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Authors: Lydia Adamson

A Cat Tells Two Tales

BOOK: A Cat Tells Two Tales
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Praise for Lydia Adamson’s Alice Nestleton Mysteries

“Refreshing. . . . Adamson’s success is a tribute to her dynamic characters and her ability to leave readers wanting more.”


“Reading a Lydia Adamson cat mystery is like eating potato chips. You cannot stop.”

—Painted Rock Reviews

“[The] series is catnip for all mystery fans.”

—Isabelle Holland, author of

“Another gem for cat mystery fans.”

Library Journal

“Cat lovers will no doubt exult . . . charming sketches of the species.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“A fast-paced, quick, entertaining read.”—The Mystery Reader

“Highly recommended.”

—I Love a Mystery

“Light and easy to read . . . perfect for a short airplane ride or for when you have a few spare hours.”

Romantic Times

“Cleverly written, suspenseful . . . the perfect gift for the cat lover.”

Lake Worth Herald


A Cat in the Manger

A Cat of a Different Color

A Cat in Wolf’s Clothing

A Cat by Any Other Name

A Cat in the Wings

A Cat with a Fiddle

A Cat Tells Two Tales





Published by New American Library, a division of

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
A Cat in the Manger
A Cat of a Different Color
were previously published in Signet editions.

A Cat in the Manger
copyright © Lydia Adamson, 1990

A Cat of a Different Color
copyright © Lydia Adamson, 1991

Excerpt from
A Cat in Wolf’s Clothing
copyright © Lydia Adamson, 1991

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

OBSIDIAN and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


These are a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

ISBN 978-1-101-60874-6

A Cat in the Manger


It was the day before Christmas and the day after my forty-first birthday. I was sitting on the floor of my apartment wearing jeans, a white fisherman’s sweater, and Chinese boots.

I had just started my annual musing on the possibilities of peace on earth, goodwill to men, and all that, when the phone happily jangled. I picked it up swiftly. A deep voice identified itself as belonging to Mr. Harmon, from the humane society.

“Is this Alice Nestleton?” Mr. Harmon asked.

“Speaking,” I replied, perplexed.

“Your cat has just been apprehended shoplifting in Saks Fifth,” Mr. Harmon said in a gruff voice. “Now, what the hell are you going to do about it?”

Before I could respond to the startling charge, the voice changed and I realized it was Harry Starobin. Old Harry was making one of his jokes.

“Relax, Alice,” he said. “Your cats wouldn’t know how to shoplift if they were plunked into an anchovy store. Is everything all set? We expect you.”

“All set, Harry,” I replied, and listened as he gave me my usual instructions on where to meet him. Then he hung up without another word, as usual. I replaced the receiver. I felt peculiar, as I always did after one of his rare phone calls. I felt like a child who had done something wicked. Why these feelings? Disgusted with myself, I changed gears quickly. After all, Christmas was almost here.

My Maine coon cat, Bushy, was asleep on the crocheted afghan draped across the maroon velvet sofa.

“Bushy, open your eyes,” I said to him. “Here’s your Christmas present.”

One eye opened and closed. One paw twitched. Bushy was clearly not interested.

I opened the box and plopped his gift on the sofa beside him. “Merry Christmas, Bushy,” I said, and gently yanked one of his beautiful ears to get his attention. Bushy opened his eyes, flicked his ear, and stared at the basketball. “It’s not just any basketball, you silly cat. It’s special. Look at the design.”

I had found the ball at FAO Schwarz. There were raised, colorful, horrific designs embossed on it. The moment I saw it I knew Bushy would love it. It was a psychedelic sphere. It was a ball from outer space. It was a ball from another dimension. It would suit Bushy’s whimsical nature perfectly. I could envision him whacking it across the room.

When Bushy didn’t move, I pushed the ball along the sofa so that it rested against his nose. He sniffed it, yawned, and turned over so that his feet were straight up in the air like a dead bird’s. Then he went back to sleep.

So much for that gift. Well, there was still Pancho.

I carried Pancho’s gift into the kitchen. It was a small container of saffron rice. For some odd reason, Pancho had developed a passion for Indian food. But, then again, Pancho was a very odd cat.

I had adopted him at the ASPCA three years earlier, when he was about six months old. He was all gray. His eyes were yellow. His whiskers were rust. He was missing part of his tail and had a large, ugly scar on his right flank.

