Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery (10 page)

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
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“What do you do when you just stand here staring into the closet?” I asked. “Is this some kitty version of
What Not to Wear
?”

That got me a look that was pure disdain. Then he went back to eyeing my wardrobe as though I weren’t there.

I reached down and stroked the gray fur on the side of his face, just above his neck. After a moment he leaned into my hand. All was forgiven.

“My mother’s coming on Tuesday,” I said. The only response that I got was a small rumble from the back of his throat. I was pretty sure that was enthusiasm for the scratch he was getting and not because we were having a visitor. The one visitor he got excited about was Maggie, whom he adored. “Could you please hold off on the whole invisibility thing while she’s here?”

He shook his furry head, swatted my hand away and took a couple of steps farther into the closet. Then he just winked out of sight.

I sighed and straightened up. Cats might not get sarcasm when it was directed at them, but they were pretty good at dishing it out.

“Okay,” I said. “I have to go down to the Stratton to pick up a couple of boxes.” I grabbed my sweater off the bed and started for the door. “I’m going to see if your brother wants to come with me.” I counted silently in my head,
two . . . three . . . four
.

Owen appeared in front of me on
four
.

“Oh, would you like to come with me?” I asked.

He turned in the direction of the stairs, flicking his tail at me, probably because he didn’t have fingers.

I found Ben in the theater office at the Stratton. There were two desks squeezed into the small room and a coffee machine on a little round table by the door, along with a plate of cupcakes I was guessing had come from Georgia Tepper’s business, Sweet Thing.

Ben had just poured coffee for himself. “Hi, Kathleen,” he said. “Would you like a cup?”

I shook my head. “Is Abigail around, by any chance?”

He took a long drink from his oversize mug, then set it on the metal desk just behind him. “Rehearsal ran long. Some of the cast went for a late lunch and Abigail went with them. Why?”

“It’s not important. I’ll talk to her later,” I said. “Where are the boxes?”

“In the trunk of my rental. It’s just outside.” He pointed toward the main parking lot, where I’d left the truck.

“Thank you again for asking Thea to come,” Ben said as we walked around the side of the old stone building.

“I’m happy to get a chance to see her,” I said. “She’s been so busy.”

“I’m just glad
Wild and Wonderful
is going dark for the next ten days so she could come. The timing couldn’t be better.” He shrugged. “Otherwise New Horizons would have had to be canceled. You probably know some people think the festival is jinxed?”

“I heard.”

He sent me a sideways glance. “He tried to text me, you know.”

“Hugh?”

Ben nodded. “Before he died. It was around six thirty and we were still rehearsing, so I didn’t have my phone with me.”

My stomach did a little flip-flop. “What did the text say?”

“I don’t know. It didn’t go through and the police wouldn’t tell me.” He exhaled loudly. “He didn’t deserve this.”

“What was Hugh like as a director?” I asked, mostly to change the subject.

Ben gave a snort of laughter. “Hughie could be a royal pain in the ass. He was meticulous, bordering on obsessive. He had this way of breaking down actors so they could get inside the characters. It was ugly, but it seemed to work for him.”

My mother was nothing like that. She nudged and coaxed and pushed her actors, sometimes gently, sometimes loudly. She didn’t believe in breaking anyone down.

Ben stopped beside his silver SUV. “I know that’s not Thea’s style,” he said.

“Dad says her style is ‘hovering mother.’ She stands over you until she gets what she wants.” I laughed. “That’s pretty much how she got me through calculus in high school.”

“That’s her strength, you know,” Ben said.

“Hovering?”

“Making the actors feel like she believes in them.”

I nodded without saying anything. It was also my mom’s strength as a mother. Growing up, my life had been far from conventional and sometimes I’d felt like I was the most responsible person in the house—probably because a lot of the time I was—but I’d never once doubted my mother’s faith in me. She really did believe that Sara and Ethan and I could do anything. I remembered all those weeks that I struggled with calculus. Her certainty that I would eventually master it had been unshakable. Every night she told me, “Every day, in every way, you’re getting better and better.”

It had annoyed the heck out of me then. Now all I could think was that it really was going to be good to see her on Tuesday.

I saw Ben sneak a look at his watch. “Are the boxes in the back?” I asked.

