Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery (8 page)

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
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7

A
bigail came into the library just after we opened in the morning. There were dark circles, like smudges of charcoal, under her eyes, and her usually smiling face was serious. Ben was with her.

“Kathleen, do you have a couple of minutes?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said. I gave Ben a small smile. “Hi.”

“You know about Hugh Davis, don’t you?” Abigail said, pushing the strap of her messenger bag up on her shoulder.

I nodded. “Yes, I do.”

Three women came in the front door and made a beeline for the cookbook section. They were followed by a teenage girl, her platinum and black hair sticking up all over her head, carrying a pile of books stacked so high she could rest her chin on top—and did—yawning as she carried them to the desk.

“Come up to my office. It’s a little quieter there,” I said, gesturing toward the stairs.

Ben and Abigail took the two chairs in front of my desk, while I leaned back against it. “I’m sorry about Hugh,” I said. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Yes,” Ben said. He was sitting on the edge of his seat, elbows propped on his knees. “Call Thea and ask her to come fill in for Hugh.”

“Please,” Abigail added.

I ran one hand along the edge of the dark wood of the desk. “Like I told you, Mom’s in Los Angeles, doing
Wild and Wonderful
.”

Ben leaned forward. “We got lucky. I talked to a friend out there. The show’s going to be dark for the next ten days—some kind of renovations to the studio. She’ll come if you ask her.”

He was right. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to ask.

I loved my family. When I’d gone home to visit during the summer I’d realized just how much I missed them. All four of them—Mom, Dad, Sara, and Ethan—were exuberant and melodramatic and sometimes it felt as though they sucked all the air out of the room. Mayville Heights was the first place I’d ever lived where I was Kathleen first, not Ethan’s big sister or Thea’s daughter.

My mother was a force of nature. No one ever forgot her. I had a mental picture of her holding court at Eric’s, teaching a stunt-fighting class on the Riverwalk or, heaven forbid, getting onstage with Mary for amateur night at the Brick, strutting her stuff in a feathered corset to Bon Jovi or Beyoncé. She was capable of doing all that and then some.

On the other hand, she was a good director and an even better actor, and if she came, the festival could continue.

And I missed her.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Abigail looked tired, the expression in her eyes almost pleading. Whatever relationship she’d had before the festival with Hugh Davis was none of my business. I’d learned how to size people up from my mother. And I knew Abigail. She hadn’t had anything to do with Hugh’s death. Mayville Heights was my home now. I wanted the New Horizons festival to be successful as much as anyone else in town did.

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll ask her.”

Abigail closed her eyes for a second and I saw some of the tension ease in her shoulders.

Ben’s face relaxed into a smile. His eyes darted to the phone. “Why don’t you call her right now?” he said.

I laughed. “It’s quarter after seven in Los Angeles, Ben.”

My dad insisted Mom had been a raccoon in a past life. She liked shiny things and roaming around at night. She didn’t like mornings. When she had to be up early, she did it with more of her usual dramatic flare.

Ben leaned back in the chair. “She’s probably had a lot earlier wake-up call for the past couple of weeks.”

“And it’s Saturday. I promise I’ll call her after lunch, but unless you want to hear ‘menj el à máj’ growled at you, you won’t call her now.”

“Menj el what?” Ben said.

“Menj el à máj,” I said. “It loosely translates to ‘go away or I’ll eat your liver.’ It’s Hungarian. I think.”

“Your mother speaks Hungarian?” Abigail asked, reaching for her bag.

“Let’s just say my mom knows a lot of ‘colorful’ expressions in a lot of different languages.”

“I think I’m going to like her,” she said, pulling a dark green folder out of the canvas satchel.

I nodded. “Yes, you are.”

I really wanted her to come, I realized. My mother wasn’t the conventional bake-cookies/remind-you-to-wear-clean-underwear kind of mom. The only things she could make with any degree of success were baking powder biscuits, lemonade and toast. And the toast was iffy. And the only advice she’d ever given me pertaining to underwear was to tell me not to get my knickers in a knot over something. But she loved Ethan and Sara and me with the fierceness of a mama grizzly bear, and I could use a little of that right now.

Abigail handed me the green folder and stood up. “That’s the tentative schedule for the next week. As soon as she says yes, I’ll arrange the plane tickets and everything else.”

“I’ll call you as soon as I talk to her,” I said.

She threw her arms around me, whispering, “I owe you” in my ear.

