Tabitha had to admit that the last thing she wanted to do was go into work the next morning, but she couldn’t let Leticia down, so she stumbled out of bed and got dressed in a pair of jeans and a green t-shirt, finding her most comfortable shoes to better stand a day on her feet. She barely had time to get food for Thistle and Fritz and put the dog outside. “We’re talking about what you did last night when I get home,” she told Thistle. “And you’d better be here.”
The world was washed clean from the rain the night before. Normally Tabitha would have taken great joy in the freshness, but she was preoccupied as she drove. It had to be a family member, she decided. No one else would benefit from it. And from the Sandwich Shop, she was in the perfect position to spy on the one most likely to have done it--Vanessa.
“You okay?” Leticia asked when Tabitha came into the shop.
“Sure,” she answered.
“You look like you want to kill someone, that’s all. Not that you would do that,” she added quickly. “This will all blow over sooner or later. Don’t let it stress you.”
Tabitha was given a time card and a name tag before Leticia set her up to use the cash register, exactly where she wanted to be when at eight-thirty Vanessa walked in, staring at her phone as she texted someone. “Double-shot espresso,” she said without looking up, “and a cheese Danish.”
“Your total is five dollars, ninety-five cents,” Tabitha said, hiding a smile.
Vanessa’s head jolted up and her cell phone clattered across the counter. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“You fired me, remember? I had to get a new job. Will that be cash or credit?”
“You can’t work here!” Tabitha grabbed a danish out of the cooler case and put it in a wax paper bag. Behind her Leticia was making Vanessa’s drink, her back to them. Tabitha knew she was laughing by her reflection shaking in the door of the cooler. “It’s not right! You should be in jail.”
“Because of the poison they found in my desk, right? The police aren’t stupid Vanessa. I know you planted that poison to frame me, and they do too.”
“I did no such thing!” Vanessa sputtered, turning red.
“You had the most to gain from your grandfather’s death,” Tabitha continued, unable to help herself. “You weren’t going to be made partner until he was gone. It had to have been you. And as soon as I figure out how you did it, you’re going down.”
“My grandfather was pushing eighty with a bad heart. Why would I have poisoned him? You did it, for revenge.”
Revenge. It did make more sense. Tabitha looked at Vanessa. She was still not her polished self. Something had to be wrong, it had to be her. But it could have been Mrs. Daws.
“I didn’t kill your grandfather,” Tabitha insisted. “I didn’t like him, true, but I was not having an affair with him and I didn’t kill him. The fact that none of you people will believe me is ridiculous. Now, here’s your Danish and your coffee. That’ll be five ninety-five.”
Vanessa glared at her and stalked out of the restaurant, leaving her order on the counter. “Sorry about that,” Tabitha told Leticia, who plucked up the danish and took a bite of it. “I think I might have cost you a customer.”
“I’ll live. Hey, at least with you here things wont be boring. This is what I’ve been craving all morning.” She leaned against the counter, closing her eyes as she chewed the pastry. “This pregnancy thing is great for an excuse to eat anything I want.”
Tabitha was tired again when she got home at two o’ clock, and she knew her day wasn’t over yet. She sat down with Thistle and Fritz. “Okay,” she said, mostly addressing Thistle, but knowing the dog would get something out of the conversation, even if it was only her tone of voice. “What the hell happened last night?”
“We tried to go spy on the wife,” Thistle admitted. “But Kyle caught us before we even got off the street.” Fritz barked. “Fritz says he likes walking in the rain, but not the dark.”
Tabitha frowned. “You’re not a person, Thistle,” she said finally. “You can’t just go off like that--it’s dangerous. What if you’d gotten lost? You could have been hit by a car, or picked up by animal control--especially with Fritz with you. People don’t like strange animals wandering around.
“We’re both micro chipped,” Thistle offered. “I memorized the map, I look both ways before crossing the street. It would have been fine.”
“The Daws’s house is miles away--what did you think I was going to do when I came home and you were gone? I was panicking! If you had decided to dissapear for the night I wouldn’t have gotten any sleep.”
“I’m sorry,” Thistle said, but she couldn’t tell if he meant it or not. How much of a concience did a cat have? “I promise I wont do it again.”
“No, you won’t. You’re an indoor cat now.”
Thistle surprised her--he growled. “You can’t do that.”
“Watch me. Does he understand what I’m saying?” she asked, referring to Fritz.
“He knows we did bad last night,” Thistle replied. “He thinks it’s my fault.”
“You have to let me check out the wife. She might have done it.”
“You can drive me and wait for me outside the house--I just want to know what she’s doing now that her husband is gone. You want to know too, don’t you? Don’t you want to clear your name?”
“I hate you,” Tabitha replied.
