Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery (2 page)

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
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t was An

Andrew, who was part of the reason I’d ended up in Mayville Heights, Minnesota. Andrew, who I’d once thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with in Boston, until we had a fight and he went off on a fishing trip with his friends and came home married to a waitress from a fifties-themed diner.

“What—what are you doing here?” I stammered.

“I came to see you,” he said. He gave me that smile my friend Lise back in Boston always said would melt the elastic in your underpants.

“I don’t understand.” I’d been living in Mayville Heights for a year and a half. Why was he here now? “What do you want?” My hair was coming out of its ponytail. I pulled off the elastic and shook it loose.

He shrugged. “I want you.”

“I’m serious, Andrew.” It was late and I was exhausted. I didn’t want to play word games.

“So am I.” He gestured at my arm. “What happened?”

Hercules had stopped hissing, but both cats had moved in front of me so Andrew couldn’t get any closer without tripping over them.

“It’s not a big deal. I wrenched my shoulder. The sling is just to keep me from using it for a day or two.”

Andrew was studying me, his green eyes serious. I wondered what he was thinking. My hair was longer, and I was a little thinner because I walked so much. I probably looked rumpled and sweaty and tired. That was certainly how I felt. He looked good. His sandy hair was a bit shorter than the last time I’d seen him, but he still had the same broad shoulders, strong arms and, of course, that smile.

“So you’re all right?”

I nodded. “I’m fine. Andrew, what are you doing here?”

I’d spoken to him exactly one time since I came to Mayville Heights, and then only because I’d needed his help when it looked as though Maggie might be a suspect in a murder investigation—another one of Marcus’s cases.

I suddenly remembered the rocking chair. It was still sitting in front of the back steps. “Was that here when you got here?” I asked before Andrew could answer my first question.

He nodded. “It’s a nice piece. Where did you get it?”

Marcus had done a beautiful job. The seat and the back of the rocker had been reupholstered with what looked to be black leather, and I was guessing the finish on the wood was walnut. “A friend of mine was clearing out an old house,” I said.

Hercules seemed to decide then that he was tired of all the talking. He stalked around Andrew, climbed the steps and meowed loudly at the porch door. The end of his tail was twitching, a sure sign that he was annoyed. At least he hadn’t done what he usually did—walk directly through the heavy wooden door.

“Are the cats yours?”

I nodded and pointed from one to the other. “The gray tabby is Owen and that’s Hercules at the door.”

Owen made a low murp at the sound of his name. He was still watching Andrew, and his whiskers were twitching, which meant he was still deciding whether this was someone to like or someone who should get the kitty cold shoulder.

“Andrew, it’s late—” I began.

“Come home,” he blurted.

I looked around. “I am home.”

“I mean come home to Boston. With me. Give us another chance. You wanted to know why I’m here? That’s why.”

Why now, of all nights, did he have to show up at my door? Why couldn’t it have been any of the other five-hundred-plus nights since I’d left Boston?

“There is no ‘us,’” I said, exhaling softly. “And I have a life here. I have friends. I have a job.”

“There’s a life waiting for you back in Boston. And friends. And your family.” He swiped a hand over his chin.

I knew that at this time of night it would be covered with red-gold stubble that would scrape my cheek if I laid my face against his. Why on earth had I remembered that?

I rubbed my left arm with my free hand. At my feet Owen meowed softly.

“You’re tired, Kathleen,” Andrew said, his expression softening. He reached a hand toward me and then pulled it back. “I’m going back to my hotel. I’ll pick you up for breakfast in the morning. We can talk then.”

“You’re wasting your time,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Owen still eyeing Andrew suspiciously.

Andrew shook his head. “No, I’m not. Anyway, would having breakfast with me really be so bad? It has to be better than trying to cook for yourself with only one hand.”

I had to admit that having one of Eric’s breakfast sandwiches did sound better than trying to make oatmeal and cut up fruit one-handed. “Okay,” I said. “Seven thirty?”

He nodded, then gestured at the rocking chair. “Unlock your door and I’ll put that inside for you.”