“They are.” He pulled a set of keys out of his jeans pocket and popped the hatch. He grabbed one of the cardboard cartons and I got the other.

I dipped my head in the direction of the truck, parked half a dozen spaces away. I could see Owen watching out the driver’s-side window. “That’s my truck,” I said.

“And I assume that’s your cat,” Ben said as we crossed the pavement.

I smiled. “That’s Owen.”

My keys were in my sweater pocket. I set the box on the hood of the truck and fished them out.

Owen stayed where he was, watching with curiosity as I set one carton on the floor and the other on the seat.

“Is it okay to pet him?” Ben asked, leaning around the door frame to look at the cat.

“Only if you want to pet the Tasmanian devil,” I said. “Owen was feral. He doesn’t like being touched by pretty much anyone else but me.”

“Okay.” He straightened up. “How did you end up with a feral cat?”

“Two feral cats, actually. Would you believe they followed me home?”

He laughed. “I would. You’re a lot like your mother, although she was always rescuing two-legged strays.” He gestured at the cartons. “Thanks for going through those boxes for me.”

“I don’t mind,” I said. “I’ll sort everything and bring it back tomorrow.”

Have a good evening, Kathleen.”

“You too,” I said.

When we got home I put both boxes on the kitchen table. Owen immediately jumped up onto one of the chairs. He slid one gray paw under the flap of the closest carton, trying to get the top open.

“You’re wasting your time,” I said over my shoulder.

“Merow,” he said. I knew that meant he wanted me to come and open the boxes for him. Owen loved boxes, mostly because he was incredibly nosy.

I went over to the table, picked him up and set him on the floor. He made a huffy noise and glared at me.

“I’m going to make the brownies first,” I told him. “Then you can see what’s inside these boxes.” We had a brief staring contest and then he decided to see what was happening in the living room.

I waited until the brownies were cooling on a wire rack to start on the boxes. I pulled the first one closer and Owen immediately appeared in the doorway. “C’mon,” I said.

He trotted over, jumped up on the chair next to me and gave me an expectant look.

“You can look, but keep your paws off the papers,” I warned. That got me a wide-eyed who-me? look of innocence.

I opened the flaps of the first box with Owen at my elbow craning his neck for a look inside. The heavy smell of smoke, like an ashtray full of wet cigarette butts, had settled inside the carton. Owen made a face and shook his gray head.

I pulled out a handful of papers and started going through them. “Hugh has—had—very small, angular handwriting,” Ben had told me. Anything that looked like it might have been written by the dead director I put in one pile so I could take a better look at it later; everything else I tried to sort by general category. Owen watched, sniffing at everything and poking the odd pile with one paw.

The stack of pages in Hugh’s scratchy script began piling up at my elbow. How could one man generate so much paper? I couldn’t believe that he’d kept all his notes and thoughts on paper. A laptop or a tablet would have been a lot more efficient.

I should have realized that Owen would get bored pretty quickly. He started sniffing the second box. Then he put one paw on the table and the other on the top edge of the carton. The small difference in weight was enough to shift the box’s center of gravity. It toppled sideways off the table as the cat jumped back, almost falling off the chair.

The box landed on its side, the contents spreading out across the floor like a fan.

“Owen!” I said sharply. He ducked his furry head as I moved around the table to pick up the scattered papers. One page had floated over by the back door. Owen jumped down and poked his head in the upended carton.

“Get out of there!” I snapped, bending down to grab the stray piece of paper.

He jumped at the sound of my voice and I heard his head bump the top of the box. Then he backed out, sliding a piece of paper onto the floor with his right paw. He shook his head, looked at me, and meowed loudly.

I knelt on the floor next to him. “I think you’re okay,” I said. “Let me see.” He bent his head and I felt the top of it. He was fine. He didn’t even have a bump. It was just a cardboard box that he’d made contact with, and a saggy one at that. I leaned over and kissed the top of his head. “You’ll live,” I said.

He licked my chin, then pawed at the piece of paper he’d pulled out of the overturned carton.

“What is that?” I asked, putting my hands on the floor and leaning in for a closer look.

