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A Fatal Fleece

A Fatal Fleece, May 2012
Seaside Knitters #6
by Sally Goldenbaum

NAL
Featuring: Cass Halloran; Birdie Favazza; Izzy Perry
320 pages
ISBN: 0451236750
EAN: 9780451236753
Kindle: B0072NWIO4
Hardcover / e-Book
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"The knitters will gather once again to investigate the death of an old curmudgeon."

Fresh Fiction Review

A Fatal Fleece
Sally Goldenbaum

Reviewed by Leanne Davis
Posted May 28, 2012

Mystery

Finnegan was a fixture in the town of Sea Harbor. After the death of his wife, he retreated to his property and let the weeds grow rampant on his property. He had a strict code of proper behavior and wasn't ashamed to let others know when he thought they were wrong. The only family he allows on his property is the Halloran family and Birdie's newly discovered grandaughter.

Gabbyis a 10 year old who takes the town by storm. All the other girls want to imitate her style. Birdie and her staff are enchanted by her as is rest of the town, espcially Finnegan. Cass is taking Finnegan some bread and stumbles over his body. She is devastated by his death.

Nell and the rest of the Seaside Knitters will seek the truth of who killed Finnegan when his will is read; Finnegan has left everything he owns to Cass. The Hallorn lobster business is about to go broke and the news of this inheritance is causing the police to think that Cass might have killed him for his money.

Knowing that Cass is incapable of murder, her friends rally around to discover the real killer. When Finn's stepdaughter is killed, it becomes obvious that this isn't just about his money.

As always, Ms. Goldenbaum has written an intriguing mystery with some wonderful characters. Filled with love of friends and family and some thoughtful storytelling, this is a book that will enchant the reader. Every time I read one of these books, I want to find Sea Harbor and meet the cast of characters.

Learn more about A Fatal Fleece

SUMMARY

As Izzy Perry and the Seaside Knitters prepare Izzy's yarn studio for the tourist season, fellow knitter Birdie Favazza has her hands full with Gabby, a granddaughter she never knew existed. Gabby soon becomes a fixture in the town--riding off on Birdie's bike, teaching her own crochet class, even striking up an unlikely friendship with a reclusive fisherman, Finnegan, who is the source of much local turbulence.

Then lobsterwoman Cass Halloran stumbles over the old fisherman, his body covered with leaves and sea grass and wearing the yellow fleece vest she once made for him. When Cass becomes a suspect in his murder, the knitters rally to protect their dear friend.

Soon the Seaside Knitters will discover that caring for Gabby while casting their net for a killer is a tricky business, indeed. They'll have to keep their wits about them as they piece together the clues in an effort to catch the killer before one of their own winds up knitting behind bars.

Excerpt

In Birdie Favazza's mind, city council meetings were about as bland as white bread. But tonight's meeting, from which she was mysteriously absent, would surely make her eat her words.

"He's gone loony tunes, that's what. The old codger has a screw loose." D.J. Delaney's booming voice echoed off the walls of the City Hall meeting room.

Finnegan's land was the last item on tonight's short docket, and most people had stayed to hear what the council would decide to do about it. Or perhaps that's why they'd come in the first place.

"It's such a small stretch of land," Nell Endicott had said to her husband as they drove the short distance from their house to City Hall.

"But positioned perfectly between Canary Cove Road and the sea," Ben replied. "A diamond in the rough. Everyone wants a piece of it."

The energetic crowd of Sea Harbor residents had concurred as they sat shoulder to shoulder in the heated room, many with their own imagined plans for how it would be used—once they wrested it away from the crazy old man who lived there, that is.

A developer's dream.

Revenue for the town.

A fancy strip of shops? A small inn, perhaps?

Expensive summer condos.

Or a park with play equipment, a wading pool, a skating rink in winter.

"I've offered the guy everything but my firstborn," D.J. continued, his eyes blazing. The developer sat near the front of the crowd, his wife, Maeve, at his side. "He won't listen to reason. People would kill for that land."

