Cricket McRae

Spin a Wicked Web

The third book in the Home Crafting Mysteries series, 2009

For G.G., Grandma, and Mom: three generations of creative women who came before


I am grateful to everyone who lends their aid, support, and expertise to my books. Among them are my agent, Jacky Sach, and the extraordinary team at Midnight Ink, including Barbara Moore, Lisa Novak, Donna Burch, Courtney Huber, my hardworking publicist Courtney Kish, and the editor who so gently and effectively keeps me in line, Connie Hill. Then there are the cheerleaders who keep me going, among them Kevin (who puts up with me on a daily basis), my parents Ed and Rochelle, my writing buddies Mark and Bob, and my gal pals Mindy, Jody, and Jane. There are so many others; please know how much I appreciate all your kind words and encouragement. Finally, thanks to Jeanette Degoede for information on tulip farms, and to Chris from the Fiber Attic, who taught me how to spin all those years ago- and let me borrow her wheel until I got my own.



Ah, those four magical words. They strike dread into the most manly of hearts, and as a woman, it was an interesting experience to be on the receiving end. Interesting, but not particularly pleasant.

'Okay.' I buckled my seat belt. 'Talk'

Barr flipped his turn signal, carefully checked both ways, and turned right onto Highway 2.

'There's something I have to tell you, Sophie Mae.'

Oh, for heaven's sake, enough with the preamble. I began to regret the super spicy Thai curry I'd had for dinner in Monroe. Barr knew I loved Thai food. Had he been buttering me up?

'Lord love a duck. Will you just say it, whatever it is?'

He nodded. Paused. Opened his mouth to speak.

A flashing cacophony bore down on us from behind. I twisted around to see what was going on as Barr quickly pulled to the side of the road. The screaming sirens and blaring horn nearly deafened us as they passed, and I put my palms over my ears like a little kid. One after another, emergency vehicles raced by: an ambulance, a fire truck, and a Sheriff's vehicle, all nose to tail and heading toward Cadyville at engine roaring speed.

As soon as they were past, Barr floored it. His personal car, a normally sedate white Camry, left rubber on the shoulder of the highway, and we trailed closely behind the emergency entourage.

'What are you doing?' I shouted over the din.

'Finding out what's going on. Whatever it is, it's not good.'

A thrill ran through me. I watched, wide-eyed, as Barr maneuvered around traffic at high speed. I grabbed the oh-my-God handle over the door and tried not to grin. I probably should have been scared, but it was kind of fun.

Even if he was avoiding the issue-which I knew darn well he was. What had he been going to tell me?

We veered around a BMW, and the driver honked. Barr ignored him. A mile later we rounded a curve and discovered the reason for all the emergency equipment. My urge to grin quickly dissipated. Ahead, a car had left the road and traveled fifty feet before crashing head-on into a telephone pole. Dark smoke rose from the vehicle, and uniformed personnel ran toward it.

We parked behind the Sheriff's SUV. Then I saw the light bar on top of the wrecked car. The logo on the side.

I turned to Barr. 'Oh, my God.'

His door was open, and he was halfway out of the car, looking grim. 'It's one of ours,' he said and took off toward the gathering knot of people.

I scrambled out and down the shallow ditch embankment, falling behind as the slick soles of my flip-flops slid around on the long grass. More grass poked at my bare legs and grabbed at my summer skirt. Finally, I hit brown dirt and could run.

Panting, I came up behind Barr, but he held his arm out, preventing my further approach. A cloud of chemicals whooshed from an extinguisher as a fireman emptied it over the engine compartment. As the billowing smoke lessened, the pungent tang joined the acrid scents of burning rubber and hot metal. I peered around Barr. The driver's door was open to show part of a man's shiny black boot, but when I tried to get a better look, he turned my shoulder and walked me away from the scene.

'Who is it?' I asked, breathless. 'Why aren't they trying to get him out?'

He stopped and closed his eyes. When he opened them, I knew it was really, really bad.

'It's Scott,' he said. 'He's dead.'

'Oh, no.' And again, 'Oh, no. Who'll tell Chris?' I knew Scott Popper's wife better than I knew him. We were both members of the Cadyville Regional Artists' Co-op, or CRAG, a somewhat recent addition to our little town's growing artsy-fartsy scene.

Barr nodded toward a rapidly approaching pickup. It skidded to a stop on the highway, and Chris got out. She stared toward the wrecked patrol car, hand over her mouth.

He said, 'She has a scanner.'

Together, we hurried back across the field to Officer Popper's wife.


'Slow down. It isn't a race,' Ruth Black said. 'Spinning yarn is about process as much as result.'

I reduced the speed with which I was pumping the treadle on the spinning wheel. 'Sorry. I guess I'm bleeding off some nervous energy.

'Oh, I don't doubt it, after what happened to Scott Popper last evening. But that's the beauty of it,' she said. 'I find spinning allows me to let go of all the other stuff in my life for a while.'

That must have been why she did it so much. And why I was rapidly becoming obsessed with spinning fiber into yarn. Today, Ruth was teaching me how to take the two spools of single-ply wool yarn I'd gradually managed to create over the last three weeks, and spin them together to create a two-ply yarn. A short and spry seventy, Ruth wore her crop of white hair spiked to within an inch of its life. She leaned close, head bent as she watched me work. Her claim to fame at CRAG was fiber art. I'd always known she was an inveterate knitter but had only realized since joining the co-op that she was also an expert in spinning, weaving, felting, and crochet.

'Now, see how your yarn is getting too much twist in it? When you ply the yarns together, you need to make sure the wheel is spinning the opposite direction from the one you used to spin the singles. The first way gives it an S twist. The second utilizes a Z twist so the yarn unspins just slightly as the two strands twine together.'

'Um. Okay.' I stopped the wheel and tried it the other way. 'This is hard after spinning in the other direction all this time.'

'You'll get used to it.'

We were watching the retail shop on the ground floor of CRAG. It was ten in the morning, and upstairs the supply area and co-op studio spaces were still empty.

Ruth had invited me to join a couple of months earlier. I'd protested that the handmade soap and toiletries I manufactured for my business, Winding Road Bath Products, hardly counted as art, but the other members insisted they did. In truth, they needed as many participants as possible to generate momentum for the coop, and I was happy to take part. It was Chris Popper who had bought the old library and renovated it into a place for artists of all kinds to make and sell their creations, and she'd been quite enthusiastic about adding me to their roster.

The screen door opened, signaling a possible customer, and Ruth and I both half-stood to see over the cashier's counter. Instead of customers, three of the core

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