Crewel Yule

Crewel YuleChapter One

Godwin, a slender, handsome young man in jeans and white cotton sweater, sipped his tea and looked around the atrium with happy interest. This was not his first trip to Nashville, but his first to the Nashville Needlework Market. As usual, it was being held at The Consulate Hotel; not at all as usual, it was being held in December.

Godwin didn’t care, he adored shopping in any season – and here was shopping squared: shopping for a shop. Namely, Crewel World, a sweet little needlework store in Minnesota, owned by his favorite boss, Betsy Devonshire.

Every year the International Needlework Retailers Guild held a cash-and-carry market for member shop owners, who came to select among the newest and/or most popular designers and manufacturers of needlework material. Not normally an early riser, he had been up and dressed, fed, watered, and ready for action as soon as the doors opened at nine, buying new and favorite counted cross stitch patterns, new colors in fabrics and floss, new gadgets. Now, after carrying bags of loot out to the U-Haul trailer in the parking lot, he was taking a break to rest his feet and steady his nerves with a cup of tea. And, okay, a big chocolate chip cookie.

He gave a contented sigh and looked up and around the big floor of the atrium. The ceiling was nine stories away – and snow was falling on the glass roof. Who would have thought it in southern Tennessee? The snow, or maybe it was the cloud cover, turned the light falling from that great height chilly. Surrounding the atrium down here were meeting rooms at the back; a restaurant, a gift shop, a bar, and a swimming pool on the long sides; and the lobby out front. He raised his eyes. Starting at the second floor were comfortable little suites, each containing a bedroom facing the outdoors and a sitting room that faced the gallery. The galleries had only an ivy-draped railing between them and the vast open space of the atrium. Up through the sixth floor, every one of those suites was occupied by wholesalers who had packed their sitting room with needlework merchandise. Suites on the seventh to the ninth floor were held by those shop owners who were first to register for the Market. (Others had to make their slippery way to and from one of the motels down at the bottom of the steep hill on top of which sat The Consulate. That The Consulate was jammed with buyers was a comment on both the popularity of The Market and the tenacity of small business owners.) One of those upper-floor suites belonged to Godwin and his boss, Betsy Devonshire, and Godwin was carrying a Crewel World credit card. Heaven!

He took the last bite of his cookie and sipped his tea, which was still very warm and smelled of raspberries. Across the open floor, baby palms and flowering plants were set among small boulders that lined a miniature brook that curved diagonally across the tan tile floor. A little hump-backed bridge crossed the brook halfway along. A pair of white cockatoos fluttered and preened in their cage on the far side, where the brook ended in a tiny pool near the entrance to the low-ceilinged lobby.

Godwin sat amid a scatter of wrought-iron chairs and glass-topped tables, most empty since breakfast was long over and it wasn’t time yet for lunch. From overhead came the friendly sound of women’s voices and, Godwin could have sworn, a rustle of money or checks changing hands, credit cards being swooshed through little machines, and merchandise being pushed into plastic bags.

He opened the Market guidebook and began to plan his second foray. He’d done the second and third floors, so what was on the fourth and fifth? He’d heard Terrence Nolan was here. Sure enough, here was his trade name, Dimples. Suite 448 –

A high-pitched sound pierced the cloud of chatter – a scream? A glimpse of something white falling, and the scream was cut off by a big, messy crunch down by the lobby.

One of the birds screeched hard, and then human voices began to shrill and shout. Godwin jumped to his feet, his knuckles hard against his mouth. That couldn’t possibly have been –

But it was.

* * * *

The email had arrived in mid-August. Betsy read it and groaned softly. December was a very busy month. Crewel World would be open extra hours to accommodate last-minute shoppers, and there were preparations for inventory, and taxes, and the non-business tasks of Christmas, the rounds of parties (Betsy threw a big one herself for her friends and employees) – all in addition to the usual long hours kept by any small business owner selling to the public, along with stocking, payroll, cleaning, planning, and record keeping.

The email explained that while International Needlework Retailers Guild normally held a cash-and-carry market every February, this year there was a glitch. Because of an error on the hotel’s part, INRG had lost its February reservation. The Consulate Hotel was offering a free stay to the sellers and buyers of needlework materials – if they could come in December. Betsy had a reservation for February; would she be able to make the change?

No, December was impossible. Betsy clicked on Reply – and then changed her mind. The Nashville Market was very important. Shop owners from across the country, including Betsy’s rival shops in the Twin Cities, would be there, buying the newest patterns, the latest fabrics and threads, the most innovative gadgets. Regular customers might be disappointed if Betsy didn’t go, and look elsewhere for consolation.

She asked her shop manager about it.

