Knot the Usual Suspects (Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries)

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9781494504830: Knot the Usual Suspects (Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries)

It's time for Handmade Blue Plum, an annual arts and crafts fair, and Kath and her knitting group TGIF (Thank Goodness It's Fiber) plan to kick off the festivities with a yarn bombing. But they're not the only ones needling Blue Plum. Bagpiper and former resident Hugh McPhee had just returned after a long absence, yet his reception is anything but cozy. The morning after his arrival, he's found dead in full piper's regalia. Although shaken, Kath and her knitting group go forward with their yarn installation-only to hit a deadly snag. Now, with the help of Geneva, the ghost who haunts her shop, Kath and TGIF need to unravel the mystery before someone else gets kilt!

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About the Author:

Molly MacRae is the author of Lawn Order, Wilder Rumors, and the Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine for more than twenty years, and she has won the Sherwood Anderson Award for Short Fiction. Molly lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois.

Emily Durante has been narrating audiobooks for over ten years and is also an AudioFile Earphones Award-winning audiobook director. She has been acting since the age of seven and has performed in a number of stage productions at the professional, collegiate, and regional levels.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

CAST OF CHARACTERS

At the Weaver’s Cat

Kath Rutledge: Textile preservation specialist formerly of Springfield, Illinois, now owner of the Weaver’s Cat, a fiber-and-fabric shop in Blue Plum, Tennessee

Ardis Buchanan: Longtime manager of the Weaver’s Cat

Geneva: The ghost who lives at the Weaver’s Cat, Ardis Buchanan’s great-great-aunt

Debbie Keith: Part-time staff at the Weaver’s Cat, full-time sheep farmer

Abby Netherton: Teenager working part-time at the Weaver’s Cat

Argyle: The shop’s cat

Members of TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Fiber) and the Yarn Bomb Squad

Joe Dunbar (Tennyson Yeats Dunbar): Kath’s significant other, fly fisherman, watercolorist, sometimes called “Ten”

Ernestine O’Dell: Septuagenarian, retired secretary

Melody (Mel) Gresham: Café owner, calls Kath “Red”

Thea Green: Town librarian who came up with the idea to yarn-bomb Blue Plum

John Berry: Octogenarian, retired naval officer

Zach Aikens: Teenager

Rachel Meeks: Banker

Tammie Fain: Energetic grandmother

Wanda Vance: Retired nurse

Supporting Cast

Shirley and Mercy Spivey: Twins, Kath’s cousins (several times removed)

Hugh McPhee: Bagpipe player, former Blue Plum citizen

Gladys Weems: The mayor’s mother

Olive Weems: Organizer of the arts and crafts fair Handmade Blue Plum, the mayor’s wife

Palmer (Pokey) Weems: Mayor of Blue Plum

Al Rogalla: Accountant, volunteer fireman

Ellen: A knitter in town for Handmade Blue Plum

Janet: A knitter in town for Handmade Blue Plum

Aaron Carlin: Odd-jobs man, significant other of Angie Spivey

Hank Buchanan: Ardis’ daddy

Ambrose Berry: John’s older brother

Angie Spivey: Mercy Spivey’s daughter

Sheriff’s Department

Cole (Clod) Dunbar (Coleridge Blake Dunbar): Deputy, Joe’s brother

Darla Dye: Deputy

Shorty Munroe: Deputy

Leonard Haynes (Lonnie): Sheriff

Chapter 1

Waiting for twilight would have been a good idea. Waiting for full dark even better. A sunny Tuesday morning was hardly the best time for scuttling up the courthouse steps and sliding behind one of the massive columns—not if I wanted to call myself “sneaky.”

I hesitated at the bottom of the steps. My friends and former colleagues back in Springfield, Illinois, might not think so, but from where I stood Blue Plum, Tennessee, bustled. Crowds didn’t jostle me, but in the way of small towns, as long as anyone was around, there was a chance that someone would see something and mention it to two or three others. The problem was partly my own fault. If I’d completed this measuring assignment for TGIF sooner, I wouldn’t have to worry about being surreptitious in broad daylight now. Then again, if we’d included the courthouse in our original plan, I would have had weeks, not days, to get it done. The occasional criminal investigation aside, TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Fiber—the needle arts group that met at the Weaver’s Cat) was not an organization ordinarily dedicated to furtive operations, though, so I didn’t want to let the others down now, as we prepared for our first-ever clandestine fiber installation event.

The way to sneak successfully, I decided, was to act normal. Eyes open, not casting shifty glances left and right. Shoulders square, not hunched as though ready to creep. Air of confidence. Relaxed smile.

A familiar-looking woman came down the stairs toward me. Her face didn’t jog a name from my memory, but I liked the popcorn stitch cardigan she wore and I smiled as she passed.

“It’s Kathy, isn’t it?” she asked, turning back to me.

“Close,” I said. “Just Kath.”

