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Authors: Maggie Sefton

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BOOK: Purl Up and Die
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“It's mixed with baby alpaca, believe it or not. See how soft it feels.” Mimi handed Kelly a fat skein.

Kelly stroked the soft yarn. Wool mixed with baby alpaca. So soft. “Wow, that is soft. These are for the fall season, right?”

“Absolutely. It's July already, so we'll start putting out fall yarns at the end of August.”

Kelly drew back with a pretend look of horror. “Don't even mention fall, Mimi. You know how much I love summer. I want it to go on forever.”

Mimi smiled. “No, you don't. You'd get bored if it did. Fall is a great change of pace that prepares us for winter.”

“You're right, of course. But I still don't want to lose summer.” She heard the sound of chairs scraping against a wooden floor and returned to the doorway that opened into the workroom. All the women were standing now. “Looks like the class is finished. I'll see if I can grab a moment with that college student.”

Kelly walked over to the yarn bins on the side wall of the workroom. Baby- and toddler-size sweaters and dresses hung along the shelves. Mimi put all of the yarns for baby and infant garments in these bins. Most of them were smaller twist, soft cotton yarns. Washable and easy care, plus nothing that could bother a baby's delicate skin. Wool was beautiful but could be scratchy and itchy.

Kelly touched and stroked several small skeins of baby blue and white yarns, then found some pink and white as well. All the time, Kelly kept watching the class members talk to each other and move toward the doorway leading to the main room. The college student was talking with the younger woman in class as they both headed toward the main room.

Walking behind them, Kelly waited until they finished talking and the college student walked into the adjoining central yarn room next to the foyer. Not knowing the girl's name, Kelly walked close enough to tap the girl on the shoulder. “Excuse me. Were you in that class?” she asked.

The college student turned quickly, a felted knitting bag over her shoulder. “Yeah. It's a good class. I've learned a lot. Did you want to join?”

Kelly grinned. “I'd better not. My knitting skills are mediocre at best, so you guys would leave me in the yarn dust. Or, lint. Whatever.”

The girl smiled. “I've seen you around here a lot. You're that accountant, aren't you?”

Kelly held up her hand. “Guilty as charged. I'm Kelly, and I'm a lot better with numbers than with yarn. Hey, I wanted to ask you a question. I was listening to what the
class was saying and I heard you mention that a professor at the university had been accused of sexual assault on a student a few years ago. You said you had a friend who was familiar with the incident.”

The girl nodded. “Yeah. I've had some classes with her, so we've studied together a few times. We're both premed majors. My name's Elizabeth.”

“Well, congratulations, Elizabeth. That's a hard major from what I've heard. I wondered if you would mind giving me your friend's e-mail. I'd like to contact her and ask about that incident. I'm trying to learn what's involved in this kind of situation. What do the police expect, and what does the person who's accused do once they've been questioned by police? Stuff like that. Mimi and I are trying to educate ourselves so we can help poor Barb through all this.” Kelly held up the notepad and pen.

“Sure,” Elizabeth said as she took the pad and pen. “I felt so sorry for Barb. She looks traumatized, I swear. And I've never seen her be that quiet. Normally, she's nonstop talking as she teaches.”

“I know what you mean. Barb looks like she was punched in the stomach. Everyone here at the shop feels so sorry for her. We'd like to help Barb any way we can.”

“Sure. My friend's name is Cathy. Cathy Craig.” She tore off a page from the notepad and handed it to Kelly. “You can tell her you talked to me first. And I said it was okay for you to e-mail.”

“Oh, that's great. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this.” Kelly folded the little sheet of paper and shoved it in the back pocket of her cropped jeans.

“I have to get to class. Let me know what my friend says,” Elizabeth called as she headed for the foyer.

Kelly dug into her front jeans pocket and pulled out her cell phone. She flipped through the directory as she walked through the foyer and outside onto the front entrance porch. The July heat had increased significantly since this morning, so Kelly chose the closest shaded outside table to find a chair.

Lisa picked up on the second ring. “Hey, what's up? Don't forget we have softball practice tonight.”

“Got it on the schedule. Steve's working late in Denver finishing up that commercial project. Listen, I've got a favor to ask of you.”

“Shoot. What do you need?”

“Barb's knitting class was today and she told the students about Tommy's situation.”

“You're kidding. What did they say?”

“Well, they were all shocked, and some were mad that it happened to Tommy, stuff like that. But a college student in the class mentioned that one of the university professors was accused of sexual assault by a student three years ago. Apparently the professor denied it. Elizabeth is the girl in Barb's class, and she said a friend of hers had classes with that professor and knew the professor's family.”

