Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery (5 page)

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
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“Thank you for my chair,” I said, watching a seagull floating on the surface dip his head below the water. “You did a beautiful job.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a small smile on his face. “You’re welcome. Thank you for the cupcakes. I was the most popular person in the building for a while.”

I’d sent a dozen chocolate peanut butter cupcakes over to the police station as a thank-you for the chair. And maybe as a small please-forgive-me.

“I like Hannah,” I said, tipping my head back to look up at him.

“Everyone does.”

“Why does she use Walker instead of Gordon?”

“Walker was our grandmother’s name. She and Hannah were close.” He hesitated. “I should have told you more about her.”

I looked away and then back at him before I spoke. “I wish you’d told me something. You said you had a sister, but I only know her name because she came into the library today. You mentioned your father, but I don’t know if he’s alive or dead. Or your mother.” I cleared my throat. “Last night you said I didn’t trust you, but now I realize I don’t know anything about you. Are you sure you trust me?”

I could feel his body tense.

He swiped a hand over the back of his neck. “My mother and father are both alive and well.”

I waited for him to say something about them. “My father’s a Supreme Court justice,” or “He grows organic soybeans on a commune in Oregon and my mother is a circus contortionist.” But he didn’t offer anything else.

My chest felt heavy, as though an elephant had decided to use it as a footstool. “Marcus, I’m sorry about last night,” I said. I held up my hand before he could say anything. “I’m sorry that what I did made you feel like I didn’t have faith in you, or trust you. I think you’re a very good police officer. And a good person.” I took a breath and let it out. “I like you. And I think you like me, but we seem to be at an impasse.”

For a long moment he just stared out over the water. I waited until he looked at me. “Can we be friends?” he asked.

I didn’t want to be friends with Marcus. I wanted to be . . . something else. I wasn’t exactly sure what the something else was, or maybe I just didn’t want to admit it to myself. But right now, maybe friends was all we could manage.

“I hope so,” I said. The sun was shining and what few clouds there were seemed to be floating in the sky, but all of a sudden I felt cold. “I need to get back to work,” I said. “I’ll . . . see you.”

I went back along the path and some small part of me hoped that he’d come after me or at least call my name, but he didn’t.

Susan returned from lunch at the food-tasting tents just before one thirty, smelling like caramel, with a dab of whipped cream on her nose and another on her ear.

“I don’t even want to know how you got whipped cream on your ear,” I said, as Abigail came through the front door, talking on her cell phone and carrying what looked like a canvas army satchel, bulging with papers.

“That would be Eric,” Susan said with a grin. She swiped at her ear and licked the bit of cream off her finger. “He was getting pudding cake ready to serve, but he got a little sidetracked.” She wiggled her eyebrows at me.

“Way, way more information than I needed,” I said, holding up my good hand.

That just made her laugh. Then she cocked her head to one side and peered at me over the top of her cat-eye glasses. “Speaking of information, I’m going to need way, way more about Andrew.” She did the eyebrow thing again and started for the stairs.

“Kathleen, I’m sorry I’m late,” Abigail said as she tucked her phone in her pocket. She set her bag on the circulation desk.

“You’re not late.” I glanced at the clock. “How are things going with the festival?”

She shook her head. “Kathleen, are you familiar with the play
Yesterday’s Children
?”

“Uh-huh.”

“So you know some people think it’s . . . cursed, or jinxed?”

“I know,” I said. “The theater burned down on the day before the very first production. A lighting tech broke his leg and I think one of the actors was in a car accident.”


Yesterday’s Children
was originally on the schedule for the festival.”

I nodded. “Doesn’t surprise me. Ben’s not that superstitious, as far as I know.”

Abigail shifted her bag on the counter, tucking a couple of loose papers inside. “There was some kind of problem with the rights and the play was dropped, but . . .” She let the end of the sentence trail off.

I gave her a wry smile. “Let me guess. People are saying the fire in Red Wing was because of the so-called jinx.”

“Exactly. Some of the actors are a little skittish. And it doesn’t help that this would have been the fourth year for the festival in Red Wing. Several of the tech people and a couple of the actors have done the festival before. People on the festival committee in Red Wing know them. I don’t know a single person involved and neither does anyone else here. It makes it that much harder for all of us.” She glanced quickly at her watch. “Has Ben Saroyan been in yet?”

I nodded. “I know Ben. He’s worked with my mother. You’ll find him easy to get along with. He seems to think the gazebo will work fine, and I think there are enough chairs here so you won’t have to bring any down from the Stratton. And I got the okay from Everett, by the way.”

