Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Crafty Kind of Murder (Continued)

"A Crafty Kind of Murder" Part VI: Observations in the Murder of Carolina Pettijohn, submitted by Molly Pink.

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. 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 aren't resolved. Kendra Ballantyne agrees with Betsy. As an attorney, Kendra believes Jane Kuhn's problems with Carolina's expense reports are the best motive for murder so far. Just when the situation couldn't get any more confusing, Rocky Winchester admits she, too, had acrimonious dealings with the craft diva. But Rocky claims she didn't kill Carolina, and now Molly Pink steps forward with a solution to the crime.

By Betty Hechtman

“Molly, you’ve got to see these,” my friend Dinah Lyons called. When I turned toward her voice, she was standing in front of a booth called The Yarn Boutique, holding up a handful of glittery crochet hooks.

“I can’t. I have to find Carolina Pettijohn now. Once she gets involved with signing her books, I won’t get a chance to talk to her.” As event coordinator for Shedd & Royal Books and More it was my job to set up author events. As soon as I heard Carolina was going to be traveling to the West Coast next month, I wanted to set something up with her. It would be a win-win. Carolina Pettijohn would sell a lot of books and we’d have a wonderful event. I’d already started to plan on some kind of “make and take” from her book. No need to mention to Carolina that many of the events I put on ended up with an interesting twist. Surely there was at least one project in her book that was disaster proof.

I gave the area the once-over again, and still there was no sign of Ms. Pettijohn. Too late I realized I should have gone up to her when I’d seen her before, even if it had meant interrupting. She’d always been surrounded by a bunch of people. I joined Dinah at the yarn booth. The woman behind the counter handed Dinah one of the gold flecked hooks and some yarn and urged us to try it, explaining they were turbo hooks and guaranteed to make our crocheting go faster.

With yarn and hooks in our hands, it was easy to lose track of time. When I glanced at my watch I didn’t mean to, but I shrieked out loud and dropped the hook and yarn. I stepped back in the aisle and started craning my neck. Where could Carolina be?

Dinah joined me and handed me a bag with a bunch of yarn and several of the turbo hooks. “My treat. It’s the least I can do after you came all the way to St. Louis with me. You have no idea how much I appreciate your coming to my niece's wedding with me.”

“Glad to do it. The wedding was lovely, and we were so lucky she scheduled it the same weekend as the Craft and Hobby Extravaganza,” I said.

“You’ll find her,” Dinah said in a reassuring voice as I looked around. “Carolina has to be around here somewhere. In the meantime, I need a coffee.” She pointed toward a cafĂ© set up in corner of the hall. “We can watch for her from one of the tables. She’s bound to go by.”

A few minutes later I set my red-eye on one of the small round tables and pulled up a chair. “Great that they have espresso drinks,” Dinah said, drinking through the foam on her cappuccino. I nodded and took a welcome sip of my coffee with a shot of espresso.

“There’s Kendra,” Dinah said as our fellow Angeleno went by. I had met Kendra Ballantyne a while back when she came into the bookstore. We had continued the friendship online. It turned out we had a lot in common – we were both surrounded with animals and both seemed to be murder magnets. As soon as Kendra saw me waving, she came over to the table.

“Have you seen that Pettijohn woman?” I said as Dinah pulled out a chair for Kendra. Her adorable dog Lexie settled under the table. I was pleased to see that Lexie was wearing the cute blue vest I'd made for her last spring. Kendra had told me she was decidedly “uncrafty,” but I saw no reason to let Lexie go without. When Kendra received the vest in the mail, she'd called me first thing to say thanks. I was pretty sure my efforts had sealed our friendship. It's always been my experience that handmade gifts are the best gifts of all.

Kendra looked over the crowd and shrugged. “I saw her a while ago. I know she’s supposed to be signing books soon. Maybe Kiki Lowenstein knows. I think she was acting as her escort.”

While I had read about Kiki Lowenstein in the article about amateur sleuths in Mystery! Magazine, I’d never met her or Gerry Porter, Betsy Devonshire, or April Buchert, who had been featured in the story as well. At least, I'd never met them in person. We’d all chatted online. That was another reason I was so excited about traveling with Dinah to St. Louis. This was the perfect opportunity to put real people with online names. And of course, the other women were just as eager to meet me. I’d been mentioned in the article on amateur sleuths, too. We were all a bit proud of our crime solving abilities, and with good reason.

I recognized the woman in the aqua sweater from the photo that had accompanied the article. After introductions and some mutual admiration, I asked Kiki about the craft queen. Kendra and Dinah expressed their interest, too.