Godwin was adamant. “You have to go.”

“I’d like to,” Betsy said, “but you know as well as I do, December is the worst possible month for a buying trip.”

At noon, her favorite employee, Shelly Donohue, came in. She was a school teacher who only worked full time in the summer, but she was an expert counted cross stitcher, and a patient, friendly sales clerk. Godwin would have gone out to lunch, but he took a few minutes to tell her about the change in dates for Nashville.

“Oh, rats, December is impossible!”

“See?” said Betsy to Godwin. “I told you we can’t go.”

Shelly said, “No, I can’t go. Winter break from school won’t have started, and I can’t change the arrangements I made to take a long weekend in February.” Betsy, having never gone to a market, had promised to take Shelly along when she signed up for Nashville Market.

“Well, how about taking me?” said Godwin. “This will be almost as much fun as TNNA in January.”

“Wait a second!” said Shelly. “That’s not fair! You can’t go to two markets!” Godwin had already agreed that he should go to The National Needlepoint Association Market in San Diego because he was an expert on needlepoint; counted cross stitch was the focus in Nashville, Shelly’s area of expertise.

He yielded gracefully. “You’re right. So how about, just this once, we trade. We’ve both worked here long enough to know what our customers like in either kind.”

Betsy said, “Hold on, you two. I haven’t said I’d go to Nashville yet. Adding thousands of dollars to inventory just before tax time is crazy.”

“So don’t open the bags,” said Shelly.

Betsy blinked at her. “I don’t understand.”

“A long time ago, Margot ordered a whole lot of stuff from a supplier going out of business. She placed the order somewhere in the third week of December, thinking it would maybe arrive before the end of January. Well, UPS pulled up December 29. So she just stacked the boxes in her apartment and didn’t bring them down until after inventory in January was finished.” Betsy’s sister Margot had been Crewel World’s previous owner.

“Is that legal?” asked Godwin.

“I don’t know,” shrugged Shelly. “But Margot got the idea from another shop owner who did the same thing. Neither one got into trouble over it with the IRS.”

“That’s probably because no one told the IRS about it,” noted Godwin.

“And which of us three is going to say a word to the IRS?” demanded Shelly, staring hard at Godwin.

“Are you talking to me, girlfriend?” said Godwin, placing an outraged spread of fingers on his chest. He turned to his boss. “Not a word shall escape my lips.”

Shelly said, “So see?”

Before the discussion could continue, the door went bing! to announce a customer and they quickly put on pleasant faces as they turned to greet her.

“Hi, Jill!” said Betsy cheerfully – Jill was a close friend as well as a skilled needleworker. “Those Madeira silks you wanted came in this morning, I was going to call you.

Sergeant Jill Cross Larson, tall and athletic in her summer-weight blue uniform stood still a moment, inhaling the conditioned air as if hunting down a scent – or perhaps merely enjoying the coolness of it. Though the police building was only a few blocks away, it was very hot and humid outdoors. She had a habit of standing with her chin lifted and her eyebrows raised, a pose that seemed to express mild doubt about the situation as presented to her. It was probably mere habit, but it tended to make miscreants caught in that look think twice about lying to her.

Jill was very fair. Her long cornsilk hair was pulled up into a flat coronet of braid, revealed when she took off her six-pointed hat. She said, “Hello, Shelly, Goddy. Betsy, I want some more of that cherry-red wool, too.” She started toward the triple row of wooden pegs on the long wall that held the thin skeins of needlepoint wool, then, identifying the scent, paused to look again at the trio and say, “What’s the problem here?”

Betsy said, “Oh, the Nashville Market lost its site for next February and they’ve moved it back to this December. We’ve been talking about whether we’ll go or not.”

“No,” said Godwin, “we’re talking who gets to go with Betsy, me or Shelly.”

“No, that’s settled,” said Shelly. “I’m going to San Diego, you’re going to Nashville. Gosh, California in January!” Betsy could fairly see the Pacific waves rolling and crashing in her eyes.

Jill said, “When in December?”

“When in December what?” Betsy asked.

“What dates in December are you going to Nashville?”

“If I go, the fourteenth through the sixteenth. Anyhow, much as I would love to have you along, no one who isn’t an owner or employee of a needlework shop can get into the Nashville Market.”

“Hey, that’s not why I’m asking,” said Jill, faintly shocked that Betsy would think she was asking for a dishonest favor. “There’s a seminar on police management in Nashville in December I’m thinking of attending. It’s the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth.”

“Hurrah!” cheered Godwin. “We can meet for an evening out. Are you anywhere near The Grand Ole Opry?”

Jill smiled and said, “This seminar is at the Grand Ole Opry Hotel.”

