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Authors: DeAnna Julie Dodson

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The Key in the Attic

BOOK: The Key in the Attic
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The Key in the Attic

Copyright © 2012 Annie’s.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews. For information address Annie’s, 306 East Parr Road, Berne, Indiana 46711-1138.

The characters and events in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons or events is coincidental.


Library of Congress-in-Publication Data

The Key in the Attic / by DeAnna Julie Dodson

p. cm.

I. Title




Annie’s Attic Mysteries

Series Creator: Stenhouse & Associates, Ridgefield, Connecticut

Series Editors: Ken and Janice Tate


“Alice, look out!”

Annie Dawson grabbed her best friend’s arm and dragged her back just as A Stitch in Time’s front window shattered. Behind them, the women of the Hook and Needle Club shrieked and threw up their hands to shield their faces from flying glass.

An instant later, everything was still along Stony Point’s Main Street. Everyone could only stare, openmouthed, at the front of the neon-yellow Porsche convertible that was now jammed under two racks of crochet patterns and a pile of worsted weight yarn. After a frozen moment, the young driver scrambled out of the front seat and into the shop, hot-pink cellphone still in hand.

“Oh wow—oh wow.” The girl looked around at the wreckage, her blond ponytail bobbing behind her. “Oh wow—my mom’s gonna kill me!”

“Are you all right?” Annie asked her, and then she turned to the other women. “Is everybody all right?”

Behind the swell of chatter from the rest of ladies, Stella calmly finished counting stitches, put her knitting in her lap and pushed her reading glasses down so she could look at the girl over them. “Is that Amanda Culbertson?”

The girl’s eyes got even rounder than they had been. “Y-yes, Mrs. Brickson, it is. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened. I was just driving and all of a sudden—”

“You were just talking on that phone of yours and not paying attention.” Stella glanced at the telltale device and then back at the girl’s guilty face. “Or was it texting this time? I know your grandmother has talked to you about that more than once.”

“Oh please, Mrs. Brickson,
don’t tell her or my mom and dad that part. I know I’m not supposed to. I just looked away for a second, I promise.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t hurt yourself or someone else.” Annie’s green eyes flashed, and she could have shaken the girl, but instead she led her to one of the circle of overstuffed chairs that was set up for the needleworking club. “You’d better sit down for a minute and catch your breath before you call your parents.”

“What was that!”

Hearing Mary Beth Brock’s voice from the door that led to the basement, Annie glanced at Alice and then forced a note of cheerfulness into her own voice. “Nobody’s hurt. Don’t worry.”

“But A Stitch in Time now has a drive-through,” Alice MacFarlane called out, but her quip lightened the tension for only a moment.

When Mary Beth, the owner of A Stitch in Time, came into the front of her shop, the look on her face silenced everyone. Her shoulders drooped as she surveyed bolts of fabric, how-to books, and expertly stitched shop samples covered with glass fragments and smeared with grime from the still-running Porsche. Even her usually cheerful round face seemed to sag. The only sound she seemed to be able to manage was a bewildered little “oh.”

Annie went to her side, and Kate Stevens, Mary Beth’s shop assistant, hurried to her other side.

“Nobody’s hurt,” Kate assured her. “And I don’t think there’s too much damage. Besides the window of course. Some of our inventory …”

She trailed off, seeing Mary Beth wasn’t really hearing her.

Amanda ducked her blond head and hunched her slim, T-shirt-clad shoulders. Then she looked pleadingly up at Mary Beth. “I’m really sorry, Miss Brock. I didn’t mean to. I promise I’ll help clean everything up. And we have good insurance. I wasn’t, um …”

She, too, became silent. Mary Beth didn’t seem to notice. Practical Peggy Carson went out and turned off the humming Porsche.

Annie gave Mary Beth a sturdy hug. “We’ll get it all put right. You’ll see. I think it’s just broken glass, and I bet Peggy can get Wally over here in no time to board up that window until it can be replaced.”

“Sure I can,” Peggy said, her smile encouraging, as she returned the Porsche’s keys to its flustered driver. “In fact, I’ll call him right now. It’s such a nice spring day anyway. A little fresh air won’t hurt anything.”

Annie glanced again at Alice. This wasn’t at all like Mary Beth. She’d faced her share of hard times and unexpected difficulties, but she had always met them with resolute determination and practicality.

“Sure.” Mary Beth nodded. “Sure. You’re not hurt are you, Amanda?”

