets had a booth at the event, selling pet supplies. So I was also on a mission for Dante—also somewhat undercover, to make sure the booth was doing well.

As I approached the pet supplies booth, with Lexie heeling at my side, I happened to see someone standing nearby whom I recognized. Not a friend, but a person I’d seen often on TV—Carolina Pettijohn, the world’s most exciting expert on all things craft-related. She was tall and slim and dressed to kill in an absolutely stylish outfit that I was sure she had sewn herself.

Okay, I’m not usually the kind of person who’s impressed by fame, but I have to admit that, this time, I was.

“Hello, Carolina,” I said to her. “Are you interested in pet care products?” I’d no idea if she had a pet of her own. She concentrated on all kinds of crafts on her TV show, but I’d never seen her with any animals as guest stars. But if she was the creative and kind person she seemed to be, she surely had a dog or cat waiting at home at her gorgeously decorated hearth.

“Of course not,” she snapped. “I’m just here waiting for--Oh, there she is. Where have you been, Rosie?” This last was barked to a lady in glasses, small and frumpy and frazzled-looking.

But Rosie, whoever she was, knelt down before responding and gave my eager, friendly Lexie a pat.

I immediately liked Rosie a whole lot more than the apparently nasty craft maven, Carolina.

“Sorry, Carolina,” Rosie said as she rose. “Some people wanted to speak with you—oh, yes, here they come.”

Before I saw who was coming this way, I edged around with Lexie to say hi to the pair of people staffing the booth--both middle-aged women. I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Kendra Ballantyne, a pet-sitter from Los Angeles. So great that you have a booth here.”

I didn’t mention my connection to their boss Dante.

The Los Angeles part got their attention. It also perked up the ears of Gerry Porter who happened to be standing nearby looking at the miniatures of dogs that Dante had ordered just for this show. "Kendra," she said. "Is that really you? Of course it is! I'd recognize that Cavalier King Charles Spaniel anywhere! How are you and how is Lexie?"

We had a good laugh about meeting at the pet booth instead of at her booth as we had planned. I'd been looking forward to getting to know Gerry better, especially since we both lived in California. With her was her adorable granddaughter, Maddie. Gerry also introduced Lexie and me to Jane Kuhn, apparently the person who’d organized this entire festival.

“Are you a crafts person?” Jane asked me, appearing stressed but nevertheless polite. I noticed that her eyes never left Carolina as the craft diva rummaged through a variety of pet products on the display racks.

“No, a pup person,” I responded. “But crafts are good. I admire crafters.”

“Great.” She turned away from me and toward Carolina. “Carolina, may I talk to you? There are some expense items we really need to talk about. I think reimbursement is—”

“Later,” Carolina all but shouted over her shoulder. “Can’t you see this isn’t the right time for such trivial matters? When does the book signing start? Why haven’t you shown me where it is? Rosie, do you know?” She turned to the lady in glasses.

“Yes. It’s—”

“It’s over there,” said a soft-spoken young woman who’d followed the crowd here. She pointed to the far side of the room, waving a copy of A Diva’s Guide to Crafting. “But first... Er... Carolina, I need to talk to you about a misunderstanding. I’m sure you remember me. The name’s Doris, Doris Handly.”
“Misunderstanding? I don’t think so, Doris, but we can certainly talk.” Carolina glared snootily at this Doris person, but at least she wasn’t shouting. “Although not now, of course.”

Doris apparently wasn’t taking later for an answer. She leaned closer but made no effort to lower her voice. “The thing is, I didn’t mention it on the chatroom I set up for you, but I was really excited that you agreed to look at the needlepoint design I put together and give me your opinion on it. I knew you were busy so I didn’t mind that you hadn’t let me know what you thought for so long, but...well, I waited till this festival to pick up a copy of A Diva’s Guide since I wanted to buy it here and have you autograph it. I looked through it first thing and was absolutely amazed to see that my design was featured in it. I don’t understand why you—”

“Your design? Your design? How dare you claim...? Look, never mind. As long as you don’t mention it ever again, I won’t take any action against you for your terrible, slanderous remark.”

As Carolina stomped away, she was followed by Jane, Rosie and Doris, almost as if they were her entourage. Maybe they were her entourage.

A not especially happy entourage.

I was left gawking after her, and I don’t like to gawk. A few other folks came over to where I was standing. They also followed Carolina with their eyes.

“She’s certainly not the person I thought she was,” said one, who wore a pretty aqua sweater adorned by a multi-colored scarf. “Hi, I’m Kiki Lowenstein.”