Ben got to his feet, patted his pockets and pulled out a pen. He took the green folder from me and scrawled a phone number across its front. “That’s my cell. Tell Thea she can call me when it’s good for her.” He squeezed my arm. “And thank you.”

I smiled at him. “You’re welcome.”

I walked them to the top of the stairs, then got myself a cup of coffee from the staff room and went back to my office to tackle the pile of paperwork next to my computer. About quarter after ten I went downstairs again to relieve Susan and Mary so they could take their breaks.

Mary was at the circulation desk checking out books for a teacher from one of the neighborhood day-care centers. Susan was pushing a cart full of books toward the stacks. Mia was in the children’s department, her neon blue hair pulled back from her face with a wide zebra-print headband. She had a small bucket and a cloth and she was washing the tables.

I walked over to Susan. “I can’t wait to meet your mom,” she said.

“Abigail told you,” I said.

“Actually Abigail told Mary. Mary told me.”

I shook my head. “Of course. I forgot how information moves around here.”

“Faster than a speeding bullet,” Susan said with a grin. She tipped her head in Mia’s direction. “For the record, best student intern ever.”

“She picked up the computer system like that,” I said, snapping my fingers.

“The story-time kids love her hair. They were all clamoring to sit around her.” Susan pointed to the round table in the children’s department. Mia was scraping gum from under the bottom edge. “Nobody asked her to clean those tables. She volunteered.”

“You think I should offer her the part-time job when she’s done with her work-study?”

Susan nodded. “Yeah, I do. You said at the last staff meeting that we needed more help around here. Why not Mia?”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll think about it.” I looked at my watch. “Do you want to take your break first?”

She shook her head. “I’d rather get these shelved before I do. It’s the last cart. Anyway, I think Mary should go first. She doesn’t exactly seem like herself today.”

The day-care teacher was heading out the door and Mary was on the phone.

“What do you mean, she doesn’t seem like herself?” I said.

Susan poked the crochet hook holding her topknot a little tighter into her hair. Either she was trying to keep it away from the twins so they didn’t put someone’s eye out or Abigail was still trying to teach her how to crochet.

“I don’t know. She seems kind of preoccupied about something. She went to put the coffee on and then came back down without doing it. And she forgot to lock the book drop after we emptied it.” She held up a hand. “That reminds me. Oren put a new strip of metal on the top edge where it was eating magazines. He said to let him know how it works.”

I nodded and made a mental note to make a written one so I wouldn’t forget.

Mary was just hanging up the phone when I walked over to the desk. “You can take your break now,” I said.

She looked blankly at me for a moment, then shook her head. “Sorry, Kathleen. I was somewhere else.”

“Is everything all right?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, tugging at the bottom of her cream-colored cardigan. The sweater had slipped down on her right shoulder, and the totem pole of scarecrows that decorated that side looked as though it was about to topple over. She sighed. “No, everything’s not all right.”

“Could I help?”

“Maybe you could. Obviously you know that Hugh Davis is dead.”

I nodded.

“Well, yesterday morning I walked over to the Stratton to see if I could help Abigail with anything. It was early and the only car in the lot was hers. I just assumed she was there by herself.” She gave me a wry smile. “At my age you’d think I’d know not to assume anything.”

I knew better than to try to rush Mary. She would get to the point in her own time.

“I thought that Abigail would be in the office at that time of day, so I went in the front.”

“She wasn’t there?”

Mary shook her head. “The auditorium doors were locked, so I decided to just go back outside and use the stage door.” She fingered a button on her sweater. “She was actually standing in the parking lot. I think she was getting boxes out of her car. I was about halfway around the building when I saw her.”

“Mary, did you and Abigail have some kind of an argument?” I asked.

“We didn’t,” she said. “But Abigail and Hugh Davis did.”

“People argue,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “You saw what Hugh was like when he was here yesterday. He couldn’t have been easy to work with. So they had a disagreement. It doesn’t mean anything.” I realized I was trying to convince myself as much as I was trying to convince Mary.

Abigail had lied about knowing Hugh. Mary had heard them arguing. And now he was dead. Big coincidence. On the other hand, I knew Abigail couldn’t kill anyone. Stuff someone in her rain barrel? Maybe. Shoot them? Never.

Mary shook her head slowly. “You don’t understand, Kathleen,” she said, lowering her voice. “This was a lot more than a disagreement. You know how Abigail is. She doesn’t lose her temper. She doesn’t raise her voice. In the last year and a half have you ever seen her get angry?”

“No, I haven’t,” I said.