“I think I remember that incident. I was buried in exams at the time all the gossip was buzzing around campus.”

“I wanted to see if you could ask around your friends at the university and see what you learn. I don't know if the professor was officially charged with assault or not. But I'd like to educate myself about what happens when someone's
been accused of assault. The better to help Barb get through all this. You should see her, Lisa. She looks like she was hit by a truck but is somehow still standing. Kind of a glazed expression comes over her eyes, and she just stares.”

“Oh, poor thing. I'll see if I can get in there in a couple of days. I'm doing some teaching of one of the elementary psych classes. But I'll make some inquiries. Put it out with my friends and see what they turn up.”

“Thanks, Lisa. I figured you'd like to help me ‘sleuth around.'”

“Yeah, right. It'll probably take a few days to hear back from them. I'd like to refresh my memories of that incident as well.”

“By the way, the girl in Barb's class gave me her friend's name and e-mail. Her name's Cathy Craig, and both she and Elizabeth are premed students. I thought I'd send her an e-mail and see what she says. Elizabeth told me to tell Cathy that she gave me her name and e-mail. Giving permission, kind of.”

“Okay, I've made a note of it. Now I'd better get back to my study notes. And I know you have accounting to do.”

Kelly laughed. “Now, you're getting psychic in addition to being a psych major.”

Four

Thursday morning

Kelly
closed the cottage front door and walked toward the driveway that separated her cottage from the red-tile roofed, beige stucco Spanish Colonial–style house that held Lambspun knitting shop and Pete's Porch Café. It had been Kelly's aunt and uncle's home for decades. Kelly had fond childhood memories of time spent with her father and Aunt Helen and Uncle Jim on their sheep farm.

Once Uncle Jim died from a heart attack, Aunt Helen sold the farmhouse and moved into her quilting cottage across the driveway. The much smaller cottage bordered the golf course and was a look-alike version of the shop, complete with red tile roof and beige stucco.

Kelly had inherited the cottage from her aunt Helen years ago. Aunt Helen's death and funeral had been the reason that Kelly had returned to her childhood home, Fort
Connor, Colorado, six years ago. Her aunt had been murdered. Police found her strangled body lying in the open doorway to the cottage. Kelly stayed on in Fort Connor, determined to find the actual killer of her aunt. And in the process, Kelly was attracted to the warmth and friendliness she felt coming from the people who were regular knitting patrons of Lambspun. After working remotely from her corporate accounting job in Washington, DC, Kelly finally made the decision to stay in Fort Connor permanently and become part of the great group of friends she'd found at Lambspun.

Walking along the sidewalk bordering the inviting greenery which surrounded the backyard garden area of Pete's Porch Café, Kelly admired the brilliant-colored annuals and the softer hued perennials that were scattered here and there among the lush green plants. Bright red salvia and orange marigolds waved in the slight breeze like little flags in their sunny spots. Hardy plants, they were to be able to withstand, and even thrive in, hot July summer sunshine. Soft lavender and blue pansies moved gently beside the yellow and purple violas. These plants loved the sun, but in less intense doses. Part sun and part shade suited these flowers much better.

Kelly continued through the garden, heading for the café front door, admiring the flowers hiding in the greenery while others boldly proclaimed their presence. Skirting the decorative fish pond, she sped toward the flight of wooden steps leading to the front entry. Kelly walked into the café, glanced about the tables filled with customers, then spotted
Jennifer at the grill counter, loading breakfast dishes onto her tray.

“Looks like a busy morning,” Kelly said as she set her mug on the counter. “I'll sit at the counter over here. No hurry with the refill.”

“No problem, Kelly.” Jennifer glanced over her shoulder toward the front windows. “Why don't you grab that smaller table beside the pond outside? I'll bring your coffee out there. I wanted to tell you something.”

“Sure thing,” Kelly readily agreed. Intrigued, she headed toward the café front door and down the wooden steps, back into the inviting greenery. Spotting the small table for two beside the fish pond, Kelly settled in. The table was too small for her to set up her laptop and work space, so Kelly focused her attention on the fish pond itself. A large orange goldfish swam lazily across the ornamental pond, which was surrounded by colorful rocks. Another fish, gray with orange tail and fins, swam across the pond in the other direction. Then two smaller black fish appeared, swimming quickly, swishing through the water. Kelly had never paid much attention to the pond with the water cascading peacefully down the side of the rocks. Every now and then she'd notice the fish, then almost forget the pond and its inhabitants were there.

