Postman Always Purls Twice
“It’s a mystery to me. The movie people haven’t told me much.” Maggie shrugged as she set down a platter of sushi on the long oak table at the back of her shop. Lucy and Dana, the first to arrive, sat in their usual places, sipping wine and gently coaxing yarn and needles from their knitting bags.
“The cast and crew arrive in town tomorrow,” Maggie continued, “and they’ll be invading this place on Saturday, at the crack of dawn. The shop’s busiest day of the week. What can you do? The show must go on.”
“Where else are they filming? Is the shop the only spot in town?” Lucy was almost done with her latest creation, Maggie noticed; an airy, oatmeal-colored, dropped-stitched scarf, perfect for the warmer weather. But now she seemed more interested in hearing about the movie than moving in for the kill on her project.
“Suzanne said they also rented a big house on the beach where they’ll shoot other scenes. I think they’ll be in town about a week. I know I should feel honored, but somehow I already regret agreeing to this.”
Maggie was quietly proud of the Black Sheep Knitting Shop. She had found the perfect spot for her business years ago, the first floor of a beautifully renovated Victorian building that had once been a private home.
But she wasn’t surprised at all that the entire town of Plum Harbor had caught the eye of movie location scouts. A classic New England village on the Cape Ann coast, it was as picturesque a spot as any movie set, its tree-lined lanes filled with historic houses, and a row of well-kept shops along Main Street, which led down to a harbor and green.
But now that reality was setting in, Maggie had serious doubts about whether she’d made the right choice.
“Come on, Mag. You’re our Hollywood connection. How will we talk our way into being extras if you come off like a big grump?” Phoebe, Maggie’s assistant, walked out from the storeroom, balancing a serving tray laden with other dinner necessities: a stack of flat sushi plates, little bowls for soy sauce, and a pile of chopsticks and napkins.
Maggie enjoyed cooking dinner for a knitting night, but didn’t have the spare time today. Sushi was a crowd-pleasing choice, and the chopsticks and knitting needles seemed somehow related.
“I think Suzanne is our official Hollywood connection, and I’m not ready to give up my day job yet.” Maggie began handing out the napkins and chopsticks to her hungry-looking guests.
“I’ll skip the audition, too,” Dana added with a smile. “But I’d love to watch them film a scene or two, and see how the actors and director work. That would be interesting.”
Lucy suddenly looked up from her knitting. “I wouldn’t mind going behind the scenes with the actors. Especially Heath O’Hara.”
Lucy was a fan? Maggie had no idea. “Sounds serious. Does Matt know he has such famous competition?”
“He drifts into a happy daze every time I mention Trina Hardwick is in the cast, so I’d say we’re even.”
“She doesn’t seem his type at all. She’s such a ‘bad girl,’?” Maggie replied.
“All the more attractive as a fantasy,” Dana noted. “Like most celebrity crushes.”
“Very true. But that’s just common sense,” Maggie mumbled around a bite of spicy tuna. “No offense.”
Dana shrugged, rarely offended by the group’s gentle teasing about her profession. When advice from a calm, thoughtful voice was needed, Maggie knew Dana, their resident psychologist, was the first they turned to.
“I can’t believe that in like . . . less than two days, all those movie stars are going to be in this shop. Maybe even sitting in these chairs.” Phoebe gazed down at her own chair in awe. “It’s totally freaking me out.”
“Hang in there, Phoebe. They’re not here yet.” Such a vivid imagination; Maggie admired that.
“Sorry if you don’t think that’s really cool, Mag. But it totally is.”
“And good publicity for the shop,” Lucy reminded her.
“Yes, yes . . . That’s how Suzanne talked me into this. I’m hardly the most starstruck person you’ll ever meet.”
“That we’d all agree upon, for sure,” Dana assured her.
“I hope Suzanne is coming. I saved her some sushi.” Maggie glanced at her watch. “She must know a little more. I’m not sure if I should straighten up the place, or if they want that lived-in look. Will they be using the merchandise as props? Not that I mind, if they’re careful with everything. I’d just like to know.”
“Don’t stress. I’m sure you can email someone who will answer your questions. The shop looks neat as a pin, as always,” Lucy assured her.
“We try our best.” Maggie glanced at Phoebe, who was suddenly staring at her food as if she expected the bits of fish to leap off her dish.
