Authors: Janis Lane
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #45 Minutes (22-32 Pages), #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
Table of Contents
THE GLASS CAT
A Detective Kevin Fowler Mystery
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
THE GLASS CAT
Cover Design by Christy Caughie
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
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Macedon, New York, 14502
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To Cat Lovers Everywhere
Sunlight slanted through the wavy, decorative glass spilling rainbows into a nebula of color across the tapestry of the camel-backed sofa. A lady of indeterminate years, well over the half-century mark—perhaps closer to the century—sat with her back to the door. She hummed a crooning sound of affection as she leaned toward her feet, which were out of sight of the middle-aged man standing in the doorway. He watched for a moment and then motioned to someone standing behind him.
A woman of slight stature, with mousy brown hair pulled tightly into a bun on the back of her head, walked forward with keen curiosity and peered into the room. She held a small brown book in one hand and jotted notes with the other, pausing periodically to stare at the elderly lady. Neither spoke to the woman who continued to whisper softly and lovingly, an activity that absorbed her total attention.
“You see, Miss Felly,” the man said softly, “she can’t hear a thing and her hallucinations are getting worse by the day. She’s talking to a glass cat as if it were the real thing.”
Susan Michelin, wearing an old pair of jeans and a smock filled with a rainbow smattering of paint, ran lightly up the three steps and rang the doorbell before turning the knob and peering inside. She spotted her neighbor sitting snuggly in the front parlor in a rocking chair, her head nodding in the warmth of the sun, which lay in streaks of gold across her lap. Her gnarled hands were wrapped around a china ginger-colored cat that she cuddled into a light robe draped across her knees.
“Miss Harper?” the visitor called out, a bit too loudly, as she walked forward.
The elder lady started and opened her eyes, smiling warmly at her young neighbor.
“Susan!” she exclaimed, making the beginnings of an effort to rise from her seat. “I didn’t know it was so late. It can’t be ten o’clock already, can it?”
“Just a little before,” Susan said distinctly, speaking directly to her friend. She knew Miss Harper was hard of hearing but could understand very well if she could read the person’s lips.
“I’m a little early. Are you ready to continue?” Susan slid a chair closer to Miss Harper’s rocker and removed a book from her purse.
“I’ve been looking forward to it. Must have dozed off a bit, sitting here so comfortably, waiting for you,” she said. She shifted the glass cat forward and placed it onto the floor.
“Run along, Ginger,” she said as she rearranged her robe. “Susan and I are going to finish the story today.” With a pleasant smile on her wrinkled face, she gazed intently at Susan, all the while rocking gently to and fro, hearing mostly through her eyes.
A very loud knock, almost as if someone were pounding with his fist on the front door, startled Susan and caused Miss Harper to look up in surprise.
“My goodness! Who can that be? Probably that pesky nephew of mine. He’s been hanging around here lately, and not with any invitation of mine,” she grumbled as she left her rocker and walked slowly to the front door.
Susan closed the book, keeping her forefinger inside to mark her place and watched curiously while Miss Harper opened the door.
The murmur of voices drew her to them. The nephew, she guessed. But no, Miss Harper was smiling. As she came forward Susan saw with surprise a tall, good-looking, blond-haired man in casual dress chatting with her friend.
“Susan, come meet our new neighbor.” The older lady stepped aside, inviting the man in, but he insisted he needed to supervise his movers who were still unloading the truck. When Miss Harper mentioned cookies, his face brightened and he reluctantly agreed to come in for a short visit.
“You’ve bought the house on the other side then?” Susan asked, eyeing the man with interest. She shifted the book in her hand and self-consciously pushed her hair away from her eyes, half wishing she had changed out of her work clothes.
“Yes, moved in there, but rented. I was promised peace and quiet, but it’s a bit too quiet. They neglected to turn on my phone,” he said wryly. “Do you mind if I use yours? My cell phone battery seems to have died as well.
“By the way, my name is Carl Wilson. I’m a writer and came here trying to beat a deadline.” He extended his hand to Susan who grasped it firmly.
As their hands touched, they both looked straight into the other’s eyes. Susan jumped back, uttering a soft exclamation. Carl also registered surprise but turned instead to Miss Harper, who was watching the two of them with keen interest, her blue eyes sparkling, her lips smiling merrily.