Riding in the car Thistle had the faintest fear that he was on the way to the vet, and this fear carried him across town, until Tabitha pulled over at the end of a tree lined street full of huge Victorian mansions. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Tabitha said as she turned off the engine.
Thistle looked at her from his perch on the passenger seat. “I know what I’m doing.”
“No you don’t!”
“I do,” Thistle insisted. “I write a gossip column, remember? I spy on people all the time. I
know just what to do.”
“Be careful,” she said. “I’m going to drive around the neighborhood and come back, okay? I don’t want to look suspicious. I’ve been doing that enough.”
“I‘m not suspicious,” Thistle said, eager to be out of the car. It felt awfully claustrophobic.
“It’s the house in the middle of the street, with the green door,” Tabitha said, and leaned over him to open up the car door. “You have fifteen minutes.”
“Got it, boss,” Thistle said and jumped out of the car, walking down the strange street like he owned it. The Daws residence had a slightly wild front yard of trees and ivy, surrounded by a cast iron fence that Thistle slipped through easily. It was mid-afternoon and suprisingly warm (much better spy weather than the night before) so Thistle hoped for an open window or door.
He circled the house to a large brick patio surrounded by more trees. At first glance he could see that the house was shut up tight, but Thistle's eyes were immediately drawn to the Siamese sunning himself on top of a glass topped table near the kitchen window. "Hey you," Thistle said, stepping up to the other cat.
The Siamese raised his head, a bell on a pink collar jingling from the movement. "Go away alley cat."
Thistle tried to stay calm. "Is this your place?" Thistle asked, waltzing up to the table. "Its a nice place."
"Don't bother. My mistress will have nothing to do with strays," the Siamese said, purposefully ignoring Thistle's own collar. Thistle didnt know who he was kidding--no cat cared about who was owned and who wasn't. Except for purebred assholes like this guy. He was probably neutered. The toms with the biggest attitudes always were. The Siamese stretched and Thistle noted he had no front claws. The poor bastard.
"I wouldn't eat anything your mistress brought me," Thistle continued. "This the Daws place?"
"Heard you had a death in the family. It must be very sad."
"Hardly!" the other cat exclaimed.
"So everything has been peachy-keen around here?"
The cat swished his tail. "I wouldn't go that far. Too many people, too much arguing. Too much new stuff." He looked up at the sky. "Good thing the weather's nice."
"Got kicked out, huh?" Thistle said.
"Of course not!" The Siamese sat up. Thistle got a good look at his tag--it read "Pookie." Poor, poor bastard. "I simply slipped out the basement window to get away from it all. It's nice out. I like it."
"Basement window?" The cat was suddenly less interesting, and Thistle left him to his own devices and poor neutered, claw-less Pookie didnt try to follow. The broken window was on the other side of the house, barely wide enough for Thistle to squeeze through. He dropped about five feet into a slightly damp basement featuring an ancient furnace and not much else. The basement door was open and he hurried up the stairs, coming up in a laundry room featuring brand-new appliances. The dryer still had stickers on it. < Interesting. >
He moved carefully through the kitchen (new refrigerator) and into the dining room, keeping low to the floor. He found Mrs. Daws in a half-decorated sitting room, talking on the phone with a wireless headset while opening a large box. "I just got the new curtains in the mail," she was telling someone on the other line, "and I'm having men come next week to re-paint. It's so nice to do everything I've always wanted to." Boxes littered the room, more flowing into the front hall. Apparently Mrs. Daws had been doing some shopping since her husband's death. "Vanessa is being difficult--the girl is so much like her grandfather--she wants to keep that moldy old study just like it was before, but I've always wanted an exercise room. I daresay I'll just dump all those books in the attic and she can do what she will with the place when she owns it. Lord knows my days are numbered."
Vanessa caring about her grandfather's things didn't fit with what Tabitha had told him.
Thistle wanted to listen more, but the doorbell rang and Mrs. Daws got off the phone, and
Thistle figured he had been gone longer than fifteen minutes anyway.
He went back the way he came, heading to the front of the house without going back to see Pookie again. At the front of the house there was a large truck and two men in uniform struggled with a large, flat package that might have been a painting. Thistle contemplated tripping one of them but decided against it and hurried up the sidewalk to where Tabitha's car was waiting.
"Well?" she asked when he jumped in through the window she had rolled down.
"I think motive is all well and good," Thistle said, "She has motive--the entire family does--but we are forgetting. Who--besides you--had opportunity?"
Sorry for the hold up. I am feeling better today, but I still have a nasty cough.
I think this will be wrapped up in one or two more chapters. In case you havent figured it out, mysteries are apparently not my thing, so this will be the last Thistledown for the time being. I havent given up on it entirely, just probably.
I'm fairly certain you guys will like my next project. It should be launching by the time I finish up here. I'm going back to slightly more familiar territory with a super hero genre, called The Talented. (I think that's what its called.) More info with next week's post.