Samantha Kidd Mystery #12
Paperback ISBN: 9781954579309
eBook ISBN: 9781954579262
Hardback ISBN 9781954579354
Oct 26, 2021.
When Samantha Kidd is invited to fill a vacated spot in a secret society, she jumps at the chance. The group’s mission is to preserve famous fashion patterns through memorization and pass them down to future generations, but Samantha’s dreams of Chanel jackets and Halston dresses are dashed when she’s assigned the 501 jean. And when the retiring denim expert turns up dead, she fears there’s more than fashion history at stake.
Garments from the deceased member’s estate are linked to a series of deadly jean jackings, and Samantha questions everything. Was the member’s death an admission of guilt or vigilante justice? As she pulls at the threads of the investigation, she finds the fabric of her secret society fraying at the seams.
Can Samantha unzip the facts or will the truth stay buttoned up forever?
Fahrenheit 501 is the twelfth humorous installment in the Samantha Kidd mystery series. If you like fashion history, fun puzzles, and unusual crimes, or read favorites Cleo Coyle or Joanne Fluke, you'll love Diane Vallere's latest Samantha Kidd mystery.
1: Less than Auspicious Arrival
“Dress appropriately,” the invitation advised. Considering the invitation was for membership in a secret fashion society that I hadn’t known existed until I picked up last week’s mail, the definition of “appropriately” had more layers than the sweater shelf in my closet. These were my people, and I wanted them to accept me as one of them.
The secret fashion society in question called themselves the Fahrenheit Guild. Aside from the dress code and address, there wasn’t anything on the invitation to tell me much about them, so I’d turned my attention to the internet, where I’d found the phrase “secret fashion society.” I had to give them credit; they appeared to take the "secret" part seriously.
When my research about the guild didn’t net much, I’d turned my investigative talents toward the castle. I mean, why was there a castle in the middle of Ribbon, Pennsylvania?
The imposing stone structure in front of me had been built in the twenties by a German immigrant. Instead of the expected architecture of a Holy Grail-era castle, Braeburn Castle was a two-story edifice modeled after one in Bavaria. The castle keep was on the left, standing easily twice as tall as the rest of the building. Constructed of local materials and built by regional craftsmen, the castle was a testament to what the city of Ribbon was like during pre-World War II times. I loved these unexpected structures. They reminded me my town had a rich history that existed long before I was born.
After trying on half my wardrobe, I’d settled on a vintage Bonnie Cashin skirt suit. I smoothed the jacket and tapped the heavy iron knocker against the wooden door. The invitation said I would be greeted at the entrance, so I waited with the crisp chill of an October evening snaking around my legs. The more I followed the instructions from the Fahrenheit Guild, the more I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. For the briefest moment, I wondered if I should have commissioned a blue dress with white pinafore instead.
The door opened by a man who appeared to be a hundred and five. “Ms. Kidd, I presume?” he asked. He wore a black tuxedo, which I dismissed as a uniform for staff. He seemed unimpressed by my ensemble.
“Yes. I’m Samantha Kidd.” I reached into my handbag for my invitation, but he waved it away.
“The others are waiting in the clubroom at the end of the hall.” He turned his back to me and walked away.
“Wait,” I said. I pushed the invitation back into the depths of my handbag and reached out. The man turned back. I didn’t grab him, but my hand was headed toward his arm, and his eyes took in the possibility of contact with what appeared to be dismay. Slowly, I retracted my hand and pretended I’d made a perfectly acceptable gesture. “Can you tell me anything about them?” I asked. “The guild,” I added for clarification. “I assume they meet here regularly. I couldn’t find anything on the internet, but I guess that’s what makes them secret. What are they like to work for?” I smiled, hoping the elderly man would find me charming. (So far, nothing.) I lowered my voice. “Are they at least good tippers?”
“Follow me.” He turned and walked through a dark hallway made of exposed brick walls and ceiling. The man’s footsteps were silent on faded and worn overlapping Turkish rugs that appeared to have been there since the place was built. I scampered into the hallway to keep up with him, and the rubber tip of my heel caught in the rug. I bent to free it, noticing the carpet’s threadbare condition. The man turned, and I smiled, slipped my foot back into my shoe, and walked on my tiptoes the rest of the way.
I wanted to ask him to slow down, but I sensed I’d already done something wrong, and I didn’t want to compound my social gaffe. The hallway was poorly lit, and the man’s black tux made his figure harder to track. Eventually, I reached a heavy wooden door not unlike the entrance. The door was slowly closing, and my powers of deduction told me it couldn’t close without having been open first, so I took a calculated risk and yanked on the handle. It swung toward me easier than I’d expected, and I had to step back to avoid being hit. Inside was a room filled with the best-dressed people I’d ever seen in Ribbon, Pennsylvania.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Fahrenheit Guild, I’d like to introduce Samantha Kidd,” the butler said. “Though after her less-than-auspicious arrival, I may rethink the nomination of her as my successor.”
