“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?”
“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.
“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?”
“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.
“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.”
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.