Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Crafty Kind of Murder

What happens when seven crafty sleuths try to take a hobby holiday? The tangled web of crime follows them! They might be amateurs when it comes to crime detection, but these women are professionals in the world of handicrafts and hobbies. Join scrapbooker Kiki Lowenstein, miniaturist Gerry Porter, needlearts expert Betsy Devonshire, pet-sitter and attorney Kendra Ballantyne, rubber stampers Rocky Winchester and April Buchert, and crochet enthusiast Molly Pink as they put their heads together to solve the worst sort of murder possible, the crafty kind.

By Joanna Campbell Slan, Margaret Grace, Monica Ferris, Linda O. Johnston, Terri Thayer, and Betty Hechtman

"A Crafty Kind of Murder"
Part I

Jane Kuhn opened the door cleverly disguised with the same grass cloth that covered the rest of the St. Louis Convention Center walls. The organizer of the Craft and Hobby Extravaganza waited patiently for us to file in. Which we did in a noisy, curious way. Jane was used to corralling her volunteers, not seven crafty hobbyists.

“What’s behind door number two?” Molly Pink muttered as Jane gestured toward the room.

A ladies’ boudoir, evidently. The small space had been transformed into a cozy sitting room. Some kind of parachute had been hung to disguise the industrial ceiling. An area rug covered the concrete floor. A television and DVD player sat on a table in front of a pale pink corduroy recliner. A granny square crocheted afghan lay across the back.

Behind the chair, a red drapery hung crookedly, concealing whatever was behind it.
“Imagine that,” said Betsy Devonshire. “A red ‘green room.’”

“A red green room?” asked Kiki Lowenstein.

“That's right,” said Betsy. “A ‘green room’ is what you call a staging room for celebrities. For some reason, these were traditionally painted green.”

Jane pointed around the room. “This d├ęcor is what our star, Carolina Pettijohn, requested. She wouldn’t appear unless we fixed up a green room to her specifications. Her contract was twelve pages long.”

“Sounds more like a list of demands,” Gerry Porter said.

“That’s not far from the truth,” Jane admitted.

A long table, laden with food and drink, hugged the wall. A pyramid of protein bars acted as a centerpiece. Pitchers of iced tea and water had sweated, leaving damp spots on the lace tablecloth. A basket of fruit was piled high with a pineapple sticking out in the middle. One apple had a bite out of it and was turning brown. We gathered around as if we hadn’t eaten in a week. It was the end of a long day, and we were all hungry.

“Hey,” Kendra Ballantyne said, studying the array of candy on the table. “Not that I’m a Skittles fan, but I definitely know what they look like. There are no yellow Skittles in this bowl.”

“Exactly,” Jane said. “Welcome to the world of Carolina Pettijohn, where yellow Skittles are banned and walls must be draped in red silk.”

Betsy Devonshire touched the length of fabric. “Don’t tell her this is polyester.”

“Don't worry. I won't. Besides, she’s in no position to complain,” Jane said. "Not now.”

The seven of us had followed Jane a long distance from the show floor with all the vendors but we were still inside the convention center. In fact, we could still hear the light-hearted music of the Chapeau Parade that had just begun when Jane asked us for our help. While we were stuffed in this odd little room, all the other crafters were enjoying themselves, showing off their hats, and winning prizes. None of us were pouting, but all of us wished we were somewhere else. Preferably someplace that served food. Real food.

Of our band of seven, only Kiki Lowenstein represented the local crafting community. In fact, Kiki had recently become part owner of Time in a Bottle, a local papercrafting store less than two miles away from the convention center. Betsy Devonshire, plump, blond and fifty-ish, was the owner of a needlework shop in Excelsior, Minnesota. But most of our group had come from California. There was Gerry Porter, a retired high school English teacher and miniaturist from Lincoln Point; Kendra Ballantyne, a lawyer-turned-pet-sitter from LA; and Molly Pink, the event coordinator at a Tarzana, California, bookstore that hosted a local crochet group, the Tarzana Hookers. Two members of our unofficial band had traveled all the way from Aldenville, Pennsylvania. April Buchert had come to the show with the Stamping Sisters owner, and her future sister-in-law, Rocky Winchester.

Yes, all in all, we were quite the group of talented crafters! We also represented the far-flung reaches of the national crafting and hobbyist community. But it wasn’t our eminence in our industries that had caused Jane to gather us together at the end of day one of the Craft and Hobby Extravaganza.

No, it was something much more sinister.

It was our respective abilities to track down a murderer.

