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Yes, mystery lovers, read on! Our mystery unfolds all during the year in a continuing series posted monthly here on our Home Page…

In February we introduced our mystery. You met our narrator, young Brooklyn-based “Quilt Detective,” Mitzi McDruben, along with her faithful receptionist Ruthie, and able assistant, Raoul.

Mitzi took on her first quilt case: The Mystery of the Missing Quilt. Her mission? To find a missing quilt. Her time frame? Exactly eleven days. Her problem? No one knows what the missing quilt looks like! In this month’s episode, Mitzi gets herself put on jury duty in order to interview Ellie Englewood, the fourth of eleven suspects on the Trade Winds Museum Board.

Read a new mystery episode each month as Mitzi searches for clues leading to the missing quilt.

Following each episode, take the Secret Passage to receive your instructions for making or finding eleven different quilt blocks in EQ5 or EQ6.

During the final episode, Mitzi solves the mystery, and YOU discover how to put your blocks together in EQ5 or EQ6 to form a secret “Sky Lights” mystery quilt.

Our “Sky Lights” quilt was designed especially for EQ learning fun by Fran Iverson Gonzalez from Edmond, Oklahoma.

Our mystery series was written by Megan McMorris, a Free-lance author from Portland, Oregon.

And now, grab your gumshoes. Tilt back your chair. But keep one eye on the door as you get ready to solve… The Mystery of the Missing Quilt!

Episode Five: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

“May I have everyone’s attention, please,” the middle-aged man behind the counter stated rather than asked.

It still kills me, after 10 years of living in New York City, how people here can say polite words without really meaning them. Might as well say, “okay, listen up or some heads will roll,” is my philosophy.

The man had more to say, though. “If you have any reason to be excused from jury duty, please come to the front desk.” Some people started gathering their bags to make their move. “AFTER I’m done speaking, please,” he continued.

He looked up from his post at the microphone at the accused. “For those of you who have served before, please pay attention because there are new laws governing who can be excused from duty . . . ”

As he droned on about how basically everyone and their brother has to serve on jury duty (I heard that David Dinkins, a former mayor, even did his time), I turned my attention to the subject du jour. Namely, one Ellie Englewood, suspect number four, who wasn’t listening half as eagerly as her neighbors were to the rulings on who could be excused for the day. Instead, it looked as though she planned to stick around for a while.

On the table in front of Ellie sat a styrofoam cup with a tea bag dangling down the side. She was leisurely perusing the New York Post, bifocals perched on her nose. A big black tote bag sat near her feet, undoubtedly filled with goodies to last her the whole day.

Ellie’s ease stood out in sharp contrast to the sighers, eye-rollers and watch-checkers surrounding me in this auditorium-like holding pen of sorts for the potential jurors. (New Yorkers aren’t known for their patience.) Although I must admit I’ve been one of the time-checkers in the crowd, today I had a different agenda.

I could safely assume that I was the only one of the 200 or so people milling around who actually chose to be picked for jury duty that day.

Thanks to my buddy Ron Ronzuli, a friend from a criminal justice class years ago at New York University, who now works in the courts administration building, I was now safely ensconced beside Ellie Englewood. (It doesn’t hurt to have connections in the courts, that’s for sure.)

I’d called Ellie’s Quilter’s Korner store to see when she’d be working next. They informed me she was due for jury duty, so that’s how Ronzuli entered into the picture.

Ron does various background checks for me now and again on a suspect (because they’re usually in and out of court) in exchange for a lunch, sometimes dinner.

I suspect Ron Ronzuli has a crush  on me, but I never let on. (He’s not my type. Anyone with a borderline obsession with Star Trek automatically gets a red X with me. I can appreciate his quirkiness, though.)

Ron did score major points with me by squeezing me into the same jury pool as Ms. Englewood herself. Ellie sat blissfully across the table from me. I think I almost discerned a humming sound emanating from her lips! Good heavens, protect her from the jaded masses, I thought to myself.

Aloud, I said, “Excuse me, could I catch a glimpse of the weather?” Not very inventive, but sometimes the simplest lines are the ones that get ‘em talking.

Ellie looked up at me then, as though noticing me for the first time. “Oh, sure. Let’s see. Well, we’re in for rainstorm, that’s what I heard. A mild winter it’s been, wouldn’t you say? Although after last year’s blizzard, I could do without any snow for years.”

I nodded and smiled, secretly pleased that I’d found yet another talker among the crowd. How did they ever get anything done at these Trade Winds Quilt Museum board meetings, I wondered, when everyone is talking over each other?

Ellie closed her paper then. “In fact, you can have the paper if you’d like. Too much celebrity gossip in this one, if you ask me.”

I nodded and murmured in agreement, not readily admitting that I often read the Post myself en route to work. (Its tabloid size makes it much easier to read on a crowded subway than the New York Times, I tell my highbrow friends.) I turned to the weather page to play out my part of weather observer, while I contemplated my next step.

Before I had the chance to briefly scan the week’s forecast, though, she produced from her huge tote bag none other than … a quilt block in a small quilting hoop, and started happily stitching away. I looked up in amazement, hardly believing my luck. Could it possibly be as simple as guiding her into a discussion about quilting, snagging a clue about her favorite block in the process?

She caught my eye then, laughing. “Oh, it’s just a hobby,” she offered.” Whenever I find myself with time on my hands, I start quilting before I even realize what I’m doing! I never quite know what it’s going to turn into, either. A few years back, I made a whole quilt of the Courthouse Square block for my daughter before I even knew what I’d done!”

“Why the Courthouse Square block?” I ventured. Hey, if it seemed this easy, might as well try to close the deal, you know?