A newspaper clipping was stuck to the top of a page of Hugh’s cramped writing. The clipping, from a New York paper dated ten days before, was a brief article about casting for an upcoming off-Broadway play. But it wasn’t the clipping itself that held my attention. It was the words written across it with thick black marker in large, square letters:
DROP DEAD
. I got that roller-coaster-racing-around-a-curve feeling in my stomach as I realized that the boxy printing looked familiar. I was pretty sure it was Hannah’s.

10

O
wen put one gray p
aw on my knee and looked up at me, curiosity in his golden eyes.

“I think that’s Hannah’s handwriting,” I said. “She helped pack programs last week and she wrote on the tops of all the boxes. I need to call Marcus.”

But I didn’t get up. I stayed there on the floor, staring at the bold, square letters scrawled across the newsprint. How could I call Marcus if Hannah had written the words? How could I not call him? It was his case. On the other hand, Hannah was his sister.

The cat murped softly at me. “I know,” I said. I reached for my purse, hanging on the back of the chair behind me, and pulled out my cell phone.

Marcus’s phone rang six times before he answered. I explained that I was sorting papers from the Red Wing theater and that I’d found something that might be related to Hugh Davis’s death. I didn’t saying anything about Hannah.

“I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes,” he said.

I was glad he hadn’t asked me what I’d found. I set the piece of paper with the attached clipping on the table and got to my feet. “I’m going to make coffee,” I said to Owen. “Would you please go watch for Marcus?”

He looked at me for a moment, then turned and headed for the porch. About ten minutes later I heard a loud meow. I stuck my head into the porch in time to see Marcus come around the side of the house. Owen was on the bench by the window. “Thank you,” I said to him as I went to open the door.

Marcus was wearing khakis and his leather jacket over a long-sleeved green T-shirt. The ends of his hair were slightly damp as though he’d just gotten out of the shower.

Okay, Marcus getting out of the shower was not something I should’ve been thinking about. “Come in,” I said, dragging my imagination back from places it shouldn’t have been going.

He followed me to the kitchen. For the moment Owen decided to stay where he was.

“What did you find?” Marcus asked.

“This,” I said, sliding the page of notes with the clipping stuck to the top over to the edge of the table.

I saw the muscles along his jawline tighten. He swallowed and looked at me. “Where exactly did you find this?”

I pointed at the box, which was sitting on a chair now. “I was sorting through these couple of boxes that came from the theater in Red Wing, to help Ben. It’s all papers he managed to grab the night of the fire there. Owen knocked that box on the floor. The newspaper clipping was mixed in with the other papers.”

“What is all this stuff?” he asked.

“Mostly Hugh Davis’s notes, mock-ups of the program and sketches for costumes. Apparently he kept all his notes on paper instead of on a computer.”

Marcus looked at the clipping again.

I laced my fingers together. “That’s Hannah’s handwriting, isn’t it?” I asked.

He didn’t hedge and he really didn’t look surprised that I knew. “Yes,” he said.

“I don’t think this really has anything to do with Hugh’s death.”

“It doesn’t.” He didn’t look at me.

I hesitated and then I put my hand on his arm, hoping he could somehow feel the warmth through his jacket.

“I’ll call the station,” he said. “Somebody else should deal with this.” He touched my hand for just a moment, then stepped away from the table and took out his phone.

I didn’t know Hannah very well, but I liked her. I would have liked her even if she hadn’t been Marcus’s sister. I couldn’t imagine her shooting anyone. But why was a clipping with
drop dead
written on it in her handwriting stuck to a page of Hugh Davis’s notes? And why had she driven back and forth in front of the marina the night he was killed? I’d been trying not to think about that, but if Andrew had seen Marcus’s SUV Friday night, then it had to have been Hannah driving it. I glanced at Marcus. I needed to talk to Andrew again before I said anything about the car.

Marcus put his phone back in his jacket pocket and turned around. “Someone’s on the way,” he said. “It should only be a few minutes.”

“How about a cup of coffee?” I asked.

“Maybe I should just go wait out front,” he said, shifting from one foot to the other.

“You can wait in the porch,” I said.

He exhaled slowly. “Okay, and yes, I’ll have a cup of coffee.”

I poured a mug for each of us and we went out to the porch. Owen jumped down from the bench and went to stand by the door. Marcus opened it for him and the cat went outside, meowing his thanks.