"Well, let's hope not," Ben Endicott said. His voice was a fan, cooling the room's heated air. The voice of reason in the tempest the land debate had churned up.

"I say we concentrate on the new community garden," Ben continued. "Get everyone involved. Make it spectacular. It will butt right up to Finnegan's place, and once he sees those juicy Big Boys bending the vines, he'll come around and clean up his place—I'll bet on it. After all, that's what we all really want. Right?"

Nell held back a smile. No, that wasn't what they really wanted, and Ben knew it as well as anyone. No one would object to the unsightly acres being cleaned up, true. But what many really wanted was what they saw when they looked at the land: dollar signs. Lots of them.

"Maybe Finnegan would help with the garden," Willow Adams said hopefully. The young fiber artist liked the old man, and the complaints against him offended her. But the land was an eyesore, even Willow had to admit.

Next to her, Beverly Walden was still. Although the artist kept her opinions to herself, her face was as graphic as her contemporary paintings: bright, bold, and expressive. And from what Nell Endicott could tell from across the room, her expression confirmed the rumors that rumbled up and down the winding, narrow streets of Canary Cove: Beverly Walden didn't like Finnegan. And from all reports, the feeling was mutual.

A possible Greek tragedy in the making, because Beverly Walden was Finnegan and his late wife Moira's only child.

"I know the land's a problem," police chief Jerry Thompson said from his chair near the front of the room. His calm voice brought everyone to attention. "It's not looking so great, sure, but Finn will come around."

"That land used to be so fine, just like the other places down there—neat little offices with flower boxes in front," Archie Brandley, the Sea Harbor Bookstore owner, said, rising from his chair. His head nodded with each word, and he looked down at his wife, Harriet. "Remember? Finn had that little bait shop, and Moira handed out hot dogs to fishermen, right along with the worms. She never took a dime for the dogs, only the bait."

Murmurs of agreement mixed with some chuckles rippled through the crowd from those who remembered the days when life moved a little slower—and later ones, too, when it was cheaper to buy bait from the bigger places in town and Finnegan finally closed the shop to fish full–time. But Moira declared that very spot her favorite place on God's earth. So Finnegan renovated the building on the land. He fixed up the first floor with a couple of offices for rent, and moved his Moira from a small cottage above the Canary Cove Art Colony to the spacious top floor with the million–dollar view. Nothing but miles of blue and squabbles of gulls overhead. Fishing boats moving back and forth. And around the building, lots of green space and rosebushes, which Moira tended.

"It was after his Moira died that things got bad," Harry Garozzo, owner of the deli on Harbor Road, said. "Damn cancer took her and might as well have taken Finn, too, for a while anyway."

Nell remembered hearing the stories. Moira's death was the beginning. And soon the land became a jungle of sea grass and broken bottles—a place for kids to hide a six–pack late at night or drifters to seek shelter, until driven away by Finnegan's BB gun. Eventually ocean winds ripped the paint from the cottage by the sea, and it decayed into a shack where drifters sometimes slept when the ocean's freezing gusts drove them inside and the owner was absent.

And old man Finnegan refused to clean it up.

He also refused to give it up, though the offers to buy the land would make him a rich man.

Instead, he put up a wire fence that held in the weeds, trash trees, and tall wavy grasses. At the gate he fastened a NO TRESPASSING sign. Outside the fence, passersby—joggers and strollers, vacationers headed toward the Canary Cove art galleries—caught glimpses of Finnegan fiddling with rusted boat parts and lobster pots and bales of old fishing rope. Sometimes he'd be whistling, sometimes muttering to himself.

But no one ever saw him mowing the waist–high grass that offered him the privacy he coveted.

Sometimes at night, folks dining at the Ocean's Edge harbor restaurant would look out over the water and see him silhouetted against the lights, a bent black shape sitting on the end of his weather–beaten dock, scanning the sky with an old pair of binoculars, searching the sky for new planets.

Or maybe for his Moira.

"Finnegan can be downright nasty," Beatrice Scaglia said, not buying the love story that may have informed his land. She sat at the curved table in the front of the room, her red fingernails tapping on the wooden surface near the microphone. The councilwoman was impeccably dressed in a white linen suit, though the other council members sported knit shirts and khakis or cotton skirts and blouses. "We've had dozens of complaints and so have the police. And when Sergeant Tommy Porter, dressed in full uniform, stopped by to discuss them politely with him, he practically forced Tommy off his land." Her hand flapped through the air in the direction of the young policeman.

"I wonda what he's hiding out there?" This came from the owner of a pizzeria on the edge of town, who'd been trying to get a place near the water for years. "Maybe he's, well, you know, growing somethin'. Maybe those weeds are hiding more than old lobsta traps. . . ." His words hung suggestively over the crowd.

What nonsense, Nell thought. She removed a nearly finished lace scarf from the bag at her feet. Knitting brought a calmness to her spirit, and all this negative talk about a decent man who liked his privacy was beginning to rile her up.

Beatrice Scaglia pulled the microphone closer but waited for a few minutes, allowing the pizzeria owner's words to settle on anyone who might need further convincing that someone, somehow, needed to persuade Finnegan to vacate his land and allow it to be used sensibly. Finally she said, "I think we may need to impose serious fines on Finnegan, ones that will convince him to sell the property and move on with his life."

From the front row an old man pushed himself up to a standing position, his white beard creating the illusion of Santa Claus himself. He leaned on a carved walking stick to keep his balance. Angus McPherran rarely showed up at public functions, and his presence caused a hush to fall over the room.

"Finn's mad because the police took away his driver's license," Angus said. "Had to be done, but it made him wicked mad. So he doesn't want any patrolman knocking on his door. He wonders what you're gonna take away next.

"And then there's the rest of you, pushing your way onto his property, trying to buy it out from under him to make yourselves rich. Shame on you." He threw a pointed look at D.J. Delaney, the developer, then went on. "So he doesn't want to pretty up the place. So what? That's his God–given right. It's his land, for chrissake."

Those gathered in the council meeting room nodded at the mention of Finnegan's driver's license. Everyone had heard about the day Police Chief Jerry Thompson said, "That's it, Finn," and took his license away forever. The bent lamppost in front of Harry Garozzo's deli was just a small reminder of Finnegan's slow responses and careless driving, not to mention the fear that rippled up and down Harbor Road when he'd come around the corner in his beat–up Chevy pickup. The chief had bought him a ten–speed bicycle with his own money to soften the blow, but Finn would often sit up in the cab of his truck, now a fixture on the weed–encrusted land, as if it somehow gave him back his freedom.

"Just leave the old coot be," Angus said. He gave another withering look at D.J., then lowered his body back down onto the chair.

Subdued chuckles passed through the crowd when Angus called Finnegan old. Angus himself—The Old Man of the Sea, as the kids called him—was old enough that no one even tried to remember the exact year he was born. Angus had been around forever, was the way people looked at it. And his generosity to the city made people not ask his age but defer to him instead.

"No disrespect to you, Angus," Beatrice Scaglia said, "but the place has become an eyesore, plain and simple—and that is our business." One long red fingernail tapped on the table.

"I suppose it's not the best thing for Colony Cove," Ham Brewster admitted. Ham spoke with reluctance. He liked Finn well enough, just like most of the Canary Cove artists did. Finnegan was their self–appointed watchdog and street cleaner, fixing shutters and cleaning up the paper cups and lobster roll wrappings that tourists sometimes tossed in the narrow streets of the art colony. Finnegan's wife, Moira, had been an artist, he often told them—and it's what she'd have wanted him to do.

Nell watched Jane Brewster, a dear friend, cast her eyes to the floor. Jane agreed with what her husband said, but she didn't like herself for it. She and Ham headed the Canary Cove Arts Association—housed in a very neat building on the other side of Finn's land—and had worked hard to make the colony successful, safe, and beautiful. Finnegan's land was becoming a deterrent to business and an eyesore to all of them.

"And it's a hotbed for riffraff," Jake Risso, owner of the Gull Tavern, spoke up. Again, with some reluctance. "Not Finn's fault, but when I'm out in the boat I can see 'em, bums trying to hunker down over there. They think it's abandoned—"

"And, therefore, theirs," Beatrice said. "And it's not good for Finn himself. Just two weeks ago someone showed up in that rotted building and Finn caused an awful ruckus."

The crowd turned to look at Tommy Porter, the young policeman who had stopped the fight. If he hadn't, he'd told the reporter who dutifully wrote it up for the newspaper, the guy might not have seen the light of a new day. Finn was fuming mad, and the bum had a broken nose to show for it.

Tommy nodded at the attention, but declined from adding to the discussion.

Nell settled back in the chair, lulled by the buzz of conversation around her. She didn't often come to council meetings, agreeing with Birdie's evaluation, but Ben was chairing the new Parks and Open Spaces Committee, and his community garden idea was a brilliant one. She had come to support his plans, hoping it would overshadow the debate over Finnegan's run–down property.

But it hadn't, and now the comments in the room were less about assigning garden plots, building pathways, and bringing in mulch, and far more about ousting an old man from his rightful property.

Nell often jogged along the path that bordered the land in question. She understood clearly why people were upset. The whole area was seedy and unkempt. Beatrice Scaglia had hired teenagers to go in and mow down the grass—a favor, Nell supposed, to townspeople who took their complaints to the councilwoman. Beatrice knew well that favors encouraged people to vote her way when election time came around.

But then, awhile back, the fence went up and Beatrice's mowing stopped.

Directly across the room from Nell, Cass Halloran stood, with her back against the wall, next to Danny Brandley. She looked distant, as if she were there in body but not much else. Every now and then Danny would glance down at her as if her mood was passing from her body into his own. His expression carried worry. Worry for Cass, Nell suspected. The mystery writer's affection for Nell's favorite lobsterwoman had ripened right along with his own successful career, and what Cass worried about, he probably did, too.

The burden of keeping the Hallorans' lobster business alive and thriving was a heavy one. Not an easy task in today's world.

Izzy Perry, owner of the Seaside Knitting Studio, wasn't at the meeting because her shop was still open and busy with vacationers getting started on knitting projects, but she'd promised to meet Nell and Cass and other friends for dinner. She sent her husband, Sam, to the meeting in her stead. Sam, as was his way, stood in the back, a camera hanging from a strap around his neck, just in case. Tonight Sam's camera went unattended as he listened intently to the conversation.

Birdie was absent, too, though she said she was coming. But when Nell had called earlier to offer her a ride, Ella, the housekeeper, said Birdie had received a phone call that sent her upstairs to shower, and then she was gone. Off without a word of explanation.

And Miss Birdie rarely showered in the middle of the day, Ella had added.

Nell smiled as she recalled the tone in Ella's voice. Crisp and disapproving. Ella usually knew exactly where Birdie was, and that's the way she—and her husband and groundskeeper, Harold—liked it.

But Birdie and Izzy were among the minority missing the meeting. Many of the Canary Cove artists were there, and one whole row was filled with longtime residents who lived in the neighborhood above Canary Cove—the old captains' homes that had been redone and refurbished into coveted family homes—and a newer neighborhood just across the cove.

At the end of the row was Sal Scaglia, who with his wife had recently renovated one of those homes and turned it into a Sea Harbor showplace. He sat with a notebook on his lap, his dark–rimmed glasses in place , and his attention focused on his wife, Beatrice. He reminded Nell of a faithful pup, although she knew Sal wouldn't find that flattering. But he was exactly that: always there at the meetings, always at Beatrice's side during her campaigns and civic commitments. Appearing at cocktail parties and ribbon cuttings and store openings—the quiet, loyal man behind the successful and ambitious woman.

Beatrice was still tapping her fingernail, waiting for some overt agreement that the group as a whole needed to take immediate action. Silence stretched across the room like a taut rubber band ready to snap.

Finally, the awkward moment was broken by sounds coming from the back of the room.

Nell welcomed the distraction. She looked toward the noise.

Beatrice Scaglia peered over her microphone, straining to see into the shadows at the back of the room. Finally, she stood.

Bodies shifted on the benches and chairs, eyes moving toward the commotion.

Davey Delaney, the construction company owner's son, was standing just behind the last row of chairs. He was alone, as he usually was, leaving his wife, Kristen, home with their three children. Davey was the image of his father as a younger man—ruggedly built with a barroom–handsome face, muscular body with just the faintest beginning of a beer bulge. His thinning auburn hair had been bleached by the sun and was more red than brown. His piercing blue eyes were staring, but not at the council table in the front of the room. Instead, he had turned his broad shoulders sideways, his stance that of a tiger ready to pounce. He was staring into the shadows near the back door.

Nell followed his look.

A dozen feet away, just inside the wide council room doors, stood a slender man with a prominent nose and shadowed jaw. He stood apart from the others crowding the room. A Sox cap was pulled low on his forehead, partially covering a white bandage across his cheek, and an old denim shirt hung loose from his bony shoulders.

The man knew it and met it head–on. He scratched an unshaven chin, his expression unreadable.

Except for the microphone picking up the tapping of Beatrice Scaglia's fingernails, the room was quiet.

"I never liked you much, Delaney," the man finally said, breaking the silence. His robust voice was a contrast to the deep furrows of age that defined his face. "But I give you your space, now. Don't I do that? Your old man, too. Sure, I do. I always done that, even when you were a young upstart raidin' our traps out near the island, tangling lines, creating trouble. So now it's time you give me my space, Davey Delaney. You know what I'm saying here?"

The older man pushed his body away from the wall, standing tall now, his fingers curling into a fist at his side.

Although the man weighed half that of the hefty Delaney son and would likely have done little harm, Ben spotted the clenched fist and began moving toward the back of the room. Across the room, Ben's friend Ham Brewster did the same.

But when the man's arm rose, his fingers relaxed and went to his own head, not to Davey Delaney's. Slowly, he clasped the bill of his cap with gnarled fingers and removed it, inclining his head slightly to the dozens of people looking at him. He scanned the crowd, surprised at the attention coming his way.

"I just stopped by to be sure no one was robbing the place, maybe to see what all the hullabaloo was about. That's all," he said. He managed a lopsided smile. "Damned if it wasn't about me."

Davey Delaney ignored the man's words and his smile and took a step closer, his eyes flashing and a fire–engine blush crawling up his thick neck. His legs apart, his hands clenched, he leaned forward. "You hear this, old man. Mark my words. That land'll be ours someday and we'll treat it a damn sight better than you do. We've got some respect for the people living around it." Davey tried to keep his voice low, but it refused to whisper and the words passed across the hushed room.

The old man turned toward him again, his smile disappearing in a flash. One bent finger pointed at the younger man.

"My land?" he said. The words hung in the air, held up by incredulity. His finger shook and his voice rose, bringing the room to rapt attention.

"You . . . Get . . . My . . . Land?" He paused for just one moment, then held Davey Delaney immobile in his stare. His words shot out like bullets. "Over my dead body, you will."

The age–spotted hand dropped to his side, and after another slight nod to the crowd, Finnegan the fisherman put his cap back on his balding head, turned slowly, and with an arthritic limp, walked out of the Sea Harbor City Hall and into the approaching night.


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