Read Thread and Gone Online

Authors: Lea Wait

Thread and Gone

“You know Lenore Pendleton, the lawyer,” said Pete. “You're one of her clients, right?”
“I have an appointment with her next week to draw up a will.”
Pete and Ethan looked at each other.
Ethan spoke next. “You're going to have to find another lawyer, Angie. Lenore Pendleton is dead.”
“Dead!” I was waiting to hear bad news. It never occurred to me it would be about Lenore. “I saw her, yesterday.”
“That's what we're here to talk to you about,” said Pete. “We found a note on her desk with your name on it.”
“What did it say?”
“Nothing. Just ‘Angela Curtis,'” said Ethan. “Almost a doodle. The kind of note you write to yourself to help you jog your memory. We're here to find out when you last saw her, or talked with her, and why.”
“She didn't die of natural causes, did she?” I said, looking from one of the men to the other. Neither of them said anything. “Ethan, I'm not stupid. The State of Maine doesn't send a homicide detective to investigate a natural death. Now, would you tell me what happened?”
“We don't know exactly,” said Pete. “This morning Rob went to Lenore Pendleton's office with a friend, intending to show his friend the needlepoint. They found the door to Lenore's house unlocked. Lenore was lying on the floor of her office. Dead . . .”
Books by Lea Wait
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Lea Wait
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Chapter 1
The world, my dear Mary, is full of deceit
And friendships a jewell we seldome can meet
How strange does it seem that in searching
The source of content is so rare to be found.
—Poem stitched by thirteen-year-old
Lucy Ripley,
Hartford, Connecticut, 1802
The simple folded leather packet looked old. Old, cracked, and very out of place, as it lay innocently on the bright red Fourth of July tablecloth. A mystery from the past had interrupted my first Haven Harbor dinner party.
Before I'd seen that packet and its contents I'd been feeling high on more than the Pouilly-Fuissé recommended by the owner of Haven Harbor's local wine and gourmet treats store. (Buying beer? No problem. Wine? That's a whole different world.)
I'd gotten up the courage to invite Sarah Byrne, Dave Percy, and Ruth Hopkins, the three other Mainely Needlepointers who were going to be alone on the holiday, to join me to celebrate the official start of the tourist season, and my first Maine Fourth of July in ten years. (Ob Winslow and Katie Titicomb were celebrating with family.) I figured all three of my guests would be understanding if my salmon was a little dry or my peas undercooked.
But until the packet arrived, everything had been perfect.
I'd pulled it off. My guests had made appropriate compliments and serious dents in the baked salmon, fresh green peas, and hot potato salad that made up my close-to-traditional New England Fourth of July menu. And I'd only had to interrupt Gram's Quebec honeymoon twice to ask for cooking advice and counsel.
As I looked around the table I couldn't help smiling. Two months ago I hadn't known these people. Today I counted them friends as well as colleagues.
Gram had brought us together. She'd gathered an eclectic and talented group of Mainers to do custom needlepoint for her business, and as the new director of Mainely Needlepoint I was reaping the benefits of her choices. Not only could everyone in the business do needlepoint, but they'd all brought their own personalities and talents to their work.
Anyone meeting us for the first time would never guess that middle-aged Dave, navy retiree and now high school biology teacher, also had an extensive garden of poisonous plants. Or that Sarah, whose pink-and-blue-striped white hair and Aussie accent made her noticeable in a small Maine town, was also a member of the staid Maine Antiques Dealers Association. Or that Ruth Hopkins, a sweet little old lady whose arthritis forced her to depend on her pink wheeling walker, wrote erotica.
And me, Angie Curtis. The most ordinary of the lot. As long as you understood that “ordinary” included ten years working for a private investigator in Arizona. I knew how to use the gun I now kept hidden under Gram's winter gloves and scarves in the front hall. I was also the youngest of the group—twenty-seven—a born Mainer, and a native of Haven Harbor. Most unusual in this crowd, I was just beginning to learn needlepoint.
I was also learning what it was like to live alone. Gram's wedding to Reverend Tom last weekend had been pronounced “a smashing success” by Sarah, and as soon as Gram returned from her honeymoon, she'd be moving to the rectory. True, I'd lived alone (nearly all of the time, anyway) in my Arizona apartment, but being alone in two rooms was different from being alone in a large creaking house built over two hundred years ago.
