Molly Pink and the Tarzana Hookers must unwind a fiendish skein in national bestselling author Betty Hechtman's fourteenth Crochet mystery.
These are the dog days of August, but you won't catch the Tarzana Hookers crochet club napping. While Molly Pink knits together an idea for a new project, Miami Wilson busily converts a house she inherited into a rental property. But Miami is left shorthanded when Sloan Renner, the woman helping her clean out the house ends up dead under a pile of smelly seafood.
A large drone had flown over the property discarding mollusk shells all over the backyard. Was it an accident? An ill-fated prank by neighbors up in arms about a rental house in their cul-de-sac? Witnesses clam up when Molly's ex, homicide detective Barry Greenberg, tries to get information, but he thinks Molly may be able to get them to open up to her.
When Molly learns about Sloan's seafood allergy, she suspects that the woman's death was no accident. Can she bait the hook to catch the culprit, or will the killer keep raising shell?
Release date: August 10, 2021
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Print pages: 320
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
One for the Hooks
I felt my breath stop as I turned into my driveway. Why were the lights on at my house? Nobody was supposed to be home. My son Samuel was on tour with his grandmother and her girl singing group, the She La Las. Barry Greenberg had a key to my place so he and his son could come by to spend time with their dog, but I didn’t see Barry’s Tahoe parked out front or his son’s bicycle in the driveway. Besides, they hadn’t been over for months. Mason Fields, the man in my life, had a key as well, but he was out of town.
I pulled my vintage Mercedes next to the garage and cut the motor, feeling uneasy. I looked back toward the street and saw several unfamiliar cars parked along the curb—though they could have been connected to my nearby neighbors, who often had a lot of company.
I considered whether I should call the cops. But what would I say? I was concerned because the lights were on at my house. As if burglars turned on lights. Didn’t they use flashlights?
The only thing to do was to face whatever it was on my own. My backup was my smartwatch. All I had to do was push down a side button, and it would call 911. I got out of the car and walked to the chain-link back gate. The sight that greeted me didn’t make me feel any better. Cosmo, the small black mutt, and Felix, the gray terrier mix, started to bark and whine as soon as they saw me. They weren’t supposed to be outside. I rushed into the yard, and as I looked across the stone patio that ran along the back of my ranch-style house, my worst fears were realized. The outdoor floodlights weren’t on, but I could still see that the French door that led to the kitchen was wide open, which meant the two cats were outside too, lost in the semi-dark yard.
Now I was angry. The intruder was going have to deal with my wrath. I wasn’t being rational, but then rage never is. I stopped in the garage and grabbed a baseball bat and marched across the patio, ready to do battle.
I walked through the open door, rushing through the dark kitchen and into the living room. Ready for anything, I was still stunned to see a strange woman sitting on the couch. She was staring down at something and didn’t look up. I did a quick appraisal of her and decided the gray tank dress and designer sandals didn’t seem like burglar attire.
The sound of sirens growing louder barely made an imprint until I heard the pounding on the door as someone yelled out, “Police!” I knew what would come next and rushed to open the door before they battered it in.
Two uniformed cops gave me a quick once over. “Drop the bat,” one of them ordered.
“Mother, what have you done now?” a voice behind me said.
I closed my eyes, realizing there was one other person I hadn’t considered. My older son, Peter. But in all fairness, he had distanced himself more and more from my life. And when was the last time he’d come over?
It took a few minutes to straighten things out. I might have gone on a bit about the cats being lost in the yard, before Peter took over and told the uniform that I was a widow and was given to overreacting. My son saw the smartwatch on my wrist. “She must have panicked and pressed the button without realizing it would make an emergency call. You know—oldsters and technology.” He and the cop traded knowing glances.
Maybe that’s why Peter and I didn’t spend that much time together. Oldster? He had to be kidding. I was barely past fifty, and everybody knew that fifty was the new thirty. But by the same token, I couldn’t really blame the cop for choosing to listen to my son. I was probably a little wild-eyed, and there was that matter with the bat. Peter, on the other hand, seemed collected in his fancy casual wear.
Just as the cop was about to leave through the open door, a dark sedan pulled up behind the cruiser. A figure got out and rushed through the dark yard.
“Not him too?” Peter groaned as Detective Barry Greenberg came up the two steps to the front porch.