Keeping the shop in order was one of Phoebe’s main duties; making sure all the project books, needles, and other knitting necessaries were in their proper place and each skein of yarn in a cubby on the big wall, or tucked in a basket, carefully organized by color and fiber type. Phoebe kept up with this task most of the time. But she could so easily get distracted.
“Who else is in the movie besides Heath O’Hara and Trina?” Phoebe asked.
“Jennifer Todd is the big star,” Dana replied. “I saw her once on Broadway, in Hamlet. She was amazing as Ophelia. She won all kinds of awards.”
“Jennifer Todd is a better actress than Trina any day. Trina is mainly famous for being famous. And for her bad behavior,” Lucy added.
Maggie had to agree. After some early success in teen movies, Trina ran right off the rails—if one believed half the news about her in gossip magazines—trashing hotel rooms, causing scenes in exclusive restaurants. Arrests for shoplifting and driving under the influence. And all her dirty laundry, mug shots, and shocking outfits captured for the world to see on the covers of supermarket tabloids.
Jennifer Todd’s image would be found a few rungs higher on the magazine rack, gracing the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal or Vogue. Maybe sharing a favorite recipe or beauty tip in her interviews.
“Let’s face it, the media doesn’t want stories about how happy and settled a movie star’s life is. Scandal sells more magazines,” Lucy observed.
“The film’s director, Nick Pullman, has had one or two of those,” Dana recalled. “I remember years ago, he was involved in the death of a very young actress. I think she drowned in the pool at his mansion. A real tragedy. She was very young, not even twenty.”
“That’s awful. I’ve never heard that.” Lucy put her knitting down. “When was this? I don’t remember.”
“Oh . . . about fifteen years ago. He got off without any big legal problems. I don’t even think the girl’s family sued him. But it was pretty messy, tarnished his reputation for a while.”
“Interesting.” Maggie looked over her sushi, selecting a next bite. “But some celebrities have a way of smoothing over rough patches that would derail mere mortals.”
“They do,” Lucy agreed. “Maybe he paid the girl’s family to keep it out of the courts.”
“And not discuss it openly,” Dana added. “Reporters refer to the incident from time to time, but he’s pretty much shaken it off and moved on.”
“Few people are untouched by tragedies. Even if their lives seem golden from a distance,” Maggie noted.
“How true, and Trina’s had some tragedies in her life, too. Her father and older sister were killed in a car crash when she was only a teenager.” Dana had set her plate aside and was already back to work, counting the pale yellow stitches along one needle, just about the color of her straight, chin-length hair. “It’s no wonder she has so many issues now.”
“Trina is a walking cry for help,” Phoebe agreed. “But I heard she’s been in rehab. This is her first big movie clean and sober.”
“Well . . . good luck to her,” Maggie said sincerely. “It’s awful to see someone that young, with such great opportunities, throwing everything away.”
Dana nodded. “I think Hollywood actors lead a hard life. So much pressure and temptation.”
“Jennifer Todd seems to be completely the opposite. So down to earth, the type of person you could talk to. Or even be friends with. I think she even knits.” Lucy sounded as if Jennifer was already their friend, Maggie noticed.
“Absolutely,” Dana agreed. “Except for her chauffeur, housekeeper, chef, personal assistant, fitness trainer . . .”
“Okay, not exactly like us. But you know what I mean. She’s a real girl-next-door type. Though she’s probably about forty?” Lucy guessed.
“I just read she’s thirty-seven, and she is—or was—the girl next door. Didn’t you know that she grew up around here?” Maggie was surprised her friends didn’t seem aware of that connection.
“I heard that somewhere, too.” Dana looked up from her knitting. “Is she from Plum Harbor?”
“Newburyport,” Maggie recalled. The village a few miles north was the last town on the Cape Ann coast and practically a metropolis compared to sleepy Plum Harbor.
Lucy seemed cheered by the news. “Maybe they’ll hold a Welcome Home, Jennifer parade.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. ‘Any excuse for a parade’ is the motto around here,” Maggie said.
“So . . . that means she graduated high school almost twenty years ago,” Phoebe calculated aloud. “Was she ever one of your students, Mag?”
Maggie shook her head. “I was at Plum Harbor High. Newburyport has its own secondary school.”
