Two HOURS LATER, I found out. As soon as Irene left, I added the essential oil blend I'd customized for the co-op to the diffuser on the counter and took a deep breath as the gentle fragrance overrode the stale air. After a while, customers started trickling in the door. I wasn't busy the whole time, but enough people kept coming in that it felt worthwhile to be there. An older couple was in the rear of the co-op looking at some of Jake Beagle's photography when Zak returned.
The front door was propped open to allow the slight breeze in. Zak was a skinny kid and barely filled half the frame. Behind him, I saw an older model blue Suburban turn into the parking lot. I recognized it right away. Zak hurried out as the Chevy pulled into a space.
Gabi Kaminski swung down from the driver's seat. A sleeveless white blouse showed off her tan, as did her denim shorts and leather sandals. She'd plaited her smooth, caramel-colored hair into a neat braid. She and Zak talked for a few minutes. I craned my neck to watch them. He seemed to be doing most of the talking. She gestured widely with one arm and laughed.
"Excuse me. We'd like to buy these." The gray-haired gentleman laid two of Jake's photos from the black-and-white Riparian series on the counter and reached into his pocket for his wallet.
"These are lovely, aren't they?" I asked while darting looks over his shoulder. Zak was unloading something from the back of the Suburban.
"They are indeed."
His wife said, "He's a fly fisherman, and these will keep him company in the den when he can't get out to the river."
I smiled. "Mmm hmm."
Yep: it was the painting Zak had put the note on. I wondered whether Rocky knew Gabi was selling it.
After I took their money, thanked them, and wished them a nice evening, the couple finally wandered out. I followed them to the door, then stepped back almost immediately so Zak could fit the big canvas through the opening. Gabi followed closely behind him. When she raised her head and saw me standing in the doorway, she stopped like she'd run into a brick wall. Surprise flitted across her face, rapidly replaced with a mask of careful indifference.
"You," she said.
Had this woman tried to kill me? I remembered the sound of crunching metal, the screech of it sparking across the asphalt as the eighteen-wheeler crushed my little truck into the ground. The salt-sting of baking soda lingering in the air. My own fear during the whole ordeal, still on my skin. I tasted it now, in the back of my throat, along with a rapidly growing anger.
And here she was, in Cadyville, right in front of me. I wondered where Rocky thought she was, what he'd swear to this time. Because I was fairly sure he had no idea she'd sold his dead sister's painting to Zak.
I felt my nostrils flare.
Zak's gaze shuttled between us, his eyes narrowing as he tried to discern the flavor of our hostility. He handed her a fistful of bills. "It's all there, Ms. Kaminski. Thanks for bringing it to me. I really 'preciate it."
She began counting the money. "Happy to do it."
"Did you have any trouble finding the place?" he asked.
She looked up. "What? Oh, no. You gave excellent directions."
Sure. Like she'd never been to the co-op before. Probably just one more lie to add to the list.
When she'd finished with the money, she put it in her purse. "I'd better get back. Rocky's watching the boys."
"Gabi," I said again. "May I have a word?"
"I'm not really in the mood to chat right now." She began to turn away.
I kept my voice even and low, though my anger had grown exponentially during their short exchange. "We need to talk."
Ah, those magic words. She paused, then turned back. I could hear her breathing. We both looked at Zak.
"Oh, um, right. I gotta go," he said, no doubt anxious to escape the mounting tension. He gestured toward the painting. "I'll pick this up later, 'K?"
"No problem," I said.
`^A°K," he said again. "Bye."
After he'd left, I shut the front door and locked it. I might be locking myself in with a killer, I realized, but I was too angry to care. Besides, it wouldn't have been the first time. Remembering, my hand started to go to where my long braid used to hang down my back, but I stopped and let it drop.
"Thanks again for siccing the cops on me, Sophie Mae. That was real special. I don't know why I ever thought you were a nice person." She stood regarding me with both arms folded across her chest. "Now what's so important that we have to talk about?"
"I think you know."
"Gosh, I'm afraid I don't." Sarcasm dripped from every syllable.