“Thank you, Kathleen. You’re a godsend,” Abigail said. “I suppose Hugh wasn’t happy with the gazebo.”

“He doesn’t seem that enthusiastic about having performances outside.”

Her fingers played with the strap of the canvas satchel. “He’s still a control freak, I’ve discovered.”

“Is there anything else I can do?” I said.

She shook her head. “The biggest problem I have at the moment is that Young Harry took Elizabeth home to her other family. He won’t be back until next weekend.”

Elizabeth was the daughter of my friend Harry Taylor Senior. She was the result of a relationship he’d had when his wife was dying. They’d just found each other in the past few months.

“Why is that a problem? Oren’s around, isn’t he?” I glanced over at the wooden sunburst that Oren Kenyon had built, hanging above the library doors. It was a tribute to the library’s history as a Carnegie library.

Abigail put a hand on top of her bulging bag. “He is, but I also have a long list of things I need him to do. I don’t suppose you know how to build a small octagonal stage, do you?”

“Sorry. It’s not one of my skills.”

“It’s one of mine,” a voice behind me said. I hadn’t seen Andrew come in and walk over to us. He looked at Abigail. “Seriously, I can do it. I’m a building contractor.”

She gave him a long, appraising look. “An octagonal stage? Eight sides? You could build it?”

He shrugged. “A stage is easy. I could build an octagonal house if you wanted one.”

“By the end of the week?”

“The stage, sure; the house, probably not.” He looked at me and made a gesture toward Abigail with one hand. “Tell her.”

“I’ve never seen this man before in my life,” I said solemnly.

Andrew glared at me with mock annoyance. “Very funny, Kath.”

I grinned at him and turned to Abigail. “He could build pretty much any shape stage you wanted. He could build one in the shape of a nonagon if that’s what you wanted and do it almost as well as Harry.”

“Hang on.” Andrew held up one hand. “What the heck is a nonagon?”

“A nine-sided polygon,” Abigail and I said at the same time. We looked at each other and laughed.

Andrew rolled his eyes. “Great. I have Encyclopedia Brown times two.” He turned to Abigail. “So do I have the job?”

“I’m not sure,” she said. “For all I know you could start building the stage and then disappear.”

“I could,” he agreed, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jeans, “but I won’t. Tell me what size you want the stage to be and I’ll draw a plan tonight. If you’re happy with it, I’ll get you a list of materials tomorrow. As soon as you can get everything delivered, I can start. I’d take care of the supplies myself, but since I don’t know any of the building supply stores around here, it would probably be faster if someone else does that. As for my time, I’ll donate that.”

Abigail looked at him suspiciously. “Why?”

“Because I’m a nice guy?” He phrased it as a question.

She leaned against the counter and thought about his words for a moment. “No,” she said with a small shake of her head. “I don’t think that’s it.”

Andrew’s gaze shot to me. He shrugged. “Okay, the truth is, I’m wooing Kathleen.”

Abigail’s eyebrows went up, more from amusement than surprise. “Really?”

He nodded. “I was stupid enough to let her get away before, but I came to my senses and I plan to spend the next two weeks changing her mind about me. If I help you, that will make me look good to her and heaven knows I need all the help I can get in that department.”

Abigail turned toward me. “Is this all true?”

“Yes, it is,” I said, pulling at the top edge of the nylon sling, which was rubbing against the inside of my arm. “Andrew and I used to be a couple, before I came to Mayville Heights. We had a . . . falling-out.”

Her eyes immediately went to Andrew. “I sort of . . . accidentally married someone else,” he said, at least having the good grace to look a little shamefaced.

“Yeah, I hate it when that happens,” Abigail said dryly.

“He has the idea that he can convince me to go back to Boston with him when my contract here expires,” I said.

“Can he?”

“I don’t think so.” I glanced at my watch. Andrew and I needed to get on our way if we were going to have time to walk through both tents.

Abigail reached for her bag and swung the strap over her shoulder. “It seems to me that you and I may be working at cross-purposes,” she said to Andrew, “because I want Kathleen to stay here. On the other hand, I’ve never been one to say no to free labor and I think watching you—as you put it—woo Kathleen is probably going to be fairly entertaining. So, thank you. I accept your offer.”

She grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil off the desk, scribbled something on the paper and handed it to him. “I need a stage that’s twelve feet wide and between four and six inches off the ground. Bring whatever plan you come up with to the Stratton Theater tomorrow morning about eight and we’ll go from there.” She smiled at me. “Have fun at the food tasting,” she said, and then she headed for the second floor.

