Tabitha woke Thistle up sometime mid-morning when she climbed out of bed, and he was annoyed. “People are trying to sleep here,” he complained, but she ignored him and went directly across the hall, not stopping at the bathroom, not changing out of her long pink nightshirt.
Tabitha had a secret talent. She was a painter.
Thistle let himself fall back asleep for a few minutes, but he had already been disturbed, so he
got up and poked his head into Tabitha’s studio. She was working on these very bold abstracts that if you looked very closely, you could see bits of things from around the house and on the street. Her computer on the vanity, Fritz in his back yard, all obscured by a haze of wild colors. Thistle rather liked them, but never said so. He left her to her work and went downstairs.
Thistle went straight to the kitchen to nibble on what was left of the dry cat food, knowing it would be a good hour or two before Tabitha realized she was hungry or thirsty or needed to pee. Through the open window over the sink Thistle could hear Fritz howling in a panic. What now? Thistle thought, mentally sighing as he hurried out the cat door, scaling the tree easily and dropping to the ground on the other side of the wall.
Fritz continued to howl, straining on his chain, which was attached to an eyelet buried deep in concrete at the corner of a small patio. “What on earth is wrong?” Thistle demanded, licking his paw and trying to look like he didn't care.
“Been out all night!” Fritz nearly screeched, his bark growing shrill. “No bed no food no water. My Janine hasn’t come why not? She’s in the house—something’s wrong!”
“Okay, okay,” Thistle said. “Calm down.” He turned his attention to the house. “I’ll check it out.”
The only windows he could reach were the ones in the front, so Thistle bound up the front stairs to the front window. The blinds were half closed and it was hard to make anything out, but he saw broken china and a high-heeled sandal lying on the floor.
Thistle returned to the back yard and Fritz started jumping. “What did you see? What did you see?”
“I don't know. Maybe nothing. Is there a way into the house?”
“She never locks the back door,” Fritz said. “The boys come over after dark sometimes.”
Thistle glared at the doorknob. Not something he could manage on his own. “I’ll have to get Tabitha.”
Fritz whimpered and lay down, resting his chin on his paws. “I don’t wanna be alone.”
“It’ll just be a minute.”
“Thistle…” he whined.
“I’ll be right back,” He said, softer this time. “We’ll find out what’s wrong.”
Back in his house Tabitha was just as he left her, still in her nightshirt and dabbing chartreuse onto a canvas. “Tabitha, wake up!” Thistle commanded.
“Hmm?” she asked.
“Fritz is going crazy next door. Something happened to Janine.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don't know. I need you to open the door so I can find out.”
Tabitha finally looked away from her work. “I’m sure everything is fine. I’m not going to walk into someone’s house—“
“Fritz was left out all night!” Thistle said, and was surprised at the emotion in his voice. “The woman has issues, but she wouldn’t do that.”
Tabitha put down her paintbrush. “You’re right. Just let me put on some clothes.”
She must have felt some of his urgency because she did nothing more than slip on a pair of jeans under her nightshirt and slide her feet into flip-flops before going next door. Fritz started jumping on her immediately, his bark turning into a frenzy. “He’s really worried,” Thistle translated for her.
“I can see that.” She pushed Fritz away and bound up the back steps, knocking first and calling Janine’s name.
When no one answered Thistle nudged Tabitha’s leg with his head. “It’s unlocked.” She gave the knob a cautious turn and the door swung open. Fritz started barking again, but Thistle ignored him, slipping inside ahead of Tabitha and moving though the kitchen and dining room. Fritz’s house had the same floor plan as his own so it was slightly eerie, walking through his house—but not his house.
His eyes grew wide when he stepped into the living room. Janine was laying splayed across the floor, one shoe on, the other laying where Thistle had seen it through the window. Her blond hair was soaked through with blood, lots of it seeping into the carpeting and splattered across the sofa and the mirror over the fireplace. What had once been a ceramic vase had been shattered, but he couldn’t tell if she had been it with it.
Behind him Tabitha screamed.
“I think she’s dead,” Thistle said.
“No shit.” Tabitha’s voice was little more than a whisper. Thistle stepped forward, sniffing the body. “Ew, don’t!”
“She’s been here a few hours,” He said. The blood didn't smell that old. He might not have the nose of a dog, but the remnants of predator in his genes knew about dead things.
“She was alive when I came home last night,” Tabitha said. “I saw her with someone through the curtains.”
“That someone probably killed her,” Thistle said.
