Monday, July 26, 2010

Ch 8: The Nose and the Answer

By Saturday Thistle still hadn’t gotten over missing the funeral and Kyle’s impromptu proposal to the corpse. He had related the story on his blog of course, but it wasn’t the same thing as being there and getting all of the juicy details. Still, he hoped this would win him an award of some sort. People liked hearing gossip about ordinary people. The celebrity gossip blogs had nothing on Thistledown Copperbottom.

Tabitha was not painting that day. She was dressed up in a skirt and heels and kept pacing around the house, sitting down on the couch and trying to watch TV, getting up again a few moments later. Fritz followed at her heels every time she got up, and would lay down next to her when she sat down again.

“I can’t take it anymore!” Thistle said finally, as Tabitha returned from walking around the kitchen.

“What?”

“Why are you pacing?”

Tabitha blushed. “Danny said he might come over. He wanted to go over his mom’s house, but its nearly two and--” With that the doorbell rang and she jumped, nearly falling over in her high shoes.

“You’re pathetic,” Thistle told her, and she hushed him as she opened the door.

Danny was indeed at the door when she answered, holding a large flower arrangement. “Hi,” he said. “Don’t get too excited. They’re funeral flowers. My apartment is full of these things.”

“They’re still beautiful,” Tabitha assured, and Thistle wondered if he could manage to throw up a hairball on her shoes at that very minute. She put them on the fireplace mantle behind the TV and glanced at Thistle. He wanted so badly to say something, and he knew that if he did, she’d deserve it. Bouncing around with this Danny character behind Caleb’s back. Thistle had no concept of infidelity of course, as related to himself--cats didn’t care. But he was fully aware that humans found it to nearly be a crime. He didn’t like to put Tabitha in his blog very often. But if she was going to do something this stupid, he had little choice.

*****

Tabitha felt a nervous buzzing in her chest as she walked with Danny across her yard towards Janine’s. The grass hadn’t been mowed since the day before she died and it was getting scraggly. Mrs. Garret was probably having fits.

“So we’re going to go through Janine’s stuff?” she asked.

“It has to be done sooner or later,” Danny said. “I prefer sooner, myself.”

“Okay.”

She hadn’t been in the house since the murder. There was still blood on the carpet in the living room. She tried not to look at it, instead focusing on the task at hand. Janine’s furniture was all nice, but nor really Tabitha’s taste. It was modern and new, while she preferred old stuff from flea markets. Janine didn’t decorate in pictures of her family, like most people (even Tabitha, who avoided going home as much as she could, kept a few snapshots). Instead she had art on the walls, mostly framed prints, in the bold colors of red, purple and royal blue that she loved so much. Danny wandered into the kitchen and came back with a box of garbage bags. “Mostly I thought we’d do the upstairs today, and I want to clean out the fridge. There’s stuff starting to grow in there.”

“Sure. No problem.”

“Thank you for helping me yet again,“ he said. He was standing close enough to her that she could feel his body heat. The nervous buzzing she’d been feeling melted into a different, more pleasant type of buzz.

“Really, it’s not a big deal. We‘re friends.” She stepped back.

“Friends, huh? What kind of friends?” She knew he was going to kiss her, could tell by the way his eyes burned. She didn’t give him the chance and hurried upstairs.

She had never been upstairs in Janine’s house. Janine had three bedrooms to Tabitha’s two, and a huge bathroom. Janine had replaced the old claw foot tub like Tabitha’s with a new whirlpool, and even though Tabitha loved her tub she was instantly jealous. “Mom liked luxury,” Danny said with an edge in his voice. “Check this out.” He pulled Tabitha into the bedroom. The queen sized bed was unmade and there were dirty clothes strewn about, but Danny steered Tabitha towards the closet and she could see what he meant. The back wall had been knocked out and now opened up into the smallest of the bedrooms. She had turned the entire room into a closet, including a wall of shoes going up to the ceiling.

“Look at all the shoes,” Tabitha breathed, eyes wide. Janine had shoes in every color and style imaginable. Tabitha knew they were all expensive--Janine used to criticize her Discount Shoe Shack footwear.

“If they fit, you can have them,” Danny said, a small smile playing on his face.

“Really?” she breathed.

“You can have anything you want. It’s just going to Goodwill otherwise.”

Tabitha felt a little guilty about the greed welling up inside her, but it was easily stamped down. She picked up a pair of alligator skin pumps and, kicking off her own shoes, slipped them on. They fit her perfectly.

Suddenly the chore was no longer a chore. Even though Janine was shorter than Tabitha they both wore a size eight, so she knew most of the clothes would fit her. “I feel like I’m taking advantage,” Tabitha said as she shook open a second garbage bag for herself. The Goodwill bag was only half-full.

“I kind of enjoy watching you get excited,” Danny said. “Even though I don’t see the appeal.” Danny’s idea of fashion, Tabitha had learned, was a black t-shirt with something written on it, and a pair of jeans. He’d worn the same shoes every time they’d met.

“Clothes are like art,” she explained. “I like being a walking masterpiece and expressing myself.”

“I won’t complain. That dress you wore on Wednesday--wow.”

“Caleb didn’t think it was appropriate.”

“Caleb is an ass,” Danny insisted. “When are you going to dump him?”

“Soon,” she said, her nervous feeling coming back. She felt Danny’s hand on her waist and he spun her around.

“Why don’t you break up with him right now, and just not tell him about it until later?”

*****

“Thistle, I wanna go,” Fritz whined. “It’s my house and I wanna go!”

Thistle peered out the window. He couldn’t see what was going on in the house, but it looked like they might have left the front door slightly ajar. “Okay then,” he said. “Let’s go.” He led Fritz around to the back and slipped through the cat door easily. Fritz followed. He was a small dog, but not tiny.