It seemed like another lifetime, her days as a high school art teacher. She had been teaching more than twenty years when her husband, Bill, had unexpectedly died. Maggie was paralyzed with grief at first, but eventually decided to pursue her “someday dream” and turn her love of knitting into a full-time career.
A wise choice, she often reflected now, five years after she’d opened the doors of the Black Sheep Knitting Shop. She’d been devoted to teaching, but she loved owning her own business, too.
“I’m sure there are plenty of people around here who did know her well. Or will claim they did,” Maggie added.
“I wonder how many Jennifer Todd will actually remember. Or if she keeps in touch with any friends she grew up with,” Dana mused. “I always think it’s a sign of good character when people do.”
“Yes . . . but her life must be so demanding compared to ours, I think we can cut her some slack,” Lucy replied.
“I hope you’re all talking about me,” Suzanne sang out from the front of the shop. “Letting me off the hook for being so late and not even sending a text?”
“Don’t worry . . . we still love you,” Phoebe called back sweetly.
“Maggie saved you some sushi. That says it all.” Dana pushed a clean place setting over to an empty spot at the table.
Maggie rose and headed for the storeroom, which doubled as a kitchen. “Sit down and relax. I’ll get it for you.”
“Thanks. You’re a pal.” Suzanne dropped her big leather tote and landed in the seat with a sigh.
“Were you stuck with a client?” Lucy asked.
Suzanne worked in real-estate sales for a busy agency in town, Prestige Properties, somehow managing to fit her career around caring for her three children and her husband. Amazingly, she seemed to thrive on her demanding, fragmented schedule.
“I wish. Clients are fun. Most of the time. I was stuck figuring out some mix-up with the extra insurance on the house the movie crew is renting. It’s still not straightened out.”
“We were just talking about that,” Maggie called from the next room. “Do you know how long they’ll need the shop? Will they do all their scenes in one day, or do they need to come back? There’s really so much they haven’t told me yet.”
Maggie knew she sounded anxious, but she couldn’t help it. She emerged with Suzanne’s dinner and set it down near her place.
“What service, thanks so much. All my favorites, too . . . yum.” Suzanne surveyed her dinner, chopsticks poised to attack.
“Enjoy.” Maggie took her seat, eager to hear more details.
So were the rest of their friends, who all sat quietly now knitting and waiting for Suzanne’s report.
“I’ve had a few emails with the location manager today. As far as I can see, the schedule seems to change from day to day.”
Maggie shrugged. “I can go with the flow. As long as I have some idea which way I’m flowing.”
“Here’s the scoop. The cast and crew are flying into Boston and New York over the next few days. I think Jennifer Todd and Nick Pullman are staying at the Copley Plaza for a night. Everyone is due in Plum Harbor on Friday night and your shop is the first stop on their schedule. They say now they only plan on shooting here for one day.”
Maggie liked that news. “That’s a relief.”
“But of course, that can change. If they don’t get all their scenes done,” Suzanne reminded her. “I think the town will be insane. I’m picturing a big caravan of trucks for equipment, and fancy trailers for the movie stars rolling in. I also heard they’ve booked most of the Lord Charles Inn.”
“That makes sense. It’s the only really nice place around here.” Lucy frowned down at her knitting, counting stitches on the needle. She didn’t look happy, but hadn’t called out for rescue yet. Maggie gave her a moment to sort it out herself, knowing that built knitting confidence.
“What’s the name of the movie again?” Dana asked.
“Love Knots. I heard it’s a thriller, but there’s a romance in there, too. I’m not really sure of the plot.” Suzanne dipped another bite of sushi into some soy sauce.
“Maybe there’s a website. Let’s take a look.” Lucy reached for Maggie’s laptop, which sat on the table near her place. She slid it over and began typing.
Lucy was a graphic designer who worked at home, and her computer was her best friend . . . next to her two dogs and her boyfriend, Matt. She did tend to search online for the answer to every question her life posed. Which was not always the best approach, Maggie sometimes reflected.
“Let’s see . . . no official website yet, but there’s loads of publicity. ‘Partners Off Screen and On: Jennifer Todd and Nick Pullman Team Up for Love Knots. How will this Hollywood couple handle the knotty mix of producing, directing, acting . . . and marriage?’?” She looked up from the computer. “I didn’t even know they were married.”