But I'd grown up here, as my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother had before me. I couldn't imagine another family in these rooms. I'd get used to living here by myself. In the meantime, my only full-time companion was Juno, Gram's large Maine coon cat.
Juno looked up expectantly when anyone came into the house and then curled up in Gram's favorite chair, sadly waiting. She didn't understand about honeymoons. To make up for Gram's absence, I'd been giving Juno more treats than I'm sure Gram would have approved.
I'd even slipped a piece of salmon into her dinner dish before I served my guests. And I suspected Dave had been passing her a few tidbits under the table during dinner.
The four of us had comfortably finished off two bottles of wine and were debating the virtues of strawberry-rhubarb pie now, or strawberry-rhubarb pie after the fireworks, when we heard a knock on the front door.
The young people standing there could have been any two Haven Harbor teenagers celebrating the Fourth.
But they weren't.
Chapter 2
When gold and silver threads are used for Embroidery they are generally associated with coloured silks and filoselles [soft silk threads]. When used for Ecclesiastical purposes the work is called Church Work. The same kind of work is occasionally also used for secular purposes.
—Sophia Frances Anne Caulfeild and Blanche C. Saward,
The Dictionary of Needlework: An Encyclopedia of Artistic, Plain and Fancy Needlework
, London, 1882
The stocky young man standing on my front porch had his arm firmly around the girl's waist. I couldn't miss his red, white, and blue tank top emblazoned with New Hampshire's “Live Free or Die” motto or the purple anchor tattooed on his left shoulder.
The girl looked even younger than he was—slight, with wispy blond hair that covered part of her face.
I didn't recognize them.
“Sorry to bother you,” said the young man. “Angie Curtis?”
“Yes?” I answered. The silence in back of me said my guests were listening. Living in a small town offered little privacy. If you forgot what you'd done yesterday, you could always ask your neighbors. Deep secrets, on the other hand, might be hidden for years, especially from outsiders.
“My brother, Ethan, said you might be able to help us.”
For a moment I didn't connect. “Ethan?”
“Ethan Trask. He said you knew each other in high school.”
Blurred images flashed through my mind. Handsome Ethan, the boy I'd had a serious crush on in junior high school. Ethan and his friends, teasing the younger girl who'd followed him around. And, more recently, still handsome Ethan Trask, the Maine state trooper and homicide detective who'd helped me discover what happened to Mama years ago. The Ethan whose wife was serving in Afghanistan, leaving him unavailable, and a devoted single parent.
“I know Ethan. You're . . .”
“His younger brother. Rob.” He stuck his hand out to shake mine. His skin was rough; the skin of someone who worked outside, most likely in construction, or, based on his anchor tattoo, on the sea. “I'm eleven years younger than Ethan. You probably don't remember me.”
“No, sorry. I don't.” I did the math quickly. Rob must be about twenty-one. He would have been eleven when I'd left Haven Harbor to head west. No wonder I didn't remember him.
“And this is Mary,” Rob said, pushing the young woman next to him toward me. She brushed her hair off her face and smiled shyly. “Mary Clough. My fiancée.”
“Nice to meet you both,” I said. Clough. The name was familiar, but I couldn't place it. I remembered a lot about growing up in Haven Harbor, but in those years I'd been focused on my own problems, and on my high school classmates, not on other families in town. Mary would have gone to Haven Harbor Elementary then. She looked barely sixteen. Probably still in high school.
Some Mainers married young. And divorced young.
Behind me, my guests were migrating from the dining room to the front hall. I turned to acknowledge them. “These are my friends, Sarah Byrne, Ruth Hopkins, and Dave Percy. Maybe you know Dave. He teaches biology at the high school.”
Rob shrugged. “I didn't take biology.”
Mary nodded slightly. “I know Mr. Percy.” She hesitated. “We're sorry to interrupt your party. But Ethan and Mrs. Trask said you might be able to help me.” She reached into a small plastic shopping bag I hadn't noticed she was carrying and took out an old, worn packet of folded leather.
Sarah Byrne moved a step forward as Mary continued.
“I've been cleaning out my house and found this under the eaves in the attic, behind an old trunk next to the outside wall.” She handed me the leather. “I'd like to know what it is. How old it is. And if it's worth saving.”
