Read No Cats Allowed: A Cat in the Stacks Mystery Online
Authors: Miranda James
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Miranda James
Cat in the Stacks Mysteries
MURDER PAST DUE
CLASSIFIED AS MURDER
FILE M FOR MURDER
OUT OF CIRCULATION
THE SILENCE OF THE LIBRARY
ARSENIC AND OLD BOOKS
NO CATS ALLOWED
Southern Ladies Mysteries
BLESS HER DEAD LITTLE HEART
DEAD WITH THE WIND
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Copyright © 2016 by Dean James.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-18197-7
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
No cats allowed : a cat in the stacks mystery / Miranda James.—First edition.
pages ; cm.—(Cat in the stacks mystery ; 7)
ISBN 978-0-425-27774-4 (hardcover)
1. Librarians—Mississippi—Fiction. 2. Libraries—Mississippi—Fiction. 3. Library cats—Fiction. 4. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. I. Title.
Cover illustration by Dan Craig.
Cover design by Lesley Worrell.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book is dedicated with great affection, admiration, and respect to Natalee Rosenstein, who opened the door—and kept it open.
I can never thank her enough.
As always, many thanks to my long-suffering, ever-supportive editor, Michelle Vega. Blessed was the day you became my editor; another reason to thank Natalee. My agent, Nancy Yost, and her staff, Sarah, Adrienne, and Natanya, work hard on my behalf, and they are much appreciated. Thanks also to Bethany Blair, Michelle’s hardworking assistant, and my publicist, Danielle Dill, for all that they do.
My fellow critique group members only got to look at a small portion of this one, but they deserve thanks for their encouragement and support. Thanks to Amy, Bob, Kay F., Kay K., Julie, and Laura, as ever. And to Susie and Charlie for all they do to provide a happy place to meet (even when I’m viewing it through a computer screen). My cohorts in the Femmes Fatales keep me entertained with their lively wit and humor on a daily basis. Thanks to Donna Andrews, Dana Cameron, Charlaine Harris, Toni L.P. Kelner, Catriona McPherson, Kris Neri, Hank Philippi Ryan, Mary Saums, Marcia Talley, and Elaine Viets, for inviting me to join in the fun.
I needed answers to a few questions, and I’d like to thank several people for their help. They can’t be held accountable for any mistakes I’ve made. Thanks to Linda Burciaga, Christina Torbert, Julianna Davis, and Scott D. Deleve, for answering my questions, odd though they might have been.
My new coworkers at the Rowland Medical Library, University of Mississippi Medical Center, welcomed the stranger into their midst and made me feel like one of the family right away. I cannot thank them enough for providing a rewarding, interesting, and collaborative work environment.
Finally, I come to my two first readers, Patricia Orr and Terry Farmer. Mere thanks are not enough for their continued support, love, and encouragement. They are always there for me.
“He’s out there again today, Charlie.” Melba Gilley made the announcement as she strode hurriedly into my office at the Athena College Library. “Do you think we should call the campus police?”
“No, I don’t think
need to do anything.” I turned from staring at my computer screen to face my longtime friend. “This is, what, the second day you’ve seen a strange man sitting in a car across the street from this building?”
Diesel, my Maine Coon cat, jumped down from his perch on the window ledge behind my desk and ambled around to greet Melba. The two adored each other, and if anyone could calm Melba down, Diesel could. I couldn’t figure out why she was so agitated by this. I figured there was an innocent explanation for the so-called lurker’s presence.
Melba plopped down in a chair near my desk and commenced rubbing the cat’s head. Diesel’s rumbling purr brought a smile to her face.
“I know you think I’m imagining things.” Melba’s tone was defensive. “And for your information, Mr. Smarty-Pants, this is the
day I’ve seen that man out there.” She sniffed. “He’s hard to miss, sitting in that little bitty car. He’s way too tall for it, and I don’t know how he manages to scrunch himself into it.”