“They’re the iconic LA power couple.” Suzanne sounded positively offended by Lucy’s ignorance. “Where’ve you been? Living on a desert island?”
Lucy laughed. “Sorry . . . I fell behind with my celeb marriage scorecard. I’m still stuck on Brad and Angelina.”
“What else does it say? Anything we should know?” Maggie asked.
“Let’s see . . . ‘This romantic thriller is the couple’s first collaboration in over ten years, though Nick Pullman has made three feature-length films with Todd’s costar, Heath O’Hara. Trina Hardwick also gets top billing in a supporting role.’?”
“I guess that means she doesn’t get the guy?” Suzanne speculated.
“Or she gets killed off.” Maggie shrugged. “They do say it’s a thriller. Someone must get murdered. Or close to it. Don’t you think?”
Lucy scanned the rest of the article. “Doesn’t say much about the plot. A lot of effusive adjectives, though. ‘The windswept shores and winding lanes of a coastal New England village provide the moody backdrop for this dark drama, centered around the owner of a knitting shop, played by Todd, who is tempted by the crosscurrents of a passionate love triangle. Love, jealousy, and betrayal prove a dangerous mix . . .’?” Lucy looked up. “Wow, that sounds good.”
“But not a temptation I’ve had to resist lately,” Maggie said, laughing. “In my experience as a real knitting shop owner.”
“Never mind dull, old, real life. That sounds pretty juicy. I can’t wait to see it,” Suzanne countered.
“I bet Trina Hardwick plays the ‘dangerous crosscurrents,’?” Lucy added.
“She was born for that role,” Phoebe agreed.
Lucy laughed. “Here’s what they say about her: ‘As Hardwick prepares for her first role in a major motion picture in over three years, the young star will be tested to prove she remains a box office draw and a bankable commodity.’?”
Dana shook her head, her gaze fixed on her knitting. “Goodness. That’s awful. They talk about the poor actors as if they’re cattle. No wonder they all have self-esteem issues and turn to drugs and alcohol.”
“I was thinking race horses,” Suzanne offered. “But we’re on the same track . . . no pun intended. Filmmaking is a big-money business, and a flaky movie star is a high risk for investors.”
“Looks like the biggest investors in this film are the power couple . . . along with Heath O’Hara.” Lucy still studied the computer screen. “They’ve formed their own production company, Three Penny Productions.”
Lucy looked up at her friends. “Matt and I can do yard work together or even grill. But I’m not sure how long the relationship would last if we tried to make a movie.”
“Kevin and I can’t even do yard work . . . and he knows better than to come into the kitchen before the food is on the table,” Suzanne replied. “Enough of this business stuff. What about Heath?” She drew out the name on a breathy note. “Besides being the sexiest, yummiest man alive, I mean.” Her friends laughed, but she remained unfazed. “You all know what I’m talking about. Lucy . . . don’t even try to hide that little smile.”
Lucy did not reply as she typed a bit more, though Maggie noticed a flush of color in her cheeks. “Here’s the official Heath O’Hara website. Feast your eyes, Suzanne.”
She turned the computer around for Suzanne to see, but the rest of the group looked over just as eagerly, Maggie noticed.
Suzanne was not embarrassed to let out a loud, long sigh, worthy of any love-struck fourteen-year-old. “The man is just so gorgeous. Who cares if he says a word?”
“Luckily . . . because he’s not a very good actor,” Dana practically whispered. “Rather one note, I’d say.”
Suzanne glared at her, then replied in her tough-love-Mom tone. “Dana . . . I want you to go to your room and think about that.”
Dana laughed. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No argument, my friend.”
“Look, his hobbies are listed. Maybe he’s not just a pretty face,” Lucy offered. “Let’s see if you two have anything in common, Suzanne.” Lucy clicked the link and read aloud: “?‘Heath devotes his spare time to many passions—rescuing wild horses, helicopter skiing, fund-raising for humanitarian efforts around the globe, and vegetarian cooking.’ Oh, and he knits! Look, here’s a picture.”
Lucy laughed as she turned the computer around again. “Do you think any of that’s true?”
“Of course it’s true,” Suzanne insisted. “A lot of men knit. Especially actors. They have a lot of time on their hands, waiting around on the movie sets.”
Maggie shook her head. “Suzanne, you’re such a loyal fan.”