“My butt is stuck,” Fritz cried out, wiggling.

“If your head fit, the rest of you can fit,” Thistle said knowingly.

It took Fritz a long time to get through the door, but soon they were slipping between the houses and hopping up onto Janine’s porch. Thistle was right, they hadn’t shut the door all the way. Fritz shoved his nose into the door and pushed.

The room just smelled like dried blood to Thistle, but Fritz sighed happily. “Janine,” he said.

“Do you smell the alive her, or the dead her?” Thistle asked as Fritz circled the room with his nose to the carpet.

“My Janine,” Fritz said again, ignoring his friend’s insensitive comments.

Thistle wondered where Tabitha and Danny had gotten to when he heard giggling from upstairs. “That can’t be good,” he said, but Fritz barked at him before he could get more than half-way up the stairs. “Not now Fritz.”

“Something’s wrong,” Fritz said.

“Yeah, I know.” He glanced up the stairwell. “They’re doing it, I know it. I can feel it in my whiskers.” He shook his head. “She’s forcing me to do a blog on her.”

“No no no. Really wrong, Thistle. Wrong. The smells don’t add up.” Thistle finally gave Fritz his full attention as the little dog continued to sniff around the room, following a scent into the kitchen and back over to the stairs. “I think—I think its bad.”

“What! What’s bad?” Thistle sniffed around where Fritz was standing. He could only smell Tabitha and Danny.

“I can smell Janine all over,” Fritz said with a low whine. “There are other people smells, not from this week. Police smells. And it smells like Tabitha over here—“ he buried his nose in the carpet at the foot of the stairs. “And over here.” He trotted over to the dining room, where Tabitha had taken the phone from Janine’s purse.

“So?”

“Over here is old. Days old.”

“Right. Tabitha found the body, remember?”

Fritz ignored him and rushed over to where the carpet was stained with blood. “I—I can smell Danny here. He was here a week ago.”

Danny shouldn’t have been there, Thistle knew immediately. “The son! I knew it was the son! But why?”

“Danny hated my Janine,” Fritz said with a small growl. “She was very nice to his best friend in high school, whatever that means, and he’s never forgiven her.”

Thistle had to hold back the urge to hit Fritz, claws outstretched. “Why didn’t you say so before? That’s motive, Fritz!”

“What’s motive?”

There was a thump upstairs. “She has to know he did it,” Thistle said. “She can’t do 'it' with a murderer.”

“What’s 'it'?” Fritz asked, following him upstairs. “He was there the night Janine died. He did it, didn’t he?”

“Yes. It was Danny.”

Janine’s bedroom door was shut, and Thistle could hear lovemaking noises from the other side. He wanted to yell and shout, but Danny couldn’t find out his secret, so he meowed at the top of his lungs. Fritz caught on immediately and started barking.

******

Tabitha forgot about Caleb entirely when Danny pulled her over to Janine’s bed and they fell into it together. This is so wrong, she thought, but only because they were in a dead woman’s bed. Her boyfriend was so far from her mind. As they struggled out of their clothes she started having wild fantasies about dating Danny, maybe even settling down permanently and having a few kids that wore black t-shirts and glasses.

Danny was fumbling with the button on his jeans when a racket came up on the other side of the door--first meowing and then furious barking. “What the hell is that?” Danny asked, distracted.

Tabitha’s heart sank. Thistledown was up to something, and ruining her plans. As the meows and barks became even more frantic she knew she couldn’t ignore them. “Those would be my animals,” she said, pushing him off her and reaching for her shirt.

“What a mood killer,” Danny said. “Take them back to your house and come back.”

“Okay,” she said.

She opened the door and immediately caught Fritz as he launched himself into the room. “What the hell is going on?” she demanded, scooping up Thistle in the other arm and carrying them down the hall. Thistle stopped meowing immediately, but Fritz continued as they went down the stairs.

“He did it,” Thistle whispered to her, wiggling out of her grasp and climbing up on her shoulders so she could grip Fritz more firmly. “It was Danny. He killed his mother.”

Tabitha nearly dropped Fritz. “No. It was Sylvia and Zach. I thought we’d decided.”

“We were wrong.”

Tabitha picked up her pace and left the house, crossing to her own yard and shifting Fritz to get the door open. With Fritz barking it was hard to concentrate. She had to be misunderstanding something. Like the part where her future murdered his own mother. “Thistle,” she said, “just because you don’t like me seeing Danny doesn’t mean you can tell lies about him.” Denial was so much easier.

“Fritz can smell him in the house. He was there the night she was killed. He hates her for shtupping his best friend in high school. You told me yourself how he didn’t like the way she treated his father!”

Tabitha dropped Fritz on the couch and pulled Thistle off her back so she could see him. “It’s not him. It can’t be.”

“I’m sorry,” he told her, and it was only then that she believed him, because Thistle was rarely sorry about anything.

*******

A/N:
This chapter ended up covering more than I had originally planned, so we might be finished in 9 chapters instead of ten. I'm not sure yet.

Thrantor: DES has been cut down into 3 shorter books instead of one long one. The one I just finished is about David and Heather, so Sprite's personal issues are pretty much out. The second book will be about Katy and Lex, and the third book will be about Sprite and Gabby. The fourth book is about David's vampire friend Millie and her brother Sam. I think the series will end after that.

Fiona: Are you sure you want your cats to talk? I certainly wouldn't. Thistle has shorter hair, like Morris the 9 Lives cat.

Arielle: I believe you guessed the murderer a couple chapters ago. Gold star!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ch 7: The Ring and the Funeral

A fresh wave of guilt washed over Tabitha when Caleb showed up at her house on Wenesday for the calling hours. He was dressed in his only suit and looked as good as he ever did. She was wearing Janine's favorite color--a bold red halter dress and matching five-inch heels. She knew Janine would approve. Thistle agreed.