I shook my head. “I don't know anything about old leather.” I turned the piece over. Stains from traces of melted wax showed it had once been sealed against the elements. Or for privacy. “Did you open it?”
“I did. But almost all of the wax was already gone. I wasn't the first person to look inside.” Mary's wide eyes were very blue, and very serious. “I hope I didn't do anything wrong.”
“I already told you. That house is yours. You had a right to open anything in it.” Rob shook his head impatiently and turned to us. “Mary's been sorting through a lot of old stuff. Mr. Fitch at the realtors' said her parents' house has to be cleaned out before we can sell it. We want to do that in September, when she's eighteen and has the deed.” He glanced over at Mary. “Sorting everything is taking longer than we planned. Mary gets attached to things just because they belonged to her family.”
Mary's cheeks flushed.
“No need to be embarrassed,” I assured her. “This house has been in my family since the early nineteenth century. I feel the same way about a lot of things in it. Is your house old, too?” Haven Harbor was full of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century homes.
Without thinking, I touched the small gold angel I wore on a chain around my neck. Mama had given it to me “to keep you safe” on the day of my first Communion.
It wasn't valuable to anyone but me. But I still wore it often, for luck. And memories. Tonight I'd worn it so, in some way, Mama could see me hosting a dinner in our home. Could see I'd grown up.
If Mary was selling her house, her parents must not be around. I wondered what had happened to them.
She nodded, smiling a bit. “Built in 1770. No one's ever sold it out of the family.” She glanced at Rob. “Not until now.”
“Selling it must have been a hard decision, then,” I said.
Mary was silent.
Rob answered for her. “People pay good money for old weather worthy houses. We sell it, and we'll be able to buy a lobster boat and maybe one of those new modular homes. A sternman's earnings aren't enough to cover a boat and a house.” Rob gestured at the leather case. “Open it. You'll see why we're here.”
“Come with me,” I said, including everyone in the hall. “The light is better in the dining room.”
I shooed Juno off the table, where she'd been cleaning tiny pieces of salmon off our plates, and cleared a space on the tablecloth for the leather packet.
Sarah reached over to stroke it. “It's certainly old. I'd guess over a hundred years. I wonder how long it's been in your attic.”
“Go ahead. Open it,” said Rob, impatiently. “That old leather isn't important. We're here because of what's inside.”
“You look, Sarah. You're the expert on old things.” I turned to Mary and Rob. “Sarah's an antiques dealer. She has a shop down on Main Street.”
Sarah carefully opened the leather. It was cracked along its fold lines. Inside was a creased piece of cloth and a piece of paper. The paper had been folded over, and was brittle and stained. Sarah opened it carefully. “I should have cotton gloves on,” she said, almost to herself. “I shouldn't be handling paper this old.”
“I already touched it,” Mary admitted. “I didn't think it was important. It's just an old letter. I couldn't even read it. The letters are faded, and I think it's written in French.”
Sarah nodded as she bent down to look at the paper, careful to only touch the edges. Corners of the page had already crumbled, and the paper, like the leather that had protected it, had split along the fold line. “I don't think this is modern French. But you're right. It's a letter, signed ‘Maria' or ‘Marie.'” She raised her head and looked at the others in the room. “Do any of you read French?”
With Maine's centuries-old ties to Quebec, many old-time Mainers spoke and read French. But no one here did.
Sarah refolded the note carefully and then opened the piece of cloth. “Wow.”
It was a square panel of elaborate embroidery on fine linen damask. A cross-shaped design in the center enclosed an oddly shaped bird worked in heavy silk threads in tent stitch. Embroidered flowers were in the corners outside the cross. The details were in split and stem stitches in once brightly colored silk threads or metallic gold or silver with a border of small pearls.
I'd never seen anything like it.
“So, what do you think?” said Rob. “Is it worth anything?”
Sarah moved back so we all could see. The panel was about sixteen inches on each side. The awkward looking dove or pigeon was outlined in black and then embroidered in shades of red, blue, and gray. Silver threads were woven into his wings, and a few pearls were on his head. “A Byrd of America” was stitched above him.
The embroidery might once have been studded with more pearls, but the silk attaching them to the fabric was broken in several places. A green and red vine framed the whole piece, surrounding the faded flowers in the corners.
