Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery (17 page)

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
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Hannah glanced at me and I hoped the look I gave her seemed supportive.

“I was getting drunk,” she said flatly.

I don’t know what I’d been expecting, but that wasn’t it. On the other hand, I did believe her.

Marcus closed his eyes for a moment. “You don’t drink,” he said when he opened them again.

She swallowed and fiddled with the strap of her tote bag. “I do a lot of things you think I don’t do. Don’t worry. I didn’t drive.” She pressed her lips together. “I’m not the perfect person everyone always expects me to be, but I wouldn’t do that.”

She turned to me then, laying a hand on my shoulder. “Thanks, Kathleen, for the drive and . . . everything.” She looked from me to Marcus and shook her head. “Sometimes you miss what’s right in front of you, big brother.” Then she disappeared around the side of the house.

I waited until Hannah had disappeared around the side of the house, and then I turned to Marcus. “I believe her,” I said.

“So do I,” he said. “Whatever you said to her, thank you.”

He was standing so close to me I could smell his aftershave mixed with the loamy smell of earth and plants. “All I said was I would have done the same thing if I thought Sara or Ethan were connected to a murder.”

He smiled. “Feels good for us to look at something the same way. Different, but good.”

I wanted to reach up and smooth the hair back off his forehead. No, I was kidding myself. I wanted to grab the front of his sweatshirt, pull his face down to my level and kiss him just the way he’d kissed me the last time we’d stood in his driveway next to my truck. I didn’t, of course. I was good at imagining those kinds of scenarios, but I was just too practical to carry them out. Or maybe too chicken.

“You’re right—it does,” I said. I put a hand on the side of the truck to remind myself I was in the real world and not some fantasy. “I should get going.”

He nodded. “Thanks, Kathleen, for driving Hannah home and for talking to her and for . . . just . . . thanks.”

I couldn’t seem to stop looking into those gorgeous blue eyes. “I’ll, uh, see you,” I said. I walked around the truck, got in and backed carefully down the driveway. He stayed where he was, watching me, and even when I was out of sight around the curve in the road, I could still feel his eyes on me.

I was almost home before I started to weigh Hannah’s words. She’d said she’d gotten drunk. I believed her. The way she’d said the words, her tone, her body language—everything told me she was telling the truth, not acting. But the fact was that Maggie had seen Hannah not long after Andrew and I found Hugh Davis’s body. And Andrew had seen her drive by the marina.

So she got drunk a little later that Friday night. What had happened earlier that made her want to?

18

T
here was no sign of either cat when I got home. I kicked off my shoes, hung up my sweater and set the bag Rebecca had given me on the counter. Inside I found the promised loaf of her cinnamon raisin bread, a round loaf of honey sunflower and a dozen blueberry muffins. There was also a tiny brown paper bag from the Grainery that I knew had to hold a catnip Fred the Funky Chicken for Owen. And there was a tiny cardboard box from the same store. By the process of elimination it had to be for Hercules. I wondered what was inside.

I put a piece of bread in the toaster and a cup of milk in the microwave. Usually the sound of the toaster would make both cats show up, and after a moment Owen’s gray tabby head peered around the living room doorway.

“What were you doing?” I asked, getting the peanut butter and the cocoa mix out of the cupboard.

He gave an offhand meow, cat for “Not much.”

Hercules’s black-and-white face looked around the opposite side of the door to the living room.

“And how was your night?”

He made a motion that kind of looked like a shrug.

“I saw Rebecca at tai chi,” I said as the microwave beeped. I held up the two loaves of bread. “She brought me some bread.” I saw the two of them exchange glances at Rebecca’s name.

Owen crossed the floor, sat down in front of me and meowed, cocking his head to one side. I knew what he was asking.

“Yes, she sent something for you,” I said. “She spoils you.”

He blinked a couple of times as though he couldn’t understand what I’d said.

I opened the top of the little paper bag and set it on the floor. Owen sniffed cautiously and then a blissful expression spread across his face. He poked a paw inside the bag and batted out a neon yellow Fred the Funky Chicken. For a moment he just inhaled the scent of catnip, a lot like the way Maggie did when I took a pan of brownies out of the oven. Then he picked up the toy and retreated under the table with it.

Hercules had watched the whole thing from the doorway. “Come over here,” I said. “Rebecca sent something for you, too.”

His green eyes immediately darted to his brother, who was already sprawled on the floor, chewing happily on the chicken.

“No, it’s not a catnip chicken,” I said.

The toaster popped then. I held up a finger. “Give me a minute,” I said. I put peanut butter on the bread and cocoa mix in my milk and set everything on the table. Then I grabbed the little cardboard box.

I crouched down next to Hercules. He looked at the box and then looked at me.

“I have no idea,” I said.

I took off the lid. Inside was a tiny stuffed purple mouse. There was a tag attached to its tail.
Shake for thirty seconds. Set on flat surface and press down on mouse.