Caleb kissed her in the doorway, but he froze when he realized Tabitha was holding two leashes. He looked down and Thistle and Fritz looked back up. Tabitha could only imagine what her silent cat was thinking. "What exactly are you doing?"

"They wanted to come," Tabitha said with a shrug, deciding there was no way she could explain or lie her way into a sane person. Thistle had been quite clear that he needed to see people mourn to decide how guilty they were and Fritz howled for an hour until she gave in.

"No way," Caleb said, backing away from her. "You can't just take animals to a funeral."

"I called the home. They said they didn’t care. Caleb, just let it go."

"This isn’t normal," he insisted. "You don't wear a bright red hooker dress to a funeral and you don't bring your menagerie! Why can't you be normal?"

"Normal!" She threw the leashes down. "Look here. This is who I am, this is what I do. I like bright clothes and guess what, so did Janine. This is for her, remember? Fritz has been miserable all week. His best friend just died. He needs to go to this. I know its crazy. You can call me crazy all you want, I don't mind. But don't call me weird."

She must have looked manic because Caleb studied her a long time before he answered. "Okay," he said finally. "I'm sorry." She sighed. She didn’t want him to be sorry, not really. If he broke up with her for being crazy not only would it be his fault, but he would be an asshole too and she wouldn’t have to feel bad anymore. "But they're riding in the back."

Tabitha gave him a weak smile. "Of course."

So all four of them piled into Caleb's car, and Caleb didn’t say anything about cat or dog hair, though Tabitha knew he wanted to. He was trying, and she appreciated it, even if it wasn’t what she wanted.

At the funeral home Tabitha held her head high as Thistle and Fritz walked ahead of her, ignoring the stares of the other people as she entered the building. Caleb, to his credit, walked beside her, but he did not hold her hand or touch her in any way. That was okay. She couldn't be embarrassed if she wanted to pull this off, but she couldn't expect him not to be.

There were a decent amount of people there, mostly men under thirty-five. "Lots of ex-boyfriends here," Caleb remarked under his breath, interested. To his cop brain every one of them was a potential suspect, but Tabitha had a hard time concentrating on the murder as she scanned the crowd looking for Danny.

She found him standing near the casket, talking to one of the few women in the room. "Let's go say hi to Danny," she said, because she couldn’t *not* include Caleb.

Danny excused himself with a smile and took Tabitha’s hand, giving it a squeeze. "Thank you for coming," he said, basic funeral speech.

"This is my boyfriend," Tabitha said, introducing Caleb. "He's working with Detective Vargas."
"She's here," Danny said. "I haven't really had a chance to talk to her yet--have you made more progress?" he asked Caleb.

"I can't really discuss the case," Caleb said. "But I expect we'll get some answers soon." Tabitha could feel Thistle, leaning against her leg, go on alert, crouching down like he wanted to pounce.
"I hope so," Danny said, and went down on one knee to pet Fritz, and Tabitha felt warm all over. He didn't care that she was crazy.

"I'm going to go say hi to Maya," Caleb told Tabitha. "I'll catch up with you later."

"Sure," she said, and knew he just wanted to get away from the animals.

Thistle began to pull at his leash immediately and Tabitha sighed. "Fine," she told him under her breath when she leaned down and unhooked the leash from his harness. "But if we get kicked out of here I'm blaming you."

Danny was looking at her when she stood up again. "He's a free spirit," she explained.

"Is he now?" She saw that he was amused. "I'm so glad you're here." He leaned close to her to whisper. "Love the dress."

"I firmly believe in celebrating the deceased, not mourning them," she told him as she folded up Thistle's leash and put it in her bag. She was much less conspicuous with just Fritz. The little dog was sitting quietly, watching. This was not normal behavior. He was a Jack Russell. He should have been jumping on every person in reach. She picked up the dog and gave him a hug. "Fritz is depressed," she explained. "I thought the funeral might give him some closer."

"You talk about them like they're people."

She couldn’t expect him to understand any more than Caleb or any other guy did, but somehow she had hoped. "People don't understand anything about animals. Not really. Fritz loved Janine in ways we can’t possibly understand. You can tell just by looking at him that his heart is broken."

"Of course. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings."

"Sorry," she apologized. "Caleb freaked out a little bit when he saw I was bringing them." She looked for him across the room—Thistle was sitting under a chair near him and Maya. Watching.

*****

Thistle picked his way through the sea of ex-boyfriends, half-paying attention because it would make for a good blog topic later. He settled under a chair near Maya and Caleb. "This place is creepy," he told Maya. "Most of these guys are younger than me!"

"Focus," she told him. "We’re working, remember?"

"Are the lab results back yet?" Caleb asked.

Maya shook her head. "Monday at the earliest. Then we’ll find out whose blood is whose." Thistle perked his ears up at this. They had found the murderer’s blood?

"If we can just get the fireplace poker back, that would be something," Maya continued. "I talked to the ex-husband today," she said. "No wonder she dumped him—what a wimp."

Thistle was eager to hear about the ex-husband, the one paying the alimony. If he had learned one thing from watching TV it was that murders usually occurred over two things: greed and jealousy. The husband would have both. Unfortunately Maya didn't seem inclined to share any more, and Thistle’s whiskers prickled when he saw Kyle and his mother enter the room. Kyle was already crying, but Sylvia, if anything, looked smug. She let her son roam to the front of the room and glanced about at the people present.

The funeral home appeared to have two floors open to the public, and Thistle watched her slip upstairs without speaking to anyone. He was torn between hoping to overhear something about the case and seeing where his killer was running off.

In the end he tore himself away from the cops and slinked around the edges of the room and up the stairs. The second floor held a closed office, a full bathroom, and a medium sized sitting room equipped with a pair of sofas and a coffee maker. Thistle managed to slip inside the door and make a run for the sofa right before Sylvia shut it.