She picked up a scrap piece of paper from the desk and dropped it into the recycling bin. “Well, I’ve known Abigail a lot longer than that and I’ve never seen her really lose her temper—that is, not before yesterday.”

“So what were they fighting about?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t even realize it was the two of them at first. I could hear the tone of their voices, but I couldn’t really make out the words. Then when I saw who it was . . .” She looked away for a moment. “They didn’t see me, so I just backtracked to the sidewalk and left.”

“And then you found out Hugh was dead.”

There were tiny pinched lines around her mouth. “I don’t mean that I think Abigail had anything to do with that,” she said hastily. Then she sighed. “Kathleen, Abigail and Hugh Davis had some kind of past, but they were both pretending they’d never met.”

“Why do you say that?” I hoped that what I was feeling didn’t show on my face.

“Because of the one thing I did hear her say to him before I got out of there. She said, ‘If I’d killed you the first time you messed up my life, I’d be out of prison by now.’”

8

I
cal
led Mom about twelve thirty. She answered the phone on the ninth ring with a sound that was more like a growl than a hello. Her smoky voice was even huskier than usual.

“Katydid, you better be on fire if you’re calling me at this ungodly hour,” she rasped.

“It’s lunchtime here,” I said, grinning and swinging around in my chair so I could see the clouds drifting in over the water.

“How nice for you. Why did you call me, assuming you’re
not
on fire at the moment?”

I relayed Ben’s offer.

“Hugh Davis is dead?” She sounded a little more awake. “The man was a toad, but still.”

“You knew him?”

“Mostly by reputation, sweetie. What happened?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” I replied, hedging. “What do you mean he was a toad?”

“Long story, Katydid,” she said with a yawn. “I’ll tell you all about it when I see you.”

“So you’ll come?”

“Of course I’ll come,” she said. “I haven’t worked with Ben in years and how could I pass up the opportunity to spend time with you?”

I told her Abigail would be in touch with all the details and promised I’d have her favorite tea and we’d hung up.

When we closed at one o’clock, I walked over to the co-op store to see if Maggie was available for lunch. I couldn’t get what Mary had told me out of my head. I hadn’t been wrong. Abigail and Hugh Davis had known each other. So why did they pretend they didn’t? Could that somehow have something to do with his death? I wanted someone else’s perspective—someone other than the cats. I’d left a message for Mags, but I hadn’t heard back from her so I was guessing it had been a busy morning at the store.

There were four people browsing in the small space. Maggie and Ruby Blackthorne were behind the counter looking after a fifth customer. Ruby was nesting a small earth goddess statue in a box filled with packing peanuts that looked like white cheese curls. They were made out of cornstarch and I remembered how happy Maggie had been to find them on a trip we’d made to Minneapolis with Roma . . . at a business Abigail had suggested she check out.

I needed to talk to Maggie. I needed her to tell me I was seeing connections where there really weren’t any.

She looked up from the cash register, smiled and held up one finger, which meant “Give me a minute.”

I nodded.

Marcus’s sister, Hannah, was in the far corner of the room looking at wind chimes. I walked over and tapped her on the shoulder.

She turned around, smiling when she saw it was me. “Hi, Kathleen,” she said.

Her dark hair was pulled back in a messy bun and what makeup she wore had been expertly applied, but it couldn’t completely disguise the fact that she hadn’t had enough sleep. Her skin was pale and tiny lines pulled at the corners of her eyes.

“Hi,” I said.

She looked around. “This place is wonderful.”

I nodded. “Yes, it is.”

The artists’ co-op had had its problems in the past. The basement had flooded after days of steady rain in the spring. Even worse, the body of mask-maker Jaeger Merrill had been found floating down there the same day he’d had an angry confrontation with the co-op board. But Maggie, as chairman of the board, had kept the store running and now it was showing a decent and consistent profit.

“I’m sorry about Hugh,” I said.

Hannah shrugged. “Me too. I didn’t know him that well, but nobody should die like that.” She brushed a tendril of hair away from her face. “Ben says your mom is coming to step in, though.”

“Yes, she is.”

“What’s your mother like?” Hannah was wearing a couple of vivid multicolored fabric bracelets on her right arm and she twisted them around her wrist with her other hand.

“Dramatic,” I said with a smile.

“What director isn’t?”

“She’s very good at finding that one little detail that helps an actor figure out who their character is—at least according to my dad.”

“Your parents work together?” She looked surprised.

I nodded. “They both teach at a private school. And they’ve been performing together since before I was born.
And
they’ve been married twice and divorced once.”

Hannah smiled. “I bet it was interesting growing up in your family.”

