Three Cat Mysteries: C is for Catnip, Ghost of a Purr, Magical Meow
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by J. D. Crayne
Description: What Could be Luckier than 3 Great Cat Mysteries for the Price of 2? Especially when they feature feline detective "Lucky Pierre," that well-known cat about town with his humans, Jeremy and Linda Austin. Associating with people mean meanness and murder. No wonders cats turn their noses up at Homo Sapiens. But Lucky Pierre's nose is for news of murder, and he has a way of sniffing killers out even when the local police force is baffled. Chasing killers means chasing trouble, and Lucky Pierre hates killers, murder interferes with his naps. But in addition to being ultraclever (and what cat isn't?) our hero will need all nine lives if he is to survive to solve these three intriguing cases from the pen of Lt. Mark Stoddard's creator, J. D. Crayne. Originally published at $4.99 each, you get all three for only 9.99!
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: April 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [470 KB]
Reading time: 292-409 min.
"We're here!" Jeremy Austin said, stopping his car, which had a U-Haul trailer attached, at the end of the long graveled driveway. "That is the longest three hours I have ever spent in a car." He turned off the ignition and when the engine died, the only sound was the defiant wail of their cat, Lucky Pierre, from his carrier on the back seat.
Jeremy's wife, Linda, rolled down her window and they both looked out at the big house, with its peeling paint and neglected shrubbery.
It was one of those big wood-framed Victorian homes that West Coast builders put up from the 1890s through the 1920s. Three stories tall, with a high peaked roof that held a spacious attic, it had the usual collection of wooden gingerbread decoration and some nice leaded-glass windows.
They bought it as-is, for a very comfortable price. True, it badly needed a paint job, and some of the wooden fretwork hung loose, but the termite inspection hadn't shown anything actually awful, and the original knob and tube wiring was in surprisingly good shape. It was surrounded by five acres of rolling land, and the remains of a kitchen garden stretched away from the house on both sides. There was a barn and a couple of out buildings, and the closest neighbors were a quarter of a mile away. Despite it's appearance of isolation, the house was only a fifteen minute drive from the Pomo civic center with its markets and shops.
The town of Pomo is a small, close knit, friendly, community. That is, if one believes the Chamber of Commerce. If you listen to the west coast trucking companies, they will tell you that it is an uninteresting little speed trap that cuts into their schedules. The Chamber of Commerce is looking for something that will lure people into town instead of sending them scurrying around in search of a way through it and off to somewhere more interesting. So far they have not been successful.
"I am glad that trip is finally over," Linda, said, raising her voice over the cat's strident objections. She was a petite girl of twenty-four, with a mop of curly blonde hair and a pleasantly curved figure. Her eyes were hazel, her nose tilted upward, and her face was attractive but a little too square to be beautiful.
"I am soooo stiff!"
"And Pierre is soooo pissed!" Jeremy said, grinning.
"Three hours in a plastic box would be enough to spoil anyone's disposition. I'll take him inside and set him up with his bowls and litter box in one of the back rooms, and then come out and help you unload."
"Okay, you've got a deal."
After they unloaded the trailer, which held a folding table and chairs, a couple of suitcases and a few boxes of necessities to see them through until the moving van arrived the next day, Jeremy drove into town, left the trailer at the Pomo U-Haul lot, and came back, carefully avoiding Lucky Pierre who was prowling the driveway by the barn. Jeremy opened the big double doors of the barn, intending to use the building as a garage. But when he did Pierre shot past him like a bolt into the barn, and Jeremy was assailed by that sickly sweet smell that comes from dead things which are working on their final steps to dissolution.
Jeremy swore softly, got a flash light out of the car and flicked the beam around the dim interior.He didn't find the source of the stench until he followed Pierre's meows to a small tack room at the back of the structure. There the cat was staring at a figure lying prone on the floor, dressed in the sort of dingy and ragged garments that are seen on homeless drifters and street people.
"We've got a bit of a problem," he told his wife, coming in through the back door of the house to find her standing at the kitchen drainboard, making sandwiches.