"Was that a cat?" a man’s voice said, and Thistle looked up to see Zach standing there. Zach had been lying low around the neighborhood since Janine was killed—this was the first Thistle had seen of him.

"I think so," Sylvia said, not even glancing under the sofa. "C’mon Zachary, its been too long. I’ve considered breaking the sink on purpose just so you could come over."

Thistle was appalled and thrilled when Sylvia pulled Zach into an embrace. I knew it was them, he thought, whiskers twitching. They were in on it together, they had to be. He was slightly less thrilled with the sucking sounds the couple was making, and he soon saw that they had every intention of having relations in the funeral home. This is going to be a great blog, he cackled internally. Hypocrisy was always a welcome subject to discuss, and this was a wonderfully scandalous example. He was a little impressed—Sylvia had hidden her cougar tendencies incredibly well.

Zach and Sylvia did it fast, standing up against a wall. The logistics were very interesting to Thistle, and he wondered if it was simply the fastest way to go about it in case someone walked in. But no one did, and once they were finished Zach simply zipped up his fly and Sylvia smoothed her skirt back down over her thighs. "Let’s go mourn the departed," Sylvia said, and they both laughed.

Thistle streaked out after them—he couldn’t wait to tell Tabitha.

*****

"Not this time," Tabitha told Thistle the next morning. She was running late so she didn't have time to worry about him seeing her in her underwear as she pulled on a charcoal grey suit. "I don’t care how many more secret affairs you uncover."

"But I want to go," Thistle insisted, sitting up straight on the bed.

"Too bad. I’m leaving, you’re staying here." She glanced at Fritz at her feet, looking up at her with big doggie eyes. "You’re staying too. I have to go straight to work after the funeral—Daws wants to kill me as it is. You know, he takes off to go to funerals a couple times a year. All day—not just a morning. Well, he’s old and all his friends are dying. But when my neighbor is murdered, do I get sympathy?"

She slipped her feet into practical work shoes and looked in the mirror. "Ugh. I look depressing."

"Like you’re going to a funeral?"

"I hate you."

*****

Tabitha still managed to get to the funeral with ten minutes to spare, and Danny waved her to the front of the room. "I want you to meet my dad," he said, and she saw a man even shorter than Danny and just as slight. He was going bald and had tiny, squinting eyes behind large glasses.

"Hi," she said, offering her hand and trying to be upbeat and ignore the dead body behind them. "I wish we could have met under better circumstances."

"My son has told me all about you," he said, shaking her hand with both hands. If Caleb had been there he would have laughed at the man’s grip afterwards. "It’s a pleasure." Tears prickled at his eyes as he spoke, and he pulled away to reach for a real handkerchief. "I’m sorry. My ex-wife, she was a remarkable woman."

"I know," Tabitha said.

Danny asked Tabitha to sit with him, and he leaned over towards her to whisper. "Mom really did Dad wrong in the end," he said. "But he still didn't want her to leave. In the end she got whatever she wanted, because he just wanted her to be happy."

"That does suck," Tabitha said, feeling a little cowed. She didn’t like thinking of Janine as the bad guy when she was the one who was dead.

Tabitha sat through a brief eulogy that tactfully skirted around the issue of Janine sleeping with three quarters of the people in the room, and then after a prayer the minister asked if anyone wished to speak.

There was the sound of uncomfortable shifting in the room, and then a low murmur when someone stood up. Danny and Tabitha both twisted around to see who it was. Kyle. "This isn’t going to be good," she muttered.

Kyle was dressed in a full suit—black with a black tie. He had rings under his eyes like he hadn’t slept in days. He looked around and made his way to the front of the room. He ignored the podium the minister stood beside and stepped up to the coffin.

For once Kyle was not crying.

"J-Janine was an amazing person," he said. He wasn’t talking loud enough to reach the whole room, but Tabitha could hear him perfectly. "She loved to laugh, she loved art and music. She opened the world to me." He turned away from everyone else. "I loved her." Tabitha’s mouth fell open in disbelief when Kyle took a ring from his pocket and slipped it onto the corpse’s finger.
He didn't wait for anyone’s reactions, just turned around and walked out of the room. "Well," the minister said, clearing his throat. "That was…new." And at that Sylvia stood up, a furious expression on her face, and hurried out after her son.

*****

A/N:
Thanks for the comments last chapter guys!

For those of you who’ve been around a while (like, 3 years), DES is finally done, more or less. It was a job of work, but the novel has been slashed in half, character issues have been resolved, yadda yadda yadda. I’ve got a handful of proofreaders to go over it, and then I start looking for an agent.

Arielle: I did finish Wizards and Warlocks in the week I had planned. My computer also broke down that week and I've only just gotten around to typing it up. I need to change some placeholder names and then I would be thrilled if you would read the first draft. (it's only half the length I planned so the finished product will be different)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ch. 6: The Boyfriend and the Other Man

“She did it,” Thistle insisted later that afternoon in the living room. “It was her. I can feel it in my whiskers—and my whiskers are very sensitive to this sort of thing.” He talked in a quiet whisper to prevent Fritz, sitting under the kitchen table and chewing on a rawhide bone, from hearing him through the archway that led from living room to kitchen.

“She seems angry enough,” Tabitha admitted. He didn’t like how uncertain she sounded. “But motive is not evidence, Thistle. You’ve seen enough cop shows to know that.”

“It was her. Go call your cop boyfriend, call Maya. Tell them she did it. I could claw her eyes out right now.” Tabitha was surprised how emotional Thistle was getting and couldn’t help but smile. She always knew his supposed disdain for the dog next door was an act.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Tabitha told him, reaching for the phone all the same. “Is Detective Vargas in?” she asked when the station picked up. “I’m just letting Maya know what we found out,” she told Thistle while she was being connected. “It’s the good Samaritan thing to do.”