“The phone is right over here,” she said, beckoning to him.
He came forward reaching for the phone book, but stopped and grimaced, trying to control a sneeze.
It was a big one.
Achoo, achoo, achoo
He reached for his handkerchief and blew his nose noisily.
“Goodness, you must have a cold coming on,” Miss Harper said. “Come into the kitchen and I’ll make you a cup of my lemon-thyme tea. It’s the very best treatment for colds,” she promised.
. Carl stepped backward toward the door.
. “You must have a cat around here somewhere,” he managed to say between bouts of sneezing. “I’m allergic.”
Amused, Susan thought it best to confess. “No, Miss Harper’s cat is only porcelain,” she said quietly with her head turned away. “Miss Harper’s a bit hard of hearing and might not be able to understand you unless you face her when you talk. I’m certain she can’t tell what you’re saying as long as you hold your handkerchief in front of your face.”
“That may be, but there’s a cat around here somewhere, I can guarantee it.” Carl reached the front door and stepped outside, leaving behind a faint, but tantalizing fragrance of spicy male shaving lotion.
“Please make my apologies to Miss Harper,” he said, walking quickly away.
Susan heard him sneezing all the way down the sidewalk until he reentered his rental home next door.
“What a nice young man,” Miss Harper said. “Too bad he couldn’t stay a bit longer, but I imagine that cold of his has him feeling a bit down. I’ll brew up some of my tea and take it over to him later.” She went into the kitchen and put her kettle on to boil.
“Now let’s have at least one more chapter before you go, shall we, dear?”
“Oh, sure.” Susan sat down and readied herself to begin reading. She glanced up once to gaze at Miss Harper’s feet and was surprised to see the orange china cat no longer resting there.
She moved it when I wasn’t looking
, Susan thought, and turned back to a story by Dorothy Gilman about a lady on an adventure.
An hour later, she tiptoed out, trying not to wake her friend who had dozed halfway through the latest chapter. She guessed adventures in the pyramids weren’t as exciting as they used to be, although she knew Miss Harper was of an age to need a catnap now and then.
In deep thought, Susan slowly followed the sidewalk to her own home. Both her parents had passed, her mother only recently, and she was still trying to decide whether to sell the house or live in it herself. She didn’t know if she could leave while Miss Harper still needed her friendship.
As long as Susan could remember, she had run next door for some reason or other, always welcomed with a smile from her friend and usually fed a cookie before she left. She was as close to a family as Susan had left.
She chuckled thinking of Carl Wilson and his sneezes. It must have been the power of suggestion when he saw the fat porcelain cat.
If only he knew
, she thought with a giggle. Miss Harper’s house not only had one china cat, but was full of a collection of many cats—all porcelain! She had no idea what the count was up to now. When she was a little girl, Miss Harper would give her a soft cloth and she would delight in dusting all the cats lined up against the window seat in the parlor.
Each one had been given a name and was a different color. The cat-loving artists had cast them in all sorts of sinuous, feline poses, some with their long tails curled around their bodies and their eyes half-closed, others standing up grooming themselves.
Queenie was the biggest. A white cat around twenty inches high with long, curling hair and a regal expression frozen on her haughty, porcelain face. Her mate, Big Blue, sleek and masculine, sat on a table against the window perpetually staring with his feral expression at the bird feeder. At times he was turned completely around and glared at a black panther who rested insolently on top the bookcase, gazing down at all with a bored expression. The regal black wore a collar of sparkling rhinestones and the little girl who had been a younger Susan imagined he once belonged to an Egyptian queen. A tiny white cat wearing a bonnet with a blue flower sometimes rested against the black cat’s stomach, and although he allowed it to remain, he disdained it completely.
Miss Harper loved her collection of china cats. As the years passed, Susan noticed she would chat to them, telling them about her day and sometimes fussing at them for fighting. Susan was amused, but she understood. Even though frozen in their poses, they portrayed the individualistic personalities well captured by different artists, lending credence to the thought that they had real life spirits. She found herself speaking in a low voice to them while she dusted their smooth heads. Some of them were posed so realistically, she could easily imagine they were listening.
