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Authors: Marjory Sorrell Rockwell

1 The Underhanded Stitch

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The Underhanded Stitch
 

 

A Quilters Club Mystery

 

 

Marjory Sorrell Rockwell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABSOLUTELY AMAZING eBOOKS

 

Published by Whiz Bang LLC, 926 Truman Avenue, Key West, Florida 33040, USA

 

Copyright © 2013
by Gee Whiz Entertainment LLC.

Electro
nic compilation copyright © 2013 by Whiz Bang LLC.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized ebook editions.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. While the author has made every effort to provide accurate information at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their contents.

 

For information contact

[email protected]

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

No Dogs Allowed in the Boneyard

 

 

T
he first memory Maddy Madison had of her childhood in Caruthers Corners was her father saying that her dog Tige (named after Buster Brown’s famous canine) couldn’t go with them to Aunt Tilly’s funeral. “No dogs allowed in the cemetery,” he explained. Then jokingly added, “Folks don’t want your puppy running off with a bone.”

What a silly thought, she’d told herself at the time. Tige preferred table scraps.

That had been more’n fifty years ago. And Tige had long since joined Aunt Tilly in Heaven. She was sure that dogs joined their masters in a joyful afterlife – although Reverend Copeland was strangely silent on the subject.

Sometimes she and her friends at the Quilter’s Club discussed the concept of life after death. It seemed reassuring to Cookie Brown, whose husband Bob had passed a couple of years back. A tractor accident.

Vast farmlands surrounded Caruthers Corners, growing mostly corn and soy, although once the area was known for its watermelon crops. Each year the townsfolk celebrated Watermelon Days, a wonderful event marked by bands playing in the town square, a parade down Main Street, watermelon-eating contests in front of the courthouse, and the famous watermelon pie-making competition. Watermelon pie was always a favorite among visitors to the festival. Most people outside of Caruthers Corners had never even heard of watermelon pie. In fact, posters advertised: “Never heard of watermelon pie? Then you need to join the fine folks of Caruthers Corners for their famous Watermelon Festival!”

Maddy had been born here, met her husband Beauregard Madison at Watermelon Days, raised three fine children in the big Victorian house on Melon Pickers Row. The kids (well, if you could call a trio of thirtysomethings “kids”) were now off enjoying their own lives in other places:

Bill – the oldest – and his wife Kathy were running a Youth Center in Chicago.

Freddie – the “baby” of the family before his sister arrived – and his wife Amanda lived in Atlanta, where he was a decorated fireman; something that Maddy’s husband Beauregard loved to brag about every chance he got.

Then came Tilda, the darling little girl who was adored and spoiled by her brothers and father. Named after her great aunt, Tilly – despite all the childhood pampering – had turned out to be just like her aunt. Sensitive, yet stubborn she lived over two thousand miles from Caruthers Corners (
way
too far away in Maddy’s opinion). She’d married her high-school sweetheart who was now a tax attorney with a big firm in Los Angeles.  And while Maddy never trusted big pretentious law firms, she was still taken by surprise this spring when Tilly announced that she and Mark were breaking up!

Now, heartbroken and bitter, Tilly and her daughter were headed back to tiny Caruthers Corners, back to the family homeplace with its familiar bedroom, unchanged since her teenage days, pennants proclaimin
g
Go Caruthers High
!
, and cheerleader’s pom-poms still decorating her dressing table.

Oh my. What would it be like, having one of the children back home? Maddy asked herself. Especially one with a broken heart and a ten-year-old daughter? She didn’t know what to expect. And what’s more, she didn’t have the slightest idea how she’d handle incorporating a grown daughter and a precocious ten-year-old that she barely knew into the household she and Beau had had all to themselves for several peaceful years now.

So Maddy posed this very question to the Quilter’s Club that Tuesday. The four women always met on Tuesday afternoons to talk and stitch and swap quilt patterns. Besides their love for quilting, these four ladies were best friends and confidants.