The two dogs had come in by now, and Cosmo, seeing Barry, rushed up to him and put his paws on the leg of Barry’s dark suit. Felix seemed upset by all the commotion and ran back outside. Without even looking, I was sure Blondie, who was a terrier mix in name only, was hiding out in my bedroom.
“The cats,” I said rushing back through the kitchen and into the yard. Barry was right behind me. He knew the two cats only went outside when someone could watch them and make sure they didn’t leave the yard, which was always during the day.
Barry had the presence of mind to turn on the floodlights, illuminating the yard. Mr. Kitty, as the black and white cat had come to be known, was sitting in one of the outdoor chairs, waiting to be rescued. I heard rustling in the bushes and knew it was Cat Woman, or Cat for short. Despite being ten years old, she was always on the hunt. Barry, ignoring the fact that he was wearing a suit and dress shoes, pushed through the brush growing between the redwood trees that ran along the fence in my backyard and grabbed her. I heard some residual noise, and I was pretty sure she’d already caught something when he grabbed her. But by the time he brought her to me, whatever it was had gotten away.
I shut the kitchen door and locked it when we came back inside. Peter rolled his eyes when he saw us. And he gave Barry a dirty look. It didn’t matter that we were long over as a couple; my older son didn’t like him. Honestly, I think the whole idea of me “dating” didn’t sit well with him, but he definitely preferred my current plus one, Mason Fields.
Barry peered at Peter and then at the woman sitting on the couch. “Are you all right to take it from here?” he said, turning to me. Just then the woman stood up, and I think my mouth fell open when I saw that she was very obviously pregnant.
I saw Barry’s lips curve into a smile, and there was the slightest shake to his head as he took it all in. I assured him that everything was fine. I thanked him for his help with the cats.
“Anytime,” he said as I walked him to the door. “You probably figured that when I heard there was an emergency call to this address …” He shrugged. “I had an automatic reaction. Old habits die hard.”
“Thank you,” I said.
His gaze flickered back toward the living room, and he cracked a smile. “You’re welcome, Grandma.”
Once Barry had left, it was time to find out the story from Peter. Of late he’d been wrapped up in his new career as a TV producer, and I’d barely seen him. Or talked to him. I didn’t want to meddle in his life and had left it to him to pick up the phone. He hadn’t.
Peter had always been closer to my late husband. It was like he knew in advance that someday I’d be an embarrassment. Everything I’d done since Charlie died had irked my son. I’d gotten a job and developed a social life. And maybe I’d solved a few murders and gotten some attention for it. What did he think I was going to do—sit in a rocking chair and watch my life go by? No way. I was too busy living.
“Maybe we should start with introductions,” I said, looking at the woman. No way would I call her a girl. She looked too focused for that. “I’m Molly Pink, Peter’s mother. And you are …?”
“Gabby Alter,” Peter said, answering for her. I noticed he didn’t fill in exactly what their relationship was. “I’m sorry about the cats. I forgot you had them,” he said. He shook his head. “I don’t know what you have all these animals for, anyway.”
“You can talk to your brother,” I said. “The cats came with him when he first moved back, and Felix belonged to his last girlfriend. She lost interest in both of them.”
“That’s right, and the black dog belongs to the cop. If you broke up with him, why hasn’t he taken his dog?”
“It’s not your concern,” I said. I didn’t feel like explaining that with Barry’s work and his son being a teenager, the dog was more assured of consistent care with me. And I loved the little black mutt.
“About that,” Peter began.
My son, with the perfectly styled hair and Lupedo Renaldi sports shirt, appeared uncomfortable, which was unusual for him. Ever since he’d been a kid, he’d had a sort of a cocky sense of confidence. Something about his manner put me on edge, and I felt an uh-oh coming.
“This is just a temporary setback,” he began and then took a deep breath. “We had a commitment from the network for two years of shows.” He stopped, and his expression grew grim. “And then literally overnight everything fell apart. The family sitcom starred Billy Boxmeir. He was the head writer, and it was based on his life.” He looked at me to see if I understood.
You had to be dead not to have heard about the scandal. Twenty women had come forward accusing him of sexual harassment. After decades of shoving that sort of thing under the rug, the whole Me Too movement had pushed it out in the open. Overnight, men in power had tumbled. Entertainers like Billy Boxmeir saw their careers collapse, taking everyone involved with them. It hadn’t occurred to me that the situation might be connected to anyone I knew.