Andrew didn’t say a word until we were on the way to the Riverwalk. “Are you mad because I told your friend about us?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Are you impressed that I offered to build the stage?” He nudged me with his shoulder.

“No,” I repeated.

He bumped me again. It was like I was walking down the street with a big, bouncy dog. “Not even a tiny bit?” he asked, his mouth close to my face.

It was hard to keep a serious expression with his warm, teasing voice in my ear.

“If I say yes, will you stop asking me about going back to Boston and will you stop talking about wooing me, as though we were characters in some kind of bodice-ripper novel?”

“So I am making progress!” he crowed.

“Only in driving me crazy,” I said, but I couldn’t keep from smiling, which pretty much negated the effect of my words. I would rather have been walking down Main Street with Marcus, but I wasn’t. On the other hand, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and we were on our way to get a bowl of Eric’s chocolate pudding cake.

Andrew was still grinning at me and I gave up and smiled back. “Don’t get any ideas.”

He held up two fingers like a peace sign. “Two weeks, Kathleen,” he said softly. “Who knows what could happen in two weeks?”

“Nothing’s going to happen,” I said.

Of course I was wrong.

4

T
he next wee
k passed in a blur of preparations for the festival. Andrew built not one but two portable stages for Abigail, and helped Oren with a new ramp at the Stratton. He was ingratiating himself all over town, dispensing charm and that killer grin. His self-deprecating story of how he’d ruined things with me by getting drunk and marrying a waitress from a fifties diner somehow had the effect of making people like him even more. More than once I found myself remembering how much fun we used to have together.

Only Owen and Hercules seemed to be immune to that charm. It wasn’t as though they didn’t like Andrew. They just ignored him completely. The two times he’d been at the house, both cats acted as though he weren’t even in the room.

On Friday morning I decided to walk down to Eric’s Place for a breakfast sandwich and coffee. Maggie and I had spent the previous evening after tai chi class painting the stages Andrew had built. Hannah had brought us hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls, which made the work go a little faster, but I was still tired when I woke up. And by the time I gave Hercules and Owen their breakfast I didn’t feel like making my own.

Marcus was waiting at the counter. I walked over and touched his arm. He turned, smiling when he saw it was me. That smile made my chest tighten for a moment.

“Hi,” I said. “Are you here getting breakfast, too?”

He nodded. “I have a pile of paperwork on my desk and I thought it might go a little better with one of Eric’s breakfast sandwiches and a decent cup of coffee.”

“Everything goes better with a decent cup of coffee,” I said. A lock of his dark hair had fallen onto his forehead and I had to put my hands in my pockets to stop myself from reaching up and brushing it back.

“Yeah, I seem to remember that,” he said.

More than once I’d taken coffee to Marcus when he was working on a case. At least once I’d had to resist an urge to pour it on his shoes.

He gestured to my left arm. “How’s your shoulder?”

“It’s better,” I said. I could see the skepticism in his gaze. Marcus knew how much I disliked hospitals and doctors. “I swear.” I held out both hands. “The sling came off yesterday and I’ve been checked by Roma and my own doctor.’

“Good to know,” he said.

Claire came from the kitchen then with a brown paper take-out bag. She handed it to Marcus and then took my order. After she’d relayed it to Eric, she got me my own cup of coffee. I took a big sip and sighed with pleasure.

“How late were you and Maggie painting?” Marcus asked.

“Too late,” I said. I looked at him over the rim of the cup. “How did you know?”

“I picked Hannah up after her rehearsal. She’s staying with me.” He set the take-out bag on the counter and pulled out his wallet. “I should get to the station,” he said. “It was good to see you, Kathleen.”

“You too, Marcus,” I said.

He turned toward the cash register.

“Thank you for the hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls last night,” I said.

He stopped and turned halfway around, his face reddening. “You knew?”

I set my briefcase down on one of the stools at the counter. “I didn’t until just now when you said you picked Hannah up. She brought them in to us and I thought she’d just made a lucky guess.”

“It was Hannah’s idea to get you something,” he said. “I just stopped at Eric’s. I remembered how much you like his cinnamon rolls and I didn’t think you’d want coffee so late.”

“Well . . . thank you.”

His hand moved as though he was going to touch my arm and then he jammed it in his pocket instead. “I’ll, uh, I’ll see you, Kathleen,” he said.