Dana was trying not to smile, but couldn’t help grinning a little. “I suppose it could be true. The story includes a knitting shop. Maybe he was chosen for his role because he already knows how?”
Suzanne didn’t look happy about that comment, either. “How about he got the role because he’s the hottest actor in the world? They can always find some extra person to knit and then just splice in the hands or something.”
“So . . . now you don’t think he knits? I’m confused,” Maggie teased. “Do you think he’s really a vegetarian, or does helicopter skiing?”
Suzanne lifted her chin, a bit self-conscious now that she’d defended her idol so fiercely. “You know what I mean.”
Maggie laughed. “I’m sorry . . . I couldn’t help teasing you. But it is hard to sort out all the hype from reality. If there is any. I guess we’ll find out what all these celebrities are really like on Saturday. And draw our own conclusions.”
“Yes, we will,” Suzanne agreed. “We’ll find out a lot of things.”
“I bet the entire town is here, looking for autographs,” Lucy predicted. “Or just plain looking.”
“And the local news outlets. The newspaper and TV stations,” Dana added. “This is a big story for Plum Harbor.”
“It’s so exciting. I can’t even knit, thinking about it.” Suzanne practically shivered.
Maggie laughed, though she could hardly think of a life event that had been so distracting she couldn’t knit. If anything, knitting calmed her mind in stressful times. Or provided a way to express her joy and celebrate a happy moment.
She picked up her needles and turned to them now for the first reason. “I’m excited, too. But for different reasons.”
It was hard to imagine half the town stampeding her territory . . . along with an entire movie crew. But she had signed on the dotted line and had no choice now but to go through with it.
When Saturday morning rolled around, Maggie trudged out to her car in the frosty air, carrying a travel mug full of coffee, her purse, and her knitting bag—equipped the same as she would be heading to her shop for a full day of teaching classes and helping customers.
Except that this morning it was barely 6 a.m., a few hours earlier than she normally left. If all had gone according to schedule, her shop would already be filled with actors and movie equipment, and who knew what else. And very soon, she would be standing on the sidewalk, trying to catch a glimpse of someone famous. Or just trying to see what was going on within.
That will get old pretty quickly, she reflected, starting up her little SUV. But she did want to be part of the hubbub for a little while. She was no autograph hound, but was as curious as the next person.
She wondered if they would let her into the shop because she owned the place. Funny how she had forgotten to ask that important question. Though her other questions had been answered in the agreement she’d signed with the production company, giving them permission to use the space. She just hadn’t read it closely enough the first time, Suzanne pointed out.
As she rounded the turn on Main Street, she would have thought a town holiday was in full swing—the annual tree lighting or Founder’s Day parade. Blocks away from her shop and not a parking space to be found.
She was feeling rather hopeless, wondering if she had to park down at the harbor, when she spotted a car pulling out. She quickly steered into the space and grabbed her belongings.
Once on the sidewalk, she found herself in a stream of walkers, headed in the same direction, most chatting eagerly, some practically running. All hoping to spot movie stars, as if they were creatures in the wild. Many had field glasses and cameras slung around their neck. Some even carried knapsacks and lawn chairs, prepared for a long wait. Such devotion. She was amazed.
The line of cars on Main Street quickly gave way to a row of very large, box-shaped trucks and white RV-type trailers. Many busy and official-looking people were climbing in and out of the trucks that held mysterious equipment and large black cases and boxes.
But quite a few of the movie people were just milling about, looking over silver clipboards and chatting with each other. Or speaking into the headsets that were wound around their heads. They paid little mind to the onlookers. They were used to doing their jobs with an audience, Maggie realized.
A deep crowd had already assembled around the front of the shop, spilling out onto the street. Wooden barriers—set up by either the movie people or the village police?—stood around the perimeter of the property, keeping the fans at a reasonable distance. The white picket fence that enclosed the property helped, too.
She always welcomed the first sight of her shop. A wide porch wrapped around the front and long windows that were trimmed with wooden shutters. Stark looking at this time of year, but it would soon be covered with flowers, the window boxes filled, hanging pots trailing petunias, along with the garden blooming in front.
Phoebe, who attended a local college part time in addition to working for Maggie, lived in an apartment upstairs. A convenient arrangement. Though not today, with all the noise so early, Maggie realized. Her young friend could sleep until noon on days she was not due at school or downstairs to work. Sometimes, even when she was.