I smiled at her. I'd heard Kiki owned a rescue Great Dane. She instantly made a good impression on me by being as interested in Lexie as she was in me.
While Kiki petted my pup, Gerry introduced me to Betsy Devonshire and her assistant, Godwin. “So you're the one who sent me that picture of the beautiful needlepoint pillow with the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on it!”

“Yes, and I have someone who can make it up for you, if you wish,” said Betsy.

“We can even change the coloring to match this little darling,” said Godwin, pointing to Lexie who was now sitting in Kiki's lap. The scrapbooker had made herself comfortable on the floor so she could better enjoy the attention of my dog.

“Hey, there!” Molly Pink headed our way. Walking with her were Rocky Winchester and April Buchert, her friends who owned a rubber stamping concern. I was happy to meet Rocky and April because Molly had told me they could provide me with a customized stamp of Lexie's likeness. Okay, I'm not crafty, but it still sounded sort of interesting! After everyone had said hello, I took my friend Molly aside. “What’s with the people around here? That organizer was really upset. It seems as tense as a conference full of lawyers.”

“I don’t really know,” she said. “Crafts fairs are usually all about the wonderful handmade things people create, but there’s an atmosphere here...”

“There sure is,” I said. I decided that Lexie and I would leave as soon as we’d spent a little more time looking over the pet supplies booth and making sure the stuff there was of superior quality and price, like all HotPets stuff.

Although maybe I’d buy one of Carolina’s books and hang around just long enough to get her autograph. She was a personality after all, even if her personal personality seemed pretty nasty.

In any event, I had a feeling that Carolina Pettijohn wasn’t through yelling at people. Not tonight at least.

# # #

Kendra Ballantyne finished her report and stared at Jane Kuhn. The small green room had grown uncomfortable with all the accusations in the air. “I know how frustrating working through expense reports can be. There's a real opportunity to misreport them. It's a type of theft, but hard to prove, isn't it? You were certainly angry at Carolina, and you had a lot riding on this convention, didn't you?”

Lexie shivered at the tone of Kendra’s voice, so she reached down to put a soothing hand on the dog’s head.

“But Doris Handly also had a problem with Carolina,” Kendra continued. “Carolina accused her of slander. Maybe the two of them got into a fight. It wouldn't be the first time people became so heated about their reputations. The courts are full of folks who disagree about intellectual property rights and about slanderous comments.”

Rocky Winchester stepped forward. She and April had been largely silent until now. “I think I need to set the record straight. Doris and Jane weren't the only people to have legal issues with Carolina. That witch kept an attorney on staff solely for the purpose of protecting her rights—and for protecting rights she didn't really have! The woman was a black hole when it came to ideas.”

“What?” Kiki Lowenstein's voice went up a notch. “Why? In the scrapbooking world, people swipe each other's ideas all the time.”

Gerry nodded. “That happens in the miniature business, too.”

“And Rosie still could be behind this. It's pretty clear that Carolina doesn't really know very much at all about crafts. Rosie's the brains of the outfit. The creative brains, at least,” said Kiki.

Kendra nodded. “That's true, but it sure would be obvious. I can tell you from my own practice as an attorney that intellectual property rights are a huge issue. A confusing one, too. Litigation about ownership can take years and cost millions. Often people just give up and walk away. But Jane's problem is much more immediate. She would need to wrap up the finances on this convention in order to be solvent for the Embroiderer's Guild of America state convention, isn't that right, Jane?”

Jane nodded, her jaw tight with anger. “That's right. Carolina was playing games with me. Those little tricks could cost me a bundle. It wasn't just about the money I budgeted for this. Kendra, you and Betsy are quite correct. If I couldn't clear my books for this convention, I would be out of consideration for the Embroiderer's Guild of America. Again, I’m telling you I didn't kill her. If I had, would I have asked all of you to help me find the murderer? Not likely!”

Gerry Porter agreed. “We still have plenty of other suspects. Rocky, why don't you tell us what happened between you and Carolina? That would give us an idea what might have happened to cause her death.”

“We still need a concrete motivation and evidence before we call the police,” Betsy reminded everyone.

Rocky shook her head and looked at her sister-in-law. “April, why don't you tell them what happened for me? I'm too angry to talk about it.”

Tomorrow: April Buchert shares her observations.


Peg said...

This is so much fun - thoroughly enjoying the way all of these characters are interacting!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thanks so much, Peg. Isn't it cute? I think the characters' personalities really sparkle because they play off each other.

Janie Emaus said...

What a fun thing to share with your readers.

Dru said...

I'm a day behind, but I can't wait to read Friday's installment and I do love seeing all the characters together in one story.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Jamie, it's been a blast. Dru, you're going to love the conclusion. Remember, you can always scroll through the "old" posts and catch up.