I nodded without speaking and watched him walk over to pay Claire for his food. A moment later Eric stuck his head around the swinging door. “Hey, Kathleen,” he said. “Thank you for recommending me to Ben Saroyan to cater the opening reception for the theater festival.”

“Does that mean you got the job?”

He grinned. “Yes, it does.”

I grinned back at him and took the paper sack he held out to me. “I’m so glad,” I said. “Remember, if you need to test any recipes, all of us at the library are willing to act as your tasters.”

Eric laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said and disappeared back into the kitchen.

I walked over to Claire at the cash register.

“Detective Gordon already paid for your order,” she said.

“Oh . . . um . . . oh,” I said stupidly. It was the second time Marcus had done that recently.

Claire gave me a look of sympathy. Everyone seemed to know that whatever had been going on between Marcus and me wasn’t going on any longer. I wished her a good day and headed for the library.

Ben called just before lunch. “Good morning, Kathleen.” His big voice boomed through the receiver. “Is your wi-fi working over there?”

“I think so,” I said. “Let me check.” I reached for my laptop. “It’s working,” I said after a moment.

He exhaled loudly. “I need a favor.”

“Of course. What is it?”

“I’m at the theater and our wi-fi keeps cutting out. They’re sending someone to check it, but Hugh needs a place to work for the rest of the afternoon. Any chance you could find some space for him over there?”

I thought for a moment. The library’s workroom could be available if I moved the boxes of programs that were being stored there into my office. The room had a big table and I could give him one of the chairs from the computer area. There’d be coffee in the staff room, too. “I think we can make it work,” I said.

“Thank you.” I could hear the smile in his voice.

“Send him over,” I said. “We’ll get things ready.”

He thanked me again and hung up. I went downstairs and got Susan to give me a hand. We shifted the boxes into my office, cleared the table and managed to carry a chair up from downstairs.

“This should be perfect,” I said to her, smiling with satisfaction over how quickly we’d gotten the space ready.

It wasn’t.

Hugh Davis stood in the doorway of the workroom and made a face. “This won’t work,” he said, shaking his head. “I need a desk.” He looked over at me. “Don’t you have an office?”

“Yes, I do,” I said, “but I need it.”

“Well,” he said. He didn’t finish the sentence but the disparaging tone in his voice told me he didn’t like my answer.

Susan touched my arm. “Kathleen, what about the antique library desk?” She spoke in a low voice, but her eyes darted in Hugh’s direction and I knew she’d intended for him to hear what she said.

The problem was I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.

“I don’t know,” I said slowly. Heaven knew, that was the truth.

Hugh looked at us, his eyes narrowed in curiosity. “Excuse me—do you have a desk I could use or not?”

Susan made a face. “We do have a writing desk, but, well, it’s very old. I can’t even begin to tell you what it’s worth. This building is a hundred years old, so you can understand the desk isn’t something that gets used on a day-to-day basis.”

I still had no clue what desk she was referring to.

Susan let her gaze slide away from Hugh’s face as though she was uncertain about what she was going to say next. “You know that F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul?” she blurted.

Whatever she was up to was going too far. “Susan,” I said warningly.

She nudged her cat-eye glasses up her nose. “I’m sorry, Kathleen,” she said. “I know I’m not supposed to talk about that.”

“If you have a desk somewhere here in the building, then let me see it,” Hugh demanded.

Susan looked at me.

I nodded. “Show him.” I was curious to see this “antique writing desk” myself.

Susan led the way downstairs and through the building to the larger of our two meeting rooms. “Do you have your keys?” she said to me.

I pulled them out of my pocket and handed them to her. She unlocked the door and as she did I suddenly figured out what she was up to.

There was no way it was going to work. But there was no stopping Susan now. For the first time I had a sense of where her twins got their fearless spirit.

She walked across the room and opened the door to a large storage closet. Packed carefully beside a pile of boxes there was in fact a small desk, wrapped in padded mover’s blankets.

It could have been an antique, although I doubted it. Harry Taylor Junior’s brother, Larry, had found the desk in the back corner of the basement. Susan wasn’t lying when she said that she had no idea of its value. What I did know was that no one had been willing to pay five dollars for the thing when we’d had the library’s yard sale.

Susan carefully removed the coverings. The old desk had been varnished at one time but more than half the finish had worn off. It had intricate turned legs, a small writing surface and a back that went up about two and a half feet. There were two rows of tiny drawers on the back unit and two small doors in the center.