As Maggie approached, she felt a small pang in her heart, as if seeing a friend in some distress, but not knowing how to help her.
Don’t worry, you’ll be all right, Maggie told the shop silently. I know it seems like an invasion of ruffians, but it will all be over soon. Then you’ll have fun telling the story. Isn’t that what her friends had promised her? More or less?
Maggie was thankful for the wooden barriers, keeping some of the barbarians at the gate. It had been a long winter and tender green shoots were just starting to sprout in the flower beds that rimmed the walk and the edges of the fence and porch. She did fear for their survival.
She was glancing around, wondering if anyone was there yet, when she felt a firm grasp on her shoulder.
“Maggie . . . we’ve been waiting for you.”
Suzanne stood right behind her, dressed for her role of Real Estate Lady to the Stars in brand-new black skinny jeans, a slim leather jacket, and a fine peach-colored scarf she knit herself in Maggie’s ribbon yarn class. The color set off her dark brown hair and big brown eyes perfectly. Huge designer sunglasses that hid half her face were the finishing touch. Even though the sun had barely risen past the horizon.
“I almost didn’t recognize you . . . Are you hiding from the paparazzi, too?”
Suzanne ignored the question and grabbed her arm. “You just missed Jennifer Todd. She came out of her trailer and walked into the shop.”
“She did? When was that?”
“A few minutes ago. She’s so beautiful in person,” Suzanne added. “And she was so nice. She stopped to sign autographs for everyone who asked, though you could tell the poor woman was hardly awake.”
“I’m hardly awake, either. Maybe I should go home and go back to bed.”
“Don’t be silly. The other actors didn’t pass yet.” By that, she meant Heath O’Hara, of course. “And they should let you inside, even for a minute or two. You do own the building,” Suzanne reminded her
“I wondered about that. Who do I ask?”
“The location manager, I guess. Give me a minute, I’ll look around for him.”
They’d worked their way through the throng, to where Dana and Lucy stood against the picket fence on the left side of the property. The spot afforded them a clear view of the porch and lawn, and of everyone walking up the brick path and into the shop.
“Primo perch. What time did you get here?” Maggie asked.
“Phoebe came out around four a.m. With a lawn chair and sleeping bag,” Lucy reported.
“That’s crazy. The poor thing. She must be freezing. I hope she doesn’t catch a cold.” It was early April but still very chilly at night. “Where is she?”
Lucy smiled and pressed a finger to her lips, then glanced over her shoulder.
Maggie saw her poor assistant curled in a beach chair just behind them, a hood pulled over her head, the rest of her stuffed into a sleeping bag like a caterpillar in a thick cocoon, a few hand-knit afghans tossed over that.
“She said not to wake her until the other stars show up,” Dana whispered.
“At least she looks warm enough.” Maggie rubbed her gloved hands together. She wasn’t sure how much longer she wanted to wait. Even to see the famous Heath O’Hara. She was not bitten by the Hollywood bug like the rest of her friends—and most of the town—seemed to be. Some scrambled eggs and toast with a hot cup of coffee at the Schooner Diner down the street seemed like a better idea. She wondered if anyone else felt the same. But all her friends looked mesmerized by the star watch.
The door opened at the front of the shop. Everyone turned to see who would emerge. Maggie felt jostled by the crowd, all the bodies shifting and pushing to get a better view, like the Wave in the stands at Fenway Park.
“Who is it? Can you see?” Suzanne stood behind them, jumping up on tiptoe. Lucy, the tallest, was closest to the fence.
“Just another guy in a baseball cap and a headset,” she reported. “Must be part of the crew.”
Suzanne peered over Lucy’s shoulder, then flung herself forward, waving her hand.
“Lyle . . . yoo-hoo! Over here . . . Suzanne Cavanaugh, from Prestige Properties!” She turned back to her friends. “That’s Lyle Boyd, the location manager. Maybe he can get us inside.”
The young man stared at Suzanne with a puzzled expression, then seemed to recognize her. He hopped down the porch steps and loped across the lawn, a silver clipboard tucked under one arm.
“Hey, Suzanne, I was just about to text. Do you know how we can get in touch with”—he paused and checked his clipboard—“Maggie Messina?”