“Oh, my God!” exclaimed Godwin. “Oh, Jill, you go right back to the police station and sign up! You don’t want to miss this! Betsy, you have to see this place! It’s as big as the Mall of America, but it’s a hotel! It’s got a river running through the middle of it! And there’s a jungle, with orchids and palm trees! Big palm trees! And a New Orleans section, with jazz bands and – well, you just have to see it!”

Jill said, “Looks like we’re for it, Betsy.”

And Betsy surrendered, lifted her hands and said, “I guess so. I’ll confirm our reservations tonight, Goddy.”

And so on a cold December Wednesday, Betsy and Godwin climbed into Betsy’s big Buick with the next-to-smallest U-Haul trailer fastened behind. The trailer was there because the market was “cash-and-carry,” meaning the thousands of dollars in stock they would buy must be taken away on the spot. And because neither Godwin nor Betsy traveled light, the back seat and trunk of the car were already filled with their suitcases.

Godwin had suggested Jill ride down with him and Betsy, but Jill couldn’t spare the travel time, and so was flying down Friday morning.

Which, as it turned out, was a good thing for her.

The temperature climbed as Betsy and Godwin drove south, of course, and she felt comfortable sharing the driving with Godwin – but overcast skies turned to snow in Rockford, Illinois, and then to sleet. Betsy took over the wheel as sole proprietor, and when they stopped in Bloomington for the night, there was rain that froze on contact with anything on the ground.

The ice closed everything for most of the next morning, then the freeways opened. They took I-74 to Champaign-Urbana, then I-57 most of the rest of the way south. The ice melted and as they started seeing signs for Carbondale, Betsy began to feel optimistic, and let Godwin drive again. This lasted until the landscape started to climb. By the time they rode I-24 into the corner of Kentucky they needed to cross to enter Tennessee, the ice was back. And Betsy was driving again.

Godwin, aware she was getting very tired, protested, but his car back home was a bathtub-size Miata and Betsy’s big Buick had the added length and weight of the trailer to complicate steering and stopping. She stopped for a six-pack of Lemon Diet Pepsi, and drank deeply.

Sleet turned back to snow. Cars filled the ditches and tangled messily on the highways. Betsy, a good winter driver, managed to avoid having an accident, but the delay was vexing. It was late Friday afternoon before they came into Nashville, and though the precipitation had turned back to rain, she was still driving and worn to a frazzle.

Godwin read the directions to the hotel off the INRG Market Nashville brochure and after bypassing most of downtown, they found themselves climbing a very steep hill in a series of switchbacks. The Consulate read a sign at the top.

Betsy let Godwin out under the portico with the luggage, then very carefully chose a parking space she could pull forward out of. She’d had an embarrassing experience trying to back the trailer out of a parking space by a restaurant and was not anxious to see if she could make it work on a second try.

It was nearly dark on Friday evening before she pulled the key from the ignition. They were seven hours behind her most pessimistic estimated time of arrival.

The lobby of The Consulate Hotel was broad and low, the check-in counter built of some dark, gleaming wood. Godwin was filling out their registration cards, a wheeled cart piled with their suitcases behind him. There were two clusters of couches nearly filled with women talking and stitching. Against the wall opposite the check-in desk was a long table behind which women were handing out name tags and packets of information about the Market. Little Christmas trees and menorahs ornamented the table.

Betsy looked at the women and sighed. They had missed all the classes. Friday was for classes on stitching techniques, finishing techniques, and staying out of the red in the needlework business. She had really wanted to attend the classes given by Susan Greening Davis and Betsy Stinner.

She went to present her credit card. She and Godwin were sharing a suite, since the original arrangement was with Shelly, and there was not another suite available – then they went to get the information packet and ID tags.

“I’m sorry we missed the classes,” said Godwin.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Betsy, “I’m too tired to pay attention anyhow. Is the food any good here at the hotel? I don’t want to go out again tonight.”

The woman said, “No, you’d better stay in. This rain is supposed to turn to snow, and Nashville just shuts down when it snows. Which it hardly ever does, so that’s why. But they run a very good kitchen here.”

Godwin, as parched as Betsy was hungry, said, “I’d settle for stale pretzels, if they come with a beer.”

“Miss Devonshire?” came a voice from across the lobby. It was the desk clerk. “I’m sorry, I forgot to give you this message.”

It was from Jill. Call me as soon as you get in. Let me buy you dinner here at my hotel. Goddy was right.

“Right about what?”

“The fabulousness of the Grand Ole Opry Hotel, of course,” said Godwin, suddenly looking much fresher, reading over her shoulder. “Let’s get up to our room and dial that number. Do you like Cajun food?”