The desk was dinged and battered and it wobbled, but Susan unwrapped the thing like it was a treasure.

Hugh Davis laid a hand on the worn desktop. “F. Scott Fitzgerald?” he said.

“I can’t in all good conscience tell you that I have proof that he used this desk,” Susan said. She ran one finger along the side of the banged-up writing surface and smiled. “But . . .” She let the end of the sentence trail off.

Hugh turned to me. “This will work.” He gestured at the desk. “We should get this upstairs. I’ve already wasted too much time today.”

Hugh’s “we” actually meant Susan and me. The desk may have been banged up, but it was likely made of black walnut, according to Larry Taylor, and it was heavy. Still, we managed to get it up the stairs and set it down in the center of the workroom.

Hugh pulled his chair over and sat down. He looked up at me. “My briefcase is in the hall.”

It took me a moment to realize he expected me to go out and get it.

His briefcase turned out to be a huge black leather pilot’s flight case. I set it beside his chair and realized that his chair was actually my office chair.

Hugh followed my gaze. “I had to switch chairs with you,” he said, with an offhand gesture. “The other one didn’t have the right support for my back.”

I took a deep breath, imagining my frustration filling a balloon coming out of the top of my head. It was a technique my mother used with her acting students.

Hugh leaned over to open his case. “I’m going to need that table in here,” he said without looking up. “I need to spread out my papers and I guess that’s going to have to do.”

I looked at Susan and inclined my head in the direction of the hallway. Once we were out there I flicked at the imaginary balloon with my finger and pictured it spiraling down the wide wooden steps to the main floor. The thought made me smile.

“What are you grinning at?” Susan asked, grabbing one end of the table. It was a lot lighter than the desk.

“Your ability to spin a line of you-know-what,” I said, taking hold of the other end of the table.

“I wasn’t spinning anything,” she said, squaring her shoulders. “Everything I said was the truth. The library is a hundred years old, F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, and we certainly have no idea what that old desk is worth. It could be a valuable antique.”

“And I could be a talking duck,” I countered, backing toward the door with my end of the table.

Susan wrinkled her nose at me. “I don’t think you’re a duck. Your feet aren’t big enough.”

We moved the folding table about an inch to the left and then forward and back until Hugh was happy with where it sat. Susan got him a cup of coffee—with cream and exactly half a packet of sweetener. I adjusted the blind at the window so there was no direct sunlight shining on his workspace. Then we left him alone.

Susan shook her head. “How do people work with him? He’s so picky.”

“He’s not that bad,” I said. “He’s just . . . creative.”

She slid her glasses down her nose with one finger, frowned at me over the top of them and then pushed them back up again. “Honestly, Kathleen, you’d try to find something nice to say about Attila the Hun.”

“All right, he might be a bit of a challenge.”

She gave a snort of derision and went back downstairs.

A group of kids from the after-school program came in around four to pick out some books and videos. By then I was so tired of being Hugh’s personal minion that I was entertaining the idea of taking my limited computer skills over to the Stratton and trying to fix the wi-fi myself.

He came down the stairs just as I was about to show the kids our newest DVDs. I sighed, a little louder than I’d intended to.

Susan smirked at me. “Remember, he’s creative.”

“What’s creative?” a little girl with brown pigtails and red-framed glasses asked me. She was probably about seven.

“‘Creative’ means you have a good imagination,” I said.

Hugh spotted us and walked over. The little girl looked at him, frowning. “Do you really have a good imagination?” She pointed at me. “
She
said you did.”

“Yes, I do,” he said, his expression serious.

She twisted her mouth to one side. “You’re kind of old.”

Hugh smiled then. “Old people can have good imaginations.”

The child shook her head. “You’re older than my dad, and my mom says he has no imagination.”

I struggled to keep a straight face. Hugh suddenly dropped down onto all fours, arched his back and stretched.

The little girl grinned with delight. “You’re a cat!” she said.

Hugh nodded. “Very good. I was using my imagination. Now you try it.”

She got down on her hands and knees and meowed at us. With some gentle nudges, Hugh soon had her stretching just the way Owen and Hercules did.

“Great,” Susan said against my ear. “Kind of makes it hard to dislike the guy when he’s good with kids.”

Hugh stood up and brushed bits of lint off his pants. The little girl—whose name was Ivy—went back to the rest of her group.

“You were great with her,” I said.

He ran a hand over his beard. “I like kids. They’re more enjoyable to spend time with than most adults.” He held up the sheaf of papers in his hands. “These need to be stapled.”

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
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