“I hope you know how lucky you are.”

“Pardon?”

“Lucky to have the Weaver’s Cat. Your grandmother made the right decision in leaving the shop to you.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

“I keep meaning to stop in. Later this week, though. Not today—must rush.”

“Great—” Before I could say anything more, her rush carried her away.

I walked up the dozen worn limestone steps, looking for all the world like anyone else on her way to renew car tags, attend a trial, or probate a will. But at the top, rather than follow an older couple across the portico and through the doors, I stopped, turned around, and pretended to enjoy my elevated view of Main Street.

I didn’t really have to pretend. The streetscape, a mix of mostly Federal and Victorian architecture, looked and felt exactly right to me. Pink and purple petunias spilled from half-barrel planters along the brick sidewalks. Window boxes with red geraniums and sweet potato vines brightened storefronts. Looking right, I saw the bank and half a dozen office buildings and shops and, down at the end of the next block, the sign for the public library. To the left, along past Mel’s café, my own shop, the Weaver’s Cat, basked in the morning sun. This view, this town, had been part of my life through all my childhood summers when I’d come to visit my grandmother in her hometown. Now, thanks to her generosity in leaving me her house and the Weaver’s Cat, Blue Plum was my hometown, too.

I watched Rachel Meeks, the banker, deadhead a couple of geraniums in the planters at the bank’s door. Somewhere in her mid- to late fifties, Rachel’s business suit mirrored her straightforward business sense. Apparently so did her sense of gardening decorum. She carried the withered flowers inside with her. I strolled to the end of the portico, still looking out over the street and assuming I looked casual, then sidled around behind the last column where I’d be in its shadow and couldn’t be seen from the steps or the door. There I took a coil of string from a pocket in my shoulder bag.

A second pair of hands to hold one end of the string would have helped. Unfortunately my favorite second pair of hands had other business that morning. Joe—the Renaissance odd-job-man-about-town who’d worked his way into my heart—had gone over the mountains early to deliver half a dozen fly rods he’d built for an outfitter in Asheville. That was just as well; two of us fiddling around a column would draw more attention. I took a roll of painter’s tape from my bag, tore off an inch-long piece, and pressed it over the end of the string, sticking it to the column at about waist height.

The plan was to circle the column with the string and mark the string where it met itself again, then remove the tape, recoil the string, return string and tape to my bag, and retreat to the Weaver’s Cat. I’d barely started around the column, though, when a familiar voice made me pull back out of sight.

“Ms. Weems, ma’am—oof—now, that was uncalled for.”

“You’re a quack, and I’ll tell anyone who asks.”

“Let’s step on inside, then, ma’am, and you can tell the sheriff.”

I inched around the column in time to see Joe’s uniformed and starched brother, Deputy Cole Dunbar, ushering a tiny, elderly woman through the courthouse doors. The woman, Mayor Palmer “Pokey” Weems’ mother, wore tennis shoes, and it was a good thing. As she passed Joe’s brother, she hauled off and kicked his shin. He winced, but there was no second “oof.” That led me to believe the first “oof” had been a reaction to a different kind of assault—maybe a swift connection between Ms. Weems’ pocketbook and his midsection.

Snickering at someone else’s pain isn’t nice, even if that person is a clod. And even though Cole Dunbar would always be “Clod” to me, I was fairly sure I hadn’t snickered. But before the door closed on him, something made Clod turn toward me and my column. I immediately knelt and retied my shoe, pretending not to notice him noticing me.

“I’m not sure he fell for that,” a voice from farther around the column said.

At one time in my life an unknown and unexpected voice addressing me out of the blue might have startled me. Not anymore. Now I practically yawned to show how blasé I was about such surprises. I also flicked an inconsequential speck of dust from the toe of my shoe to show I wasn’t worried about whether or not Clod fell for my pretense. Then I stood up to see who’d spoken. That I could see a living, breathing human standing there was a plus, even if I hadn’t ever seen him before and had no idea who he was. Judging by the light gray overtaking the dark gray in his beard, I guessed he was in his fifties—older than Clod by at least ten years and Joe by more than a dozen.

“That was one of the Dunbar brothers, wasn’t it?” he asked. “Weren’t they named after composers?” The camera around the stranger’s neck made him look like a tourist. The soft twang in his question sounded local.

“Poets. That was Coleridge,” I said.

“And the other one’s name . . .” He tried to tease it from his memory by tipping his head and waving his hand by his ear.

“Tennyson,” I said.

“That’s it.”

“Coleridge Blake Dunbar and Tennyson Yeats Dunbar,” I said, “except the deputy there goes by Cole and his brother is Joe.”

“Smart move.” The stranger nodded. “Better than Cold Fridge and Tennis Shoe, both of which I remember hearing when the boys would have been at a tender age. Huh. I haven’t thought about them in years. But even back then I wondered how they’d turn out, weighed down with those names.” His tone was mild rather than judgmental. It had a reminiscent, storytelling sound to it.