“Detective Vargas,” Maya’s voice said, and Tabitha turned her attention from her cat to the conversation.

“Hi, it’s Tabitha.” She deliberately left off her last name in an attempt to convince Maya that she didn’t want to play ‘hard ass cop’ with her. Maya had been so friendly when she was a street cop.

“To what do I owe this pleasure?” Tabitha imagined that the phrase suggested familiarity and was pleased, but after she had explained what she had learned Maya’s attitude was far from friendly. “Thank you Ms. Silverstein, but next time perhaps you should leave the detecting to the professionals.”

“Did you talk to Sylvia Harding?” Tabitha asked, cowed by the comment but not letting go so easily.

“Of course,” Maya snapped. “She seemed like nothing more than a distressed mother. It’s a perfectly understandable in the situation.”

“But you’re the cops,” Tabitha tried again. “She was probably hiding her guilt—the woman is terrifying.”

“Thank you,” Maya said again. “I’ll definitely look into it.” And with that she hung up.

“Can you believe that bitch?” Tabitha asked, staring at the phone. She turned to talk to Thistle but he was gone from his perch on the couch and was booting up the computer. “Useless cat.” She glanced into the kitchen and saw Fritz. He’d stopped chewing on his bone and was watching her. “Don’t worry,” she told him. “We have a lead. We have a motive.”

She sighed and started up the stairs. She hadn’t gotten any painting done that weekend and it felt wrong. She would drown her discontent in acrylics, she decided, and ignore the world for a while.

******

“Dearest readers,” Thistle wrote. “I apologize for my lack of internet presence this weekend. One cannot ever think that the small dramas in their lives could possibly explode into murder, and yet. The Ballad of J has come to a jarring end. Her last note has been sung, she has finished her last chorus.” He stopped typing to re-read his words. His tendency towards musical theater embellishments had led many to speculate that he was an effeminate gay man. He let them think as they liked. It was of no consequence to him.

“J was found murdered in her home yesterday. Police are still gathering evidence, but I fear it was her liaison with the poor K that led to her end. She was well loved, as well as a great lover (or so I have heard). This blog will not be the same without her.” He posted what he had written and jumped down from the table. He needed a nap.

Fritz was still under the table, and Thistle joined him. “I can’t remember what she smells like,” he told Thistle. “I’m trying to and I can’t.”

“Are your allergies still acting up?”

“A little.”

“Maybe its affecting your memory too.” Thistle said, making things up as he went along. It seemed to work because Fritz perked up a bit.

“You think so?”

“Sure. Why not. Now scoot over—you’re hogging all the shade.” Thistle nestled down in the shadow of the table next to Fritz and fell asleep.

*****

Tabitha was having a hard time getting into the zone. Even her prisms of color were falling flat on the canvas as she tried to paint life into Janine’s old metal garbage can. Normally she could see the beauty in everyday objects, but nothing seemed very pretty at the moment. Having Fritz moping around must be getting to me. She moved a pile of half-finished canvasses and sat down in the room’s only chair. She still held a paintbrush between her fingers and began to absently paint her arm chartreuse.

She heard Fritz begin to bark and soon enough Thistle was peeking his head into the room. “Door,” he offered. With Fritz around I wont have to worry about fixing the doorbell. She dumped the paintbrush into a cup of water and went downstairs.

Tabitha had changed into paint covered sweatpants and a tank top, which she was only all too aware of when she opened the door and found Danny standing on the steps balancing a huge bag of dog food on one shoulder. “Hi,” he said brightly.

She stood horrified. “Hi.”

“Can I come in? This is kinda’ heavy.” She stepped inside to let him in and he set the food down next to the computer table. “Hey, you read ‘Tails from Town’ too?” Thistle had some blog she didn’t recognize up on the screen.

“Uh, sure. Hey—thanks for the dog food.”

“It’s the least I can do, what with you taking care of Fritz for me. You’re a true friend.”

“You barely know me.”

“Well, I’d like to change that. Are you free tonight?”

“Oh! Well…” She looked down at her clothes, the streak of color down her arm. “I’m not really dressed—“

“So go change. I’ll wait.”

Tabitha didn’t need to consider for very long before she was upstairs scrubbing the paint off of her arm and again donning her outfit from that morning. She even took the time to put on a little bit of mascara. It’s just dinner with a friend, she told herself as she dug around in a drawer for lipstick. It’s not like I’m cheating or anything. On that thought, forget the lipstick. She felt butterflies in her stomach like she might as well be on a date, and closed her eyes before she went back downstairs. “Just dinner,” she told herself.

They walked half-way down the block to Danny’s car—a hybrid. “You are so lucky,” she said, climbing into the driver’s seat. “I want one of these so bad, but I can barely afford my mortgage payment, let alone a new car.” She had been foolish to buy a house in the German Village making what she did, but she loved her little brick home and didn't care in the slightest that she didn't have money anymore.

“Well, I think its important to do what we can for the environment,” Danny said as he started the car.

Tabitha thought about Caleb’s unwillingness to recycle or quit using Styrofoam plates. “I quite agree,” she told him. “So dinner. What did you have in mind?” They decided on Japanese and Danny took her to a restaurant she had never been to before. It was different and new, and Tabitha found herself resenting Caleb even more. (His idea of going out was some greasy spoon diner.)

The more she enjoyed herself, the more miserable she grew, and the meal went on and Danny was charming, funny and fun. She was having a good time—a great time. Which was exactly what she was afraid of.

After dinner they went out for a few drinks and it was late when Danny pulled up to her house. “Thanks for dinner,” she said feeling a heavy weight of guilt. Because if he was going to kiss her, she wasn’t going to stop him.

