Knitting, Romance, & Dangerous Men

This story comes with a bit of history. I’d reached an impasse while plotting my second novel because two of the supporting characters I wanted to carry forward from Controlled Descent needed more development. I’m not a fan of the usual tools–outlines, lists, personality profiles, and suchlike. Character design and plotting are discovery processes for me; setting down too many raw facts sucks the life out of my writing. Thus I did what I usually do when I hit a point where my subconscious is telling me I’m missing something. I wrote a story.

Actually, I wrote three stories by the time I was done: a prequel to Flight Plan, a sequel, and a deep background coming-of-age tale. That last one turned into the first of a novella trilogy that I’m working on now.

The other two turned into a nice pair of bookends for Flight Plan’s more sweeping action plotline. Turning The Work and Joining In the Round are as close to a standard romances as I’ve written so far. They’re about family, healing, and love; personal conflicts instead of criminal or political ones.

Quite a few readers have started with this novelette, then worked through Flight Plan & Joining in the Round before hitting Controlled Descent as a prequel read. Details from the resolution of Controlled Descent are necessary plot elements, so spoiler warnings apply. Below you’ll find an excerpt that isn’t included in Amazon’s Look Inside: Carl & Parker, brothers and experts in dispensing violence, are making their first visit to a knitting supply store.

Carl’s first impression of the Knotty Issues yarn shop was one of dazzling color and crowded confusion. The instant he crossed the threshold he started to hunch, shoulders rounding and spine slumping forward. He channeled the tension down and out, exhaling it before it could build towards panic. A second deep breath quelled the claustrophobia. It wasn’t really a small space. It was just a very full one.

The overhead lights were bright and the walls white, but the cramped feel of too many things packed into too little space overwhelmed their cheery efforts. A counter ran across the window frontage, full divided shelves filled both side walls up to a four-meter high ceiling, and a long wooden table in the center of the floor left only narrow aisles for moving past merchandise. At the rear, an archway strung with hanging decorations led into another room.

Six women sat at the table with hands moving busily over and under bits of thin yarn. Knitting, Carl assumed, although he didn’t see needles. After cursory glances at the new arrivals they continued a quiet but spirited discussion about sourdough bread without missing a beat.

Parker had ground to a halt in front of a large metal washtub full of fluffy puffs dyed in neon hues. He glanced sidelong as Carl caught up. Now what?

Carl shrugged, and Parker headed for the rear of the shop to scout for exits and hidden threats. Carl gave the crew at the table a second look and was ignored a second time, so he took the time to look around without interference.

Yarn in every conceivable texture, color and thickness was everywhere, spilling off the edges of the higher shelves, lying in piles on the table and nestled in baskets on the counter. It was even strung and looped over the tops of the seats. Carl curled his fingers into his palms as a reminder to keep his hands to himself. The rainbow parade of textures invited tactile exploration, but he already felt large and clumsy and out of place. Better safe than sorry.

Some of the implements in bins on the lower shelves and in decorative containers on benches were recognizable from his perfunctory studies. The rest, like most of the assorted larger devices and freestanding equipment visible through the archway, were wholly outside his experience.

“What the fuck is this?” Parker said from somewhere in back, and the voices at the table fell silent. Five of the six women looked up at Carl, and he felt a tickle of humor at the nearly-identical expressions on their faces. The messages were variations on a theme. Rude. Ignorant. Unwelcome. Inappropriate. Offensive. Underlying all the disapproval was a single irrefutable accusation: Male.

Carl’s amusement grew from a tickle to mischievous impulse. He pasted on the best oblivious smile in his repertoire and sauntered past all the rejection with more than a little swagger in his step.

“How the fuck would I know what it is, asshole?” he called back to Parker. “What the fuck are you looking at?”

The unrepentant spray of expletives won him five audible huffs and five offended glares. The condemnation on four lined faces under gray thinning hair was nothing more than the blanket dismissal of callow immaturity by aging authority. The fifth face was barely adult, brunette and pretty, and her bristling was more about status than indignation. I belong. You don’t, it said.

The sixth woman continued smiling down at the material in her hands as she’d been doing the entire time. She was closer in age to the youngster than the elders, but laugh lines around her eyes and mouth cheerfully admitted maturity.

She was intriguing. The inattentiveness was an act, disguising a possessive awareness of her surroundings that pegged her as the proprietor or at least an employee. Ignoring new customers while the current ones attempted to chase them off seemed like a recipe for commercial failure, but the choice was deliberate. Carl could tell that much at a glance, and he gave her a respectful nod.

Her body was far from petite and closer to sturdy than lush, and short black hair hinted at impatience with appearances while a tailored jacket acknowledged their importance. The overall declaration was a blend of I know what I like and what you see is what you get. The brash attitude more than made up for a face too strong to be considered pretty, but it didn’t explain her aloofness.

And none of it was any of Carl’s business, so he kept on moving. He was here to keep Parker on task, not to entertain himself with attractive mysteries. The quiet noise of hands in motion announced vulgarity will now be ignored behind him. The conversation muttered back to life as he ducked under low-hanging obstacles in the archway.

The back room was twice as wide as the front. Shelves full of books framed seating areas with thick rugs and standing work lights. The chairs all looked a little fragile, but a worn leather couch had been pushed against the side wall under another painted-over window. Carl sank into it and stretched out both legs.

The fleece rug glowed with color-stained sunlight from the high windows, and it squished thickly underfoot as if inviting him to take off his boots. He smiled, considering the reaction from the biddies up front, and he put his feet up on the table instead.

Parker was examining an elaborate cage-like contraption that took up most of one corner. It was a dangerous-looking piece of work packed with sharp metal protrusions and lots of overlapping moving parts. The lethal appearance was more than impressive enough to explain his startled vocalization earlier.

“That’s a loom,” Carl told him.

He received an incredulous over-the-shoulder stare. How the hell do you know that?

“Naomi gave you files, remember? You could’ve done your own intelligence-gathering, you know. Or you could try reading.” Carl pointed at the signs on the wall: pricing and rental options for spinning wheels, carding machines, looms and more. “Look, they even have pictures.”

Parker shot him a dirty look, and then was distracted by a wood-handled tool with multiple sharp tines. He tested the points with his hand and hissed. One finger went into his mouth, and his eyes tracked back to Carl. What. The. Fuck?

Carl sighed. “Wool comb.”

And? asked the curious eyebrows. Carl reminded himself to stop enabling the silence and gritted his teeth. Finally Parker said aloud, “What’s it for?”

“No idea. I would assume it combs wool, whatever that means. They come in pairs.”

Parker’s sniff expressed his dissatisfaction. He continued his haphazard explorations, braving the front section now and again, touching everything as he went. Carl picked up a printed book of patterns and leafed through it. The instructions reminded him of a mathematics text: the words looked normal, but none of them connected in expected ways. He hoped that the instructions would make more sense once the code was mastered, the way equations did. Otherwise Parker was totally screwed.

Parker brought over a selection of tools and spilled them onto the table, then crouched down and arranged them for review. What do you think?

Carl regarded the collection as objectively as possible. He considered and rejected several lines of inquiry before settling on, “Are you planning to knit something or assassinate someone?”

A warm, husky voice nearby said, “I was wondering that myself.”

Turning the Work is a novelette reasonably priced at $2.99, available now on Amazon, and free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

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