That made me laugh. “I never knew when I came home from school if my parents would be Lord and Lady Macbeth or Bonnie and Clyde.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Maggie was still busy at the counter with her customer. “Seriously, though, I think you’ll like working with my mother.”

“I’m just happy she agreed to come.” Hannah was still twisting the bracelets around her arm. “I went to Red Wing after rehearsal and spent a couple of hours going through the bags and boxes of stuff that had been in the theater, hoping I could salvage something from the fire. When I got back and found out what had happened to Hugh, I assumed everything would be canceled.” She shook her head. “It seemed like all the talk about jinxes might be coming true. First it was the fire. Then when I got to Red Wing so much of what had been saved was a mess.” She sighed and looked down at the floor for a minute. “Pretty much everything either had water damage or smelled like smoke. When Ben called last night, it just seemed like too much.”

“I hope the worst is over now,” I said.

She nodded. “Me too.”

Maggie joined us then, stretching her arms up over her head. “Yes, I would like to go to Eric’s for lunch,” she said to me. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you back, but every time I tried to someone wanted to buy something.” She smiled at Hannah. “Can you join us?”

“Yes. Can you?” I said.

Hannah shook her head. “Thanks, but I can’t. Ben’s going to take us through a quick rehearsal”—she looked at her watch—“in about half an hour. I should get going.”

She turned to Maggie. “Could you put that mug aside for me?” She pointed to a large cream-colored coffee cup with a line drawing of a cat’s face etched on one side. “I don’t have my wallet, but I’ll come back for it after rehearsal.” She looked at me. “You think Marcus will like it?”

I nodded. “It looks like it’ll hold a lot of coffee. He’ll like it.”

Maggie lifted the cup off the shelf. “Ruby will have it behind the counter for you.”

“Thanks,” Hannah said. “It was good to see you, Kathleen.”

“You too,” I said.

She left and I followed Maggie over to the counter, where she gave Ruby the pottery coffee mug and explained that Hannah would be back for it. “I just have to get my jacket and purse from my office and I’ll be right back,” Maggie said to me.

I nodded. “Okay.”

Ruby smiled at me. “I was going to call you,” she said. Her hair, which was red and blue this week, was pulled back in a low, stubby ponytail since she was growing it out, and she was wearing wire-framed glasses instead of her usual contacts. “The painting of Hercules is pretty much finished. Would you like to see it?”

“Yes, I would,” I said. Ruby was doing a couple of paintings of Hercules and Owen to be auctioned off to benefit a cat rescue organization.

She tipped her head to one side. “Would it be weird to say you could bring Hercules if you wanted to?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. I didn’t say that I was pretty sure Hercules would love to see the finished painting.
That
would have been weird.

“Would first thing Monday morning be okay?” Ruby asked.

“That’s fine.”

She gave me a sly smile. “Tell Hercules I have some of those fish crackers left.”

“You’re going to be his new best friend, you know.”

“Works for me.”

I grinned. “I’ll remind you of that the next time your new best friend has to go to Roma for a shot.”

She laughed.

“You have paint under your chin,” I said, pointing at a streak of indigo just under her jawline.

She made a face and swiped at her chin with the sleeve of her psychedelic green T-shirt. “I was painting a backdrop for Abigail this morning and I didn’t have time to get cleaned up before I had to come over here. I was supposed to do it last night, but Abigail’s phone died. I tried her three times but I couldn’t get her.” She rolled her eyes. “Sometimes technology makes me crazy.”

I nodded. “Me too.”

Maggie came up behind me. “Ready to go?” she asked.

I turned around to face her. “Yes. I’m getting hungry.”

Maggie looked at Ruby. “Could I bring you back anything?”

Ruby thought for a moment. “A large chai tea would be good. And if a cinnamon roll jumped in the bag, well, I wouldn’t be rude and reject it.”

“That’s very . . . kind of you,” Maggie said with a smile. “I’ll be about an hour.”

“And I’ll see you Monday morning,” I said. “Call me if anything changes.”

Maggie put the strap of her purse over her head and we started up the sidewalk toward Eric’s Place.

“Busy morning?” I asked.

“Uh-huh, but that’s a good thing.” She shifted the small denim purse onto her hip. “Andrew told me about Hugh Davis. Are you okay?”

I frowned at her. “Andrew told you?”

She nodded. “Uh-huh. I went to Eric’s for some tea before I opened the store. Andrew showed up at the same time. We had breakfast.”

“He’s trying to win you over to his side, you know.”

