But someone had squeezed the life out of her. On purpose. The palpable violence of it took my breath away.

A knock on the window brought me back from my reverie. Ruth Black stood on the sidewalk, peering at me quizzically. I opened the door.

'What on earth is going on, Sophie Mae? No one will tell us.'

I got out of the police car and looked around. All the other core members of the co-op were there. Even Chris Popper, changed into jeans and a T-shirt now, questioned me with her eyes.

'It's Ariel,' I said. 'She's… well, she's dead.'

A group intake of breath at that.

I cleared my throat. 'She was strangled.'

Stares all around.

'In the co-op. I came early for my spinning lesson with Ruth, and found her.'

The stunned silence drew out, until finally Ruth said. 'You found her?'

I sighed. 'Yes'

That seemed to release them, and the clamor of voices rushed over me like water, drowning me with their shouted questions.

A hand reached through them and grabbed my arm. Robin Lane pulled me away, calling out, 'We'll let you know when we have more information.'

Inside the co-op, Robin guided me to a corner and gestured toward a rocking chair made out of plum-colored wood.

I shook my head. 'Can't sit there. It's for sale. Purple maple. Very expensive. See the sign?'

Lane looked disgusted. 'What use is a chair you can't sit on? Okay, come over here.' And she led me behind the register counter, where we both perched on stools.

Barr appeared at the top of the stairs. 'Robin's going to take your statement.'

I nodded my understanding. 'There might be a conflict of interest for you, huh.'

'Gee, you think?'

'I don't have much information,' I said. 'I found her is all. I don't know her very well or anything.'

He came down the stairs, the heels of his cowboy boots sounding a sharp report on each step. He'd changed out of his dress uniform, and now wore mushroom- colored slacks, a blue shirt, and a string tie from his considerable collection. This one had a copper slide, beaten into the rough outline of a leaf.

Leaning his elbow on the counter, he said, 'What is it with you and murder victims?'

'Hey,' I said. 'It's not like I enjoy it. And come to think of it, I didn't have this problem before I met you.'

'No. You met me because you have this problem.'

Okay. Technically he was right.

'Are you going to sit in?' Robin asked Barr.

'If you don't mind.'

She hesitated, at war with her affinity to play by the book. 'Shouldn't be a problem.'

'Why aren't we doing this at the station?' I asked.

'There's still a lot to do here, and we thought you might want to leave. But we need some information before sending you on your way,' Barr said.

'Okay. Shoot.'

'How did you find her?' Robin asked, pen poised to take down my answer.

I told them, and after that there were more questions about when I got there and how long it took before I called 911. We spent quite a bit of time on the open front door, and why I went upstairs in the first place. I explained that I thought an artist must have come in to work and left the door open. Then we moved on to Ariel herself. What did I know about her? Not much. I told them Ruth Black would probably know more. Ariel had always seemed kind of standoffish around me; my gender probably hadn't helped. Ruth seemed to get along with everyone, though.

'Did you see the yarn around her neck?' Lane asked.

'You mean the yarn she was strangled with?'

She nodded.

'Oh, I saw it all right,' I said.

'Do you know if it came from here?'

'I know it did.'

Lane looked the question at me.

'It was mine. The first two-ply homespun yarn I ever made, and Ruth was going to show me how to set the twist on it this week.'

Barr's eyes widened a fraction, but he didn't say a word.

'I'm sorry,' I said.

'What exactly are you sorry for?' Robin asked, her tone suddenly hard.

'For being upset about the stupid yarn,' I said. 'I really liked it, though. Even if it was kind of lumpy and thick and full of slubs, it was the first time I'd created a decent amount of actual yarn on the spinning wheel.'

'Did you touch her?'

'Only on the neck, to see if she had a pulse.'

Barr looked worried. Lane didn't look very happy with me, either.

'Oh, for heaven's sake, I can't possibly be a suspect,' I said, exasperation leaking into my voice. 'What should I have done? Assumed she was dead? What if she hadn't been?'

Robin Lane studied me for a long minute. I struggled not to look away or protest my innocence further.

'You didn't like her, did you?' she asked.

I blinked. 'Well, we weren't best friends.'

I saw her name on those paintings.' She indicated Ariel's work.

'Yes. She was an artist.' I managed to say it with a straight face.

'Did she paint here?'

I nodded. 'In one of the studio spaces upstairs. I believe she did almost all of her work here.'

'Was she interested in the yarn and knitting thing?' She couldn't keep her disdain for such homey activities out of her voice.

'Not that I know of.'

'Where was your yarn?'

I tried to remember. 'Last I saw it was right after Ruth showed me how to unwind it from the bobbin onto the niddy noddy. We tied the hank and hung it over the back of her spinning chair. You'd have to ask her whether she moved it later.'

She scribbled in the notebook. 'Do you know anyone who might have a motive for killing the victim?'

I stared at her for so long she stopped writing and met my eyes. 'You want my opinion about who could have murdered Ariel?'

Her smile was wry. 'I'm sure you have one.'

'I have no idea.' A little triumph in my voice, there.

Lane exhaled. 'Okay, that's enough for now. You can go.'

'Unless it has something to do with the way men reacted to her,' I said. Gawd. I just couldn't help myself. It was embarrassing. 'I'd find out who she was dating.'

'We'll check into it. Thanks.'


'Go home, Sophie Mae.' Barr's tone held quiet warning.

Fine. I didn't want to be here anyway.

Ruth Black was waiting for me in the parking lot, alone. She fell into step beside me as I walked toward my little Toyota pickup.

'Ariel was strangled,' she said without preamble, picking up exactly where Detective Lane had rescued me.


'Do they know who did it?' she asked.

'I don't think so.'

'Are you going to try and figure it out?' Beside me, her legs scissored along nearly twice as fast as mine, her steps short and quick like a bird's.

I stopped cold, and she drew up a few paces ahead and turned back.

'Huh uh,' I said. 'I'm not figuring out anything. This is a police matter, and I happen to know the police in question, and they are quite good at their job. There's no need for me to get involved.'

She tipped her head to one side.

'No need at all,' I repeated. My hand crept up to my recently shorn head, and I ended by rubbing my neck. The last time I'd tried to 'figure it out'-and at Ruth's instigation, I might add-things had gotten a little out of hand in the danger department. 'And I'm glad of it, too.'

Ruth smiled. 'If you say so, dear.'

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