“Maybe he’s simply waiting for someone to get off work so he can give them a ride home,” I said. “Have you thought about maybe approaching him and asking him if he needs help? On the other hand, if he’s lurking for some purpose, and you let him know you’ve spotted him, he might go away.”
Melba shot me a look tinged with utter disgust. When she spoke, she addressed the cat. “After all these years somebody ought to know me better’n to think I don’t know most of the people who’ve got legitimate business around here.” She darted another barbed glance at me when she paused for breath. “Or think I’d do something so dumb as to go up to a complete stranger and ask him why he’s trying to hide in a teeny-tiny car way too small for him.”
Diesel warbled as if he agreed with Melba, and this time the glance I got was triumphant. My cat was smart and a good judge of character, but he loved Melba so much he’d probably warble at anything she told him.
I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to work again until I allowed Melba to get whatever this was out of her system.
“So if he’s not here to pick someone up from work, and you don’t feel like simply asking him,” I said, “why do
think he’s sitting out there every day?”
“I don’t know, but I’d be willing to bet you it has something to do with
.” She pointed down at the floor, and I knew whom she meant—her new boss, Oscar Reilly.
My new boss as well, actually. The previous library director, Peter
Vanderkeller, departed abruptly a couple of months ago, right before classes resumed after the holidays, with no explanation that I ever heard. While the college searched for a new library director, the president, Forrest Wyatt, appointed an assistant vice president of finance as the interim director. I thought the interim should be a senior member of the library staff, but the president didn’t concur—not that he ever asked my advice in the first place.
“Reilly hasn’t so far impressed me as being anything other than slimy and obnoxious, and I know you don’t care for him, either.” I had observed him leering at two of the youngest and prettiest female library staff several times when he evidently thought no one was watching him. “He sure doesn’t know anything at all about what a library does or how it should function. But why would you associate a stranger on the street with Reilly?”
Diesel warbled loudly when he heard the name
. My cat and the interim director had met twice since Reilly stepped into the interim position, and both times Diesel took one sniff and backed away.
The first time it happened, I should have taken it as a sign that things were about to get unpleasant. Upon initially meeting the man, I found Reilly charming, sympathetic, and eager to do his best for the library while it was in his charge. What became quickly apparent afterward, however, was that he was mercurial in temperament, harsh in his criticisms, and contemptuous of his staff.
The president couldn’t find a new director soon enough to suit me or the rest of the staff. In the meantime, if Reilly aggravated me too much, I could simply hand in my notice. I had sufficient income that I wouldn’t really miss the part-time salary, but I would definitely miss the work I did cataloging the rare books and maintaining the archives. Others, like Melba, didn’t have that option. They
needed their jobs, and they were all terrified Reilly would fire them at any moment.
“You never know what might crawl out from under all sorts of rocks when that man’s around,” Melba said darkly. She continued to scratch Diesel’s head. “I wouldn’t put anything past him. Maybe the guy watching him is out for revenge.”
“Revenge for what?” I asked. “Reilly hasn’t been in Athena all that long.” He had come from a small school in New England only four months ago, in fact, to take the job here. “Surely you’ve had time to dig up most of what there is to know about him.” Melba always managed to find out details about the lives of anyone who interested her—or who annoyed her, in this case.
Melba shook her head. “All I’ve heard is that he’s a widower with two grown children who live up North somewhere. I don’t know the girl who was his assistant over in the finance office, but I’m going to make her acquaintance right soon. I’m sure she has a few tales to tell.”
“You’d better be careful.” I tried not to sound like a stern father admonishing his daughter to behave, but as much as I loved her, Melba sometimes tried my patience. She could worry at a subject until it was in rags. “Reilly impresses me as the vindictive type, and you don’t want to lose your job. He’ll be replaced eventually, and we can hopefully get back to business as usual.”
My reward for what I thought was a well-tempered speech was a look full of irritation.