He leaned in close to her. “Tabitha? The police have released my mother’s body. I was wondering if you would come with me to the funeral home tomorrow. I know we just met, but you were her friend and I feel a real connection with you.”

She blinked, surprised and disappointed, guilty all over because she was disappointed. “Of course I’ll come with you.”

“I’m glad.” And then he kissed her. This is it—you’re officially a cheater. She might not have been, except she couldn’t help but kiss back. He smiled at her in the dark when they separated, and she tried not to smile back. I am a vile, evil cheater. “So tomorrow?” he asked.

“What time?”

“Four. Prentice Funeral Home. Do you know where it is?”

“I’ll Google it.”

“Thank you,” he said, and he looked like he was going to kiss her again.

“Goodnight.” She got out of the car before she could cheat any more, and hurried into the house.

*****

Tabitha’s cell phone rang before her alarm went off the next morning, and she fumbled for it on her nightstand, glancing at the caller ID with bleary eyes. She sat straight up when she saw Caleb’s name, tossing Thistle off her in the process. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Caleb demanded when she answered.

“What? Nothing! It was just dinner.”

“Dinner? What are you talking about?”

Her mind caught up with her and she realized he couldn’t possibly know. “What are you talking about?”

“Playing detective and then calling Maya about it. I got chewed out this morning, and let me tell you—“

“Oh, get over it,” Tabitha moaned, getting out of bed. “I was just checking a few things. It’s no big deal.”

“It is a big deal, Tabby. Maya is my superior, remember? When you do something stupid it reflects on me. You can’t go around talking to suspects on your own. You’re going to mess up the case.”

“I don’t see how. Its not like anything happened. Caleb, I was asleep.”

“It’s time to get up. Who’d you go to dinner with?”

“No one. Janine’s son. It was nothing.” It wouldn’t do any good to lie.

“And did you interrogate him too? We’re checking out the son. Everything is under control. Stop talking to people before I get fired.”

“Okay.” It was too early for this. “I promise. I’m going to go pee now. And take a shower. Since I am up.” She hung up and sat down on the toilet and Thistle walked in.

“So dinner was nothing, huh?”

“Go away.”

“You’re acting pretty guilty for ‘nothing.’”

“I got Caleb in trouble for snooping around. You got him in trouble. And now I’m in trouble. Get out!” Thistle turned and left. Tabitha was able to stretch to reach the door and slammed it behind him. When she had finished her business she found Fritz waiting on the other side. He looked up at her with sad eyes and whined. “I’m sorry I yelled. I bet Janine never yelled. Give it a few more weeks living with Thistle. You’ll yell too.”

Later at work there was more yelling from Mr. Daws when she told him she had to leave early, and by the time three-thirty rolled around going to help plan a funeral was looking like actual fun.

Prentice Funeral Home was directly off the Short North across town, her second favorite place in the city after the German Village. Danny was waiting for her in the parking lot. “Are you ready?” she asked him, and he nodded, giving her a brief kiss on the cheek and grabbing for her hand.

“Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure.”

He held her hand through the entire process, listing relatives for the obituary and picking out a coffin. Tabitha didn't say much and wasn’t sure how much help she was being as he decided on white roses for the mahogany coffin and set the viewing hours for Wednesday evening, the funeral and burial for Thursday. He was still clutching her hand when they left. “Thank you,” he told her, still standing in the doorway of the funeral home.

“I didn't really do anything.” He pushed her gently against the doors and kissed her, his free hand reaching up to stroke her hair. She didn't want to push him away but when his tongue slipped into her mouth she did.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, looking at her shoulder instead of her face.

“No, it’s not that, it’s just—I have a boyfriend,” she admitted, not wanting to. “He’s a cop—he’s working on your mother’s case with Detective Vargas.”

“You should have said something last night.”

“I didn’t want to.” She felt like crying. “Look, I really like you, Danny, but I feel miserable about doing anything behind Caleb’s back.”

“Do you love him?” he asked.

“No.” She didn't even pause to think about it, and she knew it was the truth. “I don’t. But I can’t cheat on him.”

“Okay. I understand.”

“Do you really?”

“Of course.” He smiled at her. “So when you break up with him, you’ll let me know.”

“You’ll be the first person I call.”

“Good.”

******

A/N:
Prentice Funeral Home is actually in Akron, OH. It’s a block from where I grew up and I used to play in the parking lot when I was a kid and try to peek through the windows.

There haven’t been any comments in a couple of chapters. If you’re enjoying yourself, please say so. Right now I’ve only got my boyfriend telling me I’m awesome and while I believe him, I could still use a bit of moral support.

We’re more than half way through the story now. The Cat in Cougar Country is book one. There are 4 more chapters left and then I’ll start book 2 (as yet untitled) and book one will be available for download only. I haven’t decided if it’ll be free or something measly like a dollar. When book 2 is finished it will be available for download for two or three bucks, and book 3 will be free to read online. And so on. I have book 2 outlined more or less, and book 3 is in the planning stages. I have murders for books 4-6. It would be awesome if I could find an e-book company willing to pick up the series.

I’ve been reading lots of cat-centric cozies lately. I get one every time I go to the library. It’s been an overall painful experience. Anyone have suggestions for something good? Did you know that there are themed cozies for everything, from knitting to chocolate to sudoku? I haven’t found any books I like yet, but there’s this British tv show, Rosemary and Thyme. It’s about gardeners that solve murders. It’s great.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ch 5: The Boy and the Betrayal

Tabitha woke up late Sunday morning to Thistle sleeping on her hip and Fritz cuddled up against her stomach. Ugh. I’m spooning a dog, she thought, pushing Thistle off of her and rolling away. It was way too hot to sleep with so many warm, furry bodies. Danny had stayed over an hour the evening before, but she was pretty sure that when he left Fritz was in a better mood. Fritz was quiet enough while they slept and didn't stir when she moved.