“We need to call the police.” Tabitha backed away, looking around. Janine’s purse was sitting on the dining room table and Tabitha picked it up to search.
“What are you doing?” Thistle cried, and Tabitha dropped the purse in surprise. The phone tumbled out onto the floor with a set of keys and some change. “You could be tampering with evidence.”
“Since when did you become an expert?” She picked up the phone and dialed 911. “Hello? I need to report a murder.”
Thistle shook his head and went back the way he came so he could break the news to Fritz.
Tabitha's hands were shaking when she pressed 'end' on the phone and set it down on the table. She knew she should leave, but instead she looked around. The table cloth was askew on the table, like it had been tossed back carelessly. She tried not to look at the blood on the sofa and mirror, and definitely not at Janine. She had always seemed so full of vitality, and now she was dead, dead. An empty shell. Not a person anymore.
"I'm really sorry Janine," Tabitha whispered. She noted that the largest part of the broken vase, the thick, heavy bottom, had not shattered and there was blood on it. Murder weapon Tabitha thought, and felt horrible. She backed out of the room and went out through the kitchen, deciding it would be best to wait for the cops outside.
Thistle was sitting next to Fritz, his paw on the dog's shoulder. She wondered if Thistle was aware of how human his actions were sometimes. Fritz was howling over and over. She couldn’t understand him--Thistle was the only animal she had ever been able to talk to--but she could hear the pain in his howls.
"He wants to see the body," Thistle explained to her. “We should let him in—see if he can smell who was in there.”
“Good idea.” Tabitha unhooked Fritz’s collar from the chain and scooped up the little dog, thankful that Janine’s tastes hadn’t run towards St. Bernards. He wasn’t like Thistle—he was an actual animal. She couldn’t let him go tearing through a crime scene.
Tabitha’s stomach dropped when she saw Janine’s body again, even though she expected it this time. Fritz struggled to be released from her grip but she held tight even when he began howling in her ear. “Well?” she asked Thistle with a grimace.
“He doesn’t know,” Thistle said, sounding disappointed. “Zach mowed the grass yesterday and Fritz has allergies.”
She knew she had to get Fritz away from the body and moved quickly back to the yard, sitting down on the steps and cradling Fritz in her arms. "Can he understand me if I talk to him?" Tabitha asked.
"A little," Thistle said. "He'll understand tone of voice and intent more than your actual words."
Fritz pressed his face against her chest, his howls tapering off to a whimper. "I'm so sorry," Tabitha said, rocking him, and started to cry. "I know your mama's gone--I wont let anything bad happen to you." She didn't feel silly crying over a dog's pain. Having Thistle had taught her a lot about animals. They didn’t have feelings the way people did--but they did have them. Dogs were deeply loyal, making attachments deeper than any human (or cat) Tabitha knew.
"You know I'm going to hold you to that," Thistle said quietly.
"I know," she replied. "I'll take care of your friend."
Tabitha held Fritz closer and Thistle jumped up onto her shoulders, arranging himself like a breathing fur stole around her neck. This was how the police found them a few minutes later. Neither Thistle nor Fritz was disturbed by the siren sounds.
The cop was one Tabitha was slightly familiar with, Scott Faber. She had gone to the precinct Christmas party the winter before and met most of Caleb's fellow officers. "Hi," she said, feeling awkward covered in animals. "I'm Tabitha, Srgt. Simon's girlfriend."
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "I remember you. You were wearing that awesome little silver dress at the Christmas ball." Well, at least someone had appreciated her flapper outfit. "Everyone talked about your boobs for weeks afterwards." Oh. "So what are you doing at a crime scene?"
"She found the body." Caleb's ex-partner Maya Vargas came around the side of the house. She kept her curly black hair just long enough to be pulled back and was wearing a blue silk shirt under a black jacket and slacks. A pair of scuffed work boots ruined an otherwise perfect outfit. She had been promoted to detective not long after the (apparently) ill-fated Christmas party, and it looked like she was still adapting to dressing like a professional. Tabitha had met her on several personal outings, and knew she usually wore torn jeans or faded camo. "What were you doing in the house?"
"I live next door," Tabitha said, any fondness she'd had for the woman draining at the accusatory edge in her voice. "Fritz was freaking out, so Thistle and I went to investigate. The door wasn’t locked."
"The cat," Tabitha said, pointing at Thistle's bottom draped over her shoulder.
"Could you move so we can get in to see the body?"
She set Fritz down on the patio and started to remove Thistle from her shoulders, but he hung on tight and meowed in her ear. "Let go," she said.