The girl shook her head and then made an attempt at a smile. “At least not till Mom hears about this.”

Again Mary Beth nodded blankly. Then she slumped down into a chair and burst into tears.


“I think Mary Beth is in trouble,” said Kate when the five friends sat down at the Formica-topped table at The Cup & Saucer. Annie looked first at Alice, who was sitting beside her, and then she looked back across the table at Kate.

“I’m glad I’m not the only one worried about her, Kate,” Annie said. “She hasn’t been herself lately, and she was way too upset about Mandy Culbertson crashing into her front window yesterday. I could understand her being mad about it. If that happened to me, my hair would be a lot more gray than blond. But I’ve never seen Mary Beth cry like that over anything.”

Kate sighed. “I know she’s been having a hard time, like everybody has in this economy, but I think it’s more than that now. The window was just the last straw. She has had to cancel some orders for the shop more and more often these days.” She toyed with the little cow-shaped saltshaker, not looking up. “And she’s cut way back on my work hours.”

A general murmur of sympathy went around the group of women jammed into the back booth at the diner.

“No, no, I’m not worried about me.” Kate smiled a little wryly. “Not much anyway. Harry has been pretty regular with the child support lately, and I’ve been doing really well selling my patterns for crocheted jackets and things. But I don’t know about Mary Beth. She’s been … . Well, she’d never complain, you know, but I can tell she’s struggling. That’s why I wanted to get everybody together today. I just thought there ought to be some way we can help her out. She’s been really good to me for a long time now.”

“She’s been good to all of us,” Alice said, her blue eyes flashing. “It’s not right that the best people always seem to have the hardest time. I’m glad you told us about this, Kate.”

“You don’t think she might lose A Stitch in Time do you? What would we do without our needlework shop?” Gwendolyn Palmer, sitting in the opposite corner of the booth, shook her head. “I thought Mary Beth seemed a little distracted when we had our club meeting last week, but I didn’t think it was anything serious. I just assumed her sister was giving her a hard time again.”

Peggy rolled her eyes. “Her sister.”

An elderly couple came into the restaurant, and Peggy glanced over to make sure one of the other waitresses was taking care of them. Then she turned back to her friends, one hand on her plump, pink-uniformed hip. “I mean, you’d think Miss World-Renowned Fashion Designer Melanie would be able to help her sister out once in a while,” said Peggy.

“I doubt Melanie even knows about it,” Annie reasoned. “We didn’t know about it, and we’re Mary Beth’s best friends. Do you know all this for sure, Kate?”

Kate shrugged a little. “Only that she’s cut down on my hours and had to cancel some orders for merchandise. Come to think of it, I did hear her on the phone last week about some antique furniture. First I assumed she was wanting to buy it, but now I’m wondering if she was having to sell something of her own.”

A woman and two children came in and sat down at the lunch counter, and Peggy took a quick glance at her watch. “My break’s almost over, ladies. If we’re going to decide something, we’d better do it quick.”

“Don’t be too hasty now.” Stella had sat silently in the corner ever since she had arrived, but she had taken in every word. “We would all like to help Mary Beth in any way we can, but it has to be done the right way. She wouldn’t want us to pity her or think she doesn’t know how to manage her own affairs.”

“We’d want to be discreet,” Annie said. “There’s no need for the whole town to know her personal business.”

Kate blushed. “I never would have said anything, you know, but I was worried that—”

“Of course you should have told
,” Alice assured her. “We can’t let anything happen to Mary Beth. Stony Point wouldn’t be the same without her and A Stitch in Time.”

“We wouldn’t even have the Hook and Needle Club,” Peggy said, a little quiver in her lip.

Annie squeezed her arm. “Now, nothing’s happened yet, Peggy. And we’re not going to let anything happen to Mary Beth, are we, girls?”

“Of course not,” Alice said over the determined murmuring of the others.

“We could have a bake sale,” Gwen suggested, but Stella shook her head.

“That would be very nice, dear, but not likely to be much help in a case like this.”

“What about a real fundraiser?” Kate asked. “I mean, really get some things together and have an auction or something. We’ve done them before for other causes.” She glanced at Alice, remembering when the group came together to help when her business went through a rough time. “Why not for Mary Beth? We all have stuff we don’t really need.”

Stella looked wary about the idea, and Annie had to agree. “We can’t do something public like that. We don’t want to embarrass Mary Beth.”