The Quilter’s Club meetings were usually the highlight of the week. Maddy and her quilt-loving friends also gave each other ideas and suggestions on fabrics and colors for their selected quilt patterns. They often exchanged fabrics, too, because everyone had an abundant supply of fat quarters, scraps from other quilts, and of course a selection of favorite old clothes just waiting their turn to be “re-born” in a quilted masterpiece! And if anyone was really in a pinch to finish her quilt (because it’d been promised to a local charitable auction or planned or a special birthday), they all chipped in.

The gathering this week was no different, except that this time Maddy had the sad story of Tilly to relate.

“Disruptive,” snapped Lizzie Ridenour. Lizzie’s divorced daughter had breezed into town a few years back, shocked all the members of the Ladies’ Auxiliary with her “big city” ways, then disappeared with Reverend Copeland’s son for a Las Vegas wedding. Quite the scandal!

“Takes time,” Cookie Brown offered better advice. “Wounds have to heal.”

“You’ll enjoy spending time with your granddaughter,” added Bootsie Purdue. “My son never gets home anymore. We haven’t seen our grandchildren since Christmas before last.” She heaved a sad sigh at the complicated lives we live today.

“I worry about Tilly,” said Maddy Madison. “She was always such a fragile girl.”

“Children are tougher than we give them credit for,” observed Lizzie with an aura of hard-gained wisdom.

“Did you hear about the robbery?” Bootsie changed the subject before conversation could get too maudlin.

“What robbery?” asked Maddy, looking up from one of the watermelon appliqués she was carefully stitching to one of the corner blocks of her stunning watermelon motif wall quilt.

“Why I’d have thought you would be among the first to hear. After all, it involves your husband’s great-great grandfather.”

“Beau’s great-great granddad?” Colonel Beauregard Hollingsworth Madison had been one of the town fathers, establishing the little hamlet back in 1829, when Indiana was still considered “Indian territory.”

“Yes,” continued Bootsie without looking up from her sewing, “his bust was stolen from the Town Hall last night.”

“Do tell,” said Cookie, leaning closer so as not to miss a word.

“You mean that bronze likeness of the Colonel that sits outside the meeting room?” Maddy was amazed that anyone would want that tarnished old replica of a War of 1812 veteran. It wasn’t a very good likeness when compared to the only known image of Beauregard Madison, a late-in-life portrait taken by none other than Matthew Brady himself.

“The very statue,” nodded Bootsie. “Thieves walked out with it sometime after midnight. The time’s established because Mayor Caruthers was working late on the town budget. Said he was there ’til eleven-thirty or so.”

“Did he see anything suspicious?” inquired Lizzie, always one who enjoyed juicy details.

“Not a thing,” answered Bootsie, pleased to be the harbinger of fresh gossip. It wasn’t often she delivered a scoop that other members of the Quilter’s Club hadn’t already picked up on.

“Well, the thieves can keep it for all I care,” said Maddy with a degree of finality. “I always hated that ugly old statue. Made the Colonel look like a deranged madman.”

“But he’s founder of the Madison line,” said Cookie, shocked by her friend’s callous admission.

“Oh, I’m sure the Colonel had parents. And they had parents before them. He wasn’t the first.”

“Oh, you know what I mean. He was a town founder.”

“Only because his wagon train broke down here.” Maddy’s husband was technically Beauregard Hollingsworth Madison IV, but she’d just as soon the lineage start with him and their three children. Which brought her thoughts back to Tilly and her granddaughter, arriving tomorrow by bus. There was so much to do. Clean Tilly’s old bedroom, lay out fresh linens, fix up the guestroom for her granddaughter, buy a Welcome Home banner down at the Dollar Store, prepare her famous watermelon pie (her daughter’s favorite) … yet here she sat chattering on about some stupid old statue. Probably a high-school prank at that, an initiation into the Fireball Club. Those silly boys were always up to mischief, weren’t they? Surely they could find a more interesting prank than taking that heavy old bust.