I hesitated. I couldn’t get the rocker into the porch one-handed, but I didn’t want to leave it outside all night.

“I’m not going to use it as an excuse to stay, Kath.” He made an X on his chest with his index finger. “I promise.”

As long as I’d known Andrew he’d made that gesture to show he was serious about something. After I left Boston I would feel my chest tighten if I saw someone else do it. He wasn’t a bad guy.

“All right. Thank you,” I said.

Hercules narrowed his eyes at me as I unlocked the door. I snapped on the porch light and he jumped up on the bench by the back door. Owen darted in around my legs, and Andrew brought up the rear with the rocking chair.

He set it down in the middle of the floor and pulled out a set of keys. The little red car I’d noticed parked on the street must be his. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he said. He leaned down as he passed me and kissed the top of my head, then was gone.

I sank onto the bench next to Hercules. He touched the sling with one paw and cocked his head to one side. “I’m okay,” I said in answer to the question I knew he was asking.

Owen launched himself onto my lap. He walked his paws up my chest, stuck his face close to mine and meowed.

“That was Andrew,” I said. “But you know that.”

Herc scraped his claws on my sling. When I looked at him again, he scrunched up his furry black-and-white face.

Andrew.” The cats exchanged a look. On occasion I got the feeling that they had some kind of telepathic communication going.

Owen and Hercules had heard more about my relationship with Andrew than either Maggie or Roma, who were my closest friends. I’d gotten into the habit of talking to the cats after I’d found them abandoned as kittens out at Wisteria Hill, the old Henderson estate that was now Roma’s new home. Talking to them helped me work things out in my own mind—at least that was what I told anyone who asked. I didn’t say that sometimes it seemed as though they were taking part in the conversation.

It wasn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. Herc and Owen weren’t exactly run-of-the-mill cats. Hercules had that walk-through-walls-and-doors ability, and Owen could disappear at will—and did—generally at the most inconvenient times possible.

I nudged Owen off my lap and got to my feet with a groan. “How about some sardine crackers and hot chocolate?” I asked.

Both cats murped their agreement. I ran my fingers over one arm of the rocking chair as I went past it. Owen darted past me into the kitchen, while Hercules jumped down from the bench and waited at the door. “I’m not giving up,” I said to him. “Remember what Yogi said.”

He immediately looked over at the picnic cooler on the floor next to the window bench.

“No, not the bear,” I said. “The baseball player.” I leaned over and scooped him up with my good arm. “Yogi said, ‘It’s not over till it’s over.’”

Hercules didn’t get it, but the words made me feel a little better.

• • •

It was about twenty after seven the next morning when I heard a knock at the back door. I was already on my second cup of coffee. “He’s early,” I said to the cats. Neither of them bothered to look up from his bowl or even so much as twitch an ear.

I went out to the porch and discovered it wasn’t Andrew at all. It was Abigail, who worked for me at the library.

“Kathleen, hi. I’m sorry to stop by so early but—” She stopped when she caught sight of the sling on my left arm. “What on earth happened to you? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “I twisted my shoulder. The sling is just to keep me from moving my arm for a couple of days. What’s going on?”

“Have you heard of the New Horizons Theatre Festival?”

I nodded. “It’s coming up in a couple of weeks over in Red Wing, isn’t it?”

“Not anymore.” She made a face. “There was a fire last evening at the theater there. Nobody was hurt and it looks as though the building can be repaired, but there’s an awful lot of smoke and water damage.”

“What are they going to do?”

“Move the whole thing here.”

I felt a cat wind around my ankles and glanced down to see Owen at my feet. “And you’re . . . ?”

“Part of the organizing committee that was pretty much thrown together late last night.” She smiled down at Owen, who leaned against my leg and seemed to smile back at her. “That’s why I’m here. How would you feel about using the new gazebo at the library as a temporary stage during the festival? There are half a dozen short plays on the schedule that we’re hoping can be presented somewhere other than the Stratton.”

The Stratton was the theater where Marcus and I had met when I discovered the body of conductor Gregor Easton. I gave my head a little shake. Thinking about Marcus wasn’t going to do me any good right now.