"What's that?" she asked. "Do you want mayonnaise, or mustard?"
"I don't care. There's a body in the barn."
"Is there? You know, I think... there's WHAT?" She spun around to face him. "You mean body as in a dead opossum or raccoon?"
"No, I mean body as in cadaver, human, deceased. Have you got your phone in your purse?"
White lipped, she nodded toward the brown leather bag that was sitting on the end of the kitchen counter.
* * * *
Detective Mark Stoddard, of the Pomo Police Department, sat the Austins down in their kitchen; took their names; went out for a cursory look at the corpse; and then called for the crime scene crew and the medical examiner.
"Just moving in, are you?" he asked, observed the folding chairs and table, and the empty state of the kitchen.
"We got here about a hour before I phoned," Jeremy said. "Our furniture isn't coming until tomorrow some time."
"Escrow just closed yesterday," Linda added.
"Did you know the dead man?"
"Never saw him before in my life!" Jeremy said, and Linda nodded agreement, twisting a dish towel nervously in her hands.
"He probably picked your barn as a quiet spot for a night's sleep and died a natural death," Stoddard said, running a hand through his sandy hair. "Of course, we won't know exactly what he died of until someone opens him up and takes a look."
Jeremy nodded and Linda wrinkled her nose.
"How long do you think he's been dead?" Jeremy asked.
"Doc Viber thinks about three or four days."
"Was that the plump man in the dark suit; the one carrying the little black bag?" Linda asked.
"That's him. He's our country coroner. He thinks the deceased died sometime Tuesday or Wednesday. It's been a warm June, so things move a little faster than they would in cold weather, decomposition wise. Just for the record, where were the two of you last week?"
"We were both at work," Jeremy said. "I was finishing up a few last things at my old company, Tritanium Incorporated. They're a software house in Oakland, and I was with them for nine years."
"I was training my replacement at Knickerson Medical," Linda volunteered before the detective could ask. "It's a medical supply company, and I've been there for three years. I mean, I was there for three years before I gave notice."
"That's in Oakland too?"
"Okay," the detective said, jotting down the information in a dog-eared, pocket-sized, notebook. "Why did you two decide to move up here? Pomo is a great little town, but it's not exactly a high tech paradise, and there isn't much in the way of business opportunities around here."
"My wife's grandmother died and left her some money and a house full of furniture," Jeremy said, "so we decided to get out of the rat race and leave the big city."
"And you bought this property? It's kind of big for two people, isn't it? You'll rattle around a bit."
"We're going to turn it into a bed and breakfast!" Linda said.
"That'll will be a nice change for the old place," Stoddard said, flipping his notebook shut and stuffing it into his pocket. "It's seen its share of living. I had to pull a twenty-year-old corpse out of the old well shaft out back, just last year."
He nodded to the stunned householders and sauntered out of the kitchen and through the service porch. The screen door slammed behind him.
"Oh no," Linda said. "There was a body in the well?"
"Don't worry. He called it the old well shaft, so it's probably not where we're getting our water now."
"Ugh! I hope not. I'll be thinking I can taste it anyway!"
"Helloooo!" a cheerful voice called out.
They turned back toward the screen door to see a different figure standing outside on the stoop.
"Yes?" Jeremy asked, walking over to the doorway.
A frowsy middle-aged woman was standing there, peering at him anxiously through the screen.
"I saw the police cars here and I thought I'd just drop in and make sure that nothing was wrong, or that there wasn't anything I could do to help. I didn't realize that anyone had moved into the old place and anyway, we're neighbors !" she finished breathlessly.
Linda fixed a welcoming smile on her face. "How nice," she said. "You must come in. I was just going to fix some sandwiches and coffee for lunch. Won't you join us?"
Jeremy, with an exasperated look at his wife, held open the screen door and their neighbor came tripping in. She was scraggy, not very tall, dressed in wrinkled blue jeans and a rather grubby yellow sweat suit top, and had a mop of gray-streaked brown hair that would have been better for a few minutes with a stiff brush.