“I know,” she said. She rubbed her palms together and studied me. “So you’re all right?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “But there is something I wanted to ask you about.”

“Anything. What is it?”

We stopped at the corner, looked both ways and crossed the street. Eric’s was just ahead. “It’s Abigail. I think she knew Hugh, I mean I think she knew him before the festival ended up here.”

Maggie frowned. “Are you sure?”

I shook my head. “Not really. It’s just something she said to me and something else Mary overheard.”

“You don’t think Abigail had something to do with Hugh Davis’s death, do you?”

“No. But I think she’s hiding something, which isn’t like Abigail. And he is dead.”

“Which is an awfully big coincidence—not that coincidences don’t happen.”

We were at the café. I followed Maggie in. A tall man I didn’t recognize was behind the counter. He smiled at Maggie. She gestured toward an empty table in the window, raising her eyebrows. He nodded and she smiled back and started for the table.

“Who’s that?” I asked, shrugging off my jacket.

“That’s Nicolas,” Maggie said “He’s about to be the newest member of the co-op. He’s a found-metal artist.”

“What’s a found-metal artist?”

She hung her purse on the back of her chair and peeled off her jacket. “He recycles all kind of metal—forks, knives, gears, screws—into sculptures. He’s working on a series of birds right now that are just incredible.”

Nicolas was on his way over with hot water and tea bags for Maggie and the coffeepot. “Hi, Maggie,” he said, setting the metal carafe of hot water and a small stoneware teapot in front of her.

He was about medium height, built like a hockey goalie with a smooth, shaved head, light brown skin and deep brown eyes.

“Coffee?” he asked me.

“Please.” I pushed my cup closer.

“Nic, this is my friend Kathleen,” Maggie said.

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

He smiled as he filled my cup. “You as well.”

Maggie leaned forward and looked in the direction of the kitchen. She reminded me of Owen when I was making kitty crackers. “Do I smell pea soup?” she asked.

He nodded. “With corn bread. It’s today’s special.”

Maggie’s gaze shifted to me. “Yes?”

“Yes,” I said with a smile.

“It’ll just be a few minutes,” he said and headed back to the kitchen.

I added cream and sugar to my coffee. “He’s nice.”

“He is,” Maggie said, dropping a tea bag into the pot and reaching for the hot water. “I think he’ll be a good addition to the co-op.”

I leaned back in my chair and watched the little ritual she went through when she made her tea. Finally she picked up the cup and stretched her long legs under the table.

“Okay, tell me why you think Abigail knew Hugh before the festival,” she said.

“This stays between us.”

“Of course.”

I ran my finger around the top edge of my coffee mug. “It was what she said after Ben Saroyan and Hugh had come to take a look at the gazebo, although I didn’t pay attention to it at the time. Hugh wasn’t happy with the idea of using it as a stage. Abigail said, ‘He’s still a control freak, I’ve discovered.’”

Maggie’s eyebrows went up. “‘Still’?”

I nodded.

“And you said Mary overheard something.”

“Mary went over to the Stratton yesterday morning, early, to talk to Abigail and overheard her in the parking lot, arguing with Hugh.”

Maggie shrugged. “People argue. It doesn’t always mean they know each other that well.”

Nicolas was coming our way with a tray. The aroma of smoked ham and onions drifted in our direction.

“It’s not the fact that they were arguing that bothers me,” I said. “It’s what Mary heard Abigail say.”

“Which was?”

“‘If I’d killed you the first time you messed up my life I’d be out of prison by now.’” I looked at Maggie across the table. “No one says that to someone they just met.”

She sighed. “True.”

Nic had reached the table. He slipped fragrant, steaming bowls of thick soup in front of us and set a napkin-lined basket of corn bread in the middle of the table. “I’ll be right back with the coffeepot,” he said with a smile.

I didn’t say anything else until my cup had been topped up and I’d buttered a slab of corn bread, still warm from the oven. “It’s not like Abigail,” I said. “Do you remember when she found that box of old books at the library? The one with the first edition of
Alice in Wonderland
?”

“I remember,” Maggie said, gesturing with her spoon. “That was how you bought all the books for the children’s section, wasn’t it? Just from auctioning that one book.”

I dunked a chunk of corn bread in my soup and took a bite before I answered. “It was. Abigail found those books in the storage room stuffed in a box that had been donated to the library, and the first thing she did was bring them to me. Everyone had forgotten they were even there. She could have taken that first edition and the rest of the books and no one would have known.”

BOOK: Final Catcall: A Magical Cats Mystery
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