Authors: Leighann Dobbs
Tags: #Paranormal, #Ghost, #New Hampshire, #Mystery
A sad smile spread over Cordelia’s face. “Amanda loved animals. Apparently, they’d found a kitten abandoned in the lumberyard and she’d taken it in and had it in the back office. She was at the Main Street Founders Day parade when she saw the smoke from the fire. She went to investigate and when she saw the lumberyard in flames, I guess she ran in to save the kitten.”
“That’s right,” Josiah added. “Her body was found on top of the kitten, protecting it.”
My heart tugged at the thought. I glanced over at Pandora, who appeared to be listening with rapt attention. I’d been surprised when I’d learned I’d inherited a cat, and I had to admit that I hadn’t been too keen on having one. But Gram had loved Pandora and she would have wanted me to continue to care for the cat, so that’s what I did. We’d gotten off to a rocky start, but I had to admit I’d grown rather fond of Pandora. In fact, I couldn’t imagine life without her now. I knew how Amanda had felt. I would rush into a fire to save Pandora if she was trapped, too.
Pandora looked up at me, almost as if she knew what I was thinking. The cat could be eerily intelligent sometimes. Then I remembered what she had done with the toilet paper behind the counter. I narrowed my eyes at her, but all she did was hump up her back in a long stretch, open her mouth in a wide yawn and then curl back into a ball, tucking her pink nose in under her paw.
“The amazing thing was that Amanda saved the kitten. If it wasn’t for her, that little creature would have burned in the fire.” Hattie shuddered. “Amanda herself was terribly burned, but when they moved her body, the kitten was laying underneath, practically unscathed.”
Bing nodded. “It was like a miracle.”
“What happened to the kitten?” I asked.
“Brenda took it in. Said she’d always treasure that cat because Amanda had given her life for it,” Cordelia said.
“It’s very sad. But let’s not dwell on that. It’s in the past now.” Josiah tipped the coffee cup up to his lips, draining the last drops. “I could see why Brenda and Maisie wouldn’t want to vote for Paisley. Paisley’s photographs aren’t really that artistic. I think Neil Lane would be a much better candidate. I wonder how he’ll take getting pushed out by Paisley.”
Cordelia’s gray brows ticked up a quarter of an inch. “I hadn’t thought about that. Neil can be a bit emotional.”
“He’s such a recluse he might not even know or care,” Bing added.
“Or he could get very angry. I heard he had a fiery temper.” Hattie pushed herself to a standing position and looked down at Cordelia. “Are you ready to go, sister? I think it’s time for our hair appointments.”
Cordelia looked at the slim, gold watch on her wrist. “Oh, so it is.”
She stood as did Bing and Josiah.
“I’m sure the art show will be fine with Paisley’s photographs in it.” Bing was already at the door and he opened it for the other three. “I doubt she has a chance of winning the big prize.”
“I should say not. Maisie wouldn’t stand for that. She might go off her rocker and do something drastic,” Cordelia laughed. “You know how rash she can be.”
“Let’s hope we don’t have to see that,” Bing joked. The others filed out the door past him and he turned back to me as he swung the door shut. “See you tomorrow, Willa! Good luck with the clean-up.” He jerked his chin toward the mess of toilet paper behind the counter and then nodded at Pandora, a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes.
I bid them good-bye and made my way behind the counter. I remembered how Paisley had been so sure that she would win the art show grand prize. Of course, no one else thought she would, but then no one thought she would even get a spot in the show and she’d managed that.
Paisley had clearly pulled in some favors to get that spot. What if she’d pulled in even more favors to ensure she won the grand prize? Twenty thousand dollars was nothing to sneeze at.
Maisie wouldn’t like it at all if Paisley took the grand prize. The old woman could be unpredictable, as evidenced by her abrupt departure from the meeting and ominous parting words. I knew Maisie felt very strongly about the quality of art in Mystic Notch and I wondered to what lengths she would go to in order to protect it.
Pandora slitted one eye open and peeked out from behind her silvery-gray paw. She watched Bing, Josiah, Hattie and Cordelia walk down the street, her mind still twisting over what she'd heard about the kitten that had been rescued in the fire. She'd been keenly interested in the story about that kitten who had survived against all odds. A kitten like that would be special.
Unbeknownst to Willa and the other humans in Mystic Notch, Pandora herself was special. She belonged to an elite society of cats whose job it was to protect the humans and the balance of good and evil in Mystic Notch. The society stretched back for centuries and was responsible for tipping the scales of balance in the favor of good more times than Pandora could remember. Of course, this was all done secretly—the humans had no idea how many times the cats had saved them.
Pandora made a mental note to research the story of this kitten further. She would have to meet with the other cats and see what they thought, but her gut feeling was that they needed to find this kitten and make sure he or she was protected. The kitten might hold clues or have knowledge or powers that could help them in their mission–she could feel it in her bones … not to mention she was a little bored and needed something to occupy her time.
Rolling over in her bed, she noticed that Willa was behind the counter cleaning up the toilet paper mess that she'd made. Pandora regretted making the mess ... well, maybe regretted wasn't the right word. It was true—toilet papering the store had been fun, though she didn't relish making extra work for Willa. But she was still trying to train the human, and antics like this were necessary to keep her in line.
A pang of sorrow speared Pandora's heart as she thought of her previous human, Willa's grandmother, Anna. Anna had not required much training at all and she and Pandora had gotten along famously. She missed Anna, but she knew Anna was in a better place. She’d spoken to her on the other side several times and Anna had assured her she was quite content and having a wonderful after-life.
Thankfully, Willa was not as dense as most humans and Pandora had become quite attached to her in the short time they had been together. Willa had potential, but Pandora knew she had to be careful to keep her in line.
