Read Irish Chain Online

Authors: Earlene Fowler

Irish Chain

Irish Chain
Fowler, Earlene
Berkley Prime Crime (1996)

Probing the death of the San Celina Senior Citizen Prom king, museum curator Benni Harper goes against the wishes of her police chief boyfriend and uncovers the victim's fifty-year-old affiliation with a World War II Japanese blackmailing ring. Reprint. PW. LJ.

Irish Chain
Fowler, Earlene
Berkley Prime Crime (1996)

Probing the death of the San Celina Senior Citizen Prom king, museum curator Benni Harper goes against the wishes of her police chief boyfriend and uncovers the victim's fifty-year-old affiliation with a World War II Japanese blackmailing ring. Reprint. PW. LJ.

More praise for
and Earlene Fowler . . .


Chicago Sun-Times


I Love a Mystery

“A RIPPING READ. It’s smart, vigorous, and more than funny: Within its humor is wrenching insight.”

—Noreen Ayres, author of
A World the Color of Salt


Library Journal

“I THOROUGHLY ENJOYED FOOL’S PUZZLE ... Fowler’s characters are terrific . . . A superb job.”

—Eve K. Sandstorm, author of
The Devil Down Home

“A NEAT LITTLE MYSTERY . . . her plot is compelling.”


“LIVELY . . . More Benni mysteries are in the works, and will be welcomed.”

The Drood Review of Mystery

“A Quadruple Irish Chain” is a quilt pattern consisting of one-inch squares set in a stair-step design. Its traditional colors of green, white, black, and gray make a striking finished quilt . . . if one has the perseverance to stitch together the numerous pieces of the whole.

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Earlene Fowler


The Benni Harper Mysteries


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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

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, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 1995 by Earlene Fowler.

The Edgar
name is a registered service mark of the Mystery Writers of America, Inc.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
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375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eISBN : 978-1-101-50025-5

Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To Mama and Daddy,
who gave me
Southern roots and Western wings


To my Grammas,
Edith Bennett Worley and Muriel Webb Phillips,
who taught me what being a “tough old broad”
was all about


My deepest thanks to:

The Lord God—Your grace is always sufficient

Mary Atkinson and Ann Lee for their attention to detail and moral support

My agent, Deborah Schneider, who continues to support and believe in my work; and my editor, Melinda Metz, for her generous efficiency and cheerful spirit

Jose Padilla and Veronica Carillo,
muchas gracias
for their good-natured answers to all my crazy questions

Farideh Naeim-Ebadolahi for her help and for introducing me to the joys of Persian food

Helen May and the rest of the ladies at Oakview Convalescent Home. You all taught me much more than I could ever teach you

And, with love, to my husband, Allen. If I could save time in a bottle . . .


The origin of the Irish Chain quilt pattern is unknown, but it is very old, rumored to go back as far as Colonial times. The color arrangement of the fabric pieces creates the “chain” effect. The single chain is made with two contrasting colors or prints, but can also be expanded to make a double, triple, or quadruple chain. The color combinations become more varied and the pattern more complex as chains are added. The chain can go on and on, making a quilt as large as desired. It is only stopped when the quilter decides to end it.


“I’M GOING TO snatch you baldheaded, Benni Harper, if you don’t haul your butt over here right now,” Gramma Dove said, her voice as raspy as the old Hank Williams records she loves. All the orphan calves on the Ramsey Ranch had been milk-fed and soothed to sleep by her gritty-voiced renditions of “I Saw The Light,” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” For that matter, so had I.

“I was just walking out the door,” I lied amicably, sitting behind the counter of the small gift shop in the empty folk art museum. An earsplitting click answered me when she hung up the phone. She hadn’t called me “young lady” yet. That meant I still had time. My stomach rumbled, reminding me I’d forgotten to eat breakfast again. I knew Dove though, and she never came down from the ranch without bringing something to eat, determined to bring me back up to what she called “fighting hen weight.” I’d lost ten pounds when my husband, Jack, was killed a year ago when his Jeep flipped over on a lonely stretch of old Highway One, and I’d never regained it. Dove worries about that as she does every minuscule detail of my life. A born “heel snapper,” she is a determined cattle dog of a woman and, according to her, I remain her most unmanageable calf. Her constant interference in my life is a good-natured but continual bone of contention between us. Hope and anticipation for her heart-melting sweet potato biscuits caused my stomach to growl again.

Ignoring my hunger, I turned back to the oak-framed cross-stitch sampler I was logging into the inventory book. “The Best Things Come But Once in a Lifetime.”

Stitched in a dashing sweep of blues ranging from robin’s egg to deep, lustrous navy, each letter was outlined in black, causing the sentiment to almost jump out at me. It was one of the over two hundred samplers we’d received at the museum in response to our newspaper ad requesting cross-stitched and embroidered samplers for our newest exhibit. As curator of the Josiah Sinclair Folk Art Museum, I was responsible for choosing the hundred or so we actually had room to display. To be fair, I had tried to select a wide variety of styles, ages and degrees of craftsmanship but especially ones with heart, ones that appeared to mean something special to each artist when they created it. What I had in mind was for the exhibit to tell its own story, about the individual artists, about our town and about the wider community of man. The success of the show was important to me. Though proud of my last exhibit of antique quilts and of the five newspaper articles written about the museum, I couldn’t overlook the fact that the publicity had more to do with the murders that took place on the premises rather than my expertise as a curator. A reporter for the travel section of the L.A.
had contacted me two weeks ago wanting to do a small piece on our new museum and she didn’t even mention the murders. That made it essential for this exhibit to shine.

“The Best Things Come But Once in a Lifetime.” I studied the daisy and lily-of-the-valley border, the fancy script, the blue and purple peacocks gracing each corner before writing down the name and address of the sampler’s owner. The age-faded embroidered words stitched by K. G. Drusell in 1924 struck a melancholy chord in me. At thirty-four and, in less than a week, widowed a year, I was beginning to wonder if this lady might be right. My relationship with Jack had definitely been the best thing I ever had—though being married to him since the age of nineteen, I didn’t have much to compare it with. Until now, that is.

Gabriel Ortiz. I’d met him, sparred with him and grudgingly allowed him to weasel his way into my life when murder was a major contributor to the museum’s exhibit of antique quilts almost three months ago. His qualifications were listed in my head in a permanent resumé. San Celina’s temporary chief of police. Olive-skinned Hispanic-Anglo native of Derby, Kansas with a twenty-some-odd-year stop-over in Los Angeles. Long, sinewy, half-miler’s legs. A thick black mustache with touches of silver hiding a sensuously full lower lip that disappeared when he was tense or angry. Blue-gray eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean in January. And, for want of a better description, my steady companion these last few months. Was it love, loneliness or just an incredible physical attraction? That was the question of the hour. One I didn’t have an answer for on an empty stomach so early on a Saturday morning. I glanced at the Daffy Duck watch on my wrist—a present from Gabe, who declared, in his husky, sardonic voice, that Daffy and I shared similar characteristics. I’m still trying to decide how to take that one.

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