“You’re from Blue Plum?”

“Not for a few years, anyway,” he said.

Not for a few decades, if he hadn’t known Clod was a sheriff’s deputy and that Joe was, well, Joe.

“Can I give you a hand with your string there?” he asked.

“Oh.” I’d let go of the string when I pretended to tie my shoe. The end was still stuck to the column with the painter’s tape.

“Measuring it for a school project, right? You hold it there and I’ll—” He picked up the dangling end and walked around the column to meet me. “One of my proudest moments in the fourth grade was when I made my cardboard model of the courthouse. Of course, a flexible metal tape measure would be the best way to do this, but your string works, too.”

I took a felt-tip pen out of my shoulder bag and marked the string. He pulled the tape off the column, coiled the string, and handed it to me. “Thanks,” I said, tucking the string and pen back in my bag. “It was nice of you to help.” I turned to go.

And I saw Clod. He’d come back out of the courthouse and stood beside the door in his police-issue posture, arms crossed, watching me and whoever the guy was who’d just helped me with my string-and-column project.

“Hey, Cole,” I called, with a wave as wide and insincere as my smile. “Here’s an old friend of yours.” I pointed over my shoulder, then turned back to my new friend to reintroduce him to his old acquaintance. But no one was there.

Chapter 2

Clod started to say something—possibly Good morning, Ms. Rutledge. Why are you lurking?—but the radio at his shoulder burped static. He listened and responded with a curt, clear “Ten-four” that I imagined spitting out the other end in another eruption of static, intelligible only to the starched and initiated. Without a wave or a nod, he put on his sunglasses and went down the steps and around the corner to where he parked behind the courthouse. I looked around again for the helpful stranger, didn’t see him, and headed for the Weaver’s Cat.

When I’d decided to stay in Blue Plum (due to one thing or another—one thing being the loss of my job as a textile conservator at the Illinois State Museum and the other being the lucky inheritance of Granny’s house and business), Ardis Buchanan told me her secret for getting anywhere fast in our small town. No matter how short the distance, she got in her car and drove. If I walk, she’d said, I’ll run into someone I know, and you and I both know that I am incapable of walking past the opportunity for a good chin-wag. Ardis, longtime manager of the Weaver’s Cat, wise in the ways and means of Blue Plum, was always worth listening to. I’d adapted her solution for bypassing unavoidable chin-wags, taking it in a more ecological and heart-healthy direction. I walked, but I took the less traveled driveways that threaded between some of the businesses on Main Street and the service alleys running behind them.

The electronic chime on the back door of the Weaver’s Cat was another reason I liked taking the alley way to work. The chime—courtesy of my creative friend Joe, né Tennyson, brother of the lamentable Clod—said “Baaaa” every time the door opened. I loved it. Argyle, the cat in residence, liked the chime, too, and he came to greet me in the kitchen, his tail up like a signal flag that read feed me.

“Hasn’t Ardis already given you breakfast this morning, sweet pea?” I asked.

Argyle twined his yellow-striped body between my ankles. I stepped over him, he followed and twined, I stepped, he twined. Together, we moved toward the cupboard that held the dry cat food, doing what I’d come to think of as the “Paw de Deux.” I tipped a few kibbles in his dish, and he thanked me with one last circuit of my ankles.

“She never gives him enough,” a voice grumped from somewhere near the ceiling. I looked up and saw Geneva, the ghost in residence, do a fade-in on top of the refrigerator. “In my experience, young gentlemen require and enjoy unbelievable amounts of what’s good for them.”

I sidestepped Argyle’s thank-you maneuver and looked down the hall toward the front of the shop. Talking to Geneva had gotten somewhat easier in the past couple of months. When she and I had first met, I was the only one who saw or heard her, and communicating openly—without looking or sounding crazy—had presented problems. But now that I’d found a way for Ardis to see and hear her, I only needed to be careful around everyone else in the world. I saw no one in the hall and went back to the refrigerator. Geneva sat with her knees drawn up so that she looked like a wispy gray lump.

“He’s not a young cat, Geneva. The vet says he might be as old as fifteen.”

“When you are one hundred and fifty-nine years old, then you come back and tell me if you still think fifteen isn’t young.”

“But for a cat, especially one who had a rough early life, fifteen is old. The shop is Argyle’s retirement home, and we need to take good care of him.”

She pulled her knees closer and rested her chin on them, a pose that said “hmph” as clearly as words.

“Anything going on this morning?” I asked, watching her body language for further clues about her attitude in general and the current state of affairs between her and Ardis in particular. Watching her “mist” would be more accurate. She rarely appeared more substantial than a film of rainwater on a dark window, or more solid than an Orenburg lace shawl—garments made of lace so fine they can be gathered and passed through the hole in a wedding ring. “How’s Ardis this morning?”

“Hmph.”

“Give her time, Geneva.”

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