Death of a Crafty Knitter, страница 1часть #2 серии Stormy Day Cozy Murder Mystery
Copyright © 2015 by ANGELA PEPPER
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Stormy Day Cozy Murder Mystery Series Each book in the series contains a complete, stand-alone mystery, but you may wish to read the series in order to follow along with other events in the lives of Stormy Day and friends.
1. Death of a Dapper Snowman
2. Death of a Crafty Knitter
3. to be announced
For a current listing of Stormy Day books, check your favorite ebook retailer or visit the author at www.angelapepper.com
DEATH OF A CRAFTY KNITTER
STORMY DAY COZY MURDER MYSTERY #2
Voula Varga woke up on New Year's Day and went about her usual morning routine, not knowing it would be the final day of her life.
As she stood in her kitchen, waiting for the coffee maker to release her coffee, she scowled and tapped her long, black-lacquered fingernails impatiently.
Soon, she told herself, she would live in luxury and have a maid to bring her coffee in bed and fix her manicure. When that day finally came, all of the drudgery of hustling for a living would be behind her. Her humiliation would be over.
She couldn't wait to see Misty Falls in her rearview mirror. The postcard-pretty little town, nestled in a scenic mountain valley, was a nice enough place, except for the people. The residents all bored her to tears with their terrible, awful, horrible, tedious niceness. On top of that, they failed to recognize her as any different from the rest of them.
Voula Varga should have been a star. If those Hollywood casting agents knew how to spot genuine talent, they would have seen it. But they were fools. Instead of giving her the lead roles she deserved, they cast her in small parts. Some actresses would have been happy to get a few speaking lines and a regular paycheck, but for Voula, each assignment was a personal insult. She was always cast in the same pathetic role: fortune-teller.
By the time she left Los Angeles, Voula Varga had been credited as the gypsy fortune-teller or psychic or voodoo priestess in more than forty feature-length films and an equal number of television dramas. Her closest thing to a breakout role had been in a fantasy epic, playing an evil sorceress who summoned the dead. It was to be her big break. Unfortunately, the film tanked at the box office and went on to become a joke. There were regular viewing parties around the country now, where people gathered to watch the movie and make fun of it, yelling out Voula's lines of corny dialog at the screen.
Her movie career had flatlined after that film, along with the careers of all but a few people associated with the failed endeavor. She fled Los Angeles and wandered from town to town, working odd jobs here and there until she stumbled upon a way to use her particular curse for her own gain.
Voula Varga was utterly perfect at playing a fortune-teller.
So, instead of fighting it, she embraced her curse and became her typecast role. Even before she'd fully mastered the tricks of the trade, people who visited her booth to have their palms read thought she was the real thing. From her dark, curly hair to her golden eyes, Voula looked the part of a mystical psychic, and now she played the part for real. It was the role of a lifetime, and she would soon be wealthy and powerful.
She had a plan.
She'd moved to Misty Falls six months earlier, in the summer. It was the warmest day of the year for the little town, and she was overdressed in her layers of dark scarves and flowing dresses. People eyed her uneasily on her first walk through town, as though they could tell she had a plan to suck the life savings out of all the gullible townspeople before disappearing again.
On the first day of the new year, Voula Varga poured her morning coffee, unlocked her front door, walked upstairs, and stood at one of the windows that overlooked the entire unsuspecting town. She stood there and she cackled her evil, malicious laugh, not unlike a witch in a bad movie.
Two hours later, the doorbell rang. Voula quickly changed out of her silky nightie into one of her everyday long dresses. She pulled on her winter jacket, grabbed a box of bullets, and answered the door.
"I have a little treat for us," Voula told the visitor as she held up the bullets. "Give me a minute to gather up some old cans, and we'll see if that lovely antique still fires."
The visitor was surprised by this suggestion, but reluctantly agreed to go along with the plan.
Of course her visitor had agreed to her suggestion of target practice. Voula always got what she wanted from regular people who weren't as sophisticated or as smart as her.
Voula smiled as they walked through the snow, down the sloping hill of the backyard. The visitor fretted that people would hear the gunshots, but Voula said, "They'll think it's just illegal fireworks, left over from last night."
They put foam earplugs in their ears, loaded the old gun, and took turns firing at aluminum soda cans lined up on a fallen log. The shots were loud, but the house was secluded, just outside of town, so Voula didn't worry about the town's bumbling police force showing up to snoop around.
Voula laughed freely as she fired shots at the cans. She missed every shot, but liked the feeling of the gun's kick in her hands. She loved the power. She couldn't get enough of it.
The visitor, however, wasn't as excited by target practice and began to grumble about cold hands.
Voula stopped shooting and pulled out one of her earplugs to re-mold it. She tilted her ear toward the house. "Do you hear something? It sounds like crying."
They listened in silence for a moment, but the only sound was the whistle of a breeze that had just picked up.
"Never mind," Voula said. "Must have been a stray spirit whimpering in the wind. Sometimes they get shy and stop talking when you actually listen."