“I wonder if the thieves will try to ransom the Colonel’s statue?” Bootsie nattered on, nearly missing her stitch.

“They’d get more money melting it down for the bronze,” opined Lizzie. Now, with her quilt top complete, she was carefully basting the sandwich together, stopping every couple of inches to ensure the batting and backing stayed in place under the quilt top.

“But that’s a town heirloom,” squeaked Cookie. She was secretary of the local Historical Society.

“Good riddance,” said Maddy as she gathered up her quilting materials. “I have to run. Too much to do before Tilly and Agnes arrive.”

“Well, I’d think you would care about the robbery,” huffed Cookie. “After all, it’s your family.”

“My husband’s family,” she corrected her friend. “And it’s not like they stole the Colonel’s skeleton from the cemetery. Right?”

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

 

Clueless in Caruthers Corners

 

 

M
adelyn Agnes Madison (née Taylor) was known merely as “Maddy” to her friends. And she had no closer pals than the other three members of the Quilter’s Club. They had grown up together, comprised Caruthers High’s chapter of Future Homemakers of America, married local boys, raised their kids together, even took occasional vacations to Disney World with all four families sharing a group tour.

Maddy still had the Mickey Mouse cap with its round ears that Beau had bought her as a souvenir when the kids were still in grade school.

She remembered Cookie’s husband Bob – God rest his soul – jumping off the boat in the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride, wading in knee-deep water to retrieve the earring Cookie had dropped overboard. What a gallant act! And his nearly getting thrown out of the park by the security guards had only added to the adventure!

It was still hard to believe that Bob was really gone. The tractor accident was all the more tragic, because Bob had always been a nut on safety, taking all the precautions recommended in the tractor’s manual. But no one could have anticipated him getting a necktie caught in the machinery. Because Bob
never
drove the tractor in his church clothes …  except that one time when he wanted to finish the last row of corn before church that fateful Sunday morning so that he and Cookie could get a head start on a long overdue vacation to celebrate their anniversary.

Cookie had let herself go since Bob’s death, her hair returning to its natural gray, her makeup sparse, and lipstick non-existence, almost as if she had no reason to ever look pretty again. Believe it or not, Cookie had reined as homecoming queen in high school, with Lizzie her runner up.

Back then Cookie had been a cute pug-nosed blonde and Lizzie a flaming redhead. Lizzie was still a redhead, but the henna-based hair coloring she wore now would never be quite as spectacular as the hair that made everyone’s head turn in the twelfth grade when she walked down the hall, flouncing her long red locks over her shoulders.

Bootsie had never been particularly pretty, with her bulbous nose and extra forty pounds, but her outgoing personality more than made up for it. Bootsie was the person everyone seemed to turn to when they wanted to share a secret, celebrate a new love, or cry on a sympathetic shoulder. No wonder she had been voted Most Popular in the senior yearbook. Today, the nose was the same and that forty extra pounds had grown to sixty, but everybody she knew or met loved her.

Besides, Bootsie always had the inside track on everything that happened here in Caruthers Corners, her husband Jim being chief of police. So, of course, she knew all the details about this “crime of the century” – the disappearance of Colonel Beauregard Madison’s bronze bust. You’d think it was right up there with the Lindbergh kidnapping to hear her tell it.

Maddy couldn’t be bothered with details of the robbery. She had to prepare for Tilly’s homecoming. The Trailways bus would pull up in front of the Town Hall at precisely 3 p.m. to disgorge its passengers, usually no more than one or two arriving, often three or four going. The population of Caruthers Corners had been shrinking so steadily over the past few years that the sign outside of town had quit listing the number of citizens. The town budget couldn’t afford to keep repainting the number – ever-diminishing fro
m
Pop. 3,01
2
t
o
Pop. 2,97
6
to (at last count
)
Pop. 2,57
4
.