Pandora hopped out of her bed and padded over to where Willa was picking up the toilet paper. Her whiskers twitched in a feline version of a mischievous smile as she snaked out her paw, batting at the streamer of paper just as Willa bent to pick it up. The paper flew across the room, out of Willa's reach.
"Cut that out. I'm not happy that you made this mess. I'm already behind and now I have to take time to clean this up."
Willa's exasperated tone sent a wave of guilt through Pandora, but only for a second. It was too much fun messing with Willa for Pandora to feel sorry for her for too long. The cat leapt aside gleefully, then ran around the room, tipping over the small trash barrel Willa had already filled full of toilet paper and spilling it onto the floor. She then slid through the tissue thin paper, causing it to spread around the room, making another big mess.
"Pandora!" Willa yelled.
Pandora ignored her. Turning her back on Willa, she flicked her tail and trotted off to her cat bed in the window where she made a show of getting perfectly situated for her mid-morning nap.
That will teach Willa to chastise me
, Pandora thought as she drifted into a deep, blissful sleep.
I finished cleaning up the toilet paper and stuffed it into a trash bag which I tossed into the dumpster outside the back door. Settling back in behind the counter, I shot an angry glare at Pandora, but she could have cared less. She was sleeping soundly in her cat bed, probably dreaming about leaving beheaded mice on my kitchen floor in the middle of the night.
Several stacks of old books were piled behind the counter. The books were my new inventory and I had to catalog them in my system before they found their place on one of the many bookshelves that created the aisles that made up my store. I usually came in before the shop opened to straighten up and get the cataloging and accounting work done. The morning activities had put me behind schedule.
I sat on a tall, wooden swivel stool and slid my leg into one of the shelves under the counter to rest it. My leg, which had been shattered in a car accident before I moved to Mystic Notch, had been a source of pain ever since the accident. Thankfully, the pain was getting less intense with each passing month. Or maybe I was just getting more used to it, the same way I was getting used to some of the other side effects that had sprouted from that accident.
I glanced around the shop looking for a swirl of mist, my ears straining for the sound of a book falling to the floor—all telltale signs of one of those side effects. But the shop was silent and empty. Not that I minded—I needed to get this work done with the least amount of distractions.
But the quiet didn’t last long. It wasn’t long before the bell over my door chimed and customers started to stream into the shop. Not that I could complain about that. Streams of customers meant more book sales and more book sales meant money. And I dearly needed to keep the shop running.
The rest of the day flew by and I had barely settled in to cataloging more books when I was interrupted by the insistent meow of Pandora standing over her empty food bowl. She looked up at me with reproachful eyes. The clock on my computer told me it was 6:30 PM. Where had the time gone? Pandora was probably starving. I closed down my computer, remembering the toilet paper incident and not wanting to suffer Pandora’s wrath again.
“Hey, Pandora, I didn’t know you could tell time.” I reached down to stroke the top of her silky head. “It’s kind of late. Maybe I should go out to eat.”
“Meroo!” Her meow was laced with panic as if she didn’t want my eating out to delay her supper.
“Don’t worry,” I laughed. “I’ll feed you first.”
I filled her food bowl and then fished my phone out of my purse. My on-again-off–again boyfriend, Eddie Striker, was busy working tonight so he wasn’t a candidate for eating supper with me. Maybe my sister, Augusta, would want to meet me for dinner. There was a big age gap between us and we’d never been close when we were children. I moved to Boston when she was still just a kid, so we hadn’t been close as adults, either. Now that I’d moved back home, we were working on getting to know each other.
Augusta was also the County Sheriff and had a pretty busy schedule, but I knew this was her night off. I punched in her number, disappointment spreading in my chest when she didn’t answer after six rings. I hadn’t seen her in a while and I was actually kind of starting to miss her. I wondered what she'd been up to. Probably holed up in the library studying law books–Augusta wasn’t much of a party animal.
“Looks like it’s just you and me tonight,” I said to Pandora, who was hunkered down licking the food in her bowl. Apparently, the prospect of spending the night with me was not that interesting to her.
I made my way around the shop, putting a few books back and turning off the lights. There was no sense in staying open. Mystic Notch pretty much rolled up the sidewalks after supper on a weeknight unless there was some sort of festival going on.
I locked the front door and turned the sign to ‘Closed’. A light on in one of the stores across the street caught my eye. It was Paisley's store.
What was she doing open so late?
I pressed my face closer to the glass. Someone was in there with her. It was George … and it looked like they were arguing.
I was curious as to what would’ve brought George to her shop even though no one was around to see him. If they really were having an affair, it would seem like he wouldn’t want to be seen there. I was also curious about why they were arguing. Paisley had won the spot in the art show, so it couldn’t be about that.
Probably just a lover’s spat. I shrugged my shoulders and turned away from the door, then grabbed my purse and started toward the back where my Jeep was parked. Whatever Paisley and George were arguing about, I was sure it was none of my concern.
After a hot date with a TV dinner, I turned in early. Before going up to bed, I locked the cat flap on my kitchen door and shut the door to the cellar, much to Pandora’s dismay. She seemed anxious to get out, but I’d heard coyotes wailing outside and didn’t want
to become their dinner.
Since I’d gone to bed early, I woke up early, which was good because I had a lot of work to make up for due to missing so much the morning before. I half-expected to find toilet paper spread around the house or dead mouse bodies lined up on the kitchen table, but I guess Pandora was going easy on me for locking the cat flap. I rummaged in the fridge, finding only stale Ritz crackers, cream cheese and applesauce which I managed to cobble into a quick breakfast.
Pandora followed me to the Jeep and we jumped in. I tried to wrestle my thick, wavy red hair into a ponytail as I drove to the shop.