Peggy sighed.

“Well, something private then.” Alice’s eyes sparkled. “As Kate said, we all have things we don’t really need or use. Why not take some of the nice things to see what we can get for them.”

Annie grinned. “That’s a great idea. You know Gram has a ton of stuff in the attic. Some of it is antique and may be worth a little. I don’t think there is anything that extremely valuable, but enough to help Mary Beth until she gets past whatever’s going on. And Gram would love to know it was used for someone she loved.”

“We don’t all have an attic full of treasures like you,” Peggy said with another sigh.

“Don’t you worry, Peg,” Kate assured her. “We can all do something.”

“And everything will be from all of us,” Annie insisted. “Deal?”

Annie slapped her hand down on the table, and all the other women piled theirs on top. All except one—Stella still looked unconvinced.

“I just don’t know how Mary Beth will feel about this,” she said. “Maybe someone should talk to her first.”

Everyone looked at Annie, and she gave the older woman an encouraging smile.

“We’ll figure out some way to handle it that won’t embarrass her, OK?”

Stella looked at all the expectant faces around her and finally added her hand to the others.

“All right.”


It seemed that no matter how many things she took out of it, there were always more in the attic of Grey Gables that Annie hadn’t gone through yet. There were plenty of things she could sell—antiques and oddities and lovely bits of the past. One of her favorites was a carved elephant, perhaps a foot tall, exquisitely fashioned out of ivory and what looked like teak. It had to be over a hundred years old, maybe much older, and from some exotic place. She ran her fingers longingly over its glass-smooth surface and then put it in the cardboard box she was filling.

“I’ve lived without you my entire life up until now, Mr. Elephant. I think I can struggle on without you in the future.”

A little more rummaging brought to light six silver teaspoons in a baroque rose pattern, black with neglect, and she put them into the box too.

“A little polish will make you look good as new. And you.”

She added a silver chafing dish and matching serving spoon. They were much newer than the teaspoons, but still very nice.

By dinnertime, she had filled two good-sized boxes with potential sale items, and she was pleased with what she had found so far: leather-bound classic books she hoped would turn out to be first editions, a pretty cloisonné dresser set from the 1920s, one of those painted cast-iron banks from the latter part of the nineteenth century, and several other items from a variety of times and places. All of it was lovely, and she hoped, reasonably valuable. But none of it was doing anyone any good up in the attic. She just hoped what she and the others could gather up would be enough to make a difference for Mary Beth. And she hoped they could figure out a way to get her to accept their help.

“One more thing ought to finish this one off,” she decided, looking into the second box. “Something not too big.”

She rummaged through a drawer in an old dresser and then closed it again. She wasn’t giving up any of Gram’s handwork—not unless it was an emergency. A battered suitcase offered nothing but a moth-eaten old tuxedo and some sheet music. Annie grinned, wondering about the story behind it; but knowing there was no monetary value in it, she shut the case once more.

Frowning, she looked around the attic. A small china vase sitting next to some crates on the floor caught her eye. It looked old and fragile, the roses and cherubs painted on it faded but still visible. It was perhaps ten inches tall—twelve inches including the little metal stand that held it—and only four or five inches wide. It was a sweetly graceful reminder of another time.

She wavered as she examined it. It would look very nice on the mantelpiece next to Gram’s wedding picture. Then she shook her head and put it into the box with the other things.

“I can get along nicely without you, too, no matter how pretty you are.”

Who knew? Maybe it would turn out to be worthless, and then she would keep it after all.

She picked up the box with the vase sticking out of the top, and started down the attic stairs. Before she had taken even two steps, she heard a mournful cry from the other side of the door.

“No,” Annie called. “I told you that you couldn’t come up here, and I meant it.”

The cry was repeated, even more pathetically this time, and then the door rattled in its frame. Annie could see her cat’s little white-tipped paw underneath it.

“Yes, Boots, I know it’s dinnertime. I’m coming. I’m coming.”

She tried to get a firmer grip on the box as she hurried down and stumbled as she did. A brief vision of herself tumbling helplessly to the bottom of the steps flashed before her eyes, but she managed to shift her weight backward in time to prevent a fall. The delicate china vase wavered in the top of the box before toppling over the edge, and she scrambled to hold onto it and the box. Unable to do both at the same time, she could only cringe at the crash that announced the vase’s untimely demise.

BOOK: The Key in the Attic
7.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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