They walked back up to the house, made a second pot of coffee, and went upstairs to the room where Voula hosted the knitting club and did readings.
As they talked about how last night's performance had gone, Voula tried to focus on what her visitor was saying, but it was all so boring and beneath her. She nodded and pretended to be listening as she sorted through her basket of knitted dolls. These dolls were her own invention, and she'd learned to knit just so she could make these little voodoo dolls. Even before they were dressed in their clothes, they seemed to have their own personalities. Sometimes, when she was finishing a doll, she imagined that she really was a witch, and that these objects held magical powers.
She picked up the green and purple masquerade mask she'd been given the night before. With a few snips of her sharp scissors and a dab of glue, she would be able to create a miniature version of the mask.
She smiled, because out of everything, the crafts were probably her favorite part. While knitting or creating miniature outfits, the rest of the world disappeared.
"What about you?" asked the visitor.
Voula looked up and blinked as she tried to recall the last few seconds of conversation.
"Sorry," Voula said as she pushed away the basket of dolls and crafting materials. "The spirits were speaking to me, and I didn't hear you over their noises." She made an elaborate hand gesture and uttered a nonsense spell before hissing, "Hush, foul spirits. Hush and be still."
The visitor fixed her with a steady look and repeated the same question Voula hadn't heard the first time. "Are you dating anyone? Your cheeks have the glow of a woman in love."
Voula snorted with contempt. "A wise woman doesn't confuse a few moments of vigorous exe
"Vigorous exercise?" the visitor asked. "Do you mean… with a lover?"
Still warm from her witchlike laughter, Voula continued, "Men are only useful for two things, and the most pathetic of the lot are only useful for one thing, and that's paying the bills. Of course, you have to make all the right noises to let them think they're competent at the other thing, or you'll have to deal with the sulking." She rolled her eyes and groaned.
"I'm sorry I asked." The visitor frowned and pushed back their chair. "Never mind."
Voula sensed her control over the situation evaporating and quickly went into damage-control mode. She shook and convulsed, pretending to be fighting an internal battle with spirits.
Gasping, she gripped the edge of the table and said hoarsely, "That wasn't me. That was a man-hating spirit." She convulsed again, then waved her hands around as though shooing away ghosts. "That wasn't me," she repeated.
The visitor didn't push the chair away and leave, but didn't seem comfortable, either.
They both looked down at the gun on the table, equal distance between them. The box of bullets sat alongside the antique gun.
"Voula, tell me the truth," the visitor said gently. "Were you really possessed by a spirit just now? Is any of the stuff you do real? Do you even believe in the power of love?"
"What does it matter?" Voula spat back. "Don't act like you're better than me. Who were you thinking about shooting in the eye when you fired off those bullets in the backyard just now?"
The visitor gasped. "Nobody! I'd never think about killing a person."
"What if you could make it look like an accident?" Voula grinned and tapped her long, black-lacquered fingernails on the table. "Don't act like you haven't been planning the perfect murder ever since that first night we shared a bottle of wine and I said too much."
The visitor reached for the gun on the table. "This was a bad idea."
Voula reached for the gun at the same time. "Don't you dare wimp out."
THE DAY BEFORE
(New Year's Eve)
I was dealing with what felt like the biggest decision of my life when my friend showed up at my front door.
"You're not dressed yet," Jessica said.
I clutched the colorful robe closed at my neck and chuckled. "And to think… the people of Misty Falls say I'm the one with the keen powers of observation."
Jessica arched her delicate red eyebrows and smirked. "People say that? You mean when they're not clucking their tongues over that fancy car you drive?" She nodded toward my car, parked in the snowy driveway and added, "Speaking of which, I see you got the window fixed, but not the bullet holes."
"Bullet holes add character." I waved for her to come in, and shivered as the cold air swirled up the interior of my robe.
"Character, huh?" She looked for an instant like she might cry, but shrugged it away. "Better those bullet holes are in the car than my best friend, I suppose."
She wasn't moving fast enough, so I grabbed her arm and playfully yanked her in. It was snowy and cold that night, and she was letting out the heat, but more importantly, I didn't want my tenant to see me in the bathrobe. Not again.
Jessica narrowed her pretty blue eyes as she looked me up and down. "Stormy Day, what's going on here with this clown outfit? Are you having a meltdown because of the gift shop? Retail isn't for everyone, but you can tell me if you're not up for the party tonight. You have been through a lot lately."
"I'm fine," I said, and I meant it. Now that Christmas was done, I was almost looking forward to doing storewide inventory. Almost.
"You're not fine. You're wearing the bathrobe of a murderer, and it's not even a nice bathrobe." She leaned in to examine the fabric. "Are those smudgy things flowers or pink flamingos?"
"They might be fish." I smoothed out a section of the robe and used my finger to trace a shape that could have been a fish. "If you don't want to be staring at this magnificent work of art all night, help me pick out something better to wear. I've got three dresses, but they're all wrong."
"Then wear jeans."
"That's my backup plan!"