"How kind of you to offer! Thank you so much, but I just had lunch myself, and I don't drink coffee because of the caffeine. I do hope there is nothing wrong?" she asked, looking around with bright inquisitive eyes. "When I saw the police cars I was afraid that something dreadful had happened."
"Not immediately, and not recently," Jeremy said. "Unfortunately some local drifter seems to have died in the barn. I found him when I started to put the car away."
"Oh my! Just like the time they found the body in the well, but of course that was a murder and not quite the same thing."
"I hope not!" said Linda, looking stricken.
"Are you just moving in?" their guest asked, looking around at the bare kitchen.
"That's right," Jeremy said, restraining himself from saying things that were not only untrue, but very rude.
"The van is coming tomorrow with our furniture," Linda said hurriedly. "We're sleeping on an air mattress tonight."
"Ah well, you're young and you can still do that sort of thing," the woman said, rattling on. "I'm Lou Carmichael. It's Mrs. Carmichael, but my dear Larry has been gone nearly three years now. I live in the brown farm house with the yellow trim. You can just see it past that grove of oaks. And you are...?"
"The Austins," Linda said automatically. "Linda and Jeremy."
"How lovely!" Mrs. Carmichael beamed at them. "Such a sweet young couple. It's going to be so lovely to have you here. This is such a nice little town. I often think how much Larry would have loved it, but of course he was gone by the time I decided to take the house. You'll remodel, I suppose. I hope you're not going to make the dear old place look too modern. The last owner let it go sadly downhill, I'm sorry to say. She lives in a rest home in Sacramento now. Quite ga-ga, poor dear."
"We're going to fix it up and turn it into a bed and breakfast," Jeremy said, glancing at his wife, who was clutching the bread knife with white knuckles and a stricken look on her face.
"What a delightful idea!" Mrs. Carmichael said. "I must bring you some of my cuttings and transplants for your landscaping. There is nothing like a bed of sweet-smelling herb plants to give a house that old time atmosphere; especially lavender and rosemary. If the climate were warmer, you could plant lemon verbena, but..."
A muffled but horrible cry came from somewhere over their heads, like the outrage of some demon of hell stuck in a half-empty peanut butter jar.
"What was that!" Mrs. Carmichael asked in a hushed voice, putting the fingers of one hand over her lips and staring up at the ceiling.
"Our cat, Lucky Pierre," Linda said, apologetically. "He doesn't like being locked in."
"My, he gave me such a fright!" The elder woman patted herself on the chest. "I think I have palpitations. You'll have to plant some catnip for him, and catnip does make such wonderful tea too. Although, of course, people don't respond to it in the same way that cats do."
"I hope not," Jeremy said. "I'd hate to be found rolling around on the floor with a funny look in my eyes."
Mrs. Carmichael tittered. "Well, I mustn't keep you! Bye now!" She waved a friendly hand and vanished out through the screen door, letting it slam behind her.
"Jer, did you hear that! The body in the well was murdered and the woman who used to own the house is a nut case! And now there's a body in the barn!"
"Was," he corrected her. "The coroner's van took it away. Don't let it get you down, honey. With a house this old, there were bound to be a few deaths on the premises. It's probably just gossip anyway."
"When we signed the real estate papers, wasn't the seller an executor of some kind?"
"Yes, the executor for the estate, but if the last owner lived here when the house was new she must be pretty old and she's bound to be a bit vague by now. Forget it. It doesn't have anything to do with us." He cast a resentful look toward the screen door. "That old biddy didn't just drop in. The nearest house is a quarter of a mile away!"
"I'll bet she has a pair of field glasses."
"And a car!"
Jeremy walked over to the kitchen window and looked out onto the driveway. "Yep. It's an old blue square-back. She probably jumped into it and drove over as soon as she spotted the police leaving."
"This place is going to be a boon to her," his wife with determined cheerfulness. "Think of all the guests that she can spy on, coming and going."
"I hope they be interesting enough to keep her occupied and out of our hair."
"If she asks, we can always make up something," Linda said, "like telling her they've got a skin disease and are stopping over on their way to the leper asylum. Do you want another sandwich?"