“You don’t have to wait out here with me,” he said.

I nodded. “I know.” I brushed a bit of gray cat hair off the bench and sat down.

“How many cups of coffee have we had together?” he asked as he sat down next to me.

“A lot.”

Marcus and I had met when I discovered the body of Gregor Easton at the Stratton Theater. He’d come to question me later at the library and I’d made coffee for him. Somehow I’d ended up making or getting coffee for him on every case he’d had since.

“I just made brownies. Would you like one?”

He shook his head.

“There’s a fresh batch of stinky crackers, too.”

That almost coaxed a smile out of him. “Tempting, but thank you, no.”

Maybe someone who didn’t know him as well as I did wouldn’t have noticed it, but I could tell he was worried. His blue eyes were guarded and he was squeezing the mug tightly with one hand. He glanced out the window, then looked at me again. “Kathleen, how exactly did you get those boxes?” he asked.

“I went down to the Stratton and got them from Ben.” I laced my fingers around my cup.

“You didn’t see Hannah, did you?”

I shook my head. “No, but Ben said rehearsal ran late and some of the actors had gone out for a late lunch. Maybe that’s where she is. They’re all probably at Eric’s.”

“Probably,” he said. “I’ll try her later.”

I didn’t know what else to say. He was going to find out what Andrew had seen, but I couldn’t do that to him now. So I didn’t say anything. I just sat there, and the silence was just fine. After a few minutes I could see he was getting antsy. I set my cup on the floor at my feet.

“Let’s go wait out front,” I said.

He looked at me for a long moment, then set his mug on the bench. “All right,” he said.

We walked around to the driveway and stood next to the black Caprice. Marcus watched the road and after a few more minutes a small blue car came up the hill.

He turned to me. “Thank you for keeping me company, Kathleen.”

“Anytime,” I said.

The car pulled into the driveway and the driver got out, carrying a stainless-steel coffee mug. Detective Hope Lind probably drank more coffee than I did. She was all business in black trousers, a cranberry red shirt and a cropped black leather jacket, her dark curly hair a little shorter than the last time I’d seen her.

“Hi, Kathleen,” she said with a smile. She turned to Marcus. “So what’s going on?”

I stood there silently while he explained and Hope sipped her coffee. She was a good foot shorter than Marcus, but I knew her size was misleading. Hope ran marathons in her spare time. For fun. She’d been on a leave of absence from the Mayville Heights police force for the last year, finishing her degree in criminology with a minor in Spanish.

She turned to me. “So why do you have these boxes, Kathleen?” she asked.

I told her about Ben’s phone call and how Owen had upended the carton onto the kitchen floor.

“You recognized the handwriting, too?”

“Hannah and I were putting the programs together for the festival a couple of days ago at the library. She has a very distinctive way of making her letters.”

Hope’s gaze darted momentarily to Marcus. “Do you know where your sister is?” she asked.

His hands were stuffed in his pockets. “I’m not sure. Probably at the theater.”

Hope set her coffee mug on the roof of Marcus’s car. “Show me what you found,” she said to me. She glanced at Marcus. “Probably better if you wait here.”

He nodded. “All right.”

I led her around to the back door. She was wearing black ankle boots a lot like the pair I owned. Their chunky heels put her height closer to mine.

Hercules was sitting by the porch door.

“Nice cat,” Hope said.

“This is Hercules,” I said. “Owen is . . . somewhere.”

I took Hope into the kitchen. She pulled on a pair of gloves before she picked up the sheet of paper.

“You’re sure this is Hugh Davis’s handwriting?” she asked.

I nodded and pointed at the pile of notes. “Those are all his notes. It’s the same writing.”

She gave me a long, appraising look. “Kathleen, rumor has it that you and Detective Gordon are . . . involved.”

She was clearly out of the loop.

“Not anymore,” I said.

She searched my face and I wondered what she was looking for. “I don’t know how things are between the two of you—” She held up a hand. “None of my business—but I can see you care about him, so are you absolutely sure that clipping was attached to those notes?”

I swallowed and pulled a hand across the back of my neck. “Yes,” I said.