Pancho seemed to have one goal in life: to escape from his enemies. With this in mind, he spent his days and nights racing through the apartment. He loved cabinets and bookcases and window ledges. The higher the route, the better.

Opening the container, I placed it in the sink. “Merry Christmas, Pancho,” I called out.

I heard nothing for a moment; then a
, and a second later I saw a gray blur flinging itself from cabinet to cabinet.
—there he was in the sink, his face in the rice.

I proceeded to unwrap the small barbecued chicken I had bought for dinner. Carla Fried was to arrive at six. Her visit was the nicest Christmas gift I could have gotten. She was an old and dear friend, and I hadn’t seen her in years. We had been roommates at college, studied acting together, moved to New York, and shared an apartment before I was married, and again for a brief time after I was divorced.

I was looking forward to her visit; I couldn’t wait to talk with Carla about theater. How I craved theatrical conversations since I had become more and more isolated! As to the reason for that isolation? Well, I had gotten the reputation of being “difficult” and “quirky” and “kooky.”

This translates into the simple fact that I no longer cared for mainstream American theater. I craved to act in something new and different, something on the edge. I was searching for an avant-garde theater that didn’t yet exist, and in doing so I was alienating a lot of my old friends. I ended up working in a lot of wild one-night-stand productions by bold experimenters. And because the avant-garde always attracts academics, I got some occasional work lecturing in university drama departments. Was it my avant-garde tendencies that had prevented me from “making it” as an actress? Who knows? My ex-husband used to say I’d never make it because I was too beautiful in a bizarre sense. I was every man’s sexual fantasy, a Virginia Woolf character moving across a darkened wild moor wearing a see-through Laura Ashley dress. I was tall, golden-haired, painfully thin, and always available: half desirable woman, half taboo child. Or so he said.

I arranged the barbecued chicken on a paper plate and covered it with cellophane. Then I made a tomato-and-onion salad and set the table.

It was time to pack.

The cats and I were going to Old Brookville, Long Island, on Christmas Day. It was my annual three-day cat-sitting job for Harry and Jo Starobin.

Now, there are cat-sitting jobs and there are cat-sitting jobs. Most of them are just quick daily visits to cats in apartments whose owners are away on business or vacation. I collect the mail. I open the door. I feed the cat. I water the plants. I talk to the cat. And then I leave.

My annual cat-sitting assignment with the Starobins was different. At the Starobin estate, I slept in a small cottage with my cats, but spent most of the time catering to their eight Himalayan cats, who lived in the main house. The Starobins spent every Christmas in Virginia, leaving the moment I arrived on Christmas Day. It was lucrative, it was fun, it was a chance to get out of Manhattan. I had loved the Starobins from the first moment I met them—and I had met them under very painful circumstances.

A friend of mine who taught playwriting at the Stony Brook campus of the State University had killed himself. Or so the police told me. I didn’t believe it because I had spoken to him about ten days before his death and he wasn’t depressed at all. So I went out there, offering to clean out his apartment and office because he had no living relatives. What I discovered was not suicide. He had seduced a young male student. The student had murdered him and faked a suicide. When I found a series of letters from the student to my friend, I showed them to the police and he was questioned. He admitted the murder but claimed he was the victim of homosexual rape. A jury subsequently believed him and sentenced him to only eighteen months in prison on a minor manslaughter charge. My murdered friend had left two lovely cats. A professor at Stony Brook mentioned Harry and Jo Starobin as a couple who could find a home for the cats if anyone could. The professor was right. The Starobins found a home for the cats, and when they found out I was an actress whose main source of current income was cat-sitting, they hired me.

I pulled two matched Vuitton bags—gifts from an old admirer—out of the closet, carried them into the bedroom, and opened them on the bed. First towels, then shoes, then toilet articles, then cat food, then clothes, then some Glenn Gould cassettes, then the new biography of Eleonora Duse. I stopped. There was more to pack, but I was tired. I walked down the long hallway into the living room, lay down on the sofa next to Bushy and his psychedelic sphere, and fell asleep.

The buzzer woke me a few minutes after six. I jumped up and ran to the wall to press the release for the main door, accidentally kicking Bushy’s new toy to the far end of the room, where it rattled a lamp. I was so dopey from being suddenly awakened that I wondered for a moment how a basketball had gotten into the apartment; then I was confused as to why there was no Christmas tree, until I remembered that I had stopped buying them because the cats ate the needles. It had been a very deep sleep.