"A semi totaled my pickup earlier today when my brakes went out."
Something crossed her face, then was gone. Guilt? Fear? As carefully as I'd been watching, I couldn't tell.
"Why are you telling me this? It has nothing to do with me, and you're obviously fine if you're here."
"Oh, I'm fine and dandy. However, my brake lines were deliberately cut." Okay, so I was jumping the gun. But she was right there in front of me, and I wanted to see her reaction.
She met my eyes without flinching.
"You wouldn't know anything about that, now would you?" I asked.
She glared. "What exactly are you implying?"
"I'm not implying anything. I'm asking you straight out. Did you mess around with my truck?"
"Of course not! And you'd better not go around telling anyone that I did, or I'll sue you for defamation of character!"
I pushed further. "Guess Rocky must have changed his mind about keeping all of his sister's artwork if you sold that piece to Zak, huh."
Her eyes slewed to the side. "That's none of your business."
But it didn't make her a murderer.
Gabi's eyes narrowed to slits. "What do you want?"
"I want to know if you killed Ariel. I want to know if you tried to kill me." The words flew out of my mouth, propelled by anger at the idea that she'd done exactly those things. Goose bumps rose on my arms. I clamped my mouth shut.
I watched the accusation settle into her psyche. I barely dared to breathe. Gabi, on the other hand, turned pale under her tan and began sipping oxygen through her overbite, almost panting. Suddenly red rage infused her face and she stood, towering over me. I backed away a few steps, then forced myself to stop.
"How can you say such a horrible thing?" she hissed. "I've never met anyone so cruel."
I stood my ground. "Not as cruel as your sister-in-law's murderer."
"Are you crazy? Rocky told you I was home that night."
"Sure he did. But we both know you could have sneaked out when he was fast asleep, and driven down here to meet Ariel. Did you plan to kill her before you came? Or did she ask for yet more money? What did she do to send you over the edge?"
Her lips turned up, then down, as if she didn't know what to do with her mouth. She shook her head. "I'd never kill anyone. I was home that night. All night. Rocky knows that. He'll swear to it."
"And someone saw you messing around with my truck," I lied, looking her straight in the eye. Who's a bad liar? Not me.
It seemed to work. Gabi looked really scared.
But she still didn't tip. "They couldn't have. I was home last night, too."
"And Rocky will confirm that."
"That's right. Listen, I don't know what your problem is, or what you want from me, but I didn't do anything wrong." Her voice wavered on the last few words.
I kept pushing. "Why did Ariel have Thea Hawke's bamboo fiber clutched in her hand when I found her? Why do you think we came up to see you about that fiber, anyway?"
She blinked. And slumped.
I took the opportunity and walked to the other side of the counter. "Gabi. You know what I'm talking about. You took those batts when you were here. I understand. You couldn't help yourself. You must have been looking at them when you were talking to Ariel, which is why she was by Ruth's spinning supplies instead of in her own studio space."
"I don't know what you're talking about," she mumbled.
"Ariel had a tuft in her hand. She must have grabbed it from you when you came up behind her." I said, thinking out loud now. "No, not yet. Because you were holding my yarn."
Her head jerked up. "Your yarn?"
"My yarn. My first sheep's wool two-ply." I couldn't keep the fury out of my voice, consumed with the thought that she'd used my yarn to kill that little girl.
"I have to go," she whispered, backing toward the front wall. She reached behind her back and fumbled with the lock on the door. Turned the knob. It opened.
"I didn't do anything wrong," she insisted one last time and fled.
I followed, but she was already pulling the Suburban out of the parking lot. She left rubber on the asphalt and barely missed hitting a silver sedan with Canadian license plates. The driver honked as she sped away.
The adrenaline seemed to disappear from my veins in a reverse rush. Weariness and inexplicable regret settled on me, heavy as sin, and I had to sit down on the bench located outside the door until I got my bearings again.
A bitter feeling that I'd screwed up crept over me and took up lodging in my stomach. Screwed up royally.