I nodded and Peter continued. “Gabby was one of the line producers. With a commitment like that, we went ahead and made plans.” There was a slight pause as he looked at me, reading my thoughts that I’d been completely left out of the loop. “I was going to tell you when everything was settled. To cut to the chase, we had to back out of the house we were buying, and lost the deposit. We’d already sold our condo.” He glanced around the living room. “I thought we could stay here.”
I was about to say something to the effect that it would have been nice if he had asked if it was okay instead of just announcing they were moving in, but he continued.
“It would give us a decent address while I put something new together. Tarzana isn’t Encino, and it is in the Valley,” he said with disdain, “but at least it’s on the right side of Ventura Boulevard.”
There was a whole hierarchy of areas in Los Angeles. Any place on the city side of the Santa Monica Mountains had it over the San Fernando Valley. If you had to be in the Valley, the communities that ran along the base of the mountains were considered the most desirable areas, and it was always best if you were south of the Boulevard.
“I’m happy you approve,” I said with a touch of sarcasm. I looked at Gabby, and she was nodding in agreement with Peter. Great: two snobs were moving in.
“Is there something else you’d like to tell me,” I said, glancing down at her belly. The tank dress stretched across her midsection.
“I was so focused on getting a place for us to stay.” He shrugged. “It’s all kind of new. We already know it’s a girl. We have a name and everything, but it’s supposed to be bad luck to say it.”
“What about her last name?” I asked. I was still of the old school that thought babies were supposed to have married parents.
“You mean are we married? Not yet. But the baby’s last name will be Alter-Pink.”
“I’m glad you have that worked out,” I said. “So when were you thinking about moving in?” I asked.
“Our suitcases are in the car,” Peter said.
The next morning I tried to go on with my usual routine. I let the dogs out, made myself coffee, and drank it in the yard, but everything felt different. They were still asleep, but I was ultra-aware of their presence.
It was a relief to go to Shedd & Royal Books and More. Once I’d adjusted to Charlie’s death and realized I needed to start a new chapter in my life, I’d gotten the job at the bookstore. I’d been hired as the event coordinator. One of the events I coordinated were the meetings of the Tarzana Hookers—that’s hookers as in crochet. I ended up joining the group. Now I was the assistant manager of the store and in charge of the yarn department too. I really didn’t think of it as work anymore. It was more like my second home.
As soon as I dropped off my things that morning, I went to set up the chairs for the book club meeting that morning. We had a book club for just about every niche. Mrs. Shedd loved book clubs because it brought a bunch of book buyers into the shop. This particular one was called Be the Best You and centered on self-help, positive thinking, meditation, and the like.
I put out plenty of chairs since we were having a guest author, which always drew extra people. Merry Riley was local and a familiar actor. She’d been a side character in a long-running family show, The Van Winkles, playing an older cousin who’d come to stay with the family while she went to a nearby college. Pretty in a girl-next-door sort of way, she always seemed to have a sunny expression. When that series ended, she moved over to the Junior channel, which was devoted to G-rated programing for older kids, and played the mom on a program called Shoot for the Stars. She had written a book called Coming in Second, which maintained that you didn’t have to come in first to be a winner. She was still married to her first husband, who also functioned as her manager. They had fraternal twins, a girl and a boy who were just the age their mother had been when she began her acting career. I knew all this because I’d written up a bio of her for the book club event.
The regular moderator couldn’t make it, and one of the members had volunteered. I handed the guest leader the bio and hung around until Merry arrived. I walked away as the moderator was reading my little piece, and headed for the bookstore café. I was taking my break, and Dinah Lyons was coming in from teaching a summer school class at the local community college. Teaching freshman English was always a challenge, but the summer group was particularly difficult. We both needed a fix of caffeine and girl talk.
I ordered for both of us. Actually, all I had to do was walk in the café and tell our barista, Bob, that Dinah was meeting me, and he got both our drinks ready, along with some sweet treats.
She, as always, got a café au lait, which came as a pot of steamed milk and one of coffee, and I got my usual Red Eye, the menu name for a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso.