“No problem. She’s right here,” Suzanne said smoothly. “Maggie, Lyle Boyd. The location manager for Three Penny Productions.”
Maggie nodded in greeting. “How can I help you?”
“Could you possibly come on the set a few minutes? Ms. Todd has some questions.”
It was odd to hear her own shop called “the set.” But today that’s what it was.
“I’d be happy to.” She smiled and shrugged, as if she was asked to advise movie productions every day. “Can my friends come, too? They’ll be quiet as mice.”
Lyle glanced at the row of hopeful faces. “I guess it would be all right. It’s so insane in there right now. Nobody will even notice. Just come around to the gate and I’ll meet you at the security guard.”
As he walked away, Suzanne gripped Maggie’s arm. “That was brilliant!”
“Good work,” Lucy commended.
Dana agreed. She had already turned to jostle Phoebe. “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. We just got permission to go on the set.”
Phoebe stood up and stumbled a bit, as if starting off in a sack race. “Whoa . . . wait for me.”
Dana caught her just before she tumbled. “You go ahead; we’ll catch up.”
“Don’t take too long,” Maggie warned before being dragged along by Suzanne.
Maggie had noticed a few of the local police, but hadn’t realized that security guards were also stationed in the crowd. Which made perfect sense. There were probably a lot of overly enthusiastic—even emotionally unstable—fans who hung around movie stars on location. You couldn’t be too careful these days.
They made their way slowly along the sidewalk and finally reached the gate in the middle of the fence.
A big bald man with a tiny goatee stood just inside the fence. Dressed all in black, he looked like a former pro wrestler or football player. He smiled and a few front teeth capped in sparkling gold seemed to support that guess. He blocked the entire opening of the gate quite effectively with his broad body as he peered down at Maggie, much like a genie that had popped out of a bottle.
“Open sesame?” she was tempted to say. But of course, she held her tongue.
Luckily, Lyle Boyd appeared. “It’s okay, Victor. They’re visiting Jen.”
Victor took out a clipboard and asked for everyone’s name.
“Two more of my friends are coming, Dana and Phoebe. They were held up in the crowd,” Maggie explained.
“You go ahead. I’ll wait for them,” the location manager replied. “Ask around for Alicia Littel, Jennifer’s assistant.”
Maggie nodded and headed up to the shop. She felt self-conscious walking up the brick path. The entire town seemed to be standing there, watching. A few onlookers called out to her.
“Way to go, Maggie!”
“Get Heath’s autograph for me!” a teenager girl called out. “Please? I’ll make it worth your while . . .”
“Hey, Maggie . . . are you going to be in the movie?” someone else shouted. She must have known the person, but couldn’t pick a face out of the crowd.
Maggie shook her head, eyes cast down as she steadily walked forward. Lucy walked alongside her and Suzanne followed, waving and smiling, as if she was a famous star, too.
“Suzanne . . . you’re such a ham.” Lucy was laughing when they reached the porch.
Suzanne shrugged as she rearranged her scarf and pulled a tube of lipstick from her pocket. “We all have a cross to bear.” Her makeup freshened, she pulled open the shop door with firm resolve. “Okay, let’s do this.”
Maggie felt strangely apprehensive entering her own familiar territory. She stepped inside and paused. A swarm of activity hummed all around her, the worker bees dressed much the same, men and women wearing a sort of uniform—T-shirts, jeans, and walkie-talkie headsets. Some accessorizing with baseball hats and hoodies.
Moviemaking equipment was everywhere. Maggie could only guess the use of the objects—huge lights on metal stands, cameras, microphones hanging from poles, and rolling tripods. Some of it was already set up and some was still being assembled, or pushed over the wooden floors on noisy, rattling wheels.
She hardly recognized her shop, reorganized and refurnished with all the equipment, most of the area rugs and some of the furniture pushed into the alcove near the front door, where she kept an antique loveseat and sitting chairs, a cozy knitting nook no more.
“Oh my,” was all she could say, then stopped in her tracks near the front door as a huge round light in black metal casing rolled by.
Luckily, Suzanne remained sharp. As usual. She nabbed the first person who passed by—a young woman busily unrolling green cable across the floor, pausing every few feet to secure the trail in place with duct tape. Her black T-shirt displayed the movie title on the back and the chopped-off sleeves revealed impressive tattoos.