Of course, we didn't know that when Jane pulled back a curtain cordoning off a corner of the green room.

We gasped as if one.

The dead body of Carolina Pettijohn rested on a day bed. If there was one woman who represented the national popularity of crafts and hobbies, it was Carolina. Her famous face, seen daily on her own craft show, adorned the face of C, her magazine. In fact all of us were wearing her image on the ID badge that gave us access to the event.

“Gosh,” said Kiki, as her hand flew up to cover her mouth.

“She’s dead?” Betsy said. But it was clear the diva had gone on to that big craft room in the sky. Carolina’s skin was waxy pale, and her chest was still. However, she also had two black eyes.

“Worse,” Jane said.

“It can get worse than dead?” asked April.

“She was murdered.” Jane sighed. “At least I think she was. There’s a trickle blood coming out of her right ear. Plus, this place is a mess.”

A trash can was dumped over, Carolina’s body was sprawled across the day bed, and her blouse was askew. On the floor beside her rested a cola can with a portion of its contents leaking onto the rug. Clearly there had been a bit of a struggle.

We looked at each other. Now it made sense. The connecting thread. Each of us had solved at least a murder or two. We knew our way around a crime scene. We’d dealt with murderous spouses, jealous lovers, and conspiring colleagues.

Even so, our expressions must have been bleak.

“I'm so sorry to spring this on you,” moaned Jane. “But I don't know what else to do! You ladies are my only hope. I suppose by now everyone has read that article about the seven of you in Mystery! Magazine.”

We nodded. We’d all gained a modicum of fame as crafters who sidelined as amateur sleuths.

“It's not like I've never seen a dead body before,” said Gerry. “But I'll admit, I didn't expect to see one here. This was supposed to be a vacation! Thank goodness my granddaughter isn't here with me.”

“Oh, heck,” said Kendra. “I’m a murder magnet back in L.A. these days, but I never expected it to follow me here.”

Rocky grumbled. “So far, I’ve seen nothing about St. Louis to recommend it. Now this?”

April elbowed her. “Be nice!”

“I was being nice,” said Rocky. “That was actually the edited version. We traveled all those hours for this? A dead body?”

“Jane, did you call the police?” Kiki asked. “I know a detective…he investigated my husband’s murder.”

Jane shook her head violently. “I'll call the authorities...but not just yet, please! Word will get out that she’s dead. The police will shut the show down. My life savings are invested in this.”

She let the curtain fall shut and tottered over to a folding chair. Covering her face with her hands she said, “You don't understand. It’s everything I have. I'll lose my house. I'll be out on the streets. Please, can’t you help me? If we can figure out who did before the cops arrive, maybe I can keep the show up and running.”

“Do you have any idea who might have done this?” Gerry asked. She stepped closer to a folding card table. Something crackled under her foot. “What was that?”

“Probably one of those stupid Skittles,” said Molly Pink.

Since Gerry was a wizard about turning “found” items into small miniatures, she quickly bent over and picked up the item from the floor. Holding it to the light, she saw it was a small gold pin shaped like a bowl full of spaghetti. Gerry slipped it into her pocket.

“I think I know who did it,” said Kiki. “But I'd like the rest of you to confirm my suspicions. Do you mind if I start from the beginning?”

Betsy nodded and put a kindly hand on Kiki's shoulder. “Of course. That's the best policy. We've all had a shock. How about starting with your arrival?”

Kendra agreed. “That way we won't miss any clues.”

Molly smiled. “It's like unraveling a piece when you make a mistake as you crochet it. You have to get your bearings.”

April and Rocky shrugged. “Here we go.”

Tomorrow: Kiki Lowenstein shares her observations in Part II of "A Crafty Kind of Murder"


Mason Canyon said...

Can't wait.

Thoughts in Progress

Peg said...

What an intriguing start - can't wait to read the rest.

Gwyn Ramsey said...

An enjoyable murder mystery. Look forward to part 1.

Gwyn Ramsey

chris V said...

what a great idea! Can't wait to read the rest!
Chris Verstraete

Terri Thayer said...

Thanks for your comments. Please chime in all week. And tell your friends.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I second Terri's response. And I can tell you that this story gets better and better as it goes along!

misterreereeder said...

Interesting beginning to a mystery. And apparently it includes the sleuths from each of your books. Looking forward to more.

Terri Thayer said...

Yes, our sleuths get together for the very first time. Of course there is murder.

Dru said...

I love it and can't wait to read the next installment.

Anonymous said...

This was good. I mean, really good. Hope there is more.