Blog » Read Chapter Two of Cathy Elliott's 'A Stitch in Crime'
- 2015-01-29 07:00:00
Enjoy this excerpt of Cathy Elliott's A Stitch in Crime. Make sure you check back each week for a new excerpt from a Quilts of Love book!
A Stitch in Crime — Chapter Two
Wandering through the great room and past the kitchen, Thea didn’t see Dr. Cottle or Mary-Alice. In fact, she didn’t see anyone.
Stepping into Mary-Alice’s sitting room she found herself blessedly alone. Thea stared out the window, willing Dr. Cottle to come, wondering if something sinister had befallen the famed quilt expert. Get a grip, Thea.
Thea pressed her nose against the leaded windowpane, searching for any sign of him among the passersby. Various vehicles drove past the Wentworth Mansion, but she didn’t see a man wearing those trademark sphere-shaped spectacles.
Thea sensed someone behind her and whirled around. As she did so, she stumbled against an elderly woman, who fell backward into a potted ficus tree.
“Mary-Alice!” Thea lunged and grabbed a bony elbow, rescuing the woman from a close encounter with some potting soil. Thea slipped her arm around Mary-Alice Wentworth in a supportive gesture. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I’m the one who should apologize, interrupting your quiet time.” Mary-Alice shook out her skirt. She appeared unflustered, in spite of the episode.
Thea brushed a brown leaf from Mary-Alice’s soft, gray curls and straightened the elder’s necklace with its attached silver key. Thea was soothing herself as much as her friend.
“I was hoping for a glimpse of Dr. Cottle,” Thea said. “We can’t start the festivities without him.”
“Too late, my dear.” Mary-Alice’s eyes hinted at mischief. “I think we already have!”
“I guess it’s true. In fact, our celebration seems like a success.” But Thea didn’t believe her own words. How could it be anything but a disappointment if the guest of honor didn’t appear?
“You’ve done a wonderful job arranging it,” Mary-Alice said.
“Thanks. But I’m only a co-chair.” Thea hoped she sounded suitably humble. “Prudy, my quilt show co-partner, deserves some of the credit, no doubt.”
“Oh, no doubt.” Mary-Alice gave an impish wink. She sat on an elegant Queen Anne chair and opened a drawer in the matching desk. “Now, where did I put that letter?”
“The one from Dr. Cottle.” Mary-Alice riffled through the drawer’s contents, then opened and explored another.
Ah, yes. The late Dr. Cottle. Thea caught herself as if the thought might become true in more ways than one. How silly.
To divert herself, she watched Mary-Alice’s feverish search, then turned back to the window, flooded by an uneasy feeling. Thea squinted to scrutinize the passing population again. Not a single Cottle. No one even Cottle-like. She gave a dejected sigh.
“It’s not here. I must have left it upstairs in the bedroom.” Mary-Alice’s voice disrupted Thea’s thoughts, bringing her back to the lost letter.
“Do you want me to help you look?” Thea noted the open drawers and mussed desktop.
“Bless you, my dear. But you have better things to do than help a forgetful old woman find her missing mail.”
“Pish-posh, as Mum would say. I’d be happy to help.” Thea leaned over and squeezed the elder’s hand, which wrinkled like crepe paper.
Mary-Alice surveyed the room. “I was so sure it was here.” She lifted the blotter on the desktop and checked underneath.
“What’s in the letter?”
“Something about the quilt, ‘Larkin’s Treasure.’ New information about the old mystery of great riches attached to it. And so interesting, too. But . . . oh, my.” Mary-Alice looked up, disheartened. “I’m afraid I’ve forgotten what it said.”
Made by a granddaughter of Larkin McLeod, the beloved wife of town founder Hastings McLeod, “Larkin’s Treasure” was considered one of the finest examples of late nineteenth-century textiles. Plus, legend allowed the old crazy quilt contained a secret about great riches.
Mary-Alice, a direct descendant of the McLeod line, had tired of guarding the old family heirloom from thievery and donated it to the State Quilt & Textile Museum. However, for the weekend’s festivities, arrangements had been made to loan “Larkin’s Treasure” back. It was now safely locked inside a display case in Larkindale’s own Hastings McLeod Museum—the only key clipped to the chain around Mary-Alice’s neck.