Well, the arrival of Tilly and her daughter Agnes would boost the count by two. Did this signal a turning of the tide for the ol’ hometown? Probably not, for it was Tilly’s plan to “get her bearings,” then relocate to a city where she could put her failed marriage behind her and start anew. Not something she looked forward to.

Beauregard phoned at 2:15 to see if Maddy wanted him to pick her up, or simply meet at the Trailways stop.

“Best we meet there,” she told her husband. “That way you won’t have to close the store so early.” Beau owned the Ace Hardware franchise, but lived under the threat of a big Home Depot coming to Caruthers Corners. He bemoaned the changing times: family groceries edged out by the Food Lion chain, stationary shops put out of business by Office Max, department stores eclipsed by the new Wal-Mart in the neighboring town, and local hardware shops unable to compete with encroaching Lowe’s and Home Depot megastores.

But Beau hadn’t given up yet. He dreamed of days past, when things were not only simpler, but also more genuine. He still believed that the purpose of a hometown business was to provide a valuable service to the residents … a gentleman’s pursuit, not a cutthroat money game. His favorite reading remained historical novels.
Good Old Days
and
American Heritage
were the magazines you found scattered on the family coffee table.

He considered
Somewhere in Time
the best movie ever made, the one where Christopher Reeves goes to Mackinac Island in search of romance back in a kinder, gentler age. The Madisons planned on visiting Mackinac next summer to see where the movie was filmed.

Yes, Maddy had to admit it – Beau was a romantic, always dreaming of a better world. He preferred those old black-and-white comedies on the Turner Classic Movies channel, refusing to watch CNN or those other networks that focused on distant wars and terrorist threats at home. He stuck his head in the sand like an ostrich, hoping the distressing news would simply go away. Unfortunately, life wasn’t like that. The new Home Depot was scheduled to break ground in the fall.

But Maddy would not have had him any other way. Her “Pooh Bear” always remembered their anniversary, bought her red roses on Valentine’s Day, had cried when each of their children was born. Partly with joy, party with sadness that they would face a world gone awry. The perfect husband when it came to thoughtfulness – which more than made up for his often disorganized ways.

Maddy was the practical one. Paying all the bills, keeping track of their retirement accounts (zigzagging stocks and slow-growing mutual funds), taking the children to the doctor and making sure their shoes fit. But Beau was first to grab a seat on the front row of every school play, recital, and graduation ceremony.

She had a natural knack for mind games. She was a master sleuth when it came to Clue, a relentless conqueror at Risk, a takeover titan while playing Monopoly. She was also a whiz at Scrabble and remained unbeaten at Chinese checkers. So it was Maddy’s secret that she often cheated at cards in order to let her husband win. No need to remind him that she’d beat him out as class valedictorian in high school.

“Okay, meet you in front of the Town Hall at three sharp,” Beau was saying. “Can’t imagine why somebody would do something like that.”

“People grow apart,” Maddy replied vaguely. No need to say she’d always considered Tilly’s husband a shark in a $2,000 Armani suit.

“No, I mean the bust of the Colonel. Why would someone steal a town heirloom? Not like it’s valuable to anyone but the citizens of Caruthers Corners. We’ll have to replace it. Yes, replace it.”

“Forget that old piece of metal,” she said, a little irked that they had been speaking of different things. “Your great-great grandfather may have founded this town, but he did so by chasing away the Native Americans who lived here at the time.”

“Indians?” muttered her husband. Still not as PC as she might wish. “That’s the way things were back then.”

“Things haven’t changed all that much. Home Depot’s about to drive you out of business, Pooh Bear.”


Hmph
, we’ll see about that.”

“Don’t worry,” she tried to back away from her harsh words. “I’m sure the Colonel’s bust will turn up.”

“Maybe sooner than you think,” he said. “Chief Purdue has found a clue.”

 

 

 

BOOK: 1 The Underhanded Stitch
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