Four-Patch of Trouble

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FOUR-PATCH OF TROUBLE

 

A DANGER COVE

QUILTING MYSTERY

 

by

 

GIN JONES

&

ELIZABETH ASHBY

 

 

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Copyright © 2015 by Gin Jones

Cover design by Janet Holmes

Gemma Halliday Publishing

http://www.gemmahallidaypublishing.com

 

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

 

This book is dedicated to Kathi, who kept insisting that Keely's story needed to be told.

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CHAPTER ONE

 

A year after I quit practicing law, I was still arriving early for meetings as if I needed the time to complete last-minute, on-site preparations for a trial. Today, all I had to do was introduce myself to the director of the Danger Cove Historical Museum, exchange business cards, and be personable enough that he'd hire me to appraise the quilts the museum was planning to acquire. I could do that in my sleep. And yet, I'd arrived twenty minutes ahead of schedule.

Rather than lurk impatiently outside the director's office, I opted to go back down to the first floor and wander through the exhibits. I'd only moved to Danger Cove recently, and this was my first visit to the museum. Its collections were housed in a massive, two-story brick building that was itself of historical interest, having been built in 1898. The museum's mission was to preserve local history, with a particular emphasis on the Danger Cove Lighthouse, maritime artifacts, and pioneer settlements.

Despite the building's age and size, the exhibits were fairly sparse, and I managed to visit all of the public spaces, not counting the tiny gift shop, and still make it back to the suite marked
Gil Torres, Museum Director
with a couple of minutes to spare.

In the waiting area, six otherwise unremarkable wooden chairs had had the seats and backs upholstered with the museum's signature textile, a traditional paisley in red, white, and blue, reproduced from a quilt in its collection. The chairs flanked a small table nestled in the corner of the room, on which there was a collection of brochures and flyers. The walls were similarly decorated with promotional materials, most of them posters for the annual quilt show jointly sponsored by the museum and the Danger Cove Quilt Guild.

I picked up a brochure just as a petite blonde woman breezed into the room. Except for her hair—mine was a deep chestnut, wavy and shoulder length, much longer than her wispy bob—and short height, the woman could have been me twelve months ago. She was about my age, maybe a year or two older than my thirty-eight, and she wore a pale linen suit much like mine, perfectly tailored, and in a style conservative enough to impress a jury. She was also in an obvious rush, radiating tension, something I'd been all too familiar with a year ago. Unlike me, though, she had perfectly smooth skin, somehow managing to avoid even the beginning signs of the deep age lines that stress was prematurely carving onto my forehead. She was also wearing spike-heeled sandals that were a great deal more flattering than my walking shoes, but now that I was no longer able to drive and had to walk everywhere, I needed to be practical about my footwear.

The door to the museum director's inner office opened, and a stunningly beautiful dark-skinned woman who was at least three or four inches taller than me, putting her at six feet tall, emerged. She smiled in my direction and said, "You must be—"

The blonde interrupted. "One of the vendors at the quilt show has a problem, and I need it resolved right now." She pushed her way into the director's office.

The tall woman, presumably the director's assistant, smiled ruefully at me. "I'm terribly sorry. This shouldn't take long."

I fought the impulse to jump to my feet, state for the record that I objected, and insist that my appointment should be honored. Standing quickly was no longer an option. It could trigger a syncope episode—and passing out, while dramatic, seldom helped to win an argument.

I took a deep, calming breath. I wasn't in a courtroom, and I didn't need to defend my dominant status. I'd given up that lifestyle on doctor's orders, and a little rudeness wasn't worth my ending up in the hospital. I wasn't in that much of a rush, and it wasn't the assistant's fault that her boss didn't honor his appointments.

"She's not worth stressing over," I told the tall woman. "I'll go make another round of the exhibits."

I went back downstairs to the lobby, where I heard my name being called. I turned around to see Lindsay Madison, once my paralegal, coming toward me.

Lindsay was in her mid twenties and of average height but muscular from the weight lifting she did as training for ringing big bells, the multi-ton behemoths found in churches and other public towers. She wore a light-blue sweater set and navy tailored pants, but the professional image was marred by the way she'd absently misbuttoned the cardigan and gotten a smudge of white correction fluid near the right pants pocket.

My biggest regret about retiring from the practice of law had to do with Lindsay. The law firm had promised to keep her on, subject to the usual employment terms for all its staff. Unfortunately, those usual employment terms were likely to get Lindsay fired within a few months. She was smart, well meaning, and hard working, but she just couldn't seem to focus on her work consistently. She could memorize hours-long bell-ringing patterns, but she couldn't remember to run spell check on every single document.

"Why aren't you at work?" I was afraid I knew the answer.

Lindsay glanced over her shoulder. "I sort of had some time off. I heard you were going to be here this morning, and I wanted to ask you for a favor."

"You need a job reference?" I pointed at the misbuttoned sweater.

"No." Lindsay peered down at her chest, for a moment uncomprehendingly, before running her fingers along the buttonholes and then fixing the misalignment. "I was sort of wondering if you would talk to someone about a legal question."

I knew a slippery slope when I saw one. I hadn't been ready to end my career as a lawyer, so it would be easy to fall back into old habits, like giving legal advice when asked by someone who was in trouble. And then I'd be the one in trouble, passing out from the stress of feeling responsible for everyone around me. I couldn't let that happen. "I'm not doing legal work right now. There must be someone at the firm who could help you."

"I sort of tried that already, and no one would take the case." Lindsay hunched deeper into herself, somehow making her muscular frame seem fragile. "You're my last chance, and I can't just give up. It involves my grandmother and her best friend. I kind of can't say no to them."