“Let’s try it,” I said. I picked up the mouse and shook it, counting to thirty slowly. Then I set it on the floor in front of the cat and pressed down on its purple back. When I took my hand away the mouse began to skitter around in a circle.

Hercules watched it for a moment. Then his paw darted out and landed on top of the mouse. When he lifted it again the mouse ran in the other direction. He caught it a second time. This time when he took his paw away the little purple critter went in a figure eight and when the cat tried to stop it he missed.

He leaned forward, watching intently. He didn’t miss twice. He looked up at me and I swear I could see satisfaction gleaming in his eyes. I had no idea how the mechanism in the little mouse worked, but it was obviously a hit with Hercules.

I pulled out a chair and sat down, propping my feet on the seat of the chair opposite mine. While I ate I told the cats what had happened at Marcus’s place. Neither one of them seemed to be paying attention, but it helped me to sort things out if I said them out loud. Except it didn’t seem to be helping this time.

After a few minutes the purple mouse ran out of steam and stopped with a little whizzing sound. Hercules poked it a couple of times and when he decided it wasn’t going to move, he took a few steps toward the counter, looked up and meowed.

“What? Do you want a cracker?” I asked. He looked at me over his shoulder and then turned back to the counter.

I got to my feet. The magazine page that Hercules had appropriated from the box Hugh Davis had hidden at the library was still lying there. I picked it up and Herc meowed again. Was he really trying to tell me it was connected to the director’s death?

I smoothed out the wrinkles in the paper. It wouldn’t hurt to get my laptop and look for the original article. The magazine’s name and the date of publication were on the top of the page.

I put my computer on the table and as soon as I sat back down Hercules jumped onto my lap. “So you’re helping?” I said.

He put one paw on the edge of the keyboard. He was definitely helping. I glanced under the table. Owen was stretched out on his side, eyes half closed, chewing on Fred the Funky Chicken with a loopy look on his face.

A quick search and I found the issue of the magazine online. The article was the grand-prize winner in a contest called Share the Change, Be the Change, sponsored by a soft-drink company. It was about a program for teen alcoholics, written by a young woman the program had helped.

I was hooked at the first sentence. The language was raw and compelling and when I got to the end I wanted to jump up and cheer for the teenager I didn’t even know.

“Wow,” I said to Hercules. He meowed softly in agreement. Then he batted a paw at the keyboard, clicking on a link to another article.

“Paws off the keys, fur ball,” I said. He was staring at the screen almost as though he was reading and ignored me.

I glanced at the link he’d taken us to and about halfway down the page I saw Hannah’s name. I looked at Hercules. “How did you do that?” He was still intent on the screen. I didn’t even get a whisker twitch.

This article was about the stage play, inspired by the article that had won the grand prize. The stage play Hannah was up for a role in and Hugh had wanted to direct. But Hannah had a closer connection than that. She was a volunteer with the program. She’d been the one to urge the teenage writer to put her story down on paper and enter the contest.

I leaned against the chair back and curled one arm around Hercules. He turned his head to look at me. “This means something,” I said. “I just don’t know what.”

He made a face, wrinkling up his nose. I wondered what he knew that I didn’t.

• • •

I was up early the next morning. I scrubbed the bathroom, vacuumed up the cat hair and started a pot of split pea soup with ham in the slow cooker. Then I walked around the house, trailed by Owen, and wondering what it would look like to my mother. It was home, I realized, just as much as Boston was. Maggie, Roma, Rebecca, the Taylors, Susan and Eric—they were my family, too. I wasn’t exactly sure what Marcus was.

I looked at the picture my mom had sent to me just a couple of weeks ago. I’d hung it behind the big chair in the living room. It was a drawing of a tiny cottage, with two cats sitting on the front steps and the caption “Home is anywhere you are.” I got a lump in my throat looking at it. It was Mom’s way of saying she would support whatever choice I made. I knew that it had to be hard for her not to tell me to come back to Boston.

“As long as you’re happy, I’ll be happy, Katydid,” she’d said to me more than once on the phone.

I scooped Owen up in my arms. “Why does it have to be so complicated?” I asked.

He licked my chin. If he had an answer, he wasn’t sharing it.

I’d calculated that it would be late afternoon before Ben got back from the airport in Minneapolis with Mom. Still, I couldn’t seem to stop looking at the clock as the arrival time for her flight came and passed. I pictured her walking to baggage claim, finding Ben, heading to the car. Did Ben drive the speed limit? Go faster? Or slower?

I passed the checkout desk and Mary called my name. “Kathleen, go upstairs and make some coffee,” she said. “Everything’s fine down here.”

I shook my head. “Thanks, Mary, but I don’t really feel like a cup right now.”

She put her hands on her hips and frowned at me. “Well, I do. You’re making me crazy walking in circles, not to mention you’re going to wear out all those little tiles Vincent Gallo and his boys worked so hard to replace.”

I rubbed the space between my eyes with two fingers. “I’m sorry. I feel as if time has somehow slowed down today.”

“‘We are time’s subjects,’” a voice said behind me.