Staring at the fish swimming around their kingdom, Kelly suddenly wondered if they were ever threatened with natural predators like raccoons. Night creatures like raccoons were very clever and adept with their agile little hands. Did the fish hide behind the rocks at night, she wondered?

“No, we don't serve fried goldfish,” Jennifer's voice teased.

Kelly looked up to see her friend walking over to the table, Kelly's mug in hand. “Thanks, Jen. I appreciate it,” she said, accepting the mug. “So, what's on your mind?”

“I wanted to share with you the conversation Pete and I had last night with Cassie,” Jennifer said, sitting in the chair on the other side of the table. “We brought home some fried chicken from the café for dinner, and while we were eating, Cassie looks at us and asks if Barb's son was going to be arrested. She'd been hearing several women in the shop talking about Tommy. And of course they mentioned his being accused of sexual assault.”

Kelly stared at Jennifer, surprised. “Really? What did you say?”

“Well, I didn't say anything at first. I figured Pete should be the one to answer.” Jennifer gave a crooked smile. “I could tell he was surprised at first, so he asked Cassie if she knew what sexual assault was. She said she'd read about it before in the newspapers. It seems Grandpa Ben had always given the newspapers to Cassie to read and answered her questions.”

“Good for Grandpa Ben.”

“Then Pete looked over at me, and I could tell he wanted me to jump in and give a woman's view. So, believe it or not, I carefully explained what that term referred to . . . in more specific terms.” Jennifer met Kelly's gaze.

Kelly smiled at her dear friend. “I have no trouble believing that. Cassie and Pete are lucky to have you with them. Did Cassie ask any questions?”

Jennifer's eyes went wide. “Did she ever. Apparently Grandpa Ben's explanations had been short on specifics, which we can totally understand. So, Cassie asked some
very
specific questions. Pete and I did our best to answer completely, in detail, and . . . how shall I say it . . . matter-of-factly.”

Kelly laughed softly, watching Jennifer wag her head. “That brings back memories of my dad explaining to me about men and women and babies. I sat and listened politely, even though my friends and I had learned all the explicit details from a girl at summer camp. Her mother was a nurse and explained everything early on. This girl set out to educate everybody.” Kelly grinned. “I didn't let on to my dad, but I did ask some specific questions, just to see how he'd respond. He blushed a little but, bless his heart, he gave me a good answer. Not as many details as the summer camp girl, but good enough.”

Jennifer smiled. “That brings back memories. Sister Catherine, back in my old parochial elementary school days. She was a jewel. Believed in full disclosure. No details left untold. Boy, was she thorough.” Jennifer chuckled.

“It looks like you and Pete did a great job. You two are great parents. Cassie is really lucky to have you both.” Kelly smiled into her friend's eyes.

Jennifer smiled back. “Thanks for saying that, Kelly. It's nice to hear.” Glancing over her shoulder, Jennifer pushed back her chair. “Well, I better get back to the customers. I just wanted to share that with you. Feel free to share with the others.”

“I'll be happy to. Talk to you later,” Kelly said, then reached for her briefcase bag and rose from the chair. She had places to go and people to see.

•   •   •

Kelly
stepped into the Lambspun foyer and stood for a moment, drinking in the wonderful cool air that washed over her.
Ahhhhh
. Blessed air-conditioning. Having spent the entire morning on errands and a short appointment with client Arthur Housemann, she was out in the mid-July heat constantly. Kelly could tell it was going to be a one-hundred-degree day. Temperatures were already in the upper nineties, and it was only twelve noon daylight saving time. There was definitely more heat to come.

Deliberately taking her time, Kelly fingered some of the knitted garments Mimi had displayed. A cherry red open-weave triangular shawl dangling from the ceiling enticed her fingers first. “Wool and mohair,” the tag said. A tiny baby sweater hung above a stack of the soft cotton yarn skeins in the same bright pink. Bubblegum pink. And a brilliant blue scarf was draped across the antique dry sink. Kelly stroked the scarf. It wasn't knitted like the other garments. This one looked like the scarves Mimi created in her Wet Felting class. The royal blue silk scarf had layers of varying shades of blue overlaid onto the silk.
Gorgeous
, she thought to herself and wondered how hard it would be to learn that technique.

After another minute of indulging in the sensual paradise surrounding her, Kelly walked toward the main knitting room. She saw Lisa and Barb sitting together at the far
end of the long library table. They looked deep in conversation to Kelly, so she deliberately didn't interrupt. Instead she settled at the other end of the table and pulled out her laptop, ready to work. Having been out and about all morning, Kelly knew she had lots of spreadsheets demanding her attention.