She took out her cell phone, glanced at the screen and put it back in her jacket pocket. “I’m going to take all of this,” she said. “I’ll notify Mr. Saroyan.”

I took a step forward to start putting all the papers back in the boxes and then stopped, realizing that she wasn’t going to want me to do that. I folded my arms across my chest.

“Kathleen, you seem to have a knack for getting involved in police business,” Hope said. “If you come across anything—anything else—that has to do with this case, you call me.” She fished a business card out of her pants pocket and handed it to me.

I thought about telling her that I was fairly certain Hannah had been near the marina the previous evening. And that there was a good chance that Hugh and Abigail had known each other.
Fairly certain and a good chance aren’t one hundred percent certain,
I told myself.

I nodded. “I will,” I said.
Just not right now,
I added silently.

Hope quickly gathered up all the papers and packed them into the two boxes. She stacked one on top of the other and picked them both up.

“I’ll get the door,” I said. I followed her back to the driveway. Marcus was leaning against the driver’s-side fender of his car. He straightened up when he saw us.

“I’ll see you at the station,” Hope said to him. She glanced at me. “Thank you, Kathleen.” She took the boxes and put them on the backseat of her car.

Neither Marcus nor I said anything until she’d pulled into the street and started down the hill.

“I better go,” he said then.

I took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll . . . see you around.”

He nodded.

As I turned to go, he suddenly caught my hand and gave it a squeeze. “Thanks, Kathleen,” he said softly.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

Hercules was on the bench in the porch. I gathered the mugs and went into the kitchen. He followed. “Merow?” he said.

It seemed to me there was a question in the sound.

“That was Detective Lind,” I said as I put the mugs in the sink and ran some water to wash them.

He tipped his black-and-white head to one side and gave me a quizzical look. Either he wanted to know if there were any more stinky crackers or he was wondering why he hadn’t seen Hope Lind before. I decided to go with the latter.

“She’s been away finishing her degree.”

He murped and sat down beside me while I washed the cups and dried all the dishes.

I thought about what I would do if I were in Marcus’s place, if Sara or Ethan had a connection to a murder. I wouldn’t be able to do nothing.

I glanced down at the cat. “Marcus is going to try to talk to Hannah before anyone else does.”

Hercules made a noncommittal sound.

“It’s not really any of my business,” I said.

No response. I wasn’t sure if that meant that he agreed or disagreed. It probably meant he wasn’t even listening.

“Marcus won’t be allowed to stay on the case, not as long as Hannah’s connected to it in any way. And she is connected. I’m going to have to tell Detective Lind about Andrew seeing Marcus’s car. I should have told her already.” I was twisting the dish towel so tightly in my hands that the skin was stretched white over my knuckles.

Marcus wouldn’t just step away from an investigation, especially one his sister was mixed up in. The first moment I’d seen them together I’d realized how close they were, even though he’d never talked about her to me.

“He’s not going to back off,” I said. I could feel Hercules’s unblinking gaze before I looked down to see him staring up at me. I did see the irony of what I was saying. How many times had Marcus told me to stay out of one of his cases? Now I was the one who thought he should stay out of things.

“It’s not the same thing.”

Hercules made little muttering sounds and stared up at the ceiling.

“How can I just do nothing?” I said.

The last time I’d said those words—just a couple of weeks ago—things hadn’t ended so well. But this really was different; at least that’s what I told myself.

“Marcus and I are friends. I don’t want him to do something that might put his job at risk. I’d do the same thing for Maggie or Roma.”

The cat made a noise that could best be described as a snort. I ignored it. I grabbed my purse and started for the door with the cat on my heels. There was no point in trying to make him stay in the house. He would just walk through the door.

I found a place to park on one of the side streets that ran up the hill from Eric’s. I wasn’t certain that was where Hannah was, but I knew it was a pretty good guess. “I won’t be very long,” I told Hercules, who had ridden shotgun down the hill, his green eyes seemingly watching the street all the way. “Then we’ll go home and have some sardines.”

He walked across the bench seat to the driver’s door and pawed the air near my jacket pocket. I narrowed my eyes at him. “How did you know there were crackers in that pocket?” I asked, pulling out the bag.

He wrinkled his nose at me. He would have been able to smell those crackers if they’d been in a lead-lined bag.

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
13.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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