Sarah bent down to examine it more closely. “This is the first time I've seen anything like this up close. But”—she glanced over at me—“Angie and I've been reading up on old needlepoint. I'm pretty sure I've seen pieces like this pictured in books. If it's not a reproduction, it could date back to Elizabethan times. Nothing like this was done in the states or in Australia. And that ‘Byrd of America' label probably means it was copied from a natural history book. It wasn't a bird the needlepointer was familiar with.”
Whenever she mentioned her home country, Sarah's accent increased. I tried to hide a smile.
“‘A Bird came down the Walk—/ He did not know I saw—/ He bit an Angleworm in halves / And ate the fellow, raw,'” she quoted.
Sarah also had the habit of quoting Emily Dickinson in odd moments. The needlepointers were used to that, but I saw Mary and Rob exchange a puzzled glance.
No one explained.
“That bird's not one I've ever seen,” said Dave. “And I'm pretty good at recognizing North American birds.”
“So, if it's old, that means it's valuable, right?” said Rob.
“It could be,” Sarah said slowly. “But we'd need to do a lot of research to find out for sure.” She turned to Mary. “You said your house was built in 1770. Was your family here before that?”
Mary shrugged. “I don't know. We've been here a long time. The men in my family were sea captains.” She hesitated. “I assumed we came from England. Or Scotland. A lot of the original families around here came from the British Isles. I never heard my folks say they were from anywhere else.”
“Would anything in your house give us a clue? An old Bible with family records in it? Diaries? Ships' logs?” Ruth leaned forward to get a closer look at the embroidery. “Old documents might hide clues about where your family came from. And where they acquired this.”
Mary looked embarrassed. “I've found a lot of old books and papers. One old leather hymnal was cool, but I didn't recognize any of the hymns. A few ships' logs might be mixed in with the rest of the papers. My father had a stack of old papers in his desk, and there's a trunk in the attic full of leather books and loose papers. A lot are old schoolbooks. I didn't look at them closely. The papers were hard to read; many had been nibbled by mice. I didn't think anyone would be interested in old ledgers and textbooks.” She glanced at Rob. “I've been trying to find any china or furniture or scrimshaw or pictures in the house that might be worth selling. My mom once told me the captains brought gifts home for their wives after they'd sailed to Europe and the Caribbean and Asia.” She shook her head. “Mom and Dad died about two years ago in a plane crash. I never thought to ask them any more about family history. I wish I had.”
“I'm sorry about your parents,” I put in. Maybe that was why Mary was going to sell her home. She was closing that part of her life and moving on.
I silently hoped she was making the right decision. Mama had died when I was ten, and I'd never had a father. But, thank goodness, I'd still had Gram. And now I had our house. It hadn't been important to me when I was eighteen. Now I understood it was part of me, of my heritage. A part of my past I wasn't ready to discard.
“Don't throw any of those old books and papers away,” Sarah cautioned. “They might be important to you or your children in the future. Or they might help identify things like this embroidery. If you don't want them, you could donate them to the Haven Harbor Historical Society for safekeeping.”
Sarah nodded slowly and moved back a step. “I have so many chests and boxes and drawers and wardrobes to go through. I don't have time to go through every piece of paper.”
“I told her we should get a Dumpster,” Rob put in.
Sarah winced. “It sounds as though you've taken on a major job, Mary. If you'd like help sorting through everything, I'd be happy to volunteer.”
Mary nodded. “I'd like that. I don't know what's valuable or what's important to keep. A lot of things are old.” She wrinkled her nose. “Some smell old. But so far I haven't thrown anything away. I've been sorting through the stuff and putting it in cartons in the living room or barn. Like, cartons for glass and china, and cartons for linens. And a couple for the old books and papers. I guess I need to look at the papers more closely.”
“A lot of old houses along the coast used to be full of souvenirs of places Maine ships sailed. My ancestors were captains, too,” I added. I didn't mention that many descendants of earlier Mainers had sold those things or given them away. Maine was full of antiques dealers and auction houses that had benefited from families who'd discarded those “old things,” valuable and not valuable, and replaced them with modern equivalents. Not to speak of the treasures that had been unknowingly tossed into Dumpsters.

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