Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery (12 page)

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
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She frowned. “You mean going the wrong way on Jefferson? Yes, I’m sure. It wasn’t Marcus, if that’s what you were wondering.”

“Okay, thanks,” I said.

Maggie continued to study my face, her eyes narrowed with curiosity. “Why do you ask?”

I played with the knotted fringe on one of the pillows. “It’s complicated.”

“It has something to do with Marcus, doesn’t it?”

I nodded. “I’ll tell you about it—I promise. I need to figure a couple of things out first.”

“Okay,” she said. “If you need someone who isn’t furry and four-legged to bounce anything off of, I’m here.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Roma came back over to us.

“How’s your patient?” Maggie asked.

“Alive and barking,” she said with a grin, wiggling her eyebrows at us.

Maggie threw her head back and groaned. I patted the sofa cushion beside me. “Now that you’ve dazzled us with your wit, dazzle us with your ideas for Wisteria Hill.”

We spent the next hour talking about the work Roma had planned for the old farmhouse and the grounds. It was impossible not to get caught up in her enthusiasm.

Finally she looked at her watch. “It’s getting late, and as much as I like you two, I’m tired.” She stretched. “I have to drive to Minneapolis to consult on a surgery with a guy I went to veterinary school with and it’s my morning to feed the cats.”

“Couldn’t whoever you’re on the schedule with go without you for one morning?” Maggie asked.

Roma shook her head. “I’m on the schedule with Harry and he’s still out of town.”

“Roma, I’ll go,” I said. “I have food and a couple of water jugs at home.”

“Are you sure?” she said. “It really would help if I didn’t have to go out there first thing.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

She leaned over to hug me. “Thanks,” she said.

Maggie had half of the second pizza wrapped up for Roma to take with her and I gave her half of the remaining brownies. “I’ll talk to you both soon,” she said before she disappeared down the stairs.

I stretched my arms up over my head. “I should go, too,” I said to Maggie. “But I’ll help you clean up first.”

She shook her head. “No, you won’t. All I have to do is put the rest of the dishes in the dishwasher. Don’t forget your pizza.”

“There’s no chance of that happening,” I said. “That’s lunch tomorrow.”

“Not breakfast?” Maggie teased as I pulled on my long blue sweater.

“I’m having breakfast with Andrew.”

Her eyebrows went up, but she didn’t say anything.

“You had breakfast with him,” I said.

“He’s not trying to woo me away to Boston with him,” she said. “At least as far as I know.”

I smiled at her. “He can woo all he wants. We’re not getting back together.”

“Does he know that?”

“I’ve told him enough times in the last week,” I said, taking the container of pizza she handed me.

“As long as you don’t tell him you’ll go back to Boston,” she said.

I hugged her. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

“Seems to me you can’t get rid of Marcus that easily, either,” she said, smiling at me. “Maybe the universe is trying to tell you something.”

I thought about that as I drove home.
If the universe is trying to send me a message about Marcus, what the heck is it?

13

E
arly Sunday morning, I was bouncing my way up the rutted driveway at Wisteria Hill just as the sun was coming over the horizon. It felt strange to be feeding the cats without Marcus along.

I carried the two water jugs around to the side door of the carriage house and then walked back to the truck to get the clean dishes and the day’s supply of cat food. Roma had a new wet food that the cats seemed to like a lot. Luckily it came in flip-top cans.

I slammed the truck door with my hip and as I turned around I heard the sound of tires crunching their way up the driveway. It occurred to me that I was all alone, it was early in the morning, and if I screamed only the cats would hear me.

I tightened up on the handle of the canvas tote bag that held the cans of cat food. If I didn’t know the person easing up the driveway, I’d swing the bag like I was a contestant in a Scottish hammer throw and ask questions later.

The car came around the turn at the top of the driveway and my stomach flip-flopped. It was Marcus. I realized I was smiling and I couldn’t seem to make my face stop even though I tried.

He got out of the SUV and I noticed that while he looked surprised he was smiling, too. “What are you doing here?” he said.

I held out the bag with the cat food. “I came to feed the cats. Roma has to go—”

“—to Minneapolis,” he finished. He reached into the SUV and pulled out a similar bag of cat food. His blue eyes narrowed. “I suspect a setup.”

“Pretty hard to fool you,” I said.

“I am a professional detective,” he said with mock seriousness.

I walked over to him. “You don’t have to stay.”

“Would it bother you if I did?” he asked.

Nothing had changed since the previous day, but all I could think about was those gorgeous blue eyes, how strong his hands were, and how warm his mouth had been the first and only time he’d kissed me.

Okay—bad idea to think about those things. I tried to make myself remember all the disagreements we’d had, how he’d accused me of not believing in him, how we had different ideas about loyalty and what it meant to be a friend. The problem was I kept getting distracted by his incredibly strong, broad shoulders and the way a lock of his dark hair fell onto his forehead.

“It wouldn’t bother me,” I said. It wasn’t what I’d intended to say.

For a long moment Marcus just stared at me. Then he gave his head a little shake. “Did you bring water?”