At the sound of chairs being pushed back, Kelly looked up from her laptop screen. Barb, her face pale rather than flushed like before, gathered her huge tapestry bag and walked through the door leading to the workroom. Kelly could almost see the dark cloud hanging over Big Barb, weighing her down. Normally energetic Barb even walked slower now, like she was tired.

Lisa turned and looked at Kelly. “Hey, there. Do you want to take a coffee break outside? We're going to need privacy so I can tell you what my friends learned.”

Even though she'd spent all morning moving about in the hot sun, Kelly readily agreed. “Sure thing. Let's make it iced coffee.” She powered down her laptop and grabbed her coffee mug. Time for a refill anyway.

“Good idea,” Lisa said, grabbing her bag and following Kelly into the central yarn room.

“Is that what you were talking about with Barb?” Kelly asked as they walked down the hallway which led into the café.

“No, Barb doesn't need to know everything I learned from friends. I simply asked her how she was doing, then listened when she talked. I tried to reassure her the best I could. I said that her friends here at Lambspun would help her through this difficult time. And I told her that the best
thing Tommy could do was to continue to be the wonderful young doctor that he is. Tommy's reputation will help to counterbalance these accusations.”

Kelly and Lisa entered the back of the café and signaled Julie, who was placing lunch orders on a tray at the counter.

Balancing the tray on her shoulder, Julie walked over to them.

“What do you need, guys? More coffee? Let me guess.”

“Right as usual, Julie, but please make mine iced this time. It's hot outside.”

“Me, too. We'll leave our mugs on the counter. Go back to your customers, Julie. The sight of that heavy tray makes my shoulders hurt. I hope you do exercises lifting weights.”

Julie grinned. “I sure do. Gotta stay strong in this job.” She walked into the main café.

Kelly and Lisa settled at the smaller two-person table in the corner. Customers filled practically every table. Waitresses Jennifer and Julie moved about them in a choreographed dance, never bumping into each other.

“Like I said, it would probably take a few days for them to get back to me,” Lisa said.

“Barb still looks awful,” Kelly said, watching part-time waitress Bridget filling both their mugs from a glass pitcher.

“I know,” Lisa said with a sigh. “She's so afraid that this incident will ruin Tommy's medical career. That eats at her inside. All I could do was to sympathize with her.”

“Hey, guys. Here're the iced coffees. If you want to head outside now, you can snag that smaller shady table in the corner of the garden patio.”

“Thanks, Bridget. We'll go pounce on it now.” Kelly
took a cold sip of the black iced coffee—sustenance—and headed toward the café front door. Lisa followed behind her. Skipping down the sunny front steps, Kelly hurried toward the still-vacant table in the shady back corner of the garden patio.

The adobe stucco walls that edged the entire front of the patio yard and garden behind the knitting shop created a fair amount of shade on their own. But the huge old cottonwood tree and its leafy branches protected practically the entire garden patio from the heat of the afternoon sun. Summer sun was the most intense, but spring and fall afternoons were delightfully warm. The café tables were situated in the shady, greenest section, leaving the side edging the driveway as the sunniest part.

Kelly sat in one of the table's wrought iron chairs, while Lisa settled in opposite her. “So, what did your friends tell you that required privacy? I'm curious now.”

“Well, it's a sad story. Sad, because if the accusations were true, a young woman was assaulted by a professor while she was in his office asking questions. It's also sad, because if the accusations were false, then a wonderful professor's reputation was ruined and his career harmed.”

Kelly leaned over the table. “Whoa, ruined his career? Now I feel like we've been lying to Barb.”

“Universities are a different career environment. I imagine that a young doctor starting out could survive accusations if he was never actually charged. If he kept doing excellent work as a doctor, hopefully other patients would recommend him to friends. His practice would continue to grow.” Lisa took a long drink from her iced coffee.
“However, academia is different. Young professors join a faculty after they receive their PhD degrees. Then they have to teach classes and do their research and counsel students. And they have to publish lots of scientific journal research articles. You know, publish or perish. If they're good, then the senior faculty in their discipline will vote to grant them tenure status, and they move from an assistant professor position to an associate professor position. If they continue doing good research and teaching classes and counseling students and doing it well, then the senior faculty will vote that they be raised to full professor. Then, they become part of the senior faculty.”

A different world, indeed, Kelly thought. “Wow, that senior faculty sounds like the Court of Inquisition in the Middle Ages,” she joked. “Black-robed men who vote in secret.”

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