I turned around to see my mother standing just inside the door, smiling at me. She was the only person I knew who could quote a line or two from Shakespeare in the middle of a conversation and not sound pretentious.

“‘And time bids begone,’” I said, grinning back at her. I didn’t give her a chance to quote anything else from
Henry IV
, though. I crossed the few feet between us and threw my arms around her. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

She smelled like lavender and she didn’t look like she’d spent close to four hours on a plane and more than another hour in a car. She was wearing black trousers, a soft cloud gray sweater with a wide, flat collar and heels. Her silver hair was a bit shorter, chin length. If anything, it made her look younger.

“I’m so glad I’m here, too,” she said. She pulled out of the hug, kept her arm around my shoulders and looked around. “Oh, sweetie, this is even better than the photos.”

She caught sight of Mary then and smiled. “You must be Mary,” she said, walking over to the desk and offering her hand. “I’m Thea Paulson.”

They shook hands, Mary smiling back. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “We’ve heard a lot about you.”

“All of it good, of course,” Mom said, a sly look in her eye.

Susan was coming from the stacks with an empty book cart. Mary made the introductions. I heard my mother ask a question about the building and I knew that within five minutes she’d have its history and a fair amount of Mary’s and Susan’s as well.

I turned to Ben. “Thank you for picking her up.”

He shook his head. “The pleasure was truly mine. I can’t tell you how glad I am she agreed to come.”

“Me too,” I said.

Abigail breezed through the door then.

“Hi,” I said. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to fill in for you so you can take your mom home.” She held up a hand. “Don’t even think about arguing with me.”

I held out both hands. “Okay, I won’t.”

I introduced Abigail to Mom and she was immediately pulled into the conversation with Susan and Mary. I’d given Ben my keys so he could put Mom’s suitcase in the truck. “I’m just going up to my office to get my things,” I said.

“Could I see your office before we go?” she asked.

“Of course,” Susan said. She had a pink plastic cocktail fork stuck in her updo. I was never quite sure if the odd things she used to secure her hair were her way of thumbing her nose at convention or if she really did just grab the first thing she saw on any given morning.

“Kathleen has a beautiful view of the water and of course the gazebo that’s at the back,” Mary said.

“You have a gazebo?” Mom said.

Abigail nodded. “One of the performances is going to take place out there.”

Mom’s eyes lit up. “What a wonderful idea! I love performing outside. John and I did Bard in the Park last year. How big is this gazebo?”

“It’s about, what, twelve feet across?” Abigail looked at Mary for confirmation.

“Fifteen,” I said.

“Small, but not impossible to use as a stage,” my mother said. “Could I take a peek at it?”

Susan nodded. “Like Mary said, you can see the gazebo from Kathleen’s office.”

“Splendid,” Mom said. “Let’s go take a look.”

They all moved toward the stairs.

I cleared my throat. “Someone has to stay at the desk,” I said.

Mary shook her head. “I’ll stay.” She leaned forward and smiled at Mom. “It was wonderful to finally meet you, Thea.”

“You too, Mary,” Mom said, reaching out to squeeze her hand. “As soon as I get my schedule sorted out I’ll call you and we’ll have tea.”

“Looking forward to that,” Mary said. She brushed past me on her way to the checkout desk. “I like her,” she said softly as she went by.

Susan and Abigail gave Mom a quick tour of the second level and showed her the gazebo from my office window. I gathered my briefcase and jacket and only managed to steal her away from them by promising to bring her back the first time she was free.

“I like your library and I like your staff,” she said as she settled on the passenger side of the truck. Her carry-on was at her feet and her suitcase was in the bed of the truck, covered with a tarp because it was spitting rain.

“You cut your hair,” I said as we drove up the hill.

“What do you think? It was the executive producer’s idea.”

“I like it.”

“I’m supposed to look rich and ruthless,” she said with a laugh. “When I e-mailed your father a photo, he said I looked like Helen Mirren.”

I shot her another quick look. She actually did look a bit like the British actress. They had the same hair now and the same beautiful posture. “Maybe a little,” I said.

She brushed a bit of lint off her sweater. I hoped it wasn’t cat hair. “He’s just trying to charm me into doing a British accent. He’s always thought a British accent is sexy.”

I shook my head. “Way, way more information than I need to have.”

She laughed and the sound filled the truck.

I smiled at her. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me too, Katydid,” she said.

Owen and Hercules were waiting for us in the kitchen. Mom walked over to them, stopping a couple of feet in front of them. “Hello,” she said. Both cats eyed her, whiskers twitching.

“Merow,” Owen finally said.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, too,” Mom said. “You’re even more handsome than your pictures.”

Owen knew what the word “handsome” meant. He did his I’m-so-modest head dip, watching her with one golden eye.

“And, Hercules, you look like you put on your best tuxedo to welcome me. Very dashing.”

Hercules wasn’t immune to compliments, either. He sat up a little straighter and gave Mom a look of kitty affection.

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
9.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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