Successor? I thought this man worked here. Was this a job interview?
Did I ask him about tips?
My eyes had finally adjusted to the dim light in the room, though at the man’s statement, I shifted my attention from the people in the room to him. I’d misjudged his age; up close he didn’t look a day over ninety-nine. He was about my height, and the lines of his tux offset the curvature of his spine. His eyebrows were drawn low over his eyes, indicating dissatisfaction. I’d like to say I knew what I’d done wrong, but I can be blissfully ignorant when it comes to my personal behavior.
A petite woman in a black St. John knit suit stood. “Hans, we’ve been through this.” She shifted her attention to me. “Welcome, Samantha.” She smiled warmly, and I smiled back.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m delighted to be here. I had no idea—”
The woman held up her hand to shush me, and I stopped talking. Was that another misstep? My smile froze in place, and I looked away from her and at the others. Someone in here would tell me what was going on. I’d approached the castle door feeling like Alice in Wonderland, but now that I was inside, the night felt more like Eyes Wide Shut.
The woman approached the front of the room. She was younger than Hans. I’d place her in her late seventies. Her hair was gray in the front and black in the back, cut in a razor-sharp angled bob that graced her angular jawline. Her suit was accessorized with a triple strand of Jackie-O pearls that filled in the collar, and her earrings appeared to be Paloma Picasso for Tiffany’s. (I didn’t always identify garments by designer, but I’d been studying as prep for tonight, and it seemed a shame to let the knowledge go to waste.)
“Samantha, I’m Cecile Sézane.” She held out her hand and I shook it. “We were finishing some business prior to your interview. Would you mind waiting in the hallway?” She glanced back at Hans, who hadn’t dropped the glare from his expression.
“Sure,” I said. I turned toward the door and then turned back. “Am I early? The invitation said seven.”
“We’ve been discussing outstanding matters,” she offered. She extended her arm toward the door. “I can’t invite you to sit in until you’ve been properly vetted. You do understand, don’t you?”
“Yes. Of course.” I pointed to the door. “I’ll wait out here.”
The door to the room opened, and a woman entered with a tray. Cecile took it from her and set it on the end of the table. “Marguerite, can you show Samantha out?”
The woman nodded. “Of course,” she said. She left the room, and I followed.
“Are they always like this?” I asked.
“Like what?” she asked. I studied her face and wondered if she had no opinion of the group in the clubroom, or if her job depended on her allegiance to them.
I considered my choice of words, but before I discovered a politically-correct term for snobby, Marguerite spoke. “I’ve heard some heated discussions come from the clubroom when they have meetings. Hans is usually the instigator. But his bark is worse than his bite if you want my opinion.” She cocked her head. “You’ll do fine.” She smiled and then turned away and left through a door farther down the hall.
As the heavy door to the clubroom swung shut behind me, I stepped a few feet into the hallway and rested against a wall. It’s not every day you find yourself standing around the interior of a castle, and it appeared as though I was alone. I didn’t want to veer too far from the clubroom, but Cecile had asked me to give them privacy, so hovering in eavesdropping range seemed a bad idea. (The possibility that they were talking about me made it a tempting option, but this felt like one of those do-the-opposite-of-your-impulse moments.)
I eased my way a few feet down the hallway. A shadow moved on the ground in front of me. A few seconds later, a scruffy cat crossed the hallway and disappeared. I followed the cat to the vestibule and spent the next ten minutes trying to get him to trust me.
“Samantha?” I heard.
The cat ran away. A few seconds later, Cecile approached me. She gestured me toward her. “We’re ready for you now.”
I made my way back to the clubroom. As I tiptoed over the carpets, this time I heard muffled voices arguing. I passed a room whose door had been closed, and a surreptitious glance showed Hans reprimanding a young, red-haired man. I didn’t know the old man well enough to know if his crabby expression was his default, or if the younger man had done something worthy of Hans’s criticism, but I didn’t like what I saw.
On a whim, I stopped outside the door and poked my head in. “Hans?” I called. The interruption had the desired effect. Hans glared at me. His face was red, brow even more furrowed than it had been upon my arrival. “The guild is ready to resume the meeting. You’re coming, aren’t you?”
I hovered in the doorway and held my arm out in the direction of the clubroom. I forced a bright smile onto my face and maintained eye contact.
Eventually, Hans turned back to the boy, raised his cane, and shook it at him. “Watch yourself, or you’ll be next.” He put his cane back down and left the room, pausing next to me. “And you need to learn to mind your own business.” He raised his cane to waist-level and used it to push me back against the door. “One more strike and you’re out too.”