Jessica hung her jacket by the door and proceeded into the adjacent open-plan kitchen, where she stuffed groceries into the fridge, then followed me down the hallway to my bedroom, where the real owner of the house was relaxing on his bed.
"Jeffrey McFluffy Trousers," Jessica cooed as she jumped on the bed and smothered her face in his dark gray tummy.
I watched, smiling, as Jeffrey, my new Russian Blue cat, pretended not to enjoy the attention being lavished on him.
"Let's see your dresses," Jessica said, her voice muffled by Jeffrey's soft fur as she gave him what we called schnerfles. With the back of her head facing me, I got a good view of her fancy hairstyle. Her naturally red locks were gathered into a twist, with small braids of red hair woven through.
Seeing her cute braids made me miss my long hair, but only fleetingly. I didn't miss all the time I used to spend using a blow drier or flat iron to straighten my naturally curly hair. My short pixie cut was much more sensible and easy, which was perfect. Moving back to my hometown and giving up my executive lifestyle in the venture capital business was all about simplifying.
I gathered the dress options for Jessica's opinion. All three had been in the window of Blue Enchantment before I dropped in and bought them all. Undressing window display mannequins was becoming a guilty pleasure of mine.
Jessica tore herself away from her noisy schnerfles on the cat just long enough to say, "The black and white stripes."
"Won't I look like a zebra?"
"Sure, but I don't think there'll be any lions or tigers at the Fox and Hound. Steer clear of the watering hole, just in case."
I couldn't argue with her logic, so I slipped off the warm bathrobe and finished getting dressed. I went into the washroom to fluff up my hair, where I was surprised to hear a muffled woman's voice.
"Jessica," I hissed from the bathroom doorway. "Come here. Quickly. I think Logan's got a woman over."
She came running, her blue eyes wide and her pale cheeks flushed. "Is he allowed?"
I smiled. Technically, yes, Logan Sanderson could have anyone he wanted over. He paid his rent on time, and whatever he did over there was his business, but I still felt like I'd caught him at something.
I held my finger up to my lips as I pressed my ear against the wall separating the two bathrooms.
"He can't do this to us," Jessica sputtered as her freckled cheeks became even redder. "I mean, he can't do this to you. He's supposed to be your date for tonight."
"He's not my date," I said softly. "I asked him to be our chauffeur."
Jessica shushed me and pressed her ear to the wall. The muffled sounds were a real woman's voice, and not the TV or radio. Unfortunately, the walls of my duplex were just thick enough to prevent me from making out any of the words she was saying.
"Maybe it's a client," I whispered. "Some legal after-hours emergency."
Jessica grabbed the water glass from my bathroom counter and held it between the wall and her ear. "Nope. Still can't hear what she's saying." She pulled away from the wall and set the glass back on the counter. "Stormy," she said slowly. "What did you mean, about Logan being our chauffeur?"
I used my hands to shoo her out of the bathroom and away from the shared wall. The rest of the house had better soundproofing, so I chased her all the way to the kitchen, where I offered her some of the fancy crackers and soft cheese I'd set out.
She crunched on the snacks, then demanded an answer. "Why doesn't Logan know he's your date tonight?"
"It's not a date. I can't exactly date my tenant."
"So, why take him to a New Year's Eve party? What happens at midnight w
She had a good point, but now I was thinking about kissing Logan, feeling the tickle of his beard on my cheek. To stall, I stacked some delicious, creamy soft cheese between two different kinds of crackers and stuffed my mouth.
Jessica waited patiently for me to swallow and answer.
"We could kiss," I said. "But it's not a date, because dating my tenant would be a disaster. I've got a whole series of activities in mind. Come spring, we can work on the garden together. I was hoping that if things went well, neither of us would notice we were dating until we were already married." I let out a self-conscious giggle. "By the way, we're eating goat cheese."
"This is goat cheese? Who knew goats made such delicious cheese?"
"It's called chèvre."
"Great. We can serve chèvre at your wedding to Logan, when you surprise him with that. Just a tip, though. If you're wearing a big white dress, he might get suspicious."
Something dark streaked by the edge of my vision. Jessica and I made jokes about surprise weddings for the next few minutes, not noticing that Jeffrey had jumped up to sample the goat cheese. We were oblivious to his forbidden feasting until he got too enthusiastic and knocked some cutlery off the counter.
I grabbed him and set him back down on the floor, laughing. "Nice try, little man. You nearly got away with the perfect crime, but you got greedy."
Jessica asked, in a serious tone, "Do you think it's possible to plan the perfect crime? To get away with murder?"
"Is your boss making you triple-wash the pre-washed spinach again?"
"Very funny." She smiled wanly and handed me a cracker sandwich that may or may not have been pre-licked by a gray cat.
"I just have a bad feeling," she said. "I lie awake in bed thinking about stuff. After what happened to Mr. Michaels, it's all everyone wants to talk about. Everybody's got their own theory about where the killer went wrong."
I snorted. "The killer went wrong by getting on my bad side."