“He’d better not try to fire me,” Melba said in a fierce tone. Diesel trilled loudly, alarmed by the shift in his friend’s demeanor. “I’ve been here a long time, and I know a lot of people. People with influence, and if I have to call in favors, I’ll do that.” She further
stated that if Reilly crossed her too much, she would hand him a certain part of his anatomy on a platter and make him kiss it.
Melba was a lot more riled up than I had realized. Normally she was an easygoing sort, but once her temper started rising, she could turn into a gale-force wind.
Before I could speak in an attempt to calm her down, she went on. “He had the nerve this morning to accuse me of lying to him. Can you believe that? Why would I run the risk of lying to my new boss?”
“That is utterly ridiculous.” I could feel my own temper start edging toward the red. Melba was one of the most forthright people I knew, and she wouldn’t lie. “What could he possibly accuse you of lying about?”
“My lunch hour yesterday. He left for a meeting around ten, and he wasn’t back at noon when I left to go to lunch with a friend. He claims he was back by ten to twelve, and I didn’t come in from lunch until a few minutes after one.” Melba’s face reddened as she talked, and I feared for her blood pressure. “When I told him I was late by only about five minutes, he said it was obvious to him I was goofing off the whole time he was gone and had left for lunch a lot earlier.” She paused for a deep breath. “Then he said he would see about putting in a time clock to keep me from cheating the college out of work time.”
“That’s outrageous.” I could understand now why Melba was so angry with the jerk. She didn’t tolerate any aspersions against her character, particularly against her truthfulness. She did like to gossip more than she probably should, but she never passed along dirt just for the sake of it. She was invariably right, at least in my experience.
“He asked me if I could prove my story, and the way he said it
made me want to scratch his eyes out right then.” She shook her head. “I tell you, Charlie, that man is crazy.”
“Why did he wait until this morning to talk to you about it?”
Melba shrugged. “I don’t know. I was so surprised by the whole thing I never asked him.” She glanced at her watch. “Break time is over in two minutes. I’d better get back downstairs.” She gave Diesel a couple more scratches on his head before she rose.
“Don’t do anything rash,” I said, even though I knew I risked annoying her further. “I think you ought to talk to human resources and file a complaint for harassment. He’s creating a hostile work environment, and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. You need to document his behavior toward you and let them handle it.”
“Good idea,” Melba said. “I’ll go call right now and make an appointment.” She strode briskly from the room, and moments later I heard her clattering rapidly down the stairs.
Diesel came back around the desk and jumped into his window again. I gave him attention briefly before I turned back to the computer.
I found it difficult to concentrate on work, though, because I was concerned for Melba. What was the matter with Reilly? Why was he so combative?
My thoughts then turned to the strange man in the car. What
he doing, sitting out there every day? Keeping someone under surveillance?
I stared at the computer screen blankly for some time while Diesel napped. The ringing of my office phone finally roused me. I picked up the receiver and identified myself.
“Hi, Charlie. Penny Sisson from HR. Sorry to bother you, but I’m afraid I have an issue I need to discuss with you.”
“Hi, Penny, what’s up?” I didn’t know her well, but the college’s chief HR officer was known to be intelligent, thoughtful, and highly competent. I wondered if her call had anything to do with Melba’s problem with Reilly.
“There’s been a complaint.”
I couldn’t interpret the tone in Penny’s voice. There was a bit of hesitancy to it, and that made me uneasy.
“A complaint about me?” I couldn’t imagine what I could have done to upset anyone.
“In a way,” Penny responded. “Can you come over to my office this afternoon sometime?”
“Sure.” I glanced at my watch. Ten minutes after three. “I’m about ready to wind things down here, and I can be over there in about ten minutes.” I paused a moment. “Can’t you at least tell me what this is about?” Curiosity was one of my besetting sins. I had to know now; otherwise I’d work myself into a tizzy.
Penny exhaled into the phone, and for a moment I thought she would refuse to answer until I was in her office. Then she said, “It’s about your cat. We’ve had a complaint about you bringing him to work with you.”