“I’m sure we’ll find the letter soon.” Thea started toward the sofa and tripped on the corner of a thick, throw rug, stubbing her sandaled toe. A sharp pain shot through her foot, and she bit her lip to keep the tears at bay. She waited a moment for Mary-Alice to stop ransacking the room and offer a word of comfort. But the woman foraged on.
“You know so much about the history of the quilt,” Thea said, while rubbing the damaged digit against the back of her leg, “you’ll be able to enchant everyone with the story.”
“It’s kind of you to say, my dear. But you should hear Kenneth. Why, he’s out back right now, enthralling the guests with talk of secret maps and family feuds and all sorts of nonsense about ‘Larkin’s Treasure.’ He can certainly spin an intriguing tale. In truth, my great-nephew’s almost as knowledgeable about the old quilt as our visiting expert.”
What visiting expert?
“If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check in my bedroom to see if it’s where I left that pesky letter.” Mary-Alice turned toward the staircase in the foyer. “Stay as long as you like, my dear. I always find this room restful.”
Thea sat on the edge of a chenille-covered chaise where she could still see out the window and arranged her voluminous skirt about her legs, crossed at the ankle in a most ladylike fashion. She appreciated the effect of sparkly sandal straps around each foot. But she noted no evidence of trauma to her offended toe.
The sound of Mary-Alice’s footsteps faded as Thea studied the sitting room.
A grandmother clock emitted a clear tick, audible above the sounds of the soirée. Thea’s glance took in the charming fireplace with marble tiling and dark oak surround. She could imagine Mary-Alice stitching away on her latest quilt project on cool winter evenings, fire crackling, hot tea on a tray, and her little dog, Moxie, at her feet.
Where was Moxie, anyway? Maybe the wiggly, white puffball was secured in the big bedroom Mary-Alice once shared with her husband of nearly fifty years. How lonesome she must feel without Professor Wentworth. She lived alone in this cavernous, old house, once filled with the sounds of many feet on the stairs. Of course, Mary-Alice would say she wasn’t alone.
“I do get lonely for my husband, Seth, but I am never alone. The Lord is always with me,” she often said. “And He’s a marvelous companion. Life with Him is worth living.”
The clock chimed half-past the hour. Seven-thirty. Thea dragged her thoughts back to the present problem. What was keeping Cottle? She should get back to her guests. And whatever mayhem might wait in ambush. Thea again squinted through the windowpanes. Completely Cottleless.
Enough. She needed to take her mind off the Cottle crisis, even an imaginary one. Though it didn’t help when Moxie’s little erratic yaps started from somewhere upstairs. In response, Thea’s brain birthed the vision of a few baying Baskerville hounds. And mists and danger and. . . .
Perhaps she could discover if Mary-Alice’s missing letter was still in the sitting room. Thea wandered onto the wool rug, this time careful to clear her silver sandals over the thick edge. She patted along the top of a bookshelf, then chided herself. Much too high for her petite friend to reach. Thea noticed a short stack of periodicals on a lower shelf. Maybe it got stuck in a magazine? She flipped the pages of the Saturday Evening Post, Quilting World, Christianity Today, and a couple of local publications. No letter.
What about the antique linen press? An unlikely prospect, but Thea opened the door to reveal the stack of colorful quilts. On top was a scrappy, log-cabin quilt, reminiscent of Thea’s own first creation and quilt show entry. She pulled it out of the cabinet and stroked the soft fabric, admiring the design. Something fell from the folds and scored a direct hit to her exposed pinkies.
Thea leaned down and found an envelope lying at an angle atop her foot. “Hello, what have we here?” Addressed to her hostess, the envelope’s return address was the official logo of the California State Quilt & Textile Museum.
This must be the lost letter! Would Mary-Alice mind if Thea examined the contents? She hesitated and turned over the envelope, wondering what to do.
Then, from deep inside the house, she heard a high-pitched sound, chilling as a chalkboard screech.
A blood-curdling scream.