“I put the jugs by the door.”

He took the canvas bag of food from my hand and we started walking toward the old carriage house. “Thank you for yesterday,” he said. He looked out over the trees. “For calling Brady Chapman and caring about Hannah . . . and me.”

I waited for a moment before I said anything, trying to find the right words. “I don’t think Hannah killed Hugh Davis,” I said.

“She didn’t.”

“But she’s not telling the truth, either. Not about where she was, probably not about that newspaper clipping. Which means she lied to the police.”

We were by the side door of the building. Marcus exhaled slowly and looked at me. “I know,” he said.

I set the bag of dishes on my feet. “You know?”

He swiped a hand over his face. “When Hannah was six she left her lunch box at the bus stop. It was the third one she’d lost in a month. She knew Dad would be mad, so she said it was stolen by a bear who mistook it for a picnic basket.”

“Pretty creative,” I said.

“Exactly. Too creative. There was a whole story about how the bear had eaten her orange slices and pita bread and unscrewed her thermos with his teeth so he could get at the tomato soup inside. Way too much detail. Just like her story about that newspaper clipping.”

I ran my hand over the weathered wood of the side door to the old building. “There’s something else I need to tell you,” I said.

“What is it?” he said.

“Remember the water main break Friday night? The traffic was being detoured up and around that whole block.”

He nodded.

“The sidewalk was closed as well, so Maggie had to walk from the store over to River Arts. She cut along Jefferson Street.”

“And?”

“And she saw Hannah. In fact she was going the wrong way on the street. That’s why Maggie noticed her. When she first saw the SUV she thought it was you.”

He took a slow, deep breath and let it out. “Driving the wrong way on a one-way street doesn’t prove anything,” he said.

I put a hand on his arm. “I know that,” I said. “But it does prove that she wasn’t in Red Wing the way she says she was. She didn’t just lie to you; she lied to the police and she lied to her own lawyer. She’s hiding something.”

He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “I’ll talk to her again.” He frowned. “I could fix this if I just knew what the heck was going on.”

Fix this?

I swallowed, trying to come up with the right words, words that wouldn’t get under his skin. “I think it’s a good idea to talk to Hannah, Marcus, but otherwise you need to stay out of this. Just . . . just tell her to be straight with Brady Chapman and then back off.”

He looked at me as if I’d suggested he run naked along the Riverwalk. “Kathleen, she’s my sister and she’s somehow tied up in a murder. I’m not going to ‘back off.’”

We’d had this conversation before, too. Only it had always been Marcus warning me to stay out of his investigation and me trying to make him understand that I couldn’t do nothing when someone I cared about was caught up in one of his cases.

He’d obviously had the same thought. He reached out as though he was going to touch me and then pulled his hand back. “I get it,” he said quietly. “I get why you always tell me you can’t help getting involved when it’s someone you care about.”

I shrugged. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I understand why you keep telling me to stay out of your cases.”

He laughed, but there wasn’t a lot of humor in the sound. “This is odd.”

I laughed, too. “I guess it is.” He pulled a hand back through his hair. He did that a lot when he had something on his mind.

I reached out and gave his arm a squeeze. “How about you just say all the things that you’d ordinarily say to me to yourself and save me a step.”

He covered my hand with his own. “I’m sorry I was so rigid.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I understand a lot better why you were trying to get me to stay out of your cases. I’m sorry that I didn’t try harder to see things from your side.”

We were only inches apart and there was an energy between us that I was certain I’d be able to feel if I just put my hand up. Then Marcus suddenly moved his own hand and took a step back.

“We should feed the cats,” he said.

“Right. We should do that.” I took a step backward as well, and almost fell over one of the water jugs.

“I’ll get that,” Marcus said, reaching for the plastic container at the same time I did.

We almost bumped heads. He smelled like citrus aftershave and Juicy Fruit gum. I wondered what he’d do if I leaned in a little more and kissed him. I wasn’t sure enough of the answer to try it.

“Sorry,” I said. I pulled back and straightened up. It had suddenly gotten very warm.

Marcus picked up the jugs and pushed open the heavy wooden door. We stepped into the carriage house. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light.

I did what I always did first: check out the space. There was no sign of any of the cats and no sign that anything was amiss. We put out the food and water and retreated to the back of the building by the door to wait. I leaned against the wall, arms folded over my chest. Marcus stood behind me, hands stuffed in his pockets.

After a couple of minutes I heard a sound and saw movement in the far corner at the other end of the space. “Lucy,” I whispered to Marcus.

The little calico cat came out cautiously, sniffing the air. She looked in our direction, tipping her head to one side.

“Hey, Lucy,” I said in a quiet voice.

The cat and I had some kind of connection I couldn’t explain. Roma said it was because Lucy was a Wisteria Hill cat just the way Hercules and Owen were. She believed Lucy trusted me for some unknown reason, just the way Owen and Hercules had done the first day I’d come across them up here as tiny, tiny kittens.

I wasn’t sure. I sometimes wondered if Lucy, too, like the boys, had some kind of superpower and that was why we connected.