Kiki seemed distraught. “I don’t know what happened to her. I was taking her around the fair floor and all of sudden she just wasn’t there. I thought she might have gone to the rest room, but she never came back.”

A plain woman with thick glasses and a disgruntled expression marched past the table. Kiki grabbed the woman's arm to stop her and her tote bag overflowing with samples and brochures swung against the table with a loud thwack. Kiki introduced Rosie Jackson, Carolina’s creative assistant. When I asked Rosie if she knew where her boss was, she muttered something under her breath. I didn’t hear, but Dinah was sure she said something like “in hell where she belongs.” Kendra offered Rosie a chair, but the other woman begged off.

Rosie started to walk away, then paused, turned and came back to us. “If you really want to find her, I suggest you look in the bar. It’s happy hour, after all.”

“Oh, doggies,” said Kiki. “That doesn't sound good. Poor Jane Kuhn set up this whole convention. I happen to know Carolina agreed to a book signing later this evening. I hope she's sober enough not to make a mess of things.”

I nodded. I had a lot of experience with book signings. Drunk authors are not good for business.

Rosie had barely gone from sight when another woman ran up to our table and interrupted. “Aren’t you Kiki Lowenstein? I recognize your photo from the local paper. I’m Doris Handly. Do you know where Carolina is?”

“Um, no Doris, I don’t.” Poor Kiki turned red. She didn't want to say we'd heard Carolina was in the bar, and I couldn't blame her. After all, Kiki was friends with the organizer. Still, there was no reason I couldn't plant the seed without making an accusation. “You might check in several places. There's a green room behind the back wall. There's also a bar up by the registration table.”

Dinah complimented Doris on her knit shawl and asked to have a closer look. The woman brightened at the compliment and lifted her hair off the collar of her turtleneck and turned model fashion so Dinah could take in the whole thing.
I was still worried about catching up with Carolina. In fact, I was getting more worried each time I looked at my watch.

“Maybe Sondra Echols knows where Carolina is,” Kiki said gesturing toward a woman passing by. “Sondra? Sondra?”

At first the woman seemed to ignore Kiki, but finally, she turned around and came over to the table. Kiki introduced Sondra and explained that she was a customer at her scrapbooking store. Sondra wasn’t any more help than the others. She appeared to have done a lot of shopping at the fair. Her tote bag bulged and Carolina’s book was sticking out of the top. “Consider yourself lucky for not running into her,” Sondra said, looking at me. “I spent my afternoon doing a collage rather than run into her again. That woman was a real you-know-what. By the way, do either of you know where the lost and found is?”

Kiki explained that one of the volunteers at the registration table would probably know. “What did you lose?”

“A pin,” said Sondra. “It was a gift from my knitting club, and I hate to think it’s gone. Speaking of which,” Sondra pulled one of Carolina’s books out of her tote bag and dropped it into the trash. “I don’t know why I’m lugging this around. It's just garbage.”

“Gee,” said Kiki, reaching in and retrieving the book after Sondra left. “Do any of you want it? If not, I'm going to grab it and recycle it. I could take the book back to the store and turn it into a piece of altered art.”

Kendra laughed. “Sounds like exactly what a lot of people would like to do with Carolina!”

At that moment, Jane Kuhn raced up to our table. I’d talked to her earlier when Dinah and I registered. Jane had looked strained then, but nothing compared to now. No doubt being the organizer of this event had gotten to her. She apologized to Dinah, then pulled Kendra, Kiki and me aside. “Ladies, I have a problem and I need your help.”

The urgent tone in her voice kept us from asking more questions on the spot. Instead, we followed her to the edge of the vendor area. A group of woman were standing near a door marked Staff Only. When Kendra, Kiki and I got closer, I recognized the rest of our group from the photo in the amateur sleuth article. How nice to finally meet Gerry Porter, Betsy Devonshire, Rocky Winchester and April Buchert!

“This is great,” I said. “Dinah and I were hoping all of us could have dinner together. I’ll go get her.”

“Please,” said Jane. “Please, you can't go anywhere. Not yet. You have to help me!”

“With what?” asked Kiki. “Can't it wait until after dinner?”

That's when Jane begged us to practice our considerable skills as amateur sleuths!

Tomorrow: Join us for the exciting conclusion to "A Crafty Kind of Murder."


Dru said...

I'm loving this mystery because I haven't quite figured out who.

Betty Hechtman said...

I'm glad you're enjoying the mystery and that we stumped you.