Thistle got up with her and followed her into the bathroom. “We can start questioning suspects today,” he told her.

“You’re serious about this,” Tabitha said, reaching for her toothbrush.

“As a heart attack.”

“Do cats have heart attacks?”

“Are you going to help us?”

“Sure. I always spend my Sundays looking for murderers. Get out so I can shower—I feel gross.”

Tabitha took her time showering, relishing the temporary privacy of the bathroom. She ran the water only lukewarm to wash off the sweat from sleeping with Fritz and Thistle. She’d always had a hard time justifying an air conditioner because there were usually only a handful of too-hot days a year in Ohio, but one night in a bed full of animals was enough to make her second think that decision.

Fritz was in the hallway when she got out of the shower and he gave her a low whimper. “What is it boy?” she asked, feeling like she was in an episode of Lassie.

“He has to pee,” Thistle said coming out of the bedroom, sounding bored.

“Oh! Okay. Just a second.” She pulled on a light summer robe and slippers and was ushered down the stairs. Both Fritz and Thistle rushed out the back door when she opened it, and once it was shut she leaned against it and stifled a groan. Too many animals…

*****

“Are you ready to play detective today?” Thistle asked as Fritz rooted around the yard for a good spot. Thistle used his usual space under the tomato plants. They were starting to not look so healthy.

“What’s detective?” Fritz asked, and raised his leg on the apple tree.

“It’s where we question people and find out who killed Janine.”

“My Janine!” Fritz answered with a howl. “She’s gone gone gone!”

Damn, Thistle swore. “And that’s why we must avenge her death. Do you know what that means?”

“A little.”

“Good enough. Let’s get back inside—I’m starving.”

Fritz perked up a little. “Food?”

Thistle went back through the door and was greeted with the smell of brewing coffee while Tabitha busied herself with breakfast preparations.

“It’s a wonderful day for interrogation,” he remarked to her as she opened the door to let Fritz back in.

"And how exactly are you going to interrogate people?" Tabitha asked Thistle.

"You're going to take us for a walk over to Kyle's to check on him. Be a concerned neighbor and all. Mrs. Garret is always out working on her lawn on Sundays—we should stop by all friendly-like."

"They might believe I'm walking Fritz, but what about you? You can't just follow along and stop when we do without calling attention to yourself."

Thistle closed his eyes. "You can put me in the harness." He hated the idea, he really did. Being strapped into something and stuck on the end of a leash sickened him, but it was a valid way to get around town. Tabitha had gotten many comments about how 'well trained' he was. The very thought made him want to cough up hairballs in Tabitha's shoes.

"Well, if you insist," Tabitha said. He knew she was fully aware of how much he hated it, and how serious he was.

Tabitha fed Fritz his own food in his own bowl (eventually Maya had let her retrieve a few items for him) and made eggs for both herself and Thistle. Tabitha made vegetarian sausage for herself--Thistle was content with just egg. It was their normal Sunday breakfast ordeal, but everything was strange with Fritz crunching away at dog chow in the corner.

"Do you think the son will come take him?"

"I don't know," Tabitha said, sitting down at the little table in the kitchen. (Her house was smaller than Janine's with no dining room.) Thistle noted her stiffen, raising her guard. She didn’t want him to know she was attracted, but he didn’t have to ask. It was in her body language, they way she leaned in close to Danny while they spoke the night before, in the way she laughed. And she smelled a little different. You didn’t hide things from a cat.

"Maybe he'll move into the house next door," Thistle suggested, knowing it was an evil thing to say. Sure enough, Tabitha tensed even more. "We can all be best friends."

"Stop teasing me," Tabitha said. She concentrated on eating her breakfast and did her best to ignore him as he continued to make offhanded remarks about Danny, never coming right out and accusing her of attraction. It was fun to live with a woman.

Once Tabitha had finished cleaning up and gotten dressed she turned to Fritz. "Wanna go for a walk?" she asked. It was as if a little switch had been turned in the dog's brain, and he went from completely depressed to jumping up on her legs and even giving a hopeful bark. "I take that as a yes," she said. "Let me get out the leashes."

Fritz's leash was hot pink--courtesy of Janine--but Thistle had insisted on basic black, if he had to wear one at all. He stood still and let Tabitha strap the harness around him, his skin crawling at the feeling of it around his middle. She snapped the leash onto it and he felt claustrophobic in the middle of the room. “I hate this,” he told her.

“I know.”

Thistle had to resist the urge to slink along on his belly when they left the house but did his best to look normal. Fritz didn't care about the leash, trotting happily across the red brick sidewalks. As Thistle predicted, Mrs. Garret was outside, working on her postage stamp sized yard, little more than a strip of flowers and a strip of grass behind a hip-high iron fence. She plucked every weed from the beds weekly and combed the grass for dandelions wearing pink garden gloves and a wide-brimmed hat even on a cloudy day. “Good morning Mrs. Garret,” Tabitha said.

Mrs. Garret gave them a studying look over her bifocals. “You had two different men over at your house yesterday.”

Thistle wanted to laugh, but that wouldn’t have been professional. “The police and Janine’s son,” Tabitha answered. “It was business.”

“There’s no such thing as good business over there,” Mrs. Garret said. “That girl got what was coming to her.” A funny thing to say, Thistle figured, since Mrs. Garret wasn’t more than ten years older than Janine.

“That’s a little harsh.”

“Sinners are always punished. You’ll see. You might not come to such a pleasant end either.”

Thistle had to hand it to her—Tabitha kept her cool. “Thank you very much for the advice,” she said. “I’ll certainly take it under consideration.” Mrs. Garret seemed somewhat mollified by this. “So did you see anything out of the ordinary at Janine’s Friday?”