The ginger cat was the favorite these days. It was snuggled with its tail curled around its body, the fat face half asleep in contentment. The china figurine had a permanent spot on the windowsill in the dining room, but often she found Miss Harper nodding in her chair with it sitting cozily in her lap. It had the sweetest expression and seemed to cuddle right into one’s arms.
Susan had petted it herself, often feeling the warmth from the sun on its glossy head, but she could not imagine why her friend’s nephew would get upset over a collection of porcelain cats.
She had seen his car next door twice this week. Uninvited, Miss Harper assured her. She had no fondness for the man, the oldest son of her brother who had never visited his sister as far as Susan knew. Why this nephew had taken it upon himself to bother Miss Harper, no one could fatho
m, although Susan suspected she knew. She had noticed him looking around the house with a gleam in his eye. Avarice?
Perhaps she was being too hard on the man, but she disliked how he upset Miss Harper.
“Miss! Oh, Miss.”
Susan turned around to see Carl Wilson waving his hand while still holding his white handkerchief to his face. She paused and waited while he walked rapidly to catch up with her.
“I still need that phone,” he said, puffing slightly and speaking with a nasal tone. “My nose is almost under control again, and I hate to bother you, but I do need to phone in my request. Do you mind?” he asked pleadingly as he removed the white handkerchief and gave her a beguiling smile.
“No, of course not. Come with me,” she said promptly and led the way to the two-story home of her childhood.
“Wow. So you’re an artist. Where are you selling, if you don’t mind my asking?” He wandered into the back room where her easel was sitting amidst a series of drop clothes. He lifted one edge of the drape covering her latest work and she made a negative motion.
“Oh, sorry,” he said. “You don’t like people peeking?” He gave her an impudent grin.
“I’m not comfortable sharing a work in progress,” she confessed. “I might change my mind halfway through and then you’d wonder where the work you saw disappeared to.” She gave him an apologetic smile, but held her ground. She hated having unfinished work critiqued.
“I promise not to peek if you’ll promise to share a finished work with me. Is that yours on the wall?” He indicated a tiny portrait of Miss Harper in her garden, tending her flowers. “I can see it must be.” He moved closer and peered at it critically.
“You have certain . . . technique. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” He turned to stare at her intently.
“Are you someone I should know?” he asked suspiciously.
Susan had to laugh. His question reminded her of a friend’s young son who was only ten.
“I make my living painting, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m not certain you should or shouldn’t know my name. Do you attend the local art shows often?” She turned to watch him as he stared again at her portrait.
“Well, not yet, I haven’t. I’ve only moved to town today. And I should make that phone call,” he said hastily, turning toward the phone on the nearby table.
Susan drifted into the kitchen to give him privacy. She brought out a plate of cookies and set them on the kitchen table, remembering the sneezes that had interrupted their visit and denied him Miss Harper’s treat.
“There, that’s done. I was told the phone would be operable, but it’s not a big deal. Hey, is that for me?” he asked, spying the cookie plate. He sat down and helped himself with no further urging.
They snacked in companionable silence for a minute.
“Is Miss Harper a relative? She seems like a nice lady in spite of her cats.” He inhaled a chocolate chip cookie, reached for another, then paused with his eyebrows upraised.
Susan nodded her permission with a grin.
“You really do have a severe allergy if you’re allergic to china cats,” she said, smiling, pushing the plate closer to him thinking he must have an empty refrigerator as well as no phone.
“No, really. I saw a cat running away as I left the room. Bright orange one,” he insisted firmly.
Susan laughed. “Big imagination. That’s Ginger, a porcelain cat, a favorite of Miss Harper’s but certainly he cannot walk about.” A niggling thought crept into her brain as she recalled the missing cat, but she dismissed it as ridiculous.
He flicked her skeptical glance, pushing his chair back from the table. “I won’t argue with you, but I seldom imagine I see things that aren’t there. It’s history I write about, not fantasy.”
“Well, welcome to the neighborhood. If there’s anything else I can do for you, don’t
hesitate to ask. It’s pretty peaceful around here, almost too peaceful, and the people are friendly. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know them.”