"Fritz is thirsty," he whispered so quietly she almost didn’t hear him.
"Okay, just get off me." Thistle jumped down. Maya and Faber looked at her oddly.
"Be my guests," she said, getting out of their way. "I'm just going to get the dog a bowl of water and some food--" She started up the stairs after them but Maya stopped her.
"You can't touch anything in the house. Sorry."
"But the kitchen hasn’t been touched--"
"Fine, fine. I'll get a bowl from my house." Tabitha went up the side yard to go around the wall
between the two properties and nearly tripped over Kyle's bike. "My god," she muttered. "The little squirt must have found out about Zach and flipped."
She got a bowl of water and also opened up a can of Thistle's food onto a plate in case Fritz was hungry. Some gravy slopped across her front and she realized she was in her pajamas, so she ran upstairs and put on a bra and a green polo shirt, running a brush through her hair and tying it up. She took a quick glance in the mirror. More or less normal. "Okay."
Tabitha set the food and water down next to Fritz. He took a bite of the food and a few half-hearted laps of water before collapsing down on the patio. "I know buddy," she said, and scratched him behind the ears. Thistle was nowhere to be found, so she went inside to tell Maya about Kyle's bicycle.
She found her cat in Janine's living room, Faber crouched in front of him as Thistle hissed and spit at him, back arched and fur standing up, his tail as fluffy as a squirrel's. "What the hell are you doing to my cat?" she demanded, crossing the room without even seeing the body. Faber backed off and looked relived.
"I haven’t touched him, I swear. No animals at the crime scene," he explained. "But I can't get near him.”
Even Tabitha was a little frightened of Thistle in his agitated state, but she was able to scoop him up without being scratched or bitten. Uniformed officers Tabitha didn't know swarmed the house, a woman taking pictures of Janine while a guy in rubber gloves and tweezers went all over taking samples. It seemed awful to be treating Janine like nothing more than a piece of evidence. One of the cops picked up the purse Tabitha had dropped on the floor.
“I did that,” she said, hugging Thistle close to her chest. “Looking for a phone to call 911.”
He nodded, and bagged it as evidence anyway. Tabitha approached Maya, who was standing over the body with a notebook and pen. “I think I know who did it,” she said.
“That so?” Maya was only half listening as she scribbled something, but then she looked up. “Ms Silverstein, the cat has to go—now. Why don’t you wait in the back yard? I’ll be out in a minute to get your statement.”
“Okay,” she said, feeling put out, but doing as she was told. You didn’t argue with cops.
Out in the yard Fritz lay where she had left him, looking mournful. Thistle sprang from her arms, his fur still a little fluffed. “I don’t know who did it,” Thistle said, “but whoever did it was mad. I think he hit her with the vase first, and then the fireplace poker.”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s gone,” he said.
“God. What a mess. It had to have been Kyle. His bike is still here. He must have panicked and run off without it.”
“I don't think Kyle would do that.”
Fritz started barking then, standing up and putting his ears back. Tabitha didn’t think it was possible for him to look fierce, but he was frightening. “Uh, Thistle?”
“He says,” Thistle spoke slowly. “He says that if it was Kyle, he’s going to rip his throat out next time he sees him.”
“Okay,” Tabitha said. Fritz looked as if he meant it. That’s just what she needed—a homicidal dog.
I hope it didnt take too long to get to the dead body part of the story. I know that they like to kill 'em off early, but I thought maybe some character development might be nice first. I'm writing a cozy because I've never found one that I liked. They always seem flat and trite to me, but I keep trying because I like murder mysteries but I dont like cop shows. (Bones and Castle being the exception.) I know that somewhere there is a perfect cozy writer for me, and chances are she only wrote like, two books.
A couple of things:
Went back and added a brief line of description about Tabita's neighborhood in chapter one. You dont have to go find it, here's the info: Tabitha and Thistle live in the German Villiage of Columbus, OH, which is my favorite section of the city. All of the houses are ancient brick and squeezed in on top of eachother The sidewalks and streets are all brick and everything is old and beautiful. If I ever have money and a sane number of cats I'm gonna move there.
Sorry about the 'T' in Thistle's blog entry last chapter. It is fixed. Kyle's name used to be Tyler. I decided he reminded me of this stoner kid I used to work with (but the character is not a stoner, for the record) so I borrowed his name.
Linda: Thanks for the blurb on web fiction guide!
Xirena: Bones has been renewed for two more seasons.