I opened the door and stepped outside to see if the visitor was, in fact, Carla. If it was anyone else—and anything was possible in my neighborhood—I’d slip back inside to safety.

I leaned over the staircase railing and saw a woman on the third-floor landing. “Is that you, Carla?”

“No,” she responded, “it’s the ghost of Christmas past.”

I kept watching her as she climbed the final two flights. Yes, it was Carla, but she looked different.

Carla Fried had been a flamboyant young woman. Her views, her clothes, her behavior, were always on the wild side. But the woman approaching me now was wearing a sober business suit, complete with, of all things, a tie. An expensive, sheepskin coat was draped over her arm. I knew that she was the executive director of an acclaimed theatrical troupe in Montreal, but this was a bit much.

My critical distance dissolved, though, as she rushed up the remaining stairs. We embraced like adolescents, laughing, weeping, squeezing each other with the strength of seven years of separation.

I pulled her into the apartment, picked up Bushy, and shoved the large red-and-white long-haired bundle against her chest. She hugged him. Bushy looked perplexed.

“And that’s Pancho,” I said, pointing him out in his attack posture on top of the table, dangerously close to the barbecued chicken.

“It’s been too long,” Carla said as she sat on the sofa. She was a bit stout, and her long black hair was in a demure bun. She wore no makeup except for eye shadow.

“Do you still drink Heineken Dark?” I asked.


I went into the kitchen and returned quickly with a bottle, remembering that Carla had always preferred to drink out of the bottle.

The moment I sat down beside her, we started babbling about old friends, old events, old lovers; about men, theater, apartments, weather, politics, food; about Montreal and New York; about Camelot and Hades.

The outburst ended. Carla leaned back against the sofa and drank her beer. Her face was still beautiful, though I could see white in her black hair.

“Where are you staying, Carla?” I asked.

“At the Gramercy Park Hotel.”

“Posh,” I noted, and added, “You’re welcome to stay here for a few days. I have to leave tomorrow morning.”


“A cat-sitting job on Long Island.”

“Yes, I heard.”

“You heard?”

“I mean, when I was in Chicago last year, Jane told me you had to become a cat-sitter because your taste in theater had started to run to the lunatic fringe.”

I laughed. “Cats and lunatics, Carla. I always loved them.”

“It is very hard for me to imagine you onstage in a painted leotard while a naked woman plays the cello and a borderline psychotic makes violent speeches in blank verse to the audience.”

“Times change, tastes change,” I noted, gesturing at her new mode of dress. She acted hurt, then flung a pillow at me.

“I also hear, Alice, that you’re beginning to dabble in crime.”

“You mean shoplifting?”

“I mean Tyler.”

Tyler was my gay friend who had been murdered at Stony Brook.

“It was very strange, Carla. The police called and told me that Tyler had killed himself—slit his wrists. I had spoken to him only ten days before his quote, ‘suicide,’ unquote and he was fine. Also, I knew that Tyler would never slit his wrists—he had an absolute horror of the sight of blood. Anyway, I went out there and found this very bizarre term paper by a student in one of his classes. Then I found a couple of letters. Then I put two and two together and went to the police. Anyway, it turned out that Tyler and the young man were lovers, and Tyler had paid the price for an affair gone bad.”

“What a funny expression, Alice.”

“What expression?”

“An affair gone bad.”

“Well, that’s what happened.”

“Why did the police think it was suicide?”

“Well, Tyler’s wrists had been slit open with a razor blade. The young man had drowned Tyler first in the bathtub and then immediately slit his wrists. It was ugly and ingenious. The police thought it was simply a familiar suicide with the usual progression: slit wrists, loss of blood, loss of consciousness, drowning.”


“It must have been.”

“Tyler was a wonderful guy. Remember that essay he wrote on Pinter’s
The Birthday Party

“It was on
The Homecoming
,” I corrected.

“Well, anyway, you ought to visit me in Montreal if you like grisly murders. They’re the specialty of bilingual societies.”

“I don’t.”

“Have you ever been up there?”


“It’s really very nice.”

“Carla, you mean it’s very nice to you, don’t you?”

She laughed and nodded her head. “Even nicer lately. Did you ever hear of Thomas Waring?”


“He’s a lunatic Canadian millionaire who thinks he can buy culture—buy anything. So he gave me one million five.”

“Gave you?”

BOOK: A Cat Tells Two Tales
6.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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