"So you expected me to be the bad guy?" That was one thing I didn't miss about the practice of law.

Lindsay glanced back at the museum's main entrance again. "Aren't you bored? Ready for a challenge?"

"I have plenty of challenges." First and foremost, I was trying to figure out how to follow my doctor's orders to relax and go with the flow, when it just made me feel like I was caught in a riptide and about to drown. Beyond that, this week was likely to be a turning point in my new appraisal career. Not only was there a window of opportunity here at the museum, but I was also going to be the keynote speaker at the local quilt show on Friday, and I was having trouble writing the speech. It should have been easy, not much different from an opening argument to a jury, which I'd done hundreds of times before, but the drafts I'd written were terrible. Definitely not something that would make a good first impression on the many dedicated quilters and quilt collectors—potential clients for my appraisal services—who came to this event from all over the Northwest.

"I'm sorry," Lindsay said. "Are you still fainting all the time?"

"I don't faint. I pass out. There's a difference." At least, that was what I told myself. I hated being seen as weak, even by someone who wasn't trying to use it against me. "And it doesn't happen all the time."

"That's good. I think." Lindsay glanced at the entrance again. "But you'll talk to my grandmother, right? She'll be here any minute. It just takes her a while to walk around from the parking lot out back."

I checked my watch. Ten minutes past the hour and no sign of the director's assistant searching for me. I should be able to spare a few minutes for Lindsay. I pointed at the bench outside the tiny gift shop. "I'll wait over there while you get your grandmother."

Lindsay scurried over to the main entrance with all the energy she seldom applied to her work. She returned a few moments later, ushering two elderly women over to the bench. The older, shorter one appeared fragile and was assisted by a taller and sturdier woman, who appeared to be about ten years younger but still at least in her early seventies. The older one was dressed for business, in a skirt with nylons and pumps, while the other one wore embroidered capris with a matching short-sleeved top.

Once the older, fragile woman was seated, Lindsay hovered beside her. "This is Dee, my grandmother. Grandma, this is Keely Fairchild."

Dee pointed at my quilted messenger bag, a checkerboard pattern of light-colored squares alternating with darker squares, no two of them alike. "That's lovely. Did you make it?"

"I wish I had, but I don't sew. I commissioned this at a quilt show last year when I decided to set up shop as an appraiser. The fabrics are all reproductions, so it works as an informal reference tool for historic fabric styles."

The other woman helped Dee settle onto the bench before saying, "I'm Emma Quinn. We want to get Randall Tremain pilloried."

"Emma may be overstating matters a little," Dee said, straightening her skirt. "I'd love to see Tremain punished by being locked up in a public square for people to point and laugh and maybe even throw some rotten food at him. That's definitely what he deserves, but we'd settle for having him charged with fraud and his shop shut down."

"He's selling counterfeit antique quilts at his shop," Emma explained. "And now he's going to be selling them at our quilt show. People will think the guild endorses his business practices. Lindsay said you'd know what we could do."

I raised an eyebrow in Lindsay's direction.

"You know about quilts
and
about the law," Lindsay said. "If anyone can stop Tremain, you can."

"It may be too late to do anything to keep him out of the quilt show." I'd seen the contract for the vendors, and it was solid. "You'd have to prove he'd breached his contract somehow, and four days isn't much time to do anything in the legal system."

"You're our last hope," Emma said.

"We could always hire a hit man, if push comes to shove," Dee said matter of factly. "I'm not sure the guild treasury has enough money for that, though, so we thought it would be better to exhaust our legal options first."

Not all of my clients had been that wise. "I do appreciate your preference for the legal route. I'm just not sure I can do anything to help you. Perhaps the local prosecutor would look into it."

"We've been there already," Dee said, "but the condescending twit of a baby-faced prosecutor wasn't interested in any crime that didn't involve blood and guts. I was tempted to show him some blood and guts. His own."

"I tried to tell him there's usually some blood on antique quilts," Emma said. "You know, from needles pricking fingers."

"That wasn't gory enough to interest him or anyone else in law enforcement," Dee said. "We contacted the media, but they weren't interested either."

"One nice reporter spoke to us, dear," Emma said. "Remember him?"

"You mean Matt Viera? He is lovely. He did try to help, but he's a freelancer, and he couldn't get his editors interested in the story. Not even at the
Cove Chronicles
, where they're always looking for filler." Dee smiled at her granddaughter. "We were almost out of options when Lindsay mentioned you. She said you're smart and efficient."

"But Lindsay also tells us you don't have any patience whatsoever," Emma said, shaking her head. "I'm afraid you'd never make it as a quilter."

I'd already figured that much out myself. I'd always admired quilts, and I'd once thought I might become a quilter when I retired—many, many years in the future—and had some free time. Then when I left the law firm and had the time to try quilting, I'd quickly realized I had no aptitude for it. I could easily spend a solid week inspecting and researching every detail of a quilt someone else had made, but I couldn't make myself spend more than two minutes in front of a sewing machine.

"All that matters," Dee said with a quelling look at her friend, "is that Keely knows enough about quilts to identify Tremain's fakes."

A year ago, I would have jumped at the challenge. Now, my main priority was avoiding even the slightest whiff of stress. I was already anxious enough about my upcoming debut at the quilt show. I didn't need anything else to worry about right now. Even if I wanted to help, the women didn't have standing to file a case in court, since they hadn't been harmed by Tremain themselves. "I'm sorry, ladies, but there really isn't anything I can do."

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