“Excuse me . . . do you know where we can find Alicia Littel?”
“She was at the table in the back a minute ago,” the girl replied without pausing in her task.
“Thanks.” Suzanne turned to Maggie and Lucy. “That must be her, the blonde with the glasses, sitting next to Jennifer Todd.”
Maggie could hardly get a good view with the bustling crew and all the equipment in the way. But yes . . . there was Jennifer Todd, sitting at the table next to a younger woman.
Jennifer was a beauty on screen, but even more stunning in person, with smooth, honey-colored hair pulled back in a ponytail at her nape and a radiant, peaches-and-cream complexion. She wore little or no makeup and just ordinary workout clothes—black yoga pants and a magenta wrap around her top that showed off a toned, superslim figure. Maybe her outfit was the best money could buy, but it was still just athletic wear, the only hint of her fame and fortune a huge, square diamond that sparkled on her left hand, visible from all the way across the room.
Jennifer and her assistant sat shoulder to shoulder, looking over a large binder that sat opened flat on the table between them.
Maggie had expected Alicia to be older for some reason, but she looked quite young, with a round, friendly-looking face, pink cheeks, and pin-straight blond hair cut to her chin in a hip, choppy style. Long bangs brushed the top of large, tortoiseshell-framed glasses. Maggie felt encouraged, noticing her quick, dimpled smile; she looked efficient but pleasant to deal with.
“Do you want us to come with you? Or do you want to go over by yourself?” Suzanne asked.
Maggie didn’t answer, suddenly tongue-tied. Funny, since she never considered herself awed by famous people.
“Why don’t you go with her, Suzanne? I’ll wait here for Dana and Phoebe,” Lucy suggested.
“Good idea. We don’t want to stampede them. Ready?” Suzanne turned to Maggie again.
Maggie fluffed her curly hair with her fingertips. “I didn’t expect to consult with movie stars today. I would have dressed up a bit.”
Suzanne grinned. “You never know what’s going to happen when you wake up in the morning, do you?”
“Thank you, Forrest Gump.” As Suzanne laughed off her testy reply, Maggie squared her shoulders and took a breath. “Lead on. I’m ready to consult to the queen of England.”
“Is she in this film, too?” Lucy asked. “That would really draw some publicity.”
Maggie smiled but was too nervous to laugh. Her gaze was fixed on the familiar worktable where the world-famous actress Jennifer Todd sat with her assistant.
As Maggie drew closer, she saw Jennifer pick up the binder and Maggie realized it was a script.
“I’m going to grab a water. Do you want one, Jen? Or maybe some tea? I can run back to the trailer for your teapot,” Maggie heard Alicia tell the movie star.
“I’m fine, thanks. But can you text Heath again? Nick will throw a fit if he finds out we didn’t run through the changes yet,” Jennifer added in a quieter tone.
“No problem.” Alicia took out her phone and tapped a message.
Maggie had noticed a large folding table nearby laden with food—a coffee percolator, boxes of donuts, muffins, and bagels, bottled water, and a tray of sandwiches covered with plastic wrap. Alicia was obviously headed in that direction.
Maggie watched the assistant finally depart and saw her chance to approach the star.
Well, here’s my cue. Enter stage left . . . Or something like that.
Just as Maggie headed for her target, a horrific sight filled her gaze. She heard people gasp and even scream as a long metal pole, poised on a metal stand and topped with a square grid of flood lights, suddenly fell toward the table.
Maggie felt as if she was watching a slow-motion film as the heavy fixture swayed and then headed for the floor. She heard more screams as all the lights flickered and blacked out completely for a moment. The metallic monster crashed on the table in a spray of broken glass and sizzling, exploding lightbulbs, then finally settled, an acrid, burning smell filling the air.
Maggie had already raised her arms to shield her face out of sheer reflex, though she and Suzanne stood several yards away.
When she looked again, almost everyone in the shop was running toward the accident. She could hardly see a thing.
She turned and stared at Suzanne. For once, Suzanne was speechless.
“Jennifer Todd . . .” Maggie whispered. “Is she under there?”
The actress would be smashed like an insect, all that metal and cables . . . and broken glass.
Maggie winced and squeezed her eyes closed, imagining the fate, too horrified to look back and find out what had happened.