“My daughter is the district attorney for the state of California, you see,” she said, pulling a thread through her handiwork. “I wanted to make her something to celebrate her hard work once she finally became a lawyer last year. All those years of law school finally paid off, you know? Anyway, I thought I’d make her a block at first, you know, so she could frame it or something. But you know what I found? I couldn’t STOP myself! Before I knew it, I had about 10 blocks on my hands, so I thought, ‘what the heck, I might as well make the whole quilt!’ I’ve been quilting regularly ever since.”

She paused to thread a needle. “It’s not like I’d never quilted before or anything. I mean, I work at the Quilter’s Korneron the Upper West Side, and I used to quilt with a passion. That kind of died off, though, once the kids had grown, until I started the quilt for my daughter.”

Could her newfound passion possibly have driven her to steal the Mystery Quilt?

Seems unlikely, but take it from me: Stranger things most certainly have happened. I knew I had the block, butsomething didn’t seem right. There’s something unsettling about having a clue practically handed to you—you don’t know whether to celebrate or be suspicious. In this case, I wanted to opt for the latter.

“So, what do you do?” Englewood was asking me, looking up from her masterpiece.

“I’m a first-grade teacher,” I answered. There’s something about that profession that is so self-explanatory that people often don’t ask further questions. Perfect for my career alias.

“Oh, that’s nice. Yes, my daughter thought about becoming a teacher before she became interested in law. So, have you ever served on a jury before? I’m personally thrilled by it. I hope I get picked for one. I don’t understand what people are making such a fuss about,” she gestured to the long line forming at the counter as people tried to weasel their way out of serving. (At present, a man in his 30s was getting quite irate about how his business wouldn’t be able to survive without him. It’ll do him good to be out of the office for a while, I thought, hoping that they wouldn’t let him go.)

“I think it’s exciting,” Ellie continued. “Taking evidence into consideration, deciding whether to find someone innocent or guilty. Heck, maybe I should’ve been a private detective instead!” She laughed a hearty chuckle.

If only she knew the day-to-day details of a private eye. People imagine it’s high-speed chases, gun waving, finding various clues on a bloody trail. In reality, I find myself signing up for jury duty to talk to a woman as she sews. Not quite the same, but I’ll take the latter any day. Speaking of clues, I had mine. I excused myself to use the phone.

Raoul had gone upstate for a cousin’s wedding with his girlfriend, Jamie, reluctantly leaving Ruthie in charge. “I can always tell my fiancé I can’t go,” he had said hopefully before he left. He doesn’t like anyone messing with his territory, even if it is Ruthie. I get a kick out of the way he refers to Jamie as his fiancé, even though I’ve known her for years. I think he just likes the sound of the word. I told him not to worry, and sent him on his way.

Raoul is a good kid (which I can still tell him to his face and get away with sometimes). But now Ruthie was in charge of the clues. I’d left her in the office, studying Raoul’s notes spread in front of her, Diet Coke in hand (a permanent fixture). Ruthie had just started last year with us, and she does all of the administrative work in the office.

Raoul was excited when we hired Ruthie because that meant he didn’t have to answer the phones anymore.

I wanted him to concentrate more on the cases themselves, than on typing up case notes and filing, which he had been doing. Once in a while I’ll try Ruthie out, involving her in a case, because it can only help me. She still lives with her parents in Queens, and is saving money to go to college, so I like to give her a little opportunity here and there. She’s a good kid, too (and, at 20, she still lets me tell her this).

I went into the hallway, where there was a crowd of business-suited people talking on their cell phones. I hated the idea of carrying a cell phone, but I must admit, when you’re hot on the trail of a case and you’re looking for backup, there’s not always a pay phone around the corner.

I called Ruthie, and she answered “McDruben Agency” with an expectant sound in her voice.

“Ruthie, it’s me,” I said. “Listen up–this one is going to be a cinch after all. All I need you to do is confirm for me that there’s a Courthouse Square block.”

“Ah …” I heard rustling. Raoul was going to have a fit if she messed up his notes. He’s pretty good-natured overall, but he definitely takes his work seriously. “One sec, Mitzi …”

I entertained myself as I waited by listening to the guy beside me dictate a letter to someone. People still take dictation?!

“HERE IT IS!” She screamed, with more rustling. “I found it! In fact there are several with that name.”

“Okay, good girl. We have our clue. Order up our usual pizza, will you? Actually, make it a veggie sandwich, from Sal’s Pizza. He knows the drill–no black olives, no onions. Thanks, kid … you’ve done well. Now let me see if I can get out of this jury duty before I get called into a courtroom!”

“Okay–see you soon!” Ruthie couldn’t contain the excitement in her voice. I should really get her involved in more cases, I thought. Hey, if something that simple makes her day, why not?

I smiled to myself as I dialed Ron Ronzuli’s number to see how to un-volunteer for jury duty. Before I had a chance, though, I heard my name called and realized that there had been a line forming down the hall of callees. I suddenly felt the angst of all the business people frantically cell-phoning their offices.

The line was already moving down the hall to a courtroom. I knew if I just announced I was a private detective, they probably wouldn’t want me on the jury anyway. But then I noticed the unmistakable big black tote bag bouncing along on the hip of Ellie Englewood. She was in my jury pool, which meant I’d have to play the innocent schoolteacher role.

I followed the crowd, feeling like I was on my way to my jail cell. Raoul would never let me hear the end of this if I actually got called for a jury. Where was Ron Ronzuli when I needed him?

To be continued…

Will Mitzi have to serve on the jury? Will Ellie Englewood have enough blocks for twin beds by the time the jury reaches a verdict?

Mitzi puts another quilt block into her clue list next month when she continues her search in the Mystery of the Missing Quilt.

Now YOU help Mitzi out by finding and coloring the Courthouse Square block in EQ5 or EQ6. You’ll find step-by-step instructions in Mystery Quilt Lesson #5.