“Do you think I spend all my time spying on that—that—slut?” She cut off short to whisper the word like it was dirty. “Why do you care so much anyway?”

“At church they always tell me I should love thy neighbor. Even someone like Janine. She could have been saved, you know. And now she’ll never get that chance.”

“Too true,” Mrs. Garret said with a nod. “You go to church then?”

“All the time,” Tabitha said.

“Well then. You should know better than to have all those men over at your house. A girl your age should be married anyway.”

“I’ll get right on that,” Tabitha assured. “Thank you.”

Thistle suppressed his laugh as they walked away. “Don’t,” Tabitha warned. “It’s not funny. Do you still think she did it?”

“Probably not,” Thistle admitted.

“I don’t like this,” Tabitha said as they walked on. Kyle Harding lived with his parents two blocks away. It was beautiful out and a lot of people walked up and down the streets, some residents, some tourists taking in the architecture and shopping in the many little boutiques and antique stores scattered throughout the area. “I don't like going around suggesting that my neighbors are criminals.

They walked past an older couple who turned and glanced at Tabitha. “People think you’re talking to yourself,” Thistle said softly.

“No kidding.”

*****

Kyle Harding lived in a house built right on top of the brick sidewalk, behind the same type of iron gate as Mrs. Garret’s home. Tabitha felt nervous going up to the door, but one look a poor Fritz was enough to give her enough courage to ring the bell. She stepped back a little when Kyle’s mother answered the door.

Tabitha didn't know Sylvia Harding very well, except that she was on every neighborhood and city committee or council she could manage. She often came to Tabitha’s door with fliers or petitions, the most recent being for a leash law for cats.

“You see,” she couldn’t help but exclaim, gesturing towards Thistle. “It’s such a simple matter, and he’s so much safer that way.”

“Er, yeah,” Tabitha said, not wanting to get into it. “I was just passing by walking the animals and I thought I’d pop in on Kyle.”

“It’s so nice to see him interacting with girls his own age,” she said.

“I’m twenty-seven.”

“As far as I’m concerned, within ten years is his own age.” Her voice had an edge to it. “You know he never even considered dating until that woman showed up. I thought she was being so nice, offering to pick up Kyle from school one day when my car broke down. And she seduced my poor little baby. I thought he would lose interest when I sent him away for school—he wanted to give up Brown for her! He came home even more obsessed than before. I’ve tried everything short of locking him in his room. I took away his car, his allowance. He said he’d just go get a job. And the police were no help. There was a dangerous predator after my baby, but he was eighteen, as though that means anything, just look at the poor dear, so young, so fragile. I’m so worried he’ll never have a normal, healthy relationship and—“

She stopped her rant, perhaps realizing she was going too far. “Well. Good riddance to bad rubbish I say. The world is not going to miss anything with her passing. Maybe you kids would like to go out for food or something? My treat.”

“Uh, maybe,” Tabitha said. What have I gotten myself into?

Sylvia disappeared into the house only to reappear with a sullen Kyle at her side. He looked like he hadn’t slept much, and was wearing the same clothes from the day before. “You two have fun,” she insisted, and pressed a twenty into Kyle’s unwilling hand.

“Want to go to Java Hut?” Tabitha asked, trying to smile.

“Whatever.”

They walked in relative silence to the coffee shop. Tabitha knew that Kyle hadn’t killed Janine, just as Maya knew it. He had lost his first love—this was not going to be an easy conversation.
Tabitha tied Fritz and Thistle to the leg of one of the outdoor tables. “Be good,” she told them, knowing they would be.

Breakfast had only been an hour ago and Tabitha wasn’t hungry, so she just got an iced mocha.
“The same,” Kyle said, his voice flat as he paid.

“Have you eaten since yesterday?” Tabitha asked, suspicious.

“Not really.”

“He’ll also have a banana muffin,” she said, and Kyle didn't object.

“I thought maybe you’d want to get away from your mother,” Tabitha said when they went outside and sat down. It was warm but not hot—a perfect June day. She had taken more care in her clothes that day and wore a blue tank top and floral print skirt with low wedge hemp sandals.

“Yeah,” he said, picking at his muffin. “She really hated Janine. But I loved her.” Tears sounded in his voice, but he managed to hold them back. “The cops said that Janine was seeing someone else.”

Tabitha nodded. “I’m sorry.”

Kyle began to cry a little and stared at the tabletop to try to hide the tears. “I knew it would be hard for her to stay faithful while I was in school.” He looked up at Tabitha. “She was—you know how she was. She liked sex.”

Tabitha nodded, smiling a little. “Yeah. She did.”

“I thought that when I came home anyone else would go away. She loved me too, you know.” He wiped at his face with his napkin. “She might not have acted like it, but she did. We were online talking every night when I was away. She was so smart—and funny too. You wouldn’t think it to look at her. And she didn't treat me like a little kid, the way my mother does. I was an adult to her.”

“It sounds like you two suited each other,” Tabitha said, trying to be kind.

“We did. I know people like you and my mom think we were freaks, but I didn't care.”

“I am sorry, Kyle,” she said, feeling guilty for judging them.

“Who do you think did it?”

“I really don’t know,” she said. But I have my suspicions.

******

A/N:
The big news is that a sold a short story, Sky, to an e-book company. It's a gay erotic post-apocalypse romance. :) That's fun, huh? When I have more news (like release dates) I'll let you guys know.

I managed my children's story in a week--but my monitor blew up (again) so a large portion of it is in a notebook as I have no computer at the moment. The story turned out a lot shorter than I thought, but I know there's a lot of stuff to add on to. I'm questioning the POV character, but I think I might just expand to 2 characters. It's not ready yet, but there is a first draft, about 13,000 words long.