“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” I said. “But I should check with Everett and the board, to be certain. I’ll give Lita a call just as soon as I get to the library.”

Everett Henderson was the head of the library board. He’d funded the recent library renovations as a gift to the town and hired me as head librarian to supervise everything. Lita was his assistant. Not only was she the fastest way of getting in touch with Everett, but she would know whether the board would have any objections to Abigail’s plan. In fact, she’d know if
was likely to object. Lita seemed to be related, one way or another, to pretty much everyone in Mayville Heights.

“Thanks, Kathleen,” Abigail said. She gestured toward my arm. “You know, if you need me to come in today, I can.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I think I’ll be okay.” I raised my left arm in its sling. “But I’ll call you if I need a hand.”

Abigail shook her head and grinned.

“I’ll be in touch as soon as I talk to Everett,” I promised.

“Sounds good.” She started down the porch steps and almost ran into Andrew, who was peering at his cell phone as he came around the corner of the house. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, teetering on the bottom step.

He reached out a hand to steady her. “No, it’s my fault for not watching where I was going.” He smiled. “Hi, I’m Andrew.”

For a moment Abigail just stared at him. Then she remembered herself. “It’s, uh, nice to meet you. I’m Abigail.”

He could still make grown women get all flustered and discombobulated with just a smile. The fact that he was over six feet tall and all lean muscle in his plum-colored sweater and jeans didn’t hurt, either. And though he’d always claimed the smile was the result of four years of braces and had nothing to do with him, I knew he liked flashing that killer grin.

Abigail looked back over her shoulder at me, clearly curious, but all she said was, “I’ll talk to you later.” She flashed her own smile at Andrew. “Enjoy Mayville Heights,” she said, and then she went back down the path and around the side of the house.

Andrew took the porch stairs in two strides. “Good morning. How’s your arm?”

“Better,” I said. The pain had settled down to a slight ache in my shoulder.

He pointed to the little gray tabby, still sitting by my feet, clearly checking him out. “That’s Owen, right?”

“Merow,” Owen said, before I had a chance to answer.

“Hey, Owen.” Andrew leaned forward as though he was going to stroke the cat’s fur.

“Don’t do that,” I said, putting out my right hand to stop him.

His eyes narrowed in confusion. “Why?”

Owen continued to sit in the same spot, the picture of kitty sweetness with his head tipped to one side, no hint of the whirling dervish he would turn into if Andrew tried to pet him.

“He’s feral—at least he was. Hercules, too. I found them both when they were kittens, at an old estate just outside of town. They’ll let me touch them, but pretty much no one else.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Andrew’s skepticism didn’t surprise me. Owen looked harmless, but the last person who had disregarded instructions not to touch him had ended up needing a paramedic. And Marcus had had to vouch for the cat.

Why did everything make me think of Marcus?
I shook my head again. “He has claws and he’s not afraid to use them.”

Right on cue Owen held up a paw, almost as though he knew what I’d just said and was trying to plead his innocence.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Don’t get cute,” I muttered.

He flicked his tail at me and went back to the kitchen.

Andrew laughed and straightened up. “So, are you ready for breakfast?”

“As long as you understand it’s just breakfast.”

“I figured you’d say that.” He braced a hand against the doorframe, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. His expression grew serious. “Look, Kath, I messed up big-time. Yeah, I was drunk and I was pissed at you, but neither one is any kind of an excuse for marrying someone I didn’t even know.” His mouth moved, as though he were testing the feel of what he wanted to say next. “After I talked to you back in the spring, all I could think about was how badly I’d f— screwed things up. I’m not that person anymore. Have breakfast with me and you’ll see that.”

“Okay,” I said.

His eyes narrowed. “Okay? That’s it? You’re not going to argue with me? I have another speech I haven’t even used.”

I shrugged. “Sorry. I’m hungry. But if it will make you feel better you can give me your speech on the way down the hill.”

“You’ve ruined the effect.” He folded his arms across his chest in mock indignation and his lips twitched as he tried—and failed—not to smile.

“I have to get my sweater and my briefcase,” I said. “I’ll just be a minute.”

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
7.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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