The little calico turned and came toward us. She stopped maybe ten feet away and meowed at us. Then she moved toward the feeding station.

“You’re welcome,” I called softly after her.

In another moment the rest of the feral cat colony came out to eat. Marcus put his hand on the wide wooden boards and leaned against the wall behind me. Suddenly it got very warm again.

We both checked each cat for any signs that it wasn’t healthy.

“They all look good,” he whispered under his breath.

After all the cats had eaten—and in Lucy’s case, washed paws and face—they wandered back to their shelters. Marcus and I cleaned up the feeding station and put out more fresh water. We gathered the empty water jugs and everything else and went back outside. When we came around the side of the carriage house I stopped.

“Did you forget something?” Marcus asked.

I shook my head and scanned the overgrown area to the left of the old building. “Roma’s seen another cat out here. I’m going to hang around for a few minutes and put some food and water over by the tree and see if maybe it’ll come out for something to eat.”

“Okay,” he said. There was one clean bowl in the bag and he fished it out. “This’ll do for water. What are you going to put the food in?”

I’d forgotten to put an extra dish in the bag.

“I guess I’ll just use the bag,” I said. “You don’t have to stay.”

“I know,” he said. He set the jugs down and managed to jam the empty cans of cat food into the bag with the used dishes. Then he crouched and folded the plastic more or less into a rectangle.

I opened the can of food I’d held back and dumped it in the middle of the makeshift plate. There were a couple of inches of water in the bottom of one of the jugs. Marcus used it to fill the bowl. He handed it to me and carefully picked up the sides of the folded plastic.

“Where do you want this?” he asked, getting to his feet.

“Just on the other side of the tree, I think.”

We put the food and water on a flat worn-down patch of grass and moved all the way back to the steps by the side door of the old farmhouse. I sat on the top step and Marcus sat beside me, leaning forward with his hands between his knees.

“What does the cat look like?” he asked, keeping his voice low.

“A bit like Owen, only ginger instead of gray,” I said, scanning the high grass and tangle of wild rosebushes for any sign of movement that might signal the little cat was nearby. “Roma calls him Micah.”

“Did she put out the cage?”

I shook my head and pushed my bangs off my face. The cage was a humane trap that we used if we had to collect a cat to take it down to Roma’s clinic for medical care. They all reacted with fury to being trapped. “Roma was afraid she’d end up catching Lucy or one of the others. She’s been trying to figure out some other way to get this one.”

Over time all the cats in the colony had been captured and neutered, then brought back out and released. Unlike Owen and Hercules, they were never going to be anyone’s pet. In fact Roma believed the boys had probably been abandoned shortly before I found them and had never actually been feral.

Marcus leaned sideways and nudged me with his shoulder. “Look. Right there.” He pointed to a tangle of grass. I leaned forward and caught a slight waving of the tall blades.

Neither one of us moved. The grass fluttered again, almost as though it were the wind slipping around the tree, and then I saw the cat. Micah was tiny, the same color as the marmalade Rebecca had made last Christmas. He came forward slowly, looking around cautiously, whiskers twitching at the scent of the food.

He saw us and paused, one paw about an inch off the ground. I thought he would run, but after a long moment he started toward the base of the tree. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.

The cat ate quickly, looking around after every couple of bites. Marcus and I stayed immobile, like a couple of stone statues on the steps, his arm still against mine. After the cat had eaten, it darted back to the cover of the long grass. I waited another minute before getting up to retrieve the dishes. The food and the water were all gone.

“We have to find a way to get her to eat with the others,” Marcus said as we walked to my truck.

“I don’t think that’ll happen,” I said, unlocking the door and setting the bags on the floor on the passenger side. I turned around to look at him. “Wait a minute. You said ‘her.’”

He smiled. “Uh-huh. The cat’s a she.”

I brushed my hands on my jeans. “No. Roma said Micah is a he. She is a vet.”

He leaned against the truck’s door. “Well, I think I know boy parts when I see them, or when I don’t, and Micah is definitely a she.”

He glanced down at his watch. “When are you on the schedule again?”

I tried to picture the list on the front of the refrigerator. “Wednesday,” I said. “With Thorston, I think. I’m taking some of Harry Junior’s shifts.”

He nodded. “I’ll check and trade with whoever it is.”

“Why?” I said, pulling my keys from my pocket.

He gave a half shrug. “Because I know you’re going to hang around after and try to feed that cat again. You can’t be up here by yourself. You can’t even tell a boy cat from a girl cat.” He smiled.

“Okay . . . umm, I’ll see you Wednesday morning.” I hesitated. “Good luck with Hannah. Don’t—”

“—do anything stupid.”

I smiled. “I was going to say don’t do anything I’d do, but I guess that’s the same thing.”

“Would you tell your friend Andrew to get in touch with Detective Lind and tell her what he saw?”

I studied his face. “Are you sure?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“I will.”

He opened his mouth and then closed it.

“What?” I said. “You were going to say something. What was it?”

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
13.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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