I was bringing the drinks to a table by the door when Dinah came in. Her trademark look was a long scarf. Today’s was one that she’d crocheted out of a very fine yarn that was called thread. Any kind of scarf you were going to wear in August had to be made out of something light. The heat hadn’t wilted her hair, and the salt-and-pepper spikes were gelled to attention. Dinah was older than I was, but had never been specific, just that she was in her fifties, but now that I’d joined her in the fifth decade of my life, the difference seemed negligible.
I took a quick look around the bookstore to check on the book club, then gave all my attention to her. “Have I got something to tell you,” I said, giving her a hug.
“I’ve got news too.” As soon as she sat down, she began to pour the steamed milk and separate pot of coffee into a mug. “I need this café au lait. This summer’s group is the worst. The kids never read over their papers and see what presumptive type has done. But I got them,” she said. “I made them read their papers out loud. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. Really, it was like compositions written by Martians.” She looked stricken and then glanced around to see if anybody had heard her. “That can’t be upsetting to anyone, can it? You never know anymore. Some science fiction fans might be offended.” She finished pouring the two liquids into the mug. “That’s not my news, but why don’t you go first. I need to get this drink in me to revive myself.” She clutched the mug.
I told her about my unexpected guests, and the whole story seemed to surprise her, but when I got to what Peter thought the arrangements should be, she couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“OMG, he didn’t really say that,” she squealed.
The that she was referring to was Peter’s suggestion that I turn over the master suite to him and Gabby. The master suite was like a separate wing of my house, complete with a sky-lit dressing area, closets, luxury bathroom, and a spacious bedroom with a fireplace, which I totally enjoyed inhabiting. “His thinking was that there were two of them and one of me,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I told Peter they could have Samuel’s room while he’s on the road with my mother and her girl group. And when he returns, they can have my crochet room. I’ll just have to find someplace else for all the yarn and partially completed projects. And the books and all the other stuff.”
“So tell me about Gabby,” she said, “and the idea of being a grandmother.”
“The whole grandmother thing is going to take some getting used to. Gabby is going to take some getting used to too,” I said. “She seems the ambitious type—she was one of the producers on the sitcom before the whole thing fell apart. She didn’t seem very friendly, and I think she’s not happy with the accommodations. I’m sure Peter assured her they’d have my room.” I drained the last of my drink. “He dropped that they’re going to tell everyone that the whole house is theirs.”
“I hope he’s not planning to entertain,” Dinah said with a laugh.
“I didn’t think of that,” I said, and sighed. “I guess I’ll deal with that when I have to.”
“You could have said no,” she said.
“How could I when his brother is already living there when he’s not on the road? I probably should be glad that at least Peter didn’t bring any pets with him. Just a pregnant woman who seems a little hostile.” I looked at my friend. “Now it’s your turn.”
“My news seems pretty paltry after that. It’s just Cassandra.” She managed to say the name so it came out as a groan.
“It’s not easy dealing with adult children,” I said.
“At least, Peter is your adult child.”
I got it. Cassandra was technically Dinah’s stepdaughter. My friend had recently married Commander Blaine. She was long ago divorced, and he was a fairly new widower. Cassandra looked at Dinah as an intruder and made no attempt to keep it a secret.
“I thought she lived someplace back east.” I said.
“‘Lived’ is the key word there. Commander didn’t want to upset me, so he didn’t tell me that she moved to Woodland Hills and that he gave her a job at his Mail It Quick shop. I only found out when I went in there to get some stamps. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, he wants us to have weekly family dinners. I think I better hire someone to taste my food first,” she said with a smile.
I took a sip of my Red Eye and willed it to give me a jolt of alertness. I hadn’t slept well the night before, for obvious reasons, and I had a full day ahead of me at the bookstore, along with the Hookers’ get-together later that day. “I might need another one of these,” I said, holding up the almost empty cup. “I just heard from Mason. He had some sort of emergency and flew in this morning. He said we’d get dinner.”
“Oh,” she said, her eyes lighting up. “I’m sure he’ll whisk you off to someplace wonderful.”
As I said, Mason Fields is my plus one. I hated the word “boyfriend,” but there weren’t a lot of better alternatives. “Significant other” didn’t work for me. It sounded forced. “Partner” was confusing—were you lovers or in business together?
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...