As I WALKED INTO our backyard, Meghan was latching the door of the chicken pen behind her. When she saw me, she turned and held up one small, perfect blue-green egg.
"It's still warm," she said.
I took it from her, holding it gently in my palm. "Molly or Emma?"
Two of our hens were Easter egg chickens, and they laid that unusual color. They hadn't been producing long enough for us to be able to recognize who laid what.
"Molly, I think. Erin says her eggs are a little bluer, and Emma's are a little more greenish. Apparently she can tell already."
Erin was Meghan's eleven-year-old daughter. She was at math camp during the day for the next two weeks, practicing up on being a genius, but she had become the resident expert on the individual idiosyncrasies of our laying hens.
Brodie, Erin 's old Pembroke Welsh corgi, had taken to sitting outside the chicken pen, guarding them from harm whenever she was gone. Now his fox-like face swung my way, and he gave a low woof in acknowledgement of my presence. But he was on the job, and didn't leave his self-imposed post to receive his usual ear scritchin's.
"How was the funeral?" Meghan asked.
I grimaced. "Good, I guess. If you can characterize a funeral that way." I dreaded telling her about Ariel.
"I think you can." Her gaze took in my casual clothes. "When did you change?"
"I dropped by before going over to CRAG. You were with a client." Like me, Meghan worked at home. Her massage room and a tiny office were tucked into a front corner on the main floor, out of the way of our normal household traffic. She wore her warm-weather working togs: soft cotton knit shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt.
"CRAG. Of course that's where you've been." She stopped herself before adding, "Again."
"I've got some bad news," I said.
She crossed her arms. "What?"
"You know Ariel Skylark?"
"I've met her. Lots of attitude, needs to eat a burger?"
The latter statement was something, coming from Meghan who stood at just five feet and barely tipped the scale to a hundred pounds. Add dark glossy curls, a tiny turned-up nose and cupid lips, and she looked more like a wood sprite than a single mother, former lawyer, and currently much-in-demand massage therapist.
I chewed gently on my lower lip and nodded. "That's her." I took a breath. "She was murdered."
Her gray eyes widened, filled with a combination of kindness, concern, and bewilderment. Consternation flooded her voice. "How did you hear about it?"
I closed my eyes for a moment, shaking my head. "You're not going to believe it."
"Not going to believe what?" Her tone was flat. She had an inkling of what was coming.
"I found her." I opened my eyes to find Meghan had closed hers, and had added the telling gesture of pinching the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger. Meghan may have hated me finding dead bodies even more than I did.
I plunged on. "After the funeral reception I went over to the coop for my spinning lesson with Ruth."
Meghan dropped her hand and rolled her eyes at this further evidence of my recent obsession with fiber.
"Anyway, no one was there when I arrived. The front door was open, and I thought someone was working in the studio and had forgotten to lock it. I went inside, but no one was there. At least not downstairs. Upstairs in the studio spaces, I found Ariel. She was…" The screen my efficient brain had erected fell away, and my mind's eye filled with the image of Ariel Skylark lying on her back, lips blue, tongue slightly protruding. The tangible violence surrounding the scene. I took another deep breath and forced myself to swallow the lump in my throat. "She was strangled, Meghan. Strangled with my yarn."
Startled, she asked, "What do you mean, your yarn?"
"It was the first skein of yarn I'd completed spinning. Just a plain, off-white yarn, full of slubs and kind of weird looking, but I could have made a hat out of it, or something. I mean, I'm not saying a hat is more important than, well, you know, it's just, it was my first skein, and I'd just finished it a couple days ago, and now it's a… " Another dry swallow. "… a murder weapon."
Meghan sank down on the bench by the picnic table. "Sophie Mae?"
"Why is it that you, of all people, managed to find Ariel?"
I shrugged. "Just unlucky, I guess."
"What?" I asked.
"You're not going to do anything stupid, are you?"
"What kind of a question is that?"
"Like what you did when Philip Heaven died."
"Ruth said something to that effect, too," I said. "I don't know why everyone thinks I'm going to wade into a murder investigation. Last time cured me of that."
My housemate didn't look convinced. "That'd be a lot easier to believe if I didn't know how much fun you have when you're poking and snooping." "
I do not!"
"No one else was looking into those other deaths, and somebody needed to find out what really happened. But believe me, Barr and Robin are all over this case."
"Okay. Good," she said. "I have two more clients, and then I have to go pick up Erin. Let's not make a big deal about this tonight, okay?"
"Right. I don't think she ever met Ariel, so we can downplay it however much you want." I gave her the egg I'd been holding. "I'm going over to Barr's, make him dinner tonight, so I might be home late anyway."
She grinned. "I won't wait up."
Meghan went inside the house. I moved to inspect the squash vines to see if the milk solution I'd applied to the powdery mildew on the leaves had been effective. It looked like it had stopped the unsightly white fungus in its tracks.
Fun? She actually thought I had fun investigating Walter's, and then Philip's deaths? Well, okay. Maybe unraveling a puzzle was… interesting. At least